My favorite reads from 2015

921471_1739160146314266_586765209106102866_oAccording to Goodreads I’ve read fifty five books in 2015. What were my favorites? That’s a tricky question because some of them were Advanced Review Copies that won’t be available in stores until 2016. But what about books you can buy right now? Here are books I’ve read this year that I whole-heartedly recommend:

SUSPENSE/THRILLER

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver begs to be read as quickly as possible. It tells the story of two sisters named Nick and Dara and a tragic car accident that shapes them forever.

The story is told from multiple points of view, including blog posts, pictures, and fliers. At its heart are two teen girls who are really messed up from their parents’ acrimonious divorce. Nick is the supposed good girl, and Dara is the wild one, but that doesn’t stop Nick from abusing alcohol along with her younger sister.

When I first started reading Vanishing Girls it struck me as a YA version of Gone Girl. After finishing the book, I realize that’s not a very good comparison. But there are an incredible amount of twists and turns, and I could definitely see Oliver’s book becoming a movie.

Btw, A reminder to all sisters: Be careful what you write in your diary!

 

CONTEMPORARY FICTION

The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne is one of those books that you won’t be able to put down once you’ve read the first couple of chapters. The hook is that an ordinary teenage girl named Kate Quinn whose mother died in a car accident last year discovers that her birth father is a senator from Massachusetts who is running to become president. Thrown from obscurity onto the campaign trail, Kate juggles conflicted feelings for her father, step-mom, new siblings, and her true thoughts on politics.

I loved, loved, LOVED the character of the step-mom in this story. Meg Cooper is so awesome that she gives step-mothers everywhere a good name. Thorne doesn’t write her as “too good to be true” either. Meg has depth, imperfections, and heart. There is also a devilishly handsome book-boyfriend named Andy, who happens to be the son of the standing president…political enemy number one.

I would highly recommend The Wrong Side of Right to anyone who loves a good story. I wish I could discuss the ending without giving away spoilers… This would make a great book club pick!

 

At its heart, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a teenage love story set against the backdrop of cancer. Hazel drags her oxygen tank everywhere she goes and Augustus has a prosthetic leg. Both are erudite, witty, and converse in a fashion that I’ve never heard teenagers sound like ever–and I’ve been around a lot of smart teens. Like, literally, I’ve never heard teens talk like that. Still, the Gilmore-Girl-esq dialogue is fun to read, although if it doesn’t come across as realistic.

If you enjoy tear-jerkers, this is a great book for you. If you’d rather not put yourself through an emotional wringer, stay away. The only thing that bothered me was Augustus and his unlit cigarette. Hopefully that doesn’t spawn a fad of cigarettes becoming cool again even if they aren’t smoked.

 

Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, by Julie Halpern, tells the story of a sophomore girl named Jessie who sews a brand new skirt for each day of high school. When her best friends turn punk and treat her like crap, Jessie has a big decision to make: should she become friends with band nerds and the kids who play Dungeons and Dragons, or should she hold onto being cool?

The best part of  Into the Wild Nerd Yonder was the relationship between Jessie and her brother Barrett. You’ve heard of book-boyfriends? Well, Barrett is the ultimate book-big-brother. He picks Jessie up from parties gone wrong, he gives her good advice, and he plays interference with mom and dad. The dialogue between Jessie and Barrett is especially hilarious. I’ll never be able to look at Krispy Kreme donuts the same way again.

The only issue I had with this book was my own “willing suspension of disbelief.” It was hard for me to believe any girl who wore a homemade Elmo skirt to school could possibly think she was higher on the social totem pole than kids from the band. The skirt thing really threw me off, because it was so weird.

But…I would definitely recommend this book to YA fans because it was hilarious. Plus, I finally understand D&D!

 

When’s the last time you read a book that was so fresh and unique that it made you fall in love with originality all over again? That’s how I felt after reading Hello? by Liza WiemerHello? is a YA contemporary novel where five main characters express themselves in different ways.

Tricia lives in a lighthouse on the edge of nowhere, grieving the loss of her parents and grandmother. Emerson has a girlfriend he really wants to dump, plus some lingering hang-ups over a traumatic incident when he was little. Angie is Emerson’s clingy girlfriend and wonders whether she wants to rise above her own selfishness. Brenda is Angie’s best friend with a secret to hide. Brian is an artist trapped in teenage angst. One three a.m. phone call unites them all.

This is the first–and only–book I’ve read told in narrative, poem, screen play and artwork.

 

Before I cracked open Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta a lot of people warned me that it was a difficult book to get into, but that if I persevered I would love it. I think that’s a great description. It took me at least fifty pages to grasp what the heck was going on, and then I became so hooked I stayed up until midnight to finish the story.

Set in Australia,  Jellicoe Road tells two parallel plots. One’s “St. Elmo’s Fire” meets “The Breakfast Club”, and the other is “Lord of the Flies” meets “Survivor”. It’s hard to describe anything beyond that without giving away spoilers, but both storylines include a territorial war between the Townies, the Cadets, and the residents of Jellicoe school.

At its best, Jellicoe Road  is the story of survival in the face of impossible odds. At its worst, it leans towards melodrama because Marchetta packed every last awful thing that could happen to a kid in 419 pages. But somehow, it really works. This is a book I would love to see on the big screen!

 

SPECULATIVE FICTION

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride is geeked out YA Fantasy in all its delicious glory. It has Fey, Lycanthropes, witches, the occasional Monty Python joke, and of course, necromancers: humans who can summon the dead. I absolutely love that this book is set in the Pacific Northwest, which everyone knows is the best place next to Ireland for magical creatures to reside. (I think it’s something about the rain.)

