Ag! I am little bit mortified that I have not been more regularly recommending books! I don’t think I’ve done a post like this since last summer! So, here are my favorite reads of 2013 so far – and in the next week or so, I’ll try to do a post about my favorites from fall 2012, too!
SCARLET by Marissa Meyer: I am fascinated by retellings of fairy tales and classic stories, and I really enjoyed the futuristic, plague-ridden world of CINDER. But I loved SCARLET. For me, SCARLET has all the intriguing worldbuilding and plot twists and turns of its predecessor, but deeper, more compelling characterization. Scarlet’s worry for her missing grandmere and fierce determination to find her quickly established her as a likable main character, and I was totally curious to see how their story connected to Cinder’s. I didn’t quite feel the heat between Cinder and the Prince, but the scene on the maglev train between Scarlet and Wolf brought the swoons. The humor of fan favorite Iko and bantering Captain Thorne (my favorite hero so far – I can’t wait to see more of him!) provided a really nice balance to the page-turning tension of Cinder being on the run and learning to use her powers. And I was equally compelled by the Scarlet/Wolf storylines. There was a twist involving Wolf that downright shocked me, but I loved how it was handled – and I appreciated genuinely worried I was for Scarlet and her grandmere. I can’t wait for CRESS! Highly recommend! (read via Apocalypsies ARC; later bought)
OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys: Clever, bookish Josie Moraine is the daughter of a prostitute in 1950s New Orleans. Josie’s desire for something more in life is exacerbated when she’s mistaken for a college girl by a tourist visiting the bookshop where she works. Then the tourist’s murder threatens to keep her in the tawdry world of mobsters and madams she’s grown up in. Josie is one of the most winsome protagonists I’ve read about in ages. Her yearning is palpable and will resonate with anyone who’s ever had a big, seemingly-impossible dream she’s been told is out of her reach. I was totally invested in her plight, rooting for her to make it to Smith College in Massachusetts, and leave her shame and her horrid, abusive mother behind. The myriad obstacles standing in Josie’s way kept me turning the pages, and even her most questionable choices felt totally believable for someone who’s been told all her life that she’ll never amount to anything. The French Quarter setting, combined with the class differences between Josie and some newfound Uptown friends, was fascinating. And the other characters – especially Patrick, her lifelong friend and maybe more; Willie, the tough madam of the house on Conti Street and Josie’s fairy godmother of sorts; and Cokie, Willie’s driver and Josie’s pseudo-father figure – were all equally vivid. I loved this book so much. Along with THE LUCY VARIATIONS, it’s my favorite read of 2013. Highly recommend! (read ARC from Penguin; bought)
MAID OF SECRETS by Jennifer McGowan: Meg is a thief working for a theatre troupe when she’s plucked from the streets and forced to work for Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster instead. She joins the Queen’s special Maids of Honor, where her perfect memory and gift for mimicry are complemented by Beatrice, the beautiful high-born flirt; Anna, the clever codebreaker; Jane, the stealthy ninja; and Sophia, the Seer. Meg’s romance with a Spanish courtier is swoon-worthy, and the question of whether or not he’s really trustworthy is compelling, but I love how independent-minded she is. Despite her feelings for Rafe, Meg doesn’t wish to marry and give up her independence, which rang totally true for a girl who’s grown up with such freedom. My favorite thing about the novel might be that despite the bickering between the girls, they are ultimately tremendously loyal to each other – and to the Queen. Meg risks her life to make sure that young Elizabeth’s romantic secrets remain just that, even from her spymaster – which won my favor as well as the Queen’s. I’m looking forward to the other novels in the series! I liked this book so much I blurbed it: McGowan offers a tantalizing look at the spies, seductions, and secrets of Queen Elizabeth’s court. There are no damsels in distress here; Meg and her fellow Maids of Honor are a clever, winsome quintet! (read via ARC; bought; recommend, obviously!)(debut!)
THE REESE MALCOLM LIST by Amy Spalding: When Devan’s father dies, she’s shipped off to LA to live with her mother, novelist Reese Malcolm, whom she’s never met. Reese is prickly at best, kind of a bitch (albeit a likable one), and Devan is understandably consumed with wondering why her mother’s never once reached out to her. The ups and downs of their complex relationship are handled very deftly. Devan is a wonderful, hilarious narrator who actually sounds like a teenage girl and reminds me a bit of Ruby Oliver. But my favorite thing about this book is Devan’s new performing-arts school. Devan’s been gifted with a great voice and big dreams, and she lands a fantastic part in the spring musical. I think any past theatre nerd (*waves hand*) will recognize the all-consuming drama of the day the cast list goes up, the friend who’s a dick because he didn’t get a good part, and the hookups and revelations that occur at the cast party. Speaking of hookups, the romances feel spot-on as well, from kissing someone because you like the attention to calling out a friend who’s been giving mixed signals to the questionable behavior of dating a friend’s ex. In short, I loved this book so much it makes me want to write a theatre book of my own. Highly recommend! (read via NetGalley; bought)(debut!)
