Welcome to Smugglivus 2013! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2013, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2014.
Who: Claire Legrand, author of this year’s splendid, frightening, utterly awesome middle grade horror/coming of age novel The Year of Shadows. Claire is another Smuggler-fave author, and we are so delighted to have her over for Smugglivus for the second year in a row!
Give it up for Claire, folks!
First of all, thank you, Book Smugglers, for having me back once more for Smugglivus! This blog event is one of my absolute favorites because I always find such great new book recs in each post. Between Smugglivus and holiday shopping, my wallet is in a sad state–but my bibliophile’s heart is happy as can be!
Below are my favorite 2013 books, as well as 2013 books I haven’t read yet (but am sure I’ll love) and my most anticipated 2014 books.
THE BOOK THAT MADE MY HEART SOAR
When I first met Tim Federle at BEA last year and heard about his upcoming debut, Better Nate Than Ever, I knew I had just met someone special, and that his book would be equally so. Now, after having read Better Nate, I can happily say that my excitement was not unfounded. This story is a breathless, tender, jubilant exploration of what it means to feel like an outsider, what it means to want something so completely it makes you do crazy things like run away from home and leave your loved ones behind, and how even the most awkward, sartorially inept among us can find our place and achieve our dreams (even if they don’t turn out quite how we’d imagined). This book made me laugh and cry and cheer, and Federle’s descriptions of Nate’s first experiences in and impressions of New York are spot on.
THE BOOK THAT WAS EVERYTHING I HOPED IT WOULD BE
Two genius friends discover how to give themselves superpowers? A novel that explores the notions of good and evil, of heroism and villainy, and how the definitions of these concepts are seldom as simple as they might first appear? Sign me up! I had high expectations coming into this novel, since I’m a huge fan of both Schwab’s prose and her imagination, and Vicious did not disappoint. Vicious is what its title implies–a ruthless, often violent portrait of a friendship gone wrong, of a “hero” who doesn’t deserve the moniker (or does he?), of a villain who’s actually trying to do the right thing (…right?). But it was the tender moments throughout–between Victor and Eli, between Sydney and her estranged sister–that really impressed me. The relationships in Vicious are complex and difficult, and I loved watching Schwab put her characters through the emotional wringer.
THE BOOKS SO BEAUTIFUL THEY TOOK MY BREATH AWAY
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Sarah McCarry’s All Our Pretty Songs. The flap copy left me with more questions than answers, and I knew next to nothing about the plot. All I knew was that after reading the first couple of pages, I had to have this book. I’m a sucker for gorgeous prose, and this book is overflowing with it. But this story is more than pretty words. It’s about the dangerous, intimate friendship between two girls–one spiraling rapidly out of control while the other tries desperately to keep her safe. It’s about first love, familial love, love of music, love of beauty. It’s about magic, and the dark, ancient parts of the world most people never see. It’s about…so much more than I can put into words here. All Our Pretty Songs terrified and entranced me, and the ending left me completely undone. This is probably my favorite book of the year.
I heard Francesca Lia Block speak on a panel at the Wordstock Book Festival in Portland, Oregon this fall. I had not read any of her novels–I know, I know!–but I was impressed with her intelligence and intrigued by the snippets of information she shared about her latest book, Love in the Time of Global Warming. An eerie, post-apocalyptic re-telling of Homer’s The Odyssey–but this time, it’s Penelope who does the journeying!–Block’s latest teems with haunting imagery and lyrical writing. Her exploration of the protagonist’s sexuality–and of sexuality in general–is frank and tender. GI will definitely be reading more Francesca Lia Block after this (seriously, I know I’m late to the party on that one, I know).
THE BOOKS THAT ARE JUST PLAIN HILARIOUS
Don’t get me wrong–there is plenty of drama and heartbreak and danger in these next two books. But the thing I love most about them is that they made me laugh. Writing is hard; writing something funny is even harder. Luckily, these two authors have serious talent.
