Favorite Books of 2015

I was planning to make a top ten list, but was having too much trouble narrowing it down in a way that didn’t make just about every book fall into a particular category written by a particular author. Instead I will be listing my favorite in each category.

Note that this is a list of favorite books I read in 2015. Not all were published in 2015.

Young Adult Fantasy

23437156

Picking a book for this category was hard. It was a close call between this book and several others especially the Seven Realms series and later too books in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series.

In the end I chose Six of Crows because it has so many different elements that were well executed as discussed in my review.

Adult Fantasy

17332218

Words of Radiance is the second book in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive series which is part of the Cosmere, which is the larger fictional universe in which Sanderson’s adult fantasy novels take place.

I read just about all of Sanderson’s currently published Cosmere works this year, and I am now a huge fan. It was hard to chose only one, but this is my favorite Cosmere book so far.

I would not, however, recommend readers start with Words of Radiance, not just because its the second book in a series, but also because it’s hard to get through books in the Stormlight Archive for readers not used to long books. Starting with Mistborn: The Final Empire or Warbreaker might make Sanderson’s work easier to get into.

I have not yet reviewed Words of Radiance, but I have reviewed the first book, The Way of Kings.

Middle Grade Fantasy

13228487

I have always loved books about dragons, and look for novels with nonhuman narrators. For these reasons, this book written from the perspective of a young dragon was almost exactly what I was looking for.

If I had read this book while I was part of the intended age group it would probably have become one of my favorite books ever. As it was, I still enjoyed it enough to make it my favorite for this category, and I plan to continue with this series.

Young Adult Sci-Fi

23395680

Choosing a favorite for this category was hard. In the end I chose Illuminae in spite of the fact that I had a little trouble getting used to the formatting at the beginning because the second half makes up for the first. I have not yet written a review, but hope to soon.

Adult Sci-Fi

18966819

Really enjoyed this book. Have read it around three times now. Golden Son is the second book in the Red Rising Trilogy. I have reviewed both Golden Son and Red Rising in which I express my enjoyment.

Middle Grade Sci-Fi

13376

This book is in the hazy area between YA and MG, but for the purpose of this list I will consider it middle grade. This book was very thought provoking, and I think it would be a great novel for discussion in a book club or classroom. It’s also the only book I’ve read set in Mexico, even if it is called something else in this novel.

Contemporary

18075234

This book is unlike anything else I’ve read. So different that I haven’t been able to compose my thoughts into a review. It’s hard to adjust to the disjointed way the story is told at first, but once I adjusted this book was heartbreaking and thought provoking.

Classic

10518145

I’ll admit that I don’t enjoy classics as much as some people seem to, but I really enjoyed reading and learning about the symbolism involved in this one. The fact that a large canvas painting/picture of myself I’d forgotten about arrived soon after I’d finished was a coincidence that finalized making this one of my favorite classics.

Non-Fiction

6493208

This book was shocking for me because I had no idea any of what it discussed was taking place in the medical community. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks explores the ethical questions of who owns body parts after they have been removed for medical reasons though the true story of Henrietta Lacks and her decedents.

The Hunger Games: Random Characters Edition

So today I decided I would have a little fun in (well, fun for me, not for them), type some of my favorite characters names into a Hunger Games simulator, and see what happens in honor of the recent release of the Mockingjay Part 2 movie. This post is the result.

The simulator I used was: http://ripred.net/gamessim.php, but if you search for “Hunger Games simulators” on the web you’ll find there are many more out there.

*Disclaimer: This post simulates the deaths of some beloved fictional characters. It’s just for fun and not to be taken seriously. I did not create the random generator nor am I affiliated with it, and The Hunger Games is a book series by Susanne Collins which I am also unaffiliated with.

While listing contestants the cover of the books the characters are from will appear before the characters from that book are named. My comments on the random generator’s outcomes will appear in blue. The generator’s original text will appear in black.

Contestants

15839976

District 1 Male: Darrow
District 1 Female: Virginia “Mustang”

1268479
District 2 Male: Vasher
District 2 Female: Vivienna

68428
District 3 Male: Elend Venture
District 3 Female: Vin

22055262
District 4 Male: Kell
District 4 Female: Lila

18798983
District 5 Male: Khalid
District 5 Female: Shahrzad

7235533
District 6 Male: Kaladin
District 6 Female: Shallan Davar

16096824
District 7 Male: Tamlin
District 7 Female: Fayre

15863832
District 8 Male: Raffe
District 8 Female: Penryn

8490112
District 9 Male: Akiva
District 9 Female: Karou

11235712
District 10 Male: Kai
District 10 Female: Cinder

764347
District 11 Male: Connor Lasiter
District 11 Female: Risa Ward

7896527

District 12 Male: Chaol
District 12 Female: Celaena Sardothien

Day 1

Chaol killed by Vivienna

If this happens before the events of Warbreaker then I am shocked, but if it happened afterwords this makes perfect sense due to spoilers. 

Connor Lasiter killed by Lila

It was only a matter of time before Connor died. Connor is a survivor, but he’s also one of the only people here lacking both magical powers and combat training. 

Lila killed by Khalid

Well Lila only kind of has magical powers in a complicated spoilery way and only very informal combat training whereas Khalid has no doubt been trained to fight with the best of the best for most of his life even if he lacks magical abilities. 

Vin killed by Celaena Sardothien

Guess Vin must have been throne into the arena without her metals because if she was using allomancy not even a trained assassin like Celaena would have been able to take her out. 

Kaladin killed by Shahrzad

Now this is really shocking considering that Shahrzad can’t seem bring herself to kill anyone and Kaladin is not only a surgebinder, but a trained solider. Must have been an accident. 

Penryn killed by Celaena Sardothien

Well this makes sense, I guess. Penryn is awesome and can survive a lot, but she doesn’t have magical powers and is no match for an assassin like Celaena. 

Kai killed by Akiva

Prince Kai lacks both magical abilities and combat training so it makes sense a warrior angel like Akiva would end up killing him. Sorry Kai, but it’s true. 

Day 2

Risa Ward killed by Karou

Risa is yet another person without magic or combat training so this makes sense. 

Akiva killed by Celaena Sardothien

It was a close match I am sure, though I suppose Celaena could have sneaked up on him on him. That would make it a lot easier for her. 

Shallan Davar killed by Tamlin

Well, Shallan never was never trained to be a fighter though she certainly has the potential to become