2018: My year in books

2018 has had its ups and downs… but one thing has remained constant, and that’s the joy of spending time with great books. Here’s a look back at my reading life in 2018.

I love the little words of encouragement from Goodreads! My 202 books reads this past year include novellas, children’s books, audiobooks, and graphic novels, in addition to novels and a handful of non-fiction books. It’s always fun to mix things up.

 

Goodreads stats as of 12/31/2018:

I don’t particularly like that Goodreads uses “least popular” in this context. Maybe it should just be “least read”? In any case, Rat-Catcher is a story set in the Toby Daye world, I loved it immensely, and I think more people should read it!

According to my average rating, I’ve been pretty successful this year when it comes to choosing book that appeal to me:

Star rating used most often: 4 stars (83 total)
Star rating used least often: 2 stars (4 total — and I didn’t give any books only 1-star. I think if I thought that little of a book, I just DNFd.)
DNFs: 3 – I gave up on three different books this year — one science fiction, one fantasy, and one historical fiction. With the historical fiction, I just wasn’t in the mood at that moment (and needed to return it to the library). For the other two, the tone of the writing simply didn’t work for me, and I decided not to push myself to continue something I wasn’t enjoying.

First and Last on Goodreads:

Interestingly (or not), my first and last (and bunches of others) were re-reads. I’ve definitely become fond of re-reading the previous book in a series right before the newest gets released. What can I say? I value a good refresher.

Highlights from my series reading:

2018 was the year of the series for me. I started the year with some idea of a few series I wanted to try — and was happy to discover that I picked some great ones! My best series reads this year were:

The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire: 12 novels, plus all sorts of related novellas and short stories.

Newsflesh by Mira Grant: 4 novels and a collection of stories.

From the world of Tortall by Tamora Pierce: I read three quartets and a duology (and am now reading the first book in a trilogy), for a total of 14 books set in Pierce’s amazing fantasy world.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi: 6 novels

Eye-candy covers:

Let me just take a minute to appreciate some of the most beautiful and/or eye-catching covers from my reading this year… because who doesn’t love a great looking book?

 

But wait! What were my favorite books of the year?

It’s too hard to narrow down! It’s like choosing my favorite child! But, okay, if I must… I’m working on my Top Ten list for tomorrow, when I’ll finally have my list whittled down to just 10 (or so) books that I loved to pieces in 2018. Stay tuned!

2017: My year in books

As 2017 comes to an end, it’s time to take a look back at the year’s greatest hits in books! It’s been another great reading year, with so many new favorites and new authors to swoon over. Here’s a summary of what I read, and what really stood out for me during a year of some truly excellent reading.

[Note: Click on the links to see my reviews if you’re interested!]

Goodreads stats as of 12/31/2017:

Give In To The Feeling is a novella by a wonderful writer and blogger — check it out, people!

I think I’ve gotten more generous with my ratings over the years — or else I’m getting better and better at choosing books that I’ll end up loving.

Star rating used most often: 5 stars (78 total)
Star rating used least often: 2 stars (7 total — and I didn’t give any books only 1-star. I think if I thought that little of a book, I just DNFd.)
DNFs: 2 – I only put aside two books this year: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones. Two very different books, but I just couldn’t get through either one.

First and Last on Goodreads:

Bests & Other Stuff of Note

Note: Not necessarily published in 2017 — these are the books I especially enjoyed reading in 2017!

Best young adult: Geekerella by Ashley Poston and Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
Best contemporary: Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin
Best fantasy: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Best historical fiction: Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford
Best book club book: The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza – A come-from-behind surprise. This light and breezy book wins for being a great way to wrap up the year and for generating a really fun conversation.

Best new volume in an ongoing series: I’m always thrilled when Patricia Briggs releases a new book. In 2017, it was Silence Fallen, the 10th volume in the Mercy Thompson series, which I just love to pieces. Another glorious new book in a favorite series was Less Than a Treason, the 21st Kate Shugak book by Dana Stabenow, starring my favorite private investigator in one of my favorite settings (Alaska). 

Best start of a new series: Binti  and Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor. The third and final book, The Night Masquerade, is due out in January.

