Monday, February 7, 2011

The Best Reads of 2010

I promised my blog readers a list of the top books I read in 2010, along with a fun contest to win your very own copy of one of these books, and here it is! It's highly possible with my busy schedule, I missed reading some very awesome books, and I can't wait to see your recommendations. But if you missed one of THESE awesome books, you really should hie thyself to thy nearest purveyor of books and rectify the situation because these books ROCK.

Here, in no particular order, are the books I enjoyed the most in 2010:

Jonathan Maberry is an accomplished author with a list of best-sellers, but this was the first book I tried of his. The cover grabbed my attention, along with the title, and when I read the description, I was hooked and decided to give it a try. I'm so glad I did! Here's a quick look at ROT & RUIN:

In the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic America where Benny Imura lives, every teenager must find a job by the time they turn fifteen or get their rations cut in half. Benny doesn't want to apprentice as a zombie hunter with his boring older brother Tom, but he has no choice. He expects a tedious job whacking zoms for cash, but what he gets is a vocation that will teach him what it means to be human.

I was drawn to the zombie premise, but that alone isn't what swayed me to buy the book. I liked the hint that I would find complex relationships and a lesson beyond the usual "do whatever it takes to survive and don't get bitten" message many post-apocalyptical books have. The book is 464 pages, which is AWESOME since it's a book well worth reading. Intense action is levied by true humor. The world building is seamless. The characters are flawed, authentic, and distinct, and the relationships, even between secondary characters, reveal a depth and complexity that make it a pleasure to live inside their world for a while. Maberry doesn't shy away from the violent nature of the world Benny lives in, but he shows a rare sense of respect and compassion for those who've had their humanity stripped from them without their consent. I loved the growth in Benny's character from start to finish, but what really endeared me to Benny is that he is a fifteen year old boy who sounds like a fifteen year old boy. I live in a house surrounded by mostly boys. I'm well versed in "boy" and most books with a teenage boy as a narrator sound like a what a girl thinks goes on in a boy's head. Benny is spot-on, and that makes the gradual deepening of his relationships, his choices, and his understanding of the world he lives in such a pleasure to read.

This is one book I whole-heartedly endorse for both the post-apocalyptic zombie fans and for those who've never felt an ounce of interest in zombies but love the kind of compelling story that makes you laugh, makes you cry, and ultimately fills you with hope.
Meet Jonathan Maberry as he takes on the Were-llama on this blog 2/9/11!

Catherine Fisher is another acclaimed, award-winning author whom I just recently discovered. I admit, it was once again the amazing cover that first drew me to this book. Then I read the description and was hooked.

Imagine a living prison so vast that it contains corridors and forests, cities and seas. Imagine a prisoner with no memory, who is sure he came from Outside, even though the prison has been sealed for centuries and only one man, half real, half legend, has ever escaped.

Imagine a girl in a manor house in a society where time has been forbidden, where everyone is held in a seventeenth century world run by computers, doomed to an arranged marriage that appals her, tangled in an assassination plot she both dreads and desires.

One inside, one outside

But both imprisoned.

Imagine a war that has hollowed the moon, seven skullrings that contain souls, a flying ship and a wall at the world's end.

Imagine the unimaginable.

Imagine Incarceron.
I was instantly intrigued by the idea of a living, breathing prison. I dove into the book, which clocks in at a satisfying 448 pages, and found so much more than I expected. The world-building is completely captivating. What amazed me was Fisher has two very distinct worlds set up in this book, and both require quite a bit of assimilation for the reader as very little of it is familiar to us. However, reading this book is a visual banquet, and I never once felt lost. The book is very atmospheric, with tension constantly rising as two separate, but ultimately joined plot arcs spiral faster and faster toward their conclusion. The narrative is told from two perspectives, and I appreciated that each voice felt like its own, with no author intrusion.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. The voice is compelling, the storyline intriguing, the characters memorable, and the plot twists make it clear you're in the hands of a master story-teller.

Tessa Dare was on the blog last year when this book hit the shelves. There was quite a bit of publicity and momentum behind this book from authors whose work I respect, so I decided to give it a try. I'm so glad I did! Here's a look:

Ever the bold adventuress, Lucy Waltham has decided to go hunting for a husband. But first she needs some target practice. So she turns to her brother’s best friend, Jeremy Trescott, the Earl of Kendall, to hone her seductive wiles on him before setting her sights on another man. But her practice kisses spark a smoldering passion—one that could send all her plans up in smoke.

