It is my absolute favourite time of year. I get to dig out those Christian Louboutin's I got for my wedding, and tramp through my list of the creme of the creme in my 2013 reads. This years list was somewhat complicated by the appearance of the bambino and the disorganization of reviews, therefore, any books on my To-Be-Reviewed list (I'm looking at you Eleanore and Park, Siege and Storm, The Genius of Little Things, and Crimson Crown, to name a few) which were technically read in 2013 but as of yet not reviewed, will be bumped onto next years list of possibles. Which still left me with 63 books I had reviewed needing to be whittled down into 12 categories of delicious reading goodness. No pressure.
As per usual, the rules are: The book had to be read by me in the proceeding year (2013), but not necessarily published in that year, and re-reads of old favourites did not qualify for consideration.
So get your opinions and your popcorn ready, and feel free to throw both about when your mood calls for it.
Gorgeous, by Paul Rudnick
The plot of this strange but delightful story literally revolves around three designer outfits (oddly there seem to be more? But as so many things in this story, I don't care because I loved every strange minute of it) and their life changing abilities. Filled to the brim with charming characters, funny observations, heartwarming discoveries and unexpected weirdness this book took me by storm. Such an unexpected, wonderful romp. And of course, especially appealing to the lost fashion designer in me!
I would be remiss if I didn't give special mention to both Etiquette and Espionage (pure Victorian/steam-punk fashion fun, even more so then the Parasol Protectorate) and The Elite (does this surprise you? It shouldn't. It is basically dystopian bachelor after all, with as much page time dedicated to the many dresses worn by the girls), in this category.
Best Visual Effects
The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson
One of the biggest surprise books of the year for me, I had zero expectations coming into the Summer Prince but was blown away by it on so many fronts. Alaya has created an amazing world and filled it with characters, art and politics worthy of both the beauty and the horror. However, it's her rich descriptions of this unique world that truly set the tone, be it flashing skin tattoos, lush parties, or June and Enki's art installations. A feast for the eyes and the mind The Summer Prince was as visual as a book could possibly be without being illustrated.
Best Art Direction
The School for Good and Evil, by Soman Chainani
Another surprise book for me this year, The School for Good and Evil swept me off my feet. Obviously it's outsides are gorgeous, the cover art, interior art, typeset and page cuts all come together to create a very visually appealing book, but the content is what will really blow your socks off. Between the school, and the girls village, Chainani has built a sweeping world full of oddities and wonders that rivals the ingenuity of Hogwarts. Few book worlds are this detailed, and without a doubt it is so lovingly rendered it makes for a character in itself.
The best part? The story is as sweeping and wonderful! A book I foresee Sybil giving for birthday gifts when the time comes.
Best Scary Read
Paper Valentine, by Brenna Yovanoff
This is one of those complete package books, where every word is evocative and within just a few paragraphs you are stifled by the heat, and completely lost in the world. The creepy, wonderful world. This is my absolute favourite kind of creepy read, where the slow build has your skin crawling even though you're not entirely sure why. Sure there's a killer and, sure there are some gruesome finds but Paper Valentine is a success in my mind because of the quite tension that permeates it, the fantastic character development and the truly disturbing story.
Also, the killer leaves intricately cut paper valentines. Nothing quite as hair raising as a crafty killer.
See what I did there? Crafty Killer?...No?
Pffft. Obviously you get far too much sleep if you don't find my play on words amusing.
Pass the coffee would you?
Best Funny Read
The Parasol Protectorate, Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, and Heartless, and Timeless by Gail Carriger
Absolutely filled with clever intrigue, Victorian silliness and ribald humour Carriger had me in throws of laughter almost from the get go.
Alexia is a dashing heroine whose not afraid to make fun of a pack of werewolves: 'Everyone was grumpy- it was that time of month' as equally as she would vampires who have too many cats: "I used to love pets, my dove, did you know? When I was mortal."
"Did you?" Alexia encouraged cautiously. Lord Akeldama rarely spoke of his life before. She was afraid of saying more and thus forestalling further confidences.
"Yes. It is greatly troubling that I am now left with only a cat for company."
Alexia refrained from mentioning the plethora of fashionable gentlemen who seemed to be ever in, out, and about Lord Akeldama's domicile. "I suppose you might consider keeping more than one cat."
"Oh, dear me, no. Then I should be known as that vampire with all the cats."
I tore through this entire series last winter in under a week, I just couldn't get enough of it. Thankfully Carriger is in the throws of a new series, Finishing School (Etiquette and Espionage is book the first) and about to start a second companion series to the Protectorate, The Custard Protocol. So I shouldn't run out of giggles anytime soon.
