Fantabulous Books! (by other people!) Hooray!

Hello lovely people!

We have two weeks until Christmas!  Are you all ready or are you panicking?  Have you purchased presents galore?  I…have not.  Yet!  But I’m thinking about it.  And you know what’s always a wonderful present?  BOOKS!

Of course, you could always give my books as presents…the Avatars trilogy is all available now, so you could give all three of them to your friend who likes supernatural end-of-the-world stories!  Or Save the Date would be a fun present for any girl who’s been in too many weddings lately, or who just likes funny romance. 

But hey, the rest of this website is all about my own books (and besides, everyone you know has already read them all…right?  Right?).  ;-)  And there are all these other splendiferous books out there that I absolutely must tell you about!  So today’s blog is My Favorite Books of 2008, in case any of them inspire your Christmas shopping.  :-)  Sorry there’s so many — I was looking back at my list and realized I read a lot of books that I really loved this year.  YAY!  Every year should be like that!  🙂

(Caveat: these are my favorite books that I read in 2008, even though some of them came out ages ago.  So it’s not quite as official as other "Top 2008 Books" lists, but hopefully it’ll be helpful anyway!)

Actually, we can start with a couple that did come out this year (oh boy, look how current and trendy I am):

For anyone who is alive and can read words:

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

As I mentioned when I read this (in a day) a few weeks ago, HOLY MINDBLOWING AMAZINGNESS, I loved this book.  LOVED IT.  Action!  Romance!  Post-apocalyptic reality TV!  And the best cover ever!  Seriously, everyone I know who’s read it has loved this book.  Guaranteed awesome present!  :-)  With two more to come!  Heck, I can’t wait to reread it once the sequel comes out, and then again for book three.  It’s not, like, the Mona Lisa of literature, but it might just be The Matrix of teen fiction.  (Er, OK, but hopefully with much better sequels.) 

(Hmm.  Is that a good analogy?  Maybe Independence Day?  Or Indiana Jones (not the most recent one)?  Terminator?  I’m trying to think of a fast-paced action movie everyone liked as much as everyone has liked this book.  Hmmmmm.  Well, you get the idea.)

And of course:

For your friend who likes tough, awesome heroines and riveting new fantasy, and anyone who loves books by Tamora Pierce or Robin McKinley:
Graceling, by Kristin Cashore 

I recommend this not just because I know (and love) Kristin, but also because it is A FANTASTIC BOOK.  And you don’t have to take my word for it; just ask The New York Times!  It’s got that wonderful classic fantasy feel of the Alanna books or The Blue Sword with cool surprising elements and twists like Ursula K. Le Guin or Gail Carson Levine.  Plus it’s smart and funny, and it made me so totally wish I were a graceling!  If only for the two different colored eyes.  I actually knew someone once with two different colored eyes…I wonder what her Grace was.  (Being funny and sweet, as I recall.) 

Also, bonus: two more books to come!  HOORAY!  (But the good news is, Graceling has more of a definite ending than The Hunger Games, so if your gift recipient nearly had an aneurysm waiting for the next Harry Potter book, give her Graceling instead and wait for the whole Hunger Games trilogy to be out first.)

For boys who are a little too smart and adorable for high school and the girls who love them, and also unusual/funny teen mystery fans:
Getting the Girl:  A Guide to Private Investigation, Surveillance, and Cookery, by Susan Juby  

Sherman Mack is the oddest, sweetest boy narrator I’ve come across in ages.  He’s a freshman who’s girl-obsessed, but in a hilarious, kind of heroic way, and when he finds out that the girls in his school are in danger of being Defiled — a cruel form of anonymous social ostracism — he decides to solve the mystery and save them himself.  It’s funny and clever and wonderfully character-driven.  I really hope there will be more Sherman Mack stories!  Susan Juby has also written other wonderful books and is a remarkably funny speaker, so when you’re done with this one (which is my favorite so far, but they’re all fabulous), go look for her others!

For boys who’d like some vampire excitement without all the ooky romance, for vampire fans too young for Twilight, and for nine- to twelve-year-old readers who like creepy fun:
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Oliver Nocturne (series), by Kevin Emerson 

There are lots of different ways to approach vampire stories, and I think Oliver Nocturne is one of the most original.  It’s fascinating how much thought Kevin has put into the details of the underground vampire world — how and where they live, what they eat, what holidays they celebrate, how their biology works.  I’m afraid my vampire book (coming out next year) pretty much sticks to the Buffy/Twilight rules, because it’s easy that way, which is why I’m SO impressed at how complex and clever this vampire society is.  And they’re a lot of fun, too — turns out being a thirteen-year-old vampire (well, sixty in human years!) is harder than you’d think! 

Visit Oliver and Kevin on the web!  And stay tuned for at least three more books in the series!  Yay!

