Top Lists

My Top Books of 2015

As the title says, it’s time to discuss my top books of 2015! I already shared my top science fiction novels of 2015 as part of Sci-Fi Month, so most of the sci-fi has already been covered. However, there are a couple that I read after writing that post, meaning that some science fiction will sneak its way in! And because I’m super indecisive, I haven’t gone for the usual top ten, but top twelve…

And now, in no particular order…

Red Rising Golden Son The Empress Game

Red Rising (Red Rising #1) by Pierce Brown was by far one of my ultimate favourite books of the year. It was chosen as Science Fiction Book of the Month by my Goodreads book group, Dragons & Jetpacks, and it was an instant huge success with almost every member who read it. It completely and absolutely blew me away, and I posted my review back in November. The sequel, Golden Son (Red Rising #2) was just as fantastic, and my review will be posted next month as part of the Golden Son readalong, in preparation for the release of the next book. The Empress Game (The Empress Game #1) by Rhonda Mason was another science fiction standout that just missed my last list. I don’t know what I expected when I started it, but it certainly wasn’t what I read. It was a true thrill ride, and I shared my five star review last month.

Skin The Alchemist of Souls Thief's Magic by Trudi Canavan

Skin by Ilka Tampke was a lucky library find. I’d been eyeing it up after browsing Hodder & Stoughton’s catalogue, and had been hoping for a review copy in the post. Although I wasn’t lucky in that respect, I did manage to find it in the library not long after release, and snatched it up. It was a truly gorgeous tale of Celtic Britain, specifically Somerset, and a young girl who is seen as ‘skinless’ by her tribe, due to her unknown parentage. The Alchemist of Souls (Night’s Masque #1) by Anne Lyle was my ‘brand new book treat’ at Bristolcon, and I was drawn in initially just by the cover. After reading the blurb I was certain that I had to own the book – and I started reading it the very next day. Let’s just say that I now want to read as many Elizabethan historical fantasies as I can get my hands on. Thief’s Magic (Millennium’s Rule #1) by Trudi Canavan was one of the many Netgalley reads that I finally got around to – and one that I really wish I’d read sooner. Although that does mean less time to wait for the sequel… a steampunk type fantasy, that also featured archaeology, it was full of adventure. I shared my review back in October.

Simon and the Homo Sapien Agenda Warbreaker The Well of Ascension

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli was a total surprise, and a completely adorable book. I picked it up at the library because I’d seen a few bloggers raving about it, and thought I’d take the risk – after all, it was a library book. However, I fell a little bit in love. I feel that no top book list will ever be complete without at least one Brandon Sanderson book, but that’s okay because I have two. Both Warbreaker (Warbreaker #1) and The Well of Ascension (Mistborn #2) were typical Sanderson: basically amazing and all you could ever want in a book. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything of his that I’ve read so far, and need to hurry up and catch up with the rest of the Mistborn series.

Outlander Dragonfly in Amber A Darker Shade of Magic

2015 saw me get rather addicted to the TV series Outlander and fall in love with beautiful Scotsman Jamie, so imagine my delight when I discovered it was based on a book series – and a long one at that. Extra sexy Scotsman! Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon are both gorgeous, heartbreaking tales, and I can’t wait to continue the rest of the series. I’m slowly building up my second-hand collection of the books, I’m only missing two of them now! A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab was a book I was offered by Titan, and absolutely jumped at the chance to read. They even kindly posted me a copy out to the Netherlands whilst I was there. I devoured the book in two or three days, and then lent it to a friend who also loved it. Can’t wait to read some of her other work! I reviewed the book back in April this year.

What were your top reads of 2015?

Thoughts

Thoughts #45: Contemporary for Cynics

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I’m not typically one for contemporary fiction. I tend to like my books with adventure, time travel, dragons or wizards. But occasionally I find a contemporary novel that really works for me. Therefore I wanted to share those particular novels here for my fellow contemporary cynics!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl

I won Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell from a fellow blogger (thank you Lianne!), and I am SO glad I did, because I’m not sure if I would have picked out for myself. It would appeal to anyone who considers themself to be part of a fandom, or is particularly passionate about a book, television show etc. Cath is so relatable, definitely someone for bookworms to connect with. The romance is sweet and genuine, born from a friendship rather than any kind of insta-love. For some, this might hit home – the worries of starting university (or a new job etc) as an introvert, meeting new people, socialising. Fangirl gets what it means to be an introvert and passionate, and is definitely a recommendation for people who feel like they fit either category.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

