Friday, January 10, 2014

A Year in Review

It’s 2014 and there is a lot to look forward to in this New Year; from exciting new films, books, and television to politics, economics, and all the rest, 2014 is sure to bring forth something of interest for everyone. Yet, before we go tripping off to ’14 I’d like to take a moment to look back on what 2013 had to offer in books—the best, the worst, biggest disappointment, most under-looked—they’re all here in brief, at least according to my tastes (if you are looking for more Goldfinch, TransAtlantic, Life After Life praise, please look elsewhere).

The Best Books (or at least my favorite):

It’s difficult to take all of the books I read in a year (around 100 or so, depending on my schedule) and pick a hands down favorite. I’s too difficult to compare books of different genres to each other, and by December, I frequently have trouble remembering details of the books I read in January (I do take notes though). So, while I did end up having an absolute favorite this year, I also wanted to add a few more books from varying genres that I felt were really excellent reads.

#1. Night Film by Marisha Pessl (click here for full review)
Publisher’s Plot Synopsis: “On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley's life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova--a man who hasn't been seen in public for more than thirty years. For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova's dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself. Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova's eerie, hypnotic world. The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.”
I’ve really pushed this one, but that is because of all the books I have loved this year, this is the only novel that I still think about, and marvel over. Pessl’s brilliant use of multi-media images, her eerie settings, and insanely twisted plotting come together to create a novel that is spine tingling and thoroughly engrossing. It’s one of those novels that make your imagination run wild with horror, as it goes stumbling about with lead protagonist Scott McGrath, through the maze of deceit and subterfuge surrounding Cordova . Night Film is an addictive psychological thriller, a book that will have a death grip on anyone who picks it up, and begs to be read a second time. Any book that once finished, must be picked right back up, is a book that deserves to be noticed. That’s why Night Film is my hands down favorite of 2013.

Other favorites of the year:

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
A smart and funny novel with a much broader appeal than expected The Rosie Project was certainly one of the most entertaining novels I’ve read this year. For a full review…

The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell
Two young sisters alone in the world, an elderly man with a shameful secret, a Glaswegian neighborhood on the wrong side of the tracks, and a couple of bodies buried in the garden set the stage for Lisa O’Donnell’s cunning debut novel The Death of Bees. Told in three distinct and sometimes unreliable voices, The Death of Bees follows the paths of sisters 15-year-old Marnie and 12-year-old Nelly, who have buried their
recently and suspiciously deceased parents in the back garden and Lennie, their elderly neighbor who attempts to make sure the girls survive. A dark premise, rough about the edges, and full of the foulness of human life this novel could easily fall into an oblivion of harshness that dissuades readers, but instead O’Donnell uses a deft hand and superior writing skill to make a difficult premise darkly comical, heart-breakingly sad, and quietly touching as it explores the depths of the sister bond throughout unbelievable circumstances. Lisa O’Donnell is a fantastic writer, making Scotland street-slang appear at times, like poetry and her characters show high degrees of complexity, that make you both love and hate them, pity and fear them—a fete that only the best writers can achieve in a first person narrative. While this is not a book for everyone, I chose to highlight it here because the writing is incredibly solid, and the plot is excellently spun making it a really great 2013 debut that deserves to be noticed.

Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series: Etiquette & Espionage and Curtsies & Conspiracies
Carriger’s Young Adult series is an incredibly witty blend of steam punk and alternative history. It’s engaging, fun, full of adventure, and incredibly inventive. I’ve been a fan of Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series for several years now and am happy to say that this new series aimed at young adults might even be better than her earlier works. Carriger’s plotting and characterizations get stronger and stronger with each new book, which makes the future of this series a bright light for a reader like me. I recommend these two books as my favorite books geared toward young adults in 2013.

Most Underrated or Overlooked Books:

The Returned by Jason Mott
Why is this book not a major bestseller? The prose is poetic, yet sharp and intriguing; the plot is not only For a full review… 
riveting (the dead returning to their loved ones), but it’s similar to a French TV show of the same name that has taken the world by storm (or at least those who watch the Sundance Channel)—you would think someone would pick-up on that and grab the book. It’s my hope that with the release of the paperback in March 2014, sales will pick-up and this wonderful book will find its audience.

The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason
Much like Gail Carriger’s series, The Clockwork Scarab is a wonderful blend of steampunk and alternative history—this time the focus being the teen niece of Sherlock Holmes and the younger sister of Bram Stoker. There is a great paranormal twist to this, the first book in the Stoker & Holmes series, and enough sleuthing to keep mystery fans entertained. The characters are well-drawn and interesting, and more importantly, the plot is good. I frequently find it difficult to find good books that are aimed at teens—a more mature plot, faster pacing, older characters—but clean enough content-wise for those tough to place tween or young teen readers, The Clockwork Scarab is one of those rare books that can be enjoyed by both teens and tweens without content appropriateness being an issue. Hopefully, once a few more books are out, this series will pick-up the pace sales-wise.

Biggest Disappointments:

Allegiant by Veronica Roth
I’ve already talked about this in a previous blog, so I won’t pontificate too much, but when you’ve spent a few years with a trilogy—waited in anticipation for each new book, stayed up all night finishing it the day it is released—there is a sense of entitlement in the reader, regarding a satisfying conclusion. With Allegiant, I was let down on all fronts; it was uneven, disjointed, frustrating, and had a hurried and horrible ending. Reading this book made me regret reading the other two, and I loved Divergent. It takes a lot to really turn me off of a series, I actually don’t think I’ve ever regretted reading one before, but Allegiant succeeded where no other book has. What a disappointment!

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield
I loved Setterfield’s debut The Thirteenth Tale. It was gothic mystery at its best, but Bellman and Black fell short on so many levels. This wannabe ghost story/gothic tried way too hard to be mysterious and interesting, but the plot ended up being banal. This one was D.O.A. in terms of sales (at least from the numbers I have access to), falling flat on its over-hyped face.

Worst Book:

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
This is my least favorite book of 2013. Here’s the publisher’s description:
At the School for Good and Evil, failing your fairy tale is not an option. Welcome to the School for Good and Evil, where best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she'll earn top marks at the School for Good and join the ranks of past students like Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White. Meanwhile, Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil. The two girls soon find their fortunes reversed--Sophie's dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good, thrust among handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are . . . ?
The School for Good and Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one.
I could write four pages on my dislike of this book alone, but for all of our sakes I will keep it short.
I liked this premise. It is fun, a great twist on the fairy tale (of which I’m almost always a fan), it could have been really great. Could have. Instead, what you get is a jumble of ugliness—horrid, unlikable characters (not unlikeable in a Jonathan Franzen pseudo-intellectual way, just plain unpleasant individuals), a plot that bounces all over the place, and an ending that is atrocious—not even the upcoming sequel could dispel the nasty taste left over at the finish of this book. Here’s the kicker—it’s a book for kids! I wouldn’t let a kid in my charge touch this book with a 10 foot pole! I don’t say this that often, but this was a really bad book, not worth the paper it was written on. Let the kids read Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series, a much more suitable and better written option if they want a fairy tale twist, but keep them and your adult selves away from poorly executed piece children’s fantasy “literature”.

Honorable Mentions:

Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman
Lexicon by Max Barry
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The Lunar Chronicles Series by Marissa Meyer
The River of No Return by Bee Ridgeway

So here it is my 2013 reading list in brief. I’m looking forward to what 2014 has to offer, and can’t wait to dive into a new book.'

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