Sunday, December 29, 2013

Favorites: 2013 Edition

It's time. As I start this post, 2013 has approximately three days left. I need to choose.
This list will be like my list last year: all YA, ranked from last to first, with my favorite book of the year being number 1. That one is easy. The rest... well, we'll see how many I end up with this year. Last year it was 16, but this year I read literally twice as many books. So, yeah.

[update: I ended up with 19 20. Tee... hee.]
[update #2: Also, they're all by female authors, accidentally. I tried to find books by male authors to add, but it turns out I didn't read very many of those this year. Which is something I should/might work on next year, but probably I'll just keep reading what I want to read, regardless of authorial gender.]

20. Unravel Me by Tahereh Mafi
Okay, so here's the thing about the Shatter Me series: the prose of the first book is purposefully awful-- the key word here being purposefully. Tahereh Mafi has known her main character's development since the beginning, and she's been writing it into the very way the character speaks to the reader. So if you're thinking about checking out this series, DO NOT LISTEN to the reviewers on Goodreads who complain excessively about the prose. It gets better-- by which I mean it sounds less like you're in the head of a mental patient having an existential crisis-- in the second book. And it will get even better than that in the third. And Juliette's not the only one who gets character development in this book; in fact, I'm pretty sure Tahereh was just walking around inside her own head, swinging a giant "character development" club. No one was spared. (Well, except Adam. Who was apparently hit on the head with something harder and less useful than a Character Development Club.)

19. Altered by Jennifer Rush
This is a breath of fresh air in the dystopian genre, if you could even say it falls into that category. There's weird stuff going on and it's definitely not the world we live in, but it's a lot like it. It's our world, but with a secret pocket of sciencey people who are up to no good. And the characters are capital G Great.

18. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke
So if you remember my review of this book, you'll remember that I felt like it was written for me. I mean, gothic-ish cliffside town? Moral ambiguity? Easily
paired with a specific song by the Civil Wars? Sign me up. Honestly the fact that this only made it to number 18 is more a comment on the other books than it is on this one. Just you wait.

17. This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith
I'm a sucker for Jennifer E. Smith, what can I say. Third-person contemporary romances are hard to come by, and I eat hers up like my morning cereal (which is to say, fast. I inhale food in the morning).

16. Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund
I mean, the main character is a socialite-slash-disguised-hero with a pet sea otter named Slipstream. You do the math.

15. Golden by Jessi Kirby
I think this book came to me at the exact time when I would most identify with
its main character, Parker. It's a heart-stealing combination of love, mystery and poetry, that shows us the choices to be made when ambition doesn't meet up with expectation, when you're stuck between childhood and adulthood, or even when you just don't know where to go from here. From what I can tell, this book has been special to everyone who has read it.

14. The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider
A perfect book for a year with no new John Green novels, and what is quite possibly the YA book that most successfully balanced humor and tragedy this year. I wasn't even bitter that it gave me a sunburn.

13. These Broken Stars by Amy Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
Again, the word that immediately comes to mind is "sparkly." I don't know what's wrong with my brain, that it can't come up with a better word for this fantastic book. There are starships and strange planets and invisible creatures and a good, solid romance and a female character who sees our societal demand for Strong Female Characters and raises us the acknowledgment that "Strong" and "Weak" are not mutually exclusive, as well as a male character who sees the Tough Soldier trope and raises us a happy-- not painful-- backstory and a whole lot of caring. Competence abounds, in both the characters and the authors.

12. Just One Day / Just One Year by Gayle Forman
Yeah, yeah, yeah, they're two books. But they both came out this year, and they're about the same characters, so get over it. Just One Day is my favorite of the two, but they're both the thoughtful, romantic, character-driven books we've come to expect from Gayle Forman. And trust me, there's never going to be a year when Gayle has a new book out and I don't put her on this list.

11. Night of Cake & Puppets by Laini Taylor
Okay, so I know Laini had an ~actual book~ out this year and that this is just a novella, but CONFESSION: I haven't gotten around to reading Days of Blood and Starlight yet, though I had Laini sign my copy at LeakyCon. You see, I could confidently have her sign and personalize it for me because I know I'll love it and will therefore keep it. But I did read Night of Cake & Puppets, and let me tell you, it's adorable. Zuzana is one of my favorite characters in the history of ever, and the magic sprinkled throughout the story is just delicious, as is Laini's writing. Just perfect.

10. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Usually a Holly Black book would be way up there on my list, but CONFESSION #2: I grow weary of new takes on vampire mythology. Luckily for me, the originality of this one outweighs the ennui I'm feeling with the genre. Holly is a plot wizard who dallies in compelling characters and fascinating worlds. The end.

9. Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken
If I had had half a brain last year, I would have read The Darkest Minds before the year was up and included it in my Best of 2012 List. But alas, I did not read it until I'd secured an eARC of this, book 2 in the series. Double whammy. One of the best dystopian series out there-- yes, better than Divergent; no, not as good as The Hunger Games are you crazy-- Never Fade is nonstop action, drama and character development throughout. Psychological thriller, dystopia, romance, paranormal, action, this series has ALL THE FACETS.

8. Eleanor & Park / Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
I cannot choose, and you cannot make me. If you haven't read Eleanor & Park yet, I don't know what the heck you are waiting for. My coworker recommends it to everyone who likes John Green, but I would like to add everyone who likes Gayle Forman, Stephanie Perkins and/or David Levithan to that list. The same goes for Fangirl, but more specifically for those who have ever been... well, fangirls.

7. The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson
I'm still not over it.
[Read this series right now because misery loves company and also because it's great ok bye]

6. Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
The fact that this series provides a villain who is so endlessly fascinating that people mistake him for a love interest, and yet who REMAINS A VILLAIN, just basically shows you what an excellent writer Leigh Bardugo is. I mean, you've got Alina, the female main character who comes into this intense and consuming power but who is also the main source of comic relief; you've got Mal, the adorable, competent, puppydog friend [slash ACTUAL love interest], who may be unflinchingly loyal but at the same time he's not willing to sit around and wait while Alina makes her decisions; and you've got the Darkling, who I mentioned before. And in this installment, we get Sturmhond the Magnificent (or, that's what I call him in my head. Starting now)! Add in this Russian-inspired fantasy world and it's just a win-win-win for everyone and there's no pain or feelings and you definitely won't cry or throw things or feel like you want to take over a country.
Oh, wait.

5. How to Love by Katie Cotugno
This is not a great book for a debut novel. It's a great book, period. This is how contemporary romances with heavy subject matters should be done. Sawyer and Reena are characters whose lives mattered to me in a very short amount of time, and I didn't want to leave them by the time the book was over. My Harper rep at work said it was recommended to her but she was afraid to read it because she had it in her head that it would be another beachy summer romance to be housed in the YA/Pop Culture section. No. No, no, no. It's not depressing; it's emotional. It's not light; it's entertaining. It's both, and it's wonderful.

4. Requiem by Lauren Oliver 
This book was the redemption I was hoping for after Pandemonium. Still flawless, poetic, subtle yet forceful writing, but this time things happened. Also: Lena, Alex (!), Hana. The actual perfect ending to this series, no matter what anyone says (but really, it pains me that this book has such a low rating on Goodreads because some people are spoiled and didn't get exactly what they wanted. Learn the value in telling the right story, people, instead of just the story you think should be told.)

3. Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan
She did it again. I stayed up until 3:30am to finish this book, and then when I did, there was no one around to hear my wails. Sarah has established her Basic Trilogy Outline, which determines that Book 2 is the Make-Out Book. And oh, was it. First, there was a raging sea of angst. Then, finally, my ship found land. It was happy. We bounded, my ship and I, through fields of bliss and magic (not to be confused with evil sorcery, which I will get to in a few seconds). Nothing could stop us now!
And then.
She did.
The thing.
You know, the thing. That she does. With the characters. And the evil. And the torment. And Jared, always Jared. My heart weeps for you, damaged Lynburn boy. Someday, this world will turn your way. (I lie to him to ease his incessant pain.)

2. Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare
Speaking of incessant pain. I waited for this book for so long. It felt longer than it was, just because of how badly I wanted it. What I didn't know was that I didn't want it, not really. I didn't want this story to end, and I definitely didn't want to let go of Will Herondale the way I had to let go of him (read: I actually still haven't). I didn't think I would ever not be bitter about that epilogue, but I've grown to accept it. Cassie truly outdid herself with this book. The writing, the attention to detail, the way every loose end is tied up in a bittersweet bow-- but most of all, the characters. Everything they did, every decision they made in Clockwork Princess was true and believable to me, as someone who feels like I have lived with these characters for a significant portion of my life, even though it's only been the past few years. The obvious takeaway from this book is about the possibility of loving more than one person, but honestly, for me, this series has always been about the importance of stories to people like me. People like Will and Tessa and even Jem, who tells stories with his songs. And though it will hurt, I'll read this one again and again.


1. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
Alright, yeah, you all saw this coming. This is, obviously, by far, my favorite series-- I mean, it's so far ahead of any of the others that late at night, when I have a stack of books sitting in front of me, begging to be read, I sense them eyeing me with disdain because oh, what do you know, I've picked up The Raven Boys again. Or The Dream Thieves. And the problem is that I kind of can't even say what about this book is so great, other than the writing in general and every character in particular, because that would require describing what the book is about. Which is something that stands so close to impossible that impossible can only see one of its eyes at a time. So close that the author herself can barely manage it, and instead uses catchwords like "dead Welsh king" and "exploding cars" and "prep school boys" and "psychics behaving badly" before launching into a long explanation of new character Kavinsky-- who's bad news, to put it mildly. Anyway, these books are my favorite because the narration is pitch-perfect and sneaks into your head, turning the characters on paper into actual living people inside your mind, and this fictional place into a place you feel like you could visit in real life. They're my favorite because every character (if you haven't noticed by now that character is the most important thing for me, there is no hope for you) is authentic and three-dimensional and complicated in their own way, and their relationships follow suit. They're my favorite because they're not plot-driven, but there is still a compelling plot. I cannot say enough about these books or their author, so I'm just going to spare you and stop gushing now.

Ah, there you have it. 2013.
Some already confirmed for next year: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart and Panic by Lauren Oliver.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review: Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill

Anyone remember my review of Meant to Be? How I gave it 3 stars because I felt pretty strongly that the main character was completely disagreeable? And the plot holes? And the generally unsatisfying nature of the drama?
Well, the strange thing is that I'm giving Lauren Morrill's second book the same rating, but none of those problems existed in this one. It's like she fixed those but left out the things that I actually liked about Meant to Be at the same time.

Being Sloane Jacobs is about two girls with the same name-- Sloane Jacobs, as you probably guessed. Sloane Devon Jacobs is a hockey player with an injured knee and a mom in rehab, and Sloane Emily Jacobs is a figure skater who's been out of competition for a while and has just discovered the stereotypical scandal that could ruin her father's senatorial career. They both have things to run from, so that's what they do. After running into each other at a hotel in Canada-- each of the Sloanes on their way to skating-related summer camp-- they decide to switch places. So it's Sloane Devon who's off to a prestigious figure skating camp, and Sloane Emily who's off to play hockey for the summer.

And that's basically it. There are minor subplots, but not much serves to keep your attention here. It seemed like, with twice as many characters, the details of each character were cut in half. If my problem with Meant to Be was that I felt too strongly against Julia, my problem with Being Sloane Jacobs was that I didn't feel strongly enough about either Sloane. They could have both been the kind of exaggerated characters that I love, but their differences ended up being very on-the-surface, and then even those got whittled down until they were practically the same person. And their love interests were not interesting in the least-- definitely no Jason Lippincott/Logan Echolls equivalent to be found here.

Oh, and yet more phone-related plot holes persist in this one, too! Like, why would it be an issue that Sloane Emily's parents might call Sloane Devon while they were switched? Was there some kind of landline in the BSI room, or...? It was never really explained, and the moment Sloane Devon got that call I was taken out of the story trying to figure out why it happened.

Another reviewer on Goodreads compared this book to a Disney Channel original movie, and I feel like this hits the nail on the head. It's decent entertainment even if the switching-places plot is a little tired, and you don't really *have* to get attached to the characters to enjoy it. But personally, I want to get attached. I'd prefer to keep going because I want the characters to be okay, not just because I know they will be eventually and I want to get there faster.

All of this said, I'm convinced that someday, Lauren Morrill is going to write a book I absolutely love. I can tell she has it in her. I just think it's a matter of finding the right story, the one that no one else can tell better.