Ana: Hello, I’m Ana.
Thea: And I’m Thea.
Ana & Thea: And we are…BOOK SMUGGLERS!!!!!!!
*play facemelting riffs on air guitars*
We’ve brought you some of our favorite authors and bloggers with their reflections on 2013 and plans for 2014… We’ve once again proved that the hardest Feat of Strength is to restrain ourselves NOT TO BUY ALL THE THINGS after so many awesome lists… And now it’s finally time to get our own hands dirty! We have scoured our personal libraries, gone through all our reviews for the year, and we are happy to report that we finally have our final picks ready to go.
We Smugglers are proud to present you with our Most Excellent Books of 2013!
MOST EXCELLENT BOOKS OF 2013
Ana’s Most Excellent List:
If the first half of the year was a bit disappointing, the second half more than made up for it. Overall, I feel pretty good about my reading year and with good reason: I read 149 books (down from last year’s 154 but considering how busy with work I was this year, I am actually surprised at the final number) and the average grade assigned was 6.7, higher than ever before.
I gave 3 books a perfect 10 – fewer than the two previous years – and only one of those to a book published in 2013 (Ancillary Justice). I read a whopping 112 books written by female authors, amounting to 75% of my reading and that’s pretty awesome.
The vast majority of what I read was Speculative Fiction (25 were Scifi – a lot for me), 36 were Middle Grade (24%, fewer than last year) and 50 were YA (33%). I am SO not impressed with the number of books with PoC protagonists (about 20 or 13%) or by authors of colour (14 or about 9%) I’ve read this year; I am equally disappointed in myself about the number of books with LGBTQ protagonists I read (12 or 8%) which just goes to show how the best intentions are nothing if you are not alert and conscious of what you choose to read. Goal number 1 for 2014: be more conscious about choosing what I read so that I can truly read more diversely. Finally, for the first time I wanted to keep tabs on the print:electronic ratio and this ended being 80:69.
One of my favourite things to talk about in these round-ups is the new-to-me authors I “discover” every year. In 2013, I fell in love with Terry Pratchett and Hilary Mckay which makes 2013 a FANTASTIC year just because of that.
But enough with the stats and the navel gazing. Here is my top of 2013, in no particular order:
10. The Real Boy by Anne Ursu
The Real Boy is a heartwarming story of a young boy named Oscar whose moving personal story of identity and self-awareness happens against the backdrop of a small town stuck in their own ways. There is magic and consequences, terrible monsters and loyal friendships in a tale that examines what it means to be human or “real”. With roots on fear and power but also on love and affection as well as beautiful illustrations, The Real Boy is my favourite Middle Grade book of 2013.
9. September Girls by Bennett Madison
Probably one of the most controversial books of the year, September Girls sparked divisive reactions from love to hatred as well as thoughtful conversations about sexism and misogyny. I am one of those who fall in the “Not a sexist book” camp: September Girls is a book that constantly challenges sexism and patriarchy, following characters – both male and female – in a beautiful journey to a deeper understanding of love, identity and choice. It’s a mermaid myth retold in languid, captivating prose building up to a bittersweet ending that hits all the right notes.
8. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman’s writing speaks to me in ways I find hard to explain. It is more than voice or prose or motifs – I guess it’s all of those combined, in a concentration strong enough to give me ALL THE FEELS.
The most striking thing about The Ocean at the of the Lane – a book about a boy, the monsters that inhabit his forgotten childhood memories and the man that he becomes – is how it is at once utterly familiar in the way that it returns to some of Gaiman’s favourite themes and also completely distinctive in how the story is framed – at turns mature in its narrative and childlike in its reaction to the memories the adult narrator is accessing – and the way it captures childhood and adulthood as ever-evolving processes. It’s a quiet, intimate story that somehow doesn’t lack grandeur.
7. Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth E Wein
It is difficult to talk about Rose Under Fire without mentioning that it is a companion novel to the heart-breaking Code Name Verity which was the best book of 2012. As such, it was impossible not to come to this book with all sorts of hopes, fears and tremendous expectations. Despite the fact that this is also an epistolary novel, thankfully Rose Under Fire turned out to be a very different book to its predecessor – and an awesome one too . It follows Rose, a young American pilot, who is captured by Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the infamous women’s concentration camp. There she befriends a group of Polish prisoners and bear witness to the horrifying medical experiments they were victims of. What follows is a heart-rending portrayal of a variety of experiences inside the camp – including different ways of coping and surviving. It is a deeply affecting book and the quieter one of this incredible duo of novels.
6. All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry
It’s hard to believe that All Our Pretty Songs is Sarah McCarry’s debut novel for the writing is so self-assured and so beautiful it blew my mind away. It follows an unnamed narrator and her friendship with best-friend-almost-sister Aurora and the depths the narrator will go to take care of her friend. It is primarily a novel about sisterhood and friendship but also one about lust, falling in love and the power of music. It is kind of a retelling of the Orpheus myth but not quite like you expect it to be. It’s a Quest story but also Coming-of-Age and it is incredible.
5. P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia
Reading One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia – the book that precedes P.S. Be Eleven was a huge turning point for me: it marked the moment I realised that Middle Grade books did not necessarily equal simplistic. These books follow sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern against the backdrop of the Civil Rights and Feminist movements as they navigate the murky waters of sisterhood, family and growing up. With fully realised adult characters to interact with the sisters offering a multigenerational outlook, P.S. Be Eleven is a sadder and darker book than its predecessor but still a book about lovely girls who get to squee together over their shared love for the Jackson Five one minute and fight over silly things the next.
4. Boxers/Saints by Gene Luen Yang
One story in two volumes, the Boxers and Saints graphic novels intertwine the tales of two young people on different sides of the Boxer Rebellion in China in the late 19th century. It’s a historical story full of political and religious themes presented in a very personal context from these two characters’ viewpoints. An engaging and thought-provoking character-driven story against the backdrop of a violent, life changing historical conflict and with arresting imagery, this is absolutely an incredible read.
3. Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow
This is the one book in the list that has grown on me over time. You know the type: the more you think about it, the more you love it? I think Sorrow’s Knot is the most Ana-book in my list and it’s not for nothing that I compared it to Chime by Franny Billingsley (an all-time favourite). It is the book that has the loveliest romances, the most amazing, lovely friendship between girls and a story that is thoughtful and scary but oh so human. With gorgeous prose that emulates old fashioned tales, Sorrow’s Knot is a story of unspeakable horror where tradition meets transformation, history is as close to storytelling as it can be and grief changes the world the protagonists know. It is the book in this list that has made me cry the hardest but also the one that I ended up hugging to my chest when I was finished.
2. Into the Grey by Celine Kiernan
Celine Kiernan is no stranger to my top 10 as back in 2010 her Moorehawke Trilogy was one of my favourites of that year. Into the Grey is new, different territory from the author, a historical ghost story. But one that still shows the author’s talent for writing about the deep emotional connection that links people by ties of blood or friendship. It is a sad, scary, beautiful story.
1. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Ancillary Justice is hands-down the most exciting novel of 2013: it is the book that made me the most happy when reading because it just ticked all of my personal favourites. Smart world-building and background story: check. Awesome unreliable narrator: check. Clever narrative tricks: check. Thought-provoking themes that deal with gender, identity, loyalty, imperialism…IN SPACE: check, check, check ALL THE THINGS. Plus it has the coolest premise: the narrator used to be a spaceship. Ancillary Justice is the best, most accomplished novel I’ve read this year and I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a sequel.
Thea’s Most Excellent List:
This year has been a good one. Although I reviewed far fewer books than last year or any year since starting this blog – just 129 titles! But given my stress levels and day-job workload this year, it makes sense – the overall quality of the books I’ve read has been excellent. Of those 129 books, my average rating was a 6.7 (and 79 of the books I reviewed had a rating of 7 or higher!). I only had one 10 rated book this year (not surprising); conversely, there were only 6 books that received a grade lower than 5. And the genre breakdown: 23 dystopias, 39 speculative fiction, 47 science fiction (yowza!), 47 fantasy (surprising to me, as I felt I read far fewer straight fantasy books this year), 23 horror, and 12 apocalypse-type stories. This year, 68 of the books I read were YA (53%) – also down from last year. Just 29 featured books with POC protagonists, and a shocking 7 books were written by authors of color. Only 11 books featured LGBTQ main characters. Clearly, I have a lot of work to do next year to fix this huge deficit. On the bright side, 96 of the books I read were written by female authors (76%).
