Friday, December 27, 2013

Year End List... The Best Books Edition!

Well, the week after Christmas is, traditionally, when the world goes list crazy while recapping the events of the year. As for me, I go extra crazy during this time because I love lists, and kinda wish there were more of them, period.

Like, when I go to the doctor and tell them I don’t feel well, I’d love to get a piece of paper handed to me that said:

The 7 Diseases you probably have (or will be getting soon)!

I took my vehicle into the shop last week because the missus was sure the brakes were going bad. I had a coupon for a brake inspection for $14.95 so I took it in.

The mechanic came up to me and said the brakes are fine, but here is a list of things I need to look at.

I was never so pleased to learn that my rear differential is messed up. Not because it was messed up, but because it was number 3 on a list. I had a list! Transmission flushing and replacing the self-sealing stem bolts were all there. It was heaven.

I had to stop myself from hugging the guy.

Oh well, since I already have my list regarding movies last week. Today I give you:

THE TOP 8 BOOKS I READ IN 2013 (by people that never visit my blog)

I added the disclaimer at the end because I honestly felt weird about including something in my list from 2012 from an author I knew when I didn’t include others I knew. Even though it wasn’t my intent, I felt it could easily have been insulting to others that were aware I’d read their works of fiction but decided not to include in my best of list.

Hence, my disclaimer. Just so everyone knows, I read at least 7 self-published/small published works this year that I thought were outstandingly good. And yes, I would probably have fit at least 2 of them into this list to make it a top 10.

And honestly, all of them would be included if I did a top 20.

But I’m not going to do that.

Also, I only read about 80 books this year according to Goodreads, that number is skewed somewhat by graphic novels and short stories I read. So the number of actual novels or novel-length works is probably closer to 50.  If I were to come up with a top 50 or something, it would feel a bit like I was just going to throw everything I read into this list. So, I decided, after reviewing all the things I read this year, that the 8 books below are worthy of mentioning to any would-be reader of fine literature.

8) The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To, DC Pierson:

I had this book lying around on my shelf for a very long time before I finally picked it up to read over Christmas. I was a bit antsy about it at first, because it was a) literary (shudder) and b) from a debut author.

Debut novels tend to be enjoyable, but flawed. In this case, that’s just what this was. The thing about it, though, is that I fell in love with this portrait of a nerdy kid that liked to draw. I immediately connected when he explained that he was complimented by fellow students, they always said he was a good drawer… not the thing you put clothes in at your home, but draw-er. It’s true! I must have heard that 100 times in school when I was a kid. I’m not an artist, I’m a draw-er.

So, yes, I was connected right away. Loved it. The story is about this nerdy kid and his even nerdier new friend… a kid that never sleeps. Period. They transverse high school together. I had a hard time putting this one down. It does have a bit of that thing that I sorta don't like as a rule, where it's the kid's first time experiencing a lot of things, and of a kid growing up a bit. But really, I was so enthralled, I didn't care. Loved this.

7) The Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson:

Another recent read, it’s really taken heavily from the Harry Potter mold. I know magic school is a subgenre of its own, but this was one of the only ones I’ve read since Harry Potter that I felt like was a great story in its own right. I didn’t turn every page feeling like I was reading a rip-off, but instead was getting more and more engrossed in this fantastic world where 2 dimensional creatures drawn in chalk are trying to destroy the world.

Oddly, this was probably the book of his that I've been the least excited to read in a long time. The concept really didn't appeal to me at all. But, behold. Here is it on my best of the year list. Where some of the other things of his I read this year are not. 

This works. It’s amazing.
6) At Home, Bill Bryson:

Not a novel, but a history lover’s dream. As well as the trivia lover. I’m a fan of Bryson anyway, so I had a pretty good feeling I was going to enjoy this before I even picked it up. He writes so smoothly that even when he covers something I don’t personally find very interesting, it’s interesting. But then again, learning about the history of the hallway IS interesting.

