My End of Year Book Survey: 2013

Borrowed the idea from The Daily Dahlia who borrowed it from Jamie/The Perpetual Page Turner. It’s basically an end of year book survey and I thought it seemed like a really neat way to wrap up a year of reading. (Note: I left out parts of the questionnaire. Check out either of the two blogs I mentioned for the rest of it.)

BEST BOOKS IN 2013

I’m gonna take a page from Jamie at the Perpetual Page Turner’s post and do my fave per genre, because picking just one is not gonna happen:

Contemporary – PUSHING THE LIMITS by Katie McGarry and JUST ONE DAY by Gayle Forman

Paranormal – ANGELFALL by Susan Ee and THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater

Dystopian – DEFIANCE by CJ Redwine and PRODIGY by Marie Lu

Historical – ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein

Fantasy – THRONE OF GLASS by Sarah J Maas

BOOK I WAS EXCITED ABOUT BUT DIDN’T LOVE

THE INFINITE MOMENT OF US. So much of Wren and Charlie’s love story threatened to push all the buttons for my feelings, but when it came right down to it I just couldn’t buy their romance.

MOST SURPRISING (IN A GOOD WAY!) BOOK OF 2013

TRANSPARENT by Natalie Whipple. I follow the author on Twitter and totally sympathized with her not at all conventional–and downright challenging–path to publication. When she began mentioning her debut I figured I’d give it a look. I read the entire thing in under two hours, most of it leaning against the wall in my kitchen because I was WAY too absorbed to stop reading long enough to sit down.

BOOK YOU READ IN 2013 THAT YOU RECOMMENDED TO PEOPLE MOST IN 2013?

CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein. One of those books that I skated through the first half of, stopping and starting at will, before the second half hauled me in by the lapels and wouldn’t give me a moment’s peace until I’d finished. (Terrible metaphor, but the point still stands.) It also doesn’t hurt that good historical fiction goes a lot further with the book lovers I know than almost anything else.

BEST SERIES YOU DISCOVERED IN 2013

THE LYNBURN LEGACY by Sarah Rees Brennan. You want complicated relationships all across the board, a beautifully constructed English country town, and a creepy Victorian era plot that only grows more twisted? If you answered yes to all of these things (I did), then you’ll probably read the book in an evening (I almost did.)

FAVORITE NEW AUTHOR YOU DISCOVERED IN 2013

Alexandra Bracken, without question. Everyone I knew who read THE DARKEST MINDS raved about it, and I completely and totally understood why. The sequel is on my shelf right now and the anticipation might actually be killing me.

BEST BOOK THAT WAS OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE OR A NEW GENRE FOR YOU

HUSHED by Kelley York. I love dark YA/NA and angsty male protagonists, but I’d never really read something with so many deeply screwed up characters in so many screwed up situations. That said, it was refreshing to read a book with a gay romantic pairing where the plot didn’t center around either of them stressing about falling in love with another guy. Authors writing QUILTBAG books, take note!

MOST THRILLING, UNPUTDOWNABLE BOOK OF 2013

Super freaking tough call. There were a bunch of books I read in one sitting this year, but of those, only one kept me up until after two in the morning, and that was ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell.

BOOK YOU READ IN 2013 THAT YOU ARE LIKELY TO RE-READ IN THE COMING YEAR

HYDRAULIC LEVEL FIVE by Sarah Latchaw. Excellent indie published fiction with a romance that’s by turns hilarious and heart-breaking. (Actually, I’ve re-read large chunks of the book already.)

FAVORITE COVER OF A BOOK YOU READ IN 2013

ALL OUR PRETTY SONGS by Sarah McCarry. I’m a sucker for musical instruments on book covers though.

MOST MEMORABLE CHARACTER IN 2013

Jared, from UNSPOKEN by Sarah Rees Brennan. Hands down.

MOST BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN BOOK READ IN 2013

THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater. I’m actually trying to figure out which parts of my body I’d have to sell to Satan for an ounce of her talent.

BOOK THAT HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON YOU IN 2013

TARGET by Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson. I have a lot of trouble discussing why this book grabbed hold of me so much, since it wasn’t the most well-constructed story I found this year. I guess I found it refreshingly honest of the author to write a male character who takes on a pair of issues that are so commonly dismissed as female-centric.

BOOK YOU CAN’T BELIEVE YOU WAITED UNTIL 2013 TO FINALLY READ

THE PIPER’S SON by Melina Marchetta, since I read SAVING FRANCESCA half my lifetime ago–or so it seems–and would’ve jumped on a possible sequel had I only known one existed.

