The best book I read this year was Kathryn and Stuart Immonen's Russian Olive to Red King. A graphic novel created by the husband-wife team was a project they took years to complete. It's the story of Olive and Red; lovers separated by an accident, or as Kathryn describes the book in an interview with Comic Book Resources, "It's a romance that isn't romantic...a ghost story that isn't frightening." I see it as an emotional expression born out of longing, rather than a traditional story. Stuart's art is absolutely breathtaking, some of the finest work he's done in his career thus far. Russian Olive also eschews typical graphic novel form and narrative by pairing the art with a call and response conclusion between stream of consciousness prose and found photographs. The story takes some work, there's an incredible amount of nuance to unpack, but it's worth it. Russian Olive to Red King is the kind of book you will want to read immediately again after finishing, not wanting to let the characters go.
I enjoyed The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. It was weird and different, but a fun read. So there’s a group of people that were raised by Father, and each taught a specific skill. Carolyn has been tasked with learning languages. David is learning the art of murder. When Father disappears, the group struggles to look for him while fighting over who should be the new leader. It’s a dark read with magic thrown in and yes, I chose it because there was “library” in the title. The actual meaning of the name “Mount Char” isn’t revealed until the end, and this book definitely uses mystery to keep you turning pages. This probably isn’t for everyone, but it might appeal to someone looking for something a little different.
This was a tough decision for me, because I read a lot more books this year than I have in recent years—and I can’t think of one that I didn’t like. Since I have to choose one, I’ll go with Eleanor& Park by Rainbow Rowell. I avoided this one when it was published in 2013, because I have a natural skepticism of hype. (I blame Twilight.) I’m glad I gave Eleanor & Park a shot in the end, though. It is one of only a handful of books that caused me to drop everything in order to finish in one day.
Christopher Moore's Sacre Bleu. I read this book very early in the year but it has stuck with me. It is a very unique and memorable book, which is probably why I immediately thought of it when trying to decide what my favorite book of the year was. Although this book is set in Paris in the 1800s and centers on the lives of historical painters, the fantastical elements keep it engaging. And of course, true to form, Christopher Moore is hilarious. Give it a try if you are in the mood for something a little weird but very good.
The best book that I read this year was certainly The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. This is a sumptuously written mystery set in Barcelona in the period after the Spanish Civil War. It has a wonderful cast of characters and a satisfyingly complex plot. It has a real sense of time and place that embraces you and draws you into the characters’ lives. I didn’t want it to end.