OK! Enough statistics – and onto THE LIST! (This was agonizing, by the way.) In descending order:
10. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
The new novel from Joe Hill, NOS4A2 feels in so many ways like a tribute to Hill’s father, Stephen King. It’s a horrific story about a girl named Vic, who riders her bike and beasts the devil – twice. This particular devil, one Charles Talent Manx, drives a 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith, prays on children, and drags them to “Christmasland” wherein they become nightmarish creatures. Vic defeated Manx as a teen, but Manx is back, and wants her son. This is a terrifying wonder of a book – Joe Hill’s best to date, in my opinion. I loved it wholeheartedly. Well, you know… in a sick, sadistic kind of way. It’s perfect reading for a cold winter’s night…
9. The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher
This middle grade novel is a true delight that makes me nostalgic for the mystery novels I read and loved as a tween – except Kittscher’s book is even better. The author’s debut novel, The Wig in the Window is so much more than a junior detective novel – it’s also the story of two best friends whose relationship is feeling the strain and pangs of growth and change. It’s this friendship between Sophie Young and Grace Yang that makes the book so memorable, and why the book has a spot on my top 10.
8. In the After by Demitria Lunetta
I got this one in *just* under the wire for 2013, and I’m so very glad I did. If you have to read one alien apocalypse story this year, you should read In the After. That’s right – I loved this book so much that it usurped the spot I was saving for Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave (which is also excellent). In the After is an invasion story unlike the ones you’ve probably read before, and at its heart, it’s a story about two sisters who will do anything to stay together and keep each other safe. Oh, and the icing on the cake? You actually get answers in this first book (of a planned duology). And the science makes sense. That’s always a very good thing.
7. Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson
I read R.J. Anderson for the first time last year with her surprising YA psychological thriler and science fiction novel, Ultraviolet (which I loved very much). Quicksilver is the sequel/companion novel to that book, and even better than its predecessor. This is another science fiction novel and it features an asexual heroine, a POC love interest, and interdimensional physics. In other words? This book is freaking phenomenal.
6. The Real Boy by Anne Ursu
Anne Ursu rules my heart. I knew this from Breadcrumbs, which I read and loved dearly – and The Real Boy only solidified my love for Ursu’s writing. This fable – part magician Pinocchio story, part self-searching reflection of one’s place in the world – is gorgeously written, with characters that will break your heart with their raw vulnerability and beauty. Oscar and Callie are among my very favorite characters not only of the year, but of all middle grade novels ever.
5. Light by Michael Grant
The seventh and final novel in Michael Grant’s superb FAYZ series – one of my very favorite series’ ever – Light had a LOT to live up to. This is a very dark series, complete with children murdering each other, mutant monsters, acts of cannibalism, super powers, and a supremely evil creature from another world called the Gaiaphage. In this last book, the sides of good and evil reach the end game – and the finale is as bloodsoaked and bittersweet as I hoped it would be. A fitting end to a perfect series – one I highly recommend for readers of all ages. (Hell, the FAYZ books are far more frightening than the majority of the horror novels I’ve read for adults.)
4. Mirage by Jenn Reese
Oh, Mirage. I love, love, love this book. Mirage is the second novel in the middle grade post-apocalyptic/dystopian series that started with Above World, and even better than the first novel. Set in a world ravaged by ecological disaster, this series features a new vision of humanity that has been genetically altered – from ocean-dwelling kampii, to fierce women with wings who live in mountains and call the sky home. Aluna and her friends Hoku, Calli, and Dash are on a desperate mission to stop the annihilation of their various tribes at the hands of the nefarious Karl Strand – and book 2 sees the group across a dessert, seeking aid from Dash’s former tribe of Equians. Mirage builds on the characters we’ve come to know and love in book 1, but raises the stakes to new highs. If you haven’t read this series yet, you really should get on it immediately.
