As part of getting this blog going, I thought it would be good to give any readers an idea of my taste with a few lists that crop up a lot around the end/beginning of the year. This list will look back on my favorite reads of 2015.
I have broken this into two parts, books I loved that were published in 2015, and books I loved that were published before 2015, but the books themselves are not arranged in any order. Just lots of love for them all! I have avoided anything that I would consider a spoiler, like a major plot point, but if you are worried about spoilers, do not proceed. Ask your friend to read this post and write down the titles for you to take to the library/bookstore if you want to be sure of avoiding spoilers.
I was going to add a note saying that I know some people like to do top 10’s or top whatever the last two digits of the year are (interestingly, this was not a trend in 1998), but I just have as many as I loved. However, I have counted them up, and by combining series books, this list is now 15 items. Happy coincidence! (Devious subconscious?)
Books Published in 2015:
Marie Rutkoski is one of my favorite authors—maybe even my top favorite most of the time (because it’s more of a crew of favorites rather than a hierarchical listing of them). Rutkoski’s writing is beautiful, and her characters are complex, believable, and motivated. I’m not going to go into the plot much because of spoilers for the series, but OH MY GOD THAT ENDING.
The Winner’s Crime is the follow-up to The Winner’s Curse, published in 2014. The premise of The Winner’s Curse is that Kestrel, the general’s daughter of the conquering Valorians (similar to Romans) buys a slave who is one of the conquered Herrani (read: Greeks of this analogy). Intrigue and revolutions ensue!
I tried a sample of The Winner’s Curse and got so sucked in, I ended up finishing it while sitting on the bathroom floor at 1 am, so I could have the light on and not disturb my husband. AND, I had a 7-month-old at the time, so knew that I would be up in a hour or so, but I could NOT put it down. I preordered The Winner’s Crime in hardback, which is not something I can afford to do regularly. Grad student + small children means that instead of earning money I am either writing papers or scraping yogurt off the wall, and not able to just buy any book I want. But The Winner’s Crime was worth it.
Kestrel is a great heroine, specifically made to be a badass with her mind and thinking skills rather than physical fighting skills. I get tired of all the heroines who can kick-butt with crazy physical violence skills (not a violence person here). I think we need action heroines, but I also want to read about women and girls with skills that do not include slitting throats. Kestrel has physical skills but also music and puzzle-solving in her heart.
I also like that Arin, the Herrani slave/love interest (not really a spoiler, partly because the internet is gaga for them and because, YA) is the emotional one of the two of them, rather than being the stoic man. Kestrel is very controlled in her actions and emotions, whereas Arin is full of big feelings of all kinds. Not in a scary, out-of-control way, but in the way young guys can be. And sometimes it makes me want to kick him in the shins and shout, “Buck up!”
I highly recommend this series. I will read anything Rutkoski writes (and I have caught up with her back-catalog) and she is worth the money!
This rounds out Kowal’s The Glamourist series, which began with Shades of Milk and Honey. The series follows Jane, and her eventual husband Vincent, who work as glamourists in an alternative Napoleonic Europe. Glamour in this world is a ladies’ art, similar to painting and music, and
Kowal seems like such an intelligent lady. Her writing is so thoughtful and well-researched. She mentions that when creating this world, she wanted a story about small magics and small stakes, rather than saving-the-world level conflict.
The series has also been described as “Jane Austen with magic” which is certainly a good starting point in describing the beginning of the series. Kowal describes creating a computer program that checks her word use with the words used by Jane Austen so that she can make decisions about keeping the language of its time. However, the series grows into its own creature, separate from Jane Austen as it progresses. There are pregnancies, daring escapes, encounters with Napoleon, pirates, an “Italian Job” heist, slave plantations, and protest marches. And the ups and downs of any happy marriage.
Of Noble Family sees Jane and Vincent in the West Indies confronting family history, and the acceptable racist attitudes that sustained an economy. I think that Kowal does a nice job of portraying slaves and life in a plantation community without making everything depressing doom and gloom. Things are hard, but the people also find things to make them happy, like Jane and Vincent deal with their own pasts and learn about themselves in the face of this difficult setting.
(Also, fantasy books with women of color on the cover—yes please!)
Kowal is a wonderful writer, and I highly suggest that anyone interested pick-up her novels and her short stories.
S.E. Grove’s second book in the Mapmaker’s Trilogy was a LOT of fun! She is such an imaginative writer, I can never predict what she will fill her world with. The Mapmakers Trilogy, which starts with The Glass Sentence, follows Sophia Tims as she goes adventuring to find her family. The catch is that Sophia’s world, Boston 1890 is a different one from our’s. Her world experienced “The Great Disruption” in which chunks of the world were thrown out of time and mashed back together in a patchwork of time periods (or possible parallel worlds?) As the books progress, it all feels a bit more Whovian.
Sophia lives with her uncle, Shadrack, who is a famous cartologer. She makes friends with Theo, a boy from one of the other times, this in the Western U.S.
The first book was a little slow in the start for me, but I highly encourage everyone to read this series. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever read! I have no idea where Grove is going to take the story, who or what they will encounter, and how they will resolve a situation. I am super excited for this final book and I can’t wait to see more of this world!
Now, I am generally not a big cover person. I have worked in publishing and I know how little influence the author has over the cover art. Some of my favorite books are covered with lame art, as far as I am concerned, so I try not to be taken in or put off by covers TOO much. (I am human, and therefore a visual creature, so I can’t dismiss it totally.) However, I think the cover for this book is gorgeous. It really owns its pink-ness and the star-shaped windows from which Shazi is peering out are really evocative.
This book got a lot of hype last year, and is a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights. Also, throw in some Bluebeard. In this, Shehrzade volunteers to marry the caliph in order to kill him because he had her best friend put to death as one of his previous brides. However, she didn’t expect to encounter all of the intrigue surrounding the caliph and his own perspective on the situation.
Ahdieh’s writing is lush. Seriously, I would eat everything she describes in this book. The book feels very sensual, which helps to build up the romance in terms of love, and romance as creating mystery and excitement in the reader.
Also, here is Ahdieh’s website for her pronunciation guide. I have seen her name mangled so many times, I think we should try to make a concerted effort to pronounce it correctly, especially as the sequel* is coming out this year, and because it kind of comes across as racial insensitive to not make an effort with a Middle Eastern name.
(*Also, have you seen how gorgeous the cover of the sequel is—wow!)
I have been taken with Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent series since I saw the first book’s cover and premise. A woman who throws off society’s expectations for science and dragon research? Deal me in. And those covers!
The Voyage of the Basilisk is the third book in a five book series, as Lady Trent reflects on her career and adventures. In this book, Isabella Trent takes to a ship, The Basilisk, to explore dragons far from home (think Darwin on The Beagle.) Adventure, dragons, research, scandal, and dragon-spirit marriages ensue.
Brennan is phenomenal at her world, and one of the things I love is that she definitely understands science and research. While Lady Trent’s adventures may be a little more exciting than pure science would prefer, Brennan certainly has a current background in anthropological views on non-Western cultures. This series is what I have been waiting for, a finally updated understanding of “primitive” societies as being valid in their own right, not as being hierarchical. This book was second favorite of the series (see: Tropic of Serpents below), and I can’t wait for more about the Draconians to be uncovered in the next book!