My Top 10 Books Read in 2015

First off, Happy New Year! I hope you all have a wonderful year. Remember that mathematically, this year will be greater than last year: 2016 > 2015.

A few days ago, I did a special year-end countdown of my Top 10 Songs of 2015. Now it’s New Year’s Day—the first of the month when I usually post a Top 10 list—and I intend to start an annual tradition with the Top 10 Books I Read and Reviewed during the previous year.

Note that the release dates of the books don’t matter—one of the books on the list came out in 2012. All that matters is that I read the book in 2015. I reviewed 24 books, and I gave ten of them five-star reviews. But there are eleven books—you’ll see how I did that—on this list.

No matter how many books are listed here, it wasn’t easy to put them in a countdown order. I knew which one was my favorite of the year, and I knew which would be #10 because it’s the only 4.5-star review on the list, but everything in between was a challenge to arrange. I reread my original reviews of the books—which you can read by clicking on the cover images—and juggled the list around until I got something that felt right. To my author friends who have books on this list, please know that where you’re ranked matters less than the fact that I absolutely loved your books enough to include them. There’s some fantastic storytelling represented here, and I’m hoping people use this list as strong book recommendations!

 

SPOILERS MAY BE AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

 

#10 – The Bird with the Broken Wing, by D.L. Richardson

I absolutely loved Richardson’s vision of purgatory as a rehab center, but which of the three main characters—suicidal “Jet,” Post Traumatic Stress Disordered Ben, or slightly OCD Rachael—really need the treatment the most? The story is cleverly told through varying third-person points of view of these three main characters as they navigate their inner demons and the bizarre hospital they’re in. But what really elevates the book into my top 10 is its ending with all its hope and redemption, particularly how cleverly Richardson intertwines the characters’ ultimate destinies.

 

#9 – Son of a Mermaid (Book One: Descent & Book Two: Defiance), by Katie O’Sullivan

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000032_00038]Shea McNamara didn’t know he was the titular son of a mermaid when a tornado destroyed his Oklahoma home and killed his father. He moves to his grandmother’s house on Cape Cod and meets precocious neighbor Hailey and alluring teen mermaid Kae. The first book deals with Shea discovering his lineage and getting involved with undersea intrigue. The second book introduces Zan, a conflicted antagonist, who kidnaps Kae as bait for the evil Demyan to get Shea. I’m including the two books together as one long story, with the second book more complex than the first. The major characters show growth as they deal with more difficult situations, and I look forward to O’Sullivan’s third part when it comes out.

 

#8 – To Nowhere, by C.E. Wilson

To Nowhere Final CoverDespite a warning from her boyfriend Wyatt, Lyris enters the strange room in the abandoned house next door and is literally whisked up into a giant adventure. The door is a portal to another world populated by giants, and the adult resident of the house sells humans brought through the doorway as pets. Fortunately for Lyris, she was found by compassionate teenager Brindt. Wilson cleverly creates a language barrier between the two, which leads to misunderstandings. Lyris just wants to go home instead of living in a glorified hamster cage, and Brindt just wants to protect her. Giants are an underused creature in YA fantasy novels, but Wilson creates an interesting world not too unlike our own with four major characters whose clear objectives are at conflict. Can Lyris and Brindt learn to trust each other?

 

#7 – The Headhunters Race, by Kimberly Afe

The Headhunters Race Cover - SMALL imageI highly recommend this book for fans of YA dystopian contests. Teenage prisoner Avene enters the titular race to avenge her mother’s death and how up her stepfather, Governor King. The task: bring back the head of King’s son Gavin, who supposedly murdered Avene’s mother. The terrain is treacherous, there are cannibals, and the racers wear collars that gradually constrict around their necks (great ticking clock element!). Avene is accompanied by fellow racer McCoy, and some romance may develop. But it’s Afe’s game-changer of an ending that dropped my jaw and made me rethink the motivations of certain characters and hope for a sequel soon.

 

#6 – The Girl Who Never Was, by Skylar Dorset

Selkie Stewart’s life was a little odd to begin with. Her mother is missing, her father institutionalized, and her two aunts try to stop the gnomes from repositioning the furniture. But when she addresses her crush Ben by more than just his first name, Boston Common starts disappearing and the only safe place is the nearby Park Street subway station. Then things get really odd. It turns out that Selkie is a fairie—the Fay of the Autumnal Equinox—and her long-lost mother heads the evil Seelie court that’s trying to take over the Otherworld and the Thisworld. As much as Selkie doesn’t fully understand what’s going on around her, the reader doesn’t always, and that irreverence was the charm of the book for me. Dorset has a sequel, The Boy with the Hidden Name, which was also a good book, but this first part was a wonderfully fun ride.