The main reason I picked up We Were Liars was due to the hype – so when it was £0.99 on the Kindle store, I thought why not? It reminded me, at least at the start, of the summers I’d always wished for as a child – the kind where each day presents a new and magical adventure, where the summer passes in a slow, warm state of bliss. However, there is much more to We Were Liars than a bunch of rich kids enjoying their summer. It has much more depth to it than you initially realise, and the ending may leave you a little heartbroken.

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones

Bridget Jones’s Diary has been one of my favourite books for a long, long time. Despite it being part of a genre I tend to avoid – not just contemporary but also ‘chick lit’, I absolutely love it. Bridget is hilarious, a 30-something singleton who fears dying alone and being eaten by alsatians… Her sense of humour is perfect and she manages to get herself into so many ridiculous scenarios. The sequel is also excellent, but the third book, which came out over fifteen years after the first, is one to be avoided…

Simon Versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon and the Homo Sapien Agenda

Simon Versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda was one of those Young Adult books I’d heard a lot about, and I thought it sounded a bit John Green-esque. I spotted it in my local library and thought I’d give it a shot. I made the mistake of starting this late at night, and then had to stay up far too late to finish it in one go. I read it in 2 and a half hours because I HAD to know who Blue was. I’m so glad it turned out the way it did! It is a truly adorable tale.

Are there any contemporary titles you would recommend for people who don’t usually read the genre?

Review

Review: The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

A murder mystery set partly in an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game)? Intriguing.

The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss definitely appealed to my (not so) inner geek, as the cover claims. In fact, not only geeks will be able to understand Dahlia. She will probably be familiar to many a twenty-something year old, trying to find their way in life. Unemployed for thirteen months, apparently useless at job interviews and unlucky in love, Dahlia Moss is offered a job by a strange friend of her flatmate – as a private detective. She is asked to work out who stole something from him. But that something is an item from an online game, and within a few days of asking her, her ’employer’ has been murdered. Dahlia soon finds herself caught up in a lot more than she expected.

At first, I found Dahlia a funny character. She was witty and happy-go-lucky, but soon her jokes and moods began to rub off on me and I actually found her to be quite irritating. How could someone be so useless, and miss SO MANY CLUES? Additionally, her flatmate felt a little too much like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl type of character, with her impromptu home theatre shows and crazy personality. In fact, most characters felt a little ‘cookie cutter’.

On the other hand, the story was quite fun, if a bit ridiculous. Dahlia gets dragged into the game more and more often as she gets deeper into the mystery, and learns more about her ’employers’ guildmates. However, the overall conclusion felt so weak, especially the motive behind the murder – as well as the murderer being quite obvious to the reader.

Whilst Dahlia Moss was a fun read at times, it loses points from me for having a rather abrasive main character, as well as being a little too obvious in its mystery. However, whilst the subject of MMORPGs/video games in books seems to be appearing more often, it’s still not that common – so if you’re looking for a book that involves those elements, it might be worth taking a look at this.

Review

Review: See How Small by Scott Blackwood

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2 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

See How Small was one of my top anticipated releases for this year, and oh how disappointed I was.

Whilst Scott Blackwood surely has a talent for beautiful prose, and there were some sentences that were just absolutely gorgeous, the story felt so disjointed. It seemed to skip around from character to character and event to event, with no real link to what happened next. Because of the constant flitting between characters, I never got a chance to get to know any of them, and as a result felt very removed from the story. What did it matter to me if X was having an affair with Y? As well as this, I often completely lost track of who I was following because one minute it was one character, the next a totally different one.

Ultimately, whilst the story started off well, it just did not work for me. The book felt so uneventful and I was actually bored in parts – I’m just glad it was a quick read, because I was very much tempted to give up on it. I was also disappointed at how little the girls were involved considering the blurb – they may have been the ones narrating, but you wouldn’t have known if not for a short section at the beginning.

However, whilst this book did not work for me, it appears to have been a hit with many other people, with many four and five star ratings on Goodreads. I just wish I could agree with them!