3. The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist
This was one of the first books I read in 2013, and it has stuck with me the entire year. The Different Girl is the story of four “girls” on a remote island, who all are the exact same age and size and are indistinguishable, except for their hair color. These girls are no ordinary girls – a difference that becomes most apparent when a new girl is shipwrecked on their island. Filtered entirely through the first person perspective of one of the girls, Veronika, The Different Girl is a quiet, subversive novel about what it means to be alive and what it means to be human. This is fine science fiction, written beautifully, and one of my very favorite reads of the year.
2. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Do I really need to explain this one? There’s a reason why every single Best of 2013 list includes Ancillary Justice – this is a jaw-droppingly awesome book. It’s a revenge story about a formerly proud, thousands-of-bodies-spanning starship, now reduced to a single entity called Breq. It challenges your preconceived notions of gender and humanity. It is an incredibly deep, but fast-paced read. I cannot find a single flaw in this masterful book, and I cannot wait to read more from Ann Leckie in the years to come.
1. Orleans by Sherri L. Smith
For a while, I thought that Ancillary Justice would hold the top spot on my list – but the more I reflected on these picks, the more I fixated on Sherri L. Smith’s post-apocalyptic, dystopian fable Orleans. Orleans tells the story of a future America, in which New Orleans is no more, and the Delta Fever infected states of Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Texas have been walled off from the rest of the world. It is in this lawless marshland, called Orleans, that Fen de la Guerre makes her home, surviving on her smarts and tough-as-nails grit. The character of Fen, the breathtaking scope of the worldbuilding, the frankly terrifying storyline – all of it is perfection, and I cannot think of a better book for my #1 pick of 2013.
Most Honorable Mentions of 2013
As with every year, we have a hard time sticking to just one list. Because we’ve read SO MANY AWESOME BOOKS this year, we feel it’s only fair that we give a shoutout to those titles on our Best of 2013 longlist (all of which have been published in 2013). In no particular order:
Ana’s Most Honorable Mentions:
1. She is not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick
2. The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord, 8 (Science Fiction)
3. The Daughter Star by Susan Jane Bigelow, 8 (Science Fiction)
4. A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, 8 (Fantasy)
5. Blackberry Blue by Jamila Gavin
6. More Than This by Patrick Ness
7. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown Holly Black
8. Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst
9. Charm and Strange by Stephanie Kuehn
10. Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi
11. Binny For Short by Hilary McKay
12. The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
13. Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
14. Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone
15. Inheritance by Malinda Lo
Thea’s Most Honorable Mentions:
1. Earth Girl by Janet Edwards
2. Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis
3. Linked by Imogene Howson
4. Vicious by V.E. Schwab
5. These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
6. The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand
7. Raven Flight by Juliet Marillier
8. Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross
9. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
10. Sidekicked by John David Anderson
11. Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell
12. Starglass by Phoebe North
13. Cold Steel by Kate Elliott
14. Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow
15. The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
Most Excellent Books Published PRIOR to 2013
Last list. Promise. There are a treasure trove of awesome pre-2013 books – especially now with Old School Wednesdays – we have read this year, and here are a few of our favorites:
Ana’s Most Excellent Oldies:
1. Indigo’s Star by Hilary Mckay
2. The Catalogue of the Universe by Margaret Mahy
3. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
4. The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell
5. The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
6. Permanent Rose by Hilary Mckay
7. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
8. On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard
9. Nation by Terry Pratchett
10. Gifts by Ursula Le Guin
11. Reaper Man by Terry Prachett
12. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
13. Jack Glass by Adam Roberts
14. The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
15. Vanished by Sheela Chari
Thea’s Most Excellent Oldies:
1. Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit by Nahoko Uehashi
2. Moribito II: Guardian of Darkness by Nahoko Uehashi
3. Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
4. Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund
5. Deerskin by Robin McKinley
6. Keeper of the Isis Light by Monica Hughes
7. Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon
8. Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold
9. The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
10. Marque and Reprisal by Elizabeth Moon
And with that we, your Friendly Neighborhood Book Smugglers, close the books on 2013. Bring on 2014 and don’t forget:
Be Excellent to Each Other, dudes!