Best end to a great series: End of Watch by Stephen King — the final book in the Billy Hodges trilogy.

Best in ongoing series: I love the Themis Files books by Sylvain Neuvel, and can’t wait to get my hands on #3 in 2018.

Best return of old friends: Unequal Affection by Lara S. Ormiston, an under-the-radar reimagining of Pride and Prejudice that surprised me in all the right ways.

Best use of illustration to tell a story: Thornhill by Pam Smy is an eerie, haunting story told in words and pictures. I borrowed it from the library, but really need a copy for my own shelves.

Author of the year: Georgette Heyer! I’ve been hearing about her for years… but finally decided to give her a try. Two audiobooks, two paperbacks, and I’m hooked! I’m looking forward to reading lots more in the years to come.

High volume award: I read 28 volumes of The Walking Dead comics this year, pretty much all in a row, right after starting my binge of the TV show. That’s a LOT of zombies.

(Non-zombie) most read: I went through 7 works by Philip Pullman and 8 works by Gail Carriger, and loved every moment.

Best classic read: My two favorite classics both came to me via Serial Reader this year: Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. My nervous expectations were far exceeded… I loved them both!

Around the world in a book: My reading took me to some amazing places this year…

globe-32812_1280Nigeria: Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
Russia: The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
England – Birds of a Feather (Maisie Dobbs, #2) by Jacqueline Winspear
Ireland – The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
India – Prudence by Gail Carriger
Egypt – Imprudence by Gail Carriger
Kenya – West With the Night by Beryl Markham
Scotland – The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
Israel – Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
Norway – The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Antarctica – South Pole Station by Ashley Shelby

 

Best speculative/science fiction: The sci-fi works I enjoyed most were:

The Power by Naomi Alderman
Six Wakes
by Mur Lafferty

Grab the hankies: I cried my eyes out over Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies by Michael Ausiello and 180 Seconds by Jessica Park.

Oh, the horror! I adored the terrifying killer mermaids of Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant.

Best use of animals in unexpected roles: River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow feature feral hippos in the American South. Simply amazing.

 

Best bookish TV events of 2017:

Most eye-catching covers:

 

Quirkiest titles:

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Makenzi Lee
Geekerella by Ashley Poston
The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Best non-fiction: True stories that I enjoyed immensely:

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
Spaceman by Mike Massimino
The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede

Bookish delight, all year long:

All the many, many books which, for whatever reason, I can’t quite categorize but still really enjoyed (plus a few that are probably better off forgotten). It’s been a great year of reading. I can’t wait to see what treasures I’ll discover in 2018!

What were your favorite books of 2017? What surprised or excited you the most? Please share your top reads and recommendations in the comments!

2015: My year in books

2015 reading

As 2015 comes to an end, it’s time to take a look back at the year’s greatest hits in books! Earlier this week, I did a round-up of my favorite graphic novels and audiobooks from 2015. Today, I’m widening the focus to include the year’s reading as a whole. Here’s a summary of what I read, and what really stood out for me during a year of some truly excellent reading.

[Note: Click on the links to see my reviews if you’re interested!]

Goodreads stats as of 12/30/2015:

Total number of books read: 148
Total number of pages read: 46,616
Star rating used most often: 5 stars (57 total)
Star rating used least often: 2 stars (8 total — and I didn’t give any books only 1-star. I think if I thought that little of a book, I just DNFd.)

Longest book read: A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon, 1439 pages (a re-read)
Shortest book read (excluding graphic novels and novellas):
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, 120 pages

 

Bests & Other Stuff of Note

Best children’s (middle grade): The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair by S. S. Taylor and Katherine Roy
Best young adult: The Cure For Dreaming by Cat Winters
Best contemporary: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Best graphic novel: Alex + Ada (trilogy) by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn
Best fantasy: Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Best historical fiction: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Best domestic drama: Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova

Best new volume in an ongoing series: I’m always thrilled when Patricia Briggs releases a new book. In 2015, it was Dead Heat, the 4th volume in the Alpha & Omega series (which stars one of my favorite supernatural couples, Charles and Anna).

