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Best of 2015: Book Edition, Part 1

With a little help from my friends at the library, I was able to read so many awesome new releases this year. If you like young adult or literary mysteries, there’s probably something on one of these lists for you. Here are my best books read in 2015, numbers 10 through 6!

10. The Shadow Cabinet, by Maureen Johnson

The Shadow Cabinet

The Shades of London series is a sneaky favorite of mine. I tend to forget about it, but when the third book came out this year, I was all over the library waitlist. (It didn’t hurt that the second book ended on a torturous cliffhanger.) The moody London atmosphere combined with Maureen Johnson’s irreverent humor make this series unique, and The Shadow Cabinet is the most exciting installment yet.

9. Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen

Saint Anything

Sarah Dessen, my first love in YA, came out with a wonderful offering this year. Saint Anything follows Sydney’s struggles to get out of her older brother’s shadow—a brother who is now in prison for a drunk driving accident. As Dessen protagonists are apt to do, she finds a dynamic group of friends to help her. Since Sarah is a master of characterization, it’s not a bad pattern. Bonus points for a creeper character who truly made me cringe. (You can read my full review here.)

8. Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On

Rainbow Rowell’s first fantasy novel is already cause for excitement. Her first fantasy novel that’s also a clever critique of Chosen One narratives—that’s even better. The story is full of complicated friendships and uneasy alliances. As always, Rainbow has a knack for putting her characters in exactly the situation you want to see them in. I’m also seriously envious of the art throughout the book, from the cover art to the section break illustrations to the beautiful map of Watford School of Magicks. (You can read my full review here.)

7. Yes Please, by Amy Poehler

Yes Please

Yes Please is one part personal anecdotes and one part sage advice. I love the design of the book with its color photographs and reproductions of various mementos. My favorite chapter is about performing on Saturday Night Live while pregnant with her first child. It’s just the right combination of behind-the-scenes details and broader commentary on the female experience. I set down Yes Please feeling motivated to “do the thing.” (You can read my full review here.)

6. Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith

Career of Evil

I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to have new J. K. Rowling in my life, pseudonym or no. It stands to reason that she can write a good mystery, but I didn’t expect to fall so completely in love with her detective characters. Career of Evil is my favorite book of the series because it reveals more details of Cormoran and Robin’s pasts. I was in serious denial for days after finishing this book because I didn’t want it to be over. (You can read my full review here.)

Tomorrow is the grand finale: my top 5 books of 2015!

 

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Carry On, Rainbow Rowell

Carry On

No one can accuse Rainbow Rowell of being lazy. Or un-inventive. Or un-awesome…but I digress. In the past four years she’s published five novels, three young adult and two regular adult. She’s written about 1980s misfits, the first year of college, and falling in love through technology. Yes, she always writes about love and relationships (among other things), but she approaches the subject from a unique angle each time. As her first foray into the fantasy adventure genre, Carry On proves that she’s only becoming more ambitious.

I’ve really enjoyed trying to explain the premise of Carry On to people, including a random girl at NerdCon. If you haven’t read Fangirl, it’s confusing. Cath, the protagonist of Fangirl, is heavily involved in the fan community for Simon Snow, a series invented by Rainbow to occupy a similar space as Harry Potter in Cath’s world. Fangirl includes short passages from the Simon Snow books, as well as snippets of Cath’s fan fiction. A key component of the fan fiction is that Cath writes about Simon falling in love with his archenemy Baz. (Yes, there are serious Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy undertones, except that Baz is also a vampire.) Then Rainbow became so interested in Simon and Baz that she decided to write her own book about them. As I said, confusing.

Luckily nerds tend to like things a little complicated. Wrapping our brains around the relationships between a fictional book series, fan fiction about that series, and a real-life standalone book is our idea of fun. (Hopefully when I say our, I’m not just talking about me. The verging-on-mob scene before Rainbow’s signing at NerdCon would suggest that others share my feelings.) All this to say that I was fully on board to read about teenage wizards falling in love. And read about them I did, but to my surprise, the romance was secondary to the plot more so than any other Rainbow Rowell novel. I have no problem admitting that after a certain point I was asking, “But when will there be kissing?!”