RELIC by Renee Collins (out Aug 27): After Maggie’s parents and brother are killed in a fire, she finds work at a scandalous saloon – but she’s soon whisked away by a rich relic baron. Can she trust him? And who’s responsible for setting fires like the ones that killed her family? Honestly, I’d been dying to read RELIC since I read the deal announcement, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s peopled with Old West prototypes – spunky orphan girl, handsome cowboy, whore with a heart of gold, cruel brothel owner – who come alive on the page. What really stood out for me was the amazing, imaginative worldbuilding – an Old West in which people mine not for gold but for relics imbued with ancient magic – bits of siren and vampire and dragon bone. Some relics are innocent enough (a water-based relic could help farmers get through a drought) while others are dark and twisted, but they all give their users power – and Maggie finds she can wield them better than most. Completely fascinating premise, no? There’s a creepy scene in the caverns with ghost coyotes that I loved, and a sexy one where Maggie falls under the spell of a dangerous relic, and the one where she meets her cowboy while swimming in a creek and is scandalized and…well, I could go on. I loved this book so much I blurbed it, too: RELIC is like nothing else I’ve read – a historical fantasy teeming with ghost coyotes, duplicitous Haciendos, sexy cowboys, and dangerous relic magic. I loved spending time in Collins’ magnificent reimagining of the Old West! (read in ms; will buy for sure; obviously recommend)(debut!)
THE LUCY VARIATIONS by Sara Zarr: It’s about a 16 year old pianist, Lucy, who gave up her brilliant career and hasn’t played since walking offstage in the midst of a competition 8 months ago – and what happens when her brother’s new piano teacher, Will, sparks her realization that she misses music. Lucy’s story is fascinating, and her relationship with Will is…complex. (I’ll leave it at that to avoid spoilers, but wow is it well wrought.) Her familial relationships – her little brother Gus, the family’s new piano prodigy; her affable but easily-pushed-aside dad; her perfectionist mom; her dictatorial grandfather – are also fascinating. The book really explores the nature of creative gifts, the notion of what we owe ourselves and others, the business vs love aspects of it, all in a way that really spoke to me as a writer. Sara Zarr is one of my writing heroes; I love the way she talks about craft, and I am amazed by her exact-perfect wordsmithing, the way her characters feel so deeply true and are never reduced to caricature. I’m often asked in interviews if there are any authors I fangirl over, and the answer is YES and she is one of them. Highly recommend! One of my twin favorite books of the year, along with OUT OF THE EASY. (originally read in ARC; bought)
THE HEIRESSES by Allison Rushby: THE HEIRESSES combines several of my favorite elements – squabbling sisters (in this case triplets!) and a mysterious inheritance and a fabulous historical setting. Rushby paints a fascinating portrait of high-society London during the Roaring Twenties, as the girls come of age in a new world of lipstick and bobbed hair and motorcars…and costume parties, drug addiction, and sex. It’s an immensely fun, frothy read; I was desperate to find out the mysteries behind the girls’ birth, and even though I pieced together part of it, there were still twists and turns that surprised me. I loved how wildly different the three sisters are – clever schoolgirl Ro, cruel flapper Thalia, and sheltered misfit Clio – and how they’re alternately deeply loyal and at each others’ throats. And their aunt, Lady Hestia, is a wonderful, fierce character in her own right. Recommend – especially if you like DOWNTON ABBEY or GATSBY! (read via NetGalley; bought)
THE RULES FOR DISAPPEARING by Ashley Elston: I love the hook of a girl in the Witness Protection Program! It reminds me of a childhood favorite, Lois Duncan’s DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU. Meg is a tremendously sympathetic main character. Her dad is keeping secrets about why they’ve got to endure this, her spunky little sister is going silent and childlike, and her mom’s drinking is getting out of control. After being abruptly yanked out of her original life and several placements, leaving friends and identities behind in each place, it’s totally understandable that she’s decided not to even try in Louisiana. Of course, that’s before she meets Ethan, who really is adorable. Her attempts to push him away are, again, understandable, but I appreciate that instead of being endlessly patient, he gets frustrated with her and demands the truth. I love the charming small-town setting and the rich family dynamics – but what really kept me flipping pages is the mystery of what got Meg’s family into this situation and the very real sense of danger following her. The neat ending struck me as a tad implausible, but it’s possible that the sequel will make it all make sense. I’ll definitely be reading it! Recommend! (read via NetGalley)(debut!)