Best start of a new series: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

Best end to a great series: Winter by Marissa Meyer

Best in the “late to the party” category: Years after the first books were released, I started two terrific ongoing mystery series: The Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow and the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear.

Best return of old friends: Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore, the sequel to A Dirty Job, which brings back all sorts of favorite characters, including Minty Fresh, Charlie Asher, and the squirrel people.

Best use of illustration to tell a story: The Marvels by Brian Selznick is a gorgeous book to look at, using pictures as part of the plot, rather than just as decoration. Runner-up: I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, which mixes comics with text to create a thrillingly tense novel.

Author of the year: Jane Austen! I revisited the works of Austen this year by listening to the audiobooks of her six main novels. I also read three Austen Project retellings, watched the BBC version of Northanger Abbey, and even saw a musical production of Emma!

Best classic read: I loved reading North and South with my book group, and watching the mini-series was the cherry on the sundae!

north_and_south_img

Around the world in a book: My reading took me to some amazing places this year…

globe-32812_1280Ethiopia: Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein
New Guinea: Euphoria by Lily King
Portugal: The Day of Atonement by David Liss
Australia: Silver Bay by Jojo Moyes
Luxembourg: The Expats by Chris Pavone
Canada: Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder
Italy: A Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
India: Prudence by Gail Carriger
UK: After You by Jojo Moyes (and plenty of other books too!)
France: A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher

 

 

Journeys through time: I traveled to many different eras via terrific books; most notably…

time-travelColonial America: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
Antebellum South: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
World War I: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear; The Uninvited by Cat Winters
World War II: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown; All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
1950s: In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

 

Best speculative/science fiction: The sci-fi works I enjoyed most were:

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Oh, the horror! The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy was truly icky, but I just couldn’t look away.

Biggest let-down: I loved The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, but I was so disappointed by book #2, The Infinite Sea, which just did not deliver, in my humble opinion.

Best sports books for people who don’t usually read about sports:

Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally (running)
Winger (and its sequel, Stand-Off) by Andrew Smith (rugby)

Best use of a grandmother: I loved the narrator of The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant.

Best return to childhood: I reread The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and loved them both all over again.

Best author event: I had two awesome author experiences this year, hearing talks by Neil Gaiman and Felicia Day and then getting my books signed!

Best bookish TV events of 2015:

Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle, based on the book by Philip K. Dick:

MitHC

PBS’s Poldark, based on the books by Winston Graham:

poldark 3

And (because I can’t leave it out of a “best of” list), the 2nd half of the first season of Outlander, after a long six-month Droughtlander!

OUT_116-20140827-ND_0372.jpg

Most eye-catching covers:DepthUprootedI Am Princess X

 

Quirkiest titles:

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Intro to Alien Invasion by Owen King
Twittering From the Circus of the Dead by Joe Hill
You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day
Working For Bigfoot by Jim Butcher

Best getting-thrown-for-a-loop: Books with twists or plots that took me by surprise:

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
Winger by Andrew Smith

Bookish delight, all year long:

All the many, many books which, for whatever reason, I can’t quite categorize but still really enjoyed (plus a few that are probably better off forgotten). It’s been a great year of reading. I can’t wait to see what treasures I’ll discover in 2016!

What were your favorite books of 2015? What surprised or excited you the most? Please share your top reads and recommendations in the comments!

2014: My year in books

book stack best ofI started working on a big end-of-year wrap-up post, with snazzy graphics and statistics… and realized that I just didn’t feel like it this year. So, skipping all the bells and whistles, here’s a quick peek at what I really loved in my bookish life in 2014:

[Note: Click on the links to see my reviews if you’re interested!]