Really, I can’t see how anyone can feel complete without having read this book.

5) Blackbirds, Chuck Wendig:

I discovered Chuck earlier this year and read this book in about 10 hours. More or less straight through. Then I ran out and purchased the sequel, and devoured it at about the same clip. I blinked, realized I’d lost a weekend, and then was happy to learn that he doesn’t have a backlog of 50 books that I was about to tear through over a few weeks like an addict on a bender.

Yes, I was very happy to learn that he’s relatively new to the game, despite my burning jealousy for how damned addictive his prose is, I’m a huge fan.

The author is also a bit internet famous, and is known as one of the more creative people on earth at cursing. He can turn an f-bomb into something as transcendent as a perfect slice of cake. The man’s a genius.

Ironically, this book is free through Dec 31st. I had no idea when I wrote down my list. How about that?

4) You, Austin Grossman:

Similar, in some respects, to the nerdy boy story I have listed at number 8. This one is about a guy who gets a job as a game designer in for a mega-huge video game company during the late 90’s. A game company founded by a few of his high school friends. Those friends went on to make millions expanding on the games they created together during high school while he was off at college trying so hard to be cool and leave his geeky past behind.

Then, a decade after high school ended, he came back when his life fell apart and took a job at the game company his friends founded. He tried to solve a mystery he found hidden deep inside the games they were making in high school together that was placed there by the recently deceased genius that wrote the code that made his friends rich and famous.

Geez, did that make any sense? Anyway, also similar to Ready Player One, which I read this year too, but as you can see, since that one isn’t on my list, it means that I found this one much more satisfying a read. It also makes me think that I shouldn’t be slapping stars on everything I read as soon as I’m done. I gave this 4 stars at the time, and in retrospect, I think it might have deserved a higher grade from me. I really, really liked it.

3) The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch:

Think of Ocean’s Eleven meets A Game of Thrones. Locke Lamara is a con man that seems like he is always in over his head. Dealing with powerful gangsters and wizards and surviving on his wits.

Absolutely a book of genius. The characters are so well done, the scenes are packed with tension. I think this could be used as a model of perfect storytelling. From the prose to the plotting, this one had it all.

I also recently learned of the author's struggle with depression. And that the long gap between his novels in this series were due to his struggles to cope with the illness. Pretty inspiring story. As of now he's dealing with it marvelously and, thankfully for us, is writing at much more brisk pace.

2) Abaddon’s Gate, James S. A. Corey

Funny, I was so disinterested in the first book in this trilogy that I almost didn’t finish it. I got the second one super cheap when Borders went out of business a few years ago and waited a very long time before I bothered to read it.

And then it blew my mind.

So, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for this one to come out, and when it did, I was all over it. I read this one and felt like it was one of the very best books I read in 2013 (The previous one in the trilogy was my favorite book of 2012, just FYI).

This one might get a bump from me due to it being written right up my wheelhouse as a fan. It sort of ticks all the boxes for what I want in an awesome book. It wrapped up the trilogy wonderfully, and still managed to leave the door open for more (and a second trilogy is in the works. Yay!).

I’m also impressed because James S.A. Corey isn’t a person, but a collaborative effort of fantasy author Daniel Abraham and previously unpublished author Ty Franck.

Well done, Gents. I’m waiting for more.

1) The Passage, Justin Cronin:

My favorite book of the year? I don’t know, I did put it at number 1 here. So, there’s that. I really liked the top 3 books on this list a lot, and probably could shuffle them up and get a different answer from me at a different time. But as of the writing of this list, it’s number 1.

Why? Well, probably because it was so well written, yes, I did get tired of the word “Now” which was overused to an extent I rarely see in modern prose (Arthur C Clarke had similar issues with “Presently” in 2001. Another book I finally got around to reading this year). But then again, it was a very long book, and it does very little to diminish the greatness of the story.