Jeremy has an influential title, a vast fortune, and a painful past, full of long-buried secrets. He keeps a safe distance from his own emotions, but to distract Lucy from her reckless scheming, he must give his passions free rein. Their sensual battle of wills is as maddening as it is delicious, but the longer he succeeds in managing the headstrong temptress, the closer Jeremy comes to losing control. When scandal breaks, can he bring himself to abandon Lucy to her ruin? Or will he risk his heart, and claim her for his own?

Dare has a rare gift. Her plot is intriguing, her prose enjoyable, but where she really shines is in her vivid, memorable characters and her sharp sense of humor. I adored sinking beneath her characters' skins for the duration of the story. I laughed, hard, numerous times throughout the book, and I felt the romance between the two main characters deeply. When I shut the book, I was both satisfied and sorry to see such a deliciously enjoyable tale come to an end. Dare's voice is confident, compelling, and true, and I highly recommend her books to any reader who wants a book that simultaneously makes one laugh, cry, and wish for a fan (I did mention the hot romance between the main characters, didn't I? I will never look at an armoire the same again...).

I've been a fan of Julia Quinn for quite some time. Her historical romances always feel fresh, vivid, and fascinating because she is a master at understanding her main character's voices and using those unique voices to bring her stories to life. Here's a look at What Happens In London:

When Olivia Bevelstoke is told that her new neighbor may have killed his fiancée, she doesn't believe it for a second, but still, how can she help spying on him, just to be sure? So she stakes out a spot near her bedroom window, cleverly concealed by curtains, watches, and waits... and discovers a most intriguing man, who is definitely up to something.

Sir Harry Valentine works for the boring branch of the War Office, translating documents vital to national security. He's not a spy, but he's had all the training, and when a gorgeous blonde begins to watch him from her window, he is instantly suspicious. But just when he decides that she's nothing more than a nosy debutante, he discovers that she might be engaged to a foreign prince, who might be plotting against England. And when Harry is roped into spying on Olivia, he discovers that he might be falling for her himself...
Quinn never disappoints. This book was full of humor, wit, and the customary vivid characters I've come to expect from Quinn. I appreciate that her heroines are always strong, intelligent women who know how to go after what they want (even if they sometimes make dreadful mistakes like getting caught spying out their bedroom curtains!). And each relationship takes it's own, distinct (sometimes rocky) path to a very satisfying happily ever after. I know when I pick up a book by Julia Quinn, I'm in for something fresh, intriguing, and absolutely delicious and What Happens In London is definitely one of her best.

I came late to the Hunger Games party, which was fine with me since it meant I got to read all three books back to back instead of agonizing over the fate of Katniss, Peeta, and the others for months between book releases. Honestly, the cover for Hunger Games (the first in the series...Mockingjay is the last.) did nothing for me, so I'd never even picked up the book. It wasn't until my agent recommended it to me (The one and only book rec she's ever given me), that I sat up and paid attention. Here's a peek at the series (I'm giving the description of Hunger Games only so as not to give away any spoilers to those who've yet to get into the series):

Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When her sister is chosen by lottery, Katniss steps up to go in her place.
This description fails to do justice to the incredible, all-encompassing world of the Hunger Games trilogy. A better description might be "literary crack." Don't start reading unless you have time to devour all three because your need to keep reading will be all-consuming. The world-building is complex and seamless, and instantly engulfs the reader. Katniss is a survivor in a world where surviving is sometimes the only thing one can fight for, but one act of instinctive bravery to protect the only person she loves ignites a fire and shoves her from survivor to hero without her consent. This story is intricately plotted, layered with complexity, and still manages to feel like one thrilling fast-paced ride where every plunge brings the reader closer and closer to a desperate sense of certainty that the outcome we WANT will be nearly impossible to GET. Literary crack, people. I promise.

I "met" Bree on Twitter before her book hit the shelves, struck up an acquaintance, and decided since she was such a nice person, and her book seemed to be gaining traction with readers, I'd give The Dark Divine a try. In the time it took me to promise myself "just one more chapter" until I'd finished the book in one, sleep-deprived, satisfied gulp, I became a Bree Despain fangirl, had her on the blog, and began recommending this book to anyone I thought might enjoy it.

