I'm closing out 2013 with a bang, as I expect 2 of the 4 books I've finished in the last week or so to make my Best Reads of the Year list.
112) Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell.
This book got such good buzz online that I almost expected to be disappointed by it, but I wasn't, not at all. It's a beautifully written YA coming of age novel with a good helping of romance. The heroine is a college freshman whose identical twin doesn't want to room with her and in general thinks it's high time they struck out on their own as individuals. Cath, who has intense social anxiety, struggles to cope, and we watch a year in her life as she figures it out and comes to terms with her thorny, dysfunctional-to-say-the-least family history.
The title references the fact Cath is an obsessive fan and fanfic writer within the fictional Simon Snow fandom (think Harry Potter, pretty much), and one of the best aspects of the book, IMHO, is how accurately and lovingly Rowell portrays what it's like to be part of fandom. And, best of all, she allows Cath to build a happy collegiate life and find a voice for original fiction without having to leave fandom and fanfic behind. She can still look forward to the 8th and final Simon Snow book's debut. She can still finish her slashy version of Book 8. It's such a treat to see an author understand and respect that.
113) The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, by Jennifer 8. Lee.
More a series of essays than a single unified narrative, this book looks at Chinese food and restaurants, especially in their Americanized form. (Fortune cookies and General Tso's Chicken? Not things you'd find in China.) I almost wish it had been two books, one light-hearted culinary history and a second serious look at the life of Chinese men and women working abroad in the restaurant industry, especially illegal immigrants.
114) Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis, by Kimberlee Conway Ireton.
Full disclosure: the author is a friend of mine, or at least a friendly acquaintance, though we've lost touch since I stopped going to the same church as she does. I was a very distant observer of some of the events in this memoir, though by that point my family and I were already starting to drift out of the congregation. (Long story, and nothing to do with this book--suffice it to say I revisited my faith after my mother passed away, and ended up on a path that took me to the Episcopal Church.)
As the mother of two young children and a debut author of a struggling book, Kimberlee found herself pregnant with twins and overwhelmed with the changes coming into her life. She takes the reader along with her on a rawly honest journey through an often difficult pregnancy, one twin's stay in the NICU, and the first six months of the boys' lives as she struggles with often crippling anxiety and severe postpartum depression it took her a long time to recognize for what it was.
It's an excellent read, and one I'd recommend to anyone who's struggled with anxiety or depression, especially Christians, since so much of Kimberlee's struggle is about hanging onto God and staying grounded in her faith. And hers is a very rare book I'd recommend equally to my Baptist high school classmates and my fellow Episcopalians--the faith and doubts expressed in this book are of a kind any of us in Christianity's very big tent can relate to.
115) Fortune's Pawn, by Rachel Bach.
I picked up this book because it was described as a cross between Firefly and the Vorkosigan Saga. This intrigued me because as different as Whedon and Bujold are in many aspects, there's a certain je ne sais quoi about their work, the way the communities they create feel so multi-dimensional and tangible that Serenity and her crew and the Vorkosigan family and their friends and allies on Barrayar are almost as real to me as my own family, friends, and coworkers. I don't know what it says about me, but one of the things I love most in fiction is being able to acquire new imaginary friends, especially when they come in whole imaginary communities. There's something about that sense that if I found myself at a party at Vorkosigan House, I'd feel right at home
So. A chapter or two in to Fortune's Pawn, I was ready to set it aside, because it didn't remind me of Whedon and Bujold at all. But I've been trying to give books a longer chance lately. I'll still set a book down for awkward, inept writing or if I can tell right away I'm not going to click with the plot or characters. But I have a feeling I've been missing some good stories for not giving myself a chance to adjust to a new author's voice or to accept that a book wasn't what I was expecting and give it a chance to succeed on its own terms.
In this case, I'm very glad I gave the book another chance. I remembered that Firefly and the early Vorkosigan books are both about space mercenaries, as is Fortune's Pawn, so I stopped hoping to find another set of imaginary friends and read it as a space opera adventure story. Taken on those terms, it's a cracking good read. Devi is an excellent kick-ass heroine, ambitious and straightforward, the world-building feels well thought out, the plot rolls along at a relentless pace, and the ending left me with just the right number of questions that I'm looking forward to the sequel, which is due out in February.
And, you know, that's probably all the Twitter recommender meant. "Like stories about space mercenaries like Mal Reynolds or Miles Vorkosigan? Give this one a try!" Which is always a challenge with "Like X? Try Y!" recs--you have to figure out what it is the other reader/viewer likes about X, and whether it's the same thing you get out of it. Like, I thought about recommending Cracking Up to Anne Lamott readers, because Kimberlee also writes about motherhood with wry honesty and humor, not to mention struggling to be a writer in the face of doubt and failure and clinging to faith by one's fingernails. But I'm wary of doing so, because Lamott has such a distinctive voice, and she's Christian left while Kimberlee is more Christian center. I don't want to disappoint anyone by recommending something a book doesn't deliver, you know?