Top 10 books I read in 2015: mini-reviews
This is my third annual Top 10 round-up in which I mini-review my favorite reads from 2015 because I am a huge freaking fangirl. I was totally supposed to read 55 books this year, and I didn't. Of the 40-some books I did read, I largely reread old favorites, but here are ten new ones I fell in love with this year.
10. Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley
'Kay guys. This book is so weird. Probably one of the weirdest debut YA novels I've ever read, and that's also the reason why I loved it.
The main character Aza, snark queen of the universe, is seeing ships in the sky. Her family thinks she's hallucinating (plausible, considering she's on meds for some mysterious lung disease she's had her entire life), but she's actually just caught a glimpse of Magonia, the world that exists beyond the clouds. And when she's whisked away by the skyship she's heard calling her name, she can breathe for the first time - literally. But when Aza discovers that Magonia and Earth are on the brink of war, she must decide where her loyalties lie.
Yes. Bizarre, but in the best sense of the word. This book is just over 300 pages of lyrical and lovely ideas written with Headley's sharp voice and sparse prose that almost makes the novel feel like a short story. Also, the relationship between Aza and her best friend Jason will 100% turn your cold, cynical heart into a useless sack of bae feels, and the parent-sick child dynamics are so realistically written that I feel like I may have died a little inside. For real, parts of this book are like If I Stay + The Fault in Our Stars-level parenting. I can't. Just punch me in the face instead.
This book also gives me serious cover envy, which is why when I saw the pre-released copies at YALLWEST I was basically like, I need it and I need it now.
If you've never heard of Nimona, gird your golden loins (WAIT, I just realized I could make this entire mini-review one long pun that you would only understand if you'd actually read the book). But I'd be kind of shocked if you hadn't heard of it, considering that it was nominated for a National Book Award and was originally a web-comic on Tumblr with a cult following that blew up and also it's perfect.
Nimona is a redheaded shapeshifter who becomes the sidekick of one Lord Ballister Blackheart, and together they wreak havoc on the world. But Nimona is uncontrollable, and as much as Blackheart tries, he can't keep her in check. So when they go on a mission to prove that the kingdom's hero Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin (GET IT) isn't the good guy everyone thinks he is, the likelihood that Nimona could go rogue shifts from "distinct possibility" to "holy crap ginger dragons are everywhere."
For a long time, Noelle Stevenson was one of my favorite people to follow on Tumblr (you might know her as the girl who illustrated pretty much all of Rainbow Rowell's books, including Eleanor and Park and Fangirl), and she remains one of my favorite Twitter-ers. This book is sort of like... if her stream of consciousness were illustrated and bound in hardcover, but with characters you ship so hard that you can't actually talk about it without hyperventilating somewhat.
I can't really sentence about this book. I think about it and have to... like, collect myself. Hang on.
Okay. So let me start with the admission that I am slightly embarrassed by how much I loved ACOTAR. It was one of those highly-anticipated reads for everyone under the sun this year, and I was so determined to be that Grinch that DIDN'T fall head over heels for the uber-hyped, New Adult high fantasy novel based on Beauty and the Beast. It shouldn't have been a thing, but it is now.
I'm not going to explain the premise because it really is Beauty and the Beast. But with fairies. And full disclosure, this is for sure a romance. I don't give a crap about NA vs. YA, as I think it's BS spun by marketing departments, but yeah. Romance.
Um. Where do I start with my feels...?
It's like this. The main dude Tamlin-the-fairy-king is dark and brooding and troubled and wears a mask and look, I was SO AWARE OF THE TROPES SO MANY TROPES and I was SO DETERMINED not to fall for it AND THEN I DID, you guys. And then there's Feyre, the main character, who is basically Belle-meets-Celaena Sardothien (from Maas's Throne of Glass) and she's this wolf-slaying, art-loving badass and you're like what is happening right now am I low-key questioning my sexuality? And then you have Rhys, who is this good-bad-guy-turned-goodish-guy-maybe-sort-of who is even darker and brooding-er than Tamlin and also has a thing for body paint, and it's just like GTFO of here nobody can deal with you.
I am so sorry about this review. But if you're at all interested in watching me flail about this book for another 500 words, I wrote a Goodreads review immediately after I finished it at 1 AM, which, in retrospect, was probably not the best idea I could have had, but anyway... here.
I make no promises to be calmer about this book.
This is the final book in the series that began with the book that essentially got me through middle school. I got to tell this to Shannon Hale (!) when she signed my copy of Forgotten Sisters at YALLWEST this year, and she looked at me and said, "I am so glad," and I am proud to say I did not burst into tears, nor did I pass out, word vomit, or actually vomit. Arguably the greatest day of my life.
If you've been around my blog at all, you probably already know how much I adore everything Ms. Hale writes. This book picked up where the last few left off, with Miri at the palace. But while her friends are all returning to their mountain home, Miri is ordered to go start a princess academy in the middle of a swamp, where three royal cousins have been living on their own. But the cousins aren't exactly itching to be groomed into the princesses they're supposed to be. AND THERE IS GATOR WRESTLING.
This is a book about wild girls - wild, messy, confused, lonely, fiery girls with words bound up in their hearts. There are not enough books like this. There are not enough series like this. Read all of them, and then you will understand why I actually DID burst into tears at the end of this one.
Apparently, there is a running theme of "books that made Sam cry" in this post. Not even sorry.
