Monday, December 31, 2012

end-of-year book survey for 2012

1. Best book read in 2012?
This is a nearly impossible question; there were way too many incredible books this year, three of which really stand out as bests in my mind. I'm trying to choose one favorite, and I think it might have to be Melina Marchetta's Jellicoe Road, which I just finally read this month. Bonus points to anyone who can guess the two runners-up. (Hint: one is YA and the other is regular adult fiction.)

2. Book you were excited about and thought you'd love more, but didn't?
Ah, books that don't live up to expectations are always a bit sad. This year the book that stands out as a disappointment is In Zanesville, by Jo Ann Beard. Numerous people had recommended this one to me yet the whole way through I kept thinking wait, this is it? For me, it was nothing special.

3. Most pleasantly surprising book of the year?
Again I have to mention Fangirl, by Ken Baker. I just was not expecting it to be so good or to suck me in so fully. For a couple of weeks I was absolutely obsessed with this one.

4. Book you recommended the most in 2012?
Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech, for sure. I'm not sure how many people actually took that recommendation, but I did get both of my parents to read it (and they both loved it), so that counts for something.

5. Best series you discovered in 2012?
Does it count as a series if only the first book is out so far? If so, it's got to be the Ever-Expanding Universe series by Martin Leicht and Isla Neal, which starts with the awesomely funny Mothership. And since there's no series I read more than one book of this year, I'll just also say that the second book in Beth Revis' Across the Universe series (A Million Suns) completely blew me away.

6. Favorite new authors discovered in 2012?
Well, I was awful at reading debut novels this year, but I did manage to discover a few new (or at least new-to-me) authors. The first is Liane Moriarty, who wrote the incredible What Alice Forgot and is (I think) Jaclyn Moriarty's sister. I keep looking for her other books but can't seem to find them -- maybe they're a bit scarce in the US? And the second is Morgan Matson, who I got to meet at ALA and who wrote Second Chance Summer; it was such a solid contemporary YA novel that I can't wait to read more from her (starting with her debut, Amy & Roger's Epic Detour).

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?
Well, while adult fiction is not my primary genre, I read enough of it that don't consider it out of my comfort zone -- for that I have to go to the book that was truly a new experience for me: Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, the first strictly murder mystery I've probably ever read.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?
Beth Revis' A Million Suns, which had me hanging upside down off the couch reading all afternoon, not wanting to set the book aside for anything. I was so floored by how great this one was, especially since I was a bit lukewarm about the first in the series.

9. Book you read in 2012 that you are most likely to re-read next year?
Love and Other Perishable Items, by Laura Buzo. I read this as an ARC and had some mixed feelings on it (even though I sort of loved it), but I really want to buy a finished copy, reread, and see where my feelings and thoughts are after reading it a second time. See if what bothered me the first time around bothers me more or less.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?
Once again I have to choose Love and Other Perishable Items. I mean, just look at it! (That said, Carrie Pilby is a good second place choice.)

11. Most memorable character from 2012?
I'm not sure I can choose. There's Tiger Lily, Carrie Pilby, Elvie Nara, Juliette Ferrars, and they're all so memorable and so great. And of course Felton Reinstein is back in Nothing Special. If forced to choose, though, I'd probably have to go with Tiger Lily's Tiger Lily -- I did name my new iPod after her. But really there were so many truly great characters this year (as there often are) that I feel a little bad choosing only one.

12. Most beautifully written book you read in 2012?
It's a little weird to call this harsh, dark little book "beautiful," but the writing definitely is. Adios, Nirvana, by Conrad Wesselhoeft. It's literary-leaning, wonderfully atmospheric, and so well written.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?
Once again there were three books this year that were huge for me in terms of impact. Walk Two Moons was one of the most beautiful books I've ever read and I can't imagine anyone reading that book and coming away untouched. Jellicoe Road was deeply personal to me because of the relationships in it, especially the group of five. But in terms of books that really made me think and make decisions I have to go with Liane Moriarty's What Alice Forgot, which made me think even more than I already was about the sort of person I am, the sort of person I want to be, and how I want my life to go. It made me realize how easy it can be, sometimes, to slip away from yourself and the person you thought you were and change into someone else entirely. It sent a little shock through my system and really did impact me in a way that most books don't.

