Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’ve Read So Far in 2013

…in reverse order! *drum roll*

Also including a couple of re-reads. The because of which is for another day. Thanks as ever to the lovely folks at The Broke and the Bookish for hosting.

10. Sarah Dessen – The Moon and More

I think I’ve written already about my long-time love of Sarah Dessen’s work. The Moon and More isn’t literary, or ground-breaking, or genre-defying or anything like that. But what it is, is exactly what I wanted it to be (and more!) and that’s what’s significant. I think it’s important to have some variety in what you read – to go from the profound coming of age stories, to the dystopian texts, to historical fiction, to humour – from heavy to light and to appreciate everything for what it is. When I began this book, I wanted hopeful escapism with characters I could care about, and that’s exactly what this was. Long may it continue.

9. Louisa Reid – Black Heart Blue

I’m not sure I’d have read this, had it not been shortlisted for the Teen/YA edition of the awards I booksell at each year; it’s the tale of twin sisters, one with a facial disfigurement, who stuffer at the hands of their abusive father and passive mother. While enjoy is never the right term for this kind of book, it was utterly gripping (I read it in one sitting at silly o’clock in the morning having just finished another book and in no way intending to complete another), very affecting, and superbly well written. When discussing it in the book club I take part in with friends from work, there was the argument that the narrative was resolved a little too neatly; however, I loved the spark of hope that came through, and it’s certainly stayed with me since.

8. Cassandra Clare – City of Bones/Mortal Instruments

Because it is the whole series, really. On one hand, I think Ms Clare should have kept the six books down to a trilogy, and ended it on a high note. I do understand the criticisms of formulaism, and reading the Infernal Devices books, they too fit the pattern established in the orginal series. However, I trust Walker Books to publish good quality stories, and I was sucked right into this fictional world from the very beginning. An author is certainly doing something right when you find yourself sneaking off from…everything else you should be doing to read. And shouting at the book when things don’t go as you’d like. Plus all of these books have Magnus Bane, and if that doesn’t get a book on a list, I don’t know what does. I LOVE Magnus Bane.

7. Brian Selznick – The Invention of Hugo Cabret

I actually think that I prefer Wonderstruck to TIOHC – the narrative is more developed, and the characters more rounded, plus I loved the way the stories intersected. However, that being said, TIOHC  is amazing. It is a genuinely ground-breaking book within the mainstream YA sphere – it showed that illustrations in novels for older kids weren’t just ok, but works of art to be cherished (glad to see that there is actually a trend now for illustrated YA), and that paper books still have something over their e-counterparts. Plus I like that it does a little something different to most other books in the section – ok, so there’s steampunk in Philip Reeve’s work, but where else would you find George Melies and the history of film?

6. Patrick Ness – The Crane Wife

People who know me are probably shocked to find a Ness book so low on one of my lists. And only halfway through the year at that. Though with More Than This due out in September, plenty of time for things to change! As much as Mr Ness would argue that he doesn’t change his writing style when writing for teens (and in a positive, teens are better than most people give them credit for kind of way), I certainly found The Crane Wife to be a more literary, writer-y (if that’s a word) book, where he took the opportunity to play around a little more with the language and take more time over the narrative. And while I didn’t necessarily identify with the characters as much as in previous works (Todd from Chaos Walking is up there with Charlie from Perks in my ‘Top 10 Fictional Characters’ List), the book was shot through with enough of the world view I’ve come to love from him that it makes this list. Plus, any book that makes you laugh out loud on public transport is always a winner.

5. Lydia Syson – A World Between Us

Having finished reading the Carnegie Medal shorlist shockingly ahead of time, I decided to work my way through the books on the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize shortlist – beginning with this. Having spent almost half of the last year of a history and politics degree studying the Spanish Republic and Civil War in one guise or another (half my history course that year, and a politics research project that took the place of a dissertation), a YA novel that covered the subject was always going to appeal. I think this book is thoroughly researched, excellently written, and certainly conjures what I imagine being in Spain was like at this time. It’s one I’m recommending to everyone I know at the minute. And I’ve definitely enjoyed stretching my sadly-ignored academic muscles in keeping up with Lydia Syson’s historical writings and the books she recommends on the subject. Yay!