The hook is that a University of Washington drop-out named Sam, who is currently working at a fast food joint, discovers that he is a necromancer and nobody bothered to tell him until now.

Author Lish McBride expresses a sassy attitude in a multitude of characters. Sam’s coworker Brooke is a young lady you won’t soon forget. I can’t explain further without revealing spoilers but–WOW!

 

Barrie and Eight are back along with all of the beautiful creepiness readers adore from Watson Island! Is the binding cost of young love worth it? Must you want what your family wants? Persuasion is high on fantasy yet grounded in the real life issues teens face every day.

Sure, Barrie and Eight have money, good looks, and magical powers but they also have messed up childhoods and unknown futures. Just like in Compulsion, the emotions are real.

For a Pacific Northwest reader like me, the “book vacation” element of Persuasion can’t be overlooked. Martina Boone writes with sensual description of sights, smells, and temperatures. I can picture the white peacock perched on Aunt Pru’s ancient Mercedes. I can feel the heat from the scorching southern climate. I can taste the Mississippi mud brownies. Sure, I’m still on my couch near rainy Seattle, but I feel like I’m in Eight’s boat floating towards Colesworth Place, with Barrie sitting next to me in her orange PDF and ridiculous expensive shoes.

 

Sometimes the scariest thing in a fourteen-year-old’s life is loneliness. Horror Business, by Ryan Craig Bradford, tells the story of Jason Nightengale whose twin brother Brian went missing over a year ago. Brian’s not the only kid absent from the small town of Silver Creek, and nobody knows what to do, least of all Mr. and Mrs. Nightingale.

Obsessed with horror movies, Jason continues to shoot the slasher movie he and his brother wrote together, staring Brian’s girlfriend Ally. But the script is unfinished and Jason’s relationship with Ally is equally undefined. As October races closer and closer to Halloween, Jason’s imagination gets the best of him–or does it? What really hides in the closet or creeps in cemetery shadows? One thing’s for certain, it’s better to sleep with the lights turned on.

I’m not a horror movie fan at all, but I am a fan of good writing and Bradford had me hooked  from page one. Horror Business combines intelligence and entertainment into a particularly creepy read.

 

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough is a brilliantly written modern fable. Love and Death become flesh and embark upon a game as old as Romeo and Juliette, Paris and Helen and all of the other tragic stories Love records in his notebook. Death doesn’t record anything by pen, but she always remembers her victims and this time she’s especially hungry to win.

Love chooses a boy named Henry who is being raised by a wealthy family in Seattle during the Great Depression. Death chooses Flora, an African-American girl of many talents. When Flora isn’t signing jazz at The Domino, she’s at the airfield, dreaming of one day piloting a plane of her own. Henry is a musician too, as well as a loyal friend and dreamer. One look at Flora and he’s a gonner. Everyone else in their life thinks an interracial love affair is doomed–which is exactly what Death’s betting on.

I especially enjoyed how The Game of Love and Death was told in the third person with a strong narrator. Dipping in and out of heads to find out what characters were thinking was delicious.


SCIENCE FICTION

If you are a “Battlestar Galactica” fan then you’ve got to read Lifer by Beck Nicholas. It’s clever, suspenseful, and full of so many surprise twists that I found myself shouting out loud and disturbing the person sitting next to me.

Lifer has two separate storylines playing out concurrently. Asher is a slave, or “Lifer,” aboard a spaceship heading for Earth. The book opens with her mourning the death of her high-class boyfriend, and being tormented by his brother and grieving mom. The second primary character, “Blank,” wakes up on a planet with amnesia and struggles to navigate an alien world.

I really can’t share any more plot specifics than that without revealing spoilers, but I can highlight some of the themes that made this book so smart. Resistance, Courage, Truth, Survival; Lifer keeps readers engaged with powerful issues. I love, love, loved this book and can’t wait to read future titles from the author.

 

Jeanne Ryan‘s new book Charisma takes smart, scary YA to a whole new level. This is a plot that gets both your brain and heart rates going.

When Aislyn takes an underground gene therapy drug guaranteed to make her popular she gets more than she bargained for, especially when the drug turns deadly.  After one dose of Charisma Aislyn’s crippling shyness disappears and she’s finally able to converse with the guy she likes. The whole world notices–including the media. Suddenly the meekest girl in the world is front page news. Is the new-and-improved Aislyn still Aislyn? Is popularity worth dying for? Should scientists be tinkering with DNA to begin with?

I knew Charisma would be entertaining because I’m a fan of Ryan’s previous book, Nerve, but what I didn’t expect were all the parallels to the HIV epidemic and how society treated AIDS patients many decades ago. When the world doesn’t understand a new disease or how it’s transmitted, society does cruel things. I’m old enough to remember Ryan White who contracted HIV through a blood transfusion and then was shunned by his community. Without giving away any spoilers, the social-justice questions Charisma raises, especially near the end of the book, are huge.

 

What books am I looking forward to in 2016? That’s easy! You can find them on Sixteen To Read. Also, please don’t forget to mark your calendars for Septemebr 27, 2016 when my book GENESIS GIRL debuts! 🙂

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1 Comment

  1. The Fault in Our Stars was one of my fave reads in 2015, too! I can’t believe it took me so long to read it. I also read Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska. I am definitely a John Green fan now.

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