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Best Books of 2013

That’s actually a bit of a lie. Quite a few of the books on this list weren’t actually published in 2013, but that’s when I read them, when they made me laugh, cry and love. As usual, there is a bit of a mix, reflective of my tendency to read a bit of everything – but I would strongly recommend any one of these fantastic novel (and some I have done in the past!). A belated Happy New Year to everyone, and Happy Reading, too!

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

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The most refreshing fantasy novel that I’ve read in a while. I loved the world of Seraphina, particularly the way that Hartman created her dragons. The fact that they were able to assume a human form and yet were so obviously un-human was fascinating, as well the undertones of anti-dragon discrimination throughout the novel. Seraphina was a wonderful blend of fantasy, mystery, political intrigue, secrets and romance. The story captivated and amazed me at every turn, and I recommend it to pretty much anyone I can. Seriously, if you have ever even considered liking fantasy, read Seraphina!

Rating: 5/5

Raven Flight by Juliet Marillier

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Well, it is a novel by my favourite author, but I really loved where Raven Flight took the Shadowfell series. I really liked how Neryn’s character developed with Tali around, and the way these two very different girls worked together. This novel just worked! The characters are fantastic, and the plot is really developing into something spectacular. I can’t wait for book 3 to come out, and I can’t recommend Raven Flight or Juliet Marillier enough!

Rating: 5/5

 

What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton

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I have reviewed this novel before, but again – this was an ‘issues’ novel that I found to be really well written. The issues were approached with sensitivity, yet in a way that I found intensely realistic and utterly believable. The characters were wonderful, and I felt Sid’s pain and strength throughout it. As I’ve said before, this was a hard novel to like, but a worthy one. Strongly recommended for readers 15/16+, only because the issues discussed are very confronting, but very worthwhile reading about.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

The Boy on the Wooden Box by Leon Leyson

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This memoir of Leyson’s experiences during the Holocaust and on ‘Schindler’s List’ are exactly what you’d expect: horrifying and confronting. What I didn’t expect was how beautiful and approachable Leyson’s writing would be. While his memoir accurately depicts the horror of the Holocaust for Leyson and his family, he does not linger on the horror, but rather on the strength and bravery of those who survived (and those who didn’t). This is one of the best accounts of the Holocaust that I ever read, and I have recommended it to many students. This is definitely a memoir that is worth reading.

Rating: 4.5/5

 

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

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This is the book that instantly became one of my all-time favourites. It is so hard to put why I loved A Monster Calls so much into words, except to say that it broke my heart, made me cry, and made me think. If you’re going to read this (and you really should), read the illustrated version because the illustrations tell as much of the story as the words do. And they are beautiful words! This is almost guaranteed to break your heart, but it is a good kind of breaking and a worthwhile one. Read. This. Book!

Rating 5/5

Honourable Mentions:

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

One of the sweetest romance novels I read all year. Equal parts funny and romantic, and a novel where the fact that a lot of the characters are gay is not even an issue. A wonderful and romantic ideal! (Rating: 4/5)

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

A fantastic ‘issues’ novel for pre-teens and teens alike. It was fantastic getting the perspective of different people on deformity and difference. Auggie is a wonderful character, and I rooted for him from the very first page! (Rating: 4/5)

Divergent series by Veronica Roth

I was late coming to this series, but I read all three books in a matter of days. I really enjoyed the dystopian world, and the twists and turns within it. Tris and Tobias were really interesting characters, and I actually loved the way it all ended! (Rating: 4/5)

Severed Heads, Broken Hearts by Robyn Schneider

A really good YA novel about popularity and finding out where you really belong. Both Cassidy and Ezra were great characters (as were the supporting cast), and I really enjoyed the way their relationship unfolded. A good read! (Rating: 4/5)

Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil

This was fantastic. Most YA novels have a certain amount of tragedy – Life in Outer Space has none. It is just a happy novel, without being toothache sweet. Really nice story about a nerd and his real life Princess Leia. I loved it, and so has everyone I’ve recommended it to.  (Rating: 4.5/5)

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Book Review: What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton

Read ThisBefore the ski trip, sixteen-year-old Cassidy “Sid” Murphy was a cheerleader (at the bottom of the pyramid, but still…), a straight-A student, and a member of a solid trio of best friends. When she ends up on a ski lift next to handsome local college boy, Dax Windsor, she’s thrilled; but Dax takes everything from Sid—including a lock of her perfect red curls—and she can’t remember any of it.

Back home and unable to relate to her old friends, Sid drops her college prep classes and takes up residence in the A/V room with only Corey Livingston for company. But as she gets to know Corey (slacker, baker, total dreamboat), Sid finds someone who truly makes her happy. Now, if she can just shake the nightmares and those few extra pounds, everything will be perfect… or so she thinks.

What happens when you think something terrible has occurred, but you can’t be sure? What happens when you can’t remember? What happens when you can’t forget?

What happens when someone takes everything from you?

This book doesn’t have all the answers, but it sure does come close.

Sid felt so incredibly real – her reactions, her motivations, her skewed understandings all made sense the way that Sid thought and felt them. They made sense to her (most of the time), and so it was easy to see why she did(n’t) do what she did.