Dad is Fat, by Jim Gaffigan
Once again the undeniable winner is humour, of which Gaffigan has, without question, mastered on page just as well as he has with his stand up.
Have you been to a bar at two in the morning? You might as well be picking up a kid at nursery school. It's the same experience. The behaviour's the same. In both places, there's always some strange yelling for no reason at all, "Whooo Hooo! Wheeee!" or someone climbing up on a table and getting in trouble with the authorities. In both places, people break into song: "Sweet Ca-ro-line, Oh oh ohhh! Everybody! Oh oh ooo, Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-OH!" You go into the bathroom at the bar and it's obvious some people aren't potty trained. In both places. there's usually someone crying, "She was my best friend! But not anymore! I want my mommy." Occasionally, a fight will break out: "He was standing where I wanted to stand. So I punched him in the head. I want more juice." Nursery schools and bars at 2 a.m. are the only places where it is completely normal if someone just spontaneously throws up on the floor...and just like a toddler, the bar patron wakes up the next day not remembering or caring how they behaved.Enough said.
Best Supporting Actress
This category was a two way tie for me this year, as there were two stand out characters who both warranted lauding.
Iko- Cinder, by Marissa Meyer (and of course Scarlet and Cress as well)
There are two reasons Iko absolutely has to be mentioned in any Supporting Actress category where Cinder, Scarlet or Cress are being discussed. First of all, she's an android, but one with a faulty personality chip which seems to have given her all the personality one could ever want. As such she literally steals the scene time and time again, even though she's the only character whose not even human. Secondly she gets a full range over the series (to date anyhow!) first by being a C3PO type android, then by being a ship, and most recently by being an escort droid (read, hot and human looking). Her personality is so fantastic it doesn't matter how mobile she is, or what form she takes, she trumps them all in funny charming ways. I simply can't imagine the story without her, even though she's a very secondary character in a cast of charming characters.
Maddy- The Night has Claws, by Kat Kruger
A secondary character in The Night has Teeth, Maddy is a bit of an enigma. An angsty, intriguing enigma. I can't tell you how great it was to discover more about her in The Night has Claws. Significantly, she often stole the show, which is an impressive feat as she too is a character immersed in a story filled to the brim with intriguing, mysterious characters, whom I loved. Without a doubt, she makes this story, which is already terrific, that much better.
I'm just going to say it, this was the year of the stunning supporting actors and actresses! For both of these awards I've had to narrow down unusually long lists of contenders. That being said, I have another tie. It's my award show, I can tie if I want to.
Gavriel, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black
I spent most of this book wondering just how sane, safe, good or evil this vampire was, and despite his largely defective moral compass I was also quick to fall for him. In true Holly Black fashion, Gavriel is another of her deeply flawed characters who you can't help but love because of his flaws rather than despite them. Dark, often mysterious and yet wonderfully complex Gavriel would have stolen the story for me if he hadn't been paired with an equally stand out lead, Tana.
Arden, The Night Has Claws, by Kat Kruger
The Night Has Claws is littered with intriguing back story, werewolf politics and history and secondary character reveals that I found astounding. But it was Arden's struggles that stole my heart from the outset. Kruger took a difficult and little understood character from The Night Has Teeth and made him shine for her second novel, and although I loved many, many things about The Night Has Claws, the thing I need most going forward is more Arden.
Last year I broke this category into two sub categories as I decided it really wasn't fair to compare a long standing author to debut authors, and that both warranted their own accolades.
Marissa Meyer, Cinder
This seems a little silly, since Meyer just released her third book in this series, however, in keeping with the rules, I only read Cinder last year (just prior to Scarlet releasing) and Meyer was still a debut author at the moment when I was reading it.
There are several reasons why Meyer blew me away both as a writer and especially as a debut. She took a complex and truly odd sounding premise and turned it into a fast paced story I was fully invested in and never had a moment where I had to pause to suspend my disbelief. Which is saying something in a futuristic retelling of a fairy tale involving crazy people from the moon who are going to invade earth and destroy us.
Did I mention Cinderella is a Cyborg? Well she is.
Meyer has written the best fairytale re-telling I've ever read, and there are a fair few out there as competition (and her follow ups Scarlet and Cress have been equally solid). She has both deviated greatly, making the story her own, while still encapsulating all the details of Cinderella that make the story a classic. It is both unquestionably her own as well as being 100% Cinderella. No easy task.
As if that wasn't impressive enough, she's populated the world with characters her readers will forever be attached to, a great sense of humour which keeps the story from getting too dark and a sweeping story arc that is primed to give us all more of what we love best about Cinder. Obviously now I've read two more of her books so I can cheat and say that she's more than fulfilled her promise as a debut, but it was clear to me, even after only reading Cinder, that this was someone who was going to be breaking readers hearts for many years to come.
