Monday, January 13, 2014

Favorite Books Read in 2013


Favorite Books Read in 2013:

For those who have been following my blog throughout the year, the books on this list won’t come as a surprise. I write long reviews, though, so below you can find much shorter descriptions of my favorite books from 2013. All the books I reviewed or authors I interviewed are linked to the original post.

Note that these are books I read in 2013, not necessarily books published in 2013. Also, some have forthcoming reviews scheduled to go up in 2014.


Any woman may propose a jin-shei bond to another: a powerful bond of sisterhood that some cherish as sacred while other manipulate for their own gains. With a crowded cast of characters, evocative writing, and a little pinch of magic Alexander spins a bewitching tale about women and their relationships with each other.

2.     SPEAK by LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON

Melinda is a social outcast. She called the cops on a party and now no one, including her old friends, wants anything to do with her. She’s also burdened by a secret, a terrible secret no doubt but one made all the worse by locking it away, by locking herself away so intensely that she practically stops speaking.

3.     A QUESTION OF MAGIC by E.D. BAKER

Serafina finds herself trapped as the next Baba Yaga, forced to magically answer the first question any stranger asks her. My favorite aspect of this slim novel was how Serafina uses wit and logic to assert her own will despite a magic system that seemingly denies her all control.

4.     SIEGE AND STORM by LEIGH BARDUGO

In another gripping page-turner, Bardugo continues the series she began with SHADOW AND BONE. Alina feels increasingly trapped by a magical gift she never wanted, obligated by her power to play at politics and war when she wants nothing more than a quiet, private life.

5.     THE SHADOW QUEEN and SHALADOR’S LADY by ANNE BISHOP

The seventh and eighth installments in Bishop’s popular BLACK JEWELS series focus on new characters. Our heroine Cassidy recently found herself betrayed by her court: tossed aside for a prettier, wealthier, more powerful young queen. Nevertheless, when Jaenelle asks her to start a new court in a land struggling to recover from past wounds Cassidy sets her personal fears of inadequacy aside and demonstrates what really counts in a leader.

6.     RED GLOVE and BLACK HEART by HOLLY BLACK

In this addictive series, magic requires touch and, thus, everyone wears gloves with a kind of “guilty until proven innocent” mentality. Cassel comes from a criminal family of “curse workers” (those who can use magic). These books are easy, satisfying reads, but they're also chock-full of worthy discussions.

7.     THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN by HOLLY BLACK

Wow, did I ever love this book. This is not only the first vampire book I ever liked, but I actually adored it and have been successfully recommending it to people ever since I finished. Tana is one of the most memorable heroines I’ve read in a long time and if I had to pick one favorite book of the year, this might be it.

8.     BEAUTY QUEENS by LIBBA BRAY

In a hilarious satire, a plane full of beauty pageant contestants crashes on a (seemingly) deserted island. Each hiding their own secret, these girls start out as mockumentary-style caricatures designed for our entertainment, but before long transform into complicated individuals with their own motivations, fears, backstories, etc.

9.     THE DIVINERS by LIBBA BRAY

I didn’t think this would be my type of story at all, but Bray won me over with vivid, relatable characters. The story alternates through many different perspectives, mostly of people with secret, magical gifts - like Evie who can touch an object and see its “memories.” Now a serial killer is on the loose and these “diviners” might be the only people who can stop him.


The second book in Brennan’s duology upturns everything we thought we knew from book one. Our heroine challenges how everyone thinks magic works by her very existence and some want her dead before she can cause even more division within the ranks of witches.


The FIRE AND THORNS trilogy lived up to all the hype I had heard and read. Carson starts the story where many end (with a marriage to a “prince charming”), interweaves faith and magic, creates a fresh and impressive heroine, defies predictable plotting, and presents a unique and fascinating magic system. Born with a “godstone” in her belly button, Eliza must live up to this symbol of foretold greatness.


In a wintery treat of a novel, an obscure Russian princess invites Sophie and her friends to spend their vacation in her gorgeous palace. Hypnotized by the magical wonder of the setting and luxury, Sophie avoids the obvious (but important) questions.


In the first book of this trilogy, John stumbles into another world with his friends Laurie and Bill. At first he thinks only of finding a way home, but before long he’s caught up in the conflicts of this new world. Hale carefully thinks through the implications of travelling between worlds and these books simply wouldn’t work in the hands of a less skilled writer.

14.  A COUNTESS BELOW STAIRS by EVA IBBOTSON

In this sweet and humorous young adult historical romance, the countess Anna takes a job as a servant when her family needs the money. Before long, she’s beloved by all…possibly including her betrothed employer.


Everyone should have one of these: a quick shopping reference for those striving for ethical, conscientious shopping. Considering five factors (human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement, and social justice), the book provides letter grades (A through F) for companies and products.

16.  WEDDING NIGHT by SOPHIE KINSELLA

The master of chick lit delivers another riotous and satisfying fluff read. When Fliss’s reckless younger sister rushes into a marriage, Fliss will go to extreme (but wildly entertaining) measures to do what she thinks best for her little sis.

