It’s a little late, but I figured it was about time to compile my Best of list for 2015. I know how eager y’all must be (this is a big deal, after all), so I’m just going to jump right in.
- I had to have given the book a rating of 5 out of 5 stars.
- It couldn’t be a book I had read prior to January 1, 2015 (so no re-reads were allowed, no matter how great they were).
- I’ve listed them in order of when I read them.
- A * denotes books that were published in 2015.
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr* – This is a book that stays with you. It’s the best WWII book I’ve read since The Book Thief. Only, this one doesn’t center around the holocaust – instead the story pivots between a blind girl in france and a young German soldier as their lives are hit and shaped by Hitler’s rise to power and the disasters of World War II. What I like most about this book isn’t the descriptions, which are gorgeous, or the plot, which is fast-paced and deeply moving. Nor was it the interesting characters or the realistic setting. No, what I liked most about this novel was the fact that it gives both sides of the story. The inclusion of a protagonist who isn’t simply a German, but a German soldier – a Nazi – adds a dimension you don’t often find in WWII literature. It really shows you that war is never black and white. For every Nazi soldier who followed in Hitler’s footsteps with evil in his heart, there were others who fought for Germany because they were given no choice, because they had families to protect and gruesome ultimatums hanging over their heads, because they were just boys who were rounded up, brainwashed, and forced into hive-minded obedience; already in trenches before the true horrors of their mission became clear. This poignant novel does not sugarcoat the atrocities of war, but it also reminds readers that nothing in life is as it seems. There are no easy answers or set lines. Every man is at war with himself, with his nature, at all times. Every man is capable of unspeakable acts of violence and immeasurable acts of kindness, often simultaneously. A person, like a war, is all gray areas and shady borderlands. The trick, no matter where you fall, is trying to get back up again and live. This isn’t a book you’ll be likely to forget.
- The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson – I wasn’t sure what I’d be walking into when I picked up Anderson’s critically acclaimed YA novel. I knew that, at its heart, it was a story that centered around the effects of PTSD, but I had no idea how she would bring that to light in a book about a seventeen-year-old girl. My worst fear was that it would be a tearjerker with no sustenance, but luckily Anderson knows what she’s doing, and this is a beautiful novel.
- Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen – Demons, demons, and more demons. That’s the theme of this charming YA debut by Michelle Knudsen. Basically, the new school librarian turns out to be – gasp – a demon! He’s trying to suck the life-force out of the entire student body, and he wants to make Annie, Cynthia’s best friend, his human consort and child-bride. Cynthia is the only one who’s completely immune to his demon powers, so naturally it’s up to her to save the school (and the world). Only, she’s also falling in love with Ryan, who happens to be the star of the school musical, Sweeney Todd, a show for which she’s stage-managing. She has to enlist his help to stop the evil librarian from taking over the world, while still trying to pull off the greatest high school production of Sweeney Todd ever. What’s not to love about this? There are plenty of musical-references (Who knew that Sweeney Todd was so popular in the demon realms?), and the prose is packed with Joss Whedon-esque sass. It’s a nerdgasm in a book, and I loved every second of it.
- As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride* – There’s a reason that The Princess Bride (both the film and the book) is considered among the greatest of cult classics. Epic swordfights, daring heroes, a quest for revenge, and a quest for true love – all this and more can be found within its simple story (which, of course, turns out to be not so simple, after all). This behind-the-scenes look was charming and engaging, written in a very easy-to-follow style that made me feel like Cary and I were old friends, and that he was recounting his fondest memories directly to me, and me alone. It was a pleasure to read, and to see a different perspective on the film that holds a special place in my heart. In fact, I found it impossible to read without also going back and re-watching the film; and what a different experience that was! It really is inconceivable that someone who liked the film would not enjoy this witty, honest, and poignant portrayal of the many minute details that came together to make it into the film tens of thousands of people know and love today.
- The City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare* – If you’re a fan of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series, than I definitely don’t have to tell you what a stunning conclusion this one was! Not only did it tie up tons of loose ends in the best possible way, but it also built up the new series so well. I CANNOT wait for Lady Midnight to be in my hands!
