Best reads of 2015

JANUARY

I went into 2015 knowing (hoping!) it was going to be the year I finally got on the property ladder and therefore needed to save money for paint/furniture/fees/MORTGAGE. No more out-of-control book buying for me! Fie on you, one-click purchase/deliver straight to Kindle! I was going to behave. And I started well, as the first book on my 2015 list was a freebie, thrust into my eager hands by the team at HarperCollins when I was there for a meeting (my books share the same fabulous cover designer, my claim to fame!). The Fire Sermon has gone on to receive mixed reviews over the course of the year but it was everything I wanted in a dystopian read. Humans have reverted to a more primitive state following nuclear fall out and for some unknowable reason every person is now born with a twin. Of each pair one is an Alpha – physically perfect in every way – and the other an Omega burdened with deformity, small or large, leading to an apartheid-like society. Although they run the world, the Alphas cannot escape one harsh fact: whenever one twin dies, so does the other. I can’t wait for the follow up, The Map of Bones, coming May 2016 (and hope it too will be thrust early into my now even more eager hands).

Something a little slower, Compulsion by Martina Boone is a story that has stuck with me all year. Not usually my sort of thing, I was having a case of The Vampire Diaries withdrawal and craved something with “Southern-gothic charm”. This book was everything I wanted the Beautiful Creatures series to be. Protagonist Barrie finds her world opening up when her recluse mother dies and she is sent to live with her strange aunt on her South Carolina plantation. The plantation is guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions (for Barrie, it is the compulsion to find lost things and return them to their owners). I have the follow up, Persuasion, waiting on my Kindle for my attention in 2016!

 

FEBRUARY

February was a bit of a bumper month. I simply couldn’t pick between all the excellent reads I got through in those short 28 days! Firstly and without doubt, the stunning A Place Called Winter by the always-wonderful Patrick Gale. Harry Cane, a privileged elder son of an Edwardian family, has toed the respectable line all his life, but the discovery of his homosexual affair threatens disgrace and arrest. Forced to abandon his wife and baby, Harry emigrates to the newly colonised Canadian prairies and is allotted land to build a homestead in a remote place called Winter. Near perfect, beautiful, complex and thought-provoking, I am already planning a re-read.

I absolutely devoured Red Rising by Pierce Brown (and later the follow-up, Golden Son). I then forced my husband to read it so I would have somebody to talk to about just how ‘bloodydamn’ good it was. It wasn’t at all what I expected – but what it was, blew me away.  Darrow is a ‘Red’ – the lowest caste in his “colour-coded” society. He and his kind toil underground day and night, believing that their work is terraforming the planet of Mars for future generations, knowing this to be noble. However Darrow comes to know that humanity have been living on the surface of Mars for generations and the Reds are no more than gullible slaves to the higher classes. Longing for justice and with nothing else to lose, Darrow agrees to participate in the ultimate ‘Trojan Horse’ – to pose as a member of the ruling caste, the Golds, and compete in a Battle Royale-type tournament to become a master among them. Impeccable world-building and heart-racing action, I loved this sci-fi thriller.

When by Victoria Laurie was my most surprising read of the year, keeping me awake all night. Maddie Flynn, a shy teen, is cursed with the ability to see a series of digits on the forehead of every person – their death dates. Forced by her alcoholic mother to use her ability to make extra money, Maddie identifies the quickly approaching death date of one client’s young son, but because her ability only allows her to see the when and not the how, she’s unable to offer any more insight. When the boy goes missing on that exact date, law enforcement turns to Maddie for answers.

It wouldn’t be a yearly favourites list without an appearance from the goddess that is Sarah J. Maas; no, I haven’t outgrown my ridiculous lady-crush on the poor woman. I’d had my eye on A Court of Thorns and Roses for what felt like forever and jumped on it the second I could. I’m a sucker for SJM *and* a sucker for Beauty and the Beast retellings, so it was right up my metaphorical alley. When huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a fairy beast-king arrives to demand retribution for the ‘murder’ of one of his folk. Dragged to the beast’s magical estate, Feyre discovers that he is Tamlin, one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled the world. A very twisted ‘faery-tale’, I will say no more for fear of spoilers, other than the characters, world-building and writing was just as sublime (if not more so) than the epic Throne of Glass series.

