Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Stand-Out Books of 2015!

It’s that time of year again, you fiendish book lovers!

As always, I hope you had a Christmas full of happiness, warmth and BOOKS. Whether those books were wrapped up under your tree or bought with some gift cards!

Hopefully you haven’t burned through ALL your disposable income, as this my sixth annual Stand-Out Books of the Year post! You know you’re going to want to check out my recommendations…

Each year that I post this wrap-up, I seem to be recording less and less reading. Well, that is MOST certainly the case for 2015. Now not only do I have that same full-time job, but I have been doing overtime, went on a work trip and started college courses in September.

In other words… yikes!

Yet we must face that as we get older and gain more responsibilities and goals, well – our free time sharply declines. So you shall see that reflected in my numbers. 

Also: I am only presenting 19 books as Stand-Out’s this year.

Standard rules apply – the books I post here do not have to have been released in 2015 – I’ll just have read and/or reviewed them in 2015. Another customary disclaimer: these 19 books are not the only books I liked/loved in 2015 – just the ones that particularly stood out when I look back over 2015.

Let’s do this!

How many books did I read?


That's 60 less than in 2014.

How many pages did I read?


That's 19,503 less than in 2014.

How many pages, on average, did I read per day?


That's 54 less than in 2014.

Don’t let the dwindling numbers fool you, I am a bibliophile through and through! You are just witnessing the results of being a slave to that wretchedly unforgiving beast: Time.

As you read through my list of Stand-Out Books of 2015, you can click on each title to be transported - almost magically you might say - to my original review of the book.

Crisp Contemporary Fiction:

A piercingly raw middle-grade novel putting a family relationship in the spotlight, this book takes those rough growing up and pulling away moments and adds an extra dose of spice with secrets. For me, it was a gripping story that hurt and healed – lovely.

Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger

Apparently I had a thing about fractured family tales this year. Believe me, this isn’t the last one. Here we have a YA novel by the author of the best-selling The Duff (which I have now bought but have not yet read) that takes on a story of a distant side character and puts her front and center. Sonny’s habit of lying becomes more problematic than ever when she inadvertently begins an online friendship with someone who thinks she is her beautiful best friend. It’s painful, hilarious and altogether a great read about mending and hope.

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

Pretty much anything by Sarah Dessen is a winner, but to varying degrees. What I really felt stood out about this one was how we took a girl in a longstanding high school relationship that had gotten almost too comfortable and then added in a splash of a visiting city boy and the excitement it brings – if only temporarily. But the most important visitor to town is her biological father, with whom she has a strained relationship. Without going into too much detail, I thought the end to this one was really quite spectacular.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Here we embrace a girl who, essentially, lives in a hypoallergenic bubble in her own home. She’s attended by a nurse and her physician mother and is never allowed outside their specially designed home because the world, quite literally, can kill her. She’s accepted her fate in life, though, and looks at things with an inspiring positivity. Yet when an intriguing boy moves in next door, she dares to begin to want something more… This was a page-turner with a shocker I did not see coming!

Fractured Futures, Fantasies and Fairytales:

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

A wholly unique take on Cinderella, Meyer thrusts us into a creepy, enticing futuristic world where Cinder is a cyborg – a human with robotic parts. It’s a shameful thing to be in New Beijing, where full androids are nothing but slaves. She uses her mechanical savvy to provide income to her stepfamily – and this is where she meets the striking Prince Kai and learns more about the impending potential war with the mad queen of Lunar. This was awesome and I need to read the rest of the books!

The Mistborn series are some serious high fantasy stuff, people. You have to commit to some HUGE novels with a TON of characters and COMPLEX plotting. If you’re willing to be patient and committed, there’s a huge payoff in these books. I was blown away by how it kept surprising me and how intricately put together these books were. Definitely recommended!!!

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

OMG, Jasper Fforde is officially one of my favorite authors now. Wordplay, insane cleverness and just overall AWESOMENESS. What is it about, you ask? This is a society based on a hierarchy of the color perception you have. Eddie hopes to increase his aristocratic level with a marriage to a color higher than he – but his plans are thwarted by a sudden trip to East Carmine where generally held strict rules and mannerisms seem more lax and he is intrigued by a Grey. A GREY! So difficult to convey the utter perfection of this book – all I will say is that you must trust me and have a grand ol’ time treating your brain if you read it.

Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

Along the same vein as her stunning For Darkness Shows the Stars, Diana here takes on a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel. It’s a follow-up of sorts, featuring a great female espionage and romance story. It beautifully renders a sci-fi, futuristic world where a revolution of the most horror is occurring. It’s an unusual, arresting story with suspense and the unsettling ugliness of revenge. Peterfreund is fantastic.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

Twylla is the seventeen year old embodiment of the Goddess her society is centered on, which means that she is impervious to poison but can kill others simply by touching them. Due to this, she is under guard at the castle and has a position of a glorified executioner – but she tries to find solace in her faith in the Goddess. But when she gets a new, young guard who looks at her like a girl instead of a horrifying instrument of death, something stirs in her. She cannot lie to herself any longer. I cannot say more! This book ended up being SO MUCH MORE than I expected! Simply intoxicating with suspense, royal intrigue, romance and excellently drawn characters. There is supposed to be a follow-up and THERE BETTER BE!!!

This middle-grade trilogy is a fantastically new spin on fairy tales, heroes and villains, princes and princesses, love and friendship! When two best friends are thrust into the School for Good and Evil they are shocked to find that Agatha – plain and generally not people friendly – is enrolled in Good and Sophie – beautiful and perky – is enrolled in Evil. Not only is this puzzling to them but they find that they are supposed to now be enemies. Will their friendship overcome this error? These books encompass a lot more than what I wrote here but they are a mishmash of surprisingly matire character development and human insight in a world of fractured fairytales, romance and twists. Great trilogy!!

Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal

Anyone who has been a faithful reader of the Bibliophile Support Group knows that I am a HUGE FAN of Kowal’s Glamourist Histories series, which provides an alternate Jane Austen like Regency era and adds doses of naturalistic magic (a.k.a. glamour). Well, this is the final book and YES I LOVED IT. It’s huge and suspenseful and, as I wrote in my original review, gave me worse nerves than Mrs. Bennett! This an amazing end to an extraordinary series!!

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

Imagine this: It’s the 1930s and two immortal beings – Love and Death – have set their set pieces in play, who will win? Poor Henry and Flora have been selected and are in the midst of a planned game, one of many throughout the history of time. They both have dreams and goals and difficulties – and when they realize they are falling for each other all of these things only increase. Because one is white and one is black, and that is just not okay in 1937. Can they overcome the game they have been involuntarily made a part of? Gorgeously written and heartbreakingly presented, this book provided fully fleshed characters and a storyline that kept me hooked from start to finish.

Psychological Drama… or Ghost Story?

The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich

CREEPY. That pretty much sums up this one. More details? Okay fine. How about a girl with a split personality – but one where one personality comes out during the day and the other only at night, without fail. One where they are convinced it is not a split personality but rather two girls trapped in one body who call themselves sisters? What if one of them disappears? What if we know a deadly fire is going to happen and they will never find her? What then? YOU READ THE CRAP OUT OF THE STORY, THAT’S WHAT. Presented in interviews, news articles, mental health appointments and freaky diary entries this frightening novel is likely to leave you a bit unsettled!

Proof That We Should Read Books for ALL AGES

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Yes, I have seen the movie version of this – and it’s actually a pretty good adaption! But we know the truth of the matter – the book is always better! When young Coraline steps through a door in her home to find a mirror image of everything, except with weird button eye and creepier personalities, she realizes there is something sinister going on… Quite creepy and entrancing, I loved Coraline and its cleverness!

The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt

What if we could quite LITERALLY die of boredom? What if you could ACTUALLY fall through a hole in your schedule? This middle-grade novel of wordplay and subtle lessons, like The Phantom Tollbooth, shines with intelligence and readability. It’s an excellent new addition to a genre of children’s books that expects their readers to be smart and get new revelations of double meaning with each read. Great!!

