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“That is a good book which is opened with expectation and closed with profit.” –Amos Bronson Alcott

The best part about doing the “Books I Read” posts is always getting to the novels I liked the most, which is why I always save it til the end of the series. It’s like checking in with an old friend. I’m always reminded of how many books I read that I enjoyed given that sometimes the ‘good’ memories have been shunted to the side by the “bad” ones. The dangerous part of doing this is that I’m also reminded of the books I read that I enjoyed, and am tempted to then re-read them when I already have a daunting list of titles on my to-get-to list that I haven’t even cracked.

Close shot of a woman biting her lips, title text superimposed over.

The End of Everything and Dare Me by Megan Abbott

I came to Megan Abbott by way of a Jezebel post that recommended her noir novels. I always like supporting women who work in that heavily masculine genre, but when I was unable to find copies of her noir novels, I settled for trying her contemporary fiction.  One of the best decisions I made all year, bar none. Absolutely infinitely superior to slogging through Big Girl Panties. Abbott has a keen sense of characterization, wonderful pacing, and tremendous insight into the nasty parts of teenaged relationships. Dare Me’s central friendship-slash-rivalry is one of the most honest descriptions of the consulted nature of female friendships, hitting the competitiveness, the quasi-romantic tones, and self-serving narratives right on the dot. I felt like I recognized their relationship, even if I have nothing in my own past that went to such dramatic extents. The End of Everything felt similarly honest. It’s a story that concerns itself with romantic idealization and twisted rivalries, and the ugly ways we lose our naïvety. I read the entire novel with the feeling that something awful was approaching me and I could kind of see what it was, just out of the corner of my eye, but I couldn’t step out of its path.

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Blue haired girl with title text superimposed on her.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

These were two books that had been on my radar for a while. I’m pretty much the target audience for YA novels about blue-haired girls who run around with supernatural creatures and do things that are heroic and stuff.  I kept passing on them for no particularly good reason, until one day when I had literally nothing else to read and picked them up off the library shelf. I could kick myself for waiting so long.

Taylor’s world is one of the most original entries into the YA teenaged girl asskicker  genre. Karou, the series’ protagonist, is a smart, proactive young woman, whose backstory is intriguingly complicated and layered. Incredible care has been taken in developing the story world, which is not American-based or centered around Greco-Roman mythology, both things that are incredibly common in the YA fantasy genre. There are no tormented love triangles. The magical system is unlike any other YA novel I’ve read. Karou has friends with their own lives and concerns, who seem to have a life independent of supporting  the main character. The world feels robust and lived in. My main complaint about the “Beautiful Creatures” series was that the high stakes never felt that high, because the character never actually lost anything – Karou isn’t that lucky. I devoured both books in about two days. The final book of the trilogy, Dreams of Gods and Monsters will be released later this year and the series is being adapted into a movie. Do yourself a favor and catch up on the story.

While I didn’t read it this year, I also have nothing but high praise for Taylor’s collection of short stories, Lips Touch: Three Times.

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Black book cover with title text.

Give Me Everything You Have by James Lasdun

A short, non-fiction memoir, the book chronicles James Lasdun’s ongoing experience of being obsessively stalked by a former student. I’ve had my run ins with stalkers on the Internet, people who have followed me around on email or websites or Tumblr and Twitter, including one woman whose behavior was worrisome enough that I have a computer file filled with screenshots and copies of emails I’ve sent to ISPs. These issues have lasted from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, in every case suddenly flamed out without any significant impact on my life. Lasdun has not been so lucky. An essayist and writing instructor, Lasdun maintained a casual friendship with one of his students that turned from friendly banter to obsessive stalking seemingly overnight. Besides the deluge of emails and accusations of plagiarism, which sadly are fairly de rigueur for these kinds of cases, Lasdun’s “Nasreen” (not her real name) impersonated him, setting up fake email addresses and contacting his employers and potential employers, his family members, friends, and literary acquaintances. She harassed his agent and publishers, and impersonated them as well, posing as them in both trying to contact him, as well as ruin his reputation professionally. The memoir documents years of abuse which, despite Lasdun involving the authorities, continues to this day. The memoir offers no easy answers and no resolution, it has very little in the way of concrete advice, but it’s worth the read for Lasdun’s exceptional writing alone and his willingness to examine what part he might have played in the events, and what mistakes he might have made in attempting to deal with the situation. I was absolutely unable to put it down until I finished it.

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Honorary Mentions: Kill City Blues by Richard Kadrey, Twenty Palaces by Harry Connolly, Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller, NOS4A2 by Joe Hill, The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan, and Night Film  by Marisha Pessl.

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