2015 Best Of

Welcome 2016!! 
I am in serious shock that we've already jumped headlong into a new year. And while I have consistently neglected this blog, I thought I'd do a wrap-up post for 2015. Mostly because I discovered some truly amazing books that I've been dying to gush about. Also, because I'm OCD and like my year all nice and tallied up. 

In 2015 I read a respectable 141 books. And while I continually bemoan ebooks, 53 of those were digital - which goes to show how my reading trends are headed. The rest either came from the library or my personal stash. 

And here goes my best of's for 2015:

Best OzYA:
Every Breath, Every Word by Ellie Marney
I'm pretty sure Maggie got me curious about this series on IG and I'll be forever grateful. What if Sherlock Holmes was a brilliant Aussie teenager named Mycroft who runs a criminology blog, and Watson a girl named Rachel Watts, recently moved from the country, who befriends Mycroft at school? In the hands of Ellie Marney, you get MAGIC. I'm still a mess over it all frankly.

*I'd add Every Move to the list too but seeing as I don't live in Aussie-land, I haven't read it yet. YET.

Best Brilliant Spy series: 
The Lion Hunters series by Elizabeth E. Wein
As my trusted blogger-friend Chachic affectionately calls him 'Gen-in-Africa,' Telemakos is a force to be reckoned with. His wiliness and loyalty hooked me in The Sunbird but the entire series left me utterly wrecked as it explored politics, family and even the legend of King Arthur. Please, PLEASE EWein! Write more Telemakos!!

Best YA Fantasy Caper:
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

So so soooo good. Featuring Kaz's brilliantly led band of motley outlaws (some even with magical powers) pulling off an unforgettable heist. Lots of unexpected twists and CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT like they just don't make anymore. Plus, it comes in one of the prettiest packages you'll ever find. 

Best YA Mystery:
Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly

Yet another unexpectedly good YA debut about a socially misfit yet utterly brilliant teenage Sherlock-type and his unsuspecting straitlaced side kick who get caught up in goofy yet terrifying real life sleuthing. So terribly witty and hmmm...I'm sensing a pattern here.

Best THE FEELS!! Contemporary YA:
I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

I'm not ashamed to admitting that I gulped this one down in one go. Josh and Skylar's dreams of escaping small town CA each take very different forms yet together their rough edges make sense of all the unexplainable tragedies that life manages to throw their way. Their story hit me in all the tenderest spots in the best possible way.

Best I am a Woman, Hear me ROAR! book:
Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer

I don't know how Liza Palmer manages to get better with each new offering but she does. She puts pen to paper to every single reason why women read and what it means to be an unashamed part of a community. There was so much power in her words that I went around for days afterwards with the words 'Just BE' rolling around in my head.

Best Middle Grade you're gonna need a tissue book:
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

I don't normally go for MG books, but Katherine Applegate is a known quantity with her stellar The One and Only Ivan and after hearing so much about Crenshaw (a little boy facing homelessness and hunger joined by his imaginary GIANT cat) I just couldn't resist. It was profound without becoming overly heavy, but just don't forget the kleenex.

Best "I'm Going to Have to Science the Sh*t of This" book:
The Martian by Andy Weir

Another category of book I don't usually pick up but the premise (and reviews) made me change my mind: an astronaut stranded on Mars with only his formidable brain and wicked sense of humor to help him survive. Surprisingly, the copious math didn't bother me and I was holding my breath along with everyone else to see how he'd make it back home. And I'm happy to report that the movie was just as fabulous as the book. Which wasn't hurt at all by a shirtless Matt Damon.

Best Unexpected May/December Romance:
What I Did for a Duke by Julie Anne Long

NOT a book I would have normally picked up but it wound up stealing my heart nonetheless. SO MANY tropes that I thought I would hate it (the cover! the title! the revenge plot!...) but in actuality it was so very wonderful. Witty, honest, and just all around lovely. Also, the hero may have resembled Richard Armitage in a cravat just a titch...


Honorable Mention goes to a series recommend by the delightful YAckers who pushed me towards Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey which I read start-to-finish while on the plane to Switzerland this summer. Unfortunately, said binge reading released a flood of big, ugly tears (why did no one warn me?!) which caused the COMPLETE STRANGER sitting next to me to shove handfuls of those tiny papery napkins at me in alarm. Good times.

