Top 10 of 2015

Where has the year gone? It seems like yesterday that I was writing 2014’s list. Then again, isn’t that how it always goes? Anyways.

Before we get into it, once again here are the criteria I use:

1. Must have been reviewed in 2015 (so older titles qualify)

2. Only one book per author or series

3. Must have been rated as a “Buy It” by me.

Without further ado, let us begin !

Honorable Mention:

Alex Verus Series – by Benedict Jacka

I really wanted to put at least one of these books on my list as it is now one of my all-time favorite Urban Fantasy series. I debated breaking my own rules to put this on the list, but then I realized that this series is unique in that the sum is really greater than the individual parts, with each book I love it just a little bit more. These are quick easy reads with a protagonist that is much more gray than UF heroes/heroines are allowed to be with a great supporting cast including women who only grow stronger as the books pass. I know that the first book can seem derivative, but stick it out and give the series a chance. It may just grow on you the way it’s grown on me.

10.

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Read the review here

A mash-up of historical fantasy, secondary world fantasy, with a dash of science-fiction, The Philosopher Kings poses some great philosophical questions within its text that invites the reader to ponder over just as the characters do. I do think the appeal is too niche to really place it higher on this list, but for those who like philosophy or are looking for something a bit heavier, this is a book well worth checking out.

9.

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Read the review here

Yes, I know I just reviewed this the other day, and this would be the spot I was having trouble deciding what book to put here. The Lost Sun is Young Adult fantasy with Nordic flair and engrossing story of friendship and destiny and is well worth checking out.

8.

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Read the review here

A lush dark fantasy that builds up a wonderful atmosphere of tension that leaves you as unsettled as the heroine as she tries to navigate this world that she suddenly finds herself thrust into. Though not strictly Gothic horror, it has that lovely sense to it. If you like dark fae, give this book a look.

7.

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Read the review here

Urban Fantasy that has a) a completely average male as a lead, b) has no trace of the paranormal nor c) romance make this grounded tale a wonderful and unique read within the genre. If you’ve got a friend that you’re trying to lure into reading Urban Fantasy, this is an excellent series to start with.

6.

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Read the review here

The winning formula for this series is simple: take all your Urban Fantasy tropes and give them a twist. Vampires aren’t the main bad-guys, Charish mouths off and people get pissed at her. That kind of thing. A very fun ride and worth a read if you like the old favorites but want to see a hint of something new.

5.

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Read the review here

A secondary world epic fantasy that combines lush world building and one of the strongest, most sex-positive female characters I’ve ever seen. Even if you don’t read on, anyone who reads epic fantasy should give this book a look. It’s reputation is well earned. Plus, the refreshed covers are simply stunning.

4.

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Read the review here

A historical fantasy that is audacious enough to make Lucifer the hero of our tale – and does so in a manner that is absolutely respectful to the religion in the process. Any and all fantasy writers that want to take on Christianity should use this as a guide on how to do it right. I’m thrilled it’s seeing a stateside release in 2016.

3.

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Read the review here

Combining characters you love and a sense of wonder as you travel the Zodiac’s galaxy, this is a rare sequel that surpasses the original. Fans of YA and sci-fi/fantasy blends should absolutely read this.

2.

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Another piece of YA sci-fi, the complex themes and the beautiful writing make me wonder if this wouldn’t have been better served on adult shelves. Complex themes, a bittersweet ending and a delicate balanced lesbian relationship make this a must read. Oh, and Talis is everything.

1.

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Read the review here

The most audacious book I’ve quite possibly read, even taking on J for the complexity of its story telling. The best part is that there is as much substance to it as there is style. One of the rare books that absolutely deserves the hype it’s received.

~

So there we have it! I’d never guess I’d have three YA sci-fi titles as my top three this year, which makes it all the more awesome that I do. I think that niche of the genre really came alive this year and gives me hope that it’ll continue to mature and producer a richer cannon of books that stray away from the typical YA tropes. Aside from that, I don’t feel like 2015 was quite as strong a year for me as 2014 was, but as always, if you look, you will always find some gems.