14. Book you can't believe you waited until 2012 to finally read?
There are two books, but the one I really can't believe I didn't read until now is Sharon Creech's Walk Two Moons. It's a middle grade novel that I didn't get around to until I was twenty-two, and I honestly can't imagine it being any more brilliant if I'd read it at twelve or thirteen. (The other book I can't believe I just now read is, of course, Jellicoe Road.)

15. Favorite passage or quote from a book you read in 2012?
I actually managed to find one quote that kind of does stand out from the rest. It's not the most beautiful or honest or profound or funniest, but it's a cute few lines that make me smile even though it's about something sad. From The Fault In Our Stars, Hazel talking about the oxygen tank she had to sleep with:
I kept thinking that it sounded like a dragon breathing in time with me, like I had this pet dragon who was cuddled up next to me and cared enough about me to time his breaths to mine. (The Fault In Our Stars, pg. 119-120)
16. Shortest and longest books you read in 2012?
Longest - The Help, by Kathryn Stockett comes in at 534 pages, and it weirdly didn't feel too long.
Shortest - Everything On A Waffle, by Polly Horvath comes in at 150 pages. I'm not positive it's the shortest I read this year, but I'm pretty sure.

17. Book that had a scene in it that had you reeling, dying to talk to somebody about it? (This can be an epic revelation, a shocking twist, whatever...)
Alright, I'm trying to be wary of spoilers here and not give too much away, but there were a couple of scenes/events that had me spinning. The first is the revelation about Kai in For Darkness Shows the Stars -- I so had no idea how to feel or what to think about that one and right now I can't even decide where I landed n the issue. The second is what happened in Sisterhood Everlasting. I feel betrayed, guys. BETRAYED. 

18. Favorite relationship from a book you read in 2012?
There were quite a few couples whose love stories I fell for this year, but in the end I have to go with the five from Jellicoe Road. Despite how sad their stories were from start to finish they're definitely my favorite relationship from a book I read this year.

19. Favorite book you read in 2012 from an author you'd read previously?
Alright, this is kind of a confusing question but I think I get it and there were really too many great books from authors I was already acquainted with this year. Tiger Lily, Jellicoe Road, Walk Two Moons. And that's not even mentioning the books I read by favorite authors like Sarah Ockler, Sara Zarr, Robin Palmer, and Nina LaCour. I just can't choose.

20. Best book that you read based solely on a recommend from someone else?
Again it's The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. Becca, thank you for talking me into this one; I never would have read it otherwise and it's so worth reading.


1. Book you didn't get to in 2012 but is a high priority for serious now in 2013?
There are so many, but I'm going to have to go with Trish Doller's Something Like Normal. Big apologies for not having read it yet even though it's been on my radar since before she even had a book deal for it. WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH ME? (I think I have this fear like, what if I don't like it? and then it's just easier to not read it at all. You know?)

2. Book you are most anticipating for 2013?
Well, now that I know Mothership's sequel is set to come out I'll go with that one -- A Stranger Thing. (It would be on my list of can't-wait 2013 reads, but when I made the list I didn't know it was set for 2013. Wahoo!)

3. One thing you want to accomplish/do in your reading/blogging life in 2013?
I'd like to find a way to blog more, unlike these last few months.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

ten: favorite ya reads of 2012

Here comes the most important list of the year: my top ten YA reads of 2012. This list, unlike the others, is in order of when I read the books -- earliest to most recent reads.

Tahereh Mafi
To be honest, I debated whether or not to include this book on the list. Because the first time I read it, yeah, I loved it. So, so, so much. Obsessed. And I still really love Juliette and Adam, their relationship, their characters. I love the writing. But the second time I went to read the book I was disturbed by how truly dark it was and now I'm on the fence, torn between how great most of the book is and how dark the rest of it is. But since I normally rank books at the end of the year by my first reading, this one stays on the list.