Okay, there you have it! A collection of different kinds of books that I found to “stand out” this year!

Happy Reading! See you next year!!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The World Within: A Novel of Emily Bronte

The World Within: A Novel of Emily Bronte is the YA historical fiction novel by Jane Eagland.

Change is in the air. This is what worries Emily – as she loves spending all of her time with her sisters Charlotte and Anne, as well as her brother Branwell in their small, quiet village of Haworth. Their shared stories, often written down, spurs her imagination and takes her on grand adventures.

But when her father falls ill and Charlotte is sent away to school, Emily’s world begins to crumble. Branwell seems less and less interested in his little sisters and Anne may not be as dependable as Emily once thought…

The World Within: A Novel of Emily Bronte interested me in that I love historical fiction and I love Charlotte Bronte. I’ve never read Emily’s Wuthering Heights (though I do own it) and every time I start it I am put off by how much I dislike the characters. Yet I still thought this book may be intriguing.

Sadly, Eagland’s presentation of Emily’s unknown childhood with her fellow famous siblings was not very compelling. It was a very quiet, very straightforward story of siblings, with the dramatic, wild(ish) one at the center. Quiet and straightforward can be piercing and raw when done with the right words and arrangement – however, I never felt that with The World Within.

Though these words pain me to say, I found this book… boring. I kept waiting for something to happen.

Now I don’t mean vampires attacking, mind you. Nothing ridiculous. But some kind of emotion, some kind of harsh reality of life in that time period… something.

Eagland never managed to make me feel invested enough in any of the characters to relish the subtle story she writes here, unfortunately. The only part that affected me was a part involving a pet – which can almost always get to me emotionally.

Other than that, I didn’t care for the character of Emily and the lack of anything ever really happening made The World Within a book that I had to start skimming, due to the huge pile of other books calling my name.

There are likely plenty of you that would adore this book – so please do read it for yourself. I am one opinion among many, don’t let me dissuade you from giving it a try!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Should You Send Them a Holiday Card?

TGIF, Bibliophiles! has provided us with a fun flowchart to figure out who we should be sending a holiday card too.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Game of Love and Death

The Game of Love and Death is a YA historical novel with a mythological twist by Martha Brockenbrough.

Throughout the centuries Love and Death have selected their players for the great Game. And always, always, Death wins…

This time new players have been carefully chosen as they lay as infants in 1920. One a white baby boy, Henry Bishop, adopted by a wealthy family with a secured future within their expectations. The other a black baby girl, Flora Saudade, orphaned almost as suddenly as she was born and to be raised by her grandmother.

Neither knows of the Game they are now a part of.

In 1937, Henry is looking to get a college scholarship during the Great Depression and Flora dreams of soaring the skies like Amelia Earhart while singing in her family’s jazz club at night.

Their fateful meeting is the catalyst to a Game like no other.

A Game that may take turns that even Love and Death do not foresee…

The Game of Love and Death was an elegant, ambitious story told from a classic yet fresh mythological point of view. It plays with the idea of humans being the playthings of immortal gods – yet is far more than that.

Love and Death are each fully fleshed, captivating characters of their own. They are dimensional, compassionate and enigmatic. Their stakes in the Game are ambiguous and fluid. They are truly entrancing to read about.

Then we have Henry and Flora – two young people placed in a position to fall for each other when such a thing is unheard of. The odds are stacked against them from the beginning. Yet the way in which it’s written, you ache with them and yearn with them.

These are two characters whose connection may have been chosen by immortal gods but whose choices are all their own. Even the secondary, side characters – such as Henry’s cousin Ethan and even Ethan’s parents to a lesser degree, have more depth than expected.

The Game of Love and Death is a lyrical, memorable, sweeping and gripping novel that is also beautifully romantic. Yet more proof that YA can transcend the genre and be utterly readable to any age.

And, in the case of The Game of Love and Death, should be.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Lost Track of Time

The Lost Track of Time is a debut middle grade novel by Paige Britt.

With her mind full of ideas and bursting with imagination, Penelope has aspirations of being a writer. Yet her mother’s plans for her are quite different – and every minute of Penelope’s days are scheduled and planned, leaving no time for her dreaming since she must use time to be “productive.”

