Thursday, January 8, 2015

My favorite books of 2014

I don't think any year could be quite as awesome of a reading year as 2013, which was the year I first started reading Code Name Verity (and Rose Under Fire), and the year I started reading the Raven Boys series. I didn't find any books this year that rose to that level, but I do have a new favorite author for fun reading, and I did find some amazing books.

There are some obvious gaps - I'm only 1/3 of the way through Ancillary Justice, though it might have made the list otherwise.
Also, looking at the other 2014 YA best of lists, I'm apparently the only person on the planet who was bored by E. Lockhart's We Were Liars. It wasn't bad...I just didn't connect.

Note: these books aren't ones published in 2014, just ones I read in that calendar year.


 2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. Eighteen-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Sent to Earth at birth to save her life, she has been abandoned by her parents. She can't travel to other worlds, but she can watch their vids, and she knows all the jokes they make. She's an "ape," a "throwback," but this is one ape girl who won't give in.

Jarra makes up a fake military background for herself and joins a class of norms who are on Earth for a year of practical history studies excavating the dangerous ruins of the old cities. She wants to see their faces when they find out they've been fooled into thinking an ape girl was a norm. She isn't expecting to make friends with the enemy, to risk her life to save norms, or to fall in love

Here's the weird thing about this book - if I were to do a top 10 least favorite books, this would also be on there. I absolutely adored the first half of this book. I wanted to never stop reading about Jarra's archaeology class, and the fascinating, dynamic world she lived in. But then I got to the halfway mark, and there was a Coincidence. The Coincidence required a large suspension of belief. Worse, I soon realized the major flaw of the book:

Jarra is a Mary Sue. In fact, she may be the most exaggerated Mary Sue I've read in ages. Everything she does is perfect. And - this gets worse in the sequel - even when she thinks she's screwed up, no, everything is actually better than fine! Everyone is rushing to reassure her about how wonderful she is!

It's probably not sounding now like this book belongs on my top ten. But my rage is more connected to my initial love for the book (also, a great deal of my bitterness comes from the sequel, which is one of those ones where the Mary Sue is put in charge of a group of adult experts and somehow manages to outthink the entire military and academic profession to find the solution to a crisis). Still, I'm putting this book here, in memory of that love, and because the first one is still worth the read. Just pretend the sequel doesn't exist. Trust me.


 Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we’re 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet? 
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says.
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be.

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under.

One of my favorite romance novel blogs has come up with something called Romancelandia, which is basically the unlikely alternate universe where all romance novels seem to happen. It's a magical place where dukes are plentiful (and handsome), love always conquers all, and no one ever has BO. Sometimes I feel like a lot of YA exists in its own special universe too. With rules like:
a. Something like 75% of the teens are lacking at least one parent.
b. Love interests ALWAYS come in pairs.
c. Also, newly discovered magical powers seem to inevitably be accompanied by a mysterious handsome boy.

I'm sure there are other rules that I'm blanking on – suggestions?

Anyway! I love that YA world. I'm not dissing it, I'm just saying that Eleanor and Park is one of those books that seems to be cut straight out of the real world, and it's all the more chilling for it. But it's also all the more lovely in its portrayal of Eleanor and Park meeting and falling in love. I don't want to say much more about the book, because it's the characters that matter, not the plot. If you haven't read this yet, go do it now.


No plot summary, because this is book 3 in a trilogy.

The third book in a trilogy is hard, but Sarah Rees Brennan pulls it off. I got the ending I wanted, but I'm still mad about the cost to get there. But, you know. Good mad. Not throw-the-book-against-the-wall-mad. And Kami is still the best heroine in the history of ever. Plus, her dad rocks, which is not something one often says about YA dads.

Also, the amazing snark continued:

“I suppose some were born acting, some achieve action, and some have action thrust upon while they wail feebly ‘Dear God, no, let me sleep in.’ I’m only acting once, and then never again.” 


Love can be a dangerous thing….

Hanna simply wants to be loved. With a head plagued by hallucinations, a medicine cabinet full of pills, and a closet stuffed with frilly, violet dresses, Hanna’s tired of being the outcast, the weird girl, the freak. So she runs away to Portero, Texas in search of a new home.

But Portero is a stranger town than Hanna expects. As she tries to make a place for herself, she discovers dark secrets that would terrify any normal soul. Good thing for Hanna, she’s far from normal. As this crazy girl meets an even crazier town, only two things are certain: Anything can happen and no one is safe.

You know what you need? A book about a half black half Finish bipolar teenager and the crazy town she moves to! Don't worry, I didn't know I needed that either, until I got to the end of chapter 1 and was totally hooked. Nina would have to tell us if the portrayal of Hanna is appropriately Finnish. :)

Seriously though, this is NOT a book for everyone, and especially not for young teenagers. Hanna is, as many bipolar teenagers are, suicidal. So, trigger warning for suicidal thoughts. Also, the gore level is relatively high. There's one scene that still makes me cringe to think about it.

But, for all that, this is a dark, lovely book, and I can't wait to read the next one in the series.


“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Speaking of things I didn't know I needed, I didn't think I needed any books about WWII. I didn't think I wanted to read a book that was entirely letters. I didn't think I'd make it past the first fifty pages.

