Here are my top 10:
1. OUT OF THE EASY by Ruta Sepetys. Josie’s the daughter of a prostitute in 1950s New Orleans. She dreams of going to college back East – but the murder of a tourist threatens to keep her in the tawdry world of mobsters and madams she’s grown up in. The French Quarter setting is incredibly vivid, and Josie’s yearning for a better life will resonate with anyone who’s ever had a big, seemingly impossible dream.
2. THE LUCY VARIATIONS by Sara Zarr: 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 18 months ago – and what happens when her brother’s new piano teacher, Will, sparks her realization that she misses music. The relationship between Lucy and Will is…complex, and the characters all feel so deeply true, never reduced to caricature. The book explores the nature of creative gifts, the notion of what we owe ourselves and others, the business vs love aspects of it, in a way that really spoke to me.
3. BETWEEN THE DEVIL & THE DEEP BLUE SEA by April Genevieve Tucholke. A lonely girl in a falling-down house meets a charming liar, and horrible things ensue. I love how the house – the Citizen Kane – is practically another character, and the atmosphere is vivid and creepy and gorgeous. There’s a scene in a graveyard involving children carrying crosses that creeped me out more than anything I’ve read this year. I’m dying for the sequel, BETWEEN THE SPARK AND THE BURN.
4. WHERE THE STARS STILL SHINE by Trish Doller: Callie was kidnapped by her bipolar mom as a child. When she’s 17, her mom is arrested and she’s returned to her dad – but she doesn’t know how to lead a normal life. There’s an incredibly sexy, sweet romance – maybe my favorite of this year. But what I loved most is the family dynamics and Callie’s character arc as she heals from past sexual abuse and her mom’s betrayals and learns to be part of a family. Both of Trish’s books are kind of emotional masterpieces.
5. WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart (comes out May 14): A rich, beautiful blonde family gathers on their private island every summer – but her fifteenth summer, something terrible happens to Cady – something she’s blocked from her memory but determined to unravel when she travels back to the island two summers later. I stayed up all night and read this in one big gulp because I had to know what happened. It’s a brilliant, devastating, clever, twisty story with beautiful language and a super messed up family.
6. THE INVENTOR’S SECRET by Andrea Cremer (releases April 22): A steampunk fantasy in which the British won the Revolutionary War. There’s really really cool world-building, a sassy heroine, and several swoony boys I’m not sure I can trust. (This inspired me to try to write my own steampunk world.) I can’t wait for the second one already.
7 and 8. ETIQUETTE & ESPIONAGE and CURTSIES & CONSPIRACIES by Gail Carriger: These take place on a floating finishing school where the young ladies are learning to be spies. The world includes vampires and werewolves as well as dirigibles and automatons. Sophronia is a terribly clever heroine, and the narration (it takes place in third person) is awfully amusing.
9. ROSE UNDER FIRE by Elizabeth Wein: American pilot Rose Justice is flying a plane from Britain to France when she’s captured and sent to Ravensbruck, a horrific women’s prison camp. She struggles to survive through her poetry and the friendship of her fellow prisoners, including the Rabbits, Polish women who’ve been the subject of the Nazis’ horrific medical “experiments.” This book isn’t an easy read – it’s heart-shattering – but it’s worth it. This is a companion to CODE NAME VERITY, but to be honest, I liked the voice of this one better. Rose is a really winsome heroine.
10. CHAMPION by Marie Lu: June – a rich military prodigy – and Day – a rebel street kid – work together to save the Republic from the invading Colonies. They love each other, but can Day ever forgive her for being partially responsible for the murder of his family? I sobbed my face off and swooned at this, which is just how I like my books. I’m always impressed by how distinct the dual narration is, and that the racing plot – while a total page turner – never overwhelms the characters. I loved the worldbuilding, especially an imaginative trip to Antarctica. The ending isn’t easy, but it felt like a note-perfect conclusion to the trilogy.
BONUS: Here are my other 10 five-star reads of 2013, in the order I read them:
ROAR & LIV (an UNDER THE NEVER SKY novella) by Veronica Rossi: A prequel that explores the romance between Roar and Liv – and the friendship between Perry and Roar. Veronica’s worldbuilding is fascinating, and she’s an incredible wordsmith. Also, Roar is super hot. I don’t think I can choose between him and Perry!
SCARLET by Marissa Meyer: A futuristic retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. All the intriguing worldbuilding and intricate, twisty plotting of its predecessor CINDER. Plus I connected more with Scarlet as a heroine; I was genuinely worried about her and her grandmere. I also loved the introduction of Captain Thorne (my favorite Lunar Chronicles hero so far – I love a boy who banters – I can’t wait to see more of him in CRESS!).
MAID OF SECRETS by Jennifer McGowan: A thief working for a theatre troupe is plucked from the streets and forced to work for Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster. I love how independent Meg is and how loyal she and the other Maids of Honor are to the young Queen and to each other. I liked this 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.
THE REECE MALCOLM LIST by Amy Spalding: When Devan’s father dies, she’s shipped off to LA to live with her mother, novelist Reece Malcolm – whom she’s never met. Devan is a hilarious, awesome narrator who reminded me a little of Ruby Oliver. When she enrolls at a performing arts school, 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 acts like a jerk because he didn’t get a good part, and the hookups and offstage drama of the cast party.
RELIC by Renee Collins: After the tragic death of her parents, Maggie finds work at a scandalous saloon – but when she discovers an affinity for magic, she’s whisked away by a rich relic baron. See, this is 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. I blurbed this one 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!
THE NEPTUNE PROJECT by Polly Holyoke: A futuristic dystopian in which Nere learns that she’s one of a group of children who’ve been genetically engineered to live in the ocean. I’ve never read an underwater adventure before, and the setting set this one apart for me. Nere is a telepath who can communicate not only with other humans but with dolphins! This is a great mix of action adventure and interesting character development.
NANTUCKET BLUE by Leila Howland: When Cricket’s BFF’s mom dies suddenly, Cricket’s unceremoniously uninvited from their summer trip to Nantucket. She goes anyway and falls in love for the first time with someone unexpected. This is a perfect beach read – a swoony romance, a fantastic heroine, interesting family and friend dynamics, and a really fun setting. I can’t wait for the sequel, NANTUCKET RED.
DRAMA by Raina Telgemeier: A crazy cute graphic novel about a 13 year old set designer who’s determined to create the best set ever for her middle school’s musical – including a working cannon. I especially loved that it focused on the behind-the-scenes crew instead of actors. I think this will resonate with anyone who’s ever been part of the magic of low-budget theatre.
HOLD ME LIKE A BREATH by Tiffany Schmidt (releases 2015): I read a very early draft of this, which is a Princess and the Pea- inspired romance set in a world run by black-market organ mafias. Penny’s the sheltered only daughter of one of the three main crime families, and she suffers from an immune disease that’s forced her to grow up in suffocating dependence. When she’s forced to survive on her own, she totally blossoms. Fabulous character arc.
BREATHE, ANNIE, BREATHE by Miranda Kenneally (releases July 1): A girl who’s built her whole life around her boyfriend tries to heal after his death by running a marathon in his honor. I always love the relationships — families, friendships, and romances — in Miranda’s books, and there are some great dynamics here.
Have you read any of these? What did you think?