Goodreads stats as of 12/27/2014:

Total number of books read: 145
Total number of pages read: 45,345
Star rating used most often: 4 stars (57 total)
Star rating used least often: 1 star (only 1 this year!)
Number of five-star ratings: 51

Longest book read: The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon, 1443 pages (a re-read)
Shortest book read (excluding graphic novels and novellas):
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, 180 pages

 

Bests & Other Stuff of Note

Best children’s (middle grade): Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
Best young adult: Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Best contemporary: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Best graphic novel: Serenity: Leaves on the Wind by Zack Whedon
Best sci-fi/fantasy: The Martian by Andy Weir
Best love story: Anything by Jojo Moyes! (Including One Plus One, The Ship of Brides, Me Before You, and The Last Letter From Your Lover)
Best historical fiction: I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
Best urban fantasy: Skin Game by Jim Butcher
Best domestic drama: The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Best new volume in an ongoing series: Big surprise — it’s gotta be Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon.

Best end to a great series: The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

Best book that defies categorization: Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

globe-32812_1280Around the world in a book: My reading took me to some amazing places this year…

Botswana: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Yemen: Henna House by Nomi Eve
Iceland: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Australia: Hello From the Gillespies by Monica McInerney
Spain: The Mapmaker’s Daughter by Laurel Corona
France: The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley
Syria: City of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn

Journeys through time: I traveled to many different eras via terrific books; most notably…

American Revolution: Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
Civil War: I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe
World War II: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Speculation and science fiction: The medical sci-fi thrillers I enjoyed most were:

Archetype and Prototype by M. D. Waters
The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan

Oh, the horror!

Best subtle creepiness: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Best horror/love story: Horns by Joe Hill
Best horror/furniture catalog: Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix
Best horror involving huge insects: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Best new obsession: The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer

Biggest let-down: I finally got around to reading The Unwritten graphic novel series by M. R. Carey… and found it increasingly incomprehensible (and unenjoyable) the farther along I went.

Best return to childhood: I reread the D’Aulaires books on Greek and Norse mythology, and loved them all over again.

Best author event: Hands down, my biggest bookish thrill this year was traveling to Phoenix, Arizona for an appearance and book signing by Diana Gabaldon.

DG 011

She’s signing my book! She’s signing my book! She’s signing my book. (Um, yes, it was a bit exciting.)

 

Best bookish TV event of 2014: The debut of Outlander on Starz!

Claire and Jamie!

Claire and Jamie!

 

Most eye-catching covers:

jacksonbreak-up artistharrowgate

Quirkiest titles:

The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore
Six Feet Over It by Jennifer Longo
The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

Best getting-thrown-for-a-loop: Books with twists or plots that took me by surprise:

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
The Girl With All the Gifts by Mike Carey

Books about bookstores…

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
The Moment of Everything by Shelly King
Goodnight June by Sarah Jio

Bookish delight, all year long:

All the many, many books which, for whatever reason, I can’t quite categorize but still really enjoyed (plus a few that are probably better off forgotten). It’s been a great year of reading. I can’t wait to see what treasures I’ll discover in 2015!

What were your favorite books of 2014? What surprised or excited you the most? Please share your top reads and recommendations in the comments!

2013: My year in books

best2013a2013 was a great year for reading. Bestsellers, hidden gems, older books, books-into-movies — I had a blast, and based on all of my bookish friends’ comments on Goodreads, Twitter, book blogs, and actual in-person conversations (*gasp* – yes, those still happen occasionally!), it sounds like everyone spent some quality time with noses in books.

It’s hard for me to pick a definitive set of “best” books, but here’s a selection of books that made an impression — for good, for bad, really for a whole slew of reasons. As with last year’s year-in-review post, my salute to the books of 2013 is a snapshot of what I loved, what I could have lived without, what made me laugh, what made me cry… and just about everything in between.

[Note: Included here are books that I read in 2013. Many were released in 2013, but some are older. Hey, it’s my list. Make of it what you will.]

[And another note: Click on the links to see my reviews if you’re interested!]

