Top 15 of 2015

TOP 15 FAVOURITE BOOKS READ IN 2015

2015 was a huge year for my reading: I read 390 novels; novellas; graphic novels; short story collections; poetry collections; essay collections; and issues of manga. I read physical books and ebooks; ARCs and new releases; listened to many an audiobook; and covered just about every genre that I could.

As you can imagine, that means it was insanely difficult to pick only 15 books that were my favourite books of the year. No, really, it was particularly hard. But, I did manage to (finally) compile a list. With the exception of my top 3, this list is not in any particular ranking order; they are in order from dates read, starting with the earliest. I made a point to lump series’ together if I read more than one book in that series during 2015, and please note that all star ratings are out of a possible 5-stars.

Also, let me make a note that, yes, I did not include the fantasmagorical Golden Son by Pierce Brown, as I was fortunate enough to read an ARC of that novel in 2014 — you can find both it and Red Rising listed together in my Top 14 of 2014.
Alright.

Deep breath. Let’s go.

 

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
read: January
format: audiobook
rating: *****

I identify myself on the agnosticism-atheism spectrum, and so I found this book such a fascinating read. It’s entirely divisive, not only by its subject matter, but by the directness of its author — Mr. Dawkins doesn’t particularly care what others thinks, and he’s going to be very honest in saying what he believes. It’s equal parts psychology, sociology, and memoir, and I recommend it for anyone who’s so inclined.

 

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The Song of Achilles
by Madeline Miller
read: January
format: audiobook
rating: *****

One of the first stories I recall hearing is that of The Iliad, one of two brilliant pieces of epic poetry attributed to Homer. Needless to say, whenever something new(er) comes about, playing with that story, I am equal parts intrigued and anxious because even though I would like to say I read such things with an open mind, I am terribly critical of said works. This novel takes the (modern) homoerotic analysis of the Achilles-Patroclus and spins an absolutely beautifully-written, tragic tale of love amidst war and the wrath of gods. I recommend any fans of the Classics give this a read.

 

Falling Kingdoms series (books 1-3) by Morgan Rhodes
read: January & October
format: paperback
rating: ***** (x3)

Pitched to me as Game of Thrones for the Young Adult (YA) audience. Based solely on its construction — epic fantasy series dealing with warring dynasties and political intrigue that employs the use of multiple narrators — then, sure, it’s an apt description that, I’m sure, has turned many a YA-reader to this series. What Ms. Rhodes does best in this series is craft a handful of intriguing characters with distinct narrative voices, something that is more a necessity than a bonus in this series. There’s magic, adventure, politics, romance(s), and a whole host of characters whose heads end up on the chopping block.

 

The Tearling series (books 1-2) by Erika Johansen
read: February & July
format: hardback
rating: ***** (x2)

As with many a-reader, I’m sure, I was made aware of this series by Emma Watson, who not only praised this book very highly, but is also due to star in the film adaptation. Add to that a fantastic article by the author on “Why We Need Ugly Heroines” and you have my complete attention. I loved this novel for its decision to focus on a teenager blossoming into a young woman, taking command of a kingdom that does not know her, and not only making plenty of mistakes, but learning from them. Also, even better: there is no romance…kind of. Sure, our protagonist is human and, yes, she experience sexual need — but there is not “love interest” inserted into the narrative for the sake of having one. After all: our protagonist is a little busy trying to run a kingdom to get wrapped up in unnecessary romance. This is my kind of fantasy, with a good, healthy dose of feminism.

 

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
read: March
format: hardback
rating: *****

I’ve been a fan of Ms. Schwab since reading her notably imaginative Archived series a few years ago, and her brilliant supervillain novel, Vicious, is one of my all-time favourites. So when I heard she was releasing another adult fantasy novel involving parallel Londons, I was all in. It certainly doesn’t hurt that I am also a massive Anglophile. As always, the book is fantastically clever, the characters interesting, and the plot so well-constructed. There’s magic, thieves, political intrigue x3, and (adopted) family drama. Also, for those interested, the sequel is set to involve pirates!