So apparently I either enjoy a certain type of book - quirky Sherlock-esque mysteries with twists and unexpected developments or the publishing industry is trending in that direction heavily. Hmmm. Whichever it is, I'll take it because they were all just fantastic. 

How about you? What books made your best of list for the year?

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

The Fault in Our Stars, it ain't.

The premise of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is this: Greg and his friend (we'll just call him a friend), Earl, make these terrible homemade movies. And then Greg gets roped into hanging out with Rachel, who has leukemia, because he can, inexplicably, make her laugh. Shenanigans ensue, oftentimes unplanned and life-ending-ly embarrassing (Heh. Terrible pun there).

This book is bananas in the best possible way. Hilarious and irreverent and just so exactly what high school is like. I never understood those kids who say they loved high school. It is just the. worst.

Case in point, here's one of my favorite totally random, ridiculous scenes taken from dinner one night starring Greg's all too-real family. By the way, Gretchen is 14, which will explain a lot:

Meanwhile, at home, Gretchen was going through this phase where she could not make it through an entire meal if Dad was at the table. This was in part because Dad was going through a phase of his own wherein he couldn't stop pretending to be a cannibal. If we were eating anything with chicken in it, he would pat his stomach and announce, "Huma-a-a-a-an flesh. TASTE LIKE CHICKEN." This caused Gretchen to burst into tears and stomp out of the dining room. Things only got worse when Grace started doing it, too, which was insane, because a six-year-old pretending to be a cannibal is one of the greatest things there is.

I have no idea WHY this is even in the book but it is AWESOME and gives you a pretty good idea of Greg's warped sense of humor.

Although how in heavens name they made this into a movie (especially with that little paragraph about THAT EXACT possibility in the epilogue) without it turning into a majorly R rated film due to constant profanity, I'm not sure. Cause you know, teenage boys don't always talk like roses (especially Earl). But I really want to see it.

Best of 2014

Happy New Years friends!

2014 was an awfully grand year -- it brought me a lovely baby girl which might be the reason I managed to only read 108 books. Despite that number being on the smallish side, I feel like I was a lot more selective about the books I chose and really discovered some winners. I also did quite a bit of rereading old favorites (Melina Marchetta) and binge reading on particular favorite authors.

Due to my complete neglect of this bloggy, I thought I give a quick recap of my favorites of 2014. 

Best Series Finale (sort of)
Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews
I say sort of because while it is book seven and technically the resolution to the series, Ilona Andrews still has yet another three Kate books yet to come. Huzzah! Books from this series continue to top my yearly best of lists and it's no surprise. Magic Breaks nicely wrapped up Kate's first encounter with her god-like father Roland in a totally unexpected and ultimately satisfying way. Keep the good stuff coming.

Best Short Story Collection
Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs
Patricia Briggs never disappoints and Shifting Shadows was a perfect chance to get inside of the heads of many of my favorite supporting characters since the series is usually told from Mercy's or Charles and Anna's POV. Some, like Warren, I knew I'd love their story hands-down but Ben's tale totally blindsided me. That one made my little geeky heart light.

Best Space Opera
Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach
2014 was the year of the Sci-Fi novel for me. It all started with this book as a  recommendation from Ilona Andrews. Devi is the best of kind of brash, in-your-face fighter who would never apologize for being anything other than who she is. A bit fanatical about her guns and specialized armor, Devi has this profound sense of loyalty and honor that belies her first impression as a brainless fighter. She's quick and clever and never afraid of taking charge. And I love her to pieces.

Best New (to me) Author Discovery
The Truth of Valor by Tanya Huff (Confederation series)
Coming hot off my Fortune's Pawn hangover, I once again have to thank Ilona Andrews for pointing me in the direction of this outstanding series about a group of space Marines led by the indomitable Staff Sargent Torin Kerr. Danger, wit, fuzzy space reporters, and a tough-as-nails female military lead. Just. Read it.

Best High Fantasy
The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson
Wrapping up the Mistborn series, Vin and Elend get their final battle and boy, was it EPIC. I only have to conclude that anything Brandon Sanderson writes is solid gold.

