…And then it was the last day of 2013, which was a surprise for everyone involved in the passage of time, and they stared at their calenders and the sky in horrified incomprehension. Last time I checked, I was lying outside reading W.B. Yeats to some barn cats who didn’t seem to like poetry very much. Now the year’s over and I’m confused. But, I suppose that’s what happens when you live on a bit of rock hurtling around a star at a rate which can be measured in four seasons carved into twelve months. To bid 2013 adieu, and to remind myself what the heck I read this year, I’ve listed my three favorite novels from the age-ranges I read most, and then the three books I’m most determined to read as 2014 begins. Plus one, because I’m the captain of this here literary vessel and I like to play favorites. These books weren’t necessarily published in 2013; I just happened to read them this year. Some of them are old, and I can’t understand how it took me so long to read them. Others haven’t been officially released yet, but made their way onto my list after the ARC shelf fell victim to one of my many plundering rampages. I read an awful lot of books this year, but these thirteen deserve extra love for being the most exciting; charming; scary; funny; moving; or memorable stories to cross my path.
Favorite Children’s Books
I only just finished reading The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson, and it doesn’t come out until next Spring, but I seriously loved it. Great for fans of middle grade adventure, The Mark of the Dragonfly has a little steam-punk which doesn’t get all wound up in the inner working of the fiction’s own mechanisms, but also some great storytelling and a really cool train. You can read my review here, and make sure to read the book in March.
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell was probably my most recommended children’s book at the shop this summer; we still have to get a new shipment in every few weeks because I can’t stop forcing it into the hands of every parent who doesn’t know what to get their voracious-but-sensitive readers and every kid who doesn’t know what to read next but is getting bored of the same old routine. It’s a beautiful, quiet, and mischievous book with a subtle sense of humor and gorgeous scenery. I love a bittersweet story now and then, and when that takes place on the Rooftops of Paris I can’t help being swept away. It should come as no surprise that nearly everyone who had my recommendation inflicted upon them ended up falling in love with Rundell’s nostalgic tone and captivating characters. You can read my review of Rooftoppers here.
Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, The Milk was a ridiculous, fun, and very very British adventure for younger readers and/or their parents. It’s exactly the sort of thing I would have loved to have read aloud to me when I was a wee terror, and the illustrations are glorious. I guess Gaiman got tired of stories in which the parents are always absent or dead or useless, so he wrote this jolly jaunt in which a dad has many a harrowing experience in an attempt to get some milk for his kids. Dinosaurs, pirates, volcanoes, temporal portals through space… it’s a story full of things kids like. And, it being Neil Gaiman and his writing wizardry, many of the parents to whom I’ve recommended Fortunately, The Milk have been so very glad that they won’t be bored nigh unto tears during that night’s bedtime reading. Think Douglas Adams meets Eddie Izzard meets Coraline. I never reviewed Fortunately, The Milk after it came out this summer, but it’s a great new children’s book and you should have bought it for Christmas/Hanukkah/assorted Yuletide gift-givings. Shame on you if you didn’t.
Favorite Young Adult Books
One of the first books I read in 2013 was Long Lankin by Lindsay Barraclough. Nothing like getting the socks scared off you to start a year off right. I can now safely say that it’s the best horror story I read all year. The main characters may be only children, but the atmosphere is so dark and the monster is so chilling that it’s definitely for teenaged readers. I loved that it was based on a great old-timey English ballad full of grisly murder and wickedness. Here’s my review, from the beginning of the year.
I liked The Raven Boys when I read it back in 2012, but the sequel blew me away. That so rarely happens, but somehow Maggie Stiefvater has managed to defy my expectations over and over again. I should just give up having expectations all together. The Dream Thieves brought the return of Blue and the Raven Boys — one of the best character ensembles in YA fiction today, if you ask me — and threw them together with a heavy dollop of tarot references, dream-drug addictions, mysterious hit men, and the ever-present witty banter which made me love the first book so much. The night I spent reading the sequel to The Raven Boys was one of the more entertaining nights of my year. You can read my review of The Dream Thieves here.
I think that The Diviners is an appropriate addition to this list, not only because it rocked my freakin’ world but because it deals with New Years celebrations, swinging 1920s parties, and all sorts of revelry even while a terrifying evil is awakening under New York City. I don’t have a review of The Diviners, because I read it right before I went on holiday, but I absolutely tore through Libba Bray’s hefty book to find out what was going to happen. Her characters are even better than the plot; and that’s saying something, because an occult-horror-mystery set in flapper Manhattan is exactly my cup of tea (or gin). The main character was feisty, but the supporting cast really gave an excellent taste of how the time period was for party people new to the city, for young artistic souls stuck in Harlem, and for everyone trying to carve a space out for themselves in such a volatile era. I’m annoyed that the book ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, but I got so engrossed in the writing and the story that I can’t wait for a sequel. The Diviners was maybe the most fun book I read all year, even though it’s made me officially terrified of ouija boards and empty houses.
