Saturday, January 16, 2010

Special 2009 Edition- What Are YOU Reading (plus a contest!)

Yes, I’m a little late posting a “best of” list, but I’m not going to tell you the best books of 2009. What I am going to do is comment on the books that I read in 2009that were my favorites. You see my “To Be Read” pile is so high that I’m a little behind sometimes!

In connection with my list, I’m having a contest. Why? Because I’ve got some amazing followers here, on Twitter, and on Facebook, and I want you guys to discover some of these fabulous books!

I read a lot of YA (young adult) books this year, because I’m writing YA but also because I enjoy them. Some of them are written much better than the novels labeled as for adults. This list is heavy on the YA, but I hope you’ll discover some great new books that interest you. I’ve marked them YA, A for Adult, and MG for Middle Grade (8-12ish), but I think you’ll see that these books transcend those labels.

The contest will run through January 31st at 11:59p.m. Central Time. Entries will be randomized to come up with the winners. To enter, leave a comment here on the blog with your favorite book from 2009 and which book on my list is most interesting to you.

For extra entries, you can do one or more of the following, just make sure and comment at some point before the contest is over so I can give you credit:

+5 entries- new or existing follower of the blog
+3 entries- tweet about this contest or post about it on Facebook or post it in the sidebar of your blog
+7 entries- do a blog post about this contest
+3 entries- become a new follower on Twitter or Facebook
+5 entries- current followers on Twitter or Facebook

1st prize- choice of 2 books on the list (can be from same or different series)
2nd prize- choice of 1 book on the list
3rd prize- $5 gift certificate to your favorite online book retailer

Rules: Contest is open to US, Canada, and anywhere that will ship. If winner is not in US or Canada, book selected must be one that will ship to. $5 gift certificate is in USD only- value will depend on winner’s currency.

Depending on how many people enter, I may add some additional prizes that are writing/reading related or books that I’ve read that are in good shape. Books for 1st and 2nd prize will be new, but may be bargain books so may have retailer marks. If a winner can’t find a book they want on the list (I hope that won’t be the case!), I will make alternate arrangements.

Okay, so now on to the books!

It’s way too difficult to pick a favorite book. That being said, there were two series that so blew me away that I had to make a special mention of them. So… drum-roll, please… the tie for my favorite series of the year (in alphabetical order by author) goes to:
THE HUNGER GAMES Series by Suzanne Collins
The GONE Series by Michael Grant

THE HUNGER GAMES is set in post-apocalyptic Panem (what’s left of the US), where the districts are kept in line through hunger as much as force. The ultimate show of control, however, is the annual Hunger Games; each district must send one boy and one girl to compete, gladiator-style. This novel is so brilliant that I can’t even do it justice. I was worried that I’d be disappointed with book 2, CATCHING FIRE, because I loved book 1 so much. But the second was as good as the first. Hurry up book 3! [YA]

When people ask me what GONE is about, I always tell them it’s like LORD OF THE FLIES mixed with the X-men. Sounds strange, but the book is that and so much more. One day everyone 15 and older disappears into thin air, and a huge, impenetrable dome cuts off the town. The kids are left to fend for themselves, and, to complicate matters further, some kids are developing strange powers and animals are mutating. Once again, I was worried I wouldn’t like the second book in the series (HUNGER) nearly as much, but I actually liked HUNGER more than GONE. I’m on pins and needles for book 3! [YA]

Now for my other favorites this year, all amazing books/series (in alphabetical order by author):

MAGIC BITES (Kate Daniels book 1) by Ilona Andrews- The way Ilona mixes the supernatural world with the real world is amazing. Her descriptions are so tangible that you can see her world as clearly as if you had described it. I love this different take- a mercenary that cleans up magical problems. [A]

THE SUMMONING (book 1 of The Darkest Powers Series) by Kelley Armstrong- Teens end up in a group home because they’re mentally ill… or are they? Chloe discovers she’s actually a necromancer and can talk to the dead. This leads to some genuine creepiness, I tell you. Great story and characters. [YA]

The Gallagher Girls Series by Ally Carter- A boarding school for female spies-in-training? That was all it took to get me interested in this series. The writing and well-done characters kept me coming back for more. This series is funny and interesting but heart-breaking at times. Just like being a teenager. [YA]

THE STRAIN (book 1 of the trilogy) by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan- I’m all for books about rampant zombie vampire viruses. I enjoyed how the book traced the experiences of many characters, the involvement of the CDC, and the back-story of the Master and his hunter. What they don’t “show” is even scarier than what they do. [A]

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman- Anyone who knows me well knows that I swoon if you just say Neil’s name- I adore his writing. This book is so beautiful, but it’s even better listening to him read it on his website. It tells the story of Bod, whose family is murdered when he’s a baby. The ghosts of a nearby graveyard raise him. I think it’s a gorgeous tale of not letting the dark things keep you from living. [MG]

PAPER TOWNS by John Green- A great YA book told from the guy’s point of view. My SAT students kept telling me that I had to read this book. I’ll admit that at first I had a hard time getting into it. But after Margo disappeared, I started to love it, especially the scenes when Quentin is alone, analyzing her clues. Quentin’s search becomes as much about searching for his true self as a search for Margo. [YA]

The WICKED LOVELY Series by Melissa Marr- I’ve never been into fairies/faerys/fae (or whatever you choose to call them), but I’d heard amazing things about this series. I’m glad I listened. I was engaged the entire time by the story and characters of WICKED LOVELY, and Melissa’s writing was so descriptive. I loved the tension she put into the book and how her characters were never what they seemed. I just finished the second book, INK EXCHANGE, which is just as good as the first. [YA]

The WAKE Series by Lisa McMann- I really enjoy this series about a girl who has the (unfortunate) ability to enter people’s dreams. This could have been just another story about a teenage girl with problems, many of which relate to a power she doesn’t understand. But the story rises above that and is much deeper and intense. I won’t tell you much more because I don’t want to give it away, but Janie is a great, complex, real character, and what happens to her, especially in book 2 (FADE), is so powerful. [YA]

NEVER GIVE UP by Joyce Meyer- This is an inspiring book of sticking with your dreams and goals, no matter what. Joyce includes scriptural references, personal stories, and the stories of people in history that overcame great odds and struggles. It’s a very empowering book. [ALL AUDIENCES]

ANGEL TIME (book 1 of the Songs of the Seraphim series) by Anne Rice- This book was nothing like I expected, but I still enjoyed it immensely. Anne weaves the story of a conflicted hitman, the angel sent to offer him redemption, and the treatment of Jews in English history. Sounds odd, but it works. Beautifully written as always. [A]

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series by Rick Riordan- I devoured this series. Even though it was written for an 8-12 year old audience, the books held my interest. Mount Olympus is real? Kids are demi-gods and have to go to camp to learn how to fight? Heroic quests? Very cool. [MG]

LEVIATHAN (book 1 of the series) by Scott Westerfeld- The trailer for this book had me literally salivating to get it. It’s a glorious, steampunk version of World War I. The Clankers (who worship steam machines) are fighting the Darwinists (who worship animals genetically modified to be war machines). I had some difficulty with the vocabulary and pacing at first, but once I got used to it, I loved the book. [MG/YA]

There you have it- the most memorable books for the year for me. What’s on the agenda next? Lots of horror, supernatural beings, a lot of non-fiction (I have quite a pile waiting), retellings of classic novels with monsters, and other assorted fun books. I still have a lot of catching up to do, especially with books that came out in 2009. I’m betting a few of those will be on my 2010 list! Happy reading and good luck in the contest!