Spoiler alert! A few weeks ago InsideMan asked us comic reviewers to send him a list of our top comics from 2013, so I stole this idea from him and I realized what a stellar idea that was. Why not write up a Top Ten List of Novels I’ve read in 2013 for this month’s Well Red? Yee haw, it’s a gift guide/year-end round up, y’all!
Since I read a lot of kid lit and most adults don’t, I thought I’d include some suggestions for those of you headed to the mall for gift-buying.
Warning: my tastes tend toward quirk. You may disagree with my picks!
So, without further ado…
The Cuckoo’s Calling by JK Rowling as Robert Galbraith
It won’t change your life. It won’t set your imagination on fire. It’s not Harry Potter. Even better, it’s not The Casual Vacancy. Landing somewhere between “global phenomenon” and “recipe for depression,” Rowling has mastered the mid-list mystery novel. HEY, so it was a best-seller. Of course it was! It’s by JK Rowling. Before that news leaked, though, it was a mid-list mystery with less reviews than some of my books. (Believe me, that was the first thing I checked!) It may have taken off sales-wise because of the JKR label, but Cuckoo was still enjoyable. This was a well-written British cozy. The narrative was a bit clumsy, not unlike the main character, one-legged bastard Cormoran Strike, but ultimately a worthy buy.
Beg by CD Reiss
After hearing nothing but “50 Shades of Grey” from my girlfriends for two years, I still haven’t picked it up. It could be the best thing since Twilight (yes, I actually enjoyed that!), but I wouldn’t know, because I don’t see how it can top the BDSM romance series Reiss has created in her Songs of Submission. You don’t have to be into spanking and billionaires to dig this book. Just be ready for a strong female lead and a lanky lover who’s more than a set of buff pecs attached to an ATM. There’s a whole subplot in this series related to the art world that I found quite satisfying.
Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
Fans further into the series than me decry senseless deaths. I say, I don’t care. I’m enjoying the ride and I understand that an author must kill his darlings. I get it. I might reserve reading further into the series until I can pick up a paperback copy of each for cheap at the local yard sale, because the ebooks are pricey and the library wait list won’t let me get through the hardbacks fast enough before I have to return them, but so far I’m really loving this series both on the page and on the screen. I say, better to have read and lost than never to have read at all— but then, I don’t require a Happily Ever After at the end of every series, like some readers do.
Wool by Hugh Howey
The first installment is usually free on Amazon, so try out this post-apocalyptic underground SciFi hit if you’d like, gratis. If you enjoy it, the whole series is a perennial best-selling brand at this point, with licensed fan fiction and a graphic novel serial available for Woolies’ enjoyment. It’s not the best thing I read this year, but it was cool.
Kringle by Tony Abbott
Technically I’m not done with this one yet, but as a read-aloud, it’s going over big with my sons ages 8 & 10. As you might guess (although they haven’t yet), it’s about Santa–specifically, it’s about the boy who will grow up to be the holiday icon. Along the way he encounters Roman Soldiers, Pirates, Goblins, Elves, and the blustery winter cold of the British Isles. I’m loving this.
Dragonbreath Volumes 1-3 by Ursula Vernon
Part graphic novel, part chapter book, all hilarity! Kids and adults alike will like this one, and good news: The series is on to number nine and counting. My son is on Volume 3 (Curse of the Were-weiner) and spending a good deal of time copying the drawings onto his notebook paper. Always a good sign.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck by Jeff Kinney
Here’s another one my little artists can’t stop doodling. As far as I’m concerned, Greg Heffley needs to stay in middle school forever. I pre-ordered this latest volume of stick-figure social disasters and family fiascos, and my sons have fought over it since the day it came home. We need more Wimpy Kid, and we need him now.
The Perks of Being a Wall-flower by Stephen Chbosky
This one got a sustained boost in 2013 from the film. I quite enjoyed the film better than the book, which I read a few years ago and found to be relatable, but sad. I suppose if your teen is sad and has no one to relate to, perhaps give him this book. Otherwise, pass. Tune instead into the movie version where the gorgeous Emma Watson steals the show.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Speaking of movie tie-ins, this was actually the first year the Hunger Games sequels didn’t make the Top 100 for the year from Amazon, but that’s as of this writing. We’ll see once the holiday glitter has settled if the series as a whole sweeps through the most-bought list. I adored this series. Fans quibble over the final book, but that’s becoming expected these days, isn’t it? Just ask Charlaine Harris and her 1000+ 1-star reviews over the end of the Sookie Stackhouse series. But I digress. My 7th grader is reading Catching Fire right now in his English class and he’s totally engrossed. My guess is that it plays into the pre-teen fascination with guns and fighting, as well as a middle-schooler’s burgeoning romantic sensibility– although no one could ever accuse Katniss of being romantic. That’s Peeta’s role in these books, I think– he’s the damsel in distress, she’s the hero, and even then, she’s more about saving the world than saving her main squeeze. Great social commentary, as well. As dystopian future novels go, give me The Hunger Games over The Road, any day.
Recent best-sellers I didn’t like and wouldn’t recommend:
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: The literary thriller equivalent of that mouthy broad you’d like to punch in the face. Don’t waste your time.
The Crossfires series by Sylvia Day: Another “rich guy romance” fantasy along the lines of 50 Shades or Songs of Submission, but this one was so dryly boring and humorless I couldn’t make it through the first three chapters— and frankly, by then there needs to be a spark of some kind ignited in the reader, regardless of genre. If I had to guess the genre of this series based on what I read of book one, I’d say “high rise architecture and elegant suits,” because those seemed to be the main things Day wrote about. Note: I read many reviews from fans of the series that they were disappointed with the latest installment to the point of outrage.
The Giver by Lois Lowry: Another depressing dystopian teen saga. Skip this and re-read The Hunger Games.
Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks: I skip redundant titles on principal. I I don’t don’t have have to to read read Safe Haven to to know know I I won’t won’t like like it it.
Damaged by HM Ward: Couldn’t make it through either the ebook or the audiobook editions. In particular, beware the audiobook, which seemed as though it were being narrated line-by-line by a radio voiceover jewelry store commercial specialist, rather than an actress. It was totally unconvincing and not at all sexy.
And that’s my round up for the year, folks! I’m sure I read more books than this, but these are all that sprang to mind. What were your hits and misses for 2013?
If you’re interested in seeing if I put my money where my mouth is when it comes to writing… All my independently published fantasy books will be on sale for Black Friday through Cyber Monday! Some of my stuff is even free! I recommend Troll Or Derby… It’s my greatest hit! Check it out!
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