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The Winner’s trilogy (books 1-2) by Marie Rutkoski
read: March
format: hardback
rating: ***** (x2)

Guilty confession: I primarily bought this book because of the cover. Usually I’m not the biggest fan of people on book covers — especially in the YA market — but the dress plus the knife all intertwined with the typography of the title? Oh man…talk about cover lust. When I finally attacked the first novel, I ended up getting a richly-developed political thriller in a lavish world where nobody can say what they mean, let alone what they want. It doesn’t hurt that the romance of the novel is kept at a deadly simmer, keeping you interested while never getting in the way of the plot. I finished the first novel and immediately went out to buy the second one, and I guarantee that I will get that third one in my hands the day it releases.

The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon
read: March
format: hardback
rating: *****

I listed The Bone Season as my favourite book I read in 2013, and for very good reason: this dystopian-paranormal-fantasy-thriller is positively brilliant. Ms. Shannon has developed a painstakingly complex world with a meticulous level of care and detail that is mind-boggling. It was the “gateway drug” novel that brought me back into the world of reading for pleasure, and I have been shoving the series onto all of my friends who have not yet read it, whether or not they like dystopian-paranormal-fantasy. The Mime Order delves even further into this already rich world, examining how the underworld of this society works; we get to see the political machinations of the organized crime syndicates and how they function within a world that abhors clairvoyants. I was on the edge of my seat, and actually gasped aloud at the ending. How could you leave me like that, Ms. Shannon?!?

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
read: April
format: ARC (ebook)
rating: *****

Unlike many readers, I am not the biggest fan of Ms. Novik’s acclaimed Temeraire series. While I love the setting and the characters, I was ultimately turned off by the series’ glacial pacing. But this novel? I loved this novel. It grabbed me from its opening paragraph and whisked me off into the dark woods of its twisted, captivating world. The fairy tale-like presentation is a mask for something a little more sinister — it’s as if the ghost of Diana Wynne Jones came back to give us one more hurrah full of sentient woods, political plots, and dark schemes. Something I want to highlight particularly is an element of this darkness that is too often absent from many fantasy novels I’ve read: the consideration of the use of violence and its effect upon the people involved — wielder and victim alike. Uprooted doesn’t necessarily sit down and hold a moral/philisophical debate on the topic, but the consideration to this element is there, especially re: our protagonist, Agnieszka. I think that, ultimately, this book may go down as a classic, a phrase I do not use lightly because, ultimately, everything about this novel — from the writing to the characters to the richly-imagined world — is done on the level to which we hold fantasy classics. It’s a true rare gem.

 


After Dark
by Haruki Murakami
read: May
format: ebook
rating: *****

Haruki Murakami is a genius — I don’t think there are too many people who would disagree with me on that point. I first encountered Murakami through his magnum opus, 1Q84, in 2013, and have since made a point of trying to read his entire bibliography. Yes, I do realize this is a crazy goal, given that he’s quite a prolific writer. This novel should be a film — it’s written like it is a film, even going so far as to write camera movement as a part of its narrative. It’s fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Murakami excels at atmosphere, which this novel has in spades, and it might be at some of its best in this novel, set during the witching hours of between midnight and dawn. It’s short, but not too short, and while it leaves you wanting more, it feels like a selfish want, because this book requires not one word more.

 


The Martian
by Andy Weir
read: August
format: ebook
rating: *****

This book had been on my radar for sometime before I ended up picking it up this past August; as a bookseller, I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I had put it in the hands of customers. But I never really read it because, well, I’m not the most science-savvy of people. Sure, I’ve always liked astronomy thanks to Star Trek and other space-related science fiction that my father had introduced to me as a small child. But, after a while, I couldn’t resist the novel any longer, and decided to brave the science of this Cast Away-on-Mars story. And I am so glad that I did because, ultimately, the writing is fantastic. The people feel real because of the way they speak, think to themselves, present themselves to others, and interact with the people and situations around them. I cared about these people and I wanted them to succeed. This book is one of the most entertaining pieces of science fiction I’ve ever read and I highly recommend it to anyone — even if you think/know you don’t like science fiction. Just trust me and give it a read.

