Maureen’s favorite books of 2013
The New York Times, Kirkus–it seems like everyone has a Best of 2013 list out. Here are some of my top books from the past year.
Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos and Joy Ang: Billy was born with a mustache. But will it be a good-guy mustache, or a bad-guy mustache? One day, his parents’ worst fears are realized, as his mustache begins to turn up at the ends…Fun details in the art make this a picture book to read and re-read.
If You Want to See a Whale by Erin Stead and Julie Fogliano: This is a quiet book, about a boy and his dog and what it takes to see a whale. Erin Stead’s delicate line art, and Julie Fogliano’s poetic story are a perfect combination.
Journey by Aaron Becker: Journey is a beautiful wordless picture book, with a wealth of details in its illustrations. It evokes classics like Harold and the Purple Crayon or David Wiesner’s Flotsam and Sector 7. Becker’s use of color is lovely, and his depiction of imagination is downright enchanting.
The New Arrival by Vanya Nastanlieva: When you are a little hedgehog, even a few weeks old, you must find your own place to live. Little Sam finds the perfect place, except that he is lonely. With charming illustrations and a sweet story, this is one to treasure.
Binny For Short by Hilary McKay: I love Hilary McKay’s books, period, but Binny for Short is already one of my favorites. McKay is especially good at showing families who are complicated and prickly, but who ultimately love each other. While nothing is as purely funny as the Exiles series, Binny is full of warmth and humor.
Jinx by Sage Blackwood: If I wanted to recommend one fantasy book from 2013, Jinx would be it. Reminiscent of classic books like Howl’s Moving Castle or Robin McKinley’s fairy tale retellings, Jinx also stands firmly on its own. It has a marvelous main character, a beautiful setting, and writing that is a joy to read. If wizards and quests and fairy tale forests are your thing, check it out.
Doll Bones by Holly Black: Holly Black is already a force in the kidlit world, and I highly recommend her Curse Workers series for older readers. Doll Bones is her first solo middle grade book, and it’s a great one. It looks like a scary book, and it is a bit. The Queen Doll is genuinely creepy. But it’s about so much more than that–friendship and magic and growing up.
The Inquisitor’s Apprentice by Chris Moriarty: Set in an alternate version of New York in the early 1900s, The Inquisitor’s Apprentice follows a young Jewish boy named Sacha as he becomes an apprentice to the great Inquisitor, Maximilian Wolf. But in a world where magic is illegal, Sacha and his family have secrets of their own. A wonderful, exciting story.
The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann: In a world that looks a bit like Victorian England, but isn’t, faeries live in slums and Peculiars (changelings) are hated and feared. When his sister Hettie disappears, Bartholomew must break the first rule of being a Peculiar–don’t get yourself noticed–to find her. The Peculiar is an incredibly impressive debut, and one I definitely recommend for adults as well as kids.
Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow: I’m not sure I have the words to tell you how much I love this book. It’s one I read all in one sitting because I couldn’t possibly imagine stopping. It tells the story of three friends, Otter and Kestrel and Cricket, and the way they grow up while their world is changing around them, while everything that they knew is altered. It’s about friendship and love and bravery and sorrow. As a bonus, it has some of the eeriest monsters and most beautiful writing I’ve ever encountered.
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein: It’s not really a secret that I’m a huge Elizabeth Wein fan. So it’s probably not a surprise that I loved Rose Under Fire, her companion book to last year’s Code Name Verity. Rose has fewer spies and heroics, but the themes of friendship and courage are more than present. Rose and those she meets will go straight to your heart. It’s a harrowing read, but one that’s full of beauty amidst the horror.
Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson: I liked Anderson’s Ultraviolet a lot, but I loved Quicksilver. I can’t tell you much about the plot for fear of spoiling both books. I think what I appreciated most was the sense of weirdness and humor and warmth, which reminded me of the best Doctor Who episodes.
Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan: This is the second book in the Lynburn Legacy trilogy, and it’s awesome. Hilarious in some points, because every Sarah Rees Brennan book must have at least one snarky character. Heart-pounding in other places, because I was never sure what was about to happen. I loved Kami, the intrepid reporter and girl detective, and the Gothic-y eeriness of Aurimere. The only downside to this book is having to wait another year for the next one.
Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater: This is the second book in the Raven Boys series. When I finished it, I almost threw my copy across the room–not because it was badly written, but because I had too many feelings to handle. I was seriously impressed by how well Stiefvater deepened and complicated the story she began in The Raven Boys. While The Scorpio Races is still my favorite Stiefvater title, Dream Thieves is right there behind it.
Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells ed. by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling: The Datlow/Windling editorial team is a force to be reckoned with where SFF anthologies are concerned. I enjoyed the slant they took with this gaslamp fantasy book. It’s not quite steampunk, not quite alternate history, but something in between. (Maybe closer to historical fantasy, which I love.) And with stories by Theodora Goss, Catherynne Valente, and Elizabeth Wein, three of my favorite authors, I was basically required to like this one. Some stories were stronger than others, but overall this is one of the best anthologies I’ve picked up in the last few years.
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold: I am a huge fan of the Vorkosigan saga, and this latest (and last? please no!) addition was a lot of fun. Lighter than Cryoburn, this is the story of Ivan Vorpatril’s romantic muddles and tribulations. I genuinely laughed at loud at parts of it, and was oddly touched in other parts. Not the place to start the series, but for those who are already acquainted with Barrayar and its inhabitants, a lovely read.
The Amor et Chocolat series by Laura Florand: I’m pretty picky about the romances I read, so I was happy to discover this lovely series. Florand has rapidly turned into one of my favorite authors. with a lovely writing style. She often weaves fairy tales into her stories of Paris and chocolatiers, making for a magic reading experience.
The Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley: Flavia is a precocious girl in 1950s England, part of an odd and sadly destitute family. She also possesses an aptitude for chemicals and detection. Since her village is plagued with a rash of criminals, this comes in handy.
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen: I read through Sarah Addison Allen’s backlist this summer and enjoyed all of the books. But Garden Spells is definitely my favorite. I loved the characters, and the descriptions of the garden and cooking. Magical realism at its very best.
Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester: Georgette Heyer is pretty much the queen of Regency romances, but she was also famously reclusive. Kloester does a marvelous job of breaking down the walls of her reticence and revealing the fascinating person that Heyer was.
The Year of Learning Dangerously by Quinn Cummings: If you’ve ever been curious about homeschooling, this is the book to read. Cummings decided to homeschool her daughter after feeling that public school wasn’t offering her the best education. She then entered the weird and wonderful world of homeschooling, with its philosophies, conventions, and curricula. As a former homeschooled kid, I appreciated the way Cummings clearly loves and defends homeschooling, while also critiquing some of its more extreme practitioners.
Home Front Girl by Joan Wehlen Morrison: The diaries of a young woman living in Chicago during World War II, the book was edited by Susan Morrison after her mother’s death. They are full of funny stories from Joan’s life, deep thoughts about the war and its repercussions, and silliness. They’re a wonderful little window into one girl’s life during WWII.
New to me (Older books I read for the first time this year)
The Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh: There are so many books in this series, and I have just begun to read them. But I’m already loving Bren Cameron and the complex, terrifying world he has been thrown into. It sometimes seems that he will never manage to stay out of trouble for long, but I found his journey extremely engaging.
The Fall of Ile-Rien quartet by Martha Wells: I love Martha Wells anyway (and think more people ought to read her!), but the Fall of Ile-Rien books are some of her best. They are probably best read after Death of the Necromancer, which introduces us to some of the key characters. Here, Tremaine Valiarde and her world are under attack from the mysterious Gardier.
The Beacon at Alexandria by Gillian Bradshaw: Bradshaw is a gifted historical fiction writer with a talent for creating engaging characters and thoroughly researched but never boring settings. The Beacon at Alexandria is my favorite of her books so far, with a marvelous main character, Charis, who runs away to become a doctor in the great city of Alexandria.
The City Watch books by Terry Pratchett: A lot of Pratchett’s Discworld books are ones I want to like more than I actually do. But I really love the City Watch sub-series, which I’ve been reading the past few months. They have Pratchett’s trademark humor, but also a lot of warmth and I enjoy the mystery aspect of them as well.