That time of year again. At the start of a new year we reflect on the previous and in that sense you don't only get reviews of my baked goods, those I've enjoyed in and around NYC, but also books I read this year that I thoroughly enjoyed. In 2011 my Goodreads goal was to read 50 books and I read 54. This past year my goal was to read 52 and I read 60. For 2013, the aim is 54 at minimum. And I still have about a dozen or so titles from last year's Book Expo to read.
Please note that these books are listed in no particular order.
- Easy Chinese Recipes (2011) - Thanks again to Tuttle Publishing for helping me host a giveaway of one of my new favorite cookbooks! While you don't read a cookbook per se you do experience it and when recipe after recipe is good you know you have a winner. I have made scallion pancakes a good half dozen times since August. Like I said in my review of Bee Yinn Low's book: once you make her recipes you will never go out to buy Chinese food again. It's easy, as the title says, and delicious. Seriously if you have any hesitation don't. You don't need fancy tools or anything but a handful of ingredients and the tenacity to go forth and cook!
- Days of Blood and Starlight (2012) - Pretty much anything Laini Taylor writes I will love. This is guaranteed. Last year the first book in her new series threw me for a loop, and it's sequel, Days, has me chomping at the bit for the final installment next year. I warn you Days is much darker, bloodier, and grittier than Daughter of Smoke and Bone as is the main character of Karou--still reeling with guilt when we left off in the first book. Read a page of Laini's stuff and you'll fall in love, I promise you. Just do it. Do it now!
- Live By Night (2012) - Last year I read two Dennis Lehane books and picked The Given Day as one of my faves read last year. Night is a follow-up, kind of, to that following the youngest brother Joe who was just a kid in Day. We follow Joe into his life of crime, drastically different from that of his dad and older brothers, and how he carves out a life for himself but not after lots of pain and sacrifice. As I said last year Lehane has a way with prose and especially with dialogue (I told him this when I met him at Book Expo). I'd read about the Coughlin family for years to come.
- Where Things Come Back (2011) - John Corey Whaley's debut got heaps of praise and deserved it. He won the Printz Honor, was chosen by Pulitzer Prize winning author Oscar Hijuelos as one of the National Book Foundation's 5 Under 35, an honor not given to a YA book before, and a William Morris Debut Award. This book is heartfelt and well written and has two stories that you're not sure where they're going to go but ultimately see how lives can affect one another adversely or for the better. This was one of those books where I deliberately missed my train stop to keep reading. Can't wait for his next work.
- The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors (2010) - Michelle Young-Stone was at an event at WORD Brooklyn with Heidi Durrow last year and in hearing her and Heidi give such warm advice to aspiring writers I instantly wanted to read her book. I was not disappointed. Lightning Strike Survivors follows the lives of two kids (who grow into adults), and those connected to them, who've been affected by lightning. Young-Stone spent years writing this book and got her big break with her agent and in writing about these characters you feel that she knows them, has lived with them even. This is another book I didn't want to end and was a bit disheartened when I saw I was on the last page.
- The Handmaid's Tale (1985) - Margaret Atwood is a huge name in literature and in dystopian/sci-fi. My friend and critique partner Kim recommended this book to me and it's a classic. Many new tales YA especially are often based on the premise posed by Handmaid's Tale. The prose is straightforward but very visual and colorful. The ending may leave you hopeful or terrified depending if you're an optimist or pessimist (aka realist). I find the ambiguous ending and the steady way the world became something much worse for women and families a spectacular piece of storytelling. A newly released illustrated version was also released this year, kind of pricey but stunning.
- The Fault In Our Stars (2012) - Okay, who didn't love this book? It's great! Automatically hit the best-seller list and captures something devastating with wit and grace. So good. John Green is a major name in YA publishing, especially being a male writer in YA who writes fully fleshed characters, male and female, so well. Many people cried. I didn't however it doesn't mean I didn't feel anything. When I finished it I was all kinds of choked up.
- Breed (2012) - Chase Novak (aka Scott Spencer) wrote this tale about a couple willing to go the extra mile to have kids and they do in fact losing themselves to carnal urges they cannot explain but are traced back to some shady IVF practices. I've been a fan of Spencer's work reading his NBA nominated A Ship Made of Paper and Endless Love. So when I found out he wrote it I picked it right up at BEA.
- Between Shades of Gray (2011) - Ruta Sepetys has had her book mixed up with that other Shades of Gray book this year. But hers is not a romance at all. It's a heartbreaking tale of young girl watching her family lose everything at the rise of Hitler. This is based on Sepetys' Lithuanian family who was trafficked along Europe and ended up in Siberia for years. The first line is one of the most haunting things you'll ever read in fiction, be it YA or adult focused. It's a tale that doesn't shy away from the bad parts but also gives you hope at every turn even when you're hit again and again with the atrocities. I also read the ARC for her upcoming YA book Out of the Easy. Hard times and well-written. I'd recommend it as well.
- The Night Circus (2011) - Erin Morgenstern was a huge name at Book Expo in 2011 when Night Circus first came out and it was well deserved. Her debut novel provides visual impact on every page is lovely and telling and lyrical. She has a way with description painting a literal portrait. Some may not love it but I think if you enjoy beauty and words than you'll be into this one.
- Cloud Atlas (2004) This was a book club pick and I am glad it was. The film came out in 2012 but the book is just amazing! How David Mitchell kept everything together, created such vast worlds new and old and current and languages whole new languages threw me for a loop. Admittedly the beginning sagged for me but it picked up as we went forward in time and then backwards. Amazingly structured and I learned a lot from the writing and enjoyed the typesetting design as well.
- Swamplandia! (2011) - Shortlisted for the Pulitzer in 2012 (when there was no winner in the Fiction category) Karen Russell built an interesting world. This was another book club pick but on my list since I'd read the interview Poets & Writers did with Russell around the time of publication. This is another tome that has multiple POVs, mainly Ava in first person and her older brother Kiwi in third (and I do enjoy me some multi POV books) but the language, the detail, the growth of these people and revelations they deal with are great and I see why it was shortlisted.
Other books I enjoyed reading in 2012 include Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (I agree that this'll be an American classic), A Working Theory of Love by Scott Hutchins, The Raven Boys (book 1) by Maggie Stiefvater, Blasphemy (story collection) by Sherman Alexie (Check out the story 'Cry, Cry, Cry'), State of Wonder by Anne Patchett, Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell (Yup, another kick ass female protagonist), Prodigy (sequel to Legend) by Marie Lu, and The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin.
Here's to more books in 2013 old and new! My list of what I want to read continues to grow and there's just not enough time. But the time I do spend reading I thoroughly enjoy.