Divergent

Year in Review: 10 Favorite Books of 2013

As we near the end of 2013, I thought, like all other somewhat self-centers millennials, it might be fun to write a few year-end posts reflecting on my favorite pop culture ventures this year. To start it off, I’ve decided to discuss my favorite books I read in 2013, and I’ll move on to TV and movies closer to the end of the year (there are still too many worthwhile movies to see before I can make my decisions!). So, in the order in which I read them, here are the 10 books I most enjoyed this year.

Little Women

1. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, completed January 2013

There isn’t much more to say than that this is a rather perfect read, especially in winter, for all female audiences. I’d also like to say it’s appropriate for male readers, but there’s something about the March women that speaks to women of all ages. This is one of those stories that can simultaneously warm and break your heart, and it certain to be one you’ll want to revisit.

 A Moveable Feast

2. A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway, completed March 2013

It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a Hemingway fangirl, so you can’t be too surprised here. Not only does this book present Hemingway’s characteristically simple writing style, it also features the idyllic setting of Paris in the 1920s. As a French major who loves Papa Hemingway, this book is basically catnip for me. An added bonus: my favorite Hemingway wife, Hadley, is present for the majority of the book. She’s perfect, and you should read this, but only after familiarizing yourself with some of Hemingway’s great fictional writing. This cannot be fully appreciated if you don’t know Hemingway’s writing or life to some extent.

Fault in Our Stars

3. The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, completed March 2013

In all fairness, this was a reread, but it doesn’t get any less devastatingly perfect the second time around. In fact, I think I cried more this time because I knew what was coming. Even though this book was just released last year, it’s become an instant classic; it’s an absolutely essential read for young and old audiences. John Green, you’re a god. And an added perk: the film adaptation will be released in June of 2014, so if you haven’t read this yet, be sure to before then.

The Great Gatsby

4. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, completed May 2013

Another reread, but also a perfect classic. I reread Gatsby before the new film was released, and I was happy to realize that I was just as enamored with the book now as I was when I first read it four years ago. Fitzgerald’s story is timeless and brilliant; I feel like I marked or underlined every other sentence because I loved the language so much. If you’re looking for “easy” but literary reading material, this is a must read.

The Awakening

5. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin, completed May 2013

Before I started this novel I basically knew the whole story; I remember hearing my fellow students complain about the ending my junior year of high school. This knowledge, however, did not stop me from loving the 100-page novel so important to feminist literature. I understand why my classmates disliked this story in the past, but since I was four years older when I read it, I think I had the necessary perspective to understand how great it really is.

Divergent

6. Divergent, by Veronica Roth, completed June 2013

I debated reading this series for a while before finally buying the first installment on a whim, and I’m so very glad I did. This series is definitely for fans of The Hunger Games as it also features a strong-willed teenage female as the story’s heroine, but it’s important not to compare the two series too often. The film adaptation of Divergent comes out in March of 2014, and the sequel begins filming in April, so read this over Christmas break if you want to be part of the hype for what I imagine will be the next big thing in teen reading.

The Penultimate Peril

7. The Penultimate Peril, by Lemony Snicket, completed July 2013

I’m happy to say I completed the entire Series of Unfortunate Events in 2013, and there’s really only one reason why this one stands out as my favorite: this book had one of the funniest lines I’ve ever read in children’s literature (if you’re interested, I posted it as a quote in July after finishing the book). The entire series is great, but I’m not sure I’ll ever quit laughing over some of the humor in this one.

The Cuckoo's Calling

8. The Cuckoo’s Calling, by Robert Galbraith, completed August 2013

This is probably the most talked-about book of 2013 due to its real author: J.K. Rowling. It was definitely worth the fuss. The twists and turns are sure to keep readers’ attention, but the story also keeps to a rather straight and simple format that makes it an easy read. I certainly hope Rowling feels compelled to continue this in the future.

My Antonia

9. My Antonia, by Willa Cather, completed August 2013

Like The AwakeningMy Antonia is a notable work of female literature, though the settings and events of the two couldn’t be more different. As an almost-native of the plains of Nebraska, this novel speaks to me in a way that’s probably difficult for most readers to comprehend. Cather captures the frontier lifestyle of Nebraska perfectly; one reason I enjoyed this book so much was that I felt so at peace when reading it. I could feel the wind and smell the earth that can only be understood by visiting the region. This is certainly a novel I’d recommend, but a regional recognition is almost imperative to really appreciate it.

The Giver

10. The Giver, by Lois Lowry, completed November 2013

I had a hard time picking my final book, partially because this fall I took a long time to get through one reading project, but also because nothing else was really standing out to be as especially stellar. Maybe I’m being picky, but I had a hard time picking great books from those I read this year. On a positive note, I read several things outside my normal genres this year and completed some bucket list goals (A Series of Unfortunate Events, for instance) while exceeding my year’s goal by 10 books (so far). Ultimately, my favorite book I’ve read recently was probably The Giver, though I wasn’t totally satisfied by it. I liked the story so much for probably three-quarters of the novel, but I felt like Lowry rushed through the book’s climax and conclusion so much that I was left in a lurch. The ending chapters struck me as very odd, and I’m interested to see if it plays better on screen when the film adaptation is released in 2014.