Review

Review: The Good Luck Of Right Now by Matthew Quick

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2 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Having read several of Matthew Quick’s books, I’ve come to expect something from his writing. His books are always a little quirky and unusual, the protagonists never entirely fit into ‘normal’ society, and there’s usually a darker thread running through the story. And whilst The Good Luck Of Right Now ticks all the boxes, it just wasn’t as enjoyable as his other works in my opinion.

I found it really difficult to connect with Bartholomew, a forty year old man who lives with his mother until she dies. He made me feel uneasy, uncomfortable and not at all sympathetic, not like Pat in The Silver Linings Playbook or Leonard in Forgive Me Leonard Peacock. I suppose it’s part of the point, as Bartholomew does not fit well into society, a man heading towards middle age who still lives with his parents is not the norm. I don’t know whether it was because Bartholomew was older than the normal Matthew Quick protagonist, or whether it was his home situation and general attitude, but I did not feel for him at all.

What I did like about the book, however, was how it was told through letters to Richard Gere, Bartholomew seeing him as some sort of ‘spiritual guide’, as his mother was fixated on the actor. It was a cute way of showing how Bartholomew was growing up, albeit rather late in life, after the death of his mother.

With a sweet, if rather predictable, ending, I definitely feel this is not the strongest of Quick’s books, but would recommend it to his fans nonetheless. It has that writing style I’ve come to know and enjoy, and as always he deals with mental health both delicately and creatively.

Review

Review: In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

When I saw this book on Netgalley, my first thoughts were ‘YESSS a graphic novel about video games!’ and that the cover art was completely gorgeous. The instant I was approved, I sat down and read it in one go.

The story begins with our small-town protagonist, Anda, being introduced to the world of Coarsegold Online. I wasn’t sure about the way it was introduced to her – a woman comes in to Anda’s school and gives a talk on her female only guild on the game. I’m not sure what sort of high school would allow a guest speaker to encourage young people to play MMOs, but hey ho… as implausible as it is, the reader and Anda are quickly introduced to the game, which means they can start the exploration proper.

Like many MMO players, including myself, Anda plays to escape from the real world. She is a shy girl, with little self-confidence and not many friends. The ‘real world’ panels have a much starker colour palette, in comparison to the bright and beautiful colours of the virtual world, which I thought was a nice touch. Definitely an excellent representation of how many gamers feel – I know that I tend to start playing ridiculous amounts of online games when I’m feeling particularly down. Anda is an MMO newbie thrown into the deep end, which gives readers who may not be familiar with MMO mechanics a chance to catch up. However, to experienced MMO players there will be many recognisable scenes. As Anda grows in confidence within the game, this is reflected in real life – and she even dyes her hair to match her character.

I can think of many books set in or around video games, but none of them have the sort of message that In Real Life does. Most of the time, the video game is the story, and real life takes a back seat. However, in this particular book, the video game opens up our eyes to the real world. Anda befriends a young Chinese boy on Coarsegold Online, but he’s not playing for pleasure. He is one of the millions of ‘gold farmers’ who descend upon various online worlds every day, who work twelve hour shifts with no breaks, for a tiny wage.

One of Anda’s guild mates, who sort of takes Anda under her wing, recruits her to help with a ‘quest’. This ‘quest’ (unofficial) involves killing the gold farmer’s characters, in what I can only assume is a PvP of sorts. This is where Anda meets her new friend, when she chases after him. And whilst they only get to chat for a bit at first, she is instantly concerned with how he is being treated. She realises that this is someone doing their job, that he has no choice if he wants to eat. This leads to Anda trying to take action outside of the game – and I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers!

A cute read for fans of MMOs, that also has a deeper message, as well as being very familiar to anyone who has good online friends and hates the stigma that comes with the ‘online friend’ label. The art is beautiful, a cutesy style with some wonderful colour palettes, and the story means well even if it never quite hits the mark. I just want to leave you with this quote, for anyone who scorns at the idea of online friends:

‘”This life is real too. We’re communicating, aren’t we?” — In Real Life, page 188.

Review

Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr & Tara Altebrando

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3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Thanks to the likes of John Green, Matthew Quick and Rainbow Rowell, I’m finding myself more and more interested in Young Adult contemporary novels. I thought I’d give this one a shot, particularly with university fast approaching – although I won’t be sharing a room, thank goodness. I’m also a particular fan of stories set during university or college, as it’s a period of my life that I really loved (and hopefully I’ll love my upcoming experience just as much!), so it resonates well with me.

