I last left off on my books in February, back when I was trying to make cataloguing the books I read a monthly habit. Well. You can see how well that worked.
But as we near the end of the year, and I think on what has past and what is to come, I’ve realized that instead of nitpicking and going on about the ones I didn’t like as well as the ones I did, I’d rather just focus on the positive (and save time).
So here are my 2013 Books of Awesome, Part One:
The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
“The empty seat left on the parish council becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town of Pagford has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?”
This one was hard to get into, hard to keep reading, but one that stuck with me well after I finished. It’s a complex, human book that falls sometimes a little heavily on the dark side of human nature, but never feels as if it’s hitting you over the head with the bleakness of the human condition.
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
“When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature.”
I haven’t read many dragon books (beyond Anne McCaffrey’s opus), so I can’t speak to the originality of a British legion of dragons fighting Napoleon, but it was a fun, fast read while managing to cover the complexities of dragon acquisition, types, and rank.
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
“In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, Kaladin struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.”
OMG BRANDON SANDERSON FLAIL
At this point, I would read anything this man wrote and published. His world building is phenomenal – to be freaking studied – and this book is no exception. It’s the beginning of a trilogy (series?) with some themes similar to Mistborn. It’s certainly comparable in cast and scope. Sanderson also nails the non-cliff ending, making the wait for the next book in the Stormlight series at least bearable (IT COMES OUT IN MARCH).
The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson
“Shai is a Forger – she can flawlessly copy and re-create any item by rewriting its history with magic. Condemned to death, she is given one opportunity to save herself: though her skill as a Forger is considered an abomination, Shai must attempt to create a new soul for the emperor, who is almost dead.”
I’m pretty certain this story came around because someone dared Sanderson that he couldn’t write something less than 300k words. So of course he wrote this exquisite short story. Granted, it is packed to the gills with world building and you know he could’ve fleshed it out further, but it’s still a beautiful, well-crafted gem. You have the time for this story, I promise.
The Dirty Life by Kristen Kimball
“When Kimball interviewed a dynamic young farmer, she knew nothing about growing vegetables, let alone raising pigs and cattle and driving horses. But on an impulse, smitten, if not yet in love, she shed her city self and moved to five hundred acres near Lake Champlain to start a new farm with him.”
One of many city dweller-to-farmer memoirs I read this year, this one was the best. It was fairly honest about the difficulties of making that transition, plus the real and romanticized life on the farm. Okay. Maybe it was a bit romanticized.
Quiet by Susan Cain
“Cain shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so.”
After finishing this, I had the strongest urge to put a copy on my boss’ desk. Quiet goes a long way in explaining why sometimes those “team building” initiatives leave some of us (way, far) behind and how group thinking does not always (or often) come up with the most creative and efficient solutions. It also acknowledges the problems inherent with being an introvert in a society that extolls extroverts and provides – well maybe not solutions – but a little help in dealing with that reality.
Heroes Die by Matthew Stover
“Caine is a superstar whose adventures in parallel world Ankhana command an audience of billions. Yet he is shackled by a rigid caste society, bound to ignore the grim fact that he kills men on another world for the entertainment of his own planet.”
This was a surprisingly good book on a multitude of levels. I was weary to read it, based purely on its cover and title, but it came highly praised by someone I trust, so read it I did. I love love love that the usual fantasy romance is subverted, and instead we get the struggle of a man still in love with his ex-wife. She wife is also amazing – a fleshed out and complex character who can hold her own against gods. That alone would have been enough, but the story continuously subverts expectations and kept every character relatively well-rounded and relatively sympathetic. It was refreshingly different. It was good.
Plus, I kind of just love the basic idea behind the story. Our society would totally send people to a parallel universe just to be entertaining.
Drift by Rachel Maddow
“Maddow argues that we’ve drifted away from America’s original ideals and become a nation weirdly at peace with perpetual war, with all the financial and human costs that entails.”
While I’ve fully immersed myself in the recent political history of nutrition, I’ve only been vaguely aware of what’s been going on with our wars. They’ve been feeling a bit constant since Iraq, and Maddow helps explain both why and how we got here in a candid, well-researched and mostly apolitical manner. It lends a greater perspective to where we are now and our ongoing debate about our military commitments and infrastructure without getting weighed down by finger-pointing and name-calling.
Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jethá
“While debunking almost everything we “know” about sex, Ryan and Jethá offer a bold alternative explanation in this provocative and brilliant book.”
I actually didn’t like this book, but I include it because it was fairly thought-provoking. I had a few issues with the way the authors presented their research and data, and their creepy underlying insinuations that women always want sex, but it’s a good starting point in today’s current sex research. It certainly looks at the evidence in a different light, even if I frequently questioned whether it was the correct light.
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
A Jack the Ripper copycat arrives in London at the same time Rory begins her school year. Neither naked eye nor CCTV can spot the killer, but Rory has seen him, and he’s noticed her. Now she’s the next target, and figuring out why she can see him is only the first step in stopping the killer.
This was just another fun, fast read. I’ve dipped more and more often into YA in the last few years, and this was one of the gems I’ve come across. It clips along and holds the suspense and is just gruesome enough – plus the romance isn’t too in your face or forced or angst-ridden, which is refreshing. I just liked it. So if you’re looking for a fun YA paranormal – well, here you go.
To be continued!