Thursday, December 31, 2015

What I Read in 2015

It's that time again, when I list the books I read this year. To be honest, it was a lighter reading year than I've had in a very long time. I had a lot of other things on my plate this year, but I snuck in a book whenever I could.

So here we go:

1. The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson. I've been a huge fan of LHA all the way back to Speak, and this book was just as good. What is so killer about Anderson is her amazing ear--she just gets how teens talk and how they feel and conveys it so well on the page. I am struck anew with writerly envy every single time I pick up one of her books.

2. The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows. Okay, disclaimer: Jodi is one of my very best friends, so I am not exactly objective when it comes to her work, but in my opinion this is one of her best books. If you love fantasy, you'll love this. It has it all: magic, political intrigue, a kick-ass heroine and a guy who runs around wearing a mask. Love love this one.

3. The Martian by Andy Weir. This is an adult book, and I loved it so much I bought it for my parents. They, er, thought it was a bit boring at times and greatly preferred the movie. I will have to agree to disagree--the book is awesome. It is a love letter to science in the best possible way, and the voice of the main character is so winning and lively that it's easy to follow all the science that comes with surviving when you've been abandoned on Mars.

4. Golden Son by Pierce Brown. If you caught my list last year you'll notice that the first book in this series, Red Rising, was one of my favorites of the year. I went into Golden Son with a little bit of trepidation, honestly, because I loved the first book so much I was worried that the second one couldn't possibly measure up. I was wrong--this book is every bit as tense and engaging and beautifully written as the first novel. Easily the best sci-fi I read all year.

5. The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman. I really liked this fantasy/horror retelling with whispers of Snow White and Rose Red and the Snow Queen all in one. Reading the book felt like a beautiful nightmare, in the best sense possible.

6. Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter. This felt like the good old paranormal teen stories of old to me, which I miss. The modern life of the main character was so believable. I also loved the ways the author used clouds and symbols.

7. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. Ah, Holly Black, you slay me. How do you do it every single time? This story was soooooo compelling, one of those hide-in-the-closet-so-I-can-finish-reading kind of books--you other mothers know what I'm talking about. I loved that this was a fairy book, and the characters were so well drawn and the plot was so engaging. Sigh. *fangirls all over Holly Black.

8. All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven. Okay, so this was the year of the suicide novel. That sounds like it shouldn't be a thing, but it's good. It's an issue we need to talk about. And it felt like all of these suicide novels came out at roughly the same time, my own included. So I read a bunch of these last winter. ATBP ended up being one of my favorites, because the characters, particularly the guy character, felt so real to me. Bring tissues for this one, though. You'd have to have a heart of stone not to cry at the end.

9. My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga. This one is hard for me to talk about for a few reasons. If you've read the acknowledgements of my book The Last Time We Say Goodbye, you'll know that I lost my younger brother to suicide when I was in college. Books about suicide can be pretty difficult for me. This book came out the same day as TLTWSG, and we were going to tour together, so HarperTeen sent me an ARC. I got to page ten, and then I had to put the book down for a while. It's a story about a girl who is contemplating suicide, and she seeks out a "partner," someone who also wants to kill himself. She ends up connecting with a boy who wants his life to end on a specific date: April 7. The entire book from that point counts down to April 7. Which just happens to be the date that my brother died. I got to that date and felt a ripple of shock go over me. It was painful to read and anticipate how Warga's April 7 was going to turn out, but I did pick up the book again and keep reading, and I'm so glad I did. It's a beautiful story about, i think, how human connection can save us.

10. I Was Here by Gayle Forman. I am a big fan of Gayle Forman--her book If I Stay is one of my favorites of all time, and I've never read a book of hers I didn't like. That said, this one is probably my least favorite, even though it's a very good book. This is about a girl whose best friend has committed suicide, and the girl goes on a journey searching of answers. Again, a really good book, but it felt like a head book to me instead of a heart book. If you know what I mean.

11. The Young Elites by Marie Lu. I loved Marie's previous Legend series, but I have to say I loved this novel even more. The Main character was just so fascinating, and the world the book operates in is dark and engrossing. And the end was so awesome.

12. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. Again, I might be a bit biased, as I toured with Victoria this year, but this novel was so well crafted--it keeps you pretty much on the edge of your chair for the entire read. If you read a lot of fantasy, you'll dig it. The ship situation is pretty intense in this story, too. Hot guys and red-blooded girls for the win.

13. The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes. I really love survival stories, so I was excited to read this one, about three teens lost in the woods. It was pretty good, too, a little kitchy at times, maybe, but a feel-good read, for sure.

14. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. This was the book that I recommended when people asked me for my favorite book this year. In so many ways it was just another one of the gazillion fantasies that flooded the market this year, but IT WAS SO GOOD. It's from the point of view of two characters, and the stakes are so high for both of them, and I was just holding my breath for them by the end. AWESOME AWESOME.