Nina LaCour
Nina LaCour's writing doesn't disappoint and this is the road-trip book to beat all road-trip books, full of friendship, unrequited love, music, and serendipity. 

Beth Revis
A Million Suns not only defeats middle-book syndrome but rises up to be even better than Across the Universe was. Definitely one of the best sci-fi books I've ever read, this is solid sci-fi that also manages to be solid YA. Winning all around, and I can't wait for the conclusion of the series.

Siobhan Vivian
This book takes on labels and how they affect us ("us" being girls, mostly) in a straightforward, fearless way. I consider it a must-read for girls, whether teenage or older.

Sarah Ockler
If you're asking yourself "hey, what really is contemporary YA?" then this is the book you should read. It's got just the right amount of everything that makes contemporary YA -- friendship, family, boys, and a flawed main character you can root for.

Diana Peterfreund
The idea of sci-fi inspired by a Jane Austen novel (Persuasion) is a total contradiction, but this book makes it work seamlessly. It's both exactly what you'd expect and also better than you could have imagined. Plus, I love that it's not a series.

Ken Baker
This one's a younger YA book, but I loved it so much. Super-cute and more fully-developed than I was expecting.

Martin Leicht and Isla Neal
It really doesn't get better than a YA sci-fi comedy with a main character I'd love to be besties with. Read this book!!

Jodi Lynn Anderson
This book is like its fiery main character: desperate, beautiful, crazy, and sometimes a little tragic. It's one of the best reimaginings of a classic work that I've come across. Definitely an all-time favorite (as is the next book on this list).

Melina Marchetta
SORRY I TOOK SO LONG TO GET MY BUTT IN GEAR AND FINALLY READ THIS BECAUSE EVERYONE WHO TOLD ME TO READ IT WAS RIGHT. This book is practically perfect. It's exactly my type of book and I love it.

What were your favorite YA (or other genre) books of 2012?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

five: most personally impacting books of 2012

Last year I didn't make this list, but back in 2010 I had a list of the five books that made a personal impact on me, and it's a list I decided to bring back for 2012. These are the books that hit me in a really specific, personal way -- that I could relate to or that spoke to me so loudly I couldn't ignore it.

Warning: mild spoilers below.

Geoff Herbach
This book takes on a fairly unusual subject matter for YA as the main character, Felton, struggles with issues of family and identity. The question here is something along the lines of who are we destined to become? And not because of how we were raised or the people we're around, but simply because of our genetics, the traits passed down to us that we have no control over. This has always been fascinating to me and even more so as I get older, as I consciously try to choose the sort of person I will be, regardless of the paths others in my family have taken. Felton reminded me a lot of myself in the first book, Stupid Fast, and he reminds me possibly even more of myself in this book.

Sharon Creech
It's hard (impossible?) to even explain what this book is about, but it's all kinds of amazing and is one of those books that's a complete masterpiece and so, so personal to me.

Liane Moriarty
This book, about a woman who loses ten years of her memory, made me think of how easy it is to get off track in your own life, to become someone you never imagined you'd be. It helped me really focus on who I am and who I want to be and how to become that person. It's beyond good.

Melina Marchetta
I don't want to give too much (or anything) away about this book, but I will just say that it hit me in much the same way that Sara Zarr's Sweethearts did. The relationships in this book are so close to home.

Siobhan Vivian
I feel like I'm cheating a little with this book because it's definitely not as personally impactful as the others on the list; instead it has a bigger, wider impact. This is a book that I think deserves to be on eighth grade required reading lists, the kind of book that speaks to every girl in some way.

What books impacted you this year?

Friday, December 28, 2012

five: favorite non-ya reads of 2012

My list of favorite non-YA books is always a fun one to write, because though I read so much more YA than other genres, it's not unusual for a mainstream (read: grown up) novel or nonfiction work to completely blow me away. And this year there were definitely a few gems.

Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle
genre: nonfiction/memoir
This book is absolutely fascinating. I've never been a big cycling fan, but even for someone with next to no interest in the sport, this book was awesome. Part memoir, part expose, part in-depth look at the sport and the evolution of doping, it was eye-opening. Highly recommended.

