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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Ten Books of 2013

Well.  Here we are again.  This year, for the first time, I found myself in the unfortunate position of only having read nine five-star books.  Usually, I have read enough five-star books throughout the year to fill this entire top ten list, with extras.  This year, though, I had to step back and look at all of my four-star books, and pick just one out of all the rest.  (If you missed the 20 Questions post, where I also talked about my favorite characters, least favorite books, etc. form this year, it's right here.)

Looking at this list, I'm realizing one thing: I like sad books.  Actually, I'm not surprised.  I'm the same way with songs--I find it easier to like sad songs than happy songs (probably because there are only about three different "party songs" that anyone can ever write, but an infinite number of sad songs [and seriously, just listen to all this wonderfulness].)  Then again, if a book is completely "happy", why would it be worth reading?  We don't read, or at least, I don't read, to read about people for whom everything goes right all the time.  If there's no struggle to overcome, what's the point?  I like books that cause me to feel something, and in many cases, it's books with much sadness.  It also so happens that some of the saddest books I've read are also, at the same time, the ones that leave me feeling the most hopeful, at the end.

Anyway, though, on to the list.

10. The Isle Of Blood by Rick Yancey 
Here it is, the one four-star book that managed to stand out above all the others.  Its spot is, admittedly, a little iffy, since my favorite four-star book of the year could easily change depending on my mood.  Still, though, this is a fantastic book.  My review is not actually up yet, since I posted reviews in the wrong order last weekend, but it'll be up soon.  This series just keeps getting better with each book.  It's rare when a series can do that, but when it does, it's fantastic.  One of my favorite things about this book is the writing; Rick Yancey can write, and it's gorgeous and haunting all at once.  It's creepy, but in a poetic way.  The characters are also awesome, and I particularly love the complex mentor-apprentice relationship between Will Henry and Dr. Warthrop.

9. Frozen by Melissa de la Cruz and Michael Johnston
I'm not sure what I expected from Frozen, but it overtook any expectations I might have had.  For starters, no one told me this book ended with a dystopian naval battle.  With dragons.  I've been looking for a dystopian novel with dragons for so long that I thought I'd have to go and write one myself, if I wanted one at all.  Even with that aspect, though, Frozen surprised me with its complex, awesome characters.  The setting, while still a recognizable dystopia, manages to be unique, which I very much appreciate.

8. Froi Of The Exiles by Melina Marchetta
I read this book's predecessor, Finnikin Of The Rock, in 2010.  Even though I loved it, it was one of those cases where it took me forever to get around to reading the sequel.  If I had known what I was missing out on, I would've read this much sooner.  Melina Marchetta is such a gifted writer, and her true skill is creating characters that feel truly real.  It's also one of only two high fantasy books that made it onto my top ten list this year, which is unusual.

7. The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielson
There's only one reason you'd ever need to read that series, and that reason is Jaron.  Every so often, there comes a character that you just want to be best friends with, and Jaron is a friend I'd love to have.  Without him, this would've been a four-star book, but he catapulted it into the five-star range.  This book sits in that no-man's-land between young adult and middle grade books, and I think it benefits from this by using the best elements from both areas.  It still maintains the sense of adventure and just plain fun that middle grade books have, but at the same time, tackles more difficult issues like YA books often do.

6. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
I almost didn't read The 5th Wave.  If I hadn't already read (and loved) another of Rick Yancey's books this year, I doubt I would have picked this up.  I did, though, and I'm glad of it.  The 5th Wave is filled with a surprising amount of emotion (it surprised me, anyway), and characters that I loved.  It gets hard to read, in places, but if it wasn't, it wouldn't be half as good as it is.

5. Railsea by China Miéville
I'm not sure what you already know about Railsea, if anything, but there's only one thing you need to know about it: TRAIN PIRATES.  I didn't realize I wanted that to be a thing until I read this.  It was one of the most unique, if not the most, books I read this year.  It's a dystopian novel, as well as a high-seas adventure of sorts, except that instead of ships, the characters ride around on trains.  And there are whale-sized moles.  If nothing else, it has an awesome cover.

4. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
The simple facts that a) this book is about a boy whose mother has cancer and b) it's written by Patrick Ness tell you one thing: if you're the type of person who cries when you read, you'd better go and grab yourself an entire box of Kleenex.  Before I even started this, I knew how it was going to end.  Not because I'd read spoilers, but because there wasn't any other way it could end.  This book is brilliant in its simplicity.  It's short, but it manages to say a lot in those 215 pages.  As I wrote in my review, the "monster" in this book wants the truth from Conor, the main character.  At the same time, the book is its own sort of truth, in itself, which gives it so much impact.  Also, the pictures are hauntingly beautiful.

