Saturday, January 4, 2014

Best of 2013

Though I started my blog several months into 2013, I still managed to read a lot of books. Some I liked. Some I didn't like. In the various titles I was able to read throughout last year, I had a few that I would deem my favorites. Here's the list I liked the best from the books I reviewed in 2013 (in no particular order).

The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti
Gifted with a mind that continues to impress the elders in his village, Ichmad Hamid struggles with knowing that he can do nothing to save his friends and family. Living on occupied land, his entire village operates in fear of losing their homes, jobs, and belongings. But more importantly, they fear losing each other.
On Ichmad's twelfth birthday, that fear becomes reality.

With his father imprisoned, his family's home and possessions confiscated, and his siblings quickly succumbing to hatred in the face of conflict, Ichmad begins an inspiring journey using his intellect to save his poor and dying family. In doing so he reclaims a love for others that was lost through a childhood rife with violence and loss, and discovers a new hope for the future. Reminiscent of The Kite Runner and One Thousand Splendid Suns, this is an uplifting read, which conveys a message of optimism and hope.

Why I liked it:
Though the story centered around two clashing cultures in the Middle East, the underlying themes of prejudice, fear, and misunderstanding can be seen in any part of the world. How a person chooses to address them depends upon a number of factors. In the book, two people from the same family are presented with the same challenges and yet they go down very different paths. The level of intimacy the book creates between the characters and the reader stayed with me long after I finished reading.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.

For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself. Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world. The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.

Why I liked it:
Marisha Pessl took a long time between the release of her first book in order to create a world that sucks a reader in from the start of the first chapter. The time and attention to detail pays off. I was amazed at how thorough the creation of her world was. From the websites to the documents to the lingering questions after the last word has been read, this book had a grip on me. I definitely would be a Cordovite. Who knows? Maybe I really am.

Pandemic: A Novel (Infected #3) by Scott Sigler
The alien intelligence that unleashed two horrific assaults on humanity has been destroyed. But before it was brought down in flames, it launched one last payload-a tiny soda-can-sized canister filled with germs engineered to wreak new forms of havoc on the human race. That harmless-looking canister has languished under thousands of feet of water for years, undisturbed and impotent...until now.

Days after the new disease is unleashed, a quarter of the human race is infected. Entire countries have fallen. And our planet's fate now rests on a small group of unlikely heroes, racing to find a cure before the enemies surrounding them can close in.

Why I liked it:
As I have said before, I'm a longtime fan of Scott Sigler. Even if I hadn't been, the unique way in which the world is nearly destroyed by the alien virus, coupled with humanity's response, would have been enough for me to pick up a copy anyway. The series tears at your heart while feeding the insatiable part of the brain that craves action and violence. This book is a brilliant conclusion to the series that celebrates the best and the worst this planet has to offer.

Last Train to Omaha by Ann Whitely-Gillen 
Thirty-five-year-old James Milligan, the solitary and impenetrable chief architect at one of Chicago’s leading design firms, has never recovered from the gruesome death of his best friend nearly two decades before. He’s learned that a distant heart is the only way to shut out the nagging guilt and pain that threatens to capsize him at any moment. Only the dying veterans at the Aaron Milligan Palliative Care Center know the depth of the overwhelming compassion that James harbors within himself, and he is determined never to let anyone else into his heart — or his future — again.

However, when caring and patient palliative care nurse Rebecca Doyle enters his world, his hardened exterior begins to crack against his will. Will Martin Diggs, the charismatic and perplexing Vietnam War veteran convince James that it’s not too late to reclaim his future?

Why I liked it:
When a person goes off to war, they come back a changed person. There's so much that they cannot talk about that it's hard for them to slip into their roles as civilians. It's somewhat similar when a person suffers a traumatic experience. Both avenues are explored in this book in such a way that it shines light on the state of help for both categories of people suffering. By reading and talking about the difficulties, awareness is spread so that we may help others before things get out of hand. Not to mention, the bonds between the characters are so strong that they draw the reader further into a net of compassion and leave the reader reaching for the tissues.

Buck: A Memoir by M.K. Asante
MK Asante was born in Zimbabwe to American parents: a mother who led the new nation’s dance company and a father who would soon become a revered pioneer in black studies. But things fell apart, and a decade later MK was in America, a teenager lost in a fog of drugs, sex, and violence on the streets of North Philadelphia. Now he was alone—his mother in a mental hospital, his father gone, his older brother locked up in a prison on the other side of the country—and forced to find his own way to survive physically, mentally, and spiritually, by any means necessary.
Buck is a powerful memoir of how a precocious kid educated himself through the most unconventional teachers—outlaws and eccentrics, rappers and mystic strangers, ghetto philosophers and strippers, and, eventually, an alternative school that transformed his life with a single blank sheet of paper. It’s a one-of-a-kind story about finding your purpose in life, and an inspiring tribute to the power of education, art, and love to heal and redeem us.

Why I liked it:
Not your average memoir, this book was full of the cold truth of life on the streets. The author threw caution to the wind, wrote honestly and openly about what he and others went through during that period of time. Yet for all the differences between his world and mine, there were the underlying human needs that connected us - acceptance, survival and love. These are true for anyone any place in the world but the author displayed his faults and flaws as well. Both a survival and coming-of-age story, this book spoke volumes about us as both individuals and as a society when we let our children down.

Where We Belong by Catherine Ryan Hyde 
Fourteen-year-old Angie and her mom are poised at the edge of homelessness… again. The problem is her little sister, Sophie. Sophie has an autism-like disorder, and a tendency to shriek. No matter where they live, home never seems to last long. Until they move in with Aunt Vi, across the fence from a huge black Great Dane who changes everything. Sophie falls in love immediately, and begins to imitate the “inside of the dog,” which, fortunately, is a calm place. The shrieking stops. Everybody begins to breathe again. Until Paul Inverness, the dog’s grumpy, socially isolated owner, moves to the mountains, and it all begins again.

Much to Angie’s humiliation, when they’re thrown out of Aunt Vi’s house, Angie’s mom moves the family to the mountains after Paul and his dog. There, despite a fifty-year difference in their ages, Angie and Paul form a deep friendship, the only close friendship either has known. Angie is able to talk to him about growing up gay, and Paul trusts Angie with his greatest secret, his one dream. When the opportunity arrives, Angie decides to risk everything to help Paul’s dream come true, even their friendship and her one chance at a real home—the only thing she’s dreamed of since her father was killed. A place she can never be thrown out. A place she can feel she belongs.

Why I liked it:
Part of the reason this book resonated with me is the fact that mirrors part of my own past. I was Angie for a number of years growing up and having to care for two younger brothers. Only one was diagnosed with Lupus at a young age but all the thoughts that we see Angie having were in my own mind at times. Though I also had both of my parents for support, there were times when it felt as though I didn't. To see someone in a similar situation made it easy to empathize with the characters but the essence of the story stayed with me long after reading. A very touching story, it reaches into the reader's heart and makes a small place there.

What books made your list for 2013?
Leave me some examples in the comments as well as any suggestions for books to look for in 2014.

Until next time,

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