After I wrote my “Favorite Books of 2015”post, I realized I wanted to have explanations for why I chose the other books on the Book Recspage. So these are my favorite books before 2015 (really these are mostly from 2010 to 2014) and brief explanations of why I liked them enough to recommend them. I’m breaking this into two posts, because otherwise it might be a novel in its own right. These are just the fantasy and science fiction books. The rest will come.
Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling: Need I explain? I love these books! I will always love these books! I reread them all at least once a year. My favorites are 3, 4, and 7, but I will always love 1, 2, and 6, and 5 has definitely grown on me over the years. I’m also working on reading them in Italian, but that’s slow going.
Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce: Alanna switches places with her twin brother and trains to be a knight, all the while disguised as a boy. Great story, great characters, all around lots of fun while still being serious and important.
Immortals quartet by Tamora Pierce: Though they follow the Alanna books chronologically and even contain some of the same characters, these books are very different. This series is more about magic, animal magic, to be precise, than acts of swordsmanship and heroism. The first book, Wild Magic, is possibly my favorite in the series, but the rest are great as well.
Protector of the Small quartet by Tamora Pierce: Another girl goes off to be a knight story, but Kel doesn’t have to go in disguise, which means she has her own set of challenges to overcome. I really enjoy these books because of the differences between this series and The Song of the Lioness.
Trickster’s Choice and Trickster’s Queen by Tamora Pierce: I love everything Tamora Pierce writes, but these books will always hold a special place in my heart, because they were the first books I ever read by her. Also, I read them out of order and totally understood what was going on in the second one before I read the first, which I respect. Plus, spies.
The Legend of Beka Cooper trilogy by Tamora Pierce: These books take place 200 years before the Alanna books, and I love seeing the way the world has changed from then to now. It’s also really cool to see the origins of elements of the plots of the books that take place later come into play in these books. I will say, however, that even after a reread the ending of the trilogy doesn’t work that well for me. I won’t go as far as to say it’s total character derailment, but I feel like it could have been set up better.
The Circle of Magic quartet by Tamora Pierce: This is the first four-book series set in Tamora Pierce’s other universe, and this might also be my favorite series that she’s written. I love the Circle Universe, which is analogous to the medieval Silk Road. And let’s be totally honest here, the Circle of Magic books had a lot to do with the revisions to my small child magician novel that finally got it on the right track, so it will always have a special place in my heart.
The Circle Opens quartet by Tamora Pierce: I love these books, because it takes the four, inseparable kids from the first Circle series and separates them, sending them off on their own to have their own adventures. Each book is devoted to one of the four, and they are each unique and wonderful.
The Will of the Empress by Tamora Pierce: After The Circle Opens, this book brings the four back together, with their separate, traumatic experiences, and really shows how they deal with who they were before they went away versus who they are now and how they react to each other. Not to mention political intrigue. It’s really great.
Melting Stones by Tamora Pierce: This is another Circle book which takes place at the same time as Will of the Empress, in another part of the world with different characters. Now, we’re getting the four’s students’ stories, or at least one here, though I hope more are in the works. This book is definitely aimed at a younger audience than Will of the Empress, which threw me for a loop a little bit, but it is still great. Also, this book was originally released only in audio—the print came next—which made me love it even more, because it was a little bit like vengeance against all those people who spoiled Harry Potters 4-6 for me because they got their print books before the Braille. But only a little like revenge, because the culprits didn’t all read Tamora Pierce, and they could also listen to the audio just as well as me.
Battle Magic by Tamora Pierce: Finally, this Circle book takes place before Will of the Empress, but it came out afterwords (hence why it’s below it on the list, though really this order is arbitrary). It details the events that led to one of the character’s serious PTSD in Will of the Empress. It’s great. And also, can I just mention how much I appreciate that trauma is a thing that is bboth a big deal in these books but also taken entirely seriously by the culture.
The Books of Bayern series by Shannon Hale: I absolutely loved the first book in this series, The Goose Girl, which is based on the fairytale of the same name. The writing was beautiful, the story was compelling, and I loved watching the heroine grow into herself. I was less enthusiastic about the sequels, but I still enjoyed seeing more of the world. After the first book, the fourth and final book, Forest Born, is probably my favorite of the series.
The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins: I really loved the first book of this series, especially the very very ending. It just struck this perfect chord in me. And then the second book as just okay. It was a really interesting direction to take a book for which I honestly couldn’t see a sequel making sense, but it felt slow in the beginning and then rushed at the end. And then there was Mockingjay, which ruined the whole series for me. I prefer to pretend that it doesn’t exist, though I will say that the movies actually did a good job making me accept that ending.
Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth: This is here because I like to use it as a study of what not to do. I admit, I enjoyed the first and second books, and even parts of the third book, but the ending made me want to throw things across the room. And if I haven’t mentioned this already, it’s really not a good idea for a blind person to throw stuff in anger. You can’t find it after, and then you have to confess to someone that you chucked it somewhere and now you need help finding it. Anyway, I like to use these books as a study of what not to do because I am working on a series in which the whole world is not revealed until the second book, and even then some pieces are still held back until the third. It’s a cool idea, but I think the problem with the Divergent books is that the world building in the first and second books just didn’t make sense, and the villain of those books seems way too evil given the situation that’s presented. It makes more sense once all is revealed, but it takes too long for everything to be revealed—I personally know people who weren’t willing to stick with it after the first book. So as I’m working on my own project, I’m making sure not to make the same mistakes. My characters are actively trying to discover the truth from the beginning, so it’s clear from the start that things are not as they appear. So while in the end the Divergent books are not my favorite books by any means, I still think they’re valuable.
The Healing Wars trilogy by Janice Hardy: I don’t even know where to start with this series. I read it immediately after coming off a binge of young adult dystopian trilogies with disappointing endings, and it was so refreshing. I loved seeing the magic of healing taken to its dark and creepy conclusions—when people are magically healed, where does the pain go? It was also fantasy, which I tend to prefer over science fiction (though I’ve learned recently that I do like some sci fi). Finally, all the characters were really people, even the little sister the protagonist is fighting to save. And it has a great ending. Really, I can’t say enough good things about these books.
The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare: These books were just super fun. I read the first one because I wanted to see the movie (which in no way did it justice, by the way). I loved the first three books. Not only was the plot great, but it also had the best love triangle I’ve ever seen. I also loved the last book. The fourth and fifth books weren’t as good as the others, but it’s obvious that they needed to happen in order for the sixth book to be more awesome.
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine: I read this book in a day. I was in Turin, Italy, and everyone else in my study abroad program had gone off to Switzerland for the weekend. So I went to the park and read Ella Enchanted, and I have no regrets. This was one of those retold fairytales that totally fixed all the problems I always had with the Cinderella story, and I highly recommend.
Team Human by Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier: Okay, I admit it. In high school, I was a little bit obsessed with Twilight. Maybe a lot obsessed. So when this book was recommended to me, I instinctively shied away from another vampire romance, but I’m glad I picked it up anyway, because it was so, so much fun! It’s about the best friend of the girl who falls in love with the vampire, and she spends the whole book trying to convince her not to turn into a vampire herself. It made me cry.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and sequels by Catherynne Valente: These books are so much fun. I actually met Cat Valente when she tought at Alpha in 2012, and I picked up the first book in this series immediately after. I love the writing, the lengthy, rhythmic sentences, the vivid description, everything. Also, you know, the stories are great too. I can’t wait for the fifth one to come out next month!
Deathless by Catherynne Valente: This is also a great read, though definitely more adult than Fairyland. It’s a retold Russian fairytale set in Leningrad in World War II. Definitely worth a read.
Graceling and sequels by Kristin Cashore: I also read these books in Turin (I did a lot of reading in the park in Turin). Graceling was fabulous. I was really intrigued by the idea that you could have powers but not know what those powers are exactly. I also loved the third book, Bitterblue. The middle book wasn’t quite as strong for me, but I still enjoyed it. I’ve actually been meaning to reread these books for a while, because I want to dive back into that world and experience it all again.
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke: I talked a little about this book in my post about Venice last June. At the risk of being redundant, I’ll just say that I loved this book so much that I wanted to go to Venice for years and years, and it also played a huge part in me choosing to study Italian.