Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 10 books of 2011

2011 wasn't as prolific of a reading year as 2009 & 2010, but in other news, I did graduate from college - finally - and get certified in two subjects! So while I didn't read/blog as much as the other years, I didn't mind so much!

But here are my ten favorite books of the year - in no particular order...

1. Jellicoe Road - Melina Marchetta

Twelve months later, I still can't explain why this book affected me as much as it did. I rarely ever think about characters after I close their book, but Taylor, Jonah, and the others have somehow stuck with me. I may not like Marchetta's fantasy books, but I adore this novel.

My favorite standalone novel EVER, at this point. Plus, my grandma liked it :)

2. The Cabinet of Wonders - Marie Rutkoski

My review of this novel is coming up this week, but I'll quickly say that I found this first installment of the Kronos Chronicles absolutely delightful. Steampunk meets fairytale in this beautifully simple story of a girl in early-modern Prague, a wicked-legit clock, and a mechanical spider.

3. Divergent - Veronica Roth

One of the highlights of my reading year was this extremely well-written and evocative dystopian novel. I also have a very high respect for the author, as well. This story of a futuristic Chicago, divided into virtue-based factions, is an excellent example of how a modern dystopian ought to be. Sure, the violence got a little heavy at times (even for me), but Divergent was ultimately a major hit with me.

4. Unwind - Neal Shusterman

One of the first of the YA dystopian genre, Unwind still is "the one to beat," as far as I'm concerned. Despite a lackluster ending (for me at least), Unwind was filled with tension, adventure, and thought-provoking questions and scenarios. I also have a major respect for Shusterman's storytelling ability - for asking questions rather than spooning out answers.

Plus that unwinding scene was C-R-E-E-P-Y!

5. Ship Breaker - Paolo Bacigalupi

To be honest, I didn't *like* Ship Breaker so much as I was quietly and respectfully in awe of it. It was a little too dark and bummer-depressing for my cup of tea, but the reason Ship Breaker makes my list is because of Bacigalupi's heartfelt writing style - just enough detail to hook the reader into the action without overpowering the narrative with weighty and pace-slowing descriptions. Plus, this is a good example of a *real* dystopian. This definitely had enough realism in it to seem relevant to me (in a way that other dystopians like The Hunger Games, never was)

6. Once Every Never - Lesley Livingston

This book was just a DELIGHT. Still not sure if it was released in the United States, but wow, I just adore Lesley Livingston. In my opinion, she is one of the best, most talented Young Adult authors today. She took a very obscure part of history - Roman Britain - and made a solid story around it. As usual, she showcased her strong knowledge of history and Celtic mythology.

I cannot wait for the sequel!

7. The Queen of Attolia - Megan Whalen Turner

With this novel, I was more enamored with the story than the writing, but Queen of Attolia makes the list because it was a fun read but also an inspiring one. Megan's world seemed so effortlessly real, and that's something I'd love to replicate in my own writing. Her worldbuilding is not easily matched and her characters are rich and thoroughly interesting. There are very few characters I've encountered in YA who can match the overall appeal of Eugenides the thief.

Steampunk quickly replaced dystopian as the genre of my fascination. I could not get enough steampunk this summer, and Kady Cross' Girl of the Steel Corset appears to be the most promising steampunk novel/series for Young Adults currently in print. I still stand by the prediction I made in 2011 that steampunk will surpass dystopia as the 'next big thing' in YA lit.

I found Finley Jayne to be a fun protagonist to root for and follow, and I am eagerly anticipated the sequel.

9. Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor
Ahh, I found a real winner with this one. Besides the beginning (too much modernity and a few useless characters) and the ending (didn't like the 'big reveal' and am more than a little apprehensive about the sequel), Daughter of Smoke and Bone was the strongest debut I read this year - along with Divergent. Taylor's worldbuilding was absolutely astonishing, and her characters (except Karou, who still leaves me divided in my opinion of her) were brilliantly crafted. Akiva and Brimstone were easily my two favorite characters of the year (with Eugenides from Queen's Thief solidly in 3rd). Laini is easily one of the most skilled writers I've ever encountered. Her work is both inspiring and intimidating.

10. Chronicles of Prydain (whole series reread) - Lloyd Alexander

I finished the year rereading this beloved series, so I had to include them on this list. One of these days I'm going to hunker down and actually write a review of the Chronicles of Prydain, one of the best young adult series ever written. I've referenced Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper, the hapless bard Fflewddur Fflam, and the flighty-but-spirited Eilonwy before, but they deserve a review of their own. And they'll get it, one of these days. But these books mean so much to me, and it's because they are the books that, way back in 4th grade, really got me excited about reading. They are the books that got me thinking about creating my own stories, and writing them down. So it's only appropriate that I closed out 2011 with a reread of my favorite series.


My reading goal for 2012 is slightly less than last year's - only 50 books. Hopefully it'll be a number that I'll be able to reach. Either way, I'm excited to begin my 3rd year blogging and hope that anyone who's reading this will stick around with me for another great year.

What was your most memorable read of 2011?

a much-needed rant on 'middle grade' literature

Let me be very clear about something: I hate the term 'middle grade.' I can't stand it. I rarely use it. It's because, let's be honest here, there seems to be some judgment associated with the term. I can't tell you how many times I've read a review on Goodreads where 'middle grade' is used derisively in a review, normally in the context of "I don't usually read middle grade books' or 'this book is probably better suited to a middle grade audience.' Even at BEA last May, a gathering place for book enthusiasts, I heard so many people say, 'Oh wait, I think this is a middle grade book.'
In the great universe of non-adult-marketed literature, the 'middle grade' novels are often treated like second-class books (argument not necessary).
As far as I'm concerned, the term 'middle grade' should not exist - at least, not to the extent that it's being thrown around in the literary community, and it's because I rarely EVER see a distinction applied anywhere but the literary community. I see 5th graders reading The Hunger Games and I see high schoolers fawning over the Percy Jackson series, yet one of those titles is often lumped in with the 'middle grade.'
I try very hard not to make the distinction between 'middle grade' and 'Young Adult,' because it my literature classes, it was drilled into me that 'Young Adult' was an umbrella term used for any novel geared toward 10-year-olds through...well, young adults. The only time I make distinctions between middle-school reads and high school reads is when it comes to content, or basic appropriateness. There are a great many novels that I love, that seem better suited to older audiences (sometimes for content but mostly for reader maturity - would they be able to "get" the story), but I can't say the same is true about the opposite scenario. As radical as the idea may be, I don't think there's an age maximum on any youth-geared novel. The legacy of Harry Potter is that it's a successful "Young Adult" novel that is taken seriously by the majority of the literary and commercial world, yet it is a story that initially follows the adventures of an 11-year-old...
so why must there still be this distinction among novels with other young protagonists?

I get the fact that a novel with a 12-year-old MC is going to be different, tonally, than a novel with a 16-year-old MC. Call it all 'YA' and label the other book 'teen fiction,' which is a label I like to use because it seems more accurate. But 'YA' is 'YA,' in my opinion. Just because a book has a younger protagonist doesn't mean it's any less quality fiction. It deserves to be taken seriously as a novel as well.
For me, the following is true: aside from picture books and short, beginning chapter books (i.e. children's fiction), novels - full-length novels geared to non-adults capable of abstract reasoning and the ability to follow multiple plot-lines and keep up with character development - are 'Young Adult' novels. Plain and simple.

Blog designed by Dreamy Blog Designs using Joifa Designs Birght Night and Cozy kit