Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Book Book Reviewers' Favorite Reads of 2010

In December, of course, everyone publishes "best books of the year" lists. Here at The Book Book, we don't review only new books; we go with whatever a reviewer chooses to review, regardless of year of publication.

Below appear some of our favorite reads from our reviews of the last twelve months, regardless of when the books in question came out. The order in which the books appear below is alphabetical, by title. Each link from a book title takes you to a full review (in all but one case, at The Book Book); and each link from a reviewer's name will take you to his or her own Web site.

From Claire Dawn:

My nomination goes to Anna and The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. It's YA Contemporary. From the review at Claire Dawn's site:

Stephanie Perkins has the strange and dubious distinction of being the first author to ever make me cry in the acknowledgements.

To her husband, Jarrod: "Thank you for being you, because you are my favorite."

If that's not a person meant to write teen romance, I don't know who is.

From Lydia Sharp:

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver

Samantha Kingston dies in a car accident after a party one night, then keeps waking up to the same day over and over again -- the day she dies. The only way to end this cycle is to figure out who and what needs to be saved. Her life? Her reputation? Her friends? Or maybe it's that someone/something she'd never noticed until she'd been forced to relive the same events day in and day out.

I selected this book as my favorite because the story has stuck with me long after finishing the read. Oliver's writing style and storytelling skills are in a class all their own.

From Jane Steen:

In The Convent by Panos Karnezis, six nuns inhabiting a decaying Spanish convent find a baby in their midst, and the seeming equilibrium of their lives is shattered by jealousy and madness. A simply-told tale with chilling undertones.

From JES:

Tender Morsels, by Margo Lanagan, is nominally a YA fairy tale which you may not choose to share with your children when they're very young. (And I wouldn't blame you.) But its dark, dark surface masks a gentle and whimsical -- even playful -- heart, and it rewarded me on every page. A powerful, wrenching story, told in an exhilarating melange of not-quite-medieval English, set in a world at the very border of real and fantastic.

From Moonrat:

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell

Set in 1799 on an artificial island off the coast of Nagasaki, Japan, this novel is a story of the Dutch East India Company, Tokugawa Japan, colonialism, oppressed minority Christians, slavery, love, medical history, forgotten religious sects, miscegenation, racism, and war. Mitchell flexes his brawny fictic muscles for 400 pages here, and doesn't cut his readers any slack, so don't embark lightly. But if you have the chance to read and savor it, The Thousand Autumns may rock your world like it did mine.


moonrat said...

Thanks for the recs, everybody! I'm especially interested in how much YA there is here - I've recently embarked on a YA reading project myself, so I appreciate the guidance :)

Jane Steen said...

I also noticed the preponderance of YA. I've blogged about how I think the writing industry is setting "rules" best suited to the writing of YA or genre fiction rather than literary fiction (tension on every page, kill the backstory, etc.) and although I have nothing against either YA or genre fiction, I'm slightly dismayed at the thought of readers and writers shying away from "difficult" fiction. (Although the best YA writers have difficult concepts buried beneath the story.)

Still, there are fashions in reading just as there are in clothes, and YA is going very strong right now. All in all, if it keeps people reading I'm not going to complain too much.

moonrat said...

Jane - interesting point re publishing, genre, etc.

I don't think you should worry too much, though - here's why. (I mean, speaking as a literary fiction editor.)

It's true that it's pretty impossible to break in with a literary novel that doesn't fit the difficult parameters unless you have a stellar platform with great literary publishing credentials. But ... even if your book IS exactly all those "awesome" things, you'll still have trouble breaking in without the chops. I think if you really want to write adult literary fiction, the best path to follow is the traditional one, publishing short stories and magazine articles, meeting other writers and trying to form circles under the mentorship of someone famous or acclaimed, etc.

I've published a couple of novels by great writers who didn't have those backgrounds - so it is possible - but I've noticed many writers who haven't taken the time involved in laying that groundwork are perhaps less polished or less informed about the marketplace. Which makes them less competitive for the companies who publish them - more work to.

HOWEVER, YA doesn't privilege traditional channels like that. Although there is quality literary YA, it acts as if it were a genre, along the lines of genre publishing, so debut authors are judged by the commercial marketability of their concepts, not by who they know. So ... lots of interesting writers are going to YA.

Umm. I'll get off my soapbox now. But I only got on it by accident. Thanks for inspiring me to think out loud!

Jane Steen said...

What you're saying is really interesting. I'd love to see these thoughts expanded: what, for example, distinguished the writers you published?

I'm thinking that it depends very much on the book - if the writing's really solid, the project is going to look like a good commercial option whatever the writer's background. I think there are plenty of people (like me) who love lit fic in novel form but have no interest in literary mags and the like.

When I'm scoping for something new to read I usually have my radar up for a great story but also something that will be thought-provoking: a "what if?" That's more interesting to me than how the genre is labeled, and is the reason why I read most genres as well as lit fic.

Lydia Sharp said...

Great list! And (wow!) really great insight in the comments, too. Thanks!

Jennifer Ambrose said...

Great recommendations! I love this blog. Moonrat, I was intrigued by the PW review of The Thousand Autumns and a person rec makes me doubly interested in checking it out. And now I definitely need to read Tender Morsels.

moonrat said...

Jane - let me mull. Maybe I can put together something coherent :)

Jennifer - OMG OMGOMGOMGOMG I really loved it. I would send you one of my copies (erm, yes, I bought more than one because I loved it so much) except I've already given them both away. Anyway, if you read it, let me know so we can gossip about it.