Friday, 3 January 2014

Friday Favourites || Favourite Standalones

So, I read a lot of blogs and watch a lot of BookTube and one of the things I really love is listening to people talk about their favourites. I am going to attempt to make this a weekly feature... but we'll see how that pans out once school goes back in.

Anyway. This week I wanted to talk about my favourite standalones. Because let's be honest, it seems like everything is a bloody trilogy these days. Or sometimes that a book that has been a standalone for a number of years suddenly becomes a series.

I get it. I do. And if the world is really captivating, I don't particularly mind wading around in it for several books. But sometimes I just want a standalone. A beginning, middle and end all in a nice neat package. A satisfying ending. You know.

I managed to narrow my list down to a Top 5, but if you're wanting to play along, feel free to do whatever. You may notice a few surprising omissions from this list (aka anything by Rainbow Rowell) but that was intentional. I tried to pick books I hadn't yet gushed about on this blog, just to make things interesting.

Find my thoughts on the individual books and the link-up info after the jump.

This is kind of an eclectic list, isn't it? Oh well.

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

I feel like this is a book on everyone's list these days. Which is totally justified because it's a phenomenal book. But I read this back in 2011 with basically no prior knowledge or expectations. I actually can't tell you why I bought this in the first place--which is incredibly unusual these days. I always have a reason for actually buying a book, otherwise I'll just go to the library.

I vividly remember curling up on the glider in my parents' den and devouring this book. It was not an easy read by any means. It was dense and difficult and I often had to put it down just to take a breath away from it. But I always came back. And in the two years that have passed I still come back to this book. (Even if it hasn't been in my possession for some time because I'm lending it to a friend.)

It's worth the tears and the heartache. It's worth it because the of the characters, because of the writing, because of the story. It's probably one of my favourite books of all time.

★★★★★ (5 out of 5 stars) Read my initial review here.

2. World War Z by Max Brooks
It began with rumors from China about another pandemic. Then the cases started to multiply and what had looked like the stirrings of a criminal underclass, even the beginnings of a revolution, soon revealed itself to be much, much worse. Faced with a future of mindless, man-eating horror, humanity was forced to accept the logic of world government and face events that tested our sanity and our sense of reality.

Based on extensive interviews with survivors and key players in the 10-year fight-back against the horde, World War Z brings the very finest traditions of American journalism to bear on what is surely the most incredible story in the history of civilisation.

This is going to seem a little bizarre after The Book Thief, but stay with me on this.

Sometimes, a book comes along that changes your life. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this for a number of complicated reasons and it will most definitely end up being the subject of a future post. But this book came along and did just that.

Changed my life.

It could have been a by-product of when I read it (summer 2010, but also mostly alone house-sitting for my parents, and very rarely after dark). I had completed NaNoWriMo for the first time in November 2009 after many years of watching from the sidelines. So I was thinking about my writing. About me as a writer. Especially with NaNo 2010 just around the corner.

And this book just blew me out of the water. If you don't know, this is fiction in the guise of nonfiction. Brooks writes as though his readers know what this is all about because we all have lived through it. And it's all done interview style. But not only that, but that it's done that way with all these figures having their own individual voice. That it's structured in such a way to actually give you (the actually uninformed reader) a sense of what really went down.

It was writing like I'd never seen it before. And it was brilliant.

I had the opportunity to meet Brooks at Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo in 2012 with my best friend for about the minute and a half it took him to sign our attendees badges. I managed to tell him that this book made me want to be a better writer. (And afterwards, my friend and I were quite pleased with ourselves that we'd managed to come off a normal human beings in that short interaction.) It was probably one of the highlights of my life.

This book is so different. You must give it a try. (I have thoughts about the film adaptation, but that's for another post. But don't worry, they're positive.)

★★★★★ (5 out of 5 stars)

3. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world's only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.

So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon--both of whom have lived amongst Earth's mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle--are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.

And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist...

I almost feel like this is self-explanatory. Except for the part where it's not.

This was my first introduction to both Pratchett and Gaiman. And I cannot remember another time spent rolling on the floor laughing at a book. Blasphemous in all the most hilarious ways this is certainly the type of book of a particular type of reader.

It's delightfully set up, infinitely quotable and just darn right hilarious. Crowley and Aziraphale are insta-reblog material over at my tumblr to this day.

Admittedly, it took me some time to get into this book and to read it completely. But I think that was mostly because I didn't really know what I was getting myself into. It's been a long time since I read this cover-to-cover, so I feel that a reread is overdue. (Except this is also currently being lent out to a friend. Drat.)

★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)

4. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

I really feel as if this list is all over the place. Oh well.

I am a huge nerdfighter. And I was lucky enough to be part of the community while John was in the finishing stages of this book. I remember naming and cover contests, Thoughts from Place in Amsterdam (though we didn't know why at the time) and the seemingly endless stack of inserts to sign.

I ran out to the local bookstore on the day of TFiOS's release and flipped through every copy on the shelf to decide which signature I wanted. (There were no Hanklerfish or Yetis, sadly, but I did snag a green signature, which I felt was appropriate.)

I realize that for some of you, those last few paragraphs make no sense. I apologize. This book is more than a book to me, though. It's part of this community.

That said, taken on its own merits this is a phenomenal book. It gets a bizarre amount of flak for "exploiting teen illness" or whatever, which I guess is a legitimate concern. Except for the part where this book treats its subject material so expertly. It's raw and real and still sensitive. It's heartwarming and heartbreaking and everything in between. The characters are real, and their situations painfully too.

This book isn't about dying, it's about living. And it's hauntingly beautiful.

★★★★★ (5 out of 5 stars)

5. Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson
In the near future, at a moment no one will notice, all the dazzling technology that runs our world will unite and turn against us. Taking on the persona of a shy human boy, a childlike but massively powerful artificial intelligence known as Archos comes online and assumes control over the global network of machines that regulate everything from transportation to utilities, defense and communication.

In the months leading up to this, sporadic glitches are noticed by a handful of unconnected humans – a single mother disconcerted by her daughter’s menacing “smart” toys, a lonely Japanese bachelor who is victimized by his domestic robot companion, an isolated U.S. soldier who witnesses a ‘pacification unit’ go haywire – but most are unaware of the growing rebellion until it is too late.

When the Robot War ignites -- at a moment known later as Zero Hour -- humankind will be both decimated and, possibly, for the first time in history, united.

I know, I know. How could I wax poetic about TFiOS and then follow it up with a book named Robopocalypse. I know. I do.

I'm weird okay. I have weird tastes.

And also, there's more to this book than meets the eye. And I swear the Transformers reference was only a little unintentional. Given that this is a book about robots, can you really blame me?

My reasoning behind this one is similar to my reasoning behind World War Z. The writing. The execution is similar--fiction in the guise of nonfiction. I sort of love it, okay? The storytelling perhaps isn't as masterfully crafted as Brooks' work, but it holds its own.

Full of action and vivid imagery, I was legitimately afraid to get in the elevator in my apartment building after reading one terrifying scene. My favourites have to make me feel. And if in this case that feeling is terror, well I guess that's the sign of a great read.

★★★★★ (5 out of 5 stars) You can read my original review here.

What do you think? Have you read any of these books? Do you have your own favourite set of standalones?


  1. Love love love The Book Thief and The Fault in Our Stars

    1. Two of my all-time favourite books! Just. Ugh!