Tuesday, January 7, 2014

2013 Book of the Year: Finding the Sweet Sixteen

Well...now that Darian's BOTY is posted and revealed, I guess I should get on it and get my completed.

I've eliminated the books that couldn't enter the bracket, so let's get down to brass tacks. Here's the list of the books that will be in the running for my 2013 Book of the Year. Peruse the list and then we'll pit them against one another... (Oh...and by the way, I have no idea what book will come out on top this year. I haven't figured it out yet.)

1. The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen: 4 stars

Man, that Sarah Addison Allen writes a good book. I typically pick one up and then can't put it down until it's done. That's how it was with this one. Finished it in one day. The plot is a little predictable, but it's cute enough to make that negligible.

2. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant: 4 stars

I'm a big fan of historical fiction, but I don't read much when it comes to religion. This was one case where being drawn in by the cover worked out well. I guess curious works better than pretty. I was pleasantly surprised at this book. I really enjoyed it and couldn't put it down. It weaves a great story. The writing here is really good. Disclaimer: if you get uncomfortable easily, this may not be the book for you. The red tent of which she speaks is the tent where all of the women go during their monthly cycles; there is frank discussion of just about everything from menstruation to intercourse.

3. Escape by Carolyn Jessop: 4 stars

So right after I say I don't read much religion, I have another religious book on the list. This one was a double whammy of out-of-the-ordinary for me. Religion and non-fiction. I had this book on my list for a while before I got to it and I did enjoy the read. I just have some kind of weird fascination with the FLDS. It's just so darned intriguing. Escape was all that I expected and more. This woman has some crazy stories to tell.

4. On Mystic Lake by Kristin Hannah: 4 stars

A nice and soothing chick lit read. I really do enjoy Kristin Hannah. She's one of my go-to authors when I need a easy going plot and a cute love story. This one held up its end of the bargain. I really liked the main character. I just wanted good things for her. In truth, I wanted to just give her a hug. When you feel like you could be friends with the primary characters, that's the sign of a good book.

5. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: 5 stars

I LOVED this book. I stayed up super late reading it on an evening when I had to work the next day. That's always the sign of a good book. (I'm giving you tips here people, feel free to take notes.) This book is a good example of why I enjoy reading YA fiction. I will read this book again...without a doubt. I'm tempted to do it right now. I almost feel like I miss this book.

6. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain: 5 stars

Another great book. I loved how well this book was written. I felt for Hadley so much. Even though she was based on a real person, she was still made to be just so perfect...good and flawed. She is a character well worth reading. Oh, and plan on feeling like Ernest Hemingway is a complete douchebag by the time you finish. So...if you have some unhealthy love and obsession for Hemingway, better steer clear of this one. I wanted to punch him several times. And to be honest, for as much as I loved Hadley, she deserved a slap more than once for her tendency to let him get away with anything.

7. The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory: 4 stars

I'm a sucker for Tudor England and even more so for Philippa Gregory. This book kept me wanting more right up until the end. I loved Hannah and I enjoyed the approach of telling a story of the royalty from one of the "common folk". I could have definitely gone for a sequel to this book.

8. The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom: 5 stars

The characters in this book are incredibly well written. They are multi-dimensional, deep and real. I really enjoyed this book and never really wanted to put it down. It's a darker story, but there is still some happiness in there. Prepare to run the full gambit of emotions if you pick this one up.

9. The Host by Stephenie Meyer: 4 stars

Another book outside of my comfort zone. I'm not much for the whole alien genre. I had low expectations for this book and had actually put off reading it because I was afraid that it would be overly corny. I was pleasantly surprised and it ended up being yet another book that kept me up late reading. I was recommending it to others before I was even finished. From the sounds of it though, I was lucky not to watch the film. However, because I am a glutton for punishment, it is in my Netflix queue. I'll keep you posted.

10. Matched by Ally Condie: 4 stars

I went on a bit of a YA dystopian fiction run last year. I got suckered in really fast with some very good books. In my Goodreads review, I called this one a cross between Twilight and 1984. I stand by that as a pretty decent description. It's a good mix of swoony teenage love story and totalitarian government mind control. It was addicting. I finished this one pretty quickly and rolled straight into the sequel.

