Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Book List

Let's be honest, this blog has just become a way for me to keep track of what I'm reading.  And I'm okay with that.  I love having lists of what books I've read.  I refer to them relatively often, when I'm thinking of what to recommend to other people, or if I'm considering a reread.  Or just to remember a certain time.  Many of these books bring back not just memories of the books, but also what was going on in my life when I read them.

So here's my 2013 list of books.  Highlighted books I would recommend (some to anyone, some to just fans of the genre).
  • Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. I read the first 2/3 of this book when I was overtired and over-caffeinated and though it was ridiculously funny. I was laughing so hard I was crying. I read the last 1/3 of this book when I was tired and had a migraine coming on. It was okay. I don't know if the book really got less funny, of if my mood affected my reading. One chapter that stood out as terrible: some random interlude about a retreat with a bunch of bloggers. Other than that, though, I'd recommend this book for anyone looking for a good laugh.
  • The Last Dragonslayer (The Chronicles of Kazam #1) by Jasper Fforde. I like Jasper Fforde. I find his books smart, in a silly way. Interesting but not too heavy. Fun. This was no exception.
  • Takedown Twenty (Stephanie Plum #20): An adequate entry in a repetitive series. But it repeats a boilerplate I seem to enjoy, so no foul.
  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Strong writing, strong story. Would recommend widely.
  • How To Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman. A very short story given away as a freebie ebook to promote his new novel. Always enjoy Gaiman.
  • Dead Ever After (Sookie Stackhouse #13). Well, it was a limp across the finish line, but this series is done and I appreciate Ms. Harris for not just milking it endlessly.
  • The Indigo Spell (Bloodlines #3) by Richelle Mead. I'm not going to say it's fine literature, but I really do enjoy Richelle Mead's writing and the world she has created. Finally gave up on waiting to find this in the library and actually spent money on this one.
  • Ember (Death Collectors #1) by Jessica Sorensen. Didn't love it, but it was surprisingly readable. Not sure I'd seek out book 2, but if someone left it on my doorstep, I'd probably give it a try.
  • Down a Lost Road by J. Leigh Bralick. Forgettable.
  • Allegiant (Divergent #3) by Veronica Roth. A lot of people are unhappy with this book because of the huge plot twist at the end of the novel. I actually liked that. I'm unhappy with this book because of not-great writing and plotting. The series really veered away from the story of the first book, which I really enjoyed. Oh well.
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Oh sad and wonderful YA novel about two high school aged kids with cancer. Lovely.
  • Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica. Very engaging memoir of life as a waiter.
  • Affliction (Anita Blake #22) by Laurell K. Hamilton. Used to love this series, then just when I was about to give up on it, it got marginally better. That's where this book hit. Just a little bit better than terrible.
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King. A time travel book about going back in time to try to save JFK. SLOW start, but well-worth it. I ended up really enjoying this one.
  • Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale. Slightly disappointing. I was expecting a little more from Shepherd Book's backstory.
  • Serenity: Better Days. Enjoyed this. Like graphic novels, love Firefly.
  • The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King. A novel in the Dark Tower universe. Always nice to revisit a favorite series. This book was better than some of the later books in the series, even though it was just a stand-alone.
  • Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by David Sheff. A memoir by a father about his son's addiction to meth. So difficult to read at times because it was sad and scary. Would like to read Tweak by the son about his own addiction.
  • A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan. Found this slightly dull and slow moving. Not bad, just didn't capture my attention.
  • Skin and Other Stories by Roald Dahl. Glad I came across these short story collections. Enjoyed them more than I ever liked Dahl's children's stories!
  • The Umbrella Man and Other Stories by Roald Dahl. Really enjoyed this!
  • A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel adapted by Hope Larson. I generally enjoy graphic novels. And I love A Wrinkle in Time--one of my favorite books as a child. And I'm enough of a geek that I appreciate remakes rather than think they can't live up to the original. So by all accounts this should have been a win for me. But it left me disappointed. For some reason having it in graphic form, for me, detracted from the emotional resonance of the novel.
  • Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain. Don't know why it took me so long to read this...I've had it on my "to read" list since it came out. Good, made me not want to work in a restaurant.
  • Straight Man by Richard Russo. As always, and enjoyable read in a genre I don't generally enjoy, saved by Russo's writing that just clicks for me.
  • Warriors Series (Books 1 - 6) by Erin Hunter. Boy, did my kids get into this series! Far better than I would have guessed a series about a group of warrior cats would be. Really enjoyed them!
  • Valiant by Holly Black. I really enjoyed Tithe, so I was excited to pick this up. But it just didn't resonate for me. I found the characters unrelatable and the drug theme stretched. Still readable, though, and I'd definitely pick up other books by Holly Black to see if they were a better fit for my tastes.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: On Your Own (Season 9 Book 2): Good, though not quite as good as Season 8.
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Freefall (Season 9 Book 1): Good, though not quite as exciting as Season 8.
  • I Am America by Stephen Cobert. About what you would expect if you watch the Colbert Report. Some good, some not so good. Overall okay. Picked it up at a used book fair. Donated it back when I was done.
  • MaddAddam (MaddAddam Trilogy #3) by Margaret Atwood. I love Margaret Atwood. Any year with new Atwood is a good year. This didn't disappoint. Reread the whole trilogy. Amazing. Book 2 (The Year of the Flood) is my favorite book ever.
  • Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness. Not good. At all. Terrible romance, even worse fantasy. Yikes.
  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. Interesting read. Worth a try, even though it's outside my normal genre.
  • Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead. She's got a very addicting writing style...maybe not the finest of fine literature, but enjoyable. However, this book was a huge letdown, and the first book of hers I've read that was just blah. Oh well, I can't love every book I read, right?
  • The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey. "It's the next Hunger Games!" "Oh, it's as good as Ender's Game!" "Like dystopian fiction? You'll love this!" Um, no. Sorry, this just didn't do it for me. Kind of Twilight-y, though I guess to be fair it's not quite Stephanie-Meyer-bad. Anyway, can't understand even a little what the hullabaloo is all about. Missed the mark for me.
  • Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles #1) by Suzanne Collins. Liked this. I mean, it's no Hunger Games, but very readable. Aimed at a younger audience than Hunger Games. Haven't been able to find the sequels at the library, yet, though.
  • The Silver Dream (Interworld #2) by Michael Reaves and Mallory Reaves. Not bad. This series is really "not bad" to me--nothing wrong with it, but it just doesn't excite me. Ah well.
  • Shards & Ashes edited by Melissa Marr and Kelley Armstrong. Short stories? Check. YA? Check. Dystopians? Check. Was this book written specifically for me? Loved it!
  • Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie. Another YA dystopian series. Enjoyable, but not "shout it from the rooftops" great. I felt like there could have been more world building and explanations of the setting, plus slightly more robust characters. But not bad.
  • Prodigy (Legend #2) by Marie Lu. Really didn't enjoy this. Characters were one-dimensional and unbelievable. Worse, I found the story boring. Blech.
  • Legend by Marie Lu. I kept seeing this pop up on "if you liked Hunger Games" lists, so when I saw it at the library, I decided to give it a try. It's a YA dystopian. Day and June are similar character on "opposite sides" of the ruling class. One outlaw, one military, both "legends". I don't know, I'm having trouble giving this a fair review because of how much I disliked book 2. To be fair, while this was formulaic and not groundbreaking, I liked this enough that I actually paid to buy book 2 in the series. Though while this book was not bad, I'd still steer people away from the series. Don't think I'll try book 3 when it comes out.
  • Variant by Robinson Wells. This isn't a book, it's half a book. I have no problem with a series. I don't even have a huge problem with a cliffhanger ending, as long as the majority of the plot is somehow wrapped up. This book just ends right in the middle of the action. Unforgivable! Besides the ending, it was adequate YA sci fi about a school where the students can't leave and there are no adults. The only thing that slightly redeems this is that when I went to rate it on goodreads, the author rated it 5 stars and the review said something like "that's an unbiased rating". So I added a star to my rating for cracking me up.
