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.
Please give a warm welcome to Stephanie, everybody!
This year was special, exhausting, amazing, tough, scary and wonderful, because I spent the first 7 months of the year in a high-risk pregnancy (which meant I was really, really scared about my baby’s survival the whole time), and then I spent the last 5 months with a new (and – thank God – healthy) baby…who refuses to sleep more than an hour or so at a time, EVER. Eep!
So! In other words, this was a year when books had to be really, REALLY fun to keep hold of my scattered attention! Luckily, there were plenty that fit the bill. 🙂 Here are just five of my personal, subjective favorites from this year:
1. The Firebird, by Susanna Kearsley
Susanna Kearsley has been one of my favorite authors in the world ever since I first read her book The Winter Sea (a.k.a. Sophia’s Secret) four years ago, reading it late into the night with my first baby. She writes books that seamlessly mix rich, fabulous historical and modern settings, effortlessly balancing two different time streams in each novel with a light supernatural touch. Oh, and her books are always achingly romantic!
Since she’s an auto-buy author for me, I preordered this book months before it ever came out…and then when it arrived – a fat 500-page hardcover – I devoured it within less than a day, so absorbed and compelled that it actually made all my morning sickness and nerves seem to vanish. (It’s also one of the few books that I’ve bought in both hardcover AND Kindle editions, because I want to always have a copy with me!)
There are two different heroines in this novel, one in each time stream, and for once, I didn’t have a favorite – I was just as invested in 18th-century Anna’s adventures across the continent, from Scotland to the Imperial Russian court, as I was in 21st-century Nicola’s compelling emotional struggle to overcome her fears and accept her full psychic gifts. And oh, both of their romances were delectable!
There are characters in The Firebird who first appeared in earlier Kearsley novels, but you absolutely don’t need to have read those earlier novels to enjoy this one – it stands alone beautifully.
2. Shadows, by Robin McKinley
Robin McKinley is another long-time favorite author of mine – and wow, now that I count it up, it’s actually been 25 years since I first fell in love with her writing! (I found Beauty in my middle school library and that was it! I’d found a favorite author for life.) She’s also an auto-buy author for me, so I preordered Shadows even though I wasn’t sure it was going to be my kind of thing.
Oh wow, was I wrong. It was SOOOOO my kind of thing – so much so that I’m already re-reading it now, only a couple months after my first read! It’s turned into one of my favorite Comfort Books. Of course, it doesn’t hurt, that I, like the heroine (Maggie), am a border-collie owner who’s done a lot of volunteering at animal shelters – but you certainly don’t need to share those personal traits to love Maggie’s fabulous narrative voice, her wonderful friends and complicated family dynamics, the way magic and science are so fascinatingly wound into her alternate contemporary America…oh, and her FABULOUS romantic lead! I don’t want to give anything about him away – no spoilers! – but I literally cheered when Maggie chose him. Love!
3. Mirage, by Jenn Reese
I raved here last year about Above World, the first book in this MG science fiction trilogy, and Mirage (Book 2) is even better. There is such an incredible sense of wonder to this series, and especially by the end of this book, there’s a powerful sense of real, mythic grandeur – particularly in the final showdown, where there were moments that literally made me catch my breath. This is MG adventure on a genuinely epic scale, with wonderful characters who really grow into their strengths throughout the trilogy.
I love how real all the different cultures in this book feel, and I love the way some of Aluna’s and Hoku’s assumptions from Book 1 are seriously challenged in this book. These books are in no way didactic – they’re just fabulous, thrilling stories about really wonderful characters – but they carry a great message when it comes to diversity.
I love, love, love this trilogy and this book in particular.
4. The Lost Sun, by Tessa Gratton
This YA fantasy is rich, intense, and *amazing*, with truly fabulous world-building. In this alternate contemporary America, the Norse gods are very real, they have a huge impact on everyday life, and the whole culture feels authentically different because of it. I love the representations of the gods themselves, and their different followers. I particularly adore Fenris Wolf as a perpetually hungry, dangerous teenage girl! And I loooooove the gorgeous, atmospheric writing, which feels epic in a way that recalls the Norse sagas.
But most of all, I love the two main characters, Soren and Astrid. Their romance is a subplot, not the main plot; but oh, by the end, this was such a deeply, deeply romantic book. And the ending was SO good.
I can’t wait for Book 2!
5. Life of Ty: Penguin Problems, by Lauren Myracle
And finally, on a completely different note, I fell absolutely in love with this sweet, funny, and occasionally heartbreaking chapter book, the first in a new series. The main character, Ty, is so very real and so intensely lovable in his vulnerability, sweetness, and wildness, too. He reminded me a LOT of my own older son, which made parts of this book even more poignant for me to read. (And when I then started reading the book to my son – who also loved it – he said that he thought he and Ty would definitely be friends!)
The difficult interactions between Ty and the other kids at school rang very true (sometimes painfully true, from the perspective of a parent); so did the dynamic between him and his parents, which has been seriously (although not irreparably) disrupted by the arrival of a new baby sister. (And yes, this was awfully resonant for me, since I first discovered this book when the new baby in our house was only 2 months old!)
Ty wants to love his little sister, and he does – but suddenly his mom doesn’t seem to love him anymore (although clearly, as an adult reader can tell, she does – she’s just running on 3 hours’ sleep a night, so she’s overwhelmed – something that, again, was almost TOO close to home for me to read about this autumn!).
Ty’s wacky adventures and emotional journey were so much fun and so compelling to read. I can’t wait to get the second book in the series, for myself just as much as for my five-year-old!
And that’s it – my personal top 5 for the year! But oh, this list was hard to winnow down, and I can’t end without quick shout-outs for Page Morgan’s lush, romantic historical fantasy YA, The Beautiful and the Damned (fierce girls and gargoyles in 19th-century Paris!) and for Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys (which, yes, came out last year – but I only discovered it this year, and oh, I loved it – truly magical YA fantasy!).
What about you guys? Which books really bowled you over in 2013?
Thank you so much, Stephanie and congratulations on the new baby!