2013 Books in Review, Part Two

I started you off a few days ago with part one of my favorite books from this year. Here’s part two!

The Final Descent by Rick Yancey
“Will Henry has been on the brink of death on more than one occasion, he has gazed into hell — and hell has stared back, and known his face. But through it all, Dr. Warthrop has been at his side. But on one day, Will’s life — and Pellinor Warthrop’s destiny — will lie in balance. In the terrifying depths of the Monstrumarium, they will face a monster more terrible than any they could have imagined.”

This is YA? How is this remotely YA? I still don’t understand, but I’m glad it exists. Yancey hooked us with the Monstrumologist and now, four books later, finally brings us back to the beginning.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the last in this series – it could have gone a hundred different ways – but it could only really have gone one. I loved the darkness in the other books and I appreciate that Yancey didn’t shy away from that, even when it must have been profoundly tempting. That said, I was left dissatisfied. There was just something… missing. But that, too, that eerie, inexplicable emptiness, that moment of quiet unease after the last page, was in keeping with the series’ greater themes.

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan
Kami Glass has a boy in her head. Quite literally. Although they’ve talked since she can remember, she’s never met him. But all that changes when the Lynburns, a powerful local family, return. Between the bloody deaths in the woods and her own mother’s secrets, Kami comes face to face with the boy in her head.

More YA! More fun! Although this got a little angsty at times – and I could’ve sworn up and down that they were all going to turn out to be werewolves – the characters were fun and there was a bonus!lesbian whose arc didn’t derail the story and ended up adding quite a lot of incidental humor.

The Collector by John Fowles
“Withdrawn, uneducated and unloved, Frederick collects butterflies and takes photographs. Obsessed with a beautiful stranger, Miranda, he buys a remote Sussex house and calmly abducts her, believing she will grow to love him in time. Alone and desperate, Miranda must struggle to overcome her contempt if she is to understand her captor and gain her freedom.”

This was recommended to me when I began asking for horror novels in October, and for good reason. It starts off a little dull, a little dusty, then quickly becomes unsettling and disquieting. And it’s all the worst for the quiet, semi-sane rationalizing the main character does throughout, turning his horrid little acts into something sane, even sublime. But it’s not until the very end that you fully realize the monster he’s become.

The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum
“Blum follows New York City’s first forensic scientists to discover a fascinating Jazz Age story of chemistry and detection, poison and murder.”

Thank goodness for FDA regulation – otherwise we’d still be brushing our teeth with radioactive materials. I learned a lot about early chemistry and poison, but even more about government and the lengths to which people will go just for a drink. If you have a libertarian friend, I suggest you gently gift them this book – or strongly hint they should read. Maybe then they’ll shut up about the self-governance of an unregulated market.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
“The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.”

This was a timely book as a family member was in his last weeks when I read it. It’s a young book – I’d guess middle grade – but it’s exquisitely well done. It handles the severe and sometimes ugly emotions of grief very well, while bringing them to a level a kid could understand, but without dumbing them down. I might have cried. Okay. I definitely cried.

Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
“For any woman unhappy with her current method of birth control; demoralized by her quest to have a baby; or experiencing confusing symptoms in her cycle, this book provides answers to all these questions, plus amazing insights into a woman’s body.”

Since being a lesbian means a little more intention is needed to get pregnant, I’ve been reading up on any and everything about the subject. This book is by far the most widely recommended for a reason. It’s very thorough – to the point of redundant redundancy – and very detailed. It even has charts! Lots and lots – and lots (and lots) – of charts. I learned way more than in any high school bio class, and I’d advise any lady (or curious dude) to at least skim through for a better understanding of how their bodies work, even if you’re not remotely interested in having children.
Spoiler: hormones!

Zealot by Reza Aslan
“Sifting thru centuries of mythmaking, Aslan sheds light on one of history’s most influential and enigmatic characters by examining Jesus thru the lens of the tumultuous era in which he lived: 1st-century Palestine, an age of apocalyptic fervor. “

Although I absorbed some early CE & late BCE history through my Classics courses, they largely skimmed over the turmoil raging in modern-day Israel around that time. Although the author argues against the book’s own title within the first chapter, the overall narrative is interesting, well-researched, and compelling. Considering my dearth of knowledge of that era, I can only speak to this book as a good introduction and starting point. I’d be really interested to know what other scholars thought, although I got the feeling that none of this was remotely groundbreaking or out there in that field.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
“Ten years ago, ordinary men and women inexplicably gained extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his will. It’s nigh impossible to stand against the super powered, but David plans to – and he plans to win.”
Sanderson, Sanderson, Sanderson. You keep doing this. This – this writing thing. And I love you for it. But maybe can you finish a trilogy or series first before starting us on another? Good god, man, how do you even do it? Come up with all these new magic systems and worlds? I don’t even.
Steelheart is a lot like a YA version of Mistborn, but it’s still fairly dark and complex.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

If you need an introduction to Allie Brosh, then it may already be too late for you. But if it’s not too late, I suggest getting caught up. Allie has captured the reality of depression, anxiety, and childhood trauma with amazing accuracy and humor and MSPaint drawings. If nothing else, her stories are painfully hilarious.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
“Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable, or to dare greatly. Whether the arena is a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation, we must find the courage to walk into vulnerability and engage with our whole hearts.”

Oh goodness, this book. There are so many good things and ideas in this book, and all of it was what I needed right now. I’ve already pushed it on my wife, and I’m keen to push it on quite a few of my friends. It really helps to break down the differences between shame and guilt, only one of which we really have control over, and to focus on changing what we can control, not who we are. I can’t even really begin to talk about this book yet, since I’m still processing so much of it, but I promise there will be an entire post on this topic in the future.

What were some of your favorite books that you read this year?


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