The day has finally come! It's time for my top ten favorite books of the year in conjunction with #AMonthofFaves and Top Ten Tuesday. I don't really like doing this before the end of the year proper, but my current read is definitely not in danger of unseating any of these, so I think I might be clear to divulge my top ten even before the year is fully over. Drumroll, please!
One Hundred and Four Horses by Mandy Retzlaff - This year's reading started off truly dreadfully. I DNFed two books before I even made it halfway through January. Just when I was starting to get really bummed out that my reading year was starting off as such a bust, Mandy Retzlaff rescued it with her memoir about saving the horses left behind in a hostile Zimbabwe by their white owners who were being forced off the land by Mugabe. Retzlaff's writing reminded me of getting letters from an old friend, and her story would definitely appeal to any animal lover.
2. Whistling in the Dark by Lesley Kagen - Kagen's novel has a really great precocious narrator, Sally O'Malley, who lightens up what is really a pretty dark story of a murderer/molester on the loose during a summer when Sally's mother is in the hospital, apparently near death. Kagen's great narrator and her perfect descriptions of the essence of childhood summers, not to mention her great picture of the bond between Sally and her sister Troo almost make you forget how dark the story is without compromising the tension leading up to the final climax.
3. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis - Okay, so, my mom sells used books through Amazon, and when I spotted this one in one of her piles to go out, I couldn't help sneaking it away for a few minutes to read it, kind of as a cheater book to kick off my Bout of Books with an early success. Sis's graphic memoir of his growing up in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War really got me. It's got great art that really shows the transformation of a kid and a country reawakening after being squelched beneath Soviet communist rule. I was totally captured by how Sis reveals the resurgence of the human spirit that longs for freedom and color and creativity.
4. The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi - This is the first book I read this year that I knew would go on my end of year best list. I loved this story of two courageous Afghani women separated by decades who refused to let fate and destiny and men determine the outcomes of their lives.
Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert - Here's to William Morrow for delivering some great debuts from new authors this year. Hashimi's book is one, and Last Night at the Blue Angel is another. This story of an old school night club singer in Chicago, her daughter, and the man who is in love with her totally broke my heart (in a good way?). It shifts points of view between the steadfast daughter and the mercurial mother and what emerges is a story of a misunderstood woman on the cusp of fame and a daughter desperate for love that she can count on. A little sad and a lot powerful, this is a captivating debut.
6. Divergent by Veronica Roth - I finally read this book after hearing all the hype and seeing the movie version, and I loved it. Roth's strictly delineated dystopian world of factions is well-built, and Tris is a powerfully sympathetic character, and Four is tinged with just the right amount of mystery. Divergent was everything I expected. Too bad the rest of the series flagged and didn't quite live up the standard set out by the first book.
7. Something Like Normal by Trish Doller - This is another book that I saw a bunch of YA book bloggers raving about that absolutely lived up to the hype. Travis is a young marine who has returned home from a tour in Afghanistan. His struggle to fit back into his old life with struggling with PTSD and his slow budding romance with a girl he wronged in the past are pitch perfect. Loved.
8. The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood - This is the second book by Marwood I read this year, and I think I really like her style. Her books are ostensibly thrillers/crime fiction, but Marwood digs a little deeper and provides some really penetrating character studies, too. People looking for fast-paced semi-brainless page-turners will probably find themselves disappointed, but if you like good character-driven stories with a touch of suspense and mystery, check out Marwood's books. Excellent for fans of Tana French's books, I'd think, and fans of Criminal Minds on TV.
9. Gonzales and Daughter Trucking Co. by Maria Amparo Escandon - This is a different sort of book, kind of a mix of Orange is the New Black and a quirky modern fairytale. Libertad grew up living the life of a long haul trucker with her father who is perpetually fleeing the dangers of a (probably) forgotten crime from his past. Libertad longs for a home that's not on wheels and freedom from her overprotective father and, well, freedom itself. Her story is delivered from the Mexican prison where she is incarcerated with a pack of weirdly lovable inmates and a corrupt, if unexpectedly decent, warden.
10. The Mapmaker's War by Ronlyn Domingue - I should have read this book a while ago, and I'm glad I finally did. It's been forever since I've read anything that could be considered fantasy in its purest sense, and I'd missed it. This entire book is told in the second person by a woman exiled from her kingdom for treason who finds refuge among a mysterious (and pretty awesome!) people. This is a unique (Did I mention that it's written in the second person? And how that's so cool?) and powerful story with a decidedly feminist bent that I adored.