For this post, I’m going to highlight twelve of the most memorable books I read in 2015. (Why twelve? Because I couldn’t pick just ten and I couldn’t justify having only eleven picks like I did last year.)
I want to state that placement on this list doesn’t mean these books were published in 2015 (most probably weren’t); instead, these were books I read for the very first time in 2015. Likewise, this list doesn’t represent every book I read in the past year. (According to my GoodReads 2015 reading challenge, that would be 201, so there is no way I could list that many!)
12. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
This is considered a classic but I had never read it until this year. (Talk about a late start!) I honestly expected to be bored to tears but The Lord of the Flies turned out to be one of those books I couldn’t put down until I finished it. It takes the typical deserted island survivor story and gives it a twist in that the survivors are all young boys, not adults. At first, things are all fine and dandy, then they start to take a very dark, sinister turn that makes you fear for these boys’ lives as well as come to grips with what caused them to transform from juvenile little lads into blood-thirsty, power-hungry exploiters. I was pleased by the ending and can understand why this is a classic. Likewise, I think nearly every work of dystopian literature owes something to Golding’s masterpiece.
11. My Story by Marilyn Monroe
I’m not into celebrity biographies or autobiographies, but for some reason I was intrigued to read this. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Monroe, I have seen a few of her movies and, of course, have heard a variety of stories and conspiracy theories surrounding her untimely death. This book, regardless of its authorship which has been in question, delves into the troubled childhood and tormented young adulthood of a rising Hollywood starlet. It reads more like a series of vignettes rather than a linear autobiography, which I found enjoyable, and it ends rather abruptly. Yet the way it concludes allows for a sense of open finality to Monroe’s life as her iconic status has never diminished. Some of her remarks here are also sadly prophetic and shed new light on what a young woman was willing to do to find love and be loved.
10. The Iron Thorn by Caitlin Kitteredge
While I couldn’t immerse myself in the second book in this trilogy, I really enjoyed the setting and dark, paranormal/steampunk tone of this first installment. This was my first delving into American-based steampunk (as most of what I like is set in Victorian England) and I thought it had some fascinating world-building as well as an intriguing premise. The environments are wonderfully dark and Gothic but don’t encroach into horror territory, and the main character struggles with an impending mental doom. Essentially, it’s a race against the clock for her and her world as realms collide in some rather unexpected ways. Overall, it’s a perfectly creepy, fun read.
9. Dead Harvest by Chris Holm
For me, this was like a cross between Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series (with its focus on demons) and Eric Garcia’s Repo Men (for its profane, street-wise protagonist and the reclamation of souls rather than artificial organs). But it’s a combination that definitely worked for me. Though the tone became a little too dark for me by the end (and I’m not sure I’ll continue with this trilogy), I was sucked into the story moment by moment as it presents a good moral dilemma where a soul harvester ponders what to do over the fate of an innocent girl (or is she innocent?). There are some great twists that kept me glued as well as a very smart-mouthed protagonist who manages to lighten up some of the book’s heavier moments.
8. Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Finally! A middle-grade/YA novel that isn’t all doom and gloom. I loved this book’s upbeat focus and smart but humble protagonist who struggles with a learning disability while trying to cover up for it in school by goofing off. The book’s message is simple – the only limits you possess are the ones you put on yourself – but it definitely works for the story, its characters, and probably the chief audience for this book. It’s an uplifting book that kept me reading to see how the main character would rise above her challenges to carve out a new path for herself. Hunt took a heartfelt, respectful approach on learning disabilities and presents a fun yet mindful story about how every underdog can rise up and have her day.
7. Sugar by Deirdre Riordan Hall
This was the year of the general fiction YA novel for me, and while most were disappointments, this most certainly was not one of them. While this novel can feel cyclical in spots, it is a cathartic experience as you’re drawn into the lead character’s struggle with food addiction. Again, I felt that the author was respectful in her approach and did a great job diving into the mind of someone who goes to food for comfort as well as who seemingly has no way out of a vituperative home life. I was compelled to finish this in nearly a single sitting and rooted for the main character to break the cycle of addiction and abuse. In the end, I wasn’t let down and it was definitely one of the better YA novels I’ve read in some time.
6. Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu
This is yet another YA novel that genuinely surprised and deeply impressed me. I hesitated to read it at first because I feared it was going to tar and feather Christians as all being followers of the “quiverfull” movement; but to my surprise, this paints an accurate picture of how some Christians misuse and abuse Scripture for their own aims, but not all Christians. Once again, the author was very respectful and careful to depict two sides to the same coin, so to speak, chiefly through the main character who is easy to cheer for as she’s a good, kind, smart girl who genuinely wants to please God but can’t go along with what her family calls “worship.” Yet the pressure faces as she feels herself being pulled between her legalistic background and her chance to follow her God-given dreams feel quite real and can be heartbreaking. Certainly an eye-opening and a thoughtful read.
5. The Mysterious Howling and The Hidden Gallery (tie) by Maryrose Wood
I got into this middle grade series, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, late in 2015 but it by all rights deserves a spot on my year-end list. In all truthfulness, it was the quirkiness of the hardcover illustration on The Mysterious Howling that won me over. But that quirkiness is masterfully followed up by the story, which takes a rather interesting and very fun twist on the whole “children raised by wolves” idea. While there are five books in this series (with a sixth title confirmed), these are the only two I’ve read but I certainly intend to stick with it. In fact, I feel compelled to read the others as soon as possible so I don’t forget anything! The writing is clever; the characters are charming; the chief female protagonist is humble, kind, polite, patient, and brave; the illustrations are nicely incorporated; and the stories are engrossedly smart, engaging, and sweet but avoid being cloying. In short, it’s a great readawoo! (And, no, that wasn’t a typo – it’s an inside joke form the books!)
4. Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
This is the one and only graphic novel on the list and it rightfully deserves to be here! Many graphic novels I’ve tried either end up being too preachy (usually in trying to share some kind of overt political and/or social themes) or are too out there or graphic in content for me. But not Anya’s Ghost: while it doesn’t purport any big, overarching themes, the message that we need to be careful with who influences us comes through loud and clear without preaching. Likewise, the artwork is fitting to the story’s tone and the characters are entertaining as well as compelling. While Anya, the chief protagonist, is far from perfect, her coming-of-age and evolving maturity all culminate in a fun, clever, heartwarming, and bone-chilling ride.
3. Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly
I read this book close to the time it was released and it became an early favorite of mine. It’s an interesting take on a Frankenstein-type story with a sympathetic lead character and a compelling mystery plot. This was yet another book I devoured (no monster pun intended!) in two sittings and loved it from start to finish. It was also the sort of book that begins and carries on as one type of story (in this case a creature-based fantasy) but elegantly evolves into a far more complex plot where the lead character is quite literally forced to choose sides. Normally I tend to start skimming pages in long books but not in this one! It’s worth the time absorbing the details and ends with the door open for a sequel (of which there will be!).
2. Cress and Fairest (tie) by Marissa Meyer
For the second year in a row, Meyer has two books tied in my top five. All I can say is – WOW! Cinder was incredible, Scarlet had a few too many exposition scenes but was still a thrilling read and had far more positives to gush about than any glaring or even minor negatives. Cress topped them all and has so many intricate plot threads, there is no way you could get bored reading this book. In a word, I loved it (okay, that was three words)! (As of the the date of this posting, I’ve yet to read Winter but my expectations are very high and I suspect I won’t be disappointed.) I also decided to add Fairest to this list: even though it’s technically not part of the Lunar Chronicles series, it is a vital book in understanding the origins and motivations of the series’ chief villain. It, too, was a compelling read that’s rather darker in tone than its sister novels within the Lunar Chronicles but certainly heartbreaking, and deserves a top spot on this list, too.
1. The Never-Ending Sacrifice by Una McCormack
This might seem like an odd choice seeing as a). this is a media tie-in (a genre I tend to not gravitate toward) and b). it’s probably the least-known title on this list. But I really, really enjoyed it, not only as a work of science fiction in and of itself but also as an excellent commentary on the dangers of an over-inflated government. Next to the Borg, the Cardassians are my favorite Trek alien race because their history, social structure, and culture mimic real-world examples. But rather than be a broad, veiled political work that uses aliens as foils for Humans, this novel focuses on a single character and follows him from boyhood to manhood, traversing through various trials and tribulations as he’s torn between two heritages whose respective worlds are equally split asunder amid war and violence. It isn’t overly-emotive or preachy but simply perfect in its delivery, character development, and story where you feel the main character’s struggle, not merely witness it. Not to mention that even if you were completely unfamiliar with the background of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or even the Cardassians, you could still enjoy it and not feel like you’re missing anything. (There are appendices in the back for that actually!) So for all of those merits, I award this novel my top slot.