My Favorite Reads of 2015 Part 1

Apparently, I haven’t posted about books (not including Chinese readers, obviously) since May 2015. May 2015!! (Ok, I did post about graphic novels a few weeks ago, but there were only two.) So, since I read 140 books last year (humblebrag), I think I read enough to give some qualified recommendations.

So, here then are my favorite reads from 2015 in no particular order. For brevity, I consolidated series into a single entry and links will be Amazon affiliate links to the first book in the series. Also, this is only part 1 because otherwise, the list would be even more overwhelming.

1) Black Wolves by Kate Elliott – Set in the same universe as her Crossroads Trilogy, this fantasy novel is awesome for the following reasons: people of color as the main POV characters; older women and men as the main POV characters; intrigue; betrayal; and heartbreaking story. So excellent.

Since The Very Best of Kate Elliott by Kate Elliott is by the same author and has several short stories that will flesh out this world, I also highly recommend this particular book. It will also give you glimpses in the worlds of her other series and includes several of her essays that I have found illuminating in terms of discussing culture, women, gender, and people of color (among other things) in world-building and why that is important.

2) The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson – What happens when your nation is conquered and destroyed by an Empire?Destroy it from within, of course. And through accounting! This book was utter perfection. I’m sure I’ve missed at least half of the clues and tells, but dammit all if it doesn’t make me love this book more.

Brutal. Heartbreaking. Fantastic.

Also? POC main characters. (You’ll note this is a theme for many of my favorites for 2015.)

3) The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin – It’s the end of the world. Again. The first of a new series, I sobbed. Sweeping and epic. There are “mutants” and slavery and all sorts of heartbreak. The style might take some getting used to, but it is totally worth it. Again, POC main characters (as well as a WOC author).

4) The Martian by Andy Weiss – One of the rare occasions where I watch the movie before reading the book. The book was every bit as hilarious as the movie – and I LOVED the movie. Botanist/astronaut gets stuck on Mars. This is the story of how he survives.

5) The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu – Epic new series based on the Chinese Warring States period, it was so weirdly awesome to read of characters that had cultural touchstones that were familiar to me in a deeply Chinese way. I would have preferred more women and a different ending, but loved it all the same. The book was a slow build, but I did love the vast array of characters and plots and intrigues. I was sad by the way a lot of the story went, but I think it was realistic in terms of how people would react and behave.

In case it wasn’t clear from the description, POC everywhere! and POC author.

6) The Broken Empire Trilogy by Mark Lawrence – Full disclosure. I almost threw away the first book after reading only about 15 pages or so because the main character, Jorg, is so despicable and casual about rape. However, since there are no graphic descriptions of rape or violence, I was able to push my initial revulsion aside.

The first book, Prince of Thorns, is the weakest in the series and I thought it was just okay enough for me to want to know what happens next. King of Thorns and Emperor of Thorns are SO GOOD. Totally worth wading through the first book to reach the conclusion.

Lawrence wrote a companion trilogy, The Red Queen’s War, that is 2/3 of the way done and is worth reading, too. Knowledge of the first trilogy isn’t necessary, but it is definitely fun to see how things connect.

7) The Chew by John Layman and Rob Guillory – I review this series more fully here. The series features a Chinese American cop who gets psychic impressions from the things he eats. Full of violence, absurdity, and lots of profanity and sex, Tony Chu is a BAMF and really entertaining to read.

8) The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi – A near future tale that at its heart, is a murder mystery/thriller. Bacigalupi paints an extremely bleak view of the future and drought conditions of the West. However, his writing is fantastic and you guessed it: more POC and WOC characters.

An excellent companion book to this novel is Bacigalupi’s Pump Six and Other Stories. Full of short stories in his various worlds, they give you a good glimpse into his writing. Also, prepare to be utterly disillusioned with life. (But totally a great collection of stories. Really!)

9) The Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett – A series of five (the last one is supposed to be published in 2017) that begins with The Warded Man. Again, the first book is the weakest in the series, but was interesting enough for me to continue. (Granted, it’s quite a long book to wade through, but it is satisfying enough.)

The Desert Spear, book two, is really where Brett takes off and it just doesn’t stop. Also, the endings just get more and more WTF in a “Wait, I have to WAIT HOW LONG UNTIL THE NEXT BOOK??” kind of way. I’m just grateful most of the books were out so I could just plow through them one after the other. I’m pretty sure I lost a week or two to this series.

10) The First Law Series by Joe Abercrombie – Though many people do not enjoy how the series ended, I ultimately think the books are all still worth reading. The fight scenes are exhilarating, the characters are not so much lovable – but I still loved them. Gritty and full of bite.

Ok. That should be enough for now. Never fear, book lovers. I will have more on Wednesday. Now get to reading these books! (And all at once!!)

Yes, Another Post Wherein I Talk About Books

Since I love books, it only makes sense that many of my posts are going to be about books and their authors. If you don’t like reading, so very sorry. However, I’m sure you know people who enjoy reading – and maybe they would enjoy some of these books and their authors. Since I’ve had a reader request for YA books/authors, and YA is one of my favorite genres, we’ll focus on that today.

