Peeking my head up from rewrites and babies (so many babies!) to end the year with my annual great reads roundup. This past year was probably the least productive reading year of my life. I just didn't have hands free, evenings free, days free, anything free for books. With my second baby, I listened to a lot of audio books, but I found even that challenging with twins. Two babies require three times the attention (math?). But I was able to read from time to time, and here are some of my outstanding reads.
Kat, Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgis
An alternate, magical Regency period (Jane Austen's time), this reads like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for middle graders. The UK title is A Most Improper Magick, which I love. Kat starts the book by cutting off her hair and running away dressed as a boy to go save her family's fortunes. She gets as far as the front gate. But adventures still come her way--a mysterious magical legacy, evil suitors, highwaymen, and perhaps most dangerous of all, a house party.
Palace Beautiful, by Sarah DeFord Williams
Reading this book made me feel 11 again and reminded me of what reading felt like at that age. I don't know how, but she managed to do that just right. A dual story--contemporary children find an old diary kept a century earlier by a girl who used to live in that house around the time of the horrible flu epidemic. Really lovely.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin
Perfect tale of a girl's adventure in a fantastical ancient China. Illustrations are lovely, story is simple and sweet.
Icefall, by Matthew Kirby
Not sure if this is middle grade or teen, but could be either. The narrator, the plain second daughter of a Viking king, spends a winter with her sister, brother, servants and a few warriors iced in a fjord hideaway, hoping to survive both the winter and the war raging out beyond the ice. So much atmosphere, such great characters. Kirby is a wonderful writer.
Princess Academy, by me
Had to reread this one as I was writing the sequel. First time I've ever read one of my own books after publication.
For Teens and up: (note that some of these books have mature content)
Divergent, by Veronica Roth
Many are looking for the successor to The Hunger Games, and many claim Divergent is it. I loved this book. Interesting dystopian future with memorable characters and lots of action. Sequels to come.
Matched, by Ally Condie
Another dystopian world, but less scifi and more romance. A lovely read with lots of great questions. The sequel Crossed is out, not that I've been able to read it. [inside scoop: Ally is even cooler than her books, if that's possible]
Red Glove, by Holly Black
Love Holly. Love her new series. Start with White Cat. Contemporary, urban fantasy, mixing the mob, grafters, and magic. Can't wait for the third.
Daugher of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor
Lush. Here's a book that will please fans of high fantasy, paranormal romance, and just plain good writing. Always a fan of Laini's, this book even exceeds her others. I didn't realize it was the first in a series until near the end, but the disappointment of a cliffhanger was far outweighed by my anticipation of returning to this world.
Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins
A really great, solid romance. Atlanta girl. Paris boarding school. Cute French/British boy. Complications. Humor. Kissing. Good time.
The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett
If you like film noir, it's fun to read Hammett's great works and see where it all came from. Tightly written detective mystery full of atmosphere and characters that seem like cliches until you realize that he invented those cliches. We read this as a group of friends, and no one enjoyed it as much as I did.
Madensky Square, by Eva Ibbotson
I read a piece in the Horn Book at the time of Ibbotson's death that this book she considered her best. I find it interesting that so often, the books we authors feel best about are often our least popular. I very much enjoyed this first person account of a seamstress and mistress in Vienna. Really like Ibbotson and have made a lifetime goal to read all her books.
Midnight in Austenland, by yours truly
I did read this one a lot this year, going over copy edits and proofs, etc. One month till I get to share it with all!
Room, by Emma Donoghue
The first half of this book was so stressful for me, at one point I just had to listen for several hours straight instead of sleeping. Interesting, tense. As a writer, really great to see how the author manages to tell an entire novel from the POV of a five-year-old. Not easy--impossible some might say--and I think she totally pulls it off. This one stayed with me.
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson
Wonderful reader! I was so lost in the story, I never questioned the different voices. Contemporary setting in England, old world vs. new world, and a sweet, twilight romance. Perfectly, poignantly written.
When You Are Engulfed in Flames, by David Sedaris
I'm a Sedaris fan, and I love to hear his self-read pieces best. This collection is as good as all of his. Some vulgarity. If you don't know Sedaris, a good place to start might be The Santa-Land Diaries.
EDIT: Just realized how it looks to have two of my own books in a post called "Great Reads." Yikes! I didn't mean to tout them that way. I was just looking over my list of books read and they were on there, so I put them in since they were so much of my reading this year. Blerg.