Best Books of 2015

Books due out in 2016 (but read in 2015)

False Hearts (False Hearts, #1) by Laura Lam

I’ve been lucky enough to beta read for Laura, and have even read through the second book in this series (not out until 2017 hence it’s not in this blog post), currently called Shattered Minds. The is the type of book that is hard to write anything about because it just has so MUCH (or the internet says, ‘all the feels’). This is very, very fantastic, I love it, I need more and I don’t want it to be over. The characters are addictive, the world is enticing (I love realism with touches of futuristic science fiction) and thrillers are always impossible to put down. Highly recommended, bring on June, and Laura, I still want more Oloyu at some stage!

Books read and published in 2015

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

This was a novel I rated highly because I liked what it did and it felt different, however somehow at the same time I was a little disappointed (so great start to this Best Books post, eh? Stick with me…) It felt like it was shorter than it needed to be (in a plot/character way, rather than ‘oh that was so good I wish I had more’ – though a bit of that too), though it remained fascinating and I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s probably more the fact that I liked what it did, so I would have liked to see it expand on everything a lot more, rather than show a seemingly small snapshot.

Zeroes (Zeroes #1) by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, Deborah Biancotti

I’m a fan of all three authors, having read their work extensively. I was so dang excited for this book to come out and then surprisingly, despite the hype I got myself into, I still wasn’t disappointed. I’m so glad this is a series!

This is a character driven book, which are my favourite. The tidbits we get of the world were interesting and made me want to know more, but ultimately I can’t wait to see these characters again, see where they get to, see what battle they need to fight next. This is exciting and written with such an elegant hand (well, hands) that it takes the overdone superhero novel and makes it zingy and fresh. They’re all portrayed in an incredibly powerful way – and the best thing is that we get to see several instances of their powers manifesting. I’m hooked! I need more!

The Voyage of the Basilisk (Memoir by Lady Trent #3) by Marie Brennan

In this book Lady Isabella Trent joins the Royal Survey Ship Basilisk with a range of duties, whether it’s to pursue her own dragon-hunting, capture examples of other bits and pieces of wildlife for another rich lady back home, or survey islands not yet charted completely. The ship she is on does other bits of cargo work when there’s time, and all in all they’re kept rather busy – even when there’s not a storm throwing them into life-threatening difficulties. Different from previous installments, in this piece her son Jake becomes a major character which certainly adds more depth to it all, and really centers this novel around a family affair.

This series just keeps going from strength to strength. This book leaves me desperate as always for the fourth book where we’ll get to go to the deserts of Akhia.

Ophelia: Queen of Denmark by Jackie French

I love Jackie French’s writing – this is a lovely book for younger readers that tells the story of Ophelia in a way that’s neither dull or simply full of information dumps. Hamlet’s family stab, poison or haunt one another and yet Ophelia somehow still strives to plan a sensible rule, one filled with justice and the making of delicious cheeses. Even if she has to pretend to be mad to make it happen, Ophelia will let nothing, not even howling ghosts, stand in her way.

Jackie makes history accessible to readers of all ages, even managing to mix in the spiritual and making it realistic, and I can’t recommend her historical fiction enough.

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike #3) by Robert Galbraith

One thing Galbraith does very well is layers – he manages co-running plots that interweave yet also stay abundantly clear, even when there’s an element of mystery and the reader, along with the detectives, isn’t quite sure who the villain is. Another thing that’s done well is the balance of personal and private – the professional lives of Robin and Strike and how they conflict at times. How they have opinions on the other’s personal lives they aren’t entirely welcome to have, and how this can turn out sometimes – in fact, especially when they go wrong. Everything about this series is really well done – I mean, no surprise as Rowling keeps getting better and better, but still, it’s worthwhile to comment on.

This is another series that’s going from strength to strength, and I can’t wait for the fourth book!

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant

Sufficiently creepy and well-written – I could really go for more in this world. The characters were lovely and you didn’t want to leave them, even after only seeing them for such a short time. At only 100ish pages this is a fairly short piece, but Grant is one of the strongest writers of our current time so you could pick up anything she’s done and be amazed.