So tell me, what were your favorites?

The Girl at Midnight – Melissa Grey

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Summary:

For readers of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones and Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone, The Girl at Midnight is the story of a modern girl caught in an ancient war.

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

Review:

Guys, this is why I read young adult fantasy. Every time I read something and I wonder why it’s been so hyped when it feels so much like everything else I’ve read in the genre, a book like this will come along like a breath of fresh air.

The Girl at Midnight is a tale of a girl named Echo – names have meaning amongst the magical Avicen (human/bird) and Drakharin (human/dragon) and hers has an especially poignant meaning when you figure it out – a runaway taken in by the Ala, a Seer amongst the Avicen. Echo knows that most Avicen see her as something lessor, but they are her family, so when the Ala asks her to retrieve an object in secret, she readily agrees. Of course, this being a fantasy, it sets her on a journey she couldn’t have imagined.

This is a book about finding your place in the world, your family and your friends. It’s about the hatred that separates us, but the undeniable truth that beneath the hate there are a lot more similarities if only we allowed ourselves to look. It’s about a loyalty that goes beyond simple friendship – the way Dorian will follow Caius anywhere, why Ivy stays with Echo and even helps Dorian, even though he is the enemy, and beat her in captivity. It’s a story about love trying to find a way – be it between Echo and Caius, or more touchingly, Dorian and Jasper two characters who are obviously gay but the book never feels the need to have a moment to say “THEIR GAY” just taking moments to regret the unrequited love Dorian has for Caius or how Jasper (a Avicen) tries wooing Dorian from the second they meet because to him, the one eyed Dorian is hot and eff his people who’d consider him a traitor for liking a Drakharin.

If the end isn’t the biggest surprise, that’s okay. It doesn’t need to be. As the book itself says, it’s more about the journey, and the journey itself was great. It was fun, it was taut, it dealt with the grief that comes with the first time you kill. It was just all really, really well done.

This is one of those books that wound up being so much more than I expected it to be and it made me fall in love with YA all over again. In short this is the first book in the series. I’m already counting the days ’til June 2016.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

Review: The Raven Boys (Raven Boys #1) – Maggie Stiefvater

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Summary:

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.

But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.

One Sentence Review:

The rare hyped novel that deserves the accolades, this is a wonderful piece of YA fantasy that should appeal beyond the core YA audience

Review:

Okay, I’ll admit it. I put off even buying this for ages, despite the love I’d consistently seen on social media, which crested with the release of the third book Blue Lily, Lily Blue. I put it off for the hype to be sure (I’m always weary of anything with that much hype), but also because I’d heard that author’s other series was in essence, “Twilight with werewolves” which just plain makes me want to run. But finally curiosity got to me and I picked this up when it went on sale.

I’m very glad I did.

First and foremost, I like Blue and her family. They’re genuinely nice people, but they all have this quirkiness to them that doesn’t feel false or cutesy, but just from the reality that they’re legitimately psychic and don’t care whether or not people believe that they are. There’s a cohesion to this family that’s wonderful to see, and you just don’t get that often, at least not in genre YA. I dig it and wish we would see more.

Second, I like the titular Raven Boys. I can tell that Stiefvater took care in crafting them. Gansey feels rich, and perhaps a bit entitled, but his heart is in the right place and his obsession feels balanced, for lack of better word: he wants to solve the mystery, but he’s also not letting it interfere with day-to-day life. It’s a nice change from books where characters literally drop all of the things to go solve something, real world consequences be damned. Adam, Ronan are equally well done. They each feel unique with fully developed personalities. I can see why Blue would enjoy being in their company and why the group is cohesive: they need each other because they balance each other. They aren’t clones of each other.

Third, though this is fantasy, it has a bit of a thriller vibe. Stiefvater does a wonderful job of building up tension with great use of foreshadowing that isn’t all THIS IS A HINT. HINT HINT HINT as sometimes you see in the genre. I was legitimately surprised at some of the twists and didn’t feel cheated in the least by them because in hindsight it kind of brought things into focus as they were. They’re well done.