Told from the point of view of two girls, Elizabeth (or EB) and Lauren, who find that they are going to be roommates at UC Berkeley, the story uses both first-hand accounts and emails. Although obviously hesitant to tell each other much at first, the two future roommates find each other confiding more and more as the summer comes to a close, things they can’t tell anyone else in their lives. I liked how the relationship built up that way, all online – because actually it can be really easy to open up to someone you only know online, and it was nice to have a book that addressed that, even if EB and Lauren knew they would meet eventually. As the protagonists learnt more about each other, so did the reader. One of my favourite parts was how EB used the father of Lauren’s boyfriend as a sort of moral code in her life – when she did anything, she asked herself whether his dad would approve. I just found this pretty cute for some reason!

Despite the fact that the book covered all different parts of growing up and moving on, I really felt like it centered on Lauren and EB’s respective boyfriends too much. Sure, it wasn’t all boy talk – but there was a LOT. I’d loved to have read more about their families, particularly EB who gave more of an impression of her mum being this cold, unknown figure than anything else. Actually more than anything, I’d like to read a young adult book WITHOUT a romance. And regardless of the different fonts used for each girl, I had to keep reminding myself whose chapter I was reading – I felt like their voices were a little too similar (despite each girl being written by someone different?).

This book flitted between a three and four star rating, but eventually I settled on three. The ending felt a little rushed and was actually quite disappointing in a way. However, I thought it was a very sweet book, and a great read for anyone making that same huge transition in their life.

Review

Review: Boy21 by Matthew Quick

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve noticed a formula with all of the Matthew Quick books I’ve read so far. They all feature:

  • a main character (or characters) with quirky habits or personal issues that go deeper than they initially appear to
  • an emphasis on the importance of family and friendship, no matter how rocky the relationship, or how difficult things might be
  • a particular hobby or interest that the main character has a real passion for – and it’s not always healthy

So far this formula has worked very well for Quick – and Boy21 is no exception. It’s very much his writing – simple yet unique, thoughtful and very centered around character development. When we first meet Finley, he tells us the short, sweet story of how he met his girlfriend, Erin. They have known each other since they were kids, and their relationship to me felt so genuine. They’re so supportive of each other with their basketball careers. The one element I didn’t quite understand of their relationship was that they broke up every basketball season, then got back together after. I understand why, so they wouldn’t distract each other, but I don’t really understand how they could do it if their relationship was so great. Or maybe that’s the point, they’re so trusting and comfortable with each other that they know three months not even talking each year will be fine?

Russ’ introduction, on the other hand, was crazy. And very sad. Convinced that he is in fact an alien called Boy21, who will be ‘collected’ by his parents in a few months, he refers to Finley as ‘Earthling’ and asks him questions such as where his ‘dwelling pod’ is. Neither Finley, nor the reader, know whether Russ is actually convinced that he is an alien or whether he has just put up this very elaborate front to try and keep the pain of his parents’ murder away – and it’s heartbreaking. In his more lucid moments, Russ proves to be a great friend, and in a strange role reversal, manages to coax Finley out of his shell.

Although Finley was at times a rather spineless character – his main ambition seemed to be to follow Erin around wherever her basketball career might take her, and stay with her for the rest of his life – he was a genuinely selfless guy, prepared to help out Russ, even if his very presence threatened one of the things that meant most to Finley – his place on the basketball team.

Overall, a wonderful story about how different people deal with loss, and a great coming of age tale. My main complaint was that I was bit lost amongst the basketball terminology at times, but that’s about it! A definite recommendation for anyone who has previously enjoyed Quick’s works, as well as those of YA contemporary authors such as John Green.

Review

Review: This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

This One Summer is the story of two young girls, just coming into their teenage years, who meet up every summer by the sea. It is a tale of long, hot summer days and cool nights, crushes on older boys and that awkwardness that comes with initial contact, growing out of old habits and interests and most of all, growing up.