Wolf By Wolf (Wolf By Wolf #1) by Ryan Graudin

I love alternate history. This is set as though WWII had quite a different outcome in the most terrible way – the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule the world in harsh and cruel ways, and have since hosted a motorcycle race across half the world to show off their best followers – ten chosen from each sector.

This makes for a fantastic book. It’s awful and electric and the ending is so perfect that I somehow didn’t see coming – I can’t wait for the second book! The writing is deliberate and lovely, and I’m really quite interested to see what else Graudin comes out with.

Magonia (Magonia #1) by Maria Dahvana Headley

This is a book that reminds me in part of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Main character Aza lives in the same world we all do, however it’s like she’s drowning in our air. Sick all her life but surrounded by a fantastic family and a quirky lovely best friend (who is amazing, by the way), her life is suddenly turned around completely. The world building is exquisite and now I want to re-read this one all over again. It seems we may just get a second book in 2016, which would be amazing.

Fool’s Quest (The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy #2) by Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb is right up there in my top handful of favourite all-time authors and her books are always full of so much that it’s dang hard to review them – you almost need to break each book down into a trilogy of discussion to do it justice. What can one possibly say to summarise without spoiling and yet still manage to somehow capture the all encompassing feeling of best book of the year without it just being a whole lot of keysmash?

We already know that Hobb isn’t exactly kind to her characters. Starting this book is a bit exciting because you’ve finally got more work of a favourite author to read , but you’re also slightly apprehensive because you just know the poor characters we love are going to be broken just a little bit more. And we weren’t wrong. This is such an epic, fantastic book that manages to break all expectations no matter how high they are, I just can’t explain how much I love this amazing author.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

This one was just like her first book – beyond amazing. Lawson explains and discusses mental illness like few others manage to. She’s a wonderful person, startlingly real in a realm of ‘no one else can be as fucked up as I am’. She gives this a voice and a connection, showing many/most people with mental illness feel the same way and can relate. When you read her work you realise you’re not as alone as you sometimes feel, and you get painful gasping laughs at the absurdity (who knew laughing that much could hurt!) and the magic Lawson has with words as a bonus. I can’t recommend her books enough, I really can’t.

Tower of Thorns (Blackthorn & Grim #2) by Juliet Marillier

As we know, Juliet Marillier hasn’t put a foot wrong yet. Her work is a joy to read, weaving fantasy and fable together to result in strong plot and characters, with such a strong sense of self. This is the kind of book you can’t stop reading, and it makes you desperate for the next. Blackthorn is such a strong, amazing character who is intelligent, wise and passionate (in her own way), determined to do what is right even when it seems impossible.

This was one of my favourite books for 2015.

Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu

This was a book that was a little awkward to read as for a few years I attended a church that is… really quite close to the church seen in this book, so reading this certainly made it all come back, and I can comprehend what the leaders are thinking when they put in place all these ‘guidelines’.

For that, this book is really excellent at capturing everything fairly. These people are honestly trying to do what they deeply feel is best – they’re not malicious, cruel people. However… well, this book neatly shows all angles of people trying to do what they think is right and how that can cause others to react… so yes, amazing book.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This book was such a thing of beauty though with lovely descriptions and dialogue, excellent female characters, a romance that manages to seem new and different even though it’s a bit of a trope, and a plot which takes unexpected tropes so I was still surprised by the ending somehow.

This book had everything. I adore the ideas used within and I’m honestly surprised this book hasn’t won all the awards this year. This is a must-read for fantasy lovers and even those who don’t often read fantasy – it’s just that good. And it’s a stand-alone novel! Not many of those around in the fantasy genre!

Letters to Tiptree by Alexandra Pierce (editor), Alisa Krasnostein

This one was a special book. I help Alisa out with her publishing house where I can, and visited in the last month of getting this book finalised and out there, so I certainly saw this book through every stage of its creation and only read it when we were at the point of a final proof – when we had initial copies in our hands ready for the launch.