  • In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White. A memoir of a white collar criminal who was incarcerated on shared grounds with a leper colony in the southern US. Pretty interesting, worth a read, author sometimes seemed a little untrustworthy as a memoirist, but for the most part I really enjoyed it.
  • Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves. Okay. YA (or maybe even juvenile...seemed young to me) sci fi. Not bad, just kind of forgettable. Not really what I'd hope for from a Gaiman novel, but not bad.
  • Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky. A relatively interesting memoir. Main tip for getting good service at hotels: TIP, TIP, and TIP. Worth a read.
  • Ruins (Pathfinder #2) by Orson Scott Card. Pathfinder wasn't too bad, so I took this out from the library. Well, this was HORRIBLE. Horrible, I say! The book was boring, it was all "tell the reader exactly what they should be feeling and thinking" style of writing. At one point, a character has an internal monologue that goes something like "why am I acting this way? Why am I jealous of my friend and mad at him? Oh, am I in love? I must be! This must be what love is." Seriously, that bad. Ugh. I used to love OSC. This was a painful, sad, sad, unpleasant waste of time. Worst book I've read in at least a year. Yikes. Nothing redeeming here.
  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. They can't all be YA guilty pleasures--once in a while, I read something of some substance. This is about the experience of a family where the husband was falsely accused and detained after Katrina in New Orleans. Well done, and shines a light on a part of America that I'd sooner believe doesn't exist.
  • Alienation (C.H.A.O.S. #2) by Jon Lewis. Quite readable.
  • Invasion (C.H.A.O.S. #1) by Jon Lewis. A fun consiracy theory kind of book about a teenaged boy pulled into a secret world. I keep bopping between giving it 3 and 4 stars. Perfectly good for what it is, will certaily recommend to my boys when they're a few years older.
  • The Golden Lily (Bloodlines #2) by Richelle Mead. Enjoying these series, in a guilty pleasure kind of way.
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Enjoyed this book, wanted to keep reading, was fairly disappointed about the end, and now found it forgettable. I guess it was a mixed bag for me.  Liked it enough that I wouldn't steer anyone away from it if it sounded interesting.
  • The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell. Just love her, love her books! This wasn't my favorite, but she's still a really interesting writer.
  • Bloodlines by Richelle Mead. Making my way through the M's on the library YA bookshelf...
  • Last Sacrifice (Vampire Academy #6) by Richelle Mead. Picking these up at the library, not sure I'd spend money on them but sure are quick reads.
  • Spirit Bound (Vampire Academy #5) by Richelle Mead. Definitely readable, not great art. Know what you're getting into and it fits the bill just fine.
  • Blood Promise (Vampire Academy #4) by Richelle Mead. Think I might have missed one of these, but still picked up the storyline. It's good for what it is...
  • 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Writing was exquisite. Storyline was exceptional. Started strong, but dragged a little at the end for me. Oh well, still love Murakami, and this was still an above-average book!
  • The Search for the Red Dragon (The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica #2) by James A. Owen. Pretty good. Will continue to search out future books in the series at the library. And will keep these in mind for my kids when they're a few years older.
  • The Calligrapher's Daughter by Eugenia Kim. Enjoyed this, but the constant barage of troubles the characters face made for a long read.
  • The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson. Nonfiction about the cholera outbreak in 1854 on Broad Street in London. End of the book is an interesting section on modern epidemiology and looking to the future.
  • Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. Just love her writing style, and how she picks the oddest things to research. Fun book!
  • Here, There Be Dragons (The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica #1) by James Owen. Pretty good quest fantasy that pulls in tons of history of the genre. Beautiful illustrations. Main character is a little annoying to me, though. Will probably look for sequels...
  • Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. Great! May even be better than the Thursday Next series. Loved it!
  • Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore. Not my favorite Moore novel, but not bad.
  • Leviathan (Leviathan #1) by Scott Westerfeld. I'm not a fan of steampunk, so I'd passed by this book with a steampunk-y cover many a time, even though Westerfeld is one of my favorite YA authors. Finally decided to give it a try. Westerfeld is a true master of world building. Really enjoyed this; can't wait to pick up the next book in the series!
  • Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli. Another weird YA dreamy surreal story. Not my favorite Spinelli, though he does have a way to pull you through a story. However, this one kind of felt like one long prologue that ended just when the story was about to start.
  • The World of Karov by Elyse Salpeter. The author is a friend of my SIL, and this is a fantasy novel, so of course I gave this a try! As a mom of twins, I have a particular distaste for good/evil twin stories, but I was able to put that aside for this book.
  • Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places by Bill Streever. I caught the author promoting his new book, Heat, on NPR. It sounded great, but was too expensive on Amazon for me to try out. But, as I added it to my "look for at the library" list, I saw he had an older book about Cold that was less expensive. So I picked this one up. It was good. I tend to like non-fiction/memoir-ish natural history combos. This was no exception. A relatively quick read, with many interesting spots, though like many pop non-fiction works, has a big "I'm repeating myself, again and again" problem.
  • The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee by Sarah Silverman. I find Sarah Silverman to be absolutely hilarious in very small doses. Ten, fifteen minutes of Sarah Silverman makes me crack up. More than that makes me feel like her humor is overly forced, and that she's kind of annoying. But for those first 10 mintues, LOVE her! That's what this book was like for me. Awesome, as long as I read it in small chunks. She is very, very funny...
  • Dishwasher: One Man's Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States by Pete Jordan. An interesting premise for an autobiography. However, I don't know why I was surprised--the author spends the whole memior saying how he never finishes anything and just walks out of jobs--why was I surprised when the book just kind of pooped out and ended? Well, overall, not bad if a little repetitive.
  • Wool (#1) by Hugh Howey. Dystopian? You're speaking my language! Heard this was a must-read for dystopian fans, but honestly, this was a mixed bag for me. It's a short story, or part of a longer story, or a series of short stories? I don't know. It was too confusing to figure out on Amazon, and I haven't bothered to seek out a source to explain what to read next. Maybe some day I will, because I did like this, even if I didn't love it.
  • Home to Oblivion by Roger Whittlesey. Picked this up as it's by a local author. Love to see people achieving their dreams! This book had a surreal, dream-like quality. Kind of LOST island meets people stranded from various wars.
  • Nightingale by David Farland. I picked this up during a "book bomb" to support the author's injured son. So I didn't really buy it because it interested me, just to help somoene out. Well, I was immediately paid back by karma--this book was AMAZING. A real joy to read, tore right through it. Can't wait for a sequel. Handed it immediately off to my husband.
  • The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. Unlikable characters are always a turnoff to me, so that was a big strike against this book from the get go. And the cutesy, aren't I smart ending was unbearable.
  • Shadow Kiss (Vampire Academy #3) by Richelle Mead. I'll probably try to take all of this series out of the library. A diversion.
  • Frostbite (Vampire Academy #2) by Richelle Mead. Took this out from the library. Not a bad read, somewhat a guilty-pleasure-ish kind of read, but I glad I didn't spend money on it!
  • Cabal of the Westford Knight by David Brody. Written by a local author, so I picked it up. Not particularly a genre I enjoy, but I liked this enough that I passed it on to my dad who likes mystery/thrillers.
  • In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. Tells the story of the US ambassador to Germany right before the start of WWII. Interesting!
  • The Infernals by John Connolly. Picked this up at a used book sale--didn't realize until I had already started that it was a second book in a series. Enjoyed it anyway--need to look for book 1!
  • Just After Sunset by Stephen King. I like short stories, I tend to enjoy King's short stories. This was kind of a mixed bag for me, though.
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. A story of a dysfunctional family. Didn't love it, didn't hate it.
  • Reamde by Neal Stephenson. A sci-fi thriller. Better than some of his other recent books, but still BLOATED. Suffers from pacing issues, in that it's a 1000+ page thriller that never takes a breath.
  • Gulp by Mary Roach. Could Mary Roach please be my new best friend? Seriously. Loved it!
  • The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett. Interesting book about a rare book thief. Part biography (that's where I found it in the library), but also part memoir of the author finding/chasing the story.
By the numbers:

Number of books read this year:  87, plus a couple rereads I didn't list here (Hunger Games series, again, Divergent, a few other favorites)

Number I'd recommend:  45.  I tend to run right about at a 50% recommend rate.  I'm pretty easy to please.  And I'm getting better about not reading books that don't appeal to me.

Favorite books of the yearMaddAddam by Margaret Atwood.  Boy, do I ever love this trilogy.  It's kind of unfair--could anything else really compete with new Atwood?  I also really loved Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde with two caveats:  1) it's book one in the series, and the next book won't be out for ages, and 2) IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH 50 SHADES OF GREY!  Ugh.  Too bad that crap series casts a pall on this otherwise amazing but unfortunately titled book.  Nightingale by David Farland was also outstanding, though again it's a first book in a series with no announced release date for book two.

Least favorite books of the year:  Oh, I got a little wound up this year.  First, let's talk about the end of the Divergent series.  Oh no.  That first book showed such promise.  The twist at the end of book 3--I know a lot of people hated it, but I actually liked it and thought it was one of the bright and true parts of the second two books.  What didn't I like?  The writing.  Weak characterization.  Burning through characters with no emotional kick.  The story.  Wasted potential, after such an interesting book one in the series.  Wish that instead of the story declining to the level of the writing in book 1, the writing had improved to match the level of the plot/ideas of book 1.

Another book that didn't live up to the hype for me was The Fifth Wave.  Kept hearing how good this was, and I really looked forward to it.  But I felt like the author missed the mark capturing the voice of the main character, and I just didn't like the story. 

And I don't know whether to laugh (because I've grown to hate everything about OSC's personal politics) or cry (because I absolutely loved so many of his old books), but Ruins was one of the worst books I've ever read, bar none.  I can't even believe that the same person who brought Ender's Game into the world wrote something so horrid.

Nonfiction:  I read a ton of non-fiction again this year, with a decided preference for memoirs and biographies.  Read a quartet of service related memoirs (Waiter Rant, by a waiter; Kitchen Confidential, by a chef/restauranteur, Heads in Beds, by a hotel employee; and Dishwasher, by an itinerant dishwasher).  Read Gulp and Bonk by Mary Roach (LOVE HER!), where she hilariously researches a specific topic (digestion and sex, in these two books).  Bedwetter and Let's Pretend This Never Happened were two funny memoirs.  Plus a number of other nonfiction books.  Really enjoying non-fiction, and am especially on the lookout for recommendations of outstanding nonfiction.

YA Fiction:  I read a ton of YA fiction.  I wanted to give a shout out to Richelle Mead and the Vampire Academy/Bloodlines series.  Great literature?  Nah.  Super fun and readable?  Definitely.  I'm not sure who I'd recommend these to, but if they sound at all interesting to you and you're just looking for a fun supernatural series that isn't terribly written (ahem, ahem Twilight) or that doesn't markedly decline in quality (ahem, ahem, the Anita Blake series and the Sookie Stackhouse series), this is the series for you.

As always, I'm on the lookout for new suggestions.  Leave me a comment and let me know what I should read!

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