FAVORITE PASSAGE/QUOTE FROM A BOOK YOU READ IN 2013

“Please come back soon. The window is always open.” –CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein

SHORTEST AND LONGEST BOOK YOU READ IN 2013

Uh, these are just guesses, but I would have to say MY BOOK OF LIFE BY ANGEL by Martine Leavitt was the shortest, and THE DARKEST MINDS by Alexandra Bracken was the longest.

BOOK THAT HAD A SCENE THAT HAD ME REELING/DYING TO TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT IT

GIRL OF NIGHTMARES by Kendare Blake. The only thing that kept me from talking to someone was the possibility of scaring the hell out of all my then coworkers simultaneously.

FAVORITE RELATIONSHIP FROM A BOOK YOU READ IN 2013

Friendship-wise THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater. In terms of romance Eleanor and Park from ELEANOR AND PARK by Rainbow Rowell.

FAVORITE BOOK IN 2013 FROM AN AUTHOR YOU’VE READ PREVIOUSLY

REVENGE OF THE GIRL WITH THE GREAT PERSONALITY by Elizabeth Eulberg. Please keep on writing more awesome ladies and strong female relationships for me in 2014!

BEST BOOK YOU READ IN 2013 THAT YOU READ SOLELY ON A RECOMMENDATION FROM SOMEONE ELSE

THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS by Meg Clayton Waite. Thanks, Grandma!

GENRE YOU READ THE MOST FROM IN 2013

Contemporary or paranormal, if I had to guess.

BOOK THAT MADE YOU CRY IN 2013

I was relatively stone-faced throughout the majority of the book, but the very last page of CODE NAME VERITY made be bawl like a baby.

BOOK YOU READ IN 2013 THAT YOU THOUGHT GOT OVERLOOKED THIS YEAR OR WHEN IT CAME OUT

HUSHED by Kelley York. I decided to read this based on one review, and now I can’t believe more people haven’t read it. A chillingly fascinating, but ultimately redemptive story.

 

What other books should I know about for 2014? What are you eager to read?

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Book Review #25: The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

There was SO MUCH buzz surrounding “The 5th Wave” when it came out that I actually started to worry before I’d even read it. Anytime I stumble across a new book that is hyped extensively by everyone who reads it, I become the cynic who turns to page one knowing she’s either going to be blown away or be thoroughly unimpressed.

While thoroughly unimpressed is a bit of an overstatement, I had no problems putting “The 5th Wave” down for weeks at a time until the final fifty pages or so. I was intrigued by the concept and the characters, but not enough to devour the book in one sitting or stay up half the night just to see what happens.

I really liked the opening of the story. Seeing Cassie compare her life just before the start of the invasion to her present existence was terrifying and heartbreaking, and more than a little creepy. There are very few apocalyptic or post apocalyptic novels that I’ve read–especially ones that veer toward science fiction or fantasy–where every link in the chain of events was believable. Yancey’s novel was a total exception to that rule, and the way its set-up made the unlikely seem totally possible was one of the strengths of the story.

For a novel touted as a page turner, I couldn’t help thinking that “The 5h Wave” suffered most from a dragging, at times disjointed middle section. The how and why of which characters were introduced and when, left me feeling almost too confused at times to enjoy the sense of impending doom facing these people I cared about. Yancey includes a couple different POV characters to take us through pieces of the story, but up until the final hundred pages or so, I had no idea which of the earlier, anonymous POVs matched some of the characters introduced later on.

Although that confusion didn’t irritate me enough to make me stop reading, it did hamper what might have been an otherwise smoother reading experience. Then again, this could very well just be an issue unique to my perspective.

What saved the book for me was the final section or three, the big climax where everything is going nuclear at once, so to speak. If I spent most of the story waiting for something to break my heart or turn my stomach or make me cheer, the ending delivered on all three of those and more. I’ll probably pick up the sequel, but I’ll definitely be going in with adjusted expectations.

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Book Review #24: Just One Year

“Just One Year” by Gayle Forman

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This was one of my most anticipated sequels of 2013, and it only moved up the ranks after I devoured “Just One Day” in, well, just one day. Though this pair of novels didn’t quite captivate me in the way that “If I Stay” and “Where She Went” managed to, they didn’t disappoint either.

“Just One Year” picks up where Allyson and Willem’s paths diverge, after their magical day in Paris. The rest of the novel focuses less on Willem’s attempts to find Allyson and more on his attempt to piece his life back together and figure out what–if any–role Allyson played, or could play in it.

One of the things I loved about “Just One Year” was watching Willem’s character develop, until he moved from mesmerizing foreigner, to troubled, commitment-phobe wanderer with who feels the most lost among his splintered family and friends. His journey of stumbling and falling and screwing up and picking himself up nicely mirrored Allyson’s without feeling like imitation or repetition.