This should be read in conjunction with the biography James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips for a full view of who Tiptree was, and what she achieved. Letters to Tiptree collects thoughtful letters from thirty-nine science fiction and fantasy writers, editors, critics, and fans in celebration of Alice Sheldon’s centenary, and explores the issues of knowing someone only through their fiction or letters, sexuality and gender.

Of Noble Family (Glamourist Histories #5) by Mary Robinette Kowal

This was the end of a five-book series, and blows the previous books out of the water – what an ending! I can’t believe that this is over – even though it had a very satisfying ending and was one of my favourite books in the whole series – even though the previous four were pretty darn amazing themselves. Parts of this had my heart in my throat (such a charming expression) because they’ve become some of my favourite fictional couples and I just couldn’t believe the lengths Kowal bravely took them to.

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

This was a book highly recommended from a few friends, and on reading I could instantly see why. The characters in this are raw and real – Sebby is all a bit wow. You feel so much for these characters and what they’re going through, and at the same time you just think wow, they’re so young. The diversity in this book is excellent as is the issues they deal with. The ending however… hrmm.

A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab

Now this one was a book I’d been eagerly anticipating for ages. I love Schwab’s work, and when this started to get pushed and pushed by media and the publisher I began to get a little worried. Sometimes I’ve noted that books pushed to a certain level by publishers aren’t always my cuppa tea.

Thankfully I was pleasantly surprised by this – I can breathe a sigh of relief in the confirmation now that Schwab never disappoints and I can’t wait for the second book, and I already want to re-read this again to see what I could have missed in my blitzy can’t-put-this-down read because I certainly read it far too quickly.

The Just City (Thessaly #1) by Jo Walton

This was a hard book to review. I could talk plot and characters and writing, sure, but what makes this novel incredible is something I know so little about, and I suspect there was a lot of clever stuff going on that went over my head as I know so little of the original material. In this book, Apollo and Athene attempt to build Plato’s Republic but also join the city themselves, reborn as children. They take over ten thousand children who are all roughly ten years old who were to be sold as slaves. They also take a few hundred adults from all over time who are all incredible and were either under-valued in the time, or were too excellent to be left to die in their proper time and put them together in the city, to see if Plato’s vision could be possible.

What we get is an amazing book that I still struggle to describe. It’s just – y’know, read it.

The Philosopher Kings (Thessaly #2) by Jo Walton

Carrying on from the previous entry, the second in the series is also utterly brilliant. Though Walton is another author who isn’t afraid to do impossible cruel things you’re not expecting for the sake of narrative. In this, the goddess Athena has gone off in a huff and their wonderful philosophical experiment are starting to break off into factions and war which results in a rollicking good read, and leaves the reader desperate for the third.

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Now this book was a very beautiful, wonderful novel. A bit uncomfortable if you’ve been in (or are in) a similar situation but ultimately so perfect because it somehow manages to capture all of it – the awkward suffocating interactions with everyone else, and so forth. What I really loved was the communication between the two main characters, especially how they bickered – this was how you knew they were connecting as good friends and ‘getting’ each other. I can’t recommend this book enough – I just wish it had a better cover.

Between Worlds: The Collected Ile-Rien and Cineth Stories by Martha Wells

This was a collection of short stories set in her Ile-Rien and Cineth worlds. This made me desperate to read the rest of her books, and the lack of ‘read them in this order’ help on her site meant I soon went on to other books instead. Do I read in publishing order? Series order? Grumble.

But back to this – you can easily enjoy it if you haven’t read any of her other work and it provides a nice introduction and sample of her writing – then you’re lucky enough to have many series ready and waiting for you if this is your style. Every single short in this collection is very readable, and none were skipped.

The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below (Stories of the Raksura #2) by Martha Wells

As with the one listed above, this was also excellent – if you’re not really one for short stories and you want to do novels instead and want a new fantasy author to love, start with ‘The Cloud Roads’ then come back here and flail with me.

