My Five Favorite Reads of 2013

This isn't a book review blog, but every December I like to share my favorites of the books that I've read this year.  I read a lot of great books from all different genres, but I guess I'm still a YA fantasy  nut at heart.  All five of these are speculative fiction, and four of the five are YA. 

And without any further ado...

1.  The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

I find that I often get really invested into a series at the second book.  It happened with Catching Fire and The Queen of Attolia (see below), and also with Rae Carson's debut trilogy.  I enjoyed The Girl of Fire and Thorns (the first book in the series) when I read it last year, but I loooved The Crown of Embers.  Rae Carson does strong female characters incredibly well.  Too often, "strong female character" is taken simply to mean "good at beating people up" or  "stubborn."  But Carson's Elisa learns strength in the ways that matter -- in compassion, self confidence, independence, confidence, and integrity.  Elisa in The Crown of Embers is a stronger, surer one than in TGoFaT, but we still see her grow as a woman and a queen.  And Hector (swoon)!   Who knew he'd be so dreamy without the mustache? The Bitter Kingdom is on my bookshelf, and I'm very much looking forward to it.

2. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

A slower, more thoughtful fantasy. There are dragons and intrigue and mayhem, but that's not the core of the book, which centers instead on the unique life of Seraphina, a musical prodigy with a dangerous secret. While I usually go for more action-y books, I really liked this one. Hartman's writing is witty and intelligent (when was the last time I saw the word 'avuncular" in a YA book?). The worldbuilding is superb (the socialy inept dragons are HILARIOUS), and the characters are incredibly well built and charming. I also loved the romance arc, how the love interest is really smart and the main thrust of their attraction is driven by their philosophical discussions and shared life experiences.

3. Cinder by Marissa Meyer

I really didn't expect to love this book, since there are so many fairy tale retellings out there. But Cinder so creative. The worldbuilding of New Beijing, Cinder's experience and day to day life as a cyborg...

The characters were wonderful. I mean, how awesome is a kickass girl cyborg mechanic? I also loved the side characters - especially Cinder's android sidekick Iko. And Prince Kai...  I'm partial to romances that dance for a long time in initial stages of flirtation, when there's a clear attraction but nothing's been said and everything is uncertain, and I drank in every moment of Cinder and Kai's courtship.

If I had any complaints, it's that I wish the big reveal had been hidden a bit more. But even though I knew what was coming pretty early on, I still enjoyed the journey immensely.

One last thing, I listened to this on audiobook, narrated by Rebecca Soler, and I highly recommend her. She's probably my favorite audiobook narrator to date.

4.  The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Amazing. I enjoyed The Thief, but The Queen of Attolia blew me away. It's told in a shallow 3rd person omniscient POV, rare for modern YA, and it works so well. We spend the book observing these fascinating characters... occasionally let into their thoughts, but always knowing there's more underneath. The book reads like a puzzle, in a good way, as you try to figure out what everybody's really thinking, what really is happening. I especially admired how Turner uses silent powerful moments -- descriptions of characters sitting alone, lost in their thoughts -- to capture emotion. And I'm still scratching my head over how she managed to pull off the romance. I'll avoid spoilers, but let's just say that logically speaking the romance made no sense whatsoever. Yet somehow I found it completely believable because her narrative was just that convincing.  I haven't read book 3 yet, but I'm very much looking foward to it.

And my number one favorite read this year?

5.  The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

I first discovered Scott Lynch through his short story "In The Stacks", published in a fantasy anthology.  It was brilliant and hilarious. I loved it so much that I tracked down Lynch's debut novel, and I'm glad I did.  The Lies of Locke Lamora is one of the best books I've read in a really long time. Fascinating worldbuilding, really clever, fun, dialogue, and brilliant plotting. It's good for people who like "guy" adventure stories... lots of irreverent wise cracking, bromances that bring a tear to your eye, etc. It's fantasy but not too heavy on the sword and sorcery stuff.

What about you, dear reader? Have you read any of these five? And what are your top reads this year?

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