Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Year in Books

This year, I am going to do something a bit different. Instead of listing my favorite books, I am going to list my favorite authors. I found myself going back to the same ones over and over again, so I think this is a far easier path to tread than picking out the best individual stories. So pick through the titles and spend some of those Christmas gift cards on your own portable time machines because books are always, always bigger on the inside. I will only list the books I have read, since it is unfair otherwise. Every author writes a bum book and I would hate to direct you toward something awful.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Shadow of the Wind, Prisoner of Heaven, Angels Game
The Watcher in the Shadows, The Prince of Mist (YA)

This author has been on my list before. His adult books are an interconnected series all revolving around the same family and the same bookshop, but can be read in any order. Get a copy with thin, onion skin pages so that you can truly feel the time slipping away as you turn every page. This year, I was surprised to discover young adult books, horror stories that were so well-written, so engrossing, and so terrifying that I would be hard pressed to give it to any child who didn’t already have a driver’s license. Each one caused me to finish, shuddering and shaking, but rushing right out to get the next one.

Kate Morton
The Secret Keeper, The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours

The characters in these books are so fully fleshed out that you will feel as if you know them. England and the 1940s play a major role in almost every book and the premise of each one is roughly similar – a woman tries to find out a mystery about her family. The tone of voice of each novel is what makes them so wonderful. You know that feeling of being underwater, bobbing along in the warm current, content and enjoying the beauty of your surroundings? That is what reading these books feels like – right up until the temperature drops and you are hit with a wave that jolts you out of that feeling of safety. Happy swimming.  

Gillian Flynn
Gone Girl, Dark Places, Sharp Objects

At this point, we’ve all read her most recent book. However, she wrote two more before that and while they have their flaws, they still deserve a read. All of her books keep you guessing, but it is the first two that really make you wait, racing through each page, desperately trying to figure out what is going to happen next. Her protagonists are hard and broken people, but memorable in their desperation to find out the truth. I actually think Sharp Objects is the best of the lot and while it could use a little fixing (it was her first novel after all), you will never, ever forget what happened to all those teeth.

Mark Halperin and John Heilemann
Game Change, Double Down

The former books deals with the 2008 election, the latter with the 2012. Both non-fiction books are absolutely riveting in their detail about what truly goes on behind the closed doors of a presidential campaign. I admit that I knew few, if any names of anyone but the actual nominees, but this book makes it easy to follow the myriad players in the game of politics. The first is a must-read for Sarah Palin alone, but the second really shows you how the sausage is made in terms of picking a president.

Ben Mezrich
Sex on the Moon, Busting Vegas, Bringing Down the House, The Accidental Billionaires

These non-fiction books all take on a single story and make them as engrossing as any fictional journey. The author has a dozen books total, so I have lots left to read, but these four were universally excellent. The theft of lunar rocks from NASA, cheating at cards in Vegas, and the creation of Facebook seem like relatively dry topics, but in this author’s deft hands, they play out as thrilling roller coaster rides filled with passion, recklessness, and hubris.

The first time author award goes to Helene Wecker for The Golem and The Jinni. The title tells you pretty much all you need to know about the main premise. Make it your book club pick, borrow it from the library, buy it for yourself, but go read a book that is really quite remarkable about setting such fantastical creatures in New York City of the 1900s.

And the worst authors of the year are as follows:

Veronica Roth – Her Divergent series is terrible. The first book was at least marginally interesting, but the second book was frustrating and the third book was flat out ridiculous. I have a vicious rant all bottled up inside for the first person who asks me about the ending. JESUS! An awful series from start to finish, if you really want dystopia and strong female characters, just go read The Hunger Games and call it a day.

E.L James – I just can’t with this author.

Amber Benson – This one broke my heart. The Scoobies have a truly special place in my heart. Every time Danny Strong gets an award for writing, I yell “Go Jonathan” at my television (even though he is technically my nemesis-es). So when I found out Tara had written a series of books about Death’s daughter, I was all in. Until I read the first one. Vapid, poorly written, and poorly plotted, I’d rather watch another season of Dark Willow than read another one of Amber Benson’s books.

Charlaine Harris (again) – Her final book in the Sookie Stackhouse (Southern Vampire) series was insulting to all the readers who slogged their way through the first dozen books. Each book was worse than the one before. These books set the stage for the TV show True Blood and while I am still devoted to that show (mostly due to frequent nakedness of Eric Northman and Alcide Herveaux), this last book was the last straw for me. 

Christopher Moore - Every book has a really interesting premise that is eventually ruined by the most basic, infantile humor. I'd love to see his books rewritten but with actual intelligence. Judging by his fan base, this is clearly a case of the reader not matching the author.