Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Best of 2009

Yesterday was giving love to the raspberries of '09. Today it's celebrating the best of the best of the best. Honestly, I admit that the worst list was a lot easier than the best list. Some of these are very highly-acclaimed, while others are more in the line of entertaining smut than anything. So what do I include on my list? The true "literature" or the fun stuff? Secondly, I read many excellent series in 2009, and were I to single books out in the series I would have a list about five miles long. Which direction should I take all this?

After some consideration, I chose to do the following: Even if it was just plain entertaining, it's on the list because I enjoyed every second of it. And I will treat series as a single entity on the list. Voila. And so now, here goes. Again, this is no particular order.

1. The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran - There isn't a whole lot of ancient Egyptian historical fiction out there, so when I heard of Michelle Moran I decided to snap up one of her books and give it a shot. To be honest, I could not put this book down! It was the story of Nefertari, Ramesses the Great's most well-known queen. As predicted, there is scandal and intrigue around every corner. I really, really loved this book. It was written in a wonderful, down-to-earth way that some historical fiction writers truly fail at achieving. Instead of feeling like history book, it felt like I was immersed in a novel, which is how it should be. A beautiful book that I highly recommend! For the record, the author also has two other published books: Nefertiti (I think you can guess the subject of that one) and Cleopatra's Daughter (again, guess who?). I think Nefertiti is the weakest of the three, but nevertheless they were all enjoyable and fun. Kudos to Michelle Moran for also being a very accessable author: She can be found on Facebook and actually (gasp) replies to messages from her readers!

2. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield - This book wins for best cover art in 2009. However, I was thrilled to also find that beneath that gorgeous cover was a great story! I can see where this book might not be everyone's cup of tea. It's a large pill to swallow if you have a problem reading about people commiting ultimate acts of taboo. However, the story was brilliant, and the writing was superb. I was compelled to keep reading to find out the "mystery" of the story, which, in retrospect, made perfect sense. Love.

3. The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon - In one year and seven books (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, The Fiery Cross, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, and An Echo in the Bone), Diana Gabaldon has managed to worm her way into my heart as one of my favorite authors of all time right next to J.K. Rowling and Lynn Austin. Outlander was the first book I read in 2009, and it took my breath away at every turn, whether the description of the Scottish Highlands in 1743 to the descriptions of James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser (basically sex in a kilt. Rawr). As you know, I love me some good historical fiction, and Gabaldon delivers splendidly with her time travel/historical fiction/romance. She's one of the most gifted writers of our time, and these books are filled to the brim with delicousness that you can just sink your teeth into every single time.

4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - The Book Thief wins as most memorable book of 2009. Another historical fiction (I swear, not everything on my list is historical fiction! Promise!), and this one takes place during World War II. However, this book shows the "other" side of the war as it centers arould Liesel, a little German girl dealing with that war in her own way. The narrator of this book is one of the best storytellers I've ever had, guiding me through the story in such an intriguing and wonderful way. Markus Zusak = Genius. I cannot wait to read his other books, and hopefully this is something I will accomplish in 2010.

5. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher - This Young Adult book I think should be required reading for both high school students and educators. This fresh, eye-opening story is about a girl named Hannah Baker who recorded a list of thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life and the people who were the guilty parties. This book speaks directly to teens about a very tough subject, and it was definitely a thought-provoker. However, I loved it and would love if everyone read this at least once.

6. The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - First, I will be honest: I had a hard time putting this on the list, mainly because while I liked The Hunger Games, I didn't LOVE it. However, I absolutely did love Catching Fire, and you can't read/understand Catching Fire without first reading The Hunger Games! This book is set in a dystopic society in the nation of Panem that exists on the same land that the United States of America once covered. To keep the people in line, the Capitol each year hosts the Hunger Games, where teenaged tributes from each of the twelve districts compete to the death for the chance to become a champion. The main character, a girl named Katniss, ends up becoming a tribute and is forced to fight for her life. Like I said, this first book was good but I had a hard time loving it because it was one giant mindf*ck for Katniss. My stomach was in knots thinking about what an awful situation she had been thrust in, and it was completely cringe-worthy. However, the story continues in Catching Fire, and while I still had a knotted stomach and a pinched expression through parts, the story just plain got GOOD. And so now I'm a Hunger Games series devotee eagerly awaiting the third book to be released in August, 2010.

7. The Luxe series by Anna Godbersen - The four books in this series, The Luxe, Rumors, Envy, and Splendor, all center around New York's high society at the turn of the 20th century. As it is very Young Adult, I can best describe these books as Gossip Girl-meets-historical fiction. They're not particularly challenging or thought-provoking, but I found them to be excellently entertaining. I eagerly looked forward to reading each book, and it was like watching an episode of Glee: You didn't get much out of it, but you had a great time during!

8. The Southern Vampire series, a.k.a. the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris - These are kind of like Twilight for adults: A little more risque, equally craptastic writing, lots of sexy vampires, a few werewolves thrown in for good measure, and a little human girl in the middle of it all. And these too were absolutely fun to read! I could never in a million years give Charlaine Harris the Author-of-the-Year award, but I admit she weaves a fun tale that is pure escapism for the several hours it takes you to read one of the books. I am absolutely anticipating the rest of the series and can't wait to see how it all ends.

Honorable mentions go to the following: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (soooo much better than the movie! Read it for a fun fairytale!), Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (another wonderful historical fiction book about circus life during the Great Depression), and the Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty (Sloppy Firsts, Second Helpings, Charmed Thirds, Fourth Comings, and Perfect Fifths - Girl power and just general total awesomeness and a great hottie love interest by the name of Marcus Flutie).

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