And here’s one more that technically came out last year, but it came out this year in paperback, so it totally counts:

For your friends who love dragons and fantasy, or that guy you know who’s into really weird pets:
Dragonhaven, by Robin McKinley 

Alert readers might remember that I posted about this book when I read it, including the hardcover cover; this one is the paperback cover, and isn’t it cool?  Wouldn’t it fit perfectly in a stocking?  ;-)  Because DRAGONS!  I mean, who doesn’t love dragons? 

If you don’t remember me raving on about it, this is a book about a boy who works and lives at a national wildlife sanctuary/zoo dedicated to dragons.  Best idea ever!  Dragons!  Jake is also a really lovable and very believable boy narrator with a rambling, realistic voice that’s actually a bit like Robin McKinley’s blog (too funny), but what’s cool is how his contemporary voice and setting clicks with the crazy fantasy element of a baby dragon.  (EEEEE YAY!) 

Plus, reading this will get you all ready for my Pet Trouble books, which are also about handling a difficult pet, although mine are more of the slobbery/furry variety and not so much the accidentally-setting -things-on-fire-by-breathing-on-them variety.  Still, you know, same basic principle.  😉

OK, on to books published ages ago that I’m just catching up to now.  I realized that, coincidentally, I loved a couple of REALLY GIGANTIC books this year — and you know they must be good if I finished them, because I wouldn’t traipse through 900+ pages of dreadfulness.  Too many good books to read!  No time to waste on drivel!  Here are my favorite big giant books, in no particular order:

For your wicked smart, fancy friends who only read books if they’re at LEAST 900 pages long and who would like to spend the next three years of their lives learning way too much about codes, pirates, Newton, the early workings of the finance system, alchemy, the 17th century, and everything in the known universe, while still having an absolutely marvelous hilarious time:
Quicksilver, Vol. 1 of The Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson

I’ve only read volume one so far…oh, yeah, it’s a TRILOGY.  (And they’re all available now, so you could give that friend all 3000 pages at once, if you really wanted to) (or have presents standing by for the next two Christmases!).

I think one of these a year will be enough for me, so I should try to tackle book two starting in January, I guess.  They are LONG.  But they are also SERIOUSLY BRILLIANT.  Did he spend a hundred years doing this research?  Is his brain just ridiculously ginormous?  Inquiring minds want to know.  I will say I felt a lot smarter after reading it.  And I’m not surprised I liked it, since his novels Snow Crash and The Diamond Age are two of my favorites ever (those might be an easier starting point for new readers, come to think of it).

Plus these covers are SO pretty!  Foil!  Special effects!  Die-cut covers!  Dreamy sigh.  Maybe one day my covers will be that pretty…although I think I can promise my books will never be that long!  :-)  Oh, here’s a much better description of it than I could muster.  Curious now, aren’t you?  😉

For your friend who’s going to India, especially if for some reason they’re taking a 400-hour flight to get there and would like to take just one book to get them through it, or for your friend who loves big sprawling family epics and/or exotic settings, or for your mom, if she’s anything like my mom, who loved it, too:
A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth 

The great thing about this book is that it doesn’t feel like it’s nearly fifteen hundred pages long, because it moves really fast and it’s riveting and surprising and funny and clever.  I’m not sure how I feel about the ending (which I won’t spoil here), but this book is definitely more about the journey than the destination…and it’s a wonderful journey.  And perfect for India travelers, before, during, or after the trip, because you can be like "oo, that sounds familiar!  hey, I know what that is!" and so on all the way through, which is very satisfying.  🙂

For your dad, or your history teacher, or anyone who thinks history is boring, or anyone who already knows how cool it can be, or anyone who wants to understand all these "team of rivals" references in the news lately…also a great gift for an Obama fan who wants more ways to compare our shiny new president to Abraham Lincoln:
Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin 

I’ve talked before about how much I loved this book.  I couldn’t put it down!  A history book!  Seriously!  But it’s so well-written and detailed and Goodwin has a terrific sense of humor, too (have you seen her appearances on The Daily Show?  Her sense of humor is what made me want to read this.).  It makes you understand the stakes of what was happening, and BOY does it make you appreciate what a great president Lincoln was, and why we were so lucky to have him at the right time.  (Not to mention how sad it is that he didn’t live out his full second term, when he could have done even more good.) 

Obama fans, I think, will notice plenty of fascinating personality parallels like I did, which might help explain why everyone is so excited about the fact that, just like Lincoln, the current president-elect from Illinois has appointed his most powerful primary rival, the senator from New York, as his secretary of state. 

But mostly it’s just a really great read!  Riveting crazy history!  So much I didn’t know!  IT TOTALLY MADE ME CRY!  Even though I pretty much knew how it would end.  STILL!  Very sad!  And so good!

