In this edition of Top Ten Tuesday I’ll be counting down my most recent five star (or otherwise highly rated) reads. This was an exceptionally fun post to write, as I get to recommend the books I believe everyone should look out for on their upcoming trip to the library or bookstore. There were a lot of other great reads I could also have included, but for the sake of consistency I limited it to the last year as my rating scale has drastically changed since I began reviewing. I also think this is one of those posts that has a lot of potential for viewer input, so I would love to know what your own latest favorite reads are/your thoughts on my own picks. Also, before the post begins, can I get a hats off for uploading on time? (silent claps)
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Tied closely with Wolf By Wolf as my favorite book of 2015, I’m shocked at how little I’ve mentioned this gem in previous posts. It quite literally offers readers from every walk of genre an aspect to satisy their cravings, starting with the AMAZING characters who are by far the book’s strongest point. With five different point of views and six main individuals it can be a bit overwhelming but I can’t imagine the story being told any other way. Trust me, no one was more shocked than myself, as I historically hate multiple perspectives- finding them muddled and undeveloped. Leigh Bardugo is such a talented author though that I hardly noticed and embraced the challenge of learning everybody’s complex personalities and quirks. This may be a bit of a strange thing to say, but having never read Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy I was very confused at first by the extremely complicated magic system/world order…and I sort of loved that feeling??? I just had such a fun time piecing everything together and drawing my own conclusions. Within a hundred pages though I had everything figured out and it was smooth sailing towards a finale that blew my mind, while having me reel for Crooked Kingdom in September.
Wolf By Wolf by Ryan Graudin
Why is it that the books you love most are the most struggling to find words to describe? Everything I’ve written previously about Wolf By Wolf seems an insufficient comparison to the way I felt reading, almost an injustice to the way it influenced any future stories I tell. That’s right, this seemingly bizarre book about shapeshifting motorcycle races in Axis powered 1956 made me (potentially) a better author. For starters I’ll never describe a setting the same way again, as Graudin’s use of several layered and multifaceted worlds made me realize how meek mine were in comparison. She never let a space go undescribed or a scene left in shades of gray, always taking the time to flesh everything out in movie like precision that made the story so much stronger for it. That mantra continued into her character development, as protagonist Yael is rich and complex- someone you want to give a hug…but would likely break your nose for it. Then there’s the supporting cast, from the other racers to the five ‘wolves’ that shaped Yael’s present self. Some I liked, others not so much but no one was ever written off as just a player in the background. And then the ending happened, shattering my heart, blowing my mind, and leaving me to gush about sequel Blood For Blood until it comes out on November 1, 2016.
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
One of my most frequent reading resolutions is too tackle more classics off my TBR. Usually nothing happens with this until September of that year (such is this case) when I pick one of the less intimidating books off my shelf. For once though I can say my procrasination and laziness paid off as I discovered The Chocolate War as an amazing book I won’t soon forget. Despite being published in the mid-1970’s it truly does not show its age, a hurdle much assigned reading can’t seem to get over. I think this timeless quality allowed me not to focus so much on the writing, but instead on the symbolism and themes throughout. I was further aided by the ever trusty Sparknotes, which I enjoyed reading as I finished each chapter to see how they analyzed each character, scene, and dialogue. Though I may not have much to go off of, I believe few classic can compare to this frequently challenged testament of corruption. Now, on a semi-unrelated note, I’ve heard mixed things about Robert Cormier’s follow-up Beyond the Chocolate War and am afraid if I read it to subpar feelings it may ruin the first book for me. Has anyone out there read and enjoyed it?
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
I am a huge fan of Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments and Fangirl, but had routinely avoided reading what many consider to be her best work to date. Not having lived in the ‘80’s I was worried a lot of the appeal older readers found would be lost on me, and the thought of my go to favorite Rowell disappointing me was too hard to bear. In the end though I’m glad I put my trepidations aside and decided to give Eleanor & Park a try, as it is my favorite work of hers to date and one of my top picks for 2015. I love the way Rowell never shyed away from making difficult, but ultimately satisfying, decisions for the sake of realism in her story- and gave both Park and Eleanor the space to grow both separately and together. My biggest fear, the setting, was actually what I believe to be the strongest point of the entire book and what sells it to so many readers. Instead of being potentially alienating, all the 80’s references are generally mainstream enough to be accessible to everyone; creating a very rich world I couldn’t look away from. Though I know the camp is small, if you haven’t read this book it must move to the top of your to-be-read priorities.
Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez
Out of Darkness has to be the most emotionally draining book I read all year. The plot is just like sucker punch and sucker punch right to the feels from page one to the epilogue. All the abuse to my tear ducts came largely from Ashley Hope Perez’s beautiful writing prowess. Perez clearly has a talent for making readers feel all the feels, and I only appreciated it more as an aspiring writer. By the stories penultimate chapter even a description of the arid Texas landscape was enough to send me into fits of sadness, as I knew that this safe haven for characters I’d come to love was quickly about to be incinerated. I felt deeply not just for the beautiful love of Wash and Naomi, but the moving sibling dynamic Naomi, Beto, and Cari share as well; the knowledge this would soon be gone was deeply heartbreaking from the get go. This great character and conflict development was only furthered by the introduction of a historical setting meticulously researched and presented with much love by Perez. A must read for historical fiction lovers looking for a tale previously gone untold.
The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg
I picked The Porcupine of Truth up on a whim, to fill a hole in my reading with what I anticipated to be a been-there-done-that type of a story. Afterall, the whole shebang (plot and characters included) are young adult staples; road trip to find mysterious relative=key to solving all problems, poor communication, nerdy white guy with serious baggage, and the exotic/illusive girl way out of said guys league he will pine after the entire trip. Shockingly though, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. What sets this book apart from others is the direction Bill Konigsberg takes with coming to his resolution; nothing is ever cut and dried with readers being given the knowledge to make their own decisions on religion, sexuality, and what it means to be you. Oh, and did I mention that Konigsberg is hilarious? Well he is in a way that strays from the John Green archetype increasingly prevalent in contemporaries, and unique totally to him in its LOL blend of satire, sardonism, and cheesy jokes.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
The Wrath and the Dawn is my favorite fairy tale retelling of ever, incorporating a modern and unexpected spin on the classic Arabian Nights tale it draws origin from. Not only that but the love interest? Swoon and ship worthy in an oft-underappreciated slow burn style romance. The true MVP of this gem though belongs to protaganist Shazi, a spunky and one of a kind young woman with tenacity for days. Really, as a mere teenager she volunteers to avenge her best friend’s death at the hands of a tyrannical overlord, facing the threat of execution at every sunrise. Through her intelligence she manages to survive night after night by telling stories to the Caliph, tales that conveniently reach the height of conclusion right as Shazi’s end is imminent. Not only does she outwit her captor, but confidence seemingly radiates off her-only further beguiling the residents of the palace. Unlike a lot of other books where the so-called tough as nails heroine is really a wilting violet, Renee Ahdieh routinely proves Shazi is more than just the sum of her parts. I loved this, and am so glad I have less than a month to wait before The Rose and the Dagger comes out.
The Girl with the Wrong Name by Barnabas Miller
There are so many people I could imagine loving this tantalizing thriller; from reluctant readers, to adults looking for a mature young adult pick. But more than anything I would say this book is perfect for that one indie reviewer out there looking to brand the next Gone Girl before it was cool. And trust me, I think with the proper amount of Goodreads love this one can easily manage to earn that distinction. It’s psychological thriller at the finest, with three interwoven mysteries running concurrently as readers try to separate fact from fiction. Protagonist Theo Lane is a great character, and one of the most well done cases of unreliable narrator I’ve ever seen. Her muddled narrative mixed with sleight of hand on Miller’s part meant my usually spot on sleuth skills were mute in cracking this sordid deception. I was putty in this talented authors hand until he decided it was time for me to know the whole picture. A well crafted story for even the nontraditional mystery readers out there.
Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
The best book I’ve read recently, the behemoth size of its 500 plus pages did nothing to put me off from the great story Passenger contained. In fact, had the book been any shorter I doubt Alexandra Bracken could have fleshed out the characters, setting, or conflict in the same pitch perfect way. Her world building is thought provoking and impeccably researched, incorporating science fiction aspects to support the time travel theme, while also showing the sheer amount of detail that went into crafting the historical periods our protagonists travel too. And don’t even get me started on the characters! 21st century Etta and colonial era Nicholas have to be cutest, most ship worthy fictional couple ever, of which I totally adored with or without the other half of their dynamic duo. Throughout the arduous journeys I never doubted their ability to come together and find true love, showing that flaws only make characters more adorable.
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
Not since I read The Night Circus three years ago have I enjoyed a tale of magical realism so much. Normally I would hate having such little knowledge of reality vs. fantasy, but Laura Ruby’s debut expertly weaves in semi-linear plot with a cohesive storyline that hooked me from the get-go. This is in large part to the multiple point of views; specifically Petey and Roza. The two girls at the heart of Bone Gap really are what kept the book from descending into pointless madness, and their richly colored characters raised interesting points on inner/outer beauty. I also enjoyed the incorporation of rural Bone Gap, Illinois; home to some unsavory but dually fascinating people that were at times an eery reflection to my own life in the small-town Midwest. Definitely a story I never expected to enjoy, but one that made all the difference in the many hit-and-misses I’ve had recently with the genre.
So what did you guys think of my list? Agree, disagree? Or do you have some of your own picks for me to add to my TBR? Let me know in the comments!
-Keep Calm and Read On