This collection of short stories was enjoyable and made me hunger for her other work – this collection was even more than I was hoping it would be (which is saying a lot) – especially the part right at the end. You know what I mean.

Cranky Ladies of History by Tehani Wessely

This was an anthology of cranky ladies of history – right what it says on the cover! This is an anthology of short stories, mostly historical fiction with a handful that have a few speculative elements also, featuring excellent authors from Australia and elsewhere. This is going to be great for schools as well as adults, and certainly taught me a thing or two about history.

Insert Title Here by Tehani Wessely

Tehani Wessely reports that this is the darkest anthology she’s put together. Having read most if not all of her anthologies, this certainly caught my attention. On reflection having read this, I would have to agree – here we have an anthology where every single story is heart-breaking or grim or absurdly strange and wonderful, and all are incredibly read-able. Several of these short stories demand full novels set in the world using that idea or world-building, and all make me want to look for the author’s other work (if I haven’t already!)

Sometimes in anthologies you find a short story or three doesn’t manage to capture your interest or you just can’t bring yourself to continue reading it… in this anthology however, each and every single story is as strong as the next, and all were supremely readable. Tehani Wessely has done a stand-out job with this anthology!

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

Now this was another book I’ve been waiting a long time for – having read her second while judging the Children’s Book of Australia Awards and then devouring her first because of the excellence that is the second… so as soon as I saw this was out for review I jumped on it… and I wasn’t disappointed. This book deals with high school and culture and not wanting to disappoint your parents, but what do you do if they don’t quite ‘get it’ in this new country?

Required reading also includes ‘Wildlife’ and ‘Six Impossible Things’, her previous books which aren’t a series but involve the same characters.

Books read in 2015 (yet published 2014 and earlier)

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Read for Hugo voting purposes, this was a very slow but very enjoyable read. I think it took me over a month for some reason, even though I loved it throughout – I could read for an hour and somehow only get through 4% at a time. Strange! But it’s an excellent book, and while I have no doubt that The Three-Body Problem was excellent, I really wish this book had won.

This is about a young goblin, motherless (and fatherless) and hated by the rest of his family, and yet through certain events he still becomes Emperor. We see him struggle his way through and get to be someone incredible.

Unfortunately this is a standalone – there will be no sequel, but possibly a companion novel with some overlapping characters, as per the author’s website.

Ruin and Rising (The Grisha #3) by Leigh Bardugo

This was the end of a series I kept having to re-read every time a new book came out – I just couldn’t keep the plot or characters in my head once I’ve put down the book. Maybe I read too fast because at the time it’s just that good, but then it means I’m speed-reading and not retaining anything… who knows. I loved all three; this really was a very engaging and lovely series, and this had such a satisfying ending in a very sweet way – with all the doom and gloom throughout the series you hardly think it’s possible.

Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming

This was a quick read because you just couldn’t put it down – it was heart-breaking and endlessly fascinating. Suggested by friend Kat when I re-read Craig Ferguson’s bio, I devoured this in less than a day. Highly recommended – though I guess most memoirs are only interesting if you know of the person first.

American on Purpose: The Improbable Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot by Craig Ferguson

What an amazing life Craig has had – it’s so good that he managed to get on top of it all and survived to tell the tale. He’s fantastic at writing, keeping it interesting and funny yet also showing how hard it must have been, how sad and so wretched. I enjoy watching his show more now, knowing what he’s come through and from.

Let the Land Speak: A History of Australia – How the Land Created Our Nation by Jackie French

This book took me almost a year to read, but it’s probably the best account of Australian history I’ve come across, and has such a wealth of knowledge within. Mostly on how the flora and fauna that are special to Australia has had a part in shaping Australian history, I admit I was slow to get around to reading this, and then finally slogging through it. I got for Christmas 2013 and finally decided to make a damned good effort to read it on the 1st January 2015, and finished it 1st December 2015. It was slow going because there’s so much to take in on every page, but it’s a worthwhile read. It’s going to be one of the books I wrap carefully in plastic and keep for a very, very long time.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

This is probably the most inspiring book I’ve read in years. Col. Hadfield has an excellent way with words, clearly having spent ages trying to explain things most people have never and will never experience in a way where we can not only understand but comprehend what he’s trying to get across. I was lucky enough to see him live in August 2015 when I visited my friend, Alisa, and from here I can’t get enough of his work – look him up on youtube, the seemingly simple things he shows us about space are excellent.