3. Light by Michael Grant
This series is one of my favorites, and its other installments have made it onto my top ten list for as long as I've had a top ten list.  Sadly, this will be the last time, since Light is the series finale.  It's one of those cases where you're desperate to see how the series ends, but sad to see it go.  The Gone series certainly went out with a bang.  This ending could have so easily gone wrong, but instead managed to be satisfying.  It didn't feel like there was any other way it could have possibly ended.  I might have to do a reread of this series, because I already miss Sam, Astrid, Edilio, and everyone else from the FAYZ.

2. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
I was prepared to dislike this book, or at least be indifferent towards it.  I'd heard almost no negative reviews of it, and it's hard to avoid all the gushing fans on Goodreads.  Contemporary romance is not my thing--it never has been, and I doubt it ever will be.  This was just another case where I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  I'm so glad I did, because I ended up loving this.  I'd read enough reviews to have figured out the ending, but that didn't make it any less emotional.  It was also beautifully written, with wonderful, complex characters.    

1. More Than This by Patrick Ness
After The Ask And The Answer, Monsters Of Men, and A Monster Calls, I thought I was prepared to face this book.  I thought I was prepared for whatever Patrick Ness had in store for me.  I was wrong.  All at once, More Than This is a questioning of reality, a survival story, a story of love and loss, and a story of hope.  In my review, I wrote, "Trying to explain this book is like trying to use only a crayon and the vowels to explain quantum physics."   As I've said before, it questions our very existence, and what is reality, and what isn't.  Unlike anything else I've ever read, though, it goes one step further and questions the questioning itself.  The existential question of More Than This is not "Do we exist?", "How do we exist?", or "Why do we exist?", but "Does it really matter?".  This book makes you think, and question your own beliefs.  It's complex--the more you think you have its secrets all figured out, the more you realize you have it all wrong.  It hurts, like many of Patrick Ness's other books, but yet it fills you with so much hope, at the end.  It's a reminder that even if you can't see it, even if you feel there's nothing more to your life, your story, your existence, there's always something more.  Hence the title, More Than This.  As soon as I read it, I knew it would earn this top spot for the year.  That's how much I love it.  This isn't just my favorite book of this year--it's one of my favorites of all time.

This year, I read more books than I ever have before.  I didn't quite make 100, but I'll get there one of these years.  Here are some stats:

Books read: 91 (up 10 from last year)
Average rating: 3.4 (down 0.4)
Total pages read: 35,458 (up 4,222)
Average pages per book: 382.4 (down 3.6)
Average pages read per day: 97.1 (up 12.1)
Average number of days to read one book: 3.9 (down 0.6)

Out of curiosity, I decided to see if my average rating differed for male vs. female authors, as well as male vs. female protagonists.  I read a few books with both a male and female author, which I did not count.

Total books by male authors: 48
Average rating: 3.6
Total books by females: 37
Average rating: 3.4
Total male POV only: 35
Average rating: 4.2
Total female POV only: 27
Average rating: 2.4
Total mixed POV: 21
Average rating: 4.8

It seems that, this year at least, I preferred books by male authors slightly more than female.  Books with a female protagonist, on average, got a considerably lower average rating than books with male protagonists, though I apparently preferred mixed POVs above male-only or female-only.  I suppose I need a disclaimer saying that it's not the fact that the author or character is a certain gender that makes me like or dislike the book; it just happens the way it happens (in other words, if I dislike/like your book, I don't care what your gender is, and I'll give it the rating I think it deserves).  Fantasy (especially high fantasy) and science fiction, the two genres I read most, tend to have a majority of male authors and protagonists, so this might explain the discrepancy in ratings.  It'll be interesting to see if these numbers change from year to year.

I'm excited to get started on my 2014 reading!

Just for fun, here are my top ten songs bought and/or discovered in 2013:
10. '21 Guns' by Green Day
9. 'Your Bones' by Of Monsters And Men
8. 'Rainy Zurich' by The Fray
7. 'Daniel In The Den' by Bastille
6. 'Ships In The Night' by Mat Kearney
5. 'C'mon' by Panic! At The Disco and fun.
4. 'All Alright' by fun.
3. 'I'm Still Here (Jim's Theme)' by John Rzeznik
2. 'Breath Of Life' by Florence + The Machine
1. 'The Wind' by The Fray

What were your favorites/least favorites of this year?  What are you excited to read in 2014?
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