Best I-had-no-idea-I-would-love-this-book-so-much Book
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
A story about a dog and his race-car driver owner? Not something I would normally read, but then again Enzo is not your normal dog. Make sure you have the tissues handy though.

Best Witty Romance
Nearly a Lady by Alissa Johnson
Cute and funny love story with an adorable hero whose self-depreciating humor won me over faster than you can say 'Regency.'

Best YA & Best Cover
Jackaby by William Ritter
That silhouette! Gah! Such an atmospheric cover and the insides happily match. It's an unusual mix of a genius detective a la Sherlock set in turn of the century America populated by paranormal creatures hiding in plain sight. Good things indeed.

Biggest Author Binge
Susanna Kearsley and Mary Stewart
I had been trying to parse out Susanna Kearsley's books for just the right time, but wound up blowing through every single title in her backlist in a matter of weeks after baby #3 was born. After that, I then proceeded to devour all the Mary Stewarts' I hadn't read to date and wound up with a severe book hangover that proved murderously hard to beat. I did manage to save two single Mary Stewarts' to read at a future date because I just can't imagine not having another of her books to read for the very first time. Such are the problems in my little world.

And that, dear reader friends, is my 2014 in books. What titles caught you this year?

Guest Post: Amour et Florand

Grab your dark chocolate and join me at Chachic's Book Nook today! I've donned my smarty pants glasses for the occasion and will be dishing on all things romance and Paris (le sigh) as part of her fantastic Amour et Florand series. à bientôt!

Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach

Devi Morris is one ambitious mercenary. Having reached the highest rank possible in the elite fighting squadron the Blackbirds (unless she wants a cushy desk job that is, which she doesn't), Devi has set her sights on becoming one of the toughest armored fighters in all of Paradox: one of the famed Devastators. Which is why despite warnings of certain doom she decides to follow a lead and signs on with the trader ship the Glorious Fool. A ship that has a reputation for turning out Devastators after just one year of service -- at least the ones that make it out alive. But for Devi, this fast-track to her ultimate goal could prove deadly if she isn't careful. Lucky for her she's never been one to shy away from a long shot.

Ever since I became hooked on space operas (I'm looking at you Linnea Sinclair and Ann Aguirre), I have been utterly disappointed by the serious lack of quality books in this particular genre. Many, many thanks to one of my favorite authors Ilona Andrews for bringing Fortune's Pawn to my attention. If I didn't already love them for Kate Daniels, I would for this book alone. I cannot even begin to gush how incredible Fortune's Pawn is. It's stellar. Out of this world. Annnnd I'm gonna stop now. Just know, it's fantastic. Devi is the best of kind of brash, in-your-face fighter who would never apologize for being anything other than who and what she is. Although she is a bit fanatical about her guns and specialized armor, Devi has this profound sense of loyalty and honor that belies her first impression as a brainless fighter. She's quick and clever and never afraid of taking charge. And I love her to pieces.

Once aboard the Fool, Devi comes face to face with a perfectly eccentric and unique group of otherworldly crew mates: there's a giant bird-like creature who serves as navigator, a ship's doctor whose species who tends to look upon humans more as snacks than as patients, and a handsome cook who is decidedly good with more than just a saucepan to name a few. It's this supporting cast who add layers of humor and intrigue to an already brilliant story which makes Devi's journey so much more enjoyable.

The action is non-stop and I was constantly on the edge of my seat at whatever new catastrophe Devi had flung herself headlong into. Throw in some space travel and nightmare inducing aliens and I was hooked good. Happily, Devi has just barely begun unraveling all the mysteries surrounding her new captain and crew mates. Just please, someone get me Honor's Knight pronto! I have to know how Devi gets herself out of her latest fix like, now.

Series reading order:
~ Fortune's Pawn
~ Honor's Knight
~ Heaven's Queen

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
The Book Smugglers review
Cuddlebuggery review
Fantasy Book Critic review
Impressions... review

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Susanna Kearsley is a recent discovery for me and I have been slowly going through all of her backlist and simply adoring each new story. So it was with extreme joy that I began Kearsley's latest, The Firebird. Adding to my excitement was the fact that it was to be a continuation of the characters from not just one book - but two (The Winter Sea & The Shadowy Horses)! I just love it when authors overlap stories that are not originally connected.

