N.B.: Long post ahead. Part II of a four part series of posts.
Hey guys, Rose here. So this is the second part to my "Favorite Reads" list of this year. You can find the first post here.
So before I get into the second ten titles among my favorites for this year, I want to hand out some book superlatives just for fun/recognition. I did this on my blog last year with completely random categories and a wide assortment of titles based on what I'd read that respective year.
Brief description of how this works:
I have a list of superlatives among Young Adult Fiction, Adult Fiction, and Non-Fiction titles I’ve read in the past year. Now, unlike the first post, most of these are pertaining to books that I read or started to read in 2013, regardless of publishing date. So this is a bit of a free-for-all. Some of these weren’t featured on “Favorite Reads” of the last post, so this is kind of a chance for some other books to shine under some interesting categories.
This year is the same thing, though some categories are slightly amended for naming or for feature. No worries, though. The main ones are still here and I'm just going to start without further adieu.
Best Audiobook Narrator- Male
For this category, I'm choosing two honorees, one for YA fiction and one for adult fiction. First, I'll give a strong nod to Sunil Malhotra, as he had one of the best narrating voices this year for the audiobook of Rainbow Rowell's "Eleanor and Park." I thought he was able to bring Park's narration very well through the book, and he captures both the humor and sincerity of the character across many points. The other nod I'll give to Neil Gaiman for his work "The Ocean at the End of the Lane." I never get tired of Gaiman's way of narrating his works. He has that certain emotional clarity and power to his voice that make his stories come alive, and yet also feel smooth, effortless in delivery. Loved their narrations both and they certainly enhanced the quality of the stories for me personally.
Best Audiobook Narrator - Female:
Ooh, this is a tough one for Best Audiobook Narrator - Female. I picked two in YA and one in Adult, though in Non-fiction. "Code Name Verity" by Elizabeth Wein is actually not a 2013 title, but I read it for the first time this year and was blown away by the narrations of Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell. They gave such life to both narrators in the work and made it that much more powerful, making it one of my favorite reads this year.
Rebecca Lowman gets my nod for best narration in Rainbow Rowell's "Fangirl" (Yeah, the audio in this was great also. And you'll notice she also did Eleanor's voice in "Eleanor and Park"). She provides Cath with a convincing, sympathetic voice true to both her demeanor and emotional urgency throughout the events of the work. I was impressed even when I haven't heard that many narratives from Lowman before. Lastly, I'll give a nod to the narrators of "I Am Malala." Both Malala Yousafzai (who narrates her own prologue - how about that? =)) and Archie Punjabi. Malala's story is a powerful one and I couldn't help but be taken by not only Malala's own articulate narrations, but also by the strength of the narration Archie Punjabi gives to the rest of the narrative. It was a pleasure to listen to and gain insight from.
There were a lot of strong biographies/autobiographies released this year, but I have to give my autobiographical nods to both "I Am Malala", in which Malala Yousafzat chronciles her time after she was shot by the Taliban, and also to Linda Ronstadt, whose work I've admired for years in music and she takes the time to talk about her journey and respective struggles in "Simple Dreams." Biographical nods go to "Furious Cool" by David and Joe Henry, who chronicle the life of the late versatile comedian Richard Pryor, and also Cary Ginell's wonderfully illuminating portrayal of Cannonball Adderley's life in "Walk Tall."
This was not as easy of a pick to establish this year because I had so many to choose from last year for character chemistry alone, but I'm going to give it to two couples from adult fiction and one from YA. The two adult reads actually come from the same series: Kristen Callihan's "Darkest London".
Poppy and Winston from "Winterblaze" were phenomenal. Think Mr. and Mrs. Smith for antagonistic chemistry at times, except for in an alternate historical London backdrop and with dark, supernatural leanings. Granted, Poppy and Winston both have their respective flaws, but they're brilliant to watch when they work together to break the curse on their firstborn child among working out their respective issues in their marriage. I loved reading about them.
Mary and Jack from "Shadowdance" were incredible to watch as well in their dynamic. Both have an antagonistic chemistry in their partnership as they work the case for finding a serial killer, but they're more alike in their respective hardships than they bargained for. Mary and Jack are also incredibly funny, and I found myself laughing at their banter in places of the narrative.
