Top Ten Tuesday #13

Top Ten Tuesday is an original weekly meme hosted by  The Broke and the Bookish. Click  here to read more and join!

Top Ten Tuesday is an original weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Click here to read more and join!

This week’s TTT concerns top 10 books I’ve read in 2013. I’ve read under my usual number of books this year, and I might normally have a difficult time choose just 10 books. 2013, however, has not been my best year for reading–it started off well enough, and then I ran smack into one- and two-star books back-to-back-to-back. It frustrated me and stole a bit of my love for reading. I have read more books that aren’t brilliant but I do like, yet those aren’t enough to make my top ten. It’s only recently that I’m regaining enjoyment through some wonderful books, and I have some enticing reads planned out for the next few weeks. For now, though, here are my favorites of 2013:

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I am the Messenger

1. I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
After reading the heart-wrenching tear-jerker, The Book Thief, I wasn’t too sure that Zusak could impress me as much as he did with his 2006 bestseller. Whether he did or didn’t is hardly the point, as I don’t believe the two novels can compare against each other. The two books are profoundly different, and the one similarity they share is the person who wrote them: the wonderfully talented Markus Zusak. I am the Messenger punched my emotions all around, and at the same time, the story of Ed’s journey and personal growth is both touching and inspiring. If you haven’t read The Book Thief, or if you  have and didn’t enjoy it, I highly recommend giving this a try.

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Teeth

2. Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz
For nearly a month, I did a little dance around the bookstore with Teeth only to sit it back on the shelf. I wanted to buy it–not just read it, but physically own it–yet I had little knowledge of the plot. All for the best, I’d say. I did succumb to the strong urge to buy Hannah Moskowitz’s book, and once I had it I read it and didn’t stop until I hit the last page. It’s gritty, it’s beautiful, and it’s bleak. Some might call the end bittersweet… I think it’s just sad, and it still gets my emotions wound up months after finishing the book. Good on you, Moskowitz — I look forward to reading the rest of her novels!

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Siege and Storm

3. Siege & Storm (The Grisha #2) by Leigh Bardugo
Us Grisha fans waited a year to see this book’s publication, but how I wanted it to come out sooner–and desperately. Shadow & Bone remains one of my top favorite reads from 2012, just as Siege & Storm will remains one of my favorites from this year. Leigh Bardugo surprised me senseless and silly with how much growth both the characters and storyline undergo, and my one regret in reading Siege & Storm is reading it too soon and too quickly. Why? Because now all I care for is third (and–sob–last) Grisha book, Ruin & Rising, which does not come out until 2014.

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Saving Francesca

4. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
I’m disappointed that it took me this long to read a Melina Marchetta book. I did attempt Finnikin of the Rock–and I admit that just might not be the book for me–but it is Saving Francesca that became my first Marchetta read. It’s  heart-warming and heart-wrenching all at once, and it was well worth the moments my eyes teared up–and it is certainly worth reading for all the moments it made me laugh.

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The Knife of Never Letting Go

5. The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1) by Patrick Ness
If anyone is searching for a gripping novel, this is for you. It’s an addicting page-turner where there is no place to pause.  The Knife of Never Letting Go is one of the best, if not the best, young adult dystopian novel I have read. Danger and risks await at every page and lurk in the margins, but more than that, I love the writing and I love the characters. Anyone who’s read this will understand my restless upset over Manchee, but I also enjoy the path that Viola’s and Todd’s friendship take. The villains are nothing but insane (and insanely evil), and more than anything, they are indestructible. (What is up with that?) Yikes.

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Warm Bodies

6. Warm Bodies (Warm Bodies #1) by Isaac Marion
No, I still have not seen the movie–but at least I read the book! I’m not sure where Marion will take this in the sequel, whether it will contain the same characters or introduce an entirely set that live in the same universe. Either way, Warm Bodies surprised me with its lucid eloquence and its equally intelligent characters. For a zombie, R shows keen perception of his environment and complex thought, and I enjoyed reading his journey of self-exploration and finding love.

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Dr. Bird's Advice

7. Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
I took an instant liking toward Rosko’s protagonist, James Whitman. He’s endearing without trying, and he’s likable on an adorable level where I’d hug him if he were real. Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets tells the story of sixteen year old James and his struggle against depression, anxiety, and life itself. (Oh, and his therapist is an imaginary pigeon.) Books of this nature are typically “gritty” and mood-dampeners, but Rosko’s novel takes after the humor found in Ned Vizinni’s It’s Kind of a Funny Story. The story is not without flaws, but I enjoyed reading it nonetheless–and I intend to give it another go this summer.

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Alanna

8. Alanna: The First Adventure (Song of the Lioness #1) by Tamora Pierce
I finally did it: I read a Tamora Pierce novel! Alanna: The First Adventure makes the one and only Pierce novel I have read, but not for long. I have the rest of the series on hand, and–if I’m lucky–I can move onto Pierce’s next series within the next few weeks. Alanna is a strong and determined character who makes an excellent role model for young readers. I wasn’t blown away by the writing or world-building, but it did entertain me — I’m eager to see where Alanna’s journey leads (and I’m excited to read through more of Tamora Pierce’s series)!