So yeah, I was wrong. This is another book that lives on the strength of its characters and the beautiful friendships that arose between them. And yes, it broke my heart, even though I should have seen it coming. Despite that sadness, when I think of this book, I think of the vivid images of Guernsey Isle it evoked, and the warmth of the friendships it described. Such a lovely book.


It's a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone. Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they're worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help. Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other's arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever? Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won't be the same people who landed on it. The first in a sweeping science fiction trilogy, These Broken Stars is a timeless love story about hope and survival in the face of unthinkable odds.

A lot of the books on this list celebrate the unexpected. I thought I know the basic outlines of a story about a boy and a girl stranded on a planet together. But dang if this didn't take all my expectations and blow them out of the water. There was one part that's about... umm... 2/3 of the way through the book that made me go, "WAIT NO, WHAT?" and then furiously read to the end. And it still managed to surprise me.

If you decide to read this (and you totally should), be aware that the next book features a different couple, so the trilogy is connected world rather than one love story spread over three books. I'm on the waiting list for the sequel at the library- is it ready yet? How about now? How about now?


The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record.  The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls.
For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one.  Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders?  Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.
With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets.  She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.

Fun fact: Brenna Yovanoff is Maggie Stiefvater's critique partner.

This book had a lot of flaws. The ending was rushed, and the author tried to pack too much into a relatively short book. But I didn't care about any of that. Reason #1 was the language:
I stand in front of him, trying to figure out how to look friendly or normal and where to put my hands. I never used to have to think about any of that-it just came naturally. It seems ridiculous suddenly that people have hands and no place to put them.

"I'm sure your parents already told you to be careful about talking to strangers and not to go places alone, right?"
I nod, peeling a stray piece of tape off the counter. The number of times I've been told this in the past twenty-four hours is beginning to rival the number of days when the thermometer at the bank has broken a hundred. Days when the sun sits over the city, blindingly white and baking everything to a hard, brittle crust. The nights when I let Lillian's ghost in bed with me, because maybe she's cloud and vapor and not really real, but the dry chill of her next to me is better than empty silence and brutal, unrelenting heat.

But mostly, what made the book was the relationship between  Hannah and Lillian. Lillian died from complications due to anorexia, and Hannah is still very angry with her. Too often, ghosts are portrayed as idealized versions of their human selves, or as monsters. But Lillian is still herself, but finally able to address the frailties that led to her anorexia, and why no one could save her. It still breaks my heart to think of it.


In the kingdom of Goredd, dragons and humans live and work side by side – while below the surface, tensions and hostility simmer. 

The newest member of the royal court, a uniquely gifted musician named Seraphina, holds a deep secret of her own. One that she guards with all of her being.

When a member of the royal family is brutally murdered, Seraphina is drawn into the investigation alongside the dangerously perceptive—and dashing—Prince Lucien. But as the two uncover a sinister plot to destroy the wavering peace of the kingdom, Seraphina’s struggle to protect her secret becomes increasingly difficult… while its discovery could mean her very life.

This was one of the first books I read this year, and I loved it instantly. Admittedly, because I read it in January of last year, I'm having difficulty recalling minutae of the plot. So I'll just say awesome, unique dragons + fantastic worlbuilding + music + love story + fabulous heroine = total win. And the sequel is ALMOST OUT. Have you all read this yet? You should. 

2. Ilona Andrews

Okay... this isn't really a book, but a celebration of my new favorite author. I can't pick any of their (Ilona Andrews is a husband and wife writing team) books as one of my favorites, but I basically glommed their entire backlist in like a month. They are the people whose fault it is that I can no longer proclaim my hatred of urban fantasy loud and clear, because their Kate Daniels series is essentially crack in book form. They do write adult fantasy and not YA, and there are Adult Scenes, but they're not terribly egregious.

And holy cow, how I love them. I own all their books. No joke. I recommend starting with the Kate Daniels series, but you have to give it at least two books, because the first one is kind of shaky (it's their first novel). But their growth in the series is exponential, and I was totally hooked by book 2, and a slavish fan for life by the end of book 3.

1. Sorrow's Knot.
In the world of SORROW'S KNOT, the dead do not rest easy. Every patch of shadow might be home to something hungry, something deadly. Most of the people of this world live on the sunlit, treeless prairies. But a few carve out an uneasy living in the forest towns, keeping the dead at bay with wards made from magically knotted cords. The women who tie these knots are called binders. And Otter's mother, Willow, is one of the greatest binders her people have ever known.

But Willow does not wish for her daughter to lead the lonely, heavy life of a binder, so she chooses another as her apprentice. Otter is devastated by this choice, and what's more, it leaves her untrained when the village falls under attack. In a moment of desperation, Otter casts her first ward, and the results are disastrous. But now Otter may be her people's only hope against the shadows that threaten them.

I almost didn't read this book because of its cover. The cover screams hippy-dippy native american story about how Life is Magic and Everything is Connected. But I really liked the author's first book, so I gave this a chance, and I'm so glad I did. This is a dark, complex, deep story about death and how we deal with it, and a perfect metaphor for how hard it is to let go of those we love. My definite favorite book that I read last year. A+. Read it now.

There you have it! What were your favorite books of the year? What do I need to add to my reading list right away?


  1. Awesome! My Goodreads to-read list is MUCH longer now, thanks! ;)

  2. I've read the two books before Unmade--I can't believe I haven't read that one. There are a lot of other awesome sounding books on this list too. Thanks!


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