Rose is probably about thirteen or fourteen years old, and Windy a year and a half younger. The two of them have that innocence of the young, whilst showing interest in things beyond their years. In the day they play on the beach and in the woods, at night they secretly rent out classic horror films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Nightmare on Elm Street from the local shop, where they also (at least in Rose’s case) take an interest in the local boys. The story perfectly captures that time in life where everything is changing, and you’re sort of stuck in a limbo between a child and a young adult.

Beyond the idyllic seaside setting though, is a darker picture. Although at first it appears that Rose’s family is a close one, threads begin to unravel and the reader sees that her mother is withdrawn and sullen. Rose is not the only one having troubles: the story also follows a group of teenagers from Awago Beach (through Roses’s eyes), until the two stories end up twisting together in a heart-breaking conclusion. The carefree summer days are interspersed with tense moments, until the truth finally comes out toward the end of the book.

From the very beginning I loved the art-style, but I wasn’t sure about the choice of going for an all blue colour palette. However, it grew on me and actually worked really well within the story: I was reminded of the cool sea breeze, chilly summer nights and the salty ocean – all very fitting for this particular book. The fact that the older boy that Rose had a crush one wasn’t typically ‘handsome’ was also a good move: young adult books with movie star crushes seem all too common.

My main issue with the book was the rather open ending. It concluded some things, but many questions were left unanswered. As well as this, I felt the word ‘like’ was rather overused. I know it’s quite common for teenagers to overuse that word, but it gets on my nerves reading it! It could have been used less, and still given a similar impression.

Overall, a really lovely coming-of-age graphic novel that covers much of the awkwardness of that stage between being a child and a young adult – and it also covers and discusses some more adult themes. With some lovely art and interesting characters (and realistic), it could also be a great way for fans of contemporary to start with graphic novels.

Review

Review: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock was initially a difficult book to read. Not because it’s badly written in any way – I requested it as I really enjoyed Matthew Quick’s previous novel, The Silver Linings Playbook. It’s just so full of raw emotion, with a protagonist that you simultaneously feel sorry for and dislike – at least for half of the book.

From the very beginning it is a tragic and detailed story. We’re introduced to Leonard (or rather, he introduces himself) on the morning of his eighteenth birthday. This is when he reveals his plan: to kill a fellow classmate, and then himself, using a World War II handgun. It is unusual in that it has footnotes, and lots of them, in which Leonard explains background information and rambles on about previous events and his innermost thoughts. I really liked the footnotes, as they were a very intimate look into Leonard’s life and mind. Another incredibly clever and particularly sad part of the book are Leonard’s letters from his future self. His favourite teacher, Herr Silverman, encourages Leonard to write them – and he does, even though he has no intention of reaching this future. It’s just so sad, how he has created this perfect life for himself in the future with a beautiful wife and loving daughter, in a post-apocalyptic yet peaceful world, but he’s just so sure he will never even reach that age, let alone have anything like that in his life.

Leonard decides that before he kills himself, he will leave gifts for important people in his life. Four different people, and how very different they are. His elderly neighbour, with whom Leonard shares a love for Humphrey Bogart movies, helps the reader to see a softer, more caring side. A fellow student and violin virtuoso, who really demonstrates that Leonard (ironically) appreciates the little things in life. A pastor’s daughter, who reduces Leonard to just a regular teenage boy. And finally Herr Silverman, his favourite teacher, for whom Leonard shows great respect.

I mentioned that it was difficult reading for the first half. Before you find out exactly just why Leonard is on this path, he seems incredibly judgemental and condescending, constantly looking down on his peers, and just not a likeable character in the slightest. Then the pieces come together and you find out why he is struggling so much – abandoned by his drunkard of a father and unsure if he’s even still alive, neglected by his fashion designer mother who spends most of her time in another state, and one massive reason that suddenly hits you like a ton of bricks when you read it, leaves you reeling and completely changes your perception of Leonard.

The irony is that, for someone who is so intent on killing themselves, Leonard sure thinks about life a lot. He has quite a philosophical view, more so than his classmates, and he is incredibly intelligent. His narrative voice definitely reminded me of Pat in The Silver Linings Playbook – it’s funny how these characters who are seen as ‘unstable’ often have a better grip on life than those who are ‘normal’. In conclusion, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a haunting and tragic story, that completely flips your view of the protagonist halfway through – leaving the reader feeling incredibly judgemental themselves.