Finally, no love triangle. Woohoo! While you can see that there’s some set up down the road, the fact that it wasn’t in this book is amazing in and of itself, but even more amazing is that when it does happen, it will work because you legitimately believe that she’d like both of them. Any author who can make me interested in both love interests deserves a cookie.

Oh, and one last addendum: the cover art for this series is fantastic and striking. That’s another area where I’m hard to impress, but I digress.

On the whole, I can’t really think of anything to criticize. I liked the story, I like the characters, I liked the writing. I liked it. This book was wholly worth the hype. I don’t own The Dream Thieves yet, but I’ll get my hands at some point because I finished this and found myself wanting more.

I’m glad I read this book, and I’m glad I wound down the week reading it. I enjoyed it greatly and I think that if you enjoy well crafted fantasy, you should too.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

Written in Red (The Others #1) – Anne Bishop

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Summary:

As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow

Review:

Paranormal writers have it a bit rougher than most fantasy authors. When you’re writing something like traditional or epic or grimdark as long as you hit one or two key structures or themes you can pretty much do whatever you want in terms of content. Paranormal it’s a bit different. If you’re writing about vampires readers are going to expect blood drinkers that (usually) can only exist at night. Shapeshifters and weres are humans that take on a secondary form. Creating something fresh within these constructs that doesn’t get side-eyed (see: vampires that sparkle in the sun) can be quite difficult, which means that most authors usually leave the creatures alone and focus on the story to bring something fresh to the genre.

Anne Bishop, however, didn’t take that path. With one simple change, she managed to make entire genre feel fresh again:

The titular Others were never human. They are animal first, human second.

It seems like subtle distinction, but it’s one that changes the entire game.

Never once when reading this book do you believe that any of the Wolves, Crows, Owls or Hawks were human. There is always something alien about them. Something that feels just off enough to remind you that they wear our shape, but are not us. For example, the crows love the shiny (one of the lone humans introduces one of the Crows to glass cleaner who gets ridiculously excited over it) and occasionally has kleptomania and steals Meg’s pens. The Hawkguard don’t see mice in the Liason’s office as a problem – they see the mice as a quick and tasty snack, and so on. There’ small things, but you notice them, and it works wonders.

It helps too that the protagonist Meg is so likable. She’s very naive – kept that way deliberately by her handler the Controller – but she’s eager, willing to work and willing to learn. After having been so cloistered, she’s so open to the world that she doesn’t have the fears and prejudices that a normal human would to the Others so she’s open to them in a way that almost no one else is. It makes her a great curiosity to the community-  and soon enough the community comes to embrace her and want to protect her, even the most fearsome of the Others, the Elementals (note do not piss of Winter or Fire or any of them really) and Tess, whose form is left a mystery for most of the book, but makes go whoa when you start seeing her in action. So often these kind of characters are grating, but Bishop does a good job with the balance and doesn’t make her too innocent or too perfect to be believed.

This book is one of the best character-driven books I’ve read in ages. It’s characters are so strong that I genuinely remained engaged as Meg went about her job – as a glorified mail person. You know the author is doing something right when you get pleasure reading about a girl in a Box on Wheels (BOW) dropping off the post. It just works. The characters are so much the heart and soul of this book that the plot is almost a throwaway in this as the Bad Guys come hunting for Meg. The main antagonist, Asia Crane, is just plain annoying, but she served her purpose well enough.

A few other things I liked: as much as the Others hate the humans, Bishop made sure that she didn’t just paint them all in a negative light. There are sympathetic humans here, which is nice to see given that humans are definitely not the top of the totem pole in this world. It’d been so easy to just show us the ugly ones and leave at that. Finally, I like how Bishop simply lets the worth breathe. Aside from Meg’s arrival at the Courtyard, almost nothing significant plotwise happens in the first third of the book. She spends the time letting us get to know the characters and the Courtyard. It works because by the time the action does start up, you’re fully vested in this world.

In a genre that practically grooms fans to expect little more than a solid story, Written in Red is a breath of fresh air. I will be getting my hands on Murder of Crows and recommending this to any fans of the genre is an absolute no brainer.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now