A few of my favorite books—and a few not-so-favorites—from this year. And while most of these titles were released in 2010, I did use a few months to catch up on reading from past years, but these are books you should file under can't-miss.
January: I started the year off in the best way possible—by spending some time with Maureen Johnson’s Martin family. Seriously, when I get around to making a list of Literary Families I’d Like to Be a Member of, they’ll be on it. Anyway, Scarlett Fever got me so worked up that I wrote this:
I’m totally on Team Max. I know he did a bad thing—a thing, actually, that felt a little bit Edward Cullen-ish, though The Sparkling Wonder would have had some annoying Sparkly Self-Righteous and Condescending Explanation for his motivation, whereas Max quite possibly just acted out of self-interest—but I JUST DON'T CARE. Team Max. Make it right, Johnson. Make it right.
February: I suffered a massive bout of blog angst in February, so I hardly wrote at all, but I did bake a whole lot of bread from Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe François’ Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. My copy, less than a year later, may as well have been dipped in a flour bin. I love it.
March: I finally read Maggie Stiefvater’s Ballad (2009), and it bowled me over with its fabulosity:
I loved Lament. It felt new and the characters were psychologically complex (you know, like actual people) as well as being likable and Maggie Stiefvater’s version of the Fey was terrifying and dark and fascinating in that way where you know that if faced with Them, you KNOW you should walk away (if they let you), but you aren’t sure if you’d actually be able to make your feet move.
Yeah. I loved Lament.
Ballad blew it right out of the water.
April: I feel that I may never quite be able to fully express my gratitude to Sourcebooks for reprinting Georgette Heyer’s books (her romances and mysteries!), saving them from out-of-print obscurity and bringing in new readers with their pretty, pretty covers. I wrote this about The Masqueraders (2009):
Despite their reasons for being on the run, you’ll find no politics here—just cross-dressing, flirtation, falling in love, witty banter, duels (two of them, one for ultra-romantic reasons and one TO THE DEATH!), and a sleepy-eyed mountain of a gentleman who sees much more than most people assume. Add to that a father figure who bears a striking resemblance to Schmidt from Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss books, and I was in heaven.
May: As I’d somehow missed it when it was first published, I was super excited and happy when the paperback release of Patricia C. Wrede’s Thirteenth Child caught my eye. Then, after reading it, I explored the Race Fail debate that surrounded its debut:
It’s set in an alternate version of our world, in which the American Frontier is populated by mammoths and steam dragons and other beasties, and the people are trying to settle and farm the land without getting eaten or trampled or, just as bad though less dramatic, losing their crops. It has much more of a historical fiction feel than a fantasy feel—because the characters have always lived with magic in their world, they’re very matter-of-fact about it. It’s just part of life.
June and July: I spent all of my commuting time obsessively listening to Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. Until then, I’d never been particularly attracted to the audiobook format, but HOO BOY, Simon Vance’s narration won me over right quick. I had an especially white-knuckled drive the day that I hit the impromptu boxing match toward the end of The Girl Who Played with Fire (2009).
August: My favorite read was, hands down, John Grisham’s Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer. KIDDING! I’m KIDDING! If there were Razzies for the book world, I’d nominate that one. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Mockingjay, either, though, as it was such a divisive book, I should mention that I’m firmly in the pro-camp on that one. No, the shining star in August was Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey:
It won’t be for everyone—the fantasy element will be much too quiet for some tastes, I’m sure, and the Threats to the Family Honor plot line mentioned in the flap copy was so minor that I didn’t even mention it in my synopsis. It’s a mostly quiet book about a mostly quiet heroine, about manners, creating art, a difficult sisterly relationship and unexpectedly (for Jane, at least) about finding love.
September: The contemporary books I read were WEAK. To be blunt, I still don’t understand how Beth Fantaskey’s Jekel Loves Hyde got the go-ahead, and Janet Evanovich’s Wicked Appetite bordered on dull, which is the opposite of what I’m looking for when I pick up one of her books. I did, however, read the third book Kage Baker’s Company series (I’ve been reading them very slowly to make them last). Mendoza in Hollywood (2006) won’t be for everyone, but it was very much for me:
The first three quarters of the book are mostly quiet—well, as quiet as a book about cranky and quirky immortal researchers living together in 1863 can be—but the last quarter, beginning with the arrival of Edward Bell-Fairfax (who is identical to Mendoza’s dead lost love, in appearance, temperament and philosophy) appears, is something that needs to be read in one sitting. Because, holy cow, the action.
October: This was a good month. It gave me Neal Shusterman’s Bruiser (hated the last two paragraphs, but other than that, loved the book); Stephen Wallenfels’ Pod (a realistic, well, as far as I could tell, depiction of an inexplicable alien invasion, with suspenseful, claustrophobic drama!); and Erin Bow’s lovely, lovely Plain Kate (you’ll cry buckets, but it is a MUST READ). But, oh! The love I have for Elizabeth C. Bunce’s StarCrossed surpasses all. I recommend this one to fans of Megan Whalen Turner, which, if you know her books, is high praise indeed:
Despite my longstanding desire for more stand-alone books, I was FREAKING DELIGHTED when I hit the three-quarter mark of StarCrossed and realized that there was NO POSSIBLE WAY that she’d be able to wrap everything up by the end of the book.
November: So far, Paolo Bacigalupi’s post-apocalyptic, class-struggle, action-adventure Ship Breaker is in a dead heat with Brenna Yovanoff’s revamp of the changeling myth The Replacement, but I haven’t read the last book in D.M. Cornish’s Foundling’s Tale trilogy, Factotum, yet, so at this point, ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN!
What about you? What have been your best reads of 2010?
When she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably curled up by the woodstove, reading.