Part of what I love is that the first third of the book could have been a novel in its own right. And the shift from the story of a little girl caught up in a government experiment is so gut wrenching and harsh. Once it’s over I’m ready to quit. Not because it’s not good, but because I’ve already been through the ringer, emotionally.

My wife did just that. She loved it, but quit. I stuck with it and found the second part of the story to be just as compelling, if set 90 years later.

This is a non-traditional story in its structure, and very powerful. I can see why it was released to so much hype a few years ago when it came out. It’s an amazing achievement.

And that’s about it. I’m sure there is much more to discuss, but as it stands, I’m about tapped out when it comes to writing more. Happy day everyone.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm usually not that happy with a list from the mechanic like that...
Lies of Locke Lamora was my favorite two years ago.
And yes, posting my lists on January 6 - movies, books, games, music, shows, and whatever else strikes my fancy that day.
And I don't think anyone will be insulted you didn't include his book.

Huntress, aka CD Coffelt said...

Bookmarking this post for future reference after I whittle my TBR list down to the manageable stage.

Andrew Leon said...

Wow, there's not a single one of these books I've heard of apart from you.

Pat Dilloway said...

Haven't read any of those but maybe at some point Amazon will put them on sale.

I didn't include books by people I know in my book recap post. It would just be awkward if I put one of yours and not Briane's or Michael's or Andrew's or something.

Gina Gao said...

These all seem to be pretty great books.

Briane P said...

First things first: I tried downloading that book on my Kindle and it crashed my browser. I tried downloading it on my laptop and it said my laptop couldn't open the file. And it still costs $5 on Amazon. So not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but would it kill people to offer a free book in a format that didn't destroy my stuff/soul?

(I take it badly when my internet slows down.)

Anyway, as for the rest of these, my main comment is that "Lies Of Whoever" book. Absent your recommendation, I'd have not even looked at it, because the title just sounds awful.

I'll probably check out the Blackbird thing.

And I FINALLY finished "The Passage," which I was going to save for my own 2013 review but I doubt I will finish that until 2015, so I'll spoiler-alert it:

The first chapter was one of the best things EVER; it hooked me in instantly.

The first half of the book was incredible; it reminded me of "The Stand," but was far better written than that book (as good as that book was) and the Amy parts (first and second) were my favorite parts of the book.

But it lost A LOT of steam in the jump forward 90 years. It took me forever to warm up to Peter, Alecia and the rest. And I felt like the second half of the book kept going downhill in terms of how engrossing it was and how good the story itself was. Whereas the first half of the book (the original crisis) was brilliant, the second half dragged a lot and then seemed to gloss over too many things. What happened to the colony? How were the smokes making the dreams? That kind of thing went unanswered, which if you're going to write a book that's 29 CDs in audio form (as this was) you could probably spend a few chapters wrapping things up.

Then, the Babcock showdown seemed a letdown, and the way characters kept coming back was extremely disappointing in places: The Alecia part was a HUGE disappointment, given the emotional heft of that storyline.

All in all, I'd give it a solid B, maybe a B- , but if he'd left it at the first part, it'd be an A++. I just really felt let down by the last 1/3 especially.

Jo said...

Only one I had read was the Rithmatist, but then I always enjoy Brandon Sanderson's books. I vaguely remember reading Abaddon presumably Abaddon's Gate, I'm not sure, obviously it didn't resonate as I really don't remember much about it. Some of the others on your list I would like to try so will check them out. Thanks.

Deborah Walker said...

I like the tag!

Hmmm interesting. I think you've just persuaded me to pick up The Passage again. It was one of those that got shelved without me opening it. Hey. I buy a lot of books. So thanks for the recommendation.

Jay Noel said...

I'm going to read The Passage now, thanks to you. I love these kinds of books (loved The Stand), but I kind of forgot about it until you brought it up here.

Aren't they making a movie based on this book?

Happy New Year, man!!!

M Pax said...

Great list. I think I have a Bill Bryson in my TBR. I'm reading Wool right now.