YA (for those of you not in the know, stands for Young Adult) is one of my favorite genres because more than any other genre, it focuses on story and plot and has a fast pace. The language is usually very clear and simple (which is not the same as simplistic) and there (usually) isn’t an excess of sex and/or violence. The protagonists are usually in their teens and while that may make for some annoying quirks in the characters, it also allows for a lot of growth. Also, there is the unfortunate tendency to have long, belabored love triangles that don’t resolve until the end of a trilogy. The trend lately has been dystopian (thanks, The Hunger Games), but there was YA long before that came into fashion.

Here then, are some authors and books I recommend. As always, the links are Amazon affiliate links.

1) Neal Shusterman – Fantastic writer of some incredibly moving and poignant series. The most famous of his series starts with Unwind, a world in which abortion is outlawed but between the ages of 13-18, a parent can choose to “unwind” their child by transplanting every single part of their body into willing recipients. There are three scenes in this book in which I defy you to not break down and weep hysterically. I also highly recommend his series that starts with Everlost.

2) Marie Lu – A newer author, so far she has only written the Legend trilogy (the final book dropping on November 3). I appreciate that she is an Asian author as well as the fact that her characters are of mostly mixed heritage. But that’s not why I like her writing. Her characters are tightly written and I particularly love June. It is also a rare thing when the second book is better than the first. I can’t wait for the conclusion!

3) Agatha H. and the Airship City by Kaja and Phil Foglio – Originally a web comic, the two books are the novelized form of a few of their stories. Steampunk in all its glory – and most importantly, the main character is a girl genius whose primary goal is NOT A BOY. That is supremely refreshing. I HIGHLY recommend both books. It took me a few tries to get into the first book initially but once I got past the first few pages, I was hooked and read it in all one sitting.

4) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – I have no idea whether or not Wein has written anything else. But OMG, this books is amazing (and NOT a dystopia). WWII, spies, women, and friendship. Oh, and the judicious use of ALLCAPS makes it my kind of story! FANTASTIC. Although I initially was reluctant to start, once I did, I never looked back. I really cannot tell you more without spoiling the whole thing – and it’s so worth NOT being spoiled. It’s one of those books that you have to re-read immediately (or at least, flip back through the book) to catch all the hints/red herrings. This book makes full use of the unreliable narrator trope. AWESOME.

I will not lie. I sobbed gross, messy, snotty sobs near the end. Gross. Messy. Shameful. Sobs. I cried so hard, I woke up Hapa Papa who sleepily pet my hand to tell me it was ok. (What a darling.)

I stayed up until 2am TWO NIGHTS IN A ROW. I had two small children at the time. It was worth it.

5) Megan Whalen Turner – Her The Queen’s Thief series is excellent (and also not a dystopia). It starts off with The Thief, which is good, but the rest of the series just gets so much better. The main character, Eugenides, is hilarious and has some of the best lines. My absolute favorite in the series is The King of Attolia.

6) Paolo Bacigalupi – Again, I appreciate an author who writes as if people of color are also in this world. He doesn’t make a big deal out of it, but it is so refreshing. I can’t wait for the day when that is no longer a distinction to note. But until then, it’s another plus in Bacigalupi’s favor. However, the reason I enjoy him has nothing to do with that. His stories are exciting and wild. My favorite is The Drowned Cities. Technically a sequel to Ship Breaker, it is not necessary to have read the previous book. SO GOOD.

7) Shannon Hale – She may be more famous for Austenland, but I found her through The Goose Girl several years ago. Again, I’m a sucker for a female protagonist – especially if it’s an alternate version of a familiar fairy tale.

8) Tamora Pierce – It’s been awhile since I’ve read her books but there is a scene from her book, The Woman Who Rides Like A Manthat consistently stays with me. Ok, it’s not a particular scene, but the whole section is imprinted on my brain. I constantly forget who wrote it and what it was about, but every time I think of a fantasy novel with a strong female lead, it pops into mind. Make of that what you will.

Side note: Many of these books I heard of from Orson Scott Card, one of my favorite writers. I have found that in general, I trust his recommendations and I would urge you to check the reviews out for yourself. I have found that if an author I like is genuinely recommending a book (versus just pimping out a book or an author to get reciprocal props), it is definitely worth looking into.

You’ll note that I left off some of the more famous series such as The Hunger Games and Divergent. These books are doing so well and are made into movies so I think they’ll be just fine. The books are excellent, of course, but they hardly need my signal boost. I focused on some lesser known authors and I hope you give them a shot.

As always, once I get going on books, it’s almost impossible for me to stop because there is always just one more book that I need to tell you about. I love books and love to tell other people about them. If you want more recommendations, just check out my Goodreads young adult bookshelf.

What about you? What books or authors did I leave off that you think I’m clearly an illiterate son of a whore for doing so? What would you recommend I read? Let me know it the comments.