Dec 12, 2013

2013 in Review: Best Books I Didn’t Blog About

Welcome to the second in my series of “2013 in Review” posts — this time, I’m covering the best books I read in the past year but never got around to reviewing. I reviewed a smaller portion of my reading in 2013 than in any previous year of blogging, so today’s task could easily become too overwhelming to even be attempted. However: you know how writers often say that the challenge of writing within a specific set of constraints can be an effective way around certain writing obstacles? Well, I drew inspiration from Eva’s one sentence reviews and decided that each of the following mini-reviews will a) follow a “Recommended For” format and b) be no more than 75 words long. Gasp! can long-winded me make it? Find out below:

Midnight Never Come by Marie Brennan:

Recommended for: Fans of historical fiction (especially the Elizabethans), excellent prose, stories about court intrigue, and old (read: dark rather than cutesy) fairy lore. Earlier this year I read and enjoyed Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons, but I think Midnight Never Come is even better. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the Onyx Court series, which follows the human and faerie courts and their intermingling from the Tudor to the Victorian period.

The Ruby Oliver series by E. Lockhart (The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book, The Treasure Map of Boys, Real Live Boyfriends):

Recommended for: Fans of smart contemporary YA with a feminist sensibility. These novels tackle friendship, social status, slut-shaming, female desire, and how girls are taught not to act on what they want (romantically or otherwise). Did I mention they’re really funny? There’s a Gilmore Girls vibe to E. Lockhart’s writing that made me feel at home straight away (I’ve said before that in my head Rory Gilmore and Frankie Landau-Banks are friends; Ruby has now joined their club).

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag:

Recommended for: Anyone interested in journalism, photography and cultural criticism. Before I started this book I was slightly afraid it was going to be an exercise in shaming people for their media consumption without offering a way towards more responsible forms of engagement, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sontag is too thoughtful for self-righteousness; instead, she contextualises the history of images of suffering and invites us to analyse our reactions to the narratives they present.

The Truth About Stories by Thomas King:

Recommended for: Jill, Aarti, and anyone else interested in racial inequality and in how the stories we tell can either subvert or perpetuate harmful stereotypes. King, a First Nations writer and scholar, is knowledgeable, perceptive and engaging. I failed out of a co-review of this in the spring, which is a shame as this is an excellent book to discuss. Quote: “The truth about stories is that that’s all we are.” King spends the book exploring the implications of this premise.

Family Values by Wendy Cope:

Recommended for: Fans of wry, humorous and conversational poetry in the style of Billy Collins, but with a distinctive feminist flavour. I got this book from the library after Jodie shared an excerpt of “Differences of Opinion” which I thought was absolutely perfect. That turned out to be my favourite poem in this collection, but I’m still glad to have read the rest.

Saga by Brian K. Vaugh and Fiona Staples:

Recommended for: Readers looking for a super fun space adventure with a Firefly-ish vibe and an awesome girl narrator. As Jenny puts it, this is a the-fate-of-the-world-is-at-stake type story told from a very personal perspective and populated with characters you quickly grow to care about and who make you feel invested. My one complaint is that there was a male-gazey vibe to certain parts of the story, but overall I had a ton of fun reading Saga.

Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth:

Recommended for: Fans of historical fiction and fairy tale retellings who are comfortable reading about sexual assault. This Renaissance-set reworking of Rapunzel deals with power, inequality, and how women painstakingly carved spaces for themselves amidst unfair social systems through three intertwined storylines. This is a reflective and compassionate novel; dark and violent but not gratuitously so. I regret not having written about it at length, but luckily for us all, Iris did.

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare by Jude Morgan:

Recommended for: Readers of historical fiction who don’t mind speculative approaches to the lives of historical figures. As customary with Morgan, this book is gorgeously written. I didn’t have as much context for it as I did for his take on the Brontës or the Romantics, but I thought Morgan dealt with his subject sensitively and thoughtfully. We can never know the real Shakespeare, but this version lives and breathes and comes across as beautifully and complicatedly human.

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett:

Recommended for: Discworld fans — duh. In all seriousness, I was surprised to see how many themes that had been slowly developed over the course of the series were brought together in Raising Steam. This is a good novel, though not one I’d recommend to Discworld newbies. I was a little heartbroken at a certain unnecessary sexist joke (sob), but on the other hand, That Thing We Find Out! Dying for someone to discuss it with.

Tin Toys by Ursula Holden:

Recommended for: Fans of novels like Saplings, Doreen, and other quiet and sensitive examinations of how children perceive and are affected by large-scale events and other upheavals in the adult world. This trilogy is set around WWII, and each volume is narrated from the point of view of a different sister. I only read the first one before getting sidetracked by life, but I look forward to returning to it in 2014.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin:

Recommended for: Anyone who cares about racism and social inequality. I especially loved the first of the two essays in The Fire Next Time: a letter Baldwin wrote to his fourteen-year-old nephew on the one hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which is gorgeously written and very moving. It’s also tellingly and sadly very relevant, even though a further fifty years have passed since Baldwin penned it.