Kathryn Stockett
genre: historical fiction
The movie of this book was so good that I resisted reading the book. It was the rare instance where I thought: the book probably doesn't live up to this. But oh boy was I ever wrong. My friend convinced me to read the book because of how much she loved it and I'm so grateful she talked me into it because this book is so great. The characters are awesome, the story itself is both serious and funny, and it's definitely a must-read.

Sharon Creech
genre: middle grade
I'm a huge Sharon Creech fan, so I'm not quite sure how I managed to not read this, her best work, her Newbery Winner, before this year. But no matter how old you are, you should read this book. There's a reason it won the Newbery, and that reason is that it is sweet, sad, poignant, and brilliantly crafted. It's amazing in every single way and I can't say enough good things about it.

Agatha Christie
genre: mystery
I've never considered myself a fan of mystery novels, and I'd never read Agatha Christie before, but daaaang, this book was so great. So suspenseful and plotted so incredibly well I almost can't believe it.

Liane Moriarty
genre: fiction
This is by far the best mainstream fiction book I've read in quite a while. Usually when I stay up late reading it's just because I'd rather read than sleep, but with this book I honestly couldn't put it down. Stayed up reading it until like four in the morning, then woke up at seven-thirty to finish it. So, so, so good. 

What were your favorite out-of-your-main-genre reads this year? 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

five: favorite ya duos and couples

Just like I did last year, I'm listing my top ten YA couples and YA duos (friends, siblings, whatever). One thing YA never lacks is awesome relationships.


1. Amelia & Chris
Laura Buzo
I can't quite put these two in the "couples" category, but as a friendship-duo-slash-almost-sort-of-maybe-couple they're undoubtedly one of the best. And not just of this year: of ever. The six years between them makes everything awkward but it's handled so well and the relationship (friendship, love, whatever you want to call it) between the two of them is honest and true and wonderfully portrayed with all the angst, confusion, and heart ache involved in impossible loves. (See? I should have put them in the "couples" category, huh?)

2. Mandy & Dylan
Sara Zarr
Although their interaction in the book is limited and they're not the most expected duo, every moment between Mandy (the pregnant teen whose baby is being adopted by Jill's mom) and Dylan (Jill's boyfriend) are some of my favorite scenes in the book. These two have a uniquely refreshing relationship and I love their dynamic.

3. Day & Tess
Marie Lu
Pub date: Jan 2013
Though as a whole I was disappointed with Prodigy, I did love the undefined relationship between Day and Tess and their interactions were the best in the entire book. (Also, note that this book doesn't come out until next year -- I received an ARC at ALA.)

4. Naomi & Lizzie
Sharon Creech
This entire book is about the ways that people are connected, but the duo at the center of it -- orphans and friends Naomi and Lizzie -- is just so great. While they don't always love each other, these two girls share an undeniable connection and are the focus the rest of the book sits on.

5. Charlotte & Oliver
Terra Elan McVoy
Charlotte's friendship with Oliver, the leader of Sad Jackal (the band her friends are in) is one of the cooler parts of this book -- their friendship isn't without its problems, but it's a completely platonic sort of boy-girl friendship that I'd love to see more of in YA. 


1. Tiger Lily & Peter Pan
Jodi Lynn Anderson
The love between Tiger Lily and Peter Pan is absolutely wonderfully written and so, so painfully beautiful. I can't say too much because I don't want to ruin the book, but suffice to say this isn't your typical love story (as you might expect from the pairing).

2. Josie Brant & Peter Maxx
Ken Baker
Definitely one of the cutest teenage love stories I've ever read, and even though it sounds crazy to say, there's a very realistic awkwardness to these two characters as they navigate the choppy waters of "does she/he like me?" Honestly, this book gets a few things just right about crushes, and that's hard to find.

3. Elliot North & Malakai Wentworth
Diana Peterfreund
These two have the most classic, Austen-esque romance. Which, since the book itself is a take on Persuasion, makes perfect sense. AH, I love them.