Simon Snow is the Chosen One who has no idea how to fulfill his role. Rainbow has discussed in interviews how she’s read many Chosen One stories over the years, and Carry On was an opportunity to explore her opinions about the whole concept. As she said to The Toast, “How would it really feel to have a strange old man take you away from everything you’ve ever known because he needed you to fight a war that started before you were even born?” The mages in Carry On are more in touch with the normal world than, for instance, the wizarding world of Harry Potter. While allowing Rainbow to make her signature pop culture references, this connection also gives her some freedom to critique the genre in which she’s simultaneously participating.

As a reader, I found the critique to be the most successful aspect of Carry On. Rainbow is an astute observer of storytelling patterns, and she proved in Fangirl that she understands how people can be critical of something while still loving it immensely. The Simon and Baz relationship originated from the idea of finding romantic subtext where it’s probably not intended by the creator. The romantic aspects of Carry On sometimes felt more subtextual than I would have liked, but since it’s Rainbow Rowell, there are still moments worthy of a swoon.

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An Abundance of Books for Fall

Fall always seems to be a great time for new book releases. And while I certainly wouldn’t wish away the rest of the summer, I’m starting to get excited for new books from many of my favorite authors.

The Heart Goes Last on September 29!

The Heart Goes Last

Margaret Atwood most recently wowed the literary world with her MaddAddam trilogy. The Heart Goes Last has a different dystopian setting, but one can assume it touches on some classic Atwood themes. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I suppose? I’m excited by the fact that The Heart Goes Last seems to have a greater focus on relationships. In exchange for a comfortable home the rest of the year, a married couple agrees to spend every other month in prison. Then they both become obsessed with the couple that occupies their home on alternate months. Best case scenario, this book could occupy an interesting space between the MaddAddam trilogy and The Blind Assassin.

Carry On on October 6!

Carry On

Does this require any explanation? It’s Rainbow Rowell! Carry On is an offshoot of the fictional fantasy series that’s the obsession of Cath in Fangirl. A fictional world from within another work of fiction becomes a real life book. Yes, it’s all very meta in the best possible way. Carry On promises all the romance and emotion of her previous books but with the addition of magic. Since Rainbow professes to be primarily a fantasy reader in her own life, I trust her to explore a new genre. Not to mention this cover is so unexpected and BEAUTIFUL. I will be dancing all the way to the bookstore on October 6.

Career of Evil on October 20!

Career of Evil

I recently declared myself a fan of the Cormoran Strike mystery novels. Since I was almost two years late to the party, the third novel is already coming out this fall. I can’t wait to be reunited with Cormoran and Robin, and the plot summary promises that this mystery will require delving further in Cormoran’s past. As I mentioned in the previous post, I already have the first two books in paperback, so I will try to resist buying the hardcover. The library wait list is the answer for now. Obviously I’m not going to wait another year for the paperback release. Bless the prolific talents of Ms. J. K. Rowling.

Tower of Thorns on November 3!

Tower of Thorns

My love for Juliet Marillier is documented on the blog, but I haven’t talked about this relatively new series. I read Dreamer’s Pool, the first Blackthorn and Grim novel, back in January. In typical Marillier fashion, Blackthorn is a healer, but she’s of humbler origins than the Sevenwaters protagonists. Not unlike a good detective series, Blackthorn and her friend Grim help unravel a mysterious and probably supernatural happening while Blackthorn deals with her personal demons. The prose is as lovely as I expect from Marillier’s adult novels. I can’t wait to hold this hefty hardcover in my hands.

As much as I would love to purchase every single one of these books, I will be utilizing library requests in some cases. I’m a little behind on my reading goal for the year, which is often the case around this time, so these new releases should make it easier to catch up. Did I miss anything exciting?

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