Tag Archives: best of 2013

Best of 2013: Book Edition, Part 2

There was some stiff competition, but these books prevailed. Here are my top 5 books of 2013!

5. City of Thieves, by David Benioff

City of Thieves

I love when a novel can entertain me and teach me something new. In the case of City of Thieves, I learned about the Soviet Union during World War II, specifically the siege of Leningrad. Lev is a young man of Leningrad arrested for looting. Instead of receiving the usual punishment, he and an army deserter are sent on an unlikely mission to find eggs for a wedding cake. This book is both highly amusing and rather devastating, so it makes sense that the author is also an executive producer on Game of Thrones.

4. MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood

MaddAddam Cover

My love for Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy is well-documented on the blog, from Oryx and Crake to The Year of the Flood. The final installment came out this fall, and I was not disappointed. The book satisfactorily brings together characters from the first two novels with typical Atwood flair for precise details. As if that wasn’t enough, MaddAddam also explores the history of Zeb, perhaps the most enigmatic character from The Year of the Flood. His story brings the reader to exciting new corners of this frighteningly familiar future.

3. Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park

Meeting Rainbow Rowell was one of the highlights of my year. It was the culmination of a lot of fangirling on my part, and it all started with Eleanor and Park. One thing that I enjoy about young adult authors, and Rainbow Rowell in particular,  is that they don’t shy away from sentiment. Maybe they feel free to do this because their teenage readers are often highly emotional beings. Whatever the reason, Eleanor and Park will let you relive the agony and ecstasy of first love in the most delicious fashion.

2. The Giver, by Lois Lowry

The Giver Cover

I can’t believe that I didn’t read The Giver until this year. Several book-loving friends have reprimanded me for it. Once I had the book in hand, I read most of it in one night, which is something I rarely do. It’s a children’s book that raises some very mature questions. What is the role of pain, both physical and emotional, in human life? And if painful memories were removed, what would be the cost? Lowry examines these questions through simple yet powerful prose. This book deserves its status as a classic.

1. Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl

Fangirl is the obvious choice for number one, but it’s also the honest choice. No other book made me cringe so much for its characters and rejoice in their triumphs. You know how teenagers in movies or TV always seem completely unreal? (In part because they’re usually played by twentysomethings, but also in their behavior.) That is never a problem in Rainbow Rowell’s books. Her characters feel so real that you want them to be your friends, or maybe feel like they already are. (If you want even more thoughts on Fangirl, the link is here.)

I look forward to another great year of reading in 2014!

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Best of 2013: Book Edition, Part 1

This year my goal was to read two books a month, and I managed to stick to that goal for the most part. That means I have a great pool of books from which to pick my top 10. I hope you enjoy numbers 10 through 6!

10. East, by Edith Pattou

East Cover

In keeping with my teen section focus at work, I read more young adult than ever in 2013. East was recommended by my friend Jenny. It’s a fairy tale adaptation that feels different from others I’ve read, perhaps because it’s based on the lesser-known Norwegian tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.” I enjoyed the variety of settings, from a Norwegian farm to the polar bear’s underground castle to the troll queen’s ice palace. Most of all, my imagination was captured by the idea of a polar bear companion, which led to YouTube searches for videos of polar bears running. You can read my full review here.

9. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

Night Circus

The strength of The Night Circus comes from its luscious details. And in a novel about a magical circus and the people who created it, you had better have some good details. Celia and Marco are young magicians who have been trained to duel with the circus as their battleground. Naturally they also find themselves inconveniently in love, but The Night Circus is about more than star-crossed lovers. Morgenstern gives the story great scope in both time and geography. Add to that the fanciful Victorian setting, and it’s a novel to savor.

8. The Moon and More, by Sarah Dessen

The Moon and More

The Moon and More is a return to form for my girl Sarah Dessen. It delivers the amusing characters and complex relationships that I expect from her writing, while still managing to tread some new thematic ground. When I read the first chapter, which describes Emaline working for her family’s beach rental business, I immediately settled into the novel. As I said in my full-length review, it explores themes of family loyalty versus personal achievement that should resonate with many young people. It certainly did for me.

7. A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones Cover

When I read a fantasy novel, I want to get lost in it. The intricate story that begins with A Game of Thrones is perfect for doing just that, whether told in TV or book form. As I previously mentioned, watching the show first was actually helpful in giving me a framework for Martin’s fantasy world. Then I could enjoy the depth of the first book, which provided me with a detailed map and a better understanding of the history that preceded the series. You have to admire an author who can provide you with generations of history from before his series even starts. Reading the book took me long enough, but it was worth it.