THE NEPTUNE PROJECT by Polly Holyoke: In this futuristic middle-grade dystopian, Nere learns that she’s one of a group of children who have been genetically engineered to live in the ocean, and she and her friends must swim up the West Coast to meet up with her dad in his new underwater colony…This book is incredibly fast-paced without sacrificing character. I felt super sympathetic toward Nere, who’s forced to give up the life she’s known on land for a dangerous one beneath the sea, dodging Marine Guard divers and sharks alike. She’s believably hesitant to lead the group but steps up anyway – and promptly makes some mistakes. I’ve never read an underwater adventure story before, and that setting is a big part of what sets this book apart for me. Nere is a telepath – which is totally fascinating – but she can communicate not only with other humans but with her dolphin friends! The dynamics of the dolphin pod and the other underwater creatures is so cool. There’s a slight, innocent love triangle in which I’m rooting for the group’s winsome medic, but Nere’s entire group is interesting; the minor characters each shine with their own talents and personalities. The author doesn’t pull her punches where the danger is concerned, either; there are a few casualties along the way. I’m really hoping there will be a sequel, because I’d love to read more! Highly recommend! (read via NetGalley; bought)(debut!)
DRAMA by Raina Telgemeier: A middle-grade graphic novel in which Callie and her friends form the crew for their school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi! Callie wants to create the best set ever, but she struggles to create a working canon on a budget. Meanwhile, she’s wondering whether her new crush likes her back or not…This book is crazy cute. I love that it explores all the hard work behind-the-scenes instead of focusing on the actors; Callie’s friends are the costume, sound, and lighting designers and the stage manager. There is drama both onstage and off, as a show romance goes awry during a performance, Callie’s canon misfires, one of her new friends comes out as gay, and the crew struggles to make it all come together. It will totally resonate for anyone who’s ever been part of the magic of low-budget shows. Callie’s love for theatre and determination to do an awesome job make her a really likable protagonist, even as she’s believably oblivious to some of the dynamics around her, like a longtime friend who’s crushing on her. Even though she’s a bit self-absorbed (what 13 year old isn’t?) she’s ultimately a very good friend – and oh, I love that even as she has ups and downs in the romance department, theatre is really her focus. Yay for girls with passions! The illustrations are bright and fun and showcase the cast’s awesome diversity. I love Callie’s quirky clothes and purple hair, too! Highly recommend! (bought)
NANTUCKET BLUE by Leila Howland: Since her parents’ divorce, Cricket’s mom has gotten depressed and her dad’s gotten remarried. As a way to deal, Cricket’s become super-close with her best friend Jules’ family, and she’s excited to spend the summer with them on Nantucket. But after Jules’ mom dies, Jules unceremoniously un-invites her. Following both Jules and the boy she’s been crushing on, Cricket decides to go anyway and ends up with a job as a chambermaid at a quirky inn. She struggles with her broken friendship with Jules even as she falls in love for the first time, with someone totally unexpected…This is a perfect sweet, summery romance! Cricket is a totally take-charge kind of girl who makes things happen for herself and has the strength to apologize when she makes mistakes. (And I always love it when authors allow their characters to make mistakes!) She finds notes her mom wrote when she was Cricket’s age about the romance she had during the summer she spent on Nantucket – and immediately starts matchmaking. Cricket’s determination to fix her friendship with Jules (who, in her grief, is a total bitch to Cricket); her interesting family dynamics; her arc of growing self-confidence; her secret romance; and her internship with a local writer all combine to make this compulsively readable and more than “just” a summer romance – but frankly, the romance is adorable, and Nantucket is a gorgeous setting, and this would make a fabulous beach read. Highly recommend! (read via NetGalley; bought)
THE ELEMENTALS by Saundra Mitchell: This is a companion novel to THE VESPERTINE and THE SPRINGSWEET, in which our previous heroines’ children – also gifted with elemental magic – meet in LA during World War I, with disastrous consequences. I loved seeing how life played out for both of our previous couples. Nathaniel and Amelia have become a bit insufferable in their privileged flights around the globe, but Emerson and Zora have become one of my favorite book couples with all their laughter and hard work and passion for one another. Both their son Julian (a handsome musician with a bad leg from polio, who can resurrect dead animals) and Kate (Amelia and Nathaniel’s daughter) are terribly interesting characters – though the edge might go to Kate, an aspiring filmmaker who prefers to dress as a boy, crushes on her actress muse, keeps a pet raven named Handsome, and can stop time. Their banter and the sense of predestination about their meeting is lovely. But my favorite thing about Mitchell’s writing is how incredibly vivid her settings are. Whether it’s Victorian Baltimore (THE VESPERTINE) or the drought-struck prairie (THE SPRINGSWEET) or the California coast (here), her descriptions are so jaw-droppingly perfect I have to stop and read over the sentences again and again, marveling at her gorgeous wordsmithing. Recommend! (bought)
Those are MY favorites so far this year. Have you read any of them? What do you think? What’s your favorite?