Welcome to Smugglivus 2013! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2013, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2014.

Who: Liz Burns, blogger extraordinaire behind A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy. We have been huge fans of Liz and her blog for aaaages, and of course were looking forward to her Smugglivus picks this year.

A Chair a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy

Give a warm welcome to Liz, folks!

It’s that time of year again – the time of year I sift through my favorite books read in 2013 to try to pick a top five.

I’ve loved a lot of books in 2013, for various reasons, and going through that list is always a fun reminder of some of the great books I’ve read.

If you’re interested in that whole list, I’ve tagged all my posts with Favorite Books Read in 2013 at my blog. And you can see why, as always, picking five was tough.

So, I picked eight.

My selection process included “stickiness”: what stuck with me, months after? What character, what heartache, what joy, what triumph?

Oh, and don’t read anything into the order. It’s alphabetical by author’s last name.

Wise Young Fool
Wise Young Fool by Sean Beaudoin. Little, Brown. My original review.

A book about a boy, his music, his band, his friends. To begin with, Ritchie is in “Progressive Progress”, serving ninety days, and all I could think was how did a kid like Ritchie get into a place like that? A teen whose biggest problem seems to be picking the right band name?

I am not a music person. Or, rather, I’m not a cool music person. I enjoy listening to music but I’m not that person who, well, knows stuff. It’s not my passion. What I do love? Reading about people who do know. Wise Young Fool sweeps me away into that world of teenagers who live for music.

It also takes me into a world of people who have survived a terrible loss. Ritchie’s older sister is dead. His family shattered and shifted and remade itself. Wise Young Fool is also about that process of living and loving, even when a person is missing from the table.

The Bitter Kingdom
The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson. Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. My original review.

The conclusion of The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy, about the girl of fire and thorns: Elisa, who is the Godstone bearer and the Queen of Joya d’Arena.

What makes this trilogy special is not the adventure and romance; it’s not the characters and plotting. Yes, it has all those things, and they are wonderful. And it has politics and plotting, something I love; and also it shows two different sides of a war, revealing that the enemy is not always “evil.”

But those aren’t the reasons this made the list. Or, rather, why I refused to take it off. What makes this special is Elisa’s journey from pampered princess to a ruler capable of making the hard decisions. From someone who could hide herself in books, not even realizing she was hiding, to someone who has loved and lost and had to face hard consequences.

Elisa earns the labels she carries: Godstone bearer, queen. It’s about growing up, coming of age, and becoming a hero. It’s her journey from girl to woman.

Scowler
Scowler by Daniel Kraus. Delacorte Press, Random House. My original review.

And then there are the books that make the list because they scare the hell out of me. Nine years ago, Ry and his family lived through the worst day ever. His abusive father is now safely locked away and Ry, 19, his mother and sister are living with the scars, physical and mental and emotional. They think the past is safely in the past. Until Ry’s father breaks out of prison. And comes home, to the family who betrayed him. He’s going to teach them a lesson.

The beauty of this book is not just the monster that is Ry’s father. It’s also what Ry does to survive his father – what he did in the past, what he does now. I say “beauty” despite Scowler being about awful, dark things because the language and writing is beautiful. Because how the story is told is wonderful. Because this is just as much about fathers and sons, and how family shapes and misshapes us, as it is about monsters. If Pat Conroy were to write a Stephen King novel, it would be Scowler.

Quintana of Charyn
Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta, Candlewick Press. My original review.

Quintana of Charyn concludes Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles.

On the surface, this is a fantasy. Made up countries, magic, battles; escapes, adventure, drama. Quintana, Queen of Charyn, is in hiding to avoid being used as a pawn, and to protect her unborn child from being used. Froi, her lover, wants to find her and help her, but he is also loyal to Lumatere.

The Lumaterans hate Charyn, because Charyn was responsible for the slaughter of the royal family and the near-destruction of the country. Lumatere has barely recovered from its many losses. The current Queen, Isaboe, the lone survivor of the massacre, would like nothing more than to get revenge on Charyn. What better way than that Queen’s death? Or her child’s? Or the entire country?

Here’s the thing: the first books in this series was all about Isaboe and her supporters, fellow survivors who spent years in exile before recovering their country and starting the fragile process of rebuilding. Isaboe is the hero!

And yet here we are, discovering that Charyn and Quintana are not the great evil. Evil happened, yes; but not all Charynites are evil.

Quintana of Charyn is about broken people trying to heal, to make their world better, and to not let the past destroy the future. It’s an examination of revenge, and letting go. It’s about making tough choices and sacrifices.

Dare You To
Dare You To by Katie McGarry. Harlequin Teen. My original review.

A romance! Yes, a romance made my top five for one simple reason: Beth.

Dare You To is a good guy/bad girl romance. Ryan’s the popular jock, Beth’s the edgy outsider. And while I liked that popular Ryan isn’t some jerk (at worst, he’s a bit naïve about the world outside his suburban school), I just loved, loved, loved Beth.
Beth has been raised by a teen mother, abandoned by her father, and to make it that much worse her mom is an addict who sets a new standard for selfish behavior. The result? The family of two lives precariously on the margins.

This makes Beth tough and vulnerable. She’s a caretaker who is resistant to being taken care of. (Oh, and for the record – it’s not Ryan taking care of her. Beth has to live with her uncle, and it’s his playing parent, after a lifetime of Beth taking care of her mother, that Beth fights.) She knows the risks of loving someone and being hurt, because her whole life is love means being hurt. And yet – and yet – she takes that risk for Ryan.

Sex and Violence
Sex and Violence by Carrie Mesrobian. Carolrhoda LAB. My original review.