11. Crossed by Ally Condie: 3 stars

This one bordered between a 3 and 4 star. It got stuck in that sequel rut that always seems to happen to the middle books of trilogy. There was a lot of building material in this book that helped to keep the story rolling, but there was some plot passion lost because of this. Bummer. It was still a good read and a crucial part of the trilogy.

12. Reached by Ally Condie: 3 stars

Not a bad book, but I will admit that I was mildly disappointed in the fact that it didn't keep up the momentum and power of the first book. I wanted this series to be better than it was. I still enjoyed it, don't get me wrong, but it just lacked a little something. It kept me reading and wanting to finish out the trilogy, so it had that going for it. In the end, this one straddled the 3 and 4 star line. However, untimately it didn't grab me enough to push it up into the higher ranks.

13. Delirium by Lauren Oliver: 4 stars

The YA dystopian dream continues. Another good trilogy and this book was the starter. I loved the fresh concept and found it intriguing. I read this one fairly quickly and went straight into the second the next day. The only thing keeping it from 5 stars was the predictability. Maybe I should praise it more for it's simple flow. Everything just made sense. But...I like a little more spice.

14. Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver: 4 stars

Rarely does the second book in a trilogy do better than the first. This one did. I couldn't put this one down and finished it all in one sitting and then headed straight into the third. I don't know what else to say about it...just read it. Though you should probably read Delirium first...

15. Requiem by Lauren Oliver: 4 stars

For as good as the other two books were, this one was the best of the trilogy. This was definitely a series that held strong all the way through. Another validation for the worthwhile reading of YA fiction. I really enjoyed this book. As I'm thinking back on this series I'm realizing that all three books hovered the line between 4 and 5 stars. That's it...despite the way Goodreads operates, all blog reviews from now on will consist of half star ratings. Executive decision.

16. The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly: 4 stars

I freed myself from my dystopian trance and threw myself right back into historical fiction. This book was a good choice for that transition. It reminded me a lot of The Shoemaker's Wife, which did fantastically in 2012's BOTY. The plot moved a little slowly in places, but not enough that I lost interest.

17. The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly: 4 stars

I still have the third installment in this trilogy to read, but I enjoyed the second book even more than the first. Thank goodness for sequels that don't fall into the trap. Like the first book, this one did have a bit of a slow patch, but the last 2/3rds of the book just had me hooked.

18. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: 3 stars

This book survived the gleaning of the 3 star books because of an inkling. When I first finished the book and posted my review to Goodreads, I indicated that I thought I might need to read it again...as if I had missed something. Friends were quick to indicate that they loved this book and I should give it another shot. By that virtue, it gained respect. I will be reading it again at some point in the semi-near future.

19. Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare: 5 stars

I had been waiting to read this book for over a year before I got my hands on it. This time, I made sure that the next book was ready before I did. Nothing is more frustrating than finishing a book in a series and wanting to keep going, but not having the next one published. This one read super quick and I stayed up far past my bedtime just to get a little bit more reading time in. Well worth it.

20. Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare: 5 stars

This was a fantastic end to the trilogy and dovetailed nicely with The Mortal Instruments series. Cassandra Clare writes a very good book with great and imaginative characters. The way she writes her love triangle is fantastic. It draws you in and gets you involved, but it doesn't squash your hopes in any way in the end. Don't worry...that's not a spoiler...not really. Just read the books already.

21. Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin: 4 stars

I have a fascination with all things Alice. I'll be perfectly honest, the name Alice is really the reason that I read Still Alice to begin with. Yup. Truth be told. I knew it had nothing to do with Alice to begin with, but I couldn't help myself. Anyway...I'm getting a little off topic here. This book really does have to do with Alice, and I loved that. The only thing I didn't love about this book was how bitter Alice became. I wanted my idealized imaginative Alice to grow old happy. Instead she became angry and resentful. That made me angry and resentful and cost the book 5 stars. That's right, I'll go ahead and pout about it now.

22. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen: 4 stars

Sarah Dessen = good YA fiction. That's just the way it is. It's charming and cute and just lovely. A little predictable, which always makes for a small bit of downfall, but I enjoyed it just the same. The story just works and makes for a nice, easy, and comfortable read.

23. Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir: 4 stars

Apparently I just played the YA Fiction : Historical Fiction ping pong game all year. This was my first Alison Weir read and it won't be my last. It was a great read about Lady Jane Grey. It renewed my faith in historical fiction and made me crave Tudor England once again.