Goodreads stats as of 12/27/2013:

Total number of books read: 145
Total number of pages read: 44,569
Star rating used most often: 4 stars (57 total)
Star rating used least often: 1 star (only 2 this year — not bad!)
Number of five-star ratings: 51

Longest book read: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, 692 pages
Shortest book read (excluding graphic novels): The Ocean At The End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, 181 pages

Top Genres/Shelves:

GR chart 13

I’m not sure this actually means anything, since I have all sorts of additional weird shelves in Goodreads (twins! will make you cry! werewolves! etc.) that probably skew the numbers… and frankly, I got tired of sorting and resorting. Moving on…

Bests, Worsts, & Other Stuff of Note

Best of the Bunch! If I had to pick just one “best” for each of the the various categories in my handy-dandy chart, my choices would be:

Best children’s (middle grade): The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon by S. S. Taylor
Best young adult: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Best contemporary: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Best graphic novel: Y: The Last Man (series) by Brian K. Vaughan
Best sci-fi/fantasy: The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord
Best love story: Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole
Best historical fiction: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley
Best urban fantasy: Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs

Overall favorite: Gah! That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child. The book that really stands out for me as something truly special, a time-travel book with a compelling love story and excellent historical content, is The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway. Simply outstanding.

Moving on to slightly quirkier book highlights:

Books that make you want to grab a pedometer: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce.

Best use of Venn diagrams: The Theory of Everything by J. J. Johnson.

Triumphant return of a favorite character: Mercy Thompson in Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs; Harry Dresden in Cold Days by Jim Butcher.

Going out on top: All hail Jane True! Tempest Reborn by Nicole Peeler wraps up the series in style.

Should have quit while she was ahead: Poor Sookie Stackhouse. Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris ends the series several years and several books past its expiration date.

Should have left well enough alone: Let’s just pretend certain sequels don’t exist. I nominate The Shade of the Moon (book #4 in the Last Survivors series) by Susan Beth Pfeffer and The Last Battle (Narnia #7) by C. S. Lewis.

Favorite graphic novel series (already complete) read in 2013: Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan is simply incredible. Absolutely loved it.

Favorite graphic novel series (ongoing) with new volumes in 2013: Where to begin? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Fables by Bill Willingham is the best thing since sliced bread; for creepy fantasticness, can’t beat Locke & Key by Joe Hill; and in terms of a great beginning to what I hope will be a long-running series, I really enjoyed the first two volumes of Saga by Brian K. Vaughan.

Grrrl power: Let’s hear it for the awesome young women of fiction who inspired, rocked, and ruled, with special praise and recognition to Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein.

Stuff of nightmares: Creeps and shivers galore! Best of the best: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill; Doctor Sleep by Stephen King; Parasite by Mira Grant.

Best book for Big Bang Theory fans: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion has the most Sheldon-like protagonist I’ve ever met… and just made me really, really happy.

Longest awaited sequel: Thank you, Stephen King, for giving us the amazing Doctor Sleep, 16 years after the publication of The Shining. Well worth the wait!

Most disappointing: I preordered Shadows by Robin McKinley months in advance… and couldn’t get past the first 100 or so pages.

Best twist on a familiar story: I loved Longbourn by Jo Baker, a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the servants’ point of view.

Best author who’s suddenly everywhere: 2013 has to be the year of Rainbow Rowell! I’m one of the many who gobbled up her two decidedly different (and decidedly excellent) young adult novels as well as her book for grown-ups this year.

Best author event: Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan gave a two-person reading that was hilarious and warm and engaging. Hearing them read passages from Fangirl together was priceless! Joe Hill’s appearance and reading of NOS4A2 was also a delight — he was friendly, funny, and just a little bit out there — just as you’d expect.

rrdl2

Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan

Loveliest writing: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. Beautiful.

Mind-bendiest timey-wimey weirdness: The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer.

Not what it sounds like: The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan (not really a dictionary); The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker (not really a guide to magic).

Best use of f-bombs: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn — see chapter 11. Brilliant.

Favorite quirky titles: Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn; Revenge of the Girl With the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg.

Best armchair travels via fiction: Scotland via A Small Death in the Great Glen by A. D. Scott; Africa via A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn; Egypt via Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell.

Most haunting apocalypse: Tumble & Fall by Alexandra Coutts.

Best alien encounter: The Humans by Matt Haig.
Worst (for humanity) alien encounter (in a terrific book): The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.

Best history lessons via fiction: Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell; The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley; Gathering Storm by Maggie Craig, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel; Garden of Stones by Sophie Littlefield.