17.  TWO BOYS KISSING by DAVID LEVITHAN

By interweaving the stories of a handful of gay teenagers, Levithan has created a beautiful, affecting mosaic. Harry and Craig become the centerpiece as they try to beat the record for longest kiss, but the book follow numerous gay boys with very different experiences - and every single one of these characters became real for me.

18.  LISTOMANIA

As the title implies, this is a book full of lists. Actually it’s a really cool book full of lists: more like a collection of random trivia illustrated by very skilled graphic designers. Don’t tell me you’re not curious to see the list of “things that fell from the sky.”


The sequel to ADAPTATION only improved my already high opinion of this duology. Lo addresses all my unanswered questions from the end of the first book and her heroine Reese explores her own sexuality with a maturity and openness I crave in so many other books.


In her young adult Tudor novels, Longshore presents popular fictionalized figures in new lights. In GILT we see a young and reckless Catherine Howard through the eyes of her loyal friend Kitty while TARNISH paints Anne Boleyn not as the usual manipulative seductress but a strong willed girl desperate for some control over her own future.

21.  A GAME OF THRONES and A CLASH OF KINGS by GEORGE R.R. MARTIN

Never before have I read a series with such a densely populated cast, meticulously imagined world and history, or so many detailed backstories. Martin’s books come alive with minutiae, and the short chapters alternating between numerous perspectives make these huge novels surprisingly fast reads.

22.  LABYRINTH by KATE MOSSE

In 2005, archaeologist Alice makes an unexpected discovery while back in the 13th century Alais inherits a monumental responsibility. This story builds to a brilliant end that makes reading its considerable bulk all worthwhile.

23.  THRONE OF JADE and BLACK POWDER WAR by NAOMI NOVIK

This historical fantasy series takes place during the Napoleonic Wars and imagines another branch of the military for dragons and their riders. Temeraire might be the sweetest, most well-mannered dragon in literature. Novik has clearly done her research on this period and she packs the books with interesting conflicts of all kinds, but it’s the devoted relationship between the human Lawrence and Temeraire that holds my investment more than anything else.

24.  CINDERELLA ATE MY DAUGHTER by PEGGY ORENSTEIN

Considering everything from toys to clothes to social media, Orenstein examines girly culture and how we raise daughters. I found every essay in here considerately crafted, provocative, and important in both parenting and feminist discussions.


A blend of young adult, mystery, romance, suspense, and even speculative fiction, this series defies easy genre labels and simply gives the reader exactly what we want: an engaging story. Cass wants more freedom than a woman of her time can expect and goes about claiming independence in all the wrong ways, such as investigating her friend’s possible murder by sneaking off at night with a stranger.

26.  THE SUBTLE KNIFE and THE AMBER SPYGLASS by PHILIP PULLMAN

These two books continue the superb, now classic trilogy Pullman started in THE GOLDEN COMPASS. Book two jolts the reader a little by opening not only with a new character but in an entirely different world. Pullman masterfully brings all these disparate elements together into an impressive epic I expect to see on bookstore shelves for decades to come.

27.  DOG ON IT by SPENCER QUINN

This delightful mystery series is narrated by a dog, private investigator Bernie’s dog Chet to be exact. Chet provides a unique perspective, since he doesn’t notice the same details that a human might. He’s also quite charming and hilarious.


Highly recommended reading for any woman or anyone into running and fitness regardless of gender. Samuels discusses everything from the benefits of exercise (specifically as a woman and generally as a human) to common reasons people (women in particular) feel intimidated trying new fitness activities.

29.  WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? by MARIA SEMPLE

Told in an unusual scrapbook-style format of emails and other records, Semple crafts a hilarious story of a woman who rides the line between eccentricity and madness. What begins as an innocent, if petty, disagreement between suburban housewives snowballs into an eruption greater than anyone could have foreseen.


The third book in Simner’s series concludes this post-apocalyptic fairy story. As always, Simner’s knack for sensory detail builds up her imaginary world around the reader and she crafts some of the most original and knotted climax scenes that I’ve ever read.

31.  THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL by CAROLYN TURGEON

Turgeon deftly interweaves “Rapunzel” with “Snow White” in this remarkable fairy tale retelling, both giving the evil stepmother more humanity and the perfect princess more failings. I felt this novel: smiled at victories, resented betrayals, and wept at losses.

32.  CODE NAME VERITY by ELIZABETH WEIN

Not an easy read, but a story that stands apart from all others. The novel’s difficult to follow at first but then it becomes clear our narrator wants to mislead her audience. She’s an Allied spy recently captured by the Gestapo and telling her story by writing on whatever scraps of paper they bring her.

33.  THE CHAOS OF STARS by KIERSTEN WHITE

Daughter to the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris, Isadora feels like a child conceived for all the wrong reasons. Distraught over one particular revelation of the “last straw” variety, Isadora leaves her parents to live with one of her many mortal siblings. Ultimately a story about family, this book proved both far more hilarious and moving than I anticipated.

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