 

MARCH

It’s my favourites list, and I’ll over-include if I want to! March also turned out to be a rather successful reading month! First off, I’m sure everyone has read it too, but I couldn’t not include Silent Scream by Angela Marsons (and the follow-ups in the DI Kim Stone series also released this year). I will say absolutely nothing for fear of spoiling these EXCELLENT dark crime thrillers, save that each one has me clutching my Kindle white-knuckled, and if you are one of the small few who hasn’t jumped on the Kim Stone bandwagon yet, you definitely need to.

I almost didn’t read it, because I thought it might be too similar to The Fire Sermon, but I’m so glad that I did. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir was a brutal, chilling, sweeping tale that really got my heart pounding! Set in a world inspired by ancient Rome I was a little dubious – I have a degree in Classical Studies and so books that harken back to myths or classical history have to be really on point to get past my snobbery – Laia, a slave spying for the rebel resistance, meets Elias, the Empire’s finest student soldier, disillusioned with the tyranny he was raised to enforce, and their fates entwine.

Probably a contender for my overall favourite book of 2015, Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. Although it was her debut, it was the last of her backlist titles I got around to after falling in love the other year with Eleanor and Park and Fangirl (along with the rest of the world). Man, I wish I’d written this glorious book. Set in the run up to the millennium, best friends/colleagues Beth and Jennifer know that it’s company policy that their work emails are monitored, but they don’t really take it that seriously, continuing to send one another hilarious emails discussing every aspect of their personal lives. Meanwhile, on another floor, hapless Lincoln (who did not expect this sort of role when he applied to work in “internet security”…) sits and reads them. He knows he should dob the girls in for sending personal messages, but he can’t help being entertained by their stories. Unfortunately, by the time Lincoln realises he’s fallen in love with Beth from afar, he knows pretty much all her deepest darkest secrets, and it’s way too late to just introduce himself…

Finally, The Rain (or H2O in some editions) by Virginia Bergin was a wonderful snappy, clever, contemporary dystopian (and bonus points for randomly mentioning the tiny Buckinghamshire hamlet where I grew up, even if it was to disparage the weird names of countryside villages!). Ruby and her friends are hanging out at a house party when it starts to drizzle and the radio begins to warn them that it’s in the rain; it’s fatal, it’s contagious and there’s no known cure. Two weeks later Ruby is alone. Anyone who has been touched by rain, tap water or anything contaminated is quickly dead. Ruby has to survive a dangerous cross-country hike to find her father (if he’s even still alive) – no mean feat when the rain can kill you, and it’s rainy England we’re talking about here. Ruby is an amazingly refreshing heroine – rather than heroically saving the world she just bitches and moans about how inconvenient it is that the apocalypse hit when she was just starting to get the attention of the boy she fancied and loots designer clothes and make-up as she goes. Narrated in Ruby’s funny, stream-of-conciousness style, it feels very authentic and lives up to its fantastic concept.

 

APRIL

A fun, solid read, I’ve realised whilst doing this recap that Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway is a book that’s really stayed in my head over the course of the year. Poor Audrey’s life was turned upside down when her ex-boyfriend’s song about their break up hits the top of the charts and makes her a very unwilling celebrity; the paparazzi won’t leave her alone, the tabloids are trying to make her into some kind of rock goddess, and the Internet is documenting her every move! Worst of all, her ex’s fangirls are out for her blood for breaking their idol’s heart, so Audrey decides it’s time to tell her side of the story. Fresh and unique, I smiled and rooted for Audrey all the way through.

My jaw was on the floor by the end of Lucy Robinson’s The Day We Disappeared. Not the romcom the cover makes you think it is, this is a lot more – part mystery, part psychological thriller, part love story – 100% compelling. Annie has a secret and Kate has run away – but scratch beneath the surface and this story of reinvention and fear of the past isn’t what it seems. Simply superb.

 

MAY

The charming, quirky No One Wants To Be Miss Havisham by Brigid Coady was the winner of the RNA New Writer’s award in 2015, and rightly so; I was so full of superlatives for this clever book. Dickens with a chick lit makeover, what wasn’t to love? Starring Edie Dickens, a bitter divorce lawyer who prides herself on her cold attitude to love and romance, has agreed much against her will to be Maid of Honour for her oldest friend. Worse, she has started to be visited by the ghost of her old boss, Jessica Marley, the Queen Bitch who influenced her life, finding out she must change her ways or be damned. Visited by the Ghosts of Weddings Past, Present and Future in the run up until the wedding, will Edie learn from her mistakes in time? The perfect read for wedding season!

