More Good Books

Mom,

Well, you’ve mentioned a lot of my favorites of the year already: Code Name Verity, Chopsticks, Ask the Passengers, and Monstrous Beauty we agree on pretty completely.  A.S. King just gets better and better, which seems pretty impossible since even her first novel (The Dust of 100 Dogs) was pretty dang good.

The only book on your list that I had major problems with was Amelia Anne.  I certainly don’t disagree that it’s a good novel, but it didn’t rise to “great” for me.  I never really connected with Becca’s story, and found myself impatient to get back to Amelia Anne.

As for my own favorites, I’ll start by mentioning a book I haven’t heard any buzz about at all: All You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin.  I really enjoyed Griffin’s Tighter, a reworking of Turn of the Screw, and she’s been a finalist for the National Book Award twice, so I’m surprised AYNW hasn’t had more visibility, but Rena* and I both read it and thought it was great.  If you haven’t seen anything about it, it’s about two sisters who have recently come into wealth: one has completely shut herself off from the world and the other seems to be a compulsive liar.  The novel charts their opposite trajectories, in very interesting style.  Rena (you may know) is very sensitive to the authenticity of teen voices and she was blown away by the two sisters’ voices, as was I.

I’m in the midst of rereading much of Margo Lanagan’s oeuvre, partially inspired by reading The Brides of Rollrock Island, which I thought was brilliant.  I was about a half-sentence in when I realized that I was once again in the presence of probably the greatest prose stylist in YA literature.  The plot itself is somewhat subdued in comparison to Tender Morsels and Black Juice, and it’s composed more like a series of short stories, but it is just as haunting and strange as Lanagan’s best work, and has one of the best covers of the year (as did Tender Morsels). 

You didn’t mention, although I know it’s on your pile-to-read, The Diviners, by Libba Bray.  Before this year, I had only read two Bray novels: Beauty Queens, which I loved, and Going Bovine, which . . . I suppose hate is too strong a word, but I thought was very misguided.  Earlier this year I finally got around to the Gemma Doyle trilogy and fell completely in love was Bray.  And now comes The Diviners, which I have said elsewhere is, I think, the book she was born to write: quirky magic, awesome 20s lingo, heaping mounds of feminism, and an opening for even more in a sequel or series.  I loved every minute of it, though I think there will always be people turned off by Bray’s peculiar style.

You also didn’t mention Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, which I picked up based on a post over at Someday My Printz Will Come.  It’s a fantasy novel with a totally unique take on dragons, but mostly I thought the writing was just beautiful.

I’ll be very interested to hear what you think about Sheinkin’s Bomb when you get to it, because I have a feeling you know a bit more about the history he recounts.  It might be my favorite overall book of the year.  You know how much I adored The Notorious Benedict Arnold, and I think Bomb is every bit as good, recounting three intertwining stories surrounding the development of the first atomic bomb: Oppenheimer’s leading of the Manhattan Project, the Soviet attempts (and successes) at stealing secrets, and the Allied attempts (largely led by a series of incredibly brave Norwegians) to disrupt Germany’s ability to complete their own bomb.  I love about Sheinkin that he seems allergic to any kind of moralizing in his nonfiction: he gives the reader facts, theories, motivations, and more, but withholds his own judgments, letting his characters (if we can call them that) speak for themselves, including in this book, some spectacularly interesting quotations from the American and British scientists who gave secrets to the Soviets.

The other nonfiction book that I’m particularly high on (reserving Master of Deceit and Their Skeletons Speak for later discussion) is We’ve Got a Job by Cynthia Levinson.  I didn’t particularly want to read it, because I feel like I’ve been overloaded with books about the Civil Rights Era, including our beloved Ann Bausum’s offering for this year.  But when I did read it, it was a revelation.  I didn’t know anything about the Birmingham Children’s March and Levinson made the whole story coherent and fast paced with a wise decision to ground the book in the stories of four individuals who participated in the march in a variety of ways.  My only qualm was that I was annoyed by the double column, textbook style format.  I thought it would have been much better served by a novel-like format (akin to Notorious Benedict Arnold).

And I almost forgot that George O’Connor’s Hades: Lord of the Dead came out this year.  I gave it a 5Q review for VOYA at the end of 2011, but it was published in 2012.  I don’t know if you’ve been reading O’Connor’s Olympians series of graphic novels, but they are really tremendous, and Hades is the best of them so far.  Instead of trying to recount all of the various myths surrounding Hades (as he did with Athena, for instance), he sticks to a single story, the famous Persephone myth, and (with a few ingenious tweaks of his own) tells it in all its power, with some incredible illustrations.

Other YA books that I loved, which I don’t have room for right now: Year of the Beast, Drowned Cities, Graffiti Moon, Beneath a Meth Moon, Black Heart, Sisters of Glass, Double, Keeping the Castle, The Wicked and the Just, and Superman vs. the KKK.

I agree with all of your “meh” list (except Grave Mercy which I haven’t read), and I’ll add to those Nina LaCour’s The Disenchantments, Meg Rosoff’s There is No Dog, and Russell Freeman’s Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.  We both had serious problems with Freedman’s last book, on World War I, and I again was mightily disappointed.  I think he’s seriously lost his touch.

So, we appear to be largely in agreement: that’s not very interesting.  Anything we can fight about?  Or, we can look at some non-YA titles.  I haven’t read a ton of adult books this year, but I have some thoughts on some children’s novels, starting with what I know is one of your favorites: The Mighty Miss Malone.

* To our readers: Rena is my wife.  You’ll meet her again on this site.

3 Comments

Filed under Books

3 responses to “More Good Books

  1. Sarah Flowers

    Yes, I forgot to mention that The Diviners is definitely on my TBR pile–which is now even higher.

  2. Pingback: It’s the Bomb! | crossreferencing

  3. Pingback: Realistic fantasy | crossreferencing

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