Wednesday, December 11, 2013

best of 2013: fiction

And now it's time for my favorite novels of 2013!  A few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first released in 2013, but that's when I read them.
  • Aside from the first book listed, which was my definite favorite, these aren't in any particular order.
  • Oddly enough, this list includes three family members:  Stephen King, his son Joe Hill, and Kelly Braffet, who's married to King's son Owen (also an author).  Man, there's some serious talent in that family!
  • G-Vo, skip the review for #1 because I'll probably have you read it at some point.
  • And, as always, your mileage may vary.

1. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill:  Vic McQueen is a young woman with a talent for finding lost things, although nobody would believe how she does it even if she told them.  One day, she runs into Charles Manx, an old man who picks children up in his Rolls Royce Wraith (license plate: NOS4A2) and takes them to Christmasland.  Which sounds nice and all, except Manx is a type of psychic vampire who drains the children of any joy or kindness and turns them into needle-toothed killers.  Vic manages to escape, but many years later, when Manx takes her son, she taps into the talent she's neglected for years to bring Wayne back.  Of course, Manx and his assistant, the Gas Mask Man, aren't going to make it easy for her.

As I mentioned, Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King, a fact he tried to hide for years in hopes of being judged on his own merits.  I only bring it up here because if this book had been published anonymously, I would have sworn it was Stephen King.  It's creepy, it's strangely touching, and it will keep you riveted until the very last page.

2. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes:  Desperate for money to help out her family, Louisa Clark takes a job as a companion for Will Traynor, a bitter quadriplegic.  I don't want to say anything else because I would hate to spoil this book for you, but I highly recommend it.  Also highly recommended?  Tissues.  I don't often cry over books (which is weird, since I cry at the drop of a freakin' hat), but this one really got to me.

3. Fuse by Julianna Baggott:  Because this is the second installment of the Pure Trilogy, I can't give it a proper review without spoiling things from the first book.  I'll just say it's really fucking great and leave it at that.  I can't wait for Burn, which comes out in February.

4. The Wrath of Angels by John Connolly:  Private investigator Charlie Parker hears about the wreckage of a plane deep in the Maine woods.  There was a very important list inside the plane, and some very bad people with very bad intentions are looking for it.  I gotta say, not much makes me happier than a new John Connolly book, and I really enjoyed this one.  My only real complaint is that there isn't enough Angel and Louis, but there never is. 

5. Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld:  Kate's living a comfortable life with her husband and two small children when her twin sister Violet makes a splash in the media by predicting an earthquake.  Kate isn't happy about Violet's claims, because for years she's been trying to hide the fact that she and Violet are legitimately psychic.  It's a great premise, the writing is superb, and although I wouldn't call it a funny book, there were a couple of scenes/lines that made me laugh loud and hard. 

6. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King:  Following the events of The Shining, Dan Torrance is scarred by his father's violence and desperately in thrall to an alcohol addiction.  With the help of AA, he manages to get sober and begins working at a hospice where his psychic gift enables him to console terminally ill patients at the time of their deaths, earning him the nickname of Doctor Sleep.  But when Dan receives a mental plea for help from a young girl, he finally has to face his inner demons...and a few real ones as well.

To be honest, this book runs out of steam (no pun intended, not that you'll get the pun unless you've read it) a bit near the end, but overall, it was really good.  The Shining is one of the scariest books I've ever read (and the movie is THE scariest movie I've ever seen, never mind that Stephen King hates it), so I welcomed the opportunity to spend more time with its young protagonist.

7. Poppet by Mo Hayder:  A rash of self-harm incidents rock a British psychiatric hospital.  The inmates, when questioned by staff, blame a mysterious creature they call The Maude.  A dedicated staff nurse calls Detective Jack Caffrey to investigate, and nobody is prepared for what they find.  Typically excellent fare from one of my favorite authors.  Word of warning, though:  it spoils a few things from previous books, so if you want to dip your toe into Mo Hayder's catalog, this isn't the one to start with.

8. Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet:  Patrick Cusimano lives with his brother Mike and Mike's girlfriend Caro.  Mike has never really forgiven Patrick for calling the police on their father, who killed a little boy while driving drunk.  A goth girl named Layla takes a shine to Patrick, and all of their lives (plus that of Layla's bullied sister Verna) intersect in ways they couldn't have imagined.  A beautifully written book that I absolutely loved.

9. The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan:  Violet is a young half-Chinese, half-American girl living in Shanghai in 1912.  Her mother, a celebrated madam, falls in love with a man who betrays her and sells Violet to a rival courtesan house.  Violet struggles to survive her new world, all the while wondering what happened to her mother.  This novel suffers from occasional purple prose, but I still really enjoyed it.

10. The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes:  Harper is a serial killer who's obsessed with murdering "shining girls", his term for young women with great potential.  He finds a house that opens onto other time periods, which allows him to murder and then escape into another era.  But a young woman named Kirby survives his attack, and she won't stop until she brings him down.  Imagine Looper crossed with The Silence of the Lambs, and you have this beautifully creepy book.  It's really good.