This was an immensely difficult category this year and I was desperately torn between Elizabeth Wein (Rose Under Fire), Brenna Yovanoff (Paper Valentine) and Victoria Schwab (The Archived) all of which were superb books from writers I love, full of everything that makes a book top-notched. Each one was swimming with evocative atmosphere, stunning characters and stories that were so totally engrossing it was hard to not stop everything until you finished them.
In the end, I picked my winner based on the singular concept her story was based on, which is both so incredibly imaginative and unique, and now that I've read it, I can't imagine how it doesn't exist.
The Archived, by Victoria Schwab
It is an exceptional thing to be swept into another world so successfully that when you're done you question how you couldn't have known about it before. From the first dusty moment in the the Coronado, to the cold dark Narrows and beyond to the warm, quiet and oddly welcoming Archive there wasn't a location in this book that didn't feel real and fully formed while reading it. What's more, what happened in these places, what Mac and Wes are part of, never caused me one moment of question or disbelief. For the first time ever, I can safely say this is a world I wish I could step into beyond the pages of the books.
More than that I loved Schwabs characters, their relationships and all the rough spots that come between them. There was no relying on the absentee parent trope or the angsty teen device so that she could spend as much time in the fantasy aspect of her world without bothering to flesh out the real life bits. No tripping over boys or being sunk by love stories either, no Schwab took on a story of substance and did it full justice without any of the common short cuts. For which she'll be rewarded with my undying love for this series. A series which is still struggling in the market place, which is quite possibly the saddest thing I've heard all year. So I say to you, dear reader, go forth and buy this book ASAP (since, presumably, you are one of the many who haven't yet), it will be a purchase I guarantee you won't regret. I mean- Best Returning Writer- Come on!
This was a tough one this year. Although I didn't read many books with male leads, the ones I did were fantastic (the False Prince, The Night has Claws, Monsters) however, there was one leading man whose foibles, witticisms and adventures still had me laughing even seven books in, and it occurred to me that was pretty impressive.
Dexter- Dexter's Final Cut, by Jeff Lindsay
It's funny, because there are a multitude of reasons I shouldn't like Dexter. Not the least of which is he's a serial killer. Yet Lindsay's portrayal of this sometimes repentant (or at least thinking about being repentant), family man is just so approachable and humorous I just can't seem to dislike him. In fact, seven books into the series and not only can I not seem to dislike him, I down right love the guy. I'm rooting for him every chance I get, by the end of each book I'm on the edge of my seat wondering how he'll survive his latest escapade and I've laughed out loud at his dry observations and nutty circumstances repeatedly. My husband recently wondered out loud 'how long can Lindsay keep writing Dexter for?' And my response was a hopeful 'Forever of course!' Obviously he won't, but seven books in I'm not the slightest bit sick of him or his adventures, and unlike the TV series the premise hasn't lost it's charm nor has Lindsay seemed to lose steam with the inventiveness he brings to the novels and their plots. If anything, this latest book has me more on the edge of my seat with anticipation for book 8 then ever.
Rose- Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein
I'm not sure any competition that involves work by Elizabeth Wein is a fair fight, but regardless Rose was a hands down winner for Best Actress this year, in Rose Under Fire. Shown at both the height of her achievements and at the lowest of her life, Rose's struggles, relationships, poetry, and strength make for a story which could easily be considered the crowning achievement for some authors. But for Wein it's just another story to tell, and tell well. If you don't walk away from this story equally heartbroken and full of hope then you are likely one stone hearted SOB. Make sure to allot a box of Kleenex and a quiet corner to feel all the feels when reading this book.
Rose Under Fire, by Elizabeth Wein
For the second year in a row Elizabeth Wein trumps a wealth of fantabulous books with her heart-rending writing, searing relationships and stunning characters. She took a story that by rights should have been depressing and a tale of the worst humanity is capable of and made it a story of hope, friendship and perseverance. Like Code Name Verity, it has an appeal that makes it the perfect book for a wide range of readers and I continue to pass it along to everyone I can think of.
Honorary mention needs to go to The Archived, by Victoria Schwab which was a tremendously close second for this category. Everything about this book was gorgeous, the story, the characters, the cover, the endpapers, it was the whole package.
And that's it folks! Time to crack the champagne, dig into the canapes and celebrate. Hopefully your celebrations will take you to a store or website that sells books and you can jump on the bandwagon with one or all of my 2013 picks!
PS-all titles are linked to my reviews for more info on my thoughts, as well as amazon links for impulse buys. Because nothing says I love books like supporting the author and publishers!