Saturday, December 28, 2013

The "Best Books" Non-List of 2013

It's the time of year when I start to see top ten and best-of lists popping everywhere. About everything. Best Vines. Best video games. Top 10 albums, top 50 sports moments, top 15 natural disasters. And so on. But I do like seeing what others are reading- I've actually paid attention to the Goodreads and Amazon "Best of" lists this year, and even found a couple of good books that way. I thought I'd take some time to lay out a few of this year's favorite books, in no particular order. So it's not a list. Just kind of some loosely collected favorites.

The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta

One of the few series I'm into lately. And honestly, I can't really explain what draws me to these books. They're kind of trippy, for lack of a better word. Lots of people love them- I think I read the first one because of one of Claire LeGrand's best-of lists- but the writing is kind of dense, and has a meandering quality to it. But the characters are solid, and the emotions? Wow. So they're books with a lot of depth and a deeply imagined political plot. It's kind of like reading a really exciting, really vivid game of chess. And Quintana, whom we meet in Book 2, is one of the most unique characters I've ever read. Just really great. I didn't exactly like her at first, but she's just such a great creation, wholly original, and by the end, someone I fell in love with. Start with Finnikin, and then treat the last two as their own series, because they switch POVs and even settings radically.

 The Diviners by Libba Bray

This book scared me so badly I had trouble sleeping. And it's not supposed to be scary- at least, not in the "I'm too scared to get up and turn off the bathroom light that's shining in my eyes and keeping me from sleeping" kind of way. But that's what it did to me. But I love it anyway- maybe even because of how terrifying the villain is. It's a portrait of New York in the 1920s, complete with believable flapper slang that didn't feel the least bit cheesy. And really, what kind of feat is that? Working "on the trolley" into dialogue in a non-cringe-worthy way? But this book goes there, with a huge cast of characters and an insanely detailed old New York. It's like a work of historical non-fiction for people who hate historical non-fiction.

Vicious by V.E. Scwab

I'd read Victoria's Near Witch and was kind of meh about it, but this was the first "grown up" book she'd attempted, and it deals with superheroes. Sort of. So I thought, why the hell not? What I love about this book is the light touch she takes when writing about superpowers. You don't even have to suspend disbelief. Much. Her "extra-ordinaries" could even be explained with science. I found this a welcome change from an all-too-often heavy-handed approach to superpowers, where everyone's from a different planet, or somehow survived a nuclear bomb dropping right on top of their head, or worst of all, having no explanation at all for their amazing powers. But the best thing about this book? Watching a close friendship implode under the pressures that so often get glossed over. You know, the friend you love but secretly envy because she can eat french fries by the pound and never gains weight? Or the way you see your friend kind of glare-staring at the flowers your amazing husband bought you *again*? On a Tuesday? For no reason at all? Yep, those kinds of fissures lurking underneath even the healthiest relationships become glaring deadly chasms when extra-ordinary abilities become involved. And then things turn deadly. In a really amazing way.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

This is one of the only YA Contemporaries I've read lately. I try not to read in genres that I'm writing- and I'm working on an NA Contemporary of my own. But this book made so many lists and sounded so intriguing I picked it up anyway. And it's luminous. Set in the mid-80s, I found so much to relate to. I was a kid then, light years away from any kind of romance, but most of us can relate to this depiction of desperate, I-can't-breathe-because-I-love-you-so-much first-love. The main characters seemed more "real" than the average YA love-angsty hero/ine; he's half Korean and sometimes wears eyeliner, and she's a plus-sized red head who takes rummage-sale chic to weird new levels. Plus there's mixed tapes. And I really miss those.