Evan’s junior year at boarding school ends violently when he is brutally beaten up for hooking up with someone’s ex-girlfriend. After Evan is released from the hospital, his father takes him to the family cabin in Minnesota.

Sex and Violence explores Evan’s recovery from the assault. Part of that recovery is Evan having to take a look at his life and his choices. Before this, Evan was someone with few friends but many hookups.

I’m not saying, and the book never says, that this lifestyle or attitude meant he “deserved” or “asked for” what he got. Rather, Evan’s need for therapy in the aftermath of the attack results in Evan also getting the therapy he should have gotten years ago.

Sex and Violence is about Evan creating a new life, about making choices about what he wants and needs, and figuring out how to get there.

Engines of the Broken World
Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee. Henry Holt & Co. Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. My original review.

One would think the worst thing in Merciful’s life has happened: her mother is dead, the body in the kitchen because it’s too cold outside to bury the body. What else is she and her brother to do?

Then she hears a voice – her mother’s voice. But it isn’t her mother.

Merciful has always known that her world is changing. Fewer and fewer people in her town, no more peddlers, and a fog that is getting closer and closer.

What she doesn’t know, until now, is that her world is broken and dying.

And if she is to believe the thing that speaks with her mother’s voice, from her mother’s dead body.

Here’s the reason this book had to be included on this list: it is the weirdest, most original book I’ve read all year. It’s about the world, literally, ending. It’s about faith and belief, and I’m still not sure what it’s trying to say about those things. It’s about the future of the world dependent on the choice Merciful ends up making, and I’m still not sure what the right choice is.

It’s unlike anything else I’ve read in a long, long time. And for that reason alone, people should read it.

Rose Under Fire US
Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein. Hyperion. My original review.

It’s 1944, and Rose Justice is an American pilot in English, a member of the Air Transport Auxiliary. What should be a simple flight in France goes terribly wrong, and Rose ends up captured by the Nazis. She is sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp.

Rose escapes; and Rose Under Fire becomes two stories. First, what happens to Rose in the concentration camp. Second, what happens to her after. To say Rose survives, that she escapes, that she lives, is not the “happy ending.” What happened to her, what she did, what she saw, doesn’t end. How can one be happy, having seen a place where death is sometimes the best one can hope for?

Rose Under Fire is about survival, but it’s also the survival of waking up each day, after, after one is “safe,” and after it is “over.” It’s the strength needed to wake up in the morning, when everything and everyone seems lost.

As I look over this list of 8 books, because I refused to have just 5, I see one thing over and over.

Broken.

Just how many times these books feature broken people, who refuse, one way or another, to let themselves be defined only by past and only by that which hurt them. They are books about redemption, and reconciliation; about forgiveness; about survival. About making oneself whole. I guess it’s easy to see what attracts me to a story, whether it’s realistic fiction, historical fiction, or fantasy, or any genre.

So!

Those are my top 8. Agree? Disagree? Based on these 8, are there any other books you think I would love?

Thanks so much, Liz!

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9 Responses to Smugglivus 2013 Guest Blogger: Liz Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace and a Tea Cozy

  1. Ana says:

    I only read Wise Young Fool and Rose Under Fire from your list, but they have definitely stuck with me. The one book though that I read this year and that every time I think about, I feel this GAAAAH PULL AT MY HEART is Charm and Strange. That book destroyed me. In the best possible way of course.

  2. Mishel says:

    Haven’t read or heard of any of these books, GAH i’m soooo behind. However, I’d like to say I love your thoughts on all of these and I’m happy to report I’ve come away from this post with another source of good books. I look forward to checking your blog out Liz, and thanks for the fantastic list!!

  3. Kailana says:

    I really need to get around to reading Rose Under Fire! And the rest of Rae Carson’s trilogy. I was surprised by how much I liked book 1 and haven’t read on yet. The books are on my TBR, though. All the others sound good, too. I will have to check out your blog and see what else you considered great. :)

  4. Stephanie says:

    I might have to check out Wise Young Fool. It reminds me of a Korean drama I like immensely about a group of high school boys in a band and how they deal with tragedy and loss. Reviewed on my blog here for anyone interested http://dramaqueenreview.blogspot.com/2013/02/kdrama-review-shut-up-flower-boy-band.html

  5. Jennifer says:

    I haven’t read any of these books. Really too many books to try and read. And your post just makes me think I have to read the 2nd book of The Girl of Fire and Thorns and to try the Marchetta fantasy serie.

  6. Liz B says:

    Ana: I have not read CHARM AND STRANGE. I’ll add it to my to be read list!

    Mishel, thank you. Whenever these end of year lists come out, I realize how much I haven’t read. So many good books!

    Kailana, I wish there were some type of series award, because Rae Carson’s trilogy is so well done — so complete as one story told in 3 volumes — I really like what she’s done!

    Stephanie, thanks for the viewing rec. I’ll add it to my Netflix queue.

    Jennifer, whether you go with Marchetta or Carson, I think you’ll be pleased. Bonus for both: the series are complete, so there is no waiting year(s) for the next book.

  7. Eugene says:

    Thanks for these recommendations! Some of them are already on my list, but ENGINES OF THE BROKEN WORLD looks truly fascinating. Looking forward to it.

  8. Meghan says:

    I haven’t read any of these (only have heard of a couple!), but Scowler and Engines of the Broken World both sound very intriguing to me. Everyone loves Rose Under Fire, but I didn’t love Wein’s Code Name Verity so I’m thinking about passing on that one.

  9. Liz B says:

    Eugene, ENGINES is a book that I love in part because it does show that publishers take chances on things that are so different they defy any neat category or short elevator pitch.

    Meghan, if you read SCOWLER or BNGINES, come back and let us know what you think.

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