I read so much this year that I've created TWO round-ups of highlights: one here, and one over at Kirkus.
So, without further ado, here goes!
Most Adorbs Romance: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight:
It's a quick, easy-going read, and just (as I said) so sweet. They're both lovely people without being completely perfect, and it's clear from minute one that they complement each other, and that they Belong Together.
Book that Douglas Adams Fans Should Most Definitely Not Miss: There is No Dog:
It wasn't just the tone that reminded me of Douglas Adams. It was the warmth—it was how Meg Rosoff was able to poke fun at (and sometimes skewer) humankind (and our mythology), while also conveying a sense of never-ending affection, wonder, and empathy. There's a sense of hope, too, but it's a realist's sort of hope—one that takes the past into account—so while there are brief, perfect moments of beauty, everything is tempered with a cheerful sort of pessimism.
DON'T PUT THIS ONE OFF FOR AS LONG AS I DID: The Girl of Fire and Thorns:
Recommended to fans of books by Kristin Cashore and Tamora Pierce, other fantasies starring Strong-Willed Heroines, and also to fans of The Queen's Thief books, but especially to fans of The Blue Sword.
NOR THIS ONE: Shine:
Biggest surprise for me? That more people aren't describing Shine as a crime/mystery novel. Because, yes, it's a nuanced portrait of a small Southern town—the beautiful, the downright ugly, and the in-between—filled with three-dimensional characters, and it's a story about friendship, family, fear, and forgiveness, but the driving force behind all of the action is a question: What Really Happened at the Come 'n' Go That Night?
Finally, the writing is top-notch. It's the sort of fantasy that will appeal to fans of historical fiction, and the shifts in voice—from the storyline to the country's history to the fairy tales and back again—always feel consistent and comfortably organic. It also seemingly effortlessly conveys the Olde Fashioned Tone of a classic fairy tale, but without the emotional distance that the old stories tend to have.
My Favorite Book of the Year (Soul-Crushing): The Storyteller:
Short version? Read this book. It's beautifully written—and the translator should get an award, because, WOW—it's layered and beautifully crafted, the prose is gorgeous, Leonard Cohen's lyrics are a perfect fit, and the story is dark and tragic and devastating (I wasn't joking about blubbering at work) and it made me want to crawl under my desk until it was time to go home. In a good way.
My Favorite Book of the Year (Laugh-Out-Loud): Me and Earl and the Dying Girl:
It was this passage, about Greg and Earl's obsession with Klaus Kinski's Aguirre, the Wrath of God that did it. (Keep in mind that they were ten years old at the time):
"The young nihilists," Dad called us.
"What are nihilists?"
"Nihilists believe that nothing has any meaning. They believe in nothing."
"Yeah," Earl said. "I'm a nihilist."
"Me, too," I said.
"Good for you," Dad said, grinning. Then he stopped grinning and said, "Don't tell your mom."
That, combined with the fact that they are later obsessed with the movie Withnail and I, that there's a chapter called "I Put the "Ass" in "Casanova"", and that Chapter One begins, "So in order to understand everything that happened, you have to start from the premise that high school sucks" might serve as a good barometer for the tone of this book.
Top Pick for Twilight Fans: Starcrossed:
Would I recommend this wholeheartedly to Twilight fans? Yes. It's got the similarity in set-up, of course, with a girl and her single dad, a beauteous family moving in and the "Oh noes! We want to be together but we can't! storyline, though in this case, SPOILER it's more a "Oh noes! We want to be together but we can't A) because we want to kill each other, and B) because it would End the World, and C) because of a twist that fans of Cassandra Clare will be familiar with!" END SPOILER storyline, and so on.
Top Pick for Sarah Dessen Fans: Bittersweet:
It works because, as I said, Hudson's voice is clear-as-a-bell-believable. When she spoke, I heard Hudson Avery, not Sarah Ockler. She makes some bad choices, she does some things she's not proud of, but through it all, I continued to pull for her.
Favorite Fairy Tale Mash-up in the Vein of DWJ: Enchanted:
It's clever and charming, written with warmth and humor, has some scary bits and a nice little romance. Sunday is a likable heroine who adores her family, even when they drive her batty. Her siblings and her parents and almost all of the other characters are fully-realized, three-dimensional people. And although Enchanted works perfectly as a stand-alone, I've fallen so much in love with Sunday's family that I can't help but hope for a companion novel or two.
Favorite Crime-Fighting Best Friends: Jazz and Howie from I Hunt Killers:
Beyond Jazz, who's such a fabulous narrator that I'd recommend the book for his voice and characterization alone, everything else here is straight-up, flat-out super. The mystery and investigation, the friendships, the secondary characters, the depiction of media and its view of Jazz as a commodity, the pacing, the atmosphere, everything. There's a wonderful balance between dark humor and actual gravity, between real life and epic drama.
Book Most Deserving of More Buzz: Catch and Release:
So, on one hand, reading this book was a little like repeatedly punching myself in the face for two hours. I found it that painful. Polly is angry and hurting and angry some more and hurting some more. But, on the other hand, the last few pages—in which you finally get to hear what Odd thinks—made all of that pain worthwhile, and then going back and reading the first few pages and seeing all of the little details that show how much the roadtrip has changed her... well. Lovely, that.
Book that Includes All of the Fun Elements of a Dan Brown Book, BUT WHICH IS A ZILLION TIMES BETTER: The Book of Blood and Shadow:
The codes, the running around Europe, the centuries-old mystery, the conspiracies, secret societies, and existence of The One... all of these things will draw comparison to The Da Vinci Code. But The Book of Blood and Shadow isn't the YA equivalent of Dan Brown. Far from it. Robin Wasserman's prose and plotting, voice and characters all blow Dan Brown not only out of the water, but into space.
Favorite Ballet Book: Various Positions:
It's beautifully written. That should already be apparent from the excerpt above. But it's not just in the way that Schabas strings her words together. It's in the depth of emotion, and in Schabas' complete honesty. Georgia is a sharp observer—which is fitting in a book so full of cruel truths—but she doesn't always understand what she observes; she's extremely self-aware, but doesn't always understand her own feelings; she's very composed on the surface, but her insides are a mass of confusion.
Most Awesomely Bawdy Historical Fiction (That Deserves WAY MORE ATTENTION): Ladies in Waiting:
For reals, guys, this book is amazeballs.
Best Use of Paradise Lost: My Book of Life By Angel:
There's a Paradise Lost thread that runs through the book: a line or two from it precedes each milestone in Angel's story, one of Angel's regular johns is a college professor who has her read aloud from Milton's Paradise Lost (specifically Book Nine), and the more times she reads it, the more she understands it... and the more she understands it, the more she wants to read the whole thing.
Book I was Most Surprised to Love: Endangered:
Is there much in this book to cry about? Oh, yes. But as it plays out as more of a survival story a la How I Live Now (but minus the romance)—girl risks all to make her way across a dangerous, war-torn country while caring for an innocent—than a book simply about the plight of an endangered species. Sophie is so busy trying to keep herself (and Otto the bonobo) alive that she doesn't have time for the luxury of tears.
And a few more:
Cover Art That Most Misrepresents the Tone of the Book: Gone, Gone, Gone.
Literary Family I'd Like to Be a Part of: The McKays, in Friends With Boys.
Favorite Cameo of a Historical Figure: Sir Walter Raleigh, in The Other Countess.
So, let's hear it: what were the highlights for you this year?