I haven't talked much about writer/speaker Hannah Brencher on this blog, aside from the movements she founded and co-founded, More Love Letters and If You Find This Email, respectively. I've been following her work for the past several years, and she just recently published her memoir If You Find This Letter, a book about being in your twenties and figuring out who you are.
SO. GOOD. This girl has a way of taking everything you are insecure about and putting your I-am-the-only-one's in perspective. I did have to put the book down after every few pages because it just felt like so much. But that's why I love HB. She asks you to embrace your much-ness. And you feel things. You feel all the things.
I am so late to this party. SO late. I've lost track of the number of people who have told me to read Maggie Stiefvater. I'm ashamed it took me this long, and The Raven Boys is STILL on my to-read list. What is life.
In this world, the Scorpio Races happen every November, and the riders try to keep control over their water horses long enough to reach the finish line. But the horses are violent and bloodthirsty and long to return to the sea where they belong, which should make it all the harder for Puck Connolly, the first girl to enter the Races, to win. But Puck is determined to come out on top for her family's sake, so she enlists the help of the local champion Sean Kendrick. The more time they spend together, the clearer it becomes that the Races might just claim both of their lives.
This book was... not what I was expecting. But I think, if you picked up a book that basically looked like paranormal Black Beauty, most of you would be quick to judge, too. At least, that's what I tell myself, because now I feel SO BAD for ever having turned up my nose at it. (I'M SORRY, MAGGIE.) The writing is flat-out beautiful, and the voices of Sean and Puck and the rest of the people in this world (holy dialect work, Batman) are incredibly unique and such a complement to the story. So don't be like me. Read it immediately and save yourself immense regret.
This was more or less the year of Victoria Schwab for me. Last year, I read The Archivedfor the first time, and I kind of lost my sh*t a little. ONWARD.
Victor and Eli are brilliant university students and roommates who are fiercely competitive. When they decide to research the existence and creation of "EO"s (Extra-Ordinaries), their experiments go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison to find that Eli is on a mission to destroy every EO he can find. Their impending standoff can only leave one of them alive.
Vicious is basically like if the X-Men Origins movies didn't over-complicate everything with 10,000 characters and the studio's bizarre obsession with Wolverine. It's a study in how villains become villains, and what makes a "bad guy." And it's totally f-ing brilliant. Kind of like EVERYTHING ELSE VICTORIA SCHWAB WRITES. It's so unfair. How is this level of writing boss even achievable? How is she so good at everything she touches? Brb dying.
I definitely made this my first ever Paper Package of the Month, and I'm definitely going to write about it again. Because priorities.
This was an accidental read - a book that I found in an indie bookstore in North Hollywood. The back cover promised me Coney Island and gambling and a Chinese-American girl who likes to blow sh*t up, and I was sold before I even opened it. Then I did and found out that Kate Milford's writing is magic.
The book is based on New York in the 1800s when the Brooklyn Bridge was just being constructed, and it plays with the idea of crossroads. It's a difficult premise to explain, but the novel opens with two magical beings emerging from obscurity, bent on claiming New York for the forces of darkness. But to do it, they'll have to get past the two orphan children - cardsharp Sam and fireworks artist Jin - who have decided it's up to them to save their city.
There's so much to love about this book. Excuse me while I get on my historical fiction high-horse for a hot sec, but I can't get over the way the history woven through this book feels both rich and accurate (magic aside) while also maintaining this sharp relevance to modern social issues. The book talks about the fragility of a nation, while also pointing out the courage of a new generation to rise up in defense of a broken land. METAPHORS, you guys. More things to love: the fact that there is a Chinese-American main character and you're not reminded every two sentences that she's different because she's Asian. Thank. God.
This book was one of my most highly anticipated reads of the year. Amanda Palmer is... how do you describe Amanda Palmer? She's a goddess, basically. If you have no idea who she is, please watch this. And then this. And then read this. And then watch this.
Okay? Done? Good.
So, The Art of Asking was originally Amanda Palmer's TED Talk from 2013 (if you click the first link above, you can watch it). She's a performance artist, musician, and writer. And the whole concept behind the book was that people are fundamentally afraid to ask for help, but to be an artist, you can't NOT ask for help. It kills your art. No one can art by themselves. At least, that's Amanda's philosophy.
This book was half-manifesto and half-memoir, and it is interesting even if you're not an Amanda Palmer fan and only know that she's that rockstar who is married to Neil Gaiman and draws her eyebrows on. She's incredibly smart and she's lived the weirdest, most fascinating life. This book both made me feel seen and made me want to go out and conquer the world, and that is probably the highest compliment I could give anybody.
I told you it was the year of Victoria Schwab, DID YOU THINK I WAS LYING?
I actually won this ARC in a giveaway from Tor Books, and was fresh off The Archived train so I was still reeling a little bit. And then I read this. And my brain. Wut. How.
ADSOM is about the conflict between parallel universes and those who travel between them. Kell is one of those Travelers, carrying letters between the different kingdoms - the power-mad Red London, the dull and magic-dry Grey London, and the murderous White London. But Kell has a secret affinity for treason, smuggling things besides letters into universes where they don't belong. When a thief named Lila robs him, they are thrown together into an adventure that could destroy all the worlds they know to exist - and the ones they don't.
It's a TRIP, this novel. Everything about it is incredible. I'm not just saying that because there's a lady-pirate involved. But there is.
Also, I think YA (this book is not YA, but she's a genre-bender) and fantasy in general need more writers like Victoria Schwab. I wish I had read her books earlier. I... also wish I could win another ARC of book 2. Just gonna throw that out into the void...