Worst to read with a meal: Parasite by Mira Grant. Ew.

Best for a geek-tastic laugh: Redshirts by John Scalzi.

Most eye-catching covers:

15819028The Love Song of Jonny Valentineshadowy

Biggest sources of guilt: Buying three books that I couldn’t wait to read — preordered the hardcovers, no less! — and never making time to read them: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, and The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.

Bookish delight on TV: Game of Thrones never fails to deliver. Brutal, beautiful, heart-breaking. “Red Wedding” says it all.

Bookish delights at the movies: I was once again quite pleased with the latest Hunger Games adaptation: Catching Fire was just as it should be. Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing was pure bliss. And The Hobbit? Well, I liked the dragon. And Thorin Oakenshield is one awesome dwarf king.

Bookish delight, all year long:

All the many, many books which, for whatever reason, I can’t quite categorize but still really enjoyed (plus a few that are probably better off forgotten). It’s been a great year of reading! I can’t wait to see what treasures I’ll uncover in 2014!

What were your favorite books of 2013? What surprised or excited you the most? Please share your top reads and recommendations in the comments!

2012: My year in books

best2012It’s that time of year, when every newspaper, magazine, blog, and website is filled with “Best of” and “Top Ten” lists for the year that’s coming to a close. So why not jump on the bandwagon?

2012 was a year filled with great and memorable books (aren’t they all?). For me, it’s hard to pin down the absolute “best” books of the year, but this post is my own little way of summing up what I loved, what I hated, what made me laugh, what made me cry… and just about everything in between.

[Note: Included here are books that I read in 2012. Many were released in 2012, but some are older. Hey, it’s my list. Make of it what you will.]

Favorite quirky titles: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple and Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt are the winners here, with honorable mention to The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison. Even better than the titles: The fact that I really enjoyed all three of these terrific novels.

Biggest sources of shame: That I read the Fifty Shades trilogy, pretty much without stopping to breathe, over the course of a weekend. Good literature? Nope. But impossible to tear your eyes away from? Absolutely.

Sexy without shame: The lovely Ocean’s Surrender by Denise Townsend. Good writing, interesting characters, and scorching hot action. Erotic and classy, but never cheesy.

Favorite new graphic novel series: Without doubt, gotta be the Fables series by Bill Willingham. I love everything about it, managed to gobble up all 17 volumes plus the spin-off Jack of Fables series and several other Fables-related stand-alones. Waiting impatiently for volume 18, due out in January.

Favorite new series of the non-illustrated variety: I think I’d have to go with the Mercy Thompson series, the outstanding urban fantasy series by Patricia Briggs. Populated by shape-shifters, werewolves, vampires, fey, and all sorts of things that go bump in the night, yet grounded in relatable characters who have day jobs, homes, and bills to pay, this series has just the right mix of real life and supernatural.

Best twisty-turny plots: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson. Absolute roller-coaster rides.

Favorite illustrated book for kids: Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. From the author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a simply beautiful and heart-breaking story in which the illustrations are part of the narrative. Appropriate for middle grade readers and above. (This grown-up was reduced to tears)

Favorite illustrated book for grown-ups: Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore. You just can’t go wrong with a Christopher Moore book. Sacré Bleu, set in Paris, with a star-studded cast of Impressionist painters plus a few otherworldly types thrown in, is funny, fast-paced, and altogether full of win.

Books that I was happy to cry over: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein put me through an emotional wringer, but they’re such excellent books that I didn’t mind in the slightest.

Most powerful YA fiction read in 2012: See above.

Best YA fiction that should just be marketed as great fiction rather than confined to YA: See above.

Loveliest author encounter: When I heard that Mary Doria Russell, author of The Sparrow (love, love, love) was coming to my city to speak at a high school, I contacted her to see if the event was open to the public. It wasn’t, but she arranged for me to attend as her guest. Her appearance was wonderful, and I was so impressed by the reactions of the high school students (at an all-girls Catholic school, no less!) to this difficult and often very adult subject matter. As an added treat, I had time before her presentation to sit and talk with her, and she could not have been friendlier. Afterward, I mentioned in a thank-you email to Ms. Russell that my book group had chosen her novel Doc as our next book, and she directed me to the book group page at Random House, where I was able to request a book chat with her. My little book group and I then spent an hour on the phone with Ms. Russell, and she was absolutely delightful — warm, funny, smart, gracious, and welcoming. We all came out of that discussion practically walking on air.