Grace Divine, daughter of the local pastor, always knew something terrible happened the night Daniel Kalbi disappeared—the night she found her brother Jude collapsed on the porch, covered in blood. But she has no idea what a truly monstrous secret that night really held. And when Daniel returns three years later, Grace can no longer deny her attraction to him, despite promising Jude she’ll stay away.

As Grace gets closer to Daniel, her actions stir the ancient evil Daniel unleashed that horrific night. Grace must discover the truth behind Jude and Daniel's dark secret . . . and the cure that can save the ones she loves. But she may have to lay down the ultimate sacrifice to do it—her soul.
Very few stories stay with me for days after I read them, but The Dark Divine did. (Which is why I invited Bree to the blog.) I really identified with Grace. She felt very authentic and real to me, which is a testimony to the story-telling skill of Despain. I enjoyed that the ancient evil uncovered in the story had some solid historical roots. It felt like this story was the modern day extension of a story that had been going on for centuries. And the complicated relationship between Grace and Daniel was both tension-filled and lovely. I can't recommend this book enough.

The paranormal genre has begun to feel stale to me, with a few notable exceptions. Kelly Armstrong is one of those exceptions. I picked this book up in Kroger this year, and though Armstrong is a new-to-me author, she's quite an established writer with a strong backlist of titles. Bitten wasn't actually published this year, but since I bought it this year, I've  included it on the list. Here's a look:

Elena Michaels is the world’s only female werewolf. And she’s tired of it. Tired of a life spent hiding and protecting, a life where her most important job is hunting down rogue werewolves. Tired of a world that not only accepts the worst in her–her temper, her violence–but requires it. Worst of all, she realizes she’s growing content with that life, with being that person.

So she left the Pack and returned to Toronto where she’s trying to live as a human. When the Pack leader calls asking for her help fighting a sudden uprising, she only agrees because she owes him. Once this is over, she’ll be squared with the Pack and free to live life as a human. Which is what she wants. Really.
One of the things I loved most about this book was the instant immersion in what felt like true werewolf culture. Armstrong does this seamlessly, without long info dumps, and I immediately knew I was seeing the story through the eyes of a woman who was only pretending to be human. There's a depth and complexity to the pack's relationships that goes beyond the usual alpha/beta hierarchy. And the simultaneous yearning to be with the pack and fighting to stay away from them that Elena feels colors every choice she makes, and ratchets up the emotional tension (especially when as a reader, we can't see an obvious best choice for her either), and contributes richly to the conflict. And the conflict is non-stop. Suspense, romance, and tough relational choices combine with vivid, clean writing to make this story as un-put-downable as they come.

Rachel Hawkins is an agent-mate of mine, so when her book hit the shelves, I was excited to read it. I wasn't prepared for how much I'd love it. Rachel was on the blog last year, one of the first to take on the Were-llama.  She returns March 9th (The sequel comes out in early March!) to, as she puts it, "get her hands on Captain Jack." Here's a look at Hex Hall:

In the wake of a love spell gone horribly wrong, Sophie Mercer, a sixteen-year-old witch, is shipped off to Hecate Hall, a boarding school for witches, shapeshifters and faeries. The traumas of mortal high school are nothing compared to the goings on at "Freak High." It's bad enough that she has to deal with a trio of mean girls led by the glamorous Elodie, but it's even worse when she begins to fall for Elodie's gorgeous boyfriend, Archer Cross, and frankly terrifying that the trio are an extremely powerful coven of dark witches. But when Sophie begins to learn the disturbing truth about her father, she is forced to face demons both metaphorical and real, and come to terms with her own growing power as a witch.
This book deserves a space on my "best of" shelf because it's funny and suspenseful. The awkwardness of high school, the tumultuous nature of first love and jealous girls, the sometimes painful growth of relationships and of the self, are all woven together against the eerie Southern Gothic backdrop of Hecate Hall. I devoured the book in one sitting (using my trademark "I'll go to bed after JUST ONE MORE CHAPTER" method), and can't wait to get my hands on the sequel. I have a Hex Hall mystery to solve ...

Maria V. Snyder is another new-to-me author who is an established best-seller. I received an ARC of Inside OUT, and I'm glad I did because while I wouldn't normally have picked up this book, I'm now committed to buying the sequel because I HAVE TO KNOW what happens next. Here's a peek at Inside OUT:

Keep Your Head Down. Don't Get Noticed. Or Else.