(Sidenote — for more funny, surprising history:

The Greatest Presidential Stories Never Told, by Rick Beyer

Weird and funny facts about our presidents, most of which you’ve probably never heard before — like which one went skinny-dipping in the Potomac, Jimmy Carter’s UFO sighting, the man who was president for a day, etc.  Throw one of these crazy stories into a history essay and really wake your teacher up…then show her the book to prove it’s real!) 

And one more, not-so-insanely-long grown-up book:

For friends who liked "The Prestige" or "The Illusionist", Houdini fans, teachers or parents, anyone who is kind of fascinated by real-world magic, and anyone who wants to know how President Harding REALLY died:
Carter Beats the Devil, by Glen David Gold

This is one of those rare and wonderful grown-up books that is delightful and surprising and clever and complicated and brilliant and not in the least despairing or self-involved.  It’s got history and romance and mystery and vaudeville and lions and elephants and disappearing acts and the invention of television (yay! best invention ever! thank you, Philo Farnsworth!) (OK, second-best, after books) and murder and intrigue and Secret Service agents and maybe an assassinated president and it’s SUPER FUN and really smart. 

Charles Carter, magician, performs a magic act for President Warren Harding, and three hours later…the president is dead!  Was Carter involved?  Was it…MURRRRRDER?  Read the book to find out! 

I see no reason why precocious readers over the age of, say, 12 couldn’t handle this.  So if you read my Who Is Harry Houdini? book when it came out a few years ago, you might be all ready for this book now.  :-)  (Bonus: Houdini totally makes a cameo appearance!  Awesome!)

On the other end of the spectrum:

For your little brother or sister, or someone who would prefer a much, much shorter book, perhaps less than 100 pages, if possible:
Pleasing the Ghost, by Sharon Creech

It should be common knowledge that I think Sharon Creech is one of the greatest writers of our time (Walk Two Moons = A PERFECT BOOK.  Seriously, no kidding, PERFECT).  Pleasing the Ghost is a totally adorable stocking-stuffer kind of book ($5 on Amazon!  how can you go wrong?) — very short, sweet, and pretty goofy, but in a fun way that still manages to be as touching as her other books. 

For fans of the sublimely ridiculous and anyone drawn to the stylings of Lewis Carroll, Lemony Snicket, Edward Gorey, Neil Gaiman, or Roald Dahl:
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The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, by George Saunders 

Another very short book (84 pages), with marvelously funny illustrations throughout by the illustrator of The Stinky Cheese Man, starring a determined, heroic little girl named Capable versus an invasion of shrieking gappers.  You kind of have to see it to believe it, but it’s pretty excellent.  Described as a "fairy tale for adults," it’s appropriate for any age, as long as they have a sense of humor (and it would also fit well in a stocking!). 

Finally, two books that are both modern in voice and sweetly old-fashioned:

For girls who loved A Little Princess or Noel Streatfeild’s Shoes books or Joan Aiken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase and anyone who likes sweet, funny romance:
A Countess Below Stairs, by Eva Ibbotson  

Eva Ibbotson also writes super-adorable, funny fantasy books, but I had no idea until I found this one that she’s also written some super-adorable, funny romances.  This one is kind of like A Little Princess meets The Princess Diaries as told by Roald Dahl, if you can imagine.  It’s a fairy tale romance with quirky, surprising characters and a LOVELY, three-dimensional heroine who doesn’t just swoon and flutter her eyelashes.  Although it’s technically for adults, I think, it’s not at all scandalous, so it should be fine for the younger romantics on your list.  🙂

Next year I am totally going looking for Ibbotson’s other romances, although this one had a Russian countess fleeing the revolution, so I’m not sure how she can top that!

For your friends who love old-fashioned British-type fiction like the Edward Eager books (Half Magic, etc.) or Tom’s Midnight Garden or the aforementioned Shoes books:
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The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, by Jeanne Birdsall 

It’s kind of hard to believe this book was written only a couple of years ago; it has such a perfect old-fashioned charm to it, but in the best possible way.  If you have a sister you adore as much as I love mine, or if you want to be a writer one day, or if you’re just looking for a fun summer adventure (maybe with a Very Interesting Boy or some Rabbits in it), I think you’ll fall for the Penderwicks like lots and lots of other people have.

Whew.  Lots of books to love!  And can I just say a million thank-yous to my awesome friends who recommended (and in some cases actually gave me) some of these books:  thank you THANK YOU (x one million) to Amanda, Cyd, Dayna, and Kari!  :)  You are all splendiferous, and you keep me very current, trendy, well-read, and happy.  🙂

Good luck to everyone with your Christmas shopping!  Don’t forget my books are out there, too…there’s something for everybody!  ;-)  And happy reading!

Quote of the Day:  "The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read." — Abraham Lincoln