La! All the books you've been waiting to hear about. These are the best of the best that I've read so far this year. Without further ado (though in no particular order)...
Heart's Blood, by Juliet Marillier.
From Goodreads: "Anluan has been crippled since childhood, part of a curse that has besieged his family and his home of Whistling Tor. But when the young scribe Caitrin is retained to sort through family documents, she brings about unexpected changes in the household, casting a hopeful light against the despairing shadows." I admit, the first person narration was a little tough for me to get into, but the further I read in this book, the further I wanted to read. Heart's Blood is, at its heart, an original fantasy. True, it is based - loosely - upon a familiar fairy tale (although it's so cleverly disguised that I didn't pick up on it until about 4/5 of the way through the book), but the world that Marillier has created is fresh and new and so wonderful to dive into.
Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson.
Lia must come to terms with her former best friend's death while struggling with anorexia. I was pulled into this story right from the beginning. The strength of this piece is the narration. Lia's voice shone through so clearly (and believably), forcing the reader to confront the realities of her situation: she truly believes that she must be skinnier, even though she weighs in at an already skeletal ~ 100 pounds. Wintergirls gives the reader a clear introduction to the world through an anorexic's eyes, one that I found disturbing, heart wrenching, and extremely valuable.
The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly.
While his father remarries and has a son with his second wife, twelve-year-old David retreats into his room, still mourning the loss of his mother with only his books for company. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination, and soon finds the walls between reality and fantasy crumbling. Led by his books, David soon finds himself in a sideways fantasy realm populated by heroes and villains and a fading king, and he begins a search for the mother he believes is still alive. The Book of Lost Things is a new tale spun around the skeletons of old; readers will recognize skewed versions of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, among others, along with several characters drawn from the fabric of fairy tale. Be warned: this is not exactly a book for children. Though at times the narration is dreamy and light, the story itself is dark and in many places disturbing. This book is best read slowly, and perhaps with a light on, but it is so, so delicious.
Fables: Sons of Empires & The Good Prince, by Bill Willingham.
Fables is getting better. These are the ninth and tenth volumes of the story, respectively, and the astute reader may remember this series from my Best of 2009 post. A quick recap: various fairy tale characters have taken refuge on Earth from the mysterious Adversary as he has conquered their home worlds. Now, problems abound as the Adversary turns his eye on taking over Earth. Gah! I love this series. I don't read many graphic novels, but these are excellent. Highly recommended for anyone who loves retellings of fairy tales.
Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, by Jessica Day George.
Gifted with the ability to understand the speech of animals, the Lass has always been strange and just barely accepted by her family. When a polar bear seeks her out and promises her family riches if only she'll accompany him to his castle, she doesn't hesitate. But the bear is not what he seems, and the Lass will soon find herself on a quest that will take her farther than she's ever gone before. Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, is a dreamy retelling of the classic fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." Jessica Day George doesn't bring anything particularly innovative to her version, but there is something inherently comforting and beautiful about the familiarity of this tale. I found this a thoroughly satisfying read, much like a cup of hot chocolate on a rainy day. Lovely.
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly.
Calpurnia Tate, a girl on the verge of growing up, would rather do anything but. The year is 1899, and when she should be acting like a lady, all she wants to do is be a scientist like her grandfather. As this book unfolds, Calpurnia forges a close relationship with her father, navigates life as a girl with six brothers, and comes to face what it means to be a girl on the edge of a new century. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is such a fun book. Calpurnia actually reminded me a little of Scout Finch, although this book is nowhere near as serious as To Kill a Mockingbird. I found this book completely charming. As a narrator, Calpurnia is infinitely sympathetic.
The Secret Year, by Jennifer Hubbard.
Colt has a secret: he's been having an affair with Julia, a girl from the rich side of town. It's been a screwed up, amazing ride - but when Julia dies in a car crash, he finds that he can't tell anyone about the person who was such a large part of his life. And then he receives her journal, and realizes that he might not have known Julia as well as he thought. The Secret Year is great. What made this book what is was is the writing. Jennifer Hubbard's writing is fabulous. Colt's voice comes through loud and clear, and so, so real. I am so very much looking forward to the next book she writes.
The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein.
In his heart, Enzo knows he is different from other dogs. He is a philosopher dog, infinitely intelligent, infinitely loyal to his master, Denny Swift, an aspiring race car driver. Through Enzo's eyes, we witness Denny's marriage and sorrow at the loss of his wife, and his struggle to hold on to the only thing still meaningful in his life: his daughter Zoe. I have to confess that I have a soft spot for animal narration, although it's difficult to do it well. In The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein does this well. I loved Enzo's point of view, his quirky insights into the lives of his humans, and the fact that though Enzo is an unreliable narrator, we as readers still manage to pick up the heartbreak of this book. Lovely writing. The story is ridiculously sorrowful, but comes with a happy ending.
The King of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner.
I already squee-ed about this book here, so I won't get into too much detail. It's great. Younger-adult fantasy with a pinch of spice, a dollop of moon dust, a whole great hunk of entertainment. Reprise from my earlier capsule review: I love the excellent court intrigue and Gen's (main character) overall awesomeness. This is great work, especially for fantasy-kingdom-court fiction, especially for younger-adult fiction. In short, I highly highly highly recommend it.