Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 in Review


With each passing year, I try to be more conscious of keeping up with what's happening in the world of books. In 2012, I spent the month of December reading books published earlier in the year that had caught my eye. I decided to up the ante for 2013, and made an effort to read noteworthy/interesting books throughout the year. Some were really, really great. And of course, I thought some were awful.

Books--Best 
1. Life After Life -- Kate Atkinson
This experimental time-travel historical fiction novel was the book I have thought about over and over for almost an entire year. What an incredible creation.

2. The Ocean at the End of the Lane -- Neil Gaiman
My favorite Gaiman book. The sort of thing you read and internalize like fever dreams that return to frighten you or make you laugh at times when you least expect it.

3. The River of No Return -- Bee Ridgway
Ridgway's debut is the definition of mash-up. Time-travel (again!), Regency period historicism, Dan-Brown-secret-society stuff--this novel has it all. Seriously. My pick for most underrated book of 2013. Don't waste a moment in getting yourself a copy (I bought three).

4. The Golem and the Jinni -- Helene Wecker
A fascinating fantasy-historical-romance (a mash-up in in its own right) set in 1890s New York between two mythical beings. The memories of this book have been glowing in my soul like small embers since I turned the last page.

5. Burial Rites -- Hannah Kent
This debut is a chilling, atmospheric novel of 1820s Iceland and a convicted (historically real!) murderess. Guaranteed to soak into your skin and then cut you up from the inside. Ugh (the good kind of ugh).

6. Tampa -- Alissa Nutting
Cheers to the most nauseating, skin-crawling, deliciously mind-warping book of 2013. Celeste Price is the one of the most intoxicating, interesting villains ever. Also, she's a pedophile.

7. The Screaming Staircase -- Jonathan Stroud
I just want to tell everyone I know about how fun this book is. Seriously. Teenage ghost hunters! Alternate history London! GAH! It's for the 8-12 set, sure, but it's enjoyable for every age group, surely.

8. The Luminaries -- Eleanor Catton
This New Zealand Gold Rush novel got a lot of attention for its author being young and its style being experimental, but I was really blown away by how well Catton works her way through a cast of characters and sets them up for a delicious, twisty plot.

9. Joyland -- Stephen King
One of the two new Stephen King books from this year, it's a really good/sad coming-of-age but a less good murder mystery thriller. I care mostly about the first part. Still give it a shot because it's a fun amusement park novel regardless.

10. Tenth of December -- George Saunders
Short stories that will simultaneously fill you with disgust and sadness. "Why would I read it?" you ask. Because George Saunders is that good. You will want the despair.

Books--Worst
1. Allegiant -- Veronica Roth
I mean, seriously? My opinion was lukewarm at best about the first two, and the more praise I saw heaped onto this series, the more sour my opinion became. By the time I got to this book, I was already furious. And I wanted to like it because I saw how much the fans hated it, but it was just terrible.

2. The Bone Season -- Samantha Shannon
I hated this one for two reasons: 1) it was heaped with hype before it came out because it Samantha Shannon got called "the next Rowling" 2) it didn't make any sense. If I were asked to provide a quick summary about the book, I wouldn't be able to. I didn't understand what happened for the entire second half. Much like Allegiant.

3. A Tale for the Time Being -- Ruth Ozeki
My negative feelings only intensify as I see this book on all sorts of "Best of 2013" lists. My negative feelings were pretty strong because of strong disappointment--the novel started out so strongly and ended so weakly. And annoyingly. What a shame.

4. The Shining Girls -- Lauren Beukes
The details that I am recalling about this book are that it is empty of interesting developments but full of poorly-written dialogue and barely-sketched characters at best. Ouch.

5. The Cuckoo's Calling -- Robert Galbraith
Okay, so this book isn't actually bad, but I was expecting a lot more. It's a disappointment but it's not a bad book. "Too much description" is a criticism I still stand by. A pretty good detective novel, certainly, but not on par with my expectations.

Books--Maybe Next Time
I played catch-up all December with notable, interesting books published in 2013, but of course I wasn't able to read every single thing I wanted. Below are the top five books I wish I had gotten to (and, because I own them, will eventually read, I promise).

1. Night Film -- Marisha Pessl
2. Far Far Away -- Tom McNeal
3. S. -- J.J. Abrams, Doug Dorst
4. All Our Yesterdays -- Cristin Terrill
5. The Goldfinch -- Donna Tartt

Music--Albums
1. The 20/20 Experience -- Justin Timberlake
2. Yours Truly -- Ariana Grande
3. Pure Heroine -- Lorde
4. BEYONCÉ -- Beyoncé
5. Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! -- Panic! at the Disco
6. ARTPOP-- Lady Gaga
7. Music from The Great Gatsby -- Various
8. Frozen -- Robert Lopez, Kristin Anderson-Lopez & Christophe Beck
9. Haunt EP -- Bastille
10. Yeezus -- Kanye West

I made jokes earlier in the year about 2013 being the year music bankrupted me (yes, I still legally purchase all of my music FEEL THE SHAME, ILLEGAL DOWNLOADERS), but it was true. There were a lot of artists I really, really love releasing new music, and a few newcomers who really surprised me (Ariana Grande and Lorde). Beyoncé's surprise album is really worth a listen (the music is actually deserving the attention it gets!) or a view (because the music videos are spectacular).

Music--Songs
1. "Mirrors" -- Justin Timberlake
2. "Almost Is Never Enough" -- Ariana Grande & Nathan Sykes
3. "Kill and Run" -- Sia
4. "Blurred Lines" -- Robin Thicke
5. "Sexxx Dreams" -- Lady Gaga
6. "The Love Club" -- Lorde
7. "The End of All Things" -- Panic! at the Disco
8. "A Little Party Never Killed Nobody" -- Fergie, GoonRock & Q-Tip
9. "Pretty Hurts" -- Beyoncé
10. "Haunt (Demo)" -- Bastille

Not surprisingly, my top songs come from my top albums. Ugh. Additionally, there are songs that I really liked that I'll never admit aloud that I thought about including on my list. SORRY.

Movies
1.  Her
2. Frozen
3. American Hustle
4. Saving Mr. Banks
5. Monsters University

I am not generally a crier, although my book blog is not the best place to gather that information because I have been reading a lot of good books that made me cry. But I promise I generally don't weep. However, I cried almost consistently through Her, definitely at the beginning of Frozen, and really hard at the end of Saving Mr. Banks. It was a good year for tears, I guess. American Hustle was just an explosive burst of great acting and 70s good/bad aesthetics. And what's not to like about Monsters University? I also saw Gravity, but my feelings toward it are more along the lines of "I appreciate how good this movie is" rather than "I loved this movie." Plus, I almost had a panic attack about four times during that movie so like no thanks.

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