Wednesday, January 22, 2014

13 Favorite Books of 2013

I've noticed a couple of other bloggers made some year-end lists, so even though we are more than half way through January, here are my favorite books I read in 2013 (many were published earlier, but I read them this year, so they count for my list). Notice I didn't call this the "best" books of 2013 - rather, these are the books I enjoyed reading the most. Some are non-fiction, some are great literature. Some are considered young adult, while some verge on being wrapped in a brown wrapper. But most of all, these were great reads - books that kept me up later than I should have been up, taking longer lunch hours behind my closed office door, and desperate for the next page.  

In honor of it having been the year 2013, I went with my Top 13 rated books of the 81 books I read. Thanks, goodreads, for making this so easy to determine! I've copied my goodreads reviews, to make my life simpler. Apologies if you've already read them there. And if you haven't, I can't say enough good things about goodreads. Its a wonderful internet haven for book lovers, and probably half of these books on this list I would not have read if not for my friends on good reads. In no particular order (other than that Code Name Verity was my favorite book of the year, closely followed by Life After Life):

What an amazing book! Its an incredible story of two women in World War II, one English and one Scottish, who find themselves working for the RAF and SOE. They quickly become the best of friends and end up in France. Its told in an epistolary style, and it works incredibly well. There are several twists, none of which I saw coming, and this was the unusual type of book that makes you immediately re-read it, all over again, once you get to the end. I can't even begin to write a goodreads review that will do this spectacular story justice, so instead, I'm just going to reference this New York Times review:; and this other blog post in the School Literary Journal:

I loved all the Peter Pan references, and the image of Julie's mom always leaving her windows open in her Scottish castle so that her children can find their way home. "Second star to the right, and straight on till morning" will always make me think of Julie and Maddie. As will "Careless talk costs lives." And "Kiss Me, Hardy." The final "Kiss Me, Hardy" has to be one of the most poignant things I've ever read (and sorry if this sounds vague to those who haven't read this gem yet, but I absolutely refuse to spoil anything for you).

The first time I "read" this book, it was with the audio version. I cried a lot reading this book, and I laughed even more. But mostly, I just drove around with a huge smile on my face, because this book was literally too good to be true, and it was such a joy listening to it come to life.

2. Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, by Peggy Orenstein

This was a fascinating read, which takes a look at the dangers to our society of young women growing up binged on all things pink, American Girl-y, and Disney princess, with a particular emphasis on the decade since the "Disney Princess" was first mass-marketed to young girls. While I don't have any young daughters growing up, I do have two young sons who will be involved with girls who expect to be treated like princesses, and I appreciated that other moms out there are as concerned as I am.

3. Edenbrooke, by Julianne Davidson

This book languished in my TBR list for almost two years before the recent Jane Austen-Downton Abbey rap video on youtube made me pick it up. And what a loss of enjoyment for the past two years! This book is fantastic! I can't tell fellow readers how much I enjoyed the romance between Marianne and Phillip. Its very, VERY Jane Austen-ish, and I do believe the love letter scene might be the greatest thing I've read since Captain Wentworth picked up a pen. Be still my heart, Phillip. He is the ultimate smoldering hero, and I can totally see a very tall, dark, and handsome cotton mill owner playing him. I would literally kill to see this book made into a movie, but for now, I shall just enjoy re-reading it over and over again. Run, don't walk, to your library/bookstore/download site to read this book. (I recommend owning it. I checked it out from the library and then immediately purchased it because I knew one reading wasn't nearly enough).

4. Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

While not as good as Rainbow Rowell's other novels IMO, I really enjoyed 'Fangirl.' I loved the lead characters of Cath and Levi, and I especially adored Cath's roommate, Reagan. There was a bit too much of the Simon Snow fanfiction for me to make this a 5-star read. Frankly, I could have gotten by with just the small excerpts that started every chapter. (caveat: I skipped all of the long, multi-page Simon-Baz excerpts, so maybe I'd fell differently if I'd read them). I assume Simon is sort of a Harry Potter-type character, and part of me wishes the author would have actually just gone ahead and made Simon be Harry, so that I could have had more interest in Simon-Baz, and appreciated her lengthy fan-fic writings more. Still... a great read, with great characters and a wonderful introvert for a leading heroine.

5. Beautiful Stranger, by Christina Lauren

So I can't really believe I just rated this 5 stars, since its more than bordering on erotica, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Max is a hot sexy Brit, and Sara was Chloe's best friend in Beautiful Bastard, and they have some rather incredible chemistry. This is not great literature, but I thoroughly enjoyed my escaped evening with these characters. I'll add that this is Book 2 in the "Beautiful" series, but each book stands on its own, featuring two different lead characters each time. And this book is much better than its predecessor, Beautiful Bastard.

6. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

Wow, what a book. Beware, readers, that its a tear-jerker. I can't remember the last time I cried so hard reading a book. Possibly never.(disclaimer: we've had a lot of death in my family this year, two of them cancer-related, so perhaps this book affected me more than it might some.)

Its a beautifully written love story, about two cancer-stricken teenagers who improbably find love. Even taking the cancer away, this was a great love story for the ages. The characters were very real to me, wise beyond their teenage years, but I was okay with that, since I think they lived about eighty years in the span of their seventeen years due to their fatal disease. Hazel and Augustus were perfect for each other, and I loved all the supporting characters, from their moms to their blind, video-game fanatical friend Isaac, to the reclusive Dutch author Peter van Houten. Everyone was written to perfection, and the characters completely came to life and jumped off the page at me.

