Favorite Books of 2015

There are only hours left in 2015. At this time last year, I was in Florence with my family, dodging literal bombs in the streets (a New Year’s Eve tradition in Italy, I’m told) and watching fireworks from the roof of the apartment we’d rented. But I already talked about all that’s happened to me since then. Now, I want to talk about all the books I’ve read this year. There were a lot of them. I read my way through Italy, and then I read my way through the summer and fall. I read some books that were interesting but just all right, and I read some books that I wanted to throw across the room because I hated them so much, but I’m a completionist, so I had to finish them anyway. But I also read a bunch of books that I absolutely loved. I have already updated my Book Recs page with my favorites from 2015, but I wanted to share with you why they are my favorites.

 

Beauty by Robin McKinley: This was the perfect book for reading in front of a warm fire during the winter, when the bitter wind from the mountains to the north seemed to make all of Assisi shiver. The writing is beautiful, and the story is both familiar and unique. Also, I really love retold fairy tales.

 

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne Valente: This is the fourth book in Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland series, and it was an excellent next installment. I really enjoyed seeing different aspects of Fairyland, and it took the series in a direction I was not expecting. I loved the paralells between the characters’ stories, though it did feel a bit awkward to me to see September in someone else’s story, even though we really haven’t finished September’s story yet. Can’t wait for the fifth book!

 

Howl’s Moving Castle and sequels by Diana Wynne Jones: I can’t believe I haven’t read these before! I just loved Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air. House of Many Ways was also good, but it didn’t sweep me off my feet like the first two books did.

 

A Glory of Unicorns edited by Bruce Coville: I read this when I was working on a middle grade story for a contest. I found the stories aimed at a younger audience than I like to write for (I prefer upper middle grade personally), but there were still a lot of really great stories, and I had a lot of fun reading them.

 

Sunshine by Robin McKinley: I picked up this book with no idea what it was about and literally read it in a day. It was fabulous and intense and made me really, really want baked goods. It’s about vampires, by the way.

 

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline: This book was on my wishlist for a really long time. My mother read it over Christmas and said that the minute she finished it, she turned back to the beginning to read it again. So I read it over Easter break, when we were visiting Matera, and I couldn’t put it down either. I really admire how Kline weaves the two stories together. They really don’t feel like separate stories at all, by the end of the book, because each story has influenced the other so profoundly, but at the same time they are both complete stories in their own right. This is the sort of layered storytelling I’m aiming for with my honors novel, and reading Orphan Train actually gave me some ideas for how I want to revise it. Now, I just have to do that.

 

The Bloody Jack Adventure series by L. A. Meyer: There were like three weeks when I just blew through these books and no one heard from me. I really enjoyed the history in them, and I loved traveling with Jacky all over the world. In retrospect, though, I do have some reservations about the series. After the seventh book (the series has twelve books), I started to look for an end to the story, because it just started feeling like it was going on too long and why can’t they defeat the bad guys already? Also, there was a lot of Jacky being rescued by other people, and in every single book, someone attempts to rape her. Every single book. Not only did it get a bit old as a threat, but the image of a female character as being nothing but a sex object and also the image of men as only being able to think of having sex with her was troubling to me. Guys I finally understand what can make fiction problematic! But I still had fun reading them, and I would recommend the first seven books of the series, if not the whole thing, with a clear warning about what you might be getting into.

 

The Colors of Madeleine series by Jaclyn Moriarty: A Corner of White, the first book, was interesting but not my favorite thing in the world, but the second book, The Cracks in the Kingdom, was fabulous. The third book isn’t out yet, but I’m really looking forward to it. Madeleine, in London, starts communicating with Elliot, in the fantastic world of Cello. For Madeleine, it’s fantastic, but if Elliot is caught having contact with Earth, he could be killed. And both of their fathers are missing. Cello is really unique, and it also makes me want to eat lots of baked goods. I’m noticing a trend in the books I was reading last spring.

 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: If you haven’t read this book, go do it now. Right now. It’s beautiful and epic, spread over something like thirty years and at least two continents, and it has the best romantic subplot I’ve ever seen. Because the romantic subplot is integral to the plot, and it isn’t even a romance. Also, for audiobook fans, the audio version of this book is narrated by Jim Dale.

 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: I’ve read a lot of World War II books. And I mean a lot. One of the pitfalls I’ve noticed in many of them is that they try to cover too much. World War II was massive in scope, both in time and place, but it can’t all be contained in one story. That’s what I thought until I read The Nightingale. Kristin Hannah managed to tell a story that was very broad in scope, covering many aspects of the French experience in World War II from the point of view of two sisters: one with a German officer billeted at her house; the other fighting with the French resistance. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in World War II history or anyone just looking for a good story.

 

The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer: Again, if you haven’t read these books, stop what you’re doing and go read them now. They are amazing, possibly my favorite of my favorite books of this year. Retold fairytales set in a vivid science fiction world. Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White team up to fight an evil dictator. Need I say more?

 

A Series of Unfortunate Events: I read the first three books a long time ago, but this year I finally sat down and read the whole series. I actually had the opposite reaction that I had to the Bloody Jack series, because I felt the books got so much better after the seventh book, when the Baudelaires stopped simply letting themselves be shepherded from one awful guardian to another where they were forced to foil Count Olaf’s latest crazy scheme, and instead took it into their own hands to solve their own mysteries. And even though I’d heard the ending was disappointing, I actually really liked it.

 

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor: This was my first ever alien invasion book, so I can’t really compare it to anything, but I enjoyed this book a lot. It was very different from what I normally read, and I appreciated the diversity of the setting and the characters.

 

Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien: It took me more than two years to do it, but I finally finished Lord of the Rings, and now that I have, I can definitely say it was worth the ride. There were certainly some very slow parts, and now I understand why people object to including songs in novels, but on the whole it was a great experience to read.

 

The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland – For a Little While by Catherynne Valente: This novella on Tor.com was lots of fun and added a lot of insight into the Fairyland books. (I love the Green Wind!) You could probably read it at any time after you’ve read the first book, but I personally think it’s better having read all four books that are out so far. If you enjoyed the Fairyland books, you will enjoy this.

 

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson: Honestly, when I read the description of this book, I was not sure it was something I would enjoy, but I know the author (Seth was a staff member both years I attended Alpha), and I know he’s a really great writer, so I read it. And it was fabulous. The fantasy world was incredibly rich, and the plot was complex, but not so complex that I couldn’t follow it, and Baru was a fascinating protagonist whom I both cared about but also was someone I was a little wary of. I highly recommend this book.

 

So that has been my literary year. I doubt I’ll be able to read as much next year–law school is coming, after all–but if you have recommendations for books that should be on my list, let me know. Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s to all the fabulous stories of 2015, those we read and those we created ourselves, and here’s to all the stories to come in 2016!

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