 

JUNE

Determined not to be put off by the “free verse” approach, I picked up One by Sarah Crossan in June, the sensitive and moving story of conjoined twin sisters Tippi and Grace.  Their medical bills have taken a toll on the family finances and they have to leave their sheltered homeschooled world and enter the public school system. Written as a collection of short verses, each functioning as a ‘chapter’, if you like, One only takes a few hours to read but by the end you are thoroughly absorbed. Perfect for if you’re looking for something a little different.

Another pick that was lauded far and wide in 2015, I admit I also adored Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. Fantasy rooted in folklore is always a winner for me, and here it’s the mythology of Eastern Europe used to create an amazing standalone tale. Agnieszka lives in a village where, every ten years, the Dragon (a powerful wizard who is the area’s feudal master) comes to choose a seventeen year old girl to take back to his castle. The girl is returned unharmed after ten years, when her replacement is chosen, but she is always massively changed and nobody knows exactly what has occurred. Meanwhile, only a few miles away from the village lies the Wood, corrupted by magic, spewing out mysterious monsters and menace. The villagers cannot refuse the Dragon his chosen servant, for he is the only one who can curb the Wood’s approach. Although she is turning 17 at precisely the wrong time, Agnieszka has never worried unduly – her best friend is the cream of the crop, and everyone has known for years that it will be she the Dragon chooses. Of course it is Agnieszka who is chosen and so this fierce, sharp, scary story begins.

 

JULY

Sometimes I can get quite contrary with what I read. If people are too adoring of a certain series, or author, I subconsciously stay away, knowing I never quite enjoy a book as much if I go into it with expectations. That was me and Victoria Schwab before 2015 – she was so beloved in the book blogger community, I daren’t go near her. But I was gifted a copy of her new release A Darker Shade of Magic and really enjoyed it, so I went straight to her debut adult novel Vicious afterwards. This book was so many different things, but did each of them so well. Victor and Eli, college roommates are both arrogant, ambitious, genius loners. In their senior year they commence a shared research project in adrenaline caused by near-death experiences, believing that under the right conditions this could lead to an individual developing ‘superpowers’. But when their thesis moves from the academic to practical experimentation, things go horribly wrong… Flipping between the college days and ten years later, after Victor has broken out of prison determined to avenge himself on Eli – who in turn has developed the conviction that each and every super-powered person in the world (including Victor) must be killed off. A gritty comic-book-style world in vivid prose where you’re never sure exactly who’s going to be left alive at the close.

My 2015 recap wouldn’t be complete without a nod to Leigh Bardugo’s Ruin and Rising, the final chapter in the Grisha Trilogy. As two other books come before I really can’t say anything without spoiling something or other, but this was an enjoyable end to an excellent series, one I wholeheartedly recommend.

 

AUGUST

August was mostly taken up with the sixteen books I read for the Harper Impulse readathon! Check out the list and the individual reviews I wrote for each here.

Also in August I learned not to be so much of a book snob. I was very dubious going into Danielle L. Jensen’s Stolen Songbird because the prose, character names and even the cover made it seem a bit rubbish – it was only at the repeat urging of a trusted friend that I even gave it a chance and I bloody loved it. Five centuries after a witch’s curse bound trolls to their city beneath the mountain, Cecile de Troyes has been kidnapped for the purpose of marrying the troll prince in an attempt to break the curse. A really solid fantasy with plenty of political intrigue. danger and brewing rebellions, I need to get on to the sequel soon in 2016.

 

SEPTEMBER

The other contender for read of the year – I’d been ‘aware’ of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One for years; I was both attracted and frightened off by its cult status. I’m so glad I didn’t put it off any longer. In the world 2044 reality has become such an ugly place that humanity spends the vast majority of its time plugged into OASIS, a virtual reality utopia where almost everything is done, including business and schooling. Deprived teenager Wade Watts has dedicated his life to studying the puzzles hidden within the digital world, puzzles that are based on OASIS’s late creator’s obsession with the pop-culture of his own youth, and that promise a massive fortune to the first person to complete the quest. Wade stumbles upon the first clue and finds himself beset by other questers more than willing to kill him – in real life – to take the ultimate prize. A love letter to the 80s – and to nerd culture – I adored every minute of the read.