Favorite Adult Books
I had grabbed The Round House from the library because I had a sunny weekend off and had heard great things about Louise Erdrich’s writing. What I had intended to be a relaxed few days reading turned into a very intense day of reading this book and doing nothing else. It was way more gripping than I’d expected and the story got into my bones and wouldn’t leave. I loved the narrative voice of a young teenaged boy on the Obijwe reservation, and his family was so interesting and real, but the story itself just ate away at my heart. It could have been written as a straight mystery – young boy needs to find out who attacked his mother – but it’s what the characters choose to do with that knowledge as they approach it which really makes this book stand out in my mind. I recommend it as often as possible at my bookshop, now, and am so glad I read it this year.
Donna Tartt’s The Secret History was another book which I didn’t expect to be infect by so quickly. I tried to read it a few years ago while I was still in University, but all that academia was a little too close to home. This year, though, I got so sucked into the book that I had to write a whole post about literary hangovers just to get my mindset out of the pages. I know that The Secret History isn’t even from this decade, let alone 2013, but I’m shocked that it took me so long to read it and definitely consider the two days I spent snapping at anyone who tried to interrupt my reading days well spent.
If it’s a bad thing that I didn’t read The Secret History in its proper decade, then oops indeed because A High Wind In Jamaica was written in 1929. I started listening to the audiobook of this should-be-classic last fall, but only finally sat down and read the whole thing this year, so that totally counts. It should be obvious why Righard Hughes’ seafaring adventure is on my top list for the year; it’s about children behaving violently in the company of laughable pirates. It’s hard to describe this book, because it encompasses two very keen interest of mine: namely, pirates and youngsters with questionable morals. Hughes does a bloody fantastic job of examining the weird little worlds which live inside the brains of children, and their accidental callousness is softened by the scope of their imagination and his ability to invoke the concerns which only troubled us when we were single digits of age. The pirates themselves are comical but deeper characters than they might seem at first, and the travel/adventure parts of the book are pretty thrilling. All around, I loved this book, and intend to read it annually from now on.
My Absolute Most Favoritest Book Read In 2013
How did I love this book? I would try to poetically count the ways, but I’m bad at math and don’t much care to learn about infinite numbers just to express how imperative it is that you BUY THE BASIC EIGHT RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT AND READ IT! Here’s my review. This was — hands down (and croquet mallets on the bloody grass) — the most marvelous reading experience I’ve had all year. I laughed nonstop at Daniel Handler’s wry and blistering writing style. I banged my fists on the breakfast table in triumph, and hid behind my hair in disgust, and nearly threw the book across the room a few times. Like a funnier The Secret History with less-realistic characters but a more colorful view of life, The Basic Eight is what we should all have been reading as older teenagers. Of the three High School books which I read during my week of nostalgia in the summer, this book easily came out on top. But now, on the last night of the year, I can declare it the victor victorious! Daniel Handler, please never stop being you. Or at least delay the inevitable stop as long as you have words to write. In between the Lemony Snicket books which defined my youth and the hilarious weirdness he talks about to grown-ups, I find life a little easier to bear when reading his books.
Three Books To Read ASAP in 2014
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, because I have heard nothing but glowing reviews of it, nearly incomprehensible with excitement. Some booknerd friends I trust say that it’s even better than The Secret History, and I love the sound of the plot. I don’t know much about art, but I didn’t know much about Greek either, and maybe I’ll learn something. Now that I’ll have a few days off in a row now and then – fare the well, holiday shopping season! – I’ll have to devote a weekend to this tome as soon as I can lay my hands on a copy. The problem with recommending a book over and over is that soon enough it flies right off the shelf entirely.
I bought Boston Jacky while I was in Bar Harbor over the summer, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Despite the fact that I’ve missed several books in the middle of L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack series, I think I’ll read this new installment as soon as possible. It’s been far too long since I hung out with the lively and loveable Jacky Faber, and since this one takes place so near my current location it would be a shame to wait until to summer to read it, no matter my traditions of reading pirate books in the summer and other books in the winter. I’m a pirate captain meself, and I can break tradition if I damn well please.
And, finally, I’ve had The Master And Margarita on my bookshelf since high school and I’ve yet to read the bloody thing! I don’t know much about it, but I know it has occult weirdness, a talking cat, and diabolical themes in a Russian setting. It’s about damn time I tackled this book. And, now that I don’t have essays to write or medieval Scottish verse to translate, I’ve really got no excuse to let another year go by without finally understanding why I bought the book in the first place.
It seems I ended this on a series of New Years resolutions, which works for me, I guess. It’s been quite a year, tossed around on an endless sea of book choices and not enough time to read everything. But I’m glad with what I chose to attack, and these are some excellent favorites to stand beside with fierce loyalty and many huzzahs. Happy reading in 2014, me hearties. Onward into the fog ahead!