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Alex Woods

9. The Universe versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence
The Universe Versus Alex Woods is the most recent book I have finished, and my review is scheduled to post soon — it’s a wonderful coming-of-age story about the very peculiar Alex Woods and his friendship with war veteran Mr. Peterson. The writing sits on the slow but steady side of pacing, yet I find the novel smart like its narrator (even if he is young and naïve).

 

Which of your 2013 reads make the top of your list?

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Book Review: Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

Saving FrancescaSaving Francesca by Melina Marchetta

My rating: ★★★★★

I don’t remember the last time anyone looked me in the eye to speak to me. I’m frightened to look at myself in the mirror because maybe nothing’s there.

I miss the Stella girls telling me what I am. That I’m sweet and placid and accommodating and loyal and nonthreatening and good to have around. And Mia. I want her to say, “Frankie, you’re silly, you’re lazy, you’re talented, you’re passionate, you’re restrained, you’re blossoming, you’re contrary.”

I want to be an adjective again.
But I’m a noun.
A nothing. A nobody. A no one.

If I could admit to having read a shelf full of Melina Marchetta books, then I would happily name her as my new favorite author. That’s how confident I am in her writing, because after reading her second published novel, Saving Francesca, it’s nearly impossible to imagine any one of her books disappointing me. Saving Francesca is a charmer, and an addicting one at that. Not since my love affair with Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina, and books like Between Shades of Gray, have I felt so drawn to a character that I sacrifice an entire night of sleep. With Marchetta’s novel, however, it’s not merely the main character that hooks me into the story. Just like the aforementioned titles, it’s everything these pages offer. It’s the characters, their relationships and stories, and the palpable world they live in.

Lucky Francesca Spinelli, for she is one of thirty girls attending St. Sebastian’s—only Francesca and her fellow female peers aren’t so lucky. Formerly an all-boys school, St. Sebastian’s has only recently opened as co-ed. What might appear as a paradise for teenage girls is anything but, as Sebastian’s becomes a breeding ground for sexism. The girls, if not ignored, are treated like inferiors and often seen as dolled-up eye-candy. The boys are far from suave, romanticized sex gods, but rather offensive with only a few male students who show redeeming qualities. A lonely, cruel place, Francesca must feel that Sebastian’s is a punishing institution worthy to be deemed a nightmare.

As Francesca’s old St. Stella’s clique attend a different school, she feels her closest friends slipping away. But were they ever her friends when they discourage the very essence that makes Francesca likeable? If they never call or invite her out? Hanging around such a scrutinizing bunch didn’t exactly ring Francesca dry of her buoyant personality, but she did bury it beneath an instinct to blend in. It’s a misfortunate characteristic to learn, and feeling friendless and miserable and confused over her mother’s sudden depression doesn’t make life at Sebastian’s easier.

“Tell me the story about when I almost drowned?” I ask her, so then she can be the hero and it’ll make her feel better. But she says nothing and I switch on the television and I pretend that what we’re watching is funny. It’s a sitcom about a family, two kids, a mum, and a dad. Their idea of tension is an argument about who gets the cottage out back. At the end, everyone’s happy because that’s what happens in television land. Things get solved in thirty minutes.

God, I want to live there.

But splitting up with “the Stella girls” is one of the best things that can happen to Francesca, because who needs judgmental “friends”? Slowly and surely, Francesca’s old friends are replaced by new ones: Tara Finke, the feminist, or simply the ‘Speak Your Mind About Anything-ist’; Justine Kalinsky, the solid and dependable accordion geek; and Siobhan Sullivan, reportedly “the Slut of St. Stella’s” and Francesca’s long-time-ago best friend. Then, by some shock and surprise, even a few boys turn up: Jimmy Hailler, who wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than at a Spinelli dinner; Thomas Mackee, always plugged into his Discman; and finally Will Trombal, Francesca’s giant crush.

“Forget it,” he says, walking away angrily.

“And what’s the name for people who kiss other people when they’ve got a girlfriend?”

He stops and turns around, looking me straight in the eye.

“A weak, spineless prick.”

Oh great, I think. Take the right to call you names right off me, you… weak, spineless prick.

Marchetta’s strength resides in her characters and her ability to write life. Her characters are perfect in the ways they are imperfect, not only likeable but relatable. They feel as real as you or me, because I believe—without a moment’s hesitation—that somewhere out there in the world is a Francesca Spinelli, a Will Trombal, and a Tara Finke and Thomas Mackee. Marchetta writes with depth, lighting up every crevice of their personalities. These are fully rounded characters, each and every one. Not even secondary characters can avoid this writer’s prowess—even if they are mentioned once never to be heard from again. As real as I believe these characters to be, however, I also recognize their own strengths.