4. Hudson & Josh
Sarah Ockler
The romance between Hudson and hockey-boy Josh is sweet, funny, and just the littlest bit awkward -- as are all the best contemporary YA romances. This book does it right.

5. Juliette & Adam
Tahereh Mafi
With Juliette and Adam there's a feeling like they're absolutely it. No other guy could be with Juliette and no other girl could be with Adam. Of course, there's the fear/suspicion that the rest of the Shatter Me series will ruin that, but for this book they are perfect.

What are some of your favorite duos and couples this year?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

five: favorite characters from 2012

Characters are by far my favorite parts of stories. Whether it's a book, movie, or television show, I stick around for the characters, and 2012 had some truly incredible characters. Here are my five favorite.

1. Carrie Pilby
Caren Lissner
I tend to like characters who are either like me or like the person I'd like to be, and Carrie Pilby fits the bill as a more extreme version of myself: smarter (she's a teenage genius), more socially awkward, more rigidly principled. She's a wonderfully unique, wonderfully herself character that will put some readers off but that I absolutely loved.

2. Tiger Lily
Jodi Lynn Anderson
This version of Peter Pan's Tiger Lily is crazy, emotional, jealous, passionate, and not like anybody else. And I can't even describe how much I loved her. I'm pretty sure she's an all-time favorite as far as YA characters go.

3. Elvie Nara
Martin Leicht & Isla Neal 
Elvie is an awesome mixture of smart, witty, kick-butt, and lovestruck. In short, she's amazing.

4. Juliette Ferrars
Tahereh Mafi
When it comes to characters I want to be more like, Juliette is one of the tops; she has an inner strength that's absolutely incredible and it's her love, her hope, and her strength that makes this book.

5. Dylan
Sara Zarr
Yeah, he's a secondary character, but that shows how truly great the character of Dylan is. I copied quite a few lines from How to Save A Life into my quote-book, and most of them were lines of dialogue that Dylan said. Dylan transcends the typical "boyfriend" role in this book: he's smart, wise, and loving above all else. 

Who were your favorite characters this year?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

five: books i didn't expect

There are always books that surprise me: ones that are better or worse than expected, ones that end different than I ever would have thought. Here are the five books I read in 2012 that were the most surprising -- in a good way.

Martin Leicht & Isla Neal
I was all set to give this sci-fi comedy up in the first ten pages, but to my complete surprise it was not only entertaining, but also really really great, with a totally kick-butt main character who reminds me of Agent 99 more than quite possibly any other YA character I've come across. I'm hoping this one -- set to be the first in a series -- gets the sequel it so much deserves.

Ken Baker
I so wasn't expecting this cliche teen romance to have such fully realized characters or be as emotionally complex as it was. Totally one of the stand-outs of 2012's contemporary YA.

Ruta Sepetys
Pub date: Feb 2013
I managed to get an ARC of this 2013 release at ALA and wow did it blow me away! While I liked Sepetys' first book (Between Shades of Grey) and objectively realized how brilliant and beautiful it was, my personal connection to it wasn't as strong as many others' were. So I expected Out of the Easy to be along those same lines: objectively great, but maybe not my favorite. However, this one hit me just right and became the rare historical fiction that I totally, totally fall for.

Kieryn Nicolas
To be perfectly honest I'd read and liked Kieryn Nicolas' debut novel (Rain), but dystopian novels like Flawless Ruins are hard to get right; I think they come with a different set of obstacles than most other novels, and I didn't think Nicolas could pull it off. But this book was a lot, lot better than I was expecting it to be.

What books surprised you this year -- whether positively or negatively?

Monday, December 24, 2012

five: books i can't wait for in 2013

I do miss blogging. I'd make a commitment to do it more often, but I'm not sure I could stick to it once I go back to work. But right now, while I have some time, I plan to do my series of yearly "five" posts for 2012, starting with the books I can't wait for in the coming year.

This is such a hard list to come up with; it seems like all of my favorite authors, and many of the series I read, have books coming out in the coming year and it's hard to narrow my list down to only five, but here goes my attempt.

