I’ve read a loooooooot of books this year. Some were re-reads, a healthy amount were non-YA/MG, but I still had a lot of books left on my list when the narrowing was done. So, thought I’d share with you some of my favorite discoveries of this year.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. You’ve heard me gush about this a LOT in the past few months but I still can’t get over how much I love this book. It’s gorgeous in every way- in story, in character, in scope…especially in language. This is a book that makes you fall in love with words all over again, a book that makes you close your eyes to savor the image painted across the back of your lids. It’s about the price of wishes, the importance of small things, about all the many, many types of love. This is a book that makes you want to tear through it, devour it whole, except you can’t- sometimes you just have to stop to absorb. This is a book that absolutely took my breath away.
Divergent by Veronica Roth. The Hunger Games changed the landscape of teen writing in much the same way the Twilight did, in creating a thirst for more within a specific genre. Where Divergent steps apart, though, is that isn’t merely a dystopian- it goes beyond its world to ask the more basic- and more important- question of who we are. Perhaps even more than that, it asks us who we choose to be. It’s a simple question but, as we learn through Tris, it’s a far from simple answer. It’s a brutal story, but in that brutality we’re forced to confront some painful truths, accept some painful facts. We- and Tris- are the better for it. This was one I read straight in one sitting, minus some necessary pauses where my managers expected me to actually work, and I can’t wait for the next one in May.
Entwined, by Heather Dixon. I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings and this is a fantastic example of why. This is a beautiful blend of the base fairy tale (in this case, the Twelve Dancing Princesses), a mildly fantasy version of our world, a historical setting, a story of manners, and a thread of superb voice that ties them all together. There’s never any question of what the foundation story is, it’s never buried beneath everything else, but it still makes the story its own. The characters are distinct and rounded, full of surprises while remaining consistent, and it’s a light frolic through an enchanting atmosphere. I actually re-read this one a couple of times through the year simply because it makes me feel better.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson. This book is squarely fantasy and yet it manages to feel historical. Its borrowed influences are so strong and so well built that we open the pages and feel transported to what could be Alhambra in Moorish Spain. The details are amazing. Things don’t just happen around us, we’re fully immersed in them. We don’t just watch the story happen; we hear it, smell it, taste it. Both the good and bad of the full sensory range. Elisa isn’t your typical heroine- she has a strong degree of self-loathing and an overwhelming conviction of her own uselessness in the face of a grand destiny imbedded in her navel. Yes, her navel. Elisa’s journey through a rich, vibrantly crafted world echoes through her internal journey for a story that’s riveting and enveloping.
Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver. This is a story that starts cold and painful and terribly alone and grows into something heart-warming and cozy and ineffably beautiful. It’s about losing things and sometimes finding them- and sometimes finding something better. This is a story that made me melt over and over and over while reading it and I can’t even put into words just how much I loved it. It’s a Middle Grade but it’s one that should be read by everyone, regardless of age. At its heart this is a story about belonging to a family, no matter how unusual, and that’s something everyone should have a part of.
The Mortal Instruments and Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare. Yes, I’m cheating and saying a full series instead of a single book, but I just discovered the series this year and absolutely fell in love. I read the first four (City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, and Clockwork Angel) straight in a row, had to wait about two weeks for City of Fallen Angels, and then promptly reread all of them to do reviews. Yes, that translates to reading all five of them twice in two and a half weeks. I’ve even read them again since. I am all about characters and I love how incredibly complex and well-rounded the inhabitants of the Shadowhunters’ world are. I also love that Clare is rather brutal to them- what she puts them through forces them to continue changing, pushes them against things they think they can never encompass, and then makes things even worse. It’s built off of amazing combinations of mythologies and no matter what, there’s always a thread of humor both bizarre and macabre (cannibal ducks, anyone?)
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. This was my first foray into the insanity that is Maureen Johnson’s everyday life, inspired largely by how crazy and entertaining she is on Twitter and partly from the fact that I went through a Jack the Ripper obsession in late middle school. I should have guessed, from the Twitter feed, that this was not a safe book to read in front of the computer- fortunately, I was able to clean all the soda from my keyboard and other than the N key being a little sticky, it’s still fully functional. Rory is hysterically earnest as a narrator but there’s a dark thread woven through the story that gives us both gravity and danger. There are times when this is edge-of-your-seat riveting. And there’s page 161. This was a fantastic entree into Johnsonland, a story that turns ghost stories on its ear with an inimitable style.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. This is an exceptional example of how characters can be defined by their environs. Puck and Sean as they are couldn’t exist anywhere other than the Isle of Thisby. Everything in this book ties back into what it means to be part of the island. You don’t belong to the island simply because you grew up there- most who live there all their lives are never so much a part of it as Sean and Puck. Between them, they are the island and the ocean and the capaill uisce that straddle the bloody foam of the surf. Absolutely gorgeous.
Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan. I adore Rick Riordan, not just because I love the stories but because he’s inspired millions and millions of kids to read. But the stories are amazing too. Son of Neptune continues the grand story of Percy Jackson but also allows it to keep expanding in a world that had a lot to offer. The Roman world, for all it’s borrowed from the Greeks, is very different in execution. We’re definitely not in Camp Half-Blood, with its cozy campfires and Capture the Flag. Then again, at Half-Blood you never see what happens after they’re old enough to leave camp. I love the differences, the way we sink into this larger world, and I love how we get such a mix of emotions through the story. Riordan isn’t afraid to allow hard things to happen to his characters and from that they grow.
The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff. I have a love of broken things, especially broken things that rework themselves into something lovely while still retaining all their broken history. This book is a love song to broken things, lost things, things that careen about in a constant state of half-destruction. It’s a love song, yes, but it’s also a quest and an endless journey into self-discovery and maybe, in a very hard-won sort of way, to self-love. Or at least to loving someone who loves you in spite of all your brokenness. It’s framed by religion yet is never constrained by that. It’s a frame, but not a cage. It’s beautiful and sharp-edged, full of shattered glass and shattered dreams, and clings to that tenuous, dangerous promise of hope.
What are your favorites from this year? Share below and get entered for an ARC of Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi. I’ll draw the winner on the 25th as a special Christmas surprise. (not international, sorry- that kind of shipping is expensive)
Until next time~