I know from experience that high school isn’t easy, and it can be a challenging place to tackle. Feeling alone and unattached, having no group to belong to, doesn’t make it any more inspiring. Throw depression into the mix, and it all as well might seem hopeless. Depression itself is a bleak situation of its own, affecting not only the person who suffers from it, but those around the depressed individual. When depression strikes Francesca’s mother, it nearly rips the Spinelli family apart, but Francesca is stronger than she thinks—and so is her mother.

Saving Francesca isn’t a book about ideals, as the characters and their problems are far from that. What this book does have is sensibility and a resounding support system that fills me with envy. As Francesca’s mismatched group comes to accept each other, they display resourcefulness to help themselves and support their friends. They accept each other, flaws and all, with such genuine care and love that I find it difficult not to feel affected.

“I was born seventeen years ago,” I tell him. “Do you think people have noticed that I’m around?”

“I notice when you’re not. Does that count?”

Saving Francesca has more to it than the typical young adult contemporary novel, and I believe this has much to do with how realistically Marchetta writes from the teenage perspective. This is a book about moms and daughters, platonic love, and finding your spot among a crazy, intimidating herd. This is Francesca Spinelli’s story toward finding her own strength—strength to save and free herself, to let go of inhibitions—just as much as it is about personal growth. Equally heart-wrenching as it is heart-warming, Saving Francesca is peppered in pure, sincere emotion with delightful humor. It’s a book that will make you laugh and spill tears, and I am betting that it will be a book you’ll want to read all over again.

A great feeling comes over me. Because for a moment, I kind of like who I am.

Library Loot #10

  • Library LootLibrary Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post — feel free to steal the button — and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

I’m back with more loot! A lot more loot, at that, which is a sure-sign of spring quarter burn-out. The first indication of school burn-out is actually when I’m spotted wearing Ugg boots. Yes, boots in spring (and silence yourself before judging my fashion sense, because it doesn’t matter what anyone says: those are the most comfortable footwear to exist, and wearing them is my way of saying “I don’t care about a thing unless that thing is doing nothing.”) Pffft to what Steve Pool says (only my favorite weatherman). Just because it’s spring does not mean it’s warm. (*Okay, it’s warming up. That still doesn’t mean it’s warm.)

Lazy dress code aside, the next thing I go to are books. Lots of books. Too many books for me to possibly read in a one to two-week period. But if you dump too many reading assignments and papers and tests on my lap, and I will instinctively seek to crawl up in a book pile where I can forget about all this work.

Work is bleh, and here is how I deal with it:

Library Loot 1

It finally came in! Not Watchmen but Saving Francesca. My library doesn’t have the book, so I requested it through an inter-library loan. Months ago. And several times before that, I swear it, but it seems like not all my requests go through or they are cancelled for some reason or another (like my ever-growing library fee). Marchetta’s novel takes reading priority above the rest, since I hate trying to renew loans. Obviously, I also picked up Watchmen — I was eager for it!

Library Loot 2

I went a tiny bit overboard on the “gritty” YA books, but they’re all titles I’ve had my eyes on for a long, long time. (Zevin’s book is probably more of a YA contemporary chick-lit, though.) I recently watched the film adaption of Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (movie trailer!), which I think is a giant two-hour waste of BLAH and BORING and basically UNEVENTFUL. I have a feeling the book is better, which is why I decided to pick it up. Alexie’s novel, I’ve heard, is really quite good, so I hope to fit that in before the due date creeps up.

Library Loot 3

Oh, chick-lit. I gotta say it’s not always my cup of tea, especially the melodramatic and predictable ones. *cough*lola&theboynextdoor*cough* However, if there is one thing I do like about this genre, it’s that they are generally light. Right now, I need light novels. Cohn and Levithan’s collaborative work sounds like the most promising, but I have no idea what to expect from the other three. Eulberg’s book is something I want to check out for what sounds like a fun, possibly humorous read. Love & Leftovers is a novel in verse, which I’m generally wary to approach, but I hope to be surprised.

Library Loot 4

  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • Slam by Nick Hornby

These, along with Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour (hey, I saw it there on the shelf and went for it), are random grabs. There is something about reading Shakespeare on my own that feels intimidating. I remember reading Macbeth in school and how the complementary lessons lent me insight for a deeper read. Unfortunately, Macbeth remains the only Shakespeare play I’ve read thanks to my ninth grade English teacher. (While everyone else read up to three Shakespeare plays and classics like Animal Farm, my class spent half a semester watching Amistad so that we could understand  racial inequality and “big words” like “to scold” in To Kill a Mockingbird. It was all very insulting, not to mention disappointing.)

Now if you’ll excuse me: I have a medical anthropology textbook to murder.

Library Loot

(*All right, it is warm. Or: No, actually, it’s hot. Too hot for any boots–especially my favorite comfy pair, dammit.)