Since graduating from college, I have mostly succeeded in my commitment to read more books. While an English major, I struggled to complete the pile of books I was assigned to read each semester, much less make room for any additional “fun” reading.
I’ve been getting better at reading more (and by that I mean, making time for reading more), and this year is probably one of the most well-read years I’ve had since I was a teenager. I read some really great stuff, from classics to contemporary, so I wanted to share my recommendations. No spoilers included!
Also, this isn’t quite the comprehensive list of what I read this year. If you’re interested in that, head over to my goodread’s profile for my 2013 list of books.
The Snow Child — Eowyn Ivey
Somehow, this book is still flying under the radar in terms of discovery. It receives good ratings from both Amazon and goodreads reviewers (4.5 and 4 stars respectively, at the time of this writing), but I’m not really hearing much about it. Still, don’t let its quietness deceive you. The Snow Child is beautifully written.
Whimsically, I picked up The Snow Child at a local bookstore, mostly because I was attracted to the beautiful cover, and as I bought it just before Christmas last year, it looked like a perfect winter story.
When I first started the book, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it. It builds slowly, but before you know it, you’re absorbed in a 1920’s Alaskan world of snow and mystery. The Snow Child skillfully balances raw relational scenes that resonate with human reality alongside wondrously imaginative scenes drawn from the Russian fairy tale the story is based on. If you’re looking for something both haunting and dreamlike, I highly recommend this one.
The Giver — Lois Lowry
+ Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son
Because of the hot trend of dystopias in young adult fiction (a la The Hunger Games), I started exploring what else I should read in the genre. The Giver was repeatedly listed as a dystopian classic, and since I never read it in childhood, I wanted to check it out. A little research into the series revealed the companion novels, and the recent and final sequel, Son.
I started The Giver at the beginning of our trip to Hawaii. Before we even began crossing the Pacific, I had finished it. Even in my quick read, it was easy to see why The Giver was, and still is, considered a classic. For such a short story, the characters and the utopia / dystopia are built with surprising depth, and the suspense is palpable. When you first start to get a hint that things are not right in Jonas’ world, it really starts to take a fascinating, disturbing turn. The sense of urgency and suspense that Lowry was able to create in me while reading it was incredible. I also enjoyed the themes she was able to draw about the need for diversity and acceptance, as well as some of the shock and fear that anyone experiences – dytopian world or not – when growing up and learning about the “real” world.
The companion novels (Gathering Blue and Messenger are not sequels) are definitely inferior. While I appreciated reading them so that Son would make sense, and once completed, I appreciated the four novels as a whole, The Giver is more than capable of holding its own with or without additional books. Son was enjoyable simply for the connections it established and the questions it answered, and it was neat to see Lowry re-enter her worlds nearly twenty years later.
The Great Gatsby — F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sadly, this year was my first reading of Gatsby, when I was finally prompted to read it before the release of Leo DiCaprio’s movie rendition of it. Plenty has been said about this great American novel, so there isn’t much for me to add.
Simultaneously magnificent and bleak, it perfectly encapsulates the 1920’s. My favorite part was the gradual build-up to Gatsby’s true identity, as Fitzgerald peels away each layer of the rumors. While the movie received poor ratings from the critics, I actually felt that it was a close and accurate interpretation of the book. Because I occasionally felt like Nick’s narration was confused, naive, and jarred (which is certainly intentional), the movie was helpful in bringing the many sides of the story to life.
His Majesty’s Hope — Susan Elia MacNeal
While waiting for my husband to get a new phone from Costco, which ended up taking longer than anticipated, I randomly picked up His Majesty’s Hope: A Maggie Hope Mystery from the book section and settled into a cozy recliner on display. I didn’t expect to be hooked before we needed to leave the store, but sure enough, I ended up purchasing the book.
Over the next few days, I wasn’t able to put it down! I’m not usually a history buff, but I am fascinated by all things World War II, and this novel focuses on fictional British spy Maggie Hope and her mission to Nazi Germany. Lots of suspense, twists, and turns will keep you turning page after page. And while I was unaware of the fact, His Majesty’s Hope is preceded by two other Maggie Hope mysteries, which I plan to check out in 2014.
Fahrenheit 451 — Ray Bradbury
Again, eager to explore more dystopias, Fahrenheit 451 was a natural choice. I can’t imagine much of a worse scenario for writers and book-lovers everywhere: Fahrenheit 451 opens to a world where firemen burn up books and people mindlessly pursue empty pleasures. While I wasn’t disappointed with this read, the book ended so quickly and I wanted more. It was so brief and action-packed that the finale felt abrupt. Up until the end, I enjoyed the progression of Guy Montag’s thoughts and actions, even if they felt inevitable.
I also wasn’t a huge fan of the ending – just because for such an interesting read, the ending felt like a copout – but I promised no spoilers! Overall, this one is worth reading simply for the cultural relevance and the tone it sets for later dystopian novels.
One last thing, the 60th Anniversary edition cover art is awesome – at first glace it looks like a book, but it’s actually a box of matches! This was a fantastic (early) Christmas gift.
The Emperor’s Edge — Lindsay Buroker
+Dark Currents, Deadly Games, Conspiracy, Blood & Betrayal, Forged in Blood I, and Forged in Blood II
This was an accidentally awesome find. I found myself without internet while traveling for work, and I stupidly didn’t think to bring any books with me for my free evenings. My solution? Find a free e-book to pass the time! The Emperor’s Edge, the first book in this series, topped a few “best free e-books” lists I found and I’m so glad that it randomly popped up.
Where do I even begin? For starters, I loved this series. I loved the characters. I loved the steampunk setting, with a twist of magic and mystery. I love author Lindsay Buroker‘s approach to publishing, and it gives me hope for my own dreams of independent publishing one day. And Lindsay herself, at least from my few exchanges with her via Twitter, is fun and interesting, and very interactive with her fans!
I finished the seven books in The Emperor’s Edge series, plus the several short stories and one novella, within about six weeks (you know, while still needing to work, eat, and sleep) — that’s how mesmerized I was with them! The books are fast-paced page-turners with a lot of exhilarating action scenes and witty dialogue. The first book is free, and then the rest are very cheap, so what are you waiting for? Go download the first one now!
Allegiant — Veronica Roth
It’s hard when a series you love ends. It’s even harder if it takes an unexpected turn. Don’t get me wrong; I like books to surprise me. But sometimes, you have certain expectations, and it’s strange when they are not met.
An adoring fan of the first two books — Divergent and Insurgent, I am still grappling with this one. Now almost two months’ removed, I feel much better about Allegiant, and I think I can appreciate the finale that Roth decided to give her readers. It might not have been what I would have chosen, but I do believe that she stayed true to the characters and the world of Divergent.
While I did come to peace with the surprises and ultimately remained a huge fan of the series as a whole, my largest disappointment with Allegiant was with the lack of plot tightness in the middle of the book. It felt too loose, too unformed. I was intrigued by the world that lay outside of all that Tris knew, and I wanted so much more information. Instead, I was left with nothing more than an elementary understanding of the background behind Tris’ world. It’s possible that Roth did that intentionally, but I got the feeling that she had so much more to give to the story — and whether because of deadlines or just because of all the different pieces of the story she showed us — it felt unfinished. It also made the ending so much more striking, because it was so sudden and yet so much of a plot twist in comparison to the rest of the novel.
Regardless, if you love dytopian young adult fiction, the Divergent series is definitely worth your time. Not to mention, Veronica Roth is super cool, and I love her blog. I’m excited to see what she might produce in the future.