The place descriptions were gorgeous as always, and I enjoyed Forman’s portraits of cultures that were so different than the ones experienced by the characters in book one. I never much felt like I got to know Mexico or India in the way that I became acquainted with Amsterdam later in the story, but that felt right. Willem wasn’t attempting to familiarize himself with those places either, and to see a bunch of intimate knowledge from him would’ve felt disingenuous.

Unlike Allyson of “Just One Day,” Willem doesn’t do much actual reciprocal searching. I enjoyed this and I didn’t. Although it made sense for Allyson’s character arc to involve finding Willem AND herself, Willem’s was much more effective when he was searching more for a place–or a sense of place–to call his own. The way his sense of place tied back to his day with Allyson cemented for me how little he’d managed to forget her in their time apart. I would’ve loved to see more “Serendipity” type near misses and missed chances, but I understand how they might not have worked for this story.

My biggest gripe about the novel was how long it took me to remember Willem’s back story and get to know him through that particular lens. His family history, his heritage and past life weren’t painted with much detail in “Just One Day,” and I spent the better first half of this novel trying to remind myself, or piece together, what had happened to give him such a case of wanderlust. The importance those aspects of Willem’s life played in “Just One Year” made me wish I’d had more information about them going into the story.

I’d highly recommend this book, this series really. These companion novels were meant to be two sides of similar but divergent stories, and I almost think they’d be most enjoyable read immediately back to back. Take some time to savor the ending if you do. I’ve heard some complaints about it, but I think Forman ended the story in the most perfect place possible.

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When the Foundation Won’t Settle

I’ve always been one of those writers who has trouble with beginnings. Whether I have a fantastic grip on most of the story or a story that coalesces as I write it, I will inevitably change or rewrite the beginning five or six times. Starting in the wrong place with the wrong character POV has become something of an art form in most of my completed manuscripts. It’s a personal handicap, but one I’m working to overcome with more projects and more time.

Lately I’ve been having the same problem with an especially nasty twist. Not only am I incapable of finding the right beginning for the story I’d decided would be my next WIP, I’m not even sure that I’m currently telling the story I’d like to tell. In my Double Rebel post, I mentioned Amnesia Conspiracy, which was the working title for the manuscript I hoped to add to during NaNoWriMo. I was super excited about getting back to those characters and that story once my FACING THE MUSIC rewrite was finished. But even though phase one went according to plan and I walked away at the end of November with a completed manuscript, this was also the first year ever that I haven’t won in the 50k, one month, sense.

In fact, I added almost no words to Amnesia Conspiracy over the last half of November available to me. The writing that had seemed so easy back in September had become a mindless, uncaring, oh-God-my-protagonist-has-no-voice sort of slog. And that still wasn’t among the largest of my problems. You want to know what was?

Letting that story sit for almost two months only reinforced the opinions I’d had when I’d started it.

The manuscript that is still loosely dubbed Amnesia Conspiracy stemmed from a tangled web of different ideas. Secrecy, small town crime, mistrust among families, intense romantic relationships, perceptions of mental illness and a whole host of other things. All of those are ideas, in their most generic sense, are fantastic foundations on which to start a story. But I could not find a way to weave them into one cohesive narrative for the life of me.

The first time I tried writing Amnesia Conspiracy was late summer–August, I think. I got two chapters in with two different protagonists, and both voices were so CLEAR to me that I was instantly hooked. Except there wasn’t any plot. I had these really strong, polar opposite female characters, and absolutely nothing to do with them.

Incarnation number two was the one I hoped to continue in November. This time I had a plot I loved, one I thought might stretch itself through two books, which was both exciting and terrifying. But all that fantastic plotting came completely at the expense of real characters and not cardboard cut-outs. Truth be told, I’m not even sure the plotting itself was that fantastic because the way I’d set up the narrative left me bogged down in a bunch of useless non-action that no one in their right mind was going to care about.

Because NaNo was happening, and I’d finished the WIP that I knew well, and the pressure to make word count was higher than ever, I tried so hard to come up with ways to unstick this story and get it going again. Unfortunately, the answer I kept coming back to was that I couldn’t. Not right now, anyway. Not without time and that percolating that interesting ideas do from the back of your brain, waiting for the perfect moment to spring to life. Right now I have a lovely, solid idea foundation, and absolutely no idea what the house that’s supposed to sit atop it looks like. Or really, if I’m supposed to be building a house in the first place.

So where does that leave me? In the process of plotting something else, currently. I’m taking a bunch of notes this time to make up for the minimal plotting that I’d done on Amnesia Conspiracy. Jotting down ideas on paper, where I can safely veto the terrible things with a black pen while still leaving them visible, has been working for me really well so far.

Maybe, if progress is still happening in the next couple weeks, I’ll have more of an update ready for you all.