I found the first part of the book utterly harrowing. As Sid slowly came to realise what had happened to her, I literally had to take breaks from reading: tear myself away from the words on the page and take a deep breath. It has that much of an impact.

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Book Review: This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

12043771It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. 

Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. 

But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

Six words to describe This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers: powerful, suspenseful, horrifying, unexpected, heart-rending, real.

I didn’t expect to like this novel. I’m not a big fan of anything zombie and I feel terror at the mere mention of the horror genre. This book, though, was something totally different, something completely unexpected. And probably not for fans of pure zombie-inspired tales of horror!

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it, though! This is Not a Test is a wonderfully constructed novel. The characters are purely three-dimensional – they each have their strengths and an abundance of weaknesses that serve to make the novel all the more interesting, and all the harder to put down.

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Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

a_monster_callsThe monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth. 

A Monster Calls is the story of thirteen-year-old Conor O’Malley, whose mother is undergoing treatment for cancer. His mother’s terminal illness provides a stark backdrop for Conor’s story, and the reason for the appearance of the ‘monster’ at his bedroom window.

This book is as beautiful as it is harrowing.

It is a story that centres around the pain of losing someone you love to terminal illness. Patrick Ness is credited as stating that A Monster Calls is a story “about loss, but also the fear of loss, and there’s not a person in the world – young or old – who hasn’t experienced that.” (Link)

This is a story about grief, about guilt, and about the importance of admitting the truth. It is about facing your monsters: the real ones at your window, and the ones of your nightmares.

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Book Review: Raven Flight by Juliet Marillier

Raven-Flight-by-Juliet-MarillierNeryn thought she had lost everything and could trust no one, not even her mysterious companion, Flint.

But when she finds refuge at the rebel base of Shadowfell and discovers her canny gift as a Caller, she feels the first stirrings of hope.

Now she faces a perilous journey with the rebel Tali and the Good Folk, who shadow her steps. She must find the three Guardians who can teach her how to use her unwieldy gift – one that it is rumoured could amass a powerful army.

Can Neryn master her magical power to save Alban from King Keldec’s stranglehold?

Or will she be too late?

art-353-Shadowfell-300x0When I read Juliet Marillier’s Shadowfell last year, I really enjoyed it. However, reading it again before opening Raven Flight I did find the progression of the story rather slow. This was understandable for a novel that centres around the slow development of trust between two people who have little experience of it, and a journey across a dangerous landscape. It made me a little worried about Raven Flight, though.

As an adult reader (and avid fan of Juliet Marillier!), I still enjoyed Shadowfell, but as a teacher librarian who is trying to promote the novels to students, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to convince my students to A) pick it up, and B) keep reading.

Raven Flight quickly allayed any such doubts.

This was a fantastic novel, both in its own right and as a sequel. I found myself mesmerized by a novel that was equal parts adventure, fantasy, quest and coming-of-age novel – with just the right amount of romance! Marillier is a master storyteller, and whilst Shadowfell may have gotten lost in the long journey which Neryn undertook, Raven Flight continues that journey at a pace which is captivating and entrancing. I definitely didn’t want to put it down!

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Book Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Book_Cover_-_Before_I_FallThey say ‘live every day as if it’s your last’—but you never actually think it’s going to be. At least I didn’t.
The thing is, you don’t get to know when it happens. You don’t remember to tell your family that you love them or—in my case—remember to say goodbye to them at all.
But what if, like me, you could live your last day over and over again? Could you make it perfect? If your whole life flashed before your eyes, would you have no regrets? Or are there some things you’d want to change…?

Before I Fall begins with the main character, Sam, telling the reader that she is dead. She then proceeds to narrate her final day of life, and the seemingly random events that culminated in her tragic death at the age of seventeen. However, the day that she dies is not Sam’s final day, as she is forced to relive the day over and over again, with no idea why or what is happening. But Lauren Oliver makes it clear that there is something Sam must do, something she must understand, before her endless last day will stop repeating.

Maybe you can afford to wait. Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow. Maybe for you there’s one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around it, let it slide like coins through you fingers. So much time you can waste it.
But for some of us there’s only today. And the truth is, you never really know.

Oliver’s novel is beautiful, poignant and utterly captivating. I picked it up for something to fill my day with and just about devoured it in one setting. Sam’s story is one that will stay with you, well beyond the final pages.

(MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!)

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Book Review: Flame of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier

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The U.S. cover

For it has been many years since she left the place where her hands were crippled by a fire – years in which she has nurtured her special talent with animals.

Sevenwaters is also much changed. It is now enslaved by the fey prince Mac Dara, a force of malignant magic who is responsible for a party of travellers disappearing. When Maeve discovers the body of one of the missing men, she and her brother Finbar are lured to the Otherworld on a journey that may save Sevenwaters… or lead to catastrophe.

If Maeve is ever to dream of a future, she must confront the darkness of her past.

The first thing I have to say about this book is that I don’t love the blurb… This is truly a fantastic novel, and I just don’t think that the blurb does it justice. Personally, if I was unsure of Juliet Marillier, if I didn’t already know that I have loved every single one of her books, I might not have picked this up. As it was, I pre-ordered the American edition, just because I couldn’t didn’t want to wait the extra month for the Australian edition. And I’m glad that I didn’t wait.

Flame of Sevenwaters was everything I expected, and so much more.

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