So, what books did you read this year? If nothing else, here’s to a 2014 filled with quickly turning pages and stories worth reading.

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Book List Update #9: 41-45

Even though I’ve completed my goal for the year, I’m continuing my busy reading for the year. Here are the latest updates.

Bridget Jones's Diary

41. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding

I’ve been a fan of the film adaptation of this novel since it came out 10 years ago, so I was very excited to read the book. Though I may be biased, I believe the film fixed the book’s problems. Most of the characters are more likeable in the movie, particularly Bridget’s mother, and even Bridget herself. Also, the movie does a much better job of developing Daniel and Mark as characters, allowing the audience a better understanding of Bridget and her often confusing decisions. If you’re new to this story, I would definitely recommend the movie over the book, but I’m the type of person who likes to be thorough. Either way, the story is great.

Repotting Harry Potter

42. Repotting Harry Potter, James W. Thomas

As you may know, I’m in the process of writing my undergraduate Honors thesis project on the literary merits of the Potter series, and this is one of the many sources I’ve collected on the subject. I read a shorter article by James W. Thomas previously that I enjoyed, and this book is essentially an expansion of that article, giving book-by-book breakdowns of the Potter series and analyzing it chapters at a time. I think Thomas’s writing gets a bit repetitive at times, but he makes great points and offers insights into all kinds of minor details us Potter fanatics love. On a related note, Thomas also referred to Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner many times throughout this book, references which are quite pleasing to me being a major fan of those authors as well. I intend to refer to Thomas’s writing in my own project, so this was definitely a worthwhile read.

A-Streetcar-Named-Desire_Chicago_1951_front-cover

43. A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams

Reading classics is always fun, especially when they’re as good as A Streetcar Named Desire. I’m really anxious to watch the movie, because I’m a firm believer in seeing plays as they’re meant to be seen. This is a great American story comparable to The Glass Menagerie or Death of a Salesman. If you’re interested in theatre, this is a must read.

'salem's Lot

44. ‘salem’s Lot, Stephen King

This has certainly been my slowest reading venture of the year, but sometimes school must take precedence over fun. However, I’m happy I didn’t finish this until mid-October, because it certainly fits in well with the Halloween season. This is great for fans of Stephen King, Dracula, or anything of the horror genre. It’s a long book, but apart from a few slower parts, it’s an entertaining read.

Allegiant

 

45. Allegiant, Veronica Roth

Over the summer I became a quick fan of the Divergent series, so the release of the final installment last week was a highly anticipated event for me. I had my suspicions about the book’s ending early on, and as much as I wish I hadn’t been correct, I was. Without giving away any spoilers: it’s a very bittersweet ending. Overall, though, it’s a satisfying conclusion to this trilogy, though the story is a bit slower and less riveting than in the two previous novels. Either way, I’m very excited for the first movie installment to be released in March, and I certainly expect to revisit this series from time to time in the future.

Book Update #7: 31-35

I can’t believe that I’ve been making progress so quickly! For the past few years, I’ve come in at just under 40 books for the whole year, so I think my progress thus far has been pretty great. Anyway, here are my reviews for my most recent reading ventures.

Insurgent

31. Insurgent, Veronica Roth

As I said in my last post when I reviewed Divergent, I’m kind of obsessed with these books. The sequel puts heroine Tris in more dire situations as she and her cohorts struggle in a war between factions, and the war against Divergent citizens continues to worsen. One thing to note about this series: author Veronica Roth does not hesitate to kill off important characters in a way that can be surprising for the pacing of the books. This novel definitely ends with a bigger cliffhanger than its predecessor, so I’m already anxious to be able to read the final installment when it’s released this October. Until then, I’ll be keeping up with filming updates for the Divergent movie which is scheduled for release in March of 2014.

The Penultimate Peril

32. The Penultimate Peril, Lemony Snicket
I must say, The Penltimate Peril was one of my very favorite books in this series. Though there isn’t a ton that gets accomplished during this novel, it’s still quite important to the story and provides lots of great humor. (Side note: I was reading this on a flight back home from New York and couldn’t stop laughing at this line: “But the three siblings were not born yesterday. Violet was born more than fifteen years before this particular Wednesday, and Klaus was born approximately two years after than, and even Sunny, who had just passed out of babyhood, was not born yesterday. Neither were you, unless of course I am wrong, in which case welcome to the world, little baby, and congratulations on learning to read so early in life.”). I’m really looking forward to finally reading the last book in this series, but I’m sure it will be a bittersweet conclusion. However, I’ll be very thankful to have closure on this wonderful story of the Baudelaire orphans.