Here's the synopsis (via Goodreads):
Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes glimpses those who have owned it before. When a woman arrives with a small wooden carving at the gallery Nicola works at, she can see the object’s history and knows that it was named after the Firebird—the mythical creature from an old Russian fable.

Compelled to know more, Nicola follows a young girl named Anna into the past who leads her on a quest through the glittering backdrops of the Jacobites and Russian courts, unearthing a tale of love, courage, and redemption.
The Firebird had all the potential for a book that I would absolutely love:

2. an art historian heroine
3. one handsome Scotts hero

Not to mention one of the *best* opening chapters I have EVER read. Seriously, it was perfect. Read it here and see if you can resist the rest.

I am sorry to report that somehow all that fabulous potential just didn't connect for me in the end. Although I did LOVE Anna and her travels from Scotland to France to Russia; the historical background on St. Petersburg, usually distilled with such care and detail by Kearsley, seemed more like an info dump in this book. And while the relationship between Nicola and Rob was sweet, it just didn't have the same snap and sizzle that I've enjoyed in Kearsley's previous books. Thankfully, we are given a lovely conclusion to Anna's story but I really wanted more time with Rob and Nicola -- if only to clear things up between Nicola and her grumpy grandfather. If Ms. Kearsley wants to go back and do his story, I'd read that in a flash. In short, I just wanted more from Nicola. It was like this fascinating character was dangled before me but only part of my questions were answered in the end.

series reading order:
~ The Shadowy Horses(loosely connected)

because everyone likes a second opinion:
Between the Covers review

The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King

I am not, by any stretch of imagination, a reader of mystery novels. But sometimes I stumble across an author who just happens to combine the right amount of atmosphere with unique characters and I'm utterly helpless to resist. Like with Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey series. Or practically anything by Mary Stewart. Once again the stars have perfectly aligned and have brought me another winner: Laurie R. King's The Beekeeper's Apprentice. It's the first novel in a series featuring a young orphaned girl called Mary Russell who happens to stumble across Sherlock Holmes in his retirement. Holmes immediately recognizes a fellow savant -- albeit one many years his junior -- and Miss Russell's continued visits to the detective spark an unusual partnership full of unorthodox lessons and later, intrigue.

Now I am not a devoted fan of Sherlock Homes (other than a slight addiction to the Benedict Cumberbach and Martin Freeman version, that is). So if The Beekeeper's Apprentice had been written as a 'Sherlock' book with Mary Russell as a supporting character a la Dr. Watson, I would never have become as engrossed in the story as I did. Happily it was not. Shifting the POV to Mary's perspective gives the reader such a open look at England during WWI and the changing roles a woman faced during that time. Not to mention all the early forensics work Sherlock teaches Mary. Fingerprinting, soil identification...fascinating stuff. Also! There are plots and schemes to be unraveled which of course kept this reader continually in awe of watching the true brilliance of Mary's agile mind unfold under the tutelage of Holmes.

Perhaps most notable is that Mary comes into her own by the close of the story, not simply functioning as a protege but a true, valued partner to Holmes, for which I am ever so grateful. Furthermore, Laurie R. King does a superb job introducing suspense and letting her characters stop to feel the tension, rather than just plow through the action. Such subtle yet realistic treatment of emotions are the basis for the lasting connection forged between Mary and Sherlock that I am happy to discover continues on for many books more. I believe I've found a new favorite friends.

series reading order:
~ The Beekeeper's Apprentice
~ A Monstrous Regiment of Women
~ A Letter of Mary
~ The Moor
~ O Jerusalem
~ Justice Hall
~ The Game
~ Locked Rooms
~ The Language of Bees
~ The God of the Hive
~ Beekeeping for Beginners
~ Pirate King
~ Garment of Shadows

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
A Striped Armchair's review
BookLoons review

Twofer: Blade Song & Night Blade by J. C. Daniels

Like many of you I often find myself reading books based on the reviews of others. There are, however, a few reviewers I trust implicitly, so when I received a recommendation from one of my favorite book pusher friends Angie, strongly suggesting I pick up Blade Song and Night Blade by J. C. Daniels like, right now, well, you can be sure I sat up and took notice. And since I read both books in a matter of days (really, you could probably count it in hours), I'm gonna post this review as a twofer. Because I'm thoughtful like that.