- Yes Please by Amy Poehler* – This book took me twice as long as it should have to finish because I spent so much time stopping to copy down passages. I mean, my goodness, Amy Poehler is quotable. My favorites include her observation that “short people DO NOT like to be picked up,” and the gentle reminder that, “everybody is scared most of the time.” In addition to these nuggets, Yes Please is brimming with wisdom. She remarks, “In general, the amount of sharing men do with each other in one year is about the same as what I share with my female friends while we wait for our cars at the valet.” She compares careers to shitty boyfriends, who treat you better the less you seem to care about them, and reflects on the fact that “the only thing we can depend on in life is that everything changes.” Throughout this book, I constantly thought to myself, here is a woman who gets it. Amy Poehler understands how hard life can be, she understands my selfish first-world problems, heartaches, and fears. She knows about losing and loving and picking up the pieces to try again. She’s confident and successful and happy, but she’s also scared and faltering and sad. She’s not perfect, and she doesn’t try to be. She likes my favorite animal, elephants, and knows (and shares) lots of cool facts about them. She’s been called bossy, and she’s not afraid of it. In fact, it’s a quality she embraces both in herself and others. It’s that charisma that makes this book easy to pick up and hard to put down again. At one point, Amy states that “it’s important to know when to turn in your kazoo.” That may be true, but when it comes to writing and Amy Poehler, the time for that is certainly not even close.
- Zac & Mia by AJ Betts – If you think you’ve read all that contemporary YA has to offer by way of “sick lit” love stories, think again. This one breathes a breath of fresh air into the genre, with two wholly unique quirky characters and a storyline that breezes easily between the serious and the silly. It’s not only a fun read, it’s also one with plenty of twists and turns (one major one completely threw me for a loop). If you’re a fan of John Green, Robin Schneider, or Rainbow Rowell, this is a great choice for your next read!
- The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black* – Anyone who knows anything about Holly Black knows that she favors dark and twisty-turny plots with plenty of fantasy heaped on for good measure. This was a great stand-alone novel in her lineup. There’s a charming (and dark) prince, an ancient prophecy/curse/etc., and a pair of siblings with their own secrets to attend to. It’s more than a little fantastic.
- We Should Hang Out Sometime by Josh Sundquist* – Josh Sundquist is so charming, and I found his account of trying to find love to be heartfelt, funny, and irresistible. I’m also partial to this one because I read it right before I met the man who would later become my husband, and it also happens to be the first book I ever raved to him about and let him borrow. He stopped reading what he was reading in order to start this book (and send me his favorite quotes from it), which I found utterly impossible not to love. Really though, if you’ve ever felt lonely or alone in this world, Sundquist is sure to leave you feeling full of the warmest and fuzziest feeling of all… hope.
- Code Named Verity by Elizabeth Wein – Yeah, I know. I’m late to the party. That is, if you can call Elizabeth Wein’s harrowing WWII novel “a party”. An old classic I had never read until this year. Can’t believe that. Another great WWII book, and one I couldn’t put down. It’s gripping until the very bitter end.
- The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness* – A story about the characters who aren’t “the chosen ones” – what happens to everyone else while the hero is off fighting for good and evil. This is just such a fun twist on the classic hero tale. Seriously, how often do you get to follow a story through the POV of characters who aren’t “supposed” to be the main protagonists? I haven’t read anything else from Patrick Ness, but I’m thinking that maybe I should now since I had such a fun time with this one!
- Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon (THE BEST BOOK I READ THIS YEAR)* – Definitely an all-time favorite now. Couldn’t put it down or stop talking about it. I called my at-the-time-boyfriend-now-husband ever five minutes with updates, and read him entire chapters (he’s obsessed with it too now). This book was one of the ones I was most looking forward to this year, and I waited in line for hours to get my hands on a copy at BEA, and it was SO. WORTH. IT. This book is beautifully written, I didn’t see any of the twists coming, it has an original story, and it is just so intoxicating that I felt compelled to force everyone I know to read (and love) it immediately. Yoon is a master, and Everything Everything’s protagonist, Maddie, is a new brand of sassy, smart, and seriously intriguing YA heroine. You’ll be rooting for her by the end of the first page.
- The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore* – I love magical realism, so this one especially appealed to me for the whole two ancient races who are at war and each possess a different kind of magic thing. Plus the Romeo and Juliet dynamic was well-done and the imagery is stunning! Plus, I adore the diversity in this book. Romani gypsies, Mexican mermaids… It’s such an interesting read, with a lot of dynamic characters. From the very first chapter, it’s not what you’re expecting. This is a book chalk-full of shock and awe and all thing wondrous and strange.
- Difficult Conversations by Bruce Patton – Read this one if you’ve ever found yourself in disagreement with someone and wondered how you let things go so far. This book will teach you to have better, more effective, conversations. It’s a brilliant tool for anyone who needs a bit of help talking to bosses, coworkers, spouses, or friends about the hard stuff.
- Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed* – Okay. Seriously. This book is seriously messed-up in the best possible way. I couldn’t put this one down. It’s absolutely terrifying what this girl’s family does to her. Not like a horror-movie kind of terror, but in a slowly building kind of terror. It has sick and twisted written all over it, and it made me all kinds of happy-sad. This book is still haunting me to his day. I was entranced by the rich descriptions of Pakistan and Pakistani culture, and enthralled by what parents will do in the name of love. It’s incredible what human beings are capable of, and Saeed makes sure that by the end, it’s hard to place blame fully on anyone for what happened. The message is clear – human beings are flawed, and we’re capable of love and hate, tragedy and comedy, doing good things for the wrong reasons and bad things for the “right” ones. We’re complex, and this story showcases that in a way that felt akin to a Khaled Hosseini novel… Which is to say, yes, bring your tissues. You’re going to need them.
- Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy* – Well, I’m from Texas so how could I not love this one? Plus, the main character is plus-size, which you just don’t see every day in YA literature. Double plus, she’s hilarious. Triple plus, it’s just a good story. And, again, it takes place in Texas. So, yeah, there are more than than enough reasons to join in the fun, on this hilarious ride with Willowdean Dixon. I swear you will laugh until you cry and occasionally cry until you laugh. It’s one heck of a ride, and it’ll leave you feeling empowered, no matter your size.
- Another Day by David Levithan* – I LOVED Every Day, and Another Day was intriguing to me for a number of reasons. I mean, this is Every Day, only written from an entirely new POV. That’s something you see in novellas, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel that is bold enough to get away with it. But it should come as no surprise that David Levithan pulls it off, or that he pulls it off beautifully. I loved getting the full picture by following Rhiannon’s POV. Though I will say, I found the ending to be more than a little heartbreaking. On the other hand, I did love that it opens things up for another book (please, please, PLEASE give me – I mean, us – another book!).
- All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven* – Read this if you need a long long cry. I’m talking a cry that makes you sink into a deep and existential crises because how can life be this sad?!?!? Because it is SAD. Not going to sugarcoat it. But it’s also a fantastic read, and it’s about two important subjects – depression and suicide – which I don’t think are handled enough (or well enough) in YA. This book is beyond good. But you will sob through it. (On a side note: Jennifer Niven is so freaking nice – she reached over her signing table at BEA and hugged me!)
- Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider* – I didn’t love Robyn Schneider’s first novel as much as I had hoped I would, but this one… This one really is extraordinary. Tuberculosis, love, and a lot of well-written scenes in-between. I didn’t want this story to end. It broke my heart, but it did so in that bittersweet way that authors like John Green have down pat. I liked the tuberculosis twist a lot because I didn’t know very much about TB before reading this, and the treatment center was a very unique and interesting environment for a YA book. If you liked The Fault in Our Stars this is the book for you.
- The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow* – I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like this one. An AI has taken over the world (in order to save the world, of course) and is now a benevolent(ish) dictator with a wicked sense of humor and a great POV voice. I honestly cannot understand why more people aren’t head-over-heels in love with this strange dystopian sci-fi/fantasy adventure. If for no other reason than the incredible AI POV bits, this book is remarkable. Talis is the kind of villian you absolutely love to hate – one that you just cannot get enough of and secretly love every second with (think BBC Sherlock’s Moriarty). He’s so much fun to read, and the whole book is unique and fun and past-paced. Love-loved this book.
- First & Then by Emma Mills* – I didn’t think I was going to like this one, but I ended up loving it. It’s very Austen-esque, and since I’m not a huge Jane Austen fan (read: I don’t really like anything at all about her or her books) I didn’t think it’d be for me, but I actually ended up falling for this POV, the rich characters, and the plot. Foster, Ezra, Devon… These are characters worth rooting for. This is a sweet contemporary YA that I might never have noticed had I not been gifted it in an Uppercase YA box (they included some great special insights into the story, which was awesome). My one complaint is that I could have used pages and pages more Ezra-Devon action. And I want a whole book devoted to Foster. I freaking adore Foster.
- The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey* – Ancient races, magical realism, a quest, and very witty characters. What more do you need? I’m itching for the sequel already.
- An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir* – Sabaa Tahir is amazing. This book has so many twists and turns that it never gets dull, not even for a moment (and it’s a long book, so that’s quite a feat). Plus, there are villains in this book to rival Umbridge and Bellatrix Lestrange, they’re so despicable. Truly well-written villains are hard to come by. But that’s not all – An Ember in the Ashes has the sultry love interest, the twisted pasts, betrayal, and mythical legends coming to life before your eyes. It’s a fantastical melting pot of fantasy elements, it’s diverse, and it’s just an all-around thrilling read.
So, there you have it. The best books of 2015. May this guide serve you well as you search for your next favorite book.