6. The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson

The Psychopath Test

This year another goal for me was to read more nonfiction. The Psychopath Test was by far my favorite of the ones I picked up. Jon Ronson has a background in journalism, which can probably be credited for his ability to both excite and inform the reader. Each chapter examines a different facet of madness, from a successful businessman believed to be a psychopath to failed treatments for psychopathy. The chapters could almost be stand-alone articles, but Ronson brings them together through the evolution of his own understanding of mental illness. You don’t have to be a psychology major to enjoy this book.

Come back tomorrow for the final chapter: my top 5 books of 2013!

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Best of 2013: Music Edition, Part 2

You will have to forgive some artist repetition in the top 10 songs this year. The new albums in my life were just too good to pick one song. Here are, completely genuine,  my top 5 favorite songs of 2013!

5. Gillian Welch, “Barroom Girls”

Gillian Welch is the troubadour of her own particular brand of dirt road wistfulness. I picked up her debut album at Cheapo, and it definitely lived up to its successors. No song is as engrossing as the yarn she spins on “Barroom Girls.” Case in point: “Last night’s spangles and yesterday’s pearls / Are the bright morning stars of the barroom girls.” Paints a picture, doesn’t it?

4. Fiona Apple, “Anything We Want”

Probably the sexiest song I’ve heard all year. Sultry is one of the first words that comes to mind when I think of Fiona Apple. The playful rhythms and coy lyrics blend perfectly on “Anything We Want.” As we used to say in the English department, form is content, and this woman knows how to make the music fit her message.

3. Flume, “Holdin On”

Last year’s list featured several songs discovered on The Current, but this year there’s only one. I heard this song on the radio a number of times, and then one day I thought, “This needs to be on my birthday playlist!” It’s a bit of a departure from my usual obsession with lyric-driven music, but there’s nothing wrong with just shaking a little booty.

2. Tegan and Sara, “Now I’m All Messed Up”

Yesterday I talked about Tegan and Sara writing peppy heartbreak anthems, but this song is just plain heartbreaking. And that’s what I love about it. Sara lays herself bare in the vocals. Through a few simple images, the song captures the desperation of imagining the person you love with someone else. “Now I’m All Messed Up” initiated many solo car singalongs in 2013.

1. Patty Griffin, “Don’t Let Me Die In Florida”

The title of this song comes from a comment made by Patty’s father in his later days, and the song itself plays like an unflinching story of his life. Her voice croons, growls, and everything in between. There are many greats songs on American Kid, an album praised thoroughly in a previous post, but I would never skip “Don’t Let Me Die In Florida.” I love when Patty gets into raucous mode. It just makes me happy.

Tomorrow the best book countdown begins!

 

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Best of 2013: Music Edition, Part 1

2013 wasn’t my most adventurous year in music. That being said, Tegan and Sara and Patty Griffin both released new albums, so it was a great year for discovering new favorites from my old favorites. As always, the list is open to any song that I encountered for the first time in 2013. (You probably don’t want me to talk about listening to the Fleetwood Mac Rumours album for the millionth time.) Enjoy numbers 10 through 6.

10. Elliott Smith, “Easy Way Out”

This fall included a very successful trip to Cheapo for used CDs. I figured it was time to own some Elliott Smith beyond the Good Will Hunting soundtrack. “Easy Way Out” is a perfect example of the sharp-edged melancholy that I love in him. This song should be a requirement on any breakup playlist, real or imagined.

9. Frou Frou, “Must Be Dreaming”

Frou Frou was a musical duo including Imogen Heap before she moved on to solo awesomeness. I picked up their album on another Cheapo trip last year, but I basically ignored it until sometime this summer. Three songs were already familiar to me from Garden State soundtrack days, and there’s much more Frou Frou goodness where that came from. “Must Be Dreaming” is pure joy.

8. Fiona Apple, “Hot Knife”

My significant other can attest that I made him listen to this song on multiple occasions. The playful back-and-forth of the lyrics are absolutely hypnotic. “Hot Knife” is somewhere between a song and a chant, with the parts blending together to create a frantic love anthem. But I think it’s the simple imagery of “If I’m butter then he’s a hot knife” that really gets me.

7. Patty Griffin, “Go Wherever You Wanna Go”

Patty Griffin has an uncanny ability to make sad topics seem joyful. I extolled the virtues of her new album American Kid in an earlier post, and this song is the perfect kickoff to that album. Addressed to her father after his passing, it expresses the rambling freedom that she wishes for him. Guaranteed to make you smile or cry (or both!).

6. Tegan and Sara, “How Come You Don’t Want Me”

Speaking of putting an upbeat face on depressing subjects, Tegan and Sara’s electropop album is brimming with peppy tunes about heartbreak. “How Come You Don’t Want Me” is my favorite example. I get excited when I hear those opening beats, and seeing Sara sing it live only cemented my love. I don’t care which genre their band wants to work in as long as the songs are still addictively gut-wrenching.

Come back tomorrow for the top 5!

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