Fifty Shades of Grey

33. Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James

Okay, the most embarrassing thing about this is that this was my second time reading this book. Yeah. So… I was on an airplane and wanted some mindless entertainment and this was on my iPad, so voila, that’s how a girl ends up reading the Fifty Shades trilogy for a second time. Whatever. In terms of review: um… Christian didn’t bother me a much as he did when I first read this a year ago, but I assume that’s because I know where the story is going. And I guess because I’m in a phase of crappy entertainment, I’m probably going to be rereading the other two books as well. Thank God for summer break when reading can be this silly.

Fifty Shades Darker

34. Fifty Shades Darker, E.L. James

Okay, again, this is embarrassing, but it happened, so oh well. This is my guilty pleasure summer indulgence reading at its finest. There isn’t really much to say about it, except that I have enjoyed the characters more during my reread. Other than that… It’s silly, trashy, mindless entertainment, which is sometimes exactly what you need.

The Cuckoo's Calling

 

35. The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith

Being a huge J.K. Rowling fan, it was absolutely necessary for me to purchase The Cuckoo’s Calling once the news leaked that the book had been written by Rowling under a pseudonym, and I’m very happy to say it did not disappoint. The Cuckoo’s Calling features a fairly minor group of characters in comparison with Rowling’s other works, but this allows readers to get a better sense of who these characters really are. The story centers on Cormoran Strike, a detective who’s been hired to investigate the alleged suicide of supermodel Lula Landry. The pieces in this mystery come together very slowly, but they ultimately result in a satisfying conclusion. If you’re a fan of Rowling’s other works, this book definitely contains her characteristic writing flair, and I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a good read to end your summer. Rowling proves herself as an intriguing crime author, including enough twists and turns to bring Agatha Christie to mind. I’m very interested to see if Rowling decides to continue with these characters in a series. If so, count me in.

Next stop: The End, the conclusion to A Series of Unfortunate Events. Stay tuned!

Book Update #6: 26-30

My reading has slowed down a bit since I’m trying to incorporate a bigger variety of material into my repertoire. Here are my most recent reads and a quick review of each.

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26. Beautiful Chaos, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

Like I said when I read Beautiful Darkness (the second book in this series), I’ve continually been surprised by how much I’m enjoying these books. This installment ended in a cliffhanger, so I’m anxious to get the final installment to see how the story wraps up. Once again, these books are filled with compelling characters and interesting story lines that interweave supernatural incidents with traditional Southern culture.

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27. Persuasion, Jane Austen

This is only the second Austen book I’ve read (after Pride and Prejudice) and I can’t say it lived up to my expectations. I think the biggest different in these two books is the lack of appealing or likeable characters in Persuasion. Unfortunately, the only people I was very interested in were the heroine Anne Elliot, her long-time love Captain Wentworth, and her incapacitated friend Mrs. Smith. Because of this, I found it difficult to motivate myself to read this one very quickly. However, the story wraps up nicely in a true Austen fashion with a happy engagement. I plan to read Emma and Sense and Sensibility sometime soon, so hopefully those will be more enjoyable than Persuasion.

The Slippery Slope

28. The Slippery Slope, Lemony Snicket

Reading these last few installments in the Series of Unfortunate Events has been a much more exciting experience for me, especially as the mysteries of the series begin to resolve. Once again, this is a book full of Snicket’s literary humor that is more easily understood with age. (My favorite from this book was an allusion to Citizen Kane when Sunny utters “Rosebud.”) Looking forward to finishing this series in the near future!

Divergent

29. Divergent, Veronica Roth

THIS WAS SO MUCH FUN TO READ! I was definitely itching to read something of this style, and I was very pleased with my choice. Divergent is a must-read for fans of The Hunger Games series, but don’t make the mistake of trying to compare the two too much (this is how I was at the beginning, but it’s easier to let your assumptions go when you’re reading). Tris is a great female lead — I’m so happy that more and more young adult books are being published that feature strong, complex females in leading roles. Even at 485 pages, this story moves very quickly, and it only took me two days to get through it. I can’t wait to start reading Insurgent, the next installment in this trilogy, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find any copies when I went out yesterday. However, I’m taking that as a sign to do some other reading before I return to this series, which will also probably help me stay less anxious in waiting for the final book to be released this October and the movie adaptation in March 2014.

The Grim Grotto

30. The Grim Grotto, Lemony Snicket

I have to say, after reading eleven of the thirteen books in this series, Captain Widdershins is one of my very favorite supporting characters in this series. His dialogue was always hilarious to me, and since his whereabouts were unknown by the end of The Grim Grotto, I’m hoping I can expected more of him in the final two books. Also, big news everyone: Klaus got kissed! Not by my favorite person, but I like how we can see the Baudelaires growing up throughout the series. And I’m assuming Violet may have a similar situation when she’s reunited with Quigley Quagmire.

I’m already about 50 pages into my next reading project: Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent. I’m sure I’ll be completing it far quicker than necessary. Look for my review on that and the two final Series of Unfortunate Events books in my next update. Stay tuned!