Alison Cherry’s Red tells the story of Felicity St. John, who lives in Scarletville–a town made up entirely of redheads. But Felicity has a terrible secret: Her gorgeous red hair? Yeah, it’s totally a dye job. And Felicity will do anything to keep her competitors in the Miss Scarlet pageant from finding out the truth. This book, as the Publisher’s Weekly review put it, sparkles. Bursting with wit and full of laugh-out-loud moments, Red cleverly examines the dangers of conformity, the cruelty of prejudice and discrimination, and the value of individuality. If Mean Girls and Drop Dead Gorgeous had a baby, and that baby was a book, it would be the hysterical, whip-smart, satirical Red.
Before reading Lindsay Ribar’s The Art of Wishing, I always thought of genies as, to paraphrase a line from the book, blue and animated and voiced by Robin Williams. But in Ribar’s world, genies look human. They look, in fact, however their masters want them to look. Their magic is immense and dangerous, and when aspiring songwriter/all-around kickass high schooler Margo McKenna meets one of them, she’s drawn into an equally immense and dangerous world–as well as one of the sweetest, most genuine romances I’ve read in YA fiction. Likewise, Margo is one of my favorite YA heroines–witty, intelligent, awkward, talented, loving, and sometimes petty. Margo feels real, and her voice–as well as her story–is unforgettable. (P.S. I’ve read the sequel, The Fourth Wish, and it’s fantastic.)
THE BOOK THAT MADE ME BOW DOWN TO ANNE URSU (AGAIN)
I was already a huge fan of Anne Ursu based on one book alone–the 2011 middle grade novel Breadcrumbs, a re-telling of The Snow Queen that broke my heart into a million pieces and is now one of my favorite books of all time. Then I read The Real Boy, and wouldn’t you know it? Ursu did it again. This is the story of Oscar, who works for a magician in the land of Aletheia. Oscar lives in the magician’s basement, and his only friends are the magician’s many cats. Oscar feels safe down there in his world of books, cats, and shadows–until an evil force endangers Aletheia, and Oscar is thrust into a dangerous mystery. The genius of this story lies in Oscar himself–a quiet, lonely boy who finds it difficult to talk to people and perhaps even more difficult to leave the sanctuary of his familiar basement rooms at all. Oscar is convinced that something is wrong with him, and even stumbles upon a secret that he thinks, for a time, explains why he is the way he is–as if he is somehow unnatural, as if he is less than, and this secret is evidence of that. But Oscar is, as the title implies, a boy–a real boy–whose intelligence and insight might be just what Aletheia needs to save itself. Ursu’s precise facility with language and the friendship between Oscar and brave, compassionate Callie made this a book I won’t soon forget.
2013 BOOKS I HAVEN’T READ YET (BUT AM SURE I’LL LOVE)
Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo (I know. I know. I haven’t read it yet. But I have a feeling that Bardugo’s going to be especially cruel with the ending of this book, and then I’ll have to wait until book three to get my fix, and…I’m just scared, okay?!)
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick (I’ve heard fantastic things about this book from reviewers whose opinions I revere. Plus, it looks truly bizarre, and y’all know I am all about that.)
The Twistrose Key by Tone Almjhell (Besides the fact that this book boasts what is probably the most gorgeous cover of the year, the synopsis reminds me of a cross between His Dark Materials and the Narnia books, so basically I am sold.)
MY MOST ANTICIPATED 2014 BOOKS
Pointe by Brandy Colbert (Ballet! Mystery! Darkness! The synopsis alone has me intrigued, and I’ve also seen rave early reviews.)
Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor (DO I EVEN NEED TO ELABORATE ON THIS ONE?! I MEAN REALLY.)
Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle (More adventures with Nate! Yes, please.)
The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski (I’ve heard great things about this YA high fantasy and have high hopes.)
Nightingale’s Nest (I loved this book so much, I blurbed it! A wrenching, gorgeous re-telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Nightgale, Loftin’s story of a lonely boy and the friendship he forms with a very special girl will, I hope, find much deserved love from readers.)
Claire M. CatererDecember 24, 2013 at 9:33 am
Such great recommendations! I wholeheartedly agree on BETTER NATE THAN EVER. Fantastic, funny, and an all-around joy to read. Most of the rest have been on my list, so yeah, I’ve got my 2014 cut out for me. Thanks, Claire and Book Smugglers!