I'm Trella. I'm a scrub. One of thousands who work in the lower levels, keeping Inside clean for the Uppers. I do my job and try to avoid the Pop Cops. The Trava family who rules our world from their spacious Upper levels wants us to be docile and obedient, like sheep. To insure we behave, they send the Pop Cops to police us.

So what if I occasionally use the pipes to sneak around the Upper levels? Not like it's all that dangerous--the only neck at risk is my own.

Until a lower level prophet claims a Gateway to Outside exists. And guess who he wants to steal into the Upper levels to get the proof? You’re right. Me. I alone know every single duct, pipe, corridor, shortcut, hole and ladder of Inside. It’s suicide plain and simple. But guess who can’t let a challenge like that go unanswered? Right again. Me.

I should have just said no...
Snyder's writing is spare and fluid. I immediately felt immersed in Trella's world, even though it's far different from my own. The mystery instantly grabbed me, and as the suspense built, I found myself mentally scrambling to find the answers before Trella did. I thought maybe I had a handle on things, but I was WRONG. I love being wrong. It means the story-teller is adept at plot twists and surprises, and I was certainly surprised. I also enjoyed the tension building within Trella over her place in the world, her relationships, and the sense of responsibility for others she gradually gained. I can't wait to see another story through her eyes. The sequel comes out in March, and Maria will be on the blog facing off with Captain Jack next Wednesday, the 16th!


Because I love these books so much, I can't wait to share them with my readers. I'm offering to give away one of the books on my list--winner's choice!--to one of my commenters. Here's how to enter:

1. Leave a comment recommending a book you read in 2010 and why you think I'd love it. -1 entry

2. Tweet a link to this post. - 2 entries

3. Blog about this contest. - 3 entries. Bonus entry if your blog includes a recommendation for YOUR favorite book. :)

4. Put a link to this post on facebook. - 2 entries

Add up your entries in your comment and check back this Friday to see if you've won your choice of one of my favorite books from 2010!


  1. +JMJ+

    Would you believe I haven't read any of these books yet??? But that's because I tend to wait until a book has aged a bit before trying it out.

    And that's why my best read of 2010 is an old book that came out in the 1970s: Po-on (sometimes sold as Dusk) by F. Sionil Jose. It's a historical novel set in the Philippines, so is probably not your cup of tea. (Heck, it wasn't mine, either!) But I found it incredibly powerful nonetheless and it is now my first recommendation to anyone who asks me about Philippine literature. =)

    My second best read (which deserves an honourable mention) is The Last Station by Jay Parini. (If it sounds familiar, you might have run into promotion of the movie.) It's another historical--more erudite this time, because it's also biographical--and I felt changed after I had read it.

    Thanks for the giveaway, C.J.! =)


  2. I recommend 'Hush, Hush' by Becca Fitzpatrick. It's a paranormal book, but not quite like others out there. I really loved it!!!

  3. Wow, thanks for te recommendations C.J.! I'd been eyeballing four out of the 10 you had up there, but needed this last little push to assure me I would be ingesting something worthwhile! :)

    My recommendation from last year is Midnighters: The Secret Hour. I know I'm probably way behind on this, as it appears the fourth one is out already. I just found the entire concept of it so pleasantly dark and refreshingly original.

    'Moving when you're in high school is difficult enough, especially when your parents can't seem to hold their own lives together and your younger sister is being more obnoxious than usual. However, for 15-year-old Jessica Day, these concerns pale when bizarre things start to happen and she discovers that she now has unwanted magical powers. Part science fiction, part horror story, this novel is the first in a series about the midnighters, a select group of individuals whose birth at the stroke of midnight gives them the special ability to move about in a mysterious 25th hour.'

    ~Angela Blount

  4. Oh, and Tweeted and Facebooked, your Awesomeness. ;)

    5 entry points FTW!

  5. <3 Kelley Armstrong!! I hope you read more of her stuff ^.^

    I would recommend Unwind by Neal Shusterman. It's a dystopian piece that isn't romance based and is both disturbing and accessible.

    total: +1

    Sniffly Kitty
    Sniffly Kitty's Mostly Books
    Loving the Reviews Challenge

  6. I would recommend Matched by Ally Condie. It is set in a dystopian society where every single thing is decided for you. Not only your occupation, your house, but also who you can love. It brings to mind the question: How important is free will? Even if you are getting what seems like good matches in jobs, in what point are you no longer you? It really made me think. First in a trilogy.