Sarah Ockler
Pub date: May 2013
After how great Bittersweet was I'm all jazzed up for Ockler's next story, and this one, about sisters and broken hearts, sounds right exactly up my alley. Cannot. Wait. Plus, how great is that cover? (Especially the font -- love.)

Gayle Forman
Pub date: Jan 2013
Gayle Forman's writing is so beautiful, emotional, and honest that I can't wait for her next duo of books, the first of which is coming in less than a month. Sometimes her writing is so good I can't even stand it. The plot of this one sounds almost sickeningly romantic, but in a sad sort of way, if that makes sense. To say I'm looking forward to it would be an understatement.

Sarah Dessen
Pub date: June 2013
Sarah. Dessen. I honestly don't even know the summary of this one but who cares even

Beth Revis
Pub date: Jan 2013
I am so looking forward to the conclusion of the Godspeed trilogy, which started strong and then burst into UNBELIEVABLY GREAT territory with book two. I'm confident that the third book will end it well, because Revis is such a great and talented sci-fi writer and this is such a strong story. Can't wait.

Stephanie Perkins
Pub date: May 2013
Ahhh!!! If this is even half as great as Anna and the French Kiss I'm going to be ecstatic. 

So, what 2013 books are you looking forward to?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

review: love and other perishable items

Laura Buzo
Knopf Books for Young Readers
(ARC picked up at ALA)
Amelia's 15 and Chris is 21, but she still can't help falling entirely, head-over-heels for her coworker. Surrounded by vapid and/or otherwise-lacking coworkers, the two strike up a friendship that only feeds Amelia's feelings and makes Chris confused about his own. They get along, they talk about real things, but at the end of the day there's still a very vital six years between them. Set in Australia and told from the dual perspectives of Amelia and Chris, this is a love story... sort of.

It probably comes as a surprise to absolutely nobody to learn that I'm not a big fan of "edgy" content -- sex, drug use, and too much profanity can really ruin my reading experience. (And this is not meant to be a rah, no sex-drugs-cussing statement -- just that I don't and never have liked reading it.) And this book had much more of that than I was expecting. There were a few scenes in particular that, if I hadn't loved the characters and their story so much, would have made me put the book down. So I'm a little torn in how much I actually like this book; despite it's adorable cover, it's maybe not something I'd give to your more sensitive readers.

Having said that, this book surprised me. In so many ways. I was surprised at the content (in a bad way), I was surprised at the dual POV (in a good way), I was surprised at the depth and the sadness (also, in a good way). Laura Buzo has made a relationship that could easily, easily be totally skeevy something you end up rooting for. Part of this is the fact that Amelia and Chris are both great characters and despite their age difference they really do get along very well, and part of it, I think, is that Chris' feelings are much less defined than Amelia's. Even he doesn't know if his feelings for her are of a romantic/sexual nature or if it's simply friendship and the fact that she's so different from most of the people he finds himself spending time with. In a big way this book reminded me of an earlier YA novel, Just Like That, by Marsha Qualey. (I'd recommend that for fans of this book.)

Aside from Amelia and Chris' story together, they each have their own lives happening. Both of their families and friends, but especially Amelia's, are hugely present. Chris, at 21, is watching his friends graduate and get jobs that pay well while he's still living at home, stuck in a sort of ennui, unsure what to do with his life and feeling stuck in suspension. It's a very realistic, very relatable feeling and handled so well. Amelia, on the other hand, is just trying to make life easier for those around her, especially her over-worked mother, and contemplating the essential questions of life and love, like how unfair Gatsby-style impossible love is, and how it sucks that her mom has to work full time and take care of everything else in the house while her dad refuses to even load his dishes. As with Chris' situation and feelings, Amelia's contemplation and anger is handled in a really, really great way. Buzo has talent for creating realistic and interesting characters that stand out.

This is one of those books that, for me, was made of extremes. The parts I liked I absolutely loved, but the parts I didn't like hard to get over. Although in this case my issues are subjective and entirely taste-driven, so others may not have the same hang-ups. For those looking for a completely character-driven novel that tackles some unlikely subjects, this may be exactly what you're looking for. But fair warning: it's sadder than you think it'll be.