Despite the glowing reviews from other friends, I had stayed away from this novel - perhaps because I saw it on the young adult release shelves, perhaps because it looked too depressing. And then I became fascinated with the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which was created by Hank Green, brother and frequent collaborator of this author, John Green. I've waited over seven months for my turn at the library for this book - the longest I think I've waited for any book. It was absolutely worth the wait. And its definitely not too depressing, despite its subject matter - I found the story quite uplifting and ended with as happy an ending as possible in this crazy world of ours, for after all, as Shakespeare said, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

7. Every Boy's Got One, by Meg Cabot

LOVED this book! It combines three of my favorite features in romance books: comedy, European travel, and the story is told through epistolary form, a style of writing that has rapidly jumped to the top of my list as my favorite. I laughed out loud repeatedly - especially at the brilliant teenage fan-site webmaster. This is the perfect summer read - especially if one is fortunate enough to be traveling in Italy.

8. Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

Best book I've read so far in 2013. I had heard a lot of advance praise for this book, and the concept was intriguing - Ursula dies at birth in 1910, Ursula lives at birth in 1910. Ursula dies drowning at the sea at age 4, Ursula decides not to go out far into the water, sensing danger. Over and over and over again, throughout Ursula's life, the snow and darkness fall, and she dies. Or she doesn't die. It was a fascinating read, but really made this book into a five-star read for me was its setting - its like you were really in London's Blitz during World War II, and really feeling the effects of the Spanish flu epidemic, and the shortage of eligible men after World War I. The book had an amazing ability to truly transport you into a historical place, and I just could not put the book down. Some switches in Ursula's life seemed odd at times, like her visiting/moving to Germany in the 30s and being caught up in a love of Nazism and Hitler. And some lives seemingly went on too long - the domestic violence marriage in particular. And while you might think that the multiple lives spent living during the bombings of Berlin and London went on too long, they are crucial to the story, and to Ursula's decision to finally get her life "right." This was such a great book, my only fear is that there is a Hollywood movie bound to come out with someone like Keira Knightley or Nicole Kidman as Ursula, and that would just be sooo wrong.

9. Austensibly Ordinary, by Alyssa Goodnight

Loved, LOVED this book! A HUGE Texas-sized five stars from me. This is the second book by the author in her Jane Austen series that is set in my town, Austin. While I really liked the first book, this was a 1000x better than that one. This is a stay-up-until-3am- even-when-your-son-has-a-8:30am-Saturday-soccer-game kind of book, and I loved how wonderfully romantic and beautiful she made Austin and Austen. :) They even go to Torchy's Tacos! And a wedding on the rooftop of Whole Foods! And hunt ghosts at the Driskill! Adding to that, the author has taken a modernized 'Emma,' thrown it into a blender with a couple of great Hitchcock films, and combined it with a mysterious journal once belonging to Jane Austen who offers advice to its new owner, along with a few ghosts inhabiting the Driskill (including Jane herself) and given us a great romance and a great novel. Despite the fact that the lead character commits a fairly egregious sin half-way through the novel, I still somehow forgave her for doing it, even if it was badly done, Cate. Badly done, indeed. Ethan and Cate were amazing, and the book was such a fantastic mesh of my interests that I can't help but wonder if the author is a pen name for some of my friends. I love how she combines Austen and Austin, and throws in a great mystery and romance. And scrabble. :)

10. In the Bag, by Kate Klise

Loved this cute little book! I picked it up because my nine year old son likes the author's "Regarding the Fountain" series and her "43 Old Cemetery Rd" series, and I was more than a little intrigued when I saw this cover that looked more like a book which I would like than he would. Turns out I was right. I've rounded up my 4.5 stars because I enjoyed the book so much - its set in Paris, Madrid and Barcelona, and involves a mother-daughter and a father-son and how they come to meet and fall in love. I liked the format for the book - each chapter alternated between the four leads, and you can see their relationships developing over hidden notes in bags, emails, and voice-mails. Its a fun, modern story, and did I mention its set in Paris, Barcelona and Madrid? Armchair traveling at its best!

11. My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor

An amazing memoir, written by one of the most incredible women in America today. This should be required reading for all young women in high school, so that they can learn what a true hero and role model is.

12. Let's Pretend this Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, by Jenny Lawson

I've only recently discovered 'The Bloggess' but once I did, I just had to check out her book. This may be the funniest book I've ever read. Jenny is a thousand bursts of awesomeness, and she's clearly got a few screws loose, but so do we all. Some chapters get a bit too serious, but all in all, I can't help but recommend this to everyone needing some good laughs in their life. Just don't read it in public, cause you'll get some weird looks. Or while you are eating, if you don't want to choke. (or get sick, since she goes into a lot of detail about taxidermy, her father's profession)

13. The Round House, Louise Edrich

Take one part 'To Kill a Mockingbird,' one part 'Stand by Me,' and throw in some women's rights and Native American rights, and you have one unbelievably amazing novel. Louise Erdrich does not disappoint in this incredible story. The lawyer in me was utterly fascinated with the jurisdictional issues that come into play when the mom is sexually assaulted, and I'm still in awe that Erdrich was able to present the issues in such an amazing package that will make everyone want to run off and demand their government take action. I can't recommend this book enough. Its no wonder to me that it won the National Book Award.

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