Best armchair travels via fiction: Antarctica, via Where’d You Go Bernadette; Orkney Islands and Iceland via The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey; Mississippi River via Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin; Alaska via The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

Most haunting dystopias and apocalypses: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller; The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson; Flashback by Dan Simmons.

Best end-of-a-series to be read with a cup of tea: Timeless, the 5th and final volume in Gail Carriger’s fabulous Parasol Protectorate series.

Weirdest set-ups for great books: Going Bovine by Libba Bray, about a teenager dying of mad cow disease; and Every Day by David Levithan, about A, who wakes up in a different body every day.

Most enjoyable forays into other time periods: The Diviners by Libba Bray, one of my favorites of the year, full of flappers and insouciant fun in the New York of the roaring 1920s; and Doc by Mary Doria Russell, historical fiction about Doc Holliday that was completely lovely to read.

Biggest disappointment (but I read it anyway): Opinions are very divided on The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling. Count me as one of the naysayers.

Biggest disappointments that I just couldn’t finish: The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin (enjoyed the first in this series, but just couldn’t get into book #2) and The Red House by Mark Haddon.

Most unique use of language: The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan. The author’s use of words to create a setting, a mood, and a culture is beyond description. The story itself is beautiful, but it’s Margo Lanagan’s way with the English language that truly sets this book apart from everything else I’ve read this year. (Plus, the cover is really pretty!)

Don’t read if you’re going on a cruise: The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan and The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe would not be good choices to read during a sea voyage. If you plan to stay on dry land, however, these are both quite good.

Don’t read if you’re pregnant: Breed by Chase Novak and Talulla Rising by Glen Duncan. Fantastically creepy horror, excellent books, but they’ll certainly wipe your mind clean of happy little pink and blue bunnies and lambs.

Best books with airport encounters: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith (good outcome) and Stolen by Lucy Christopher (bad outcome).

Best book that sounds like it’s about travel (but it’s not): Looking for Alaska by John Green.

Best use of a bookstore as a romantic setting: Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.

Great fiction that taught me a thing or two: Gold by Chris Cleve, which taught me all about Olympic bicycle racing and Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, which taught me about alchemy (and also how uncomfortable it is to dress as an Elizabethan-era woman). And dare I add Breed by Chase Novak? Breed taught me not to fly off to former Soviet-bloc countries to seek experimental fertility treatments from shady doctors. (Clearly, I’m still a bit traumatized by that book. Scary.)

Best riffs on classics: The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey, a re-telling of Jane Eyre, and Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James, set in the world of Pride and Prejudice.

Best reunion with old friends: All of the books in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer graphic novel series. So great to hang out with the Scoobies again!

Futuristic worlds I don’t want to live in: Flashback by Dan Simmons is a chilling portrayal of a future United States that’s utterly bleak and hopeless, and yet depressingly easy to envision. And Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin is set in a world in which chocolate is illegal. Tell me that’s not a terrifying thought!

Children’s book that might seem like a Harry Potter rip-off (but isn’t): The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson. (This one came first)

Fun books to read with a kid: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series by Maryrose Woods; Chomp by Carl Hiassen; Half Magic by Edward Eager; The Haunting of Granite Falls by Eva Ibbotson.

And finally…

Books that just plain old made me happy:

All Men of Genius by Lev AC Rosen: Brilliantly comedic steampunk cross-dressing fun.
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith: Lovely, spirited, romantic YA tales with non-cookie-cutter characters.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: Who would have thought that a book about 1960s Hollywood, Italian fishing villages, and Richard Burton could be such a great read?

… and many more, which, for whatever reason, I can’t quite categorize but still really enjoyed (plus a few that are probably better off forgotten). It’s been a great year of reading! I can’t wait to see what treasures I’ll uncover in 2013!