15. A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thompson. This was an excellent retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story, which begins with the kiss that wakens her and proves that happily ever after isn't necessarily a given.

16. The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons. Gosh, this was the year for great fantasies (and the word glass in the title, apparently). This one hooked me right away, and had one of the most interesting, engaging main characters I read this year.

17. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith. This book about aliens was hands-down the goriest, foulest-mouthed, most intense YA I read this year, but it was also really funny at times and incredibly authentic to the experience of a teenage boy. I enjoyed it.

18. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. The title is so apt for this book, which is both strange and beautiful, about a girl who is born with wings. But ultimately it is about so much more than that--it's about family and womanhood and the way people can treat each other as symbols instead of as human beings.

19. The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough. I loved this one--it felt a bit like The Book Thief, about Love and Death competing with each other over the lives of two star-crossed lovers in the 30s. The world of this novel was so rich, and the story was so tense and compelling, and the premise was so imaginative and well wrought. A great book.

20. Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge. Yet another amazing fantasy. At this point some of the fantasies had started to blend together in my head a bit, but this one stood out for Hodge's deft use of sexual tension--I liked her book Cruel Beauty a little bit more than this one, but she continues to write attraction mixed with hostility so well. Great writing and imagery in this one, too.

21. Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan. I am a HUGE Carrie Ryan fan, and I tore through this book the moment I got my hands on it. It's a great, quick-paced thriller where you definitely can't see all the twists coming.

22. The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahndieh. One of my favorite books of the year--this is a super cool retelling of the 1001 Arabian nights. I found the world and the characters here simply mesmerizing, and I loved the storytelling aspect, and how the revenge in the main character's heart slowly shifts into something else, and the torment of the male lead. Wow. Wow wow.

23. The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy. This is an adult novel that reimagines the Lewis and Clark expedition in a post-apocolyptic landscape, and it was brilliant, easily my favorite of Ben Percy's books so far. I loved that the Sacajawea character was constantly thinking about just murdering the whole bunch of them so she would be rid of them. I loved the steampunk feel.

24. Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Okay, so I read and loved this two years ago, but this year my family and I went to dinner with Ransom and Tahereh, (his equally lovely and talented wife) and my eight-year-old son was immediately enraptured by Ransom and came home wanting to read his book. So we read it, although I had to do some heavy editing because it was a bit too scary for my kid.

25. Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman. I LOVE Westerns, and I was instantly smitten by the cover of this book, so I went right out and got this the day it came out. It was a fun, exciting read, and I loved following this kick-ass girl's path through the Old West. Awesome.

26. Walk On Earth A Stranger by Rae Carson. Another Western! Woohoo! This one I felt had a bit more of an "educational" feel to it--like we were learning about the history of the Oregon trail as we went along, but as usual Carson's language was beautiful and the little paranormal twist to it made it so cool.

27. These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman. A sci-fi version of the Titanic, set in space and on some distant planet. There was a moment in this one where I literally gasped--what happened was so unexpected. I'm eager to read the next one.

28. Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone. This was easily my favorite contemporary YA of the year--it was just so heartfelt and authentic and true. I loved the main character in all her flawed and wonderful struggles--she is trying to hide her obsessive-only OCD from her mean-girl friends, learning how to express herself and come to love herself through writing, and reinventing her life. If there's one book I wish all teens would read this year, this is it.

29. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. Gosh, this was a beautiful book. It struck me as a literary novel that got swept into the YA category because the characters are fairly young. I don't want to give too much away, but I flat-out loved this one--the gorgeous language, the strange yet familiar story, the yearning characters, the small-town revelations.

30. The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle. This was an awesome book, too. I think this year, which my more limited time and budget, I really only bothered with books that I had a strong sense that I would love. This one is about a family with a kind of curse on them--every October they tend to get into strange "accidents." It had mystery and romance and one of the best family dynamics that I've read in YA.

So that's it--the books I read this year! If I had to pick favorites I'd go with:

The Darkest Part of the Forest, if you miss the paranormal romance phase and love the dark and engrossing kind of fantasy.

An Ember In the Ashes, if you want a book to get completely lost in.

Bone Gap, if you're in the mood for something beautiful and completely engrossing.

The Game of Love and Death, if you like historical and magical.

Every Last Word, if you want a contemporary that will make you think about the ways we define ourselves.

What strikes me every year when I go to make this list is just how great teens have it now--you have SO MANY AMAZING BOOKS TO READ. I mean, seriously. There are great books of every type and genre--the world is your oyster. Every year I am amazed at both the quantity and quality of the books on the YA shelf, and I grew up in a time where there was no YA shelf--you just kind of skimmed the adult shelves looking for something that would speak to you.

So what was YOUR favorite book of 2015? Tell me in the comments. And stay tuned for tomorrow, where I will give you the list of books I read to my son in 2015. *spoiler alert--there was an equally-great selection of kids books this year.