But when the unexpected happens – a hole in her schedule lasting an entire day! – Penelope somehow falls into it. Suddenly she is in a wonderful place called the Realm of Possibility that is being destroyed by the Clockworkers, led by the villain Chronos.

Thrust into a position where her imagination is desperately needed, Penelope begins an adventure like no other – looking to find the Great Moodler, the one person that can save the Realm of Possibility and answer her many, many questions.

The Lost Track of Time
was a charming, intelligent, warm novel of brilliant wordplay!

Anyone who is familiar with my reading habits knows I am a SUCKER for some good wordplay – such as anything written by the likes of Lemony Snicket and Jasper Fforde. Or The Phantom Tollbooth!

Well, The Lost Track of Time is along those lines but takes a fun, endearing take on time in this case. I felt for Penelope almost immediately – stuck with a mother so efficient, organized and driven that she does not allow her daughter to have any free time.

Yet I loved the fact that Penelope respected and obeyed her mother, this was no bratty protagonist! I felt that was a great message for children to see. And then the exciting moment happened when Penelope fell in the “hole” in her schedule and the adventure began!

Some really fantastic scenes pepper The Lost Track of Time, almost all of which are excellent literal personifications of terms regarding time. Really lots of fun! I wouldn’t want to describe any scenes to you, because you need to read it for yourself.

And though I felt the end was a LITTLE abrupt, it was also poignant and optimistic. Truly a good novel that makes me interested in more from Paige Britt.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Little Friendly Advice

A Little Friendly Advice is a YA contemporary novel by Siobhan Vivian.

When Ruby’s long absentee father shows up unexpectedly at her sixteenth birthday party, her old buried emotions come bubbling up to the surface.

It hasn’t been that long that Ruby has been okay, or at least thought she was okay, with her father’s abrupt leaving of her and her mom. The experience had left little Ruby with a fractured childhood, warping her behavior in such a way that only time and her best friend Beth were able to get her through it.

Yet with his sudden return, Ruby wonders how much of that messed up girl was just hidden away in the recesses of her mind – because she feels as though her life is spiraling out of control once again.

So when Ruby gets the hell out of her apartment where her dad is standing, to try and enjoy what is left of her birthday, her friends – devoted Beth, daring Katherine and telltale Maria – have all sorts of advice and thoughts as to what she should do.

It’s only when she meets new boy Charlie that she feels like someone is just listening, not telling. But Ruby’s reality only gets worse when she finds out that her friends may not be as helpful and as truthful as she always believed…

A while back I read Vivian’s The List and was blown away. It was a searing fictional commentary of the various emotional struggles of a teenage girl and the realization of the futility of what seems ever so important to them. It was memorable, disturbing and gorgeously written.

I believe A Little Friendly Advice is a bit of an older title from the author, newly reprinted to have a similar cover to The List. In fact, my understanding is that this is Vivian’s debut novel.

So, though I could recognize some of the insightful, deeper aspects of the characters in A Little Friendly Advice, the dynamic was not nearly as powerful here. I found the psyche of Maria and Beth intriguing – as you read the book you’ll see what I mean – and to be honest I would have liked to have learned more about them and how they became how they are. Yet, this book didn’t delve into that.

All focus was on Ruby. Though I sympathized with Ruby to an extent, it was difficult for me to do so much. She came across as overdramatic, childish and hurtful. Though her mother obviously made many mistakes, also, the casual cruelty she treated her with made me dislike her often. Yes, Vivian excels at imbuing her books with that unsettling reality of human flaws and failures, but it was difficult to get behind Ruby for the duration of the story.

Also, the relationship between her and Charlie felt a bit rushed and – dare I say? – convenient. I’m not saying all of this was bad – far from it – just not what I was expecting from the author of The List.

Revelations were effective and there were moments you could really glimpse where Vivian would go as an author, but as a whole A Little Friendly Advice fell below my expectations just due to the fact that I believe the author’s writing skill improved with time, as well as her plotlines.

Still a good, introspective read however!