A rather abrupt genre change, in September I also read Laurie Elizabeth Flynn’s Firsts in one sitting. Seventeen year old Mercedes is adamant that no other girlfriend will ever get the disappointing “first time” that she herself had to suffer, and so, magnanimously, she has a rather open door policy when it comes to her bedroom, as long as he’s a virgin with a girlfriend. With Mercedes said virgins get their awkward, fumbling practice in – it’s sort of a public service, and a very tightly-kept secret. Of course, it’s the sort of secret that eventually surfaces, and when it does Mercedes needs to fight to salvage her reputation. As I’m normally the first person roaring in my reviews about slut-shaming in Young Adult books I was really looking forward to putting my money where my mouth is and reading this, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. There were a million and one ways this story could have gone wrong, but Firsts successfully skirted them all.

 

OCTOBER

Another book on recommendation, I was a bit uncertain about reading a book about a marital breakdown so soon after celebrating my first wedding anniversary, but I’m glad I did. After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a love story about the modern marriage, and what happens after the love fades. Lauren and Ryan reach breaking point and come up with an unconventional plan, deciding to take a gap year of sorts from their marriage, staying completely out of contact with one another, to see how they feel about one another – and themselves – come the end of the twelve months. A powerful story about self-discovery, values, fighting for happy ever after but also knowing when to give up, this book really made me think and has stayed with me. I also appreciated my own husband much more after finishing!

Okay – the end of October is DISGRACEFULLY early for a Christmas read, but it was the glorious Carmel Harrington’s Christmas read and I simply couldn’t wait. Every Time A Bell Rings is a gentle and smart modern relling of It’s A Wonderful Life. Foster parents Belle and Jim can’t bear the loss of their most recent foster child, and Christmas is cancelled and their marriage strained. When Jim crashes his car Belle can only blame herself and finds herself standing on the Ha’Penny Bridge wishing she had never been born – enter your obligatory Christmas angel, naturally. Happy tears, sad tears, and lashings of Christmas cheer – but you can pick this read up any time of the year.

 

NOVEMBER

So earlier in the year I had the choice between two very similar sounding books I’d received advance e-copies of at roughly the same time. The one I chose to read I ended up being a bit meh about, and so later in the year I came back to the other – A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston – yes, 2015 really seemed to be the year for 1001 Nights retellings. Lo-Melkhiin has killed three hundred girls before he comes to the protagonist’s village looking for another wife. To save her sister from it, she volunteers, and is taken, but left behind, her sister and the women of her village conjures up an unseen desert magic, and keeps death at bay. Some of the lightest touch but effective world-building I have ever experienced. I was right there in the desert, in the qasr, in bed with the demon. Lyrical, strong and subtly feminist (as much as I hate that term) and I loved that nobody bar the prince/demon had a name. This is a story about the anonymous. I couldn’t put it down.

Another cracker of a Christmas read was Lynn Marie Hulsman’s A Miracle at Macy’s. Her book Christmas at Thornton Hall had been THE Christmas read of 2013 for me so I knew I wasn’t going to be disappointed. When shy recluse Charlotte loses her beloved pet Hudson a week before Christmas she – with the held of her aunt’s stiff British assistant Henry – must go on a festive treasure hunt through Manhattan to find him. Stuffed full of “real-life” Christmas magic.

November also saw the release of a new series I’d had my eye on for some time – Katey Lovell’s Meet Cute series. Gorgeously romantic little vignettes, perfect for my lunch break at work. I hope there are many, many more in the pipeline (and something full length from Katey would definitely hit the spot as well!).

 

DECEMBER

In December I devoured all four installments thus far in the Jefferson Tayte genealogical crime mystery series by Steve Robinson and thoroughly enjoyed them. Mixing ‘Da Vinci Code’ like pacing with timeslip narration, each one kept me on the edge of my seat. Recommended for both historical fiction and crime/thriller/mystery aficionados.

It was great to close the year with another nice surprise; Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley was much more than it appeared at first glance. Aza Ray drowns in thin air – the doctors don’t really understand why, and so she has been ‘dying’ ever since she was a baby. When she catches a glimpse of a ship in the clouds her family chalk the hallucination up to a side-effect of her medication, but her best friend Jason listens and researches the long folk history of these sky-ships, and the whispers of a whole sky-based society, called Magonia. And when the time comes for Aza Ray to die, she finds herself saved, living above the clouds, able to breathe easily for the first time. Soon she discovers that Magonia and the unconcious Earth are on the cusp of a reckoning – the Magonian’s are starving and pulled apart by civil strife – and Aza Ray cannot be sure where her loyalties lie. A brilliant and thrilling tale, told in poetic prose and richly imagined.

 

 

 

 

 

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