Thursday, December 13, 2012

Our Top 10 in 2012: Jennie's List of Greats

Jennie is another new voice here at the blog, she's been super busy this year as a member of the committee that awards the prize for the YALSA Excellence in Non Fiction Award, we're excited to see what she liked on the fiction side of things.

Gilt by Katherine Longshore

Why aren’t there more teen books about Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s young, beautiful, spirited, and ultimately doomed 5th wife? It’s the perfect YA story! Passion! Betrayal! Pretty dresses! Lots of parties and mean girls! And, something I’m always a major sucker for, a ton of court intrigue. Even though I walked into this not only knowing how the story ends, but most of the twists and turns along the way, Longshore plays up the tension and the danger so well, it was still a thrilling ride to get there.
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

On the surface, it’s a retelling of the Frog Prince. And Cinderella. Plus, there’s some Red Shoes, and Jack and the Beanstalk and many other stories woven in and big and small ways. I love that despite throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, this one never feels cluttered or overdone. I adore fairy tale retellings and Kontis’s character of Sunday is my favorite type of heroine--she’s the right balance of strength and weakness, of confidence and doubt. She’s so real and believable.

NoCrystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the life and work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (see more)

It’s a book told in “stuff”-- narratives from different characters, photographs, newspaper articles, ephemera, FBI reports that allow the author to seamlessly blend fact with fiction. (Lewis Michaux was a real person and his bookstore was a landmark and important meeting place in Harlem. People came to talk to him and learn from him just as much as they came for the books.)

It's an important book in that it highlights a fascinating part of America's past. But it's a good book because Micheaux Nelson can tell a story. The weight of history doesn't pull it down, the extra material adds to the engaging nature of the narrative instead of detracting. She not only tells us the story of her family, but paints a wonderful picture of Harlem and the greater scene without it getting in the way of what is, at its heart, the story of a man trying to get a neighborhood to wake up and read.

Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

Remember how I said I loved court intrigue? Rae Carson is a master. Everything I loved about Girl of Fire and Thorns, (see more) stays true for this sequel. I continue to love the world that Carson has built. I love how she plays with the conventions of the genre--instead of a fantasy world that is vaguely European, we get one that’s vaguely Central American. Religion plays a huge and fascinating role--I love how the differing interpretations of scripture get rolled into the court politics. And no one writes a love triangle like Carson-- never caught between two hot guys who like her, Elisa is always caught between duty and her heart. I also like that while she learned lessons in Girl of Fire and Thorns and has grown as a person and a leader, Elisa hasn’t mastered those lessons yet, so there’s still room for improvement.

Now, the agonizing wait until the next one comes out!

Princesses of Iowa by M. Molly Backes

Backes paints the complicated world of changing friendships and self-identity so well. You don’t want to like Paige-- she’s not a nice person, but you can’t help falling in love with her. Her like her voice and her journey as she struggles between what she knows and what is right. Plus, Molly and I have been friends since high school and she knows how to write a beautiful sentence!

Traitor in the Tunnel by YS Lee

I love this series. I adore the way Lee writes historical fiction. She paints her Victorian world so well and with so much detail (her description of the sewers is fantastic) but it never overwhelms or detracts from the actual story. I also really liked her portrait of Queen Victoria-- fun and stern mother with her family, but proper and commanding Queen when needed. Lee gives her depth and complexity, even though she's a minor character that doesn't get much page-time. Plus, James and Mary are one of my favorite romances in fiction. SWOON!

Grave Mercy by Robin L. LeFevers (see our full review here)

All you really need to know about this amazing book is that it involves ASSASSIN NUNS.

Despite some amazing court intrigue on this list, Grave Mercy wins. Despite some awesome historical fiction on this list, Grave Mercy wins (I spent WAY too much time reading about the Duchy of Brittany after finishing this book.) Despite some awesome heroines on this list, Grave Mercy wins. Plus, ASSASSIN NUNS.

Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta (see our full review here)

My first reaction upon finishing this sequel to Finnikin of the Rock was rage and anger. Nothing Marchetta writes is clean or easy. It’s messy and hard and characters I love get put in impossible situations and make horrible decisions. Everything Marchetta touches is messy and complex. She’s the master of the slow reveal , always adding a layer of complexity, and even when you figure something out before the characters, you haven’t figured all of it out. But, despite my anger, I kept thinking about it. And thinking about it. And thinking about it. And once I learned that there’s another book coming and the story isn’t ending where the book ends, it slowly became a favorite book.

Redshirts by John Scalzi

This is a book on my Alex Award watch. It’s published for adults, but one that I think teens will love. It is in no way, shape, or form about the nameless red-shirted crew members on Star Trek who die right before commercial break so Shatner can get all dramatic. Nope. nope. nope. Not at all.

It's an entertaining premise, but I was worried going into it-- was the premise enough to carry the entire book? Or would it be a joke that got old in 50 pages but I still had to slog through the rest?

NO WORRIES. It's a joke that holds. Part of the reason is that Scalzi creates real characters and real relationships. Even though it's satire, it has much more depth and meaning than I was expecting. It's a great look at making your life (and death) matter, the art of writing, and taking charge of your destiny. All while being really, really funny. Plus, even I got the joke and enjoyed it, and I’ve never seen an entire episode of Star Trek.

One for the Murphys by Linda Mullaly Hunt

This is one that we have in the children’s section, but really is borderline between children’s and teens and shouldn’t be missed!

I started reading this, thinking I'd get a few chapters in before bed and ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting. I loved it. First and foremost, I adored Carley's voice. She uses a lot of sarcasm to keep people at arm's length but she's really funny. Even her interior monologue has this cutting wit. The chapter titles, especially, were a nice touch. The Murphys are pretty dang perfect, but even then we see that fostering a child is a personal crusade of Mrs. Murphy and her husband and oldest son need some time coming around to Carley. But it's so nice to read about a positive foster care experience. There's this very bittersweet feel to the entire book-- the ending's a bit messy (in the best way).

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