For YA, Cath and Levi from Rainbow Rowell's "Fangirl" really stood out to me. They were so cute to see in their respective interactions, from Levi's goofy grins, to Cath gushing over her Simon Snow fic and reading it out loud to Levi in places. (She's a braver young woman than me, that's for certain.) I really enjoyed watching the progressive building of their relationship, and found it among my top YA pairs for the respective year.
Best Food for Thought Reads:
There were a lot of titles to choose from on this end of discussions, but I have to say that three titles stood out in my mind for my reads this year in the measure of "food for thought." Jody Raphael's "Rape is Rape" was an eye-opening, emotional read, examining the ins and outs of what contributes to rape culture in our society. It showcased a number of stories from victims of rape, and I'll admit it had me shaking with emotion and rage for the victims that did not, and continue to not be able to get adequate help as victims. It had its respective limitations, but I thought it did a very nice job with the research and expansion.
Chad Smith's "Leadership Lessons from the Cherokee Nation" was an inspiring and illuminating guide to Smith's experiences as a chief, both not only chronicling his progress with the tribe, but also encouraging in the principles of what makes a great leader. I learned and gained so much from it this year.
Lastly, the "Bullying Under Attack" anthology, which compiled stories from teens to teens showcased a number of different angles on the ever growing problem of bullying and cyberbullying in our society. Like Emily Bazelon's "Sticks and Stones" - it's an eye opening account of how bullying occurs and shows stories of both determination, reformation, and illumination on the matter. I greatly admired it.
Book that made me weep buckets in 2013:
I could name quite a few books in this space, including honorary mentions of "Kindness for Weakness" by Shawn Goodman and "Rose Under Fire" by Eilzabeth Wein, or even "Necessary Lies" by Diane Chamberlain. Ultimately, I'm going to give this to Elizabeth Wein's "Code Name Verity." I was just emotionally gutted by this book throughout, and I count it among my all-time favorite YA narratives for not only the expansion on the young female pilots it showcases the perspective for, but also their respective battles and bravery during WWII.
Favorite Covers of 2013:
Ooh, this is my favorite part. I'm going to showcase 20 covers that stood out to me this year among the narratives I've read (or at least read in part). Enjoy the pretty!
Favorite Horror (YA):
For this year? Hmm, that's a tough one. I didn't read that many YA horror titles, but I'm going to say hands down it was Neal Shusterman's "Unwind." I'm still anticipating reading the rest of the series, but this was incredibly well done for the characterization and writing. I read this for the first time this year.
Favorite Series of 2013:
This was difficult to choose as well, because I had to think of what series I've read this year that would qualify as an overall series I enjoyed and read multiple books for. Last year, I gave it to E. Lockhart's Ruby Oliver series, because there wasn't any contest to how much I enjoyed the series for its charming protagonist and true to life expansions. This year? Kristen Callihan's "Darkest London" series because it's blown me away with every installment. It easily takes my #1 spot as far as favorite series this year were concerned, but it's still ongoing.
So, according to Goodreads - my longest read book was a Norton Anthology on Writing with about 670 some pages, but I'm going to go with the next longest so that I can choose something from the realm of regular fiction/non-fiction. So it ended up being Veronica Roth's "Allegiant" with about 526 pages. Too bad that it didn't turn out to be a much better read that it was. I felt the length of this work all too notably.
Miss (and Mr.) Congeniality (2013):
The Miss Congeniality honor ends up going to a female character that I love within the reads that I've had for a particular year. Last year it went to Chloe from the YA comedy/slice of life book "Welcome Caller, This is Chloe". This year it goes to Riley Carver from Adrienne Kress's "Outcast." There were many reasons why I ended up choosing Riley. Her narrative voice is priceless for humor and wit. She's one of the few who can keep her cool when shooting an angel in the face and dealing with a naked boy who time-traveled in the past and doesn't have any memory of who he is. She's actually fun to watch, and I almost nominated Riley and Gabe for best couple, but I figured, why not give them the Congeniality crowns? So I guess that makes Riley Miss Congeniality, while Gabe's Mr. Congeniality. (They both deserve it.)
Most Disappointing Reads of 2013:
And it's that time again. I take no pleasure in revealing my top ten "Most Disappointing" reads of the year. This year was much harder to choose from because I will probably know 2013 forever as the year I read so many New Adult titles as far as fiction went. Many did not sit well with me.