 

#5 – Drawn In (Paper Dreams Chronicles, Book 1), by Sioux Trett

CoverRennie is grieving the death of her sister and is spending time away in Southern California with her best friend Maia. Maia has plans to fix Rennie up with this guy, but Rennie is already interested in another guy (of whom Maia disapproves), and there’s a third jerky guy who hits on her, and then there’s the fourth guy in Rennie’s dreams who she feels immensely comfortable but he may not even be real—or he may be someone she already knows. Convoluted love polygon aside for a bit, Rennie has been experiencing vivid, lucid dreams of another place, and she eventually learns she may actually be going to that other place! She’s a Traveler between the worlds, and one who’s significant there. The book is filled with pop-culture references and lots of heart, especially in the friendship between Rennie and Maia. Even more impressive is how Trett manages to tell a complete character arc yet still set things up for a highly anticipated sequel.

 

#4 – My Rebellion Checklist, by Susan Soares

rebellionchecklist-soares-ebooksmallAlready on this list there have been guardian angels, mermaids, giants, fairies, and other fantasy creatures and/or situations. This is the first (and only) book based fully in contemporary reality on this list. Victoria’s world has just spun out of control after a car accident, a breakup, and the news of her parents’ impending divorce. She was a sticky-note, color-coordinated, checklist lover, but why be perfect if bad things happen anyway? So Victoria starts calling herself Tori, quits her job at her father’s office, changes her fashion and hair styles, and embarks on other such rebellious acts on her oxymoronic rebellion checklist. Soares allows her protagonist to make mistakes—even some big ones—in her search for her true self. Even when Tori isn’t doing the right thing, Soares keeps her completely likeable, and the supporting teen cast behaves and speaks believably like real teens.

 

#3 – In a World Just Right, by Jen Brooks

This book took me completely by surprise. Jonathan was one of three survivors of a plane crash that killed most of his family and left him badly scarred. Years later, as a senior in high school, he’s a loner and is in danger of not graduating. However, the crash has given him the power to create alternate worlds to whatever parameters he chooses, and he spends much of his time in one of those worlds—a world where Kylie Simms is his girlfriend. But one morning he forgets which world he’s in, and he almost kisses the real Kylie in front of her locker! With other people watching! Matters get even more confusing when Kylie’s actions and feelings in one world transmit into the other as dreams, inspiration, even déjà vu. Now the real Kylie is interested in Jonathan, and he fears he’s cheating on his girlfriend with his girlfriend even though she never really was his girlfriend. Brooks masterfully plays this scenario and adds twists such as another world-maker and a way to merge the Kylies. The theme of making and/or missing opportunities is taken all the way to an unexpected but wonderful ending.

 

#2 – Every Day, by David Levithan

I had wanted to read this book since I first heard the premise a couple years ago, but I didn’t get around to it until spring of 2015. I’m so glad I finally read it, and it has made its way into my top 10 traditionally published books of all time (a list for a later date, perhaps). The main character simply goes by the name of A, and A wakes up every day in a different person’s body. The rules that A has discovered are that the person will be in close geographical and chronological proximity to A’s current location and age. The book starts with A jumping into Justin’s body and falling in love with Justin’s girlfriend Rhiannon. After that, A stops being just a passive observer in people’s lives and does everything to be with Rhiannon, even if it means temporarily derailing their lives for a day. Each chapter is a different day, and A bounces through different genders, races, lifestyles, body types, personalities, and situations. As Rhiannon gets to know A, she develops feelings and A treats her better than Justin, but she has difficulty accepting A’s various outsides even though she loves A on the inside. It’s an intriguing premise, expertly handled by Levithan, and the themes of identity and true love resonate from beginning to end. A companion piece called Another Day, told from Rhiannon’s point of view, came out in 2015, and it’s something I hope to read this coming year.

 

And finally, MY FAVORITE BOOK THAT I READ THIS YEAR…

#1 – WATERS OF CHANGE: GWENDOLYN FALLING, by Amy Astorga

WatersOfChange1Cover“A young adult urban fantasy that will redefine mermaids” was the claim made in the product page. Yeah, mermaids top this list, and rightfully so because Astorga’s usage of mermaids in this story was unexpected and symbolic and astounding, even for this mermaid aficionado. Main character Gwendolyn has just gotten engaged to her boyfriend Ryan when her best friend Emma arrives to gloat about the new guy she’s in love with. Gwendolyn tries to tell Emma that it’s too soon to declare him Mr. Right if they literally just met, and Emma leaves in a fit…and then is never heard from again. The mystery of Emma’s disappearance sets events in motion, and Gwendolyn withdraws away from her boyfriend while she’s drawn to the ocean and the mysterious Marcus. Though it’s a love triangle, it doesn’t feel like the kind you usually find in a YA book. All three of them have motives they keep secret from one another, and the two whose narration we read (Gwendolyn and Marcus) both harbor inner conflicts for what they’ve done and what they’re doing. Like some of the books above this, I love how even when the characters’ ethics are at their murkiest, they’re believably relatable and interesting and crackling with life and depth. Astorga builds the conflict throughout the book to a chilling confrontation, a reveal of mermaids rife with symbolism like I’ve never seen before, and a cliffhanger that blew me out of the water. And like a few other titles on this list, I’m desperately waiting for the next part.

 

If you haven’t read any of these wonderful books, I urge you to pick some or all of them up.

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