4. Laura Jarratt – By Any Other Name

It makes me happy that 2 of the higher placing books on this list were written by UKYA authors starting to make a name for themselves. And doing something different with it – in Lydia Syson’s case 20th Century historical fiction that wasn’t about WW2, and in Laura Jarratt’s case, well-written, ‘realistic’ romance without the constructs of a dystopian or paranormal world. I loved BAON – I found Holly a little tiresome at first, but her growth as a character was very realistic within the confines of the story, and her relationship with Katie, her autistic sister, had a lot more shades of grey than the usual offerings. I like my characters flawed and real, and she was certainly that. And Joe. I loved Joe (did anyone else imagine him as Jethro Cane from the Midnight episode of Dr Who?). Loved the entire thing. More like this please!

3. John Green and David Levithan – Will Grayson Will Grayson

The one downside to reading so much (75 novels for the year and counting) is not remembering as many details about other books as I’d like. However, it then turns into an upside, when re-reading seems like the most sensible option and you get to enjoy the book again. Having lent this to a friend, and wanting to discuss it in depth and compare significant passages, that was indeed my situation. I love everything John Green has written and pretty much everything in David Levithan’s back catalogue. So this was always going to be a winner. Again. It’s funny, it’s touching, it has music love…it’s just awesome. And I will take great joy in re-reading it again someday.

2. Elizabeth Wein – Code Name Verity

Another re-read, as it formed part of this year’s Carnegie shortlist. (though it was beaten to the award by Sally Gardner’s Maggot Moon, a book that deserved the win but didn’t quite sneak on to this list because I’m difficult like that). I loved this book even more on second reading. Where I found Julie’s character hard work on the first go around, knowing what happened in the story gave me a better sense of perspective. The foreshadowing was really well done (and made me well up a few times), and in our shadowing group we certainly had interesting discussions about what was truth and what wasn’t and how it all came together. But as with the first read, all of that was just a frame on which to hang that incredible friendship, which I really don’t know how to do justice to in words – I think it has more emotional depth to it than a lot of romances in fiction these days, and I’m not embarrassed to say that I cried my eyes out like a baby when I finished it. Again.

1. Rainbow Rowell – Eleanor and Park

However, there was only one candidate for my book of the year so far. Like most people who read in the same circles as me (is that a thing?), I came across this book thanks to a glowing review by John Green, which was then backed up by the afore-mentioned Louisa Reid, who I had the great pleasure of meeting when I booksold(is that the past tense of bookselling?) at the awards in January. In the snow. Either way.

This book. I have some theories in life – one of which is that something is definitely significant if it acts as a framework in reminding you of the time when you expereinced it. Like the Olympics – I remember those weeks last year in so much more detail than any other of the others, precisely because of the games – I remember where I was and what I did, specific interactions with people at work, and this book is like that. It also helps that it was record store day. But I don’t think I’ll forget reading this in a hurry – another one-sitting affair, where I sat outside in the garden all afternoon, listening to my new records, reading while I ate, even, and then that realisation, the audible ‘oh,’ that I’d encountered something a bit special.

Again, it’s one of those books where people can argue that a couple of things happen a little too conveniently, or characters acted in a convenient fashion. But. Like all of my favourite books, it’s one where the emotional connection is such that all of my attempts to explain that fall hideously flat. If you like Perks, When You Reach Me, or John Green, then all I can do is recommend this book.

And then read Rainbow Rowell’s blog post on the playlists that accompany it. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love music, and one of my favourite things is when that feeling is precisely conveyed in the books that I read. What I love about Patrick Ness’ work is that he tries to capture the feeling of a song in his works (beady eyed readers will notice that it’s mainly song lyrics included at the beginning of each of his books), and the same is true of Rainbow Rowell – it’s clear that they both get it on that level, and that they have both succeeded in that aim. In short – Eleanor Side B, Blackbird, all of the tears.

Cake to anyone who persevered on reading that entire thing. Oops.

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