Some of these titles had the potential to be great books, but dropped the ball before it really had a chance to roll. Others, well, they were just...not good.
I've already said my piece on RaShelle Workman's "Touching Melody." If you haven't read my review on the problems in this book, you're welcome to read it here. Fair warning, it's very long, but I could go on for the list of everything that was wrong about this book. Take a very interesting story seed about a girl who attends school with a boy whose father possibly murdered her parents and completely screw over every single thing that could make the story potentially interesting with repetitious information, misguided sexual dialogue, half developed drug dealing details, and a hero and heroine who really have no chemistry whatsoever. Based on a true story, it may be, but I honestly think the true story probably has more heart than this poorly written and offensive tale.
I've read Jennifer Echols previous works and think she's a decent writer in the YA/NA scheme. I give her credit because when her narratives are good, she can get into the heart of her overarching conflicts and characters. But when reading "Levitating Las Vegas" - I honestly had to ask what happened with that. It was like I was reading someone else's book. The writing wasn't up to par, and the interesting magical realism premise was shortchanged by offensive portrayals of Native Americans, rampant misogyny and creepy sexual advances, and characters who couldn't think for themselves worth two cents. Each and every time I think of this NA book, I cringe, maybe not as bad as I do with "Touching Melody", but I don't think well of it at all. It upset me greatly. Luckily my reading of the author's "Dirty Little Secrets" this year wasn't as bad, but it still had issues.
Sara Hantz actually had a very interesting idea with "In The Blood" - one I would wholeheartedly give credit to for appeal alone. The premise features a boy whose father goes to jail for kidnapping and killing four young boys, and his family has to deal with the aftermath. But the execution of this YA novel was all over the place - and it completely undermined the serious tone for what the work offered.
I talked about Laura Preble's "Out," Jamie McGuire's "Walking Disaster" and Blue Ashcroft's "Deeper" in expanded detail in my reviews, but all made my list among the top ten of the worst books I've ever read. "Out" presented a very shallow viewpoint of prejudices and abuses of its respected minority group, in an unrealistic way at that. The language was not only pandering, but could be noted as condoning specific prejudices rather than condemning them. It was...a challenging read to say the least. McGuire's "Walking Disaster" was not much more than a very copious rehashing of Beautiful Disaster, its preceding book, just from the hero's perspective (with copy/pasted dialogue) and with a ludicrous epilogue that had me laughing and confused as to how it would ever happen in real life. It felt like wish-fulfillment fantasy at best.
Ashcroft's "Deeper" was among New Adult titles at their worst, purportedly having a heroine who supposedly called out the misogyny of her LI, but ended up falling for him anyway. Blatant scenes of near rape were among others that had me shaking my head at the work.
"Bully" by Penelope Douglas greatly disappointed me in that it was a fluid read, but completely misconstrued and undermined the bullying against the heroine in the story, choosing to glorify elements in the progression of what ended up being a love story, I wasn't convinced or impressed by it.
The last three books on this respective list are ones that I was looking forward to, either as follow-ups to their respective series, or as a promising stand-alone title, but every single one of them failed to deliver for execution. "Allegiant," the last book in the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, didn't lose me for the measure of the ending, but rather the long, tedious slog of events, poor writing, and inconsistent characterizations of its leading protagonists. I couldn't feel much for the ending because I've read it done with much more resonance in other narratives vying for the same effect. Plus, there was just a lot of science fail to be had (genetics don't work that way. Seriously, it just doesn't.)
"Stolen Nights" by Rebecca Maziel felt like a completely different novel in the Vampire Queen series. I had issues with the first in some levels, but that was a far more compelling narrative than this one turned out, almost like it was jumping the series shark by bringing back characters (and events) that were supposedly long resolved. I just felt cheated after finishing it. And as for "Tumble and Fall" by Alexandra Coutts? My choice for the biggest disappointment of 2013, but had the most potential promise. It dropped the ball hard as a speculative narrative which forcast the end of the world - but had the most uninteresting, non-compelling characters to follow with an ending that didn't have much of a point (or impact, no pun intended).
I took a bit longer to put up this part of my favorites/superlatives list, but the next part will be coming soon. Stay tuned.