As a private investigator serving the supernatural community of East Orlando, Kit Colbana takes on all sorts of jobs -- well, at least until business gets better she does. Delivering messages, a little light spying, missing persons; her half-human blood and her own brand of magic enables her to do it all even if some cases suit her tastes more than others. But from the moment a particular shapeshifter strolls into her office, all charm and assurances of easy money, she wants nothing to do with this particular case. That is until she learns it's about a missing shifter teen -- Kit has a soft spot for runaways -- and that someone might be targeting such runaways does she reluctantly agree. And like everything else Kit dives into, trouble is hot on her heels as she fights to simply get the kid -- and herself -- out of it all alive.

Whew. That rather generic cover (ho hum...another scowling girl with a sword) for Blade Song did not prepare me in the slightest for what J. C. Daniels had in store for Kit or myself. Kit Colbana is a force to be reckoned with. She is brash and damaged but not cliched, her demons are absolute but Kit just. doesn't. quit. Ever. She's scrappy and mouthy and she can freaking hear her sword singing to her. I'm quite partial to women whose favorite accessory is a sharp sword. Combine that with a bitingly smart tongue, Kit is no push-over. Which is exactly what she needs to be to hold her own against the more powerful shapeshifters and vampires headed her way. All that rigorous training as an assassin she endured as a teenager coupled with her expertise with an enchanted sword proves that Kit is more than a match to those deemed of 'superior' strength. Throw in some seriously witty dialogue and terrifyingly non-stop action and I admit to falling fast and hard for this first installment of the Colbana Files. I couldn't wait to return to this gritty world and thankfully was able to jump right back in with Night Blade, already queued up and waiting for me.

***SPOILERS FOR BLADE SONG*** I wouldn't do this to you normally, but go read the first book already. Then we can discuss Night Blade. Trust me, you aren't going to want to miss this one.

Time has passed since Kit rescued the missing shifter teens and Damon (the charming cat shapeshifter mentioned above) became the alpha of clan of cats. Still settling into their new and thrillingly serious relationship, Kit is starting to find a small bit of peace and even happiness with Damon. Not without bumps of course, but they wouldn't be Kit and Damon without bumps. Still, she'd do anything for Damon which is why when a former flame turned government worker drops a case into her lap she can't refuse, Kit is faced with the terrifying prospect of having to clear Damon's name -- or else. To make matters worse she can't talk to anyone about the case -- again, or else.

If I only had one word to describe Night Blade to you it would be gutting. Seriously J. C. Daniels is a genius for penning a book so filled with layered emotions and the complicated consequences of fighting for those you love that it simply left me reeling. I mean, Blade Song was good but Night Blade? Night Blade is freaking dinner. So much happens in this book that it boggles the mind how deftly J. C. Daniels was able to juggle all the threads with equally strong results. And unlike my first gut reaction to all the secrecy involved, Kit's inability to come clean with Damon just made the story all the more compelling - not less so, as I would have predicted.

One thing I adore about these books is the assortment of friends Kit collects along the way (in addition to the one man force of nature known as Damon Lee): Damon's ward Doyle, the scarily helpful witches, Damon's best friend - the shadowy Chang, not to mention all the misfits from Wolf Haven. All combined, this motley collection gives Kit support when she least expects it but when she typically needs it the most. But the heart and soul of Night Blade really is Kit and Damon's complicated relationship. She's half-human, he's an alpha shapeshifter and when their worlds collide it's of the supernova variety. That said, they work so well together -- charming and overly protective on both ends, just expressed in their own explosive way. Which is why I'm going to be purposefully vague and simply say: I was so so so not prepared for that ending. I just...next year is an awful long time to wait for Broken Blade. But you better believe I'll be there all the way.

series reading order:
~ Blade Song
~ Night Blade
~ Broken Blade (January 2014)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
Angieville review (book one & two)
Fiction Vixen review (book one & two)
The Romanceaholic (book one & two)
Tynga's review (book one & two)