24. The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks: 4 stars

Every once in a while I just need a nice sappy love story. Nicholas Sparks does it so well. Now, I don't think anything he writes will ever match the love I have for The Notebook, but this one was still a darned good read. I'm pretty sure I cried more than once.

25. Songs of the Humpback Whale by Jodi Picoult: 3 stars

I had been warned about this one. I knew it wasn't supposed to be one of Jodi Picoult's best, but I had to read it just the same. I just love her books so much. And, yes...the crowds were right. This wasn't one of her best. I think the way it was constructed caused me the most trouble. The story was good and the characters were good, but the choppy back and forth timeline structure and five different narrators just muddied things for me.

26. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield: 4 stars

This book was not at all what I was expecting, but I really enjoyed it all the same. Darned old women and their secrets! I really enjoyed how this book was written and could have done with another 50-100 pages. In fact, that was the one downfall to the story...it was wrapped up all to quickly. I hate a hasty ending.

27. The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks: 4 stars

Another cute and sweet story from Nicholas Sparks. It sucked me in, kept me up, made me cry. The trifecta. It was an easy read. I think I had tired a little bit of the YA fiction cute little love story by this point so it lost a little of it's punch for me, but it was still a good book.

28. Just Take My Heart by Mary Higgins Clark: 4 stars

Since 9th grade. That's how long I've been a fan of Mary Higgins Clark. That's right...for 20 years (crap, I'm old) I've enjoyed reading this lady's fantastic books. A Cry in the Night is still up there in the ranks as one of my most favorite reads. Just like her other books, this one had me hooked quickly and had me guessing until the end. She's just so darned crafty.

29. Summer Island by Kristin Hannah: 4 stars

I really liked this book. Once again, Kristin Hannah does not disappoint. I loved the characters in this book and I really enjoyed her setting. Very rarely do I even consider that when I read a book, but in this case I wanted to go to Summer Island. A strange occurrence, but a good book.

30. Strange Bedpersons by Jennifer Crusie: 4 stars

This was the first book I read from Jennifer Crusie, but I will be reading more of her works from here out. I didn't expect to really like this one as much as I did. From the synopsis I figured it would be a rather light read, but I really actually enjoyed it quite a bit. The characters were cute and funny. The plot was a little out there in some ways, but it worked and kept me interested.

31. Fallen by Lauren Kate: 4 stars

I will be glad to get my hands on the sequel to this one. I read this book a lot when I was exhausted, so I fear that I may have really rated it 5 stars if I would have been more conscious. It does say something though that exhausted as I was, I wanted to read this book. The plot did frustrate me somewhat since it is so hush hush mysterious, but that didn't stop me from devouring this book.

32. I've Heard that Song Before by Mary Higgins Clark: 4 stars

I started out wanting to power through this book just so I could have one more book on my completed list for 2013. The tables quickly turned and I was reading because I couldn't stop. Staying up until 2 am when I have to be up and getting ready before 7 is a sign that I am enjoying a book. I love my sleep. A book has to be good to keep me from it. I had one disappointment in the book that kept me from giving it 5 stars, but I can't share it without creating a major spoiler. So you'll just have to trust me that there was a flaw.

And there you have it. You know what I thought of every book before I entered it into the bracket.

This year, I used a random sequence generator to place the books in their slots. I liked how that worked and will probably be using it to help me fill brackets from here out. It keeps me from being biased. I'll tell you right now that a couple of the slots worked out to my disadvantage and will have me testing how I really feel about a few of these books.

Here's the set up...

And now let's whittle away, shall we? There is a bit of an order to things, but that should be fairly intuitive. If I rated one book higher than another, the higher rating gets the automatic win...no debating. If the two books have the same rating, then I have to figure out which one I enjoyed the most. My go to question to help me determine which one wins is to ask myself which one of them would I read again right now if those two books were my only options. The one I would read wins, the other gets unfortunately cast asunder. Them's the breaks.

And just like that 16 more books hit the road. This is where the work begins. Going from 16 to 8 is always a challenge and I always lose a few books that I adore. To be honest, looking at it right now I'm already a little sad to say goodbye to a few. Suffice it to say that every book that makes it from here out is a very good read.Yup. I just double checked the list. I would read every single book in the Sweet Sixteen again. Good. At least there weren't any duds that made it through to the next round. It's going to be a fight to the finish.

Next up...quarterfinals... Hold on to your hats people!


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