    I tweeted a link to this post and am on my way to write about it on my blog which will give me 6 points.

  7. I re-tweeted your tweet about this post! =) I love The Dark Devine, but now I have more books to add to my collection based on your review...

    I recommend "I Am Number Four" by Pittacus Lore (even though there is a movie coming out--it's still worth reading!). It's a high-paced, adventure with fictional intergalactic intrigue, characters you can't help but be intrigued in an attached too, and a teenage boy who is not what he seems... I couldn't put it down.

  8. My husband would second Mikael's recommendation of "I Am Number Four". Another blogger I follow raved about it, I ordered it, and my hubby (who has finished THREE novels in the last 20 years) swiped it from me and can't put it down!

  9. I loved some of the same books as you--Incarceron (I just ready Sapphique and it was even better), Mockingjay, Hex Hall, and Inside Out. I love Maria Snyder.

    It sounds like we have similar tastes. I read The Iron King and The Iron Daughter by Julie Kagawa last year. I love the world she created. And I also read The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima, the second book in the series. I loved the alternative point of view between Han and Princess Raisa.

    I'd love to read the Kelly Armstrong book. I've heard great things about her but never read any of her books.

  10. Ooh, some fabulous recommendations here! I'm making a list.

    Mikael - I just received my copy of I Am Number Four from Books A Million. My son wants to go see the movie with me, and I absolutely refuse to see a movie before I've read the book, so as soon as I finish my current read (The Lost Saint by Bree Despain), I'll be diving into #4!

  11. +1 Forgive my Fins by Terra Lynn Childs. And Heavenly by Jennifer Laurens. they are excellent. about love and sacrifice :)

    +2 Tweeted :!/becunique/status/34822487904624640

    Add up your entries : 3

    uniquas at ymail dot com

  12. I recommend Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld if you haven't read it yet. I love this book because it really sucks you into this steampunk world.

    total: 1

    throuthehaze at gmail dot com

  13. I recommend Last Sacrifice by Richelle Mead. Or if you really want to branch out, Feed by Mira Grant.
    total 1

    deadtossedwaves at gmail dot com

  14. Several of my favorite books from 2010 are already on this list, like Incarceron, Hex Hall, Mockingjay. For a book published in 2010, I'd have to recommend A Clash of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner (but be sure to read the 3 previous books first) It's the latest installment in my favorite YA series, The Queen's Thief series. Every book is subtle, brilliant, and full of twists.

    Also I tweeted about this here:

    Total: 3

  15. I recommend The Reapers are the Angels, if you haven't already read it. It was one of my favs from 2010. Loved it! Zombie novel with a great female heroine.

    +2 Tweet:!/nfmgirl/status/35535865602117632

    +3 Blogged:

    +2 Facebook:!/permalink.php?story_fbid=185203008187268&id=144327465583608

    nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com

  16. I read several good books last year! Let me check my list.

    Paranormalcy, Kiersten White
    Graceling, Fire, Kristin Cashore
    Heist Society, Ally Carter
    Bleeding Violet, Dia Reeves
    Mistwood, Leah Cypess
    13 Reasons Why, Jay Asher
    Will Grayson Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan
    If I Stay, Gayle Forman


    Oh, I guess only 1 entry since I'm just leaving the comment.

  17. A few of my favourite books I read last year were Hex Hall, the Uglies series, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth/The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan. If you haven't already read the last two I would definitely recommend them. They are zombie Apocalypse books with a dash of romance. SO good!

    +2 facebook:

    +2 twitter:!/FndngHufflepuff/status/35714450199814144

    +4 blog:

    +9 entries.

  18. Blogged! And here's the proof:

    Total entries: +8

  19. I'd definitely recommend Mockingjay & Hex Hall as well. Those are the only 2 I've read from your list. Incarceron is on my wishlist though - and a few of the others.

    I'd recommend Alex Cavanaugh's CassaStar if you like sci fi action, Terry Lynn Johnson's Dogsled Dreams in you like MG adventure, anything by JD Robb or Suzanne Brockmann if you like romantic suspense. :)

    I tweeted :)

  20. Ooh! Hopefully I made it in time! Some of my favorite reads of 2010 were Jeaniene Frost's books, the Mortal Instruments trilogy, Tyger, Tyger, and Holly Black's books.

    I'm tweeting (@lchardesty)

    So 3 points! :)


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