 


The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
by Leslye Walton
read: August
format: ebook
rating: *****

Some books are so beautiful, they just break your heart; they slip right beneath your ribs and perch in that little space between organ and bone. This was one of those books. Despite a deceptive simplicity, Ms. Walton’s hypnotic writing pulled me in headfirst beneath deep waters and entranced me with its musicality; the very cadence of its progression. Coming out of this generational story was like coming out of a deep sleep, unprepared to let go of the lush tragedy, the violence, and (above all else) the love within this novel. Even thinking about it now (still) brings a lump to my throat. Some books just move you; for me, this novel was one of them.

 


Stand-Off
by Andrew Smith
read: September
format: hardback
rating: *****

I’m firmly convinced that the Winger duology, of which Stand-Off is the second and final novel, is Andrew Smith’s magnum opus. He brilliantly takes his protagonist, Ryan Dean, through such a journey over the course of both novels, maturing him while not making him feel like a character. Oh no, Ryan Dean feels real — painfully real, at times. I was choked up by page 82 of this novel, and stayed in basically a constant state of nearly-crying all the way through its end. Poignant and strange (as only a teenage boy’s head can be) and wonderful.

And here we are. The “Big Three” of my list. These books clinched their spots by the impact they left upon me. Months after finishing these books, I was still talking about them; still thinking about them; and still re-reading them.

 

#3 The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson
read: September
format: ebook
rating: ***** (x3)

There is a quote from the final novel — “It was not perfection, but it was perfect” — that is the best way I can sum up my feelings about this trilogy. Despite a brief moment in the first novel where I was genuinely concerned I might not be able to go on, I became ensnared in the mystical journey our protagonist must embark upon. There’s politics; racial and religious tension; battles; adventures to far off places; love and loss; and a heroine who stands on her own two feet to say what she wants. Like the Tearling series, I was overwhelmed with joy at the feminism that permeates this entire trilogy, and I hope to read more from Ms. Carson in the future because, no doubt about it: I’m a fan.

 


#2
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
read: January
format: ARC (paperback)
rating: *****

I don’t know what would have happened if I had not gotten this ARC. I read it twice in the span of a week. I was in pieces and, were it not for the #1 book on this list, this would have easily been my favourite book that I read in 2015. So many authors attack the “tough stuff” topics of mental illness, suicide, loss, and grief — but I have yet to find one who has done so with the same level of elegant ecstasy and subtle passion with which Ms. Niven did with her YA debut. Finch and Violet are not characters; they are people. They are tragically, beautifully real people who are broken and flawed — they are, in a word, human. I could get on my soap-box and go on and on about how important this novel is for understanding mental illness, especially as it can manifest within young adults…but I don’t have to. This book speaks for itself — Finch and Violet speak for themselves. I encourage everyone to experience this novel and, if you get the chance, try to meet Ms. Niven if she’s at an event near you. I managed to meet her at NoVaTeen Book Festival 2015 and it was one of the highlights of my year. An absolute bright place that should not be missed.

 


#1
Illuminae by Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman
read: June
format: ARC (ebook)
rating: *****

Jay Kristoff called  Illuminae “without a doubt the coolest book [he’d] ever [co-]written” and that he was “pretty sure you’d never read a book like it.” Oh he was right — he was so, so right. Saying that Illuminae blew my mind is an understatement; to say that it was epic and exciting and terrifying is an understatement; to say that I can’t understand why I had to wait so long for this book to be in my life is an understatement. This book left me in shock. It wrang out my emotions, shot me out of an airlock into the cold, dark vacuum of space and squished my heart into little pieces before turning around and making me feel all bright and fluffy like a freshly-laundered teddy bear. From the unconventional — but insanely clever — top-secret dossier-style presentation, to the weird and urgent, tension-ridden, and horrifically violent plot. Throw on top some dynamic, complex, and realistic characters…and you’ve got me sold on the entire trilogy. It was truly unlike anything I’d ever read before; it was fresh and clever and downright spectacular. Sure, some of the elements are seemed familiar, like a cobbling together of tons of different science fiction scenarios — but they shouldn’t have work together, and certainly not as well as they did. Somehow, Kristoff and Kaufman managed the impossible. They brought something so new that it’s left me completely amazed.

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