Winter by Adam Gopnik:

Recommended for: Fans of the kind of non-fiction that aptly balances history, science, cultural criticism and the personal essay — and of course fans of winter. Gopnik approaches his topic from five different angles and writes about the Romantic origins the season as we conceive of it now, Polar exploration, Christmas, winter sports, and remembrances of winter. Not perfect but well worth reading — for a better idea of what to expect, read Kiirstn’s excellent review.

Affiliates disclosure: if you buy a book through one of my affiliates links I will get 5%.


  1. I love your longer reviews, but you have done a great job with these! And look at how much ground you covered. I'm particularly interested in Tin Toys!

  2. Gaah, someone needs to lock me in a cell with Terry Prachett books so I finally read him!

  3. A recommendation from you means a lot to me. Regarding the Pain of Others and The Fire Next Time are both very appealing to me.

  4. You've still managed to make me want to read half these books, even when you've written less than usual. :) I'm particularly intrigued by The Secret Life of William Shakespeare and Bitter Greens.

  5. aw you did a great job! And what a lot of great books you read that you didn't have time to write in-depth about!

  6. There's so many books to add to my reading list! I love fairy tale retellings so I'm adding Bitter Greens to my tbr list. Saga is such a fun book to read. I had no idea that Wendy Cope had a collection of poetry out. Nice list.

  7. AH I'm so excited you got Cope because of me :) I also reaaaallly like 'The Sitter' and because it is silly 'Timekeeping'.

  8. Good stuff! I am reading Midnight Never Come right now and it is really good! I have all four of the books, so I am excited to read on in the series. I am not sure how I don't have that Thomas King. I love Thomas King! I really need to get to Volume 2 of Saga. I have it. Just slow reading year! And then there is Bitter Greens, which I own and haven't read! I even got her other book because I imagine I will like them, but yep, haven't read either of them. Still haven't read Jude Morgan and you know I am planning to work through Terry Pratchett in 2014. The others all sound good too, though!

  9. I haven't read any Wendy Cope for ages, so thank you for reminding me about what an accessible and funny poet she is.

  10. I loved these reviews! I had to stop writing individual book reports except for an occasional few. It felt like I was spending more time writing about books than reading them. Sometimes I feel badly but mostly it has been a good thing. I now do little monthly reports.
    I think you can really say a lot in a few words, and you proved it in these reviews. I got a strong feeling about the books and could tell if they would appeal to me or not. Thanks.

  11. Sandy: Thank you! I hope you enjoy Tin Toys if you get around to it.

    Jill: I could do the honours if you'd like? ;) Seriously, READ NATION.

    Kathy: That is lovely to hear <3

    Meghan: I'd loooove to hear your thoughts on Bitter Greens!

    Amy: Sigh, my kingdom for more time :P

    Vasilly: I can't wait for the next volume of Saga. I wish the whole thing was out so I could binge on it right now :P

    Jodie: It was really good! Thanks for bringing it to my attention :)

    Kelly: yay, you're reading the Onyx Court series too! Maybe we could read one of them together at some point next year? Also, your PTerry 2014 plans make me really happy :D

    vicki: You're most welcome :D

    Nan: I have to confess I'm a fan of longer reviews - I don't have time to write as many as I'd like and also I can get really anxious about them not being good enough and etc, but there's nothing quite as satisfying as digging deep into my reaction to a book or other piece of media via many, many words. Of course, not everything I read or watch lends itself to that, and if it starts to feel like too much of a chore then it's really freeing to just stop doing it - because we CAN. Anyway, all this to say that while I won't be moving towards shorter writing permanently, I'm really happy to hear you found these useful, and yay for blogging in a way that makes you happy.

  12. Oh man, Ana, what a great list! SO many things to add to the library holds list. The bummer is that my library doesn't seem to have Bitter Greens, but never fear! I'm on the hunt for it now, because it sounds almost perfectly dark and sinister, but also - fairy tales.

  13. Oh silly, silly Debi. I thought that maybe with short little reviews you wouldn't convince me that I need to read every single book you talked about. Yep, I was wrong.

  14. I have never heard of the King book and I did NOT EVEN KNOW that Pratchett had a new book out! I must remedy that and then we can talk about this Thing that you refer to...

  15. This is how it should always be!!! No self-indulgent mumbo-jumbo, just tell me if I should read it.

  16. Yay for E. Lockhart! I haven't read this series but now see that I will have to. I absolutely love Rory and loved frankie too.

  17. Great list! I've reviewed Midnight Never Come at slightly more length here:
    I'll have to put the others on my TBR list.

  18. Love Saga! I've been meaning to get the second volume since I bought the first for our library's collection. Have you read Sailor Twain? Totally unrelated, but one of my favorites from 2013.

    Now I'm really excited to finally get around to reading my copy of Midnight Never Come :)


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.