Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Ten Books for 2013

Hoo boy - this is exciting!  Time to reflect and re-inhabit, if just for a few moments of contemplation, the best books I read this year.  I don't read a lot of new releases so my list will consist of books that I have read this year but not necessarily published this year. Links on the title will take you to my full review for each book.  I will likely do a second post to wrap up my challenges for the year and do a little less listy reflection of the year in reading. 

The first four are easy as they were the four books I gave 5 star reviews to this year.  Looking from a distance I still agree with my original rating.  It's also worked out to be a nice representative diverse group: 1 Literary Fiction, 1 Non-fiction, 1 YA Fantasy, 1 Fantasy/Romance. 

1) Atonement by Ian McEwen

This is a pretty famous book so I don't know how much I need to say about it.  It follows the consequences that a lie told by a 13 year old in pre World War II Britain has on the lives of herself and two others.  It is gorgeously written, thought provoking and delivers a one two punch at the end that makes you question everything you've just read.  Also a deftly done and vivid historical fiction that brings the reality of war clearly into focus.  I found that when I picked it up I had trouble putting it back down.  It was everything a great novel should be!

 2) Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
This was the big book of 2012 and I wanted to read it as soon as I heard about.  I'm one of those people that will be more exhausted after a day of guiding a group of volunteers through a gentle stroll then I will after a day of digging ditches. In other words I'm an introvert and people suck the life right out of me.  It doesn't mean I'm unfriendly or hate people or that I could live as a hermit but I do need to re-charge with some quality alone time (reading of course:0).  I knew this before reading this book but I think deep down I think I felt like it meant I had a failed in some way.  Cain's book was revelatory for me, in that it did teach me some new things about myself and others like me and most of all it convinced me that being an introvert is not failing, it's an asset that I should embrace.  Yay for emotional growth!

3. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
First of all take a moment and look at that beautiful cover - once I saw the cover I HAD to read it.  Any book that evokes that kind of imagery in an illustrator's mind is likely going to be something I love.  This year I made my acquaintance with YA fiction and this book for me embodied what is great about YA fiction.  Strong narrative, grand adventure, heroic characters, growing up.  The wonderful thing about Seraphina is that it never feels forced or melodramatic and the characters are so authentic despite operating in a fantastical story.  AND it is highly imaginative with such a unique and creative take on dragons.  LOVED IT!

4. The Hidden Goddess and The Native Star by M.K. Hobson
So this is cheating a little bit because it is two books BUT it tells one large sweeping story for the most part so it felt weird including one with out the other. They are a blend of alt-history fantasy and romance and I think Hobson nails both so well.  These books were so much fun  - I listened to the audio of both and would invent housework so I could pop on my headphones and get back to the story.  The best part is that the fun came along with substance.  The magic system is one of the most interesting I've encountered.  The characters are people you want to spend time with, interesting and funny and flawed and the romance was done SO perfectly.

Now things get a little harder.  I have 24 books on my list of 4 star reads and I can only choose six.  Hmmmm...  In no particular order:

5. The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

This book felt like it was written with a lot of joy.  I guess you would classify it as Urban Fantasy but it didn't feel like any Urban Fantasy I'd read before.  It's a world where a paranormal MI-5 with an administrative body named after the major Chess pieces, clears up any major magical messes that threaten Her Majesty's Britain.  Myfanwy Thomas wakes up in the park one morning surrounded by dead men with no idea who she is and finds a cryptic note in her pocket from herself.  And that's just the beginning. It starts with a bang and delivers on that bang with a first class mystery, spy thriller, fantasy cleverly unraveled through Myfanwy's amnesiac confusion. AND it's hilarious.  It's a full package and then some!

6) Before They Are Hanged (#2 in The First Law Series) by Joe Abercrombie

I could've cheated again and added this whole amazing trilogy of gritty fantasy books but decided that Before They Are Hanged was a clear favorite for me amongst the series.  There's a traditional fantasy quest/journey and a big bad that threatens to destroy then world but despite that this is nothing like your traditional fantasy.  Things are not what they seem and the "heroes" are infinitely complex and could probably be mistaken for villains and I cared about every single one of them.  If you like George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, it's a fair bet you'll appreciate sinking yourself into this completed trilogy.

7) Memory (#10 in The Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold never fails to astonish me.  I don't even like Miles Vorkosigan very much and this book spends half the book swimming around in his head and yet still I ended it feeling blown away.  This is a turning point in in Miles' life and in the Vorkosigan series and it packs an emotional and satisfying punch.

8) Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

I guess you'd classify this one as a literary mystery novel.  It was my introduction to Kate Atkinson and I'll definitely be wanting to get into more of her books.  This book follows three unusual and cold case crimes that were never solved.  They all land in Jackson Brodie's lap, a private investigator with compassion and a pretty screwed up life.  All is brought to as fitting a resolution as one gets in life and along the way the nature of families and of evil is explored.  I really, really want to see the BBC production of this series featuring Jason Isaacs but want to read all the books first.

9) The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

There is something about Edith Wharton's writing that sucks you completely into the world she's writing about.  Lily Bart, the heroine of this story must be one of the most masterfully written characters in literature.  She's selfish and vain and materialistic but the story of her downfall broke my heart.  How did Wharton do that?

10) Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh

This last book was the hardest to decide but in the end I think Love Minus Eighty was the book that will stick with me the longest and most surprised me.  Set in a future where social media technology has reached new and scarily realistic heights, it explores what might happen if we stop relating to each other as humans.  It is set around the disturbing premise of the Bridesicle facility which keeps newly killed women who cannot afford to be revived,  frozen so that rich men can "woo" them and decide to whether they want to pay for the woman's revival in exchange for marriage.  This outlandish idea is portrayed in a way that is utterly believable and raise s so many questions.  Despite the heavy subject matter the book manages not to feel heavy and ends on a mostly positive note.

Want more Top Tens?  Head over to The Broke and The Bookish and you'll find several hundred other blogged "best of" lists thanks to their weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.


  1. Love your list! I read Atonement late last year, but would have included it if it made the mark. Agree 110% about Seraphina too. My favorite book of the year hand's down.

    1. So glad to encounter another Seraphina lover! It was so good and looking forward to, but also nervous about, the next in the series.Happy New Years!

  2. I love the eclectic nature of your list -- and the fact that you love Seraphina as much as I do! (I read it in 2012, and it made my best-of list that year.) I also want to read Quiet; it's been on my TBR list all year, but I didn't get around to it.

  3. Seraphina was without a doubt the best YA I've read thus far, though admittedly I haven't read a ton. I listened to Quiet which was a good way to encounter it and as an introvert it really struck many chords with me. I do know one friend that read it who gave it 3 out of 5 stars and I kind of understand why in her case. If you read it, I'll be interested about your opinion.

  4. Since you liked " Love Minus Eighty" --

    You should try "Ancillary Justice" by Ann Leckie.

    Yes, it's as good as the hype. World-class storytelling. High adventure, with the fate of the universe in the balance! Exploding spaceships!

    Wonderful grace-notes: in the Radch culture, the default gender-pronoun is she -- and the Radchaai have a terrible time sorting out the more firmly-gendered races.

    Very cool book. Probably my favorite SF novel of 2013 -- which was a very good year.

    1. Ancillary Justice is definitely high on my TBR pile. It sounds amazing. Thanks for the recommendation!