Basically, he’s been up in space as part of the international space station which is a job he aimed for ever since he was a young child and became a jet pilot and a lot of other things along the way to get there in the end. It’s endlessly fascinating what it all involves.

New Avengers: Breakout by Alisa Kwitney

This novelisation is listed as a ‘dramatically different take on Brian Michael Bendis’ blockbuster Avengers comics debut’ – I found this through Tansy’s review on Galactic Suburbia (she’s always excellent if you need recommendations for all things geeky.)

This isn’t going to win any awards for great literature, but it could easily win on the ‘fun’ scale – Kwitney really captures the characters well, and inserts loads of little geeky references that shows Kwitney knows her stuff. I just wish the cover was better! I certainly wouldn’t have picked it up, and I would have actively avoided it if it weren’t for Tansy’s plug. Seriously, it does a disservice to what is a really quite excellent bit of fun. Especially recommended for fans of Hawkeye and/or Black Widow.

James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips

When working on Letters to Tiptree for Twelfth Planet Press, this came up as basically the required reading. Any information about the excellence that is Alice Sheldon left you hungry for more, and this biography is the perfect place to start. For those who know her for her work in science fiction, look into her life more – that was the tiniest bit of her amazing life – among other things she was a World War II intelligence officer and a CIA agent. From her childhood to her death, she was an amazing woman.

Every Word (Every #2) by Ellie Marney

Out of the trilogy, this is my favourite book – usually the second book is the weakest! The events in this book leave our characters even more broken than the first book, and closer to each other for it. The adventure, action and dramatic situation that takes place manages to be realistic in how they get out of it, which is a bonus – it would have been easy for the plot to have rolled out of hand yet this remains in character and effective throughout. Being set in England gives it that extra slice towards the Sherlock Holmesian nature that really works.

The Hero and the Crown (Damar #1) by Robin McKinley

This was a book I really should have read a long time ago, but I was late getting into speculative fiction and have sadly skipped a lot of the initial required reading that’s out there. This, I was a little hesitant to get into, thinking it would be a bit obvious having already read all the books that would have been built and inspired on from books like these… but I was pleasantly surprised to really, really enjoy it still.

What works best in this novel is how we see Aerin achieve everything. It’s a hard slog, it’s believable and she’s incredible for what she manages to do. It shows her inner strength, the luck she has, those who assist her throughout and how she learns from it all.

Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

This is a book that originally came out in 2013 through Garth Nix’s agent who has her own publishing house (I think that’s how it is anyway), but has since been re-published by Allen & Unwin, and is a third longer. Inspired by Georgette Heyer it’s a regency style novel set a little in London and mostly in Brighton, England, a town I know quite well. It’s an enjoyable quick read with a firey main character and a bit of cross dressing and high-jinx as things go terrible wrong – mix that together with Nix’s elegant hand at writing and you have a winner! I wish there were more in this style by Nix.

 

Skin Deep (Legion #2) by Brandon Sanderson

Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson is the second in the Legion series, about a man who has a ‘unique mental condition (that) allows him to generate a multitude of personae: hallucinatory entities with a wide variety of personal characteristics and a vast array of highly specialised skills.’ Basically, any information he takes in – even if it’s in audiobook form played at x5 speed, shall be allocated to one of his entities who will then be able to process and use that information, and rely it back to him. This is SUCH an excellent and fun series that it’s close to being my favourite work by Sanderson – which says a lot, seeing what he comes out with. I hope there’s more!

4 thoughts on “Best Books of 2015

    • I’m glad I finally got around to it! And I had no idea Addison is a pseudonym of Sarah Monette… but yay! Means a whole lot of other books to try out :D Especially the ones she writes with Elizabeth Bear!

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