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!

Advertisements

2015 the Year

2015 is coming to a close. It has been an absolutely crazy year. When I look back at where I was a year ago (and Facebook has been kind enough to remind me that a year ago today I was touring the Vatican with my family), I cannot believe how far I’ve come.

 

I was in Italy until June, finishing my Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Assisi. Parts of those six months were really difficult. I was lonely and more afraid than I have ever been ever, not to mention that I had no idea what I was going to do next. But despite all this, I persevered, and I still had some wonderful experiences (I can say this now because perspective is a great thing). After Christmas, I visited Rome, Florence, and Pisa with my family. I returned to Rome in February for the Fulbright midyear meeting. In March, my mother and I visited Bari and Matera. In May, I visited Narni—the village that inspired The Chronicles of Narnia—with some Kenyon friends who were studying in England for the year. In June, before I came home, I went to see the Museo Omero in Ancona and the Flower Festival in Spello. We visited Spoletto and Venice, the wineries at Montefalco in Umbria, and Lake Trasimeno on the border between Umbria and Tuscany. And when I wasn’t traveling, I was teaching everything from English, literature and creative writing to history, sociology, and chemistry (I claim very little proficiency in those last two). I improved my Italian (though I haven’t practiced much since), and I made some wonderful friends.

 

At the same time, the difficulties I was facing in Italy, including a lot of discrimination, helped me decide that I want to attend law school. I’ve said this a few times already, but though I feel that I might have come to this decision without my experiences in Italy, those experiences gave me the passion and the empathy that I hope to bring to disability law in school and beyond. So when I came home, I spent the summer studying hard for the LSAT. I took the LSAT in October and claimed victory. Then I filled out all my law school applications. Now I’m back to playing the waiting game. And everyone knows I’m really bad at that. On the other hand, I have already been accepted to three law schools, so it’s much less stressful. I know I am going to law school. Now it’s just a question of where.

 

Since I took the LSAT, I have also been volunteering at the New Hampshire Disability Rights Center, which has been a blast. I have learned a lot about disability rights in just two months, but most of all, I am sure now that this is what I want to do.

 

Finally, I had some writing successes as well. My story “Naming Angelo” was the second runner-up for the Dell Award, and “Dissonance” was accepted for publication by Abyss and Apex in October. And it’s coming out Friday, guys! Be excited!

 

So I did a lot of stuff this year. Last January, when I set out my goals for the year, I had no idea what was coming. Now… I have no idea what those goals were and if I actually achieved them. So let’s take a look:

 

  1. By the time I return from Italy at the end of June, one of my novels will be edited and ready to start submitting:

 

Victory!

 

From January to March, I worked pretty much nonstop to revise my small child wizard novel and get it down to a reasonable length. And I did it! I was having a really hard time then, and my father suggested that I reorient my goals: take this time and use it to write or read or draw. Set goals for yourself that you can accomplish and use this time for that. So I wrote, and I’m positive that having this project was the only thing that kept me going through February. I even started to get to the submitting part. More news on that soon, I hope.

 

As for the honors novel, which I also thought I might revise, that didn’t happen at all. But I have a plan for that, and my goal was only to edit one of the three novels on my computer.

 

Onward!

 

2. Keep this website updated on a semi-regular basis:

 

Victory again!

 

Okay, I slacked a bit from July to October, but it’s a far cry better than I was doing before, when I was posting only like once every four months. So I count it a win. Also, I’ve gotten more than 2000 hits this year, so thank you all for sticking with me and my ramblings this year.

 

3. Use Twitter:

 

So, about that…

 

Unless you count that I tweet every time I write a new blog post (and I don’t, because WordPress does it for me), I have pretty much utterly failed at this. I just can’t seem to get the hang of Twitter. Can someone teach me?

 

4. Continue writing and submitting short stories:

 

Done and done. And it’s paying off.

 

5. Make decisions about what I want to do with my life:

 

Mission accomplished, at least for the near future. But let me tell you, these were some tough decisions—not to pursue a doctorate in comparative literature or an MFA in creative writing—and in some ways they were disappointing decisions. If I think about it, I’m honestly not that surprised that teaching wasn’t my favorite thing in the world. But I always expected that I would almost exclusively go the writing route, which isn’t to say I’m going to stop writing, obviously. It’s just not the only thing I’m going to do. And after I’ve been telling my family my whole life that no way would I ever become a lawyer, well, you can guess how that felt. But now I’m confident that I’m on the right path, and if I change my mind down the road, I know myself enough to accept that.

 

But I’m not going to change my mind.

 

So that’s 2015. It’s been an incredible year. Looking back on where I was a year ago, I’m overwhelmed with feelings I can’t quite pick apart. Nostalgia, probably. Happiness at all I’ve done, definitely. Shock and wonder at how far I’ve come—both figuratively and literally—there’s a lot of distance between January 2015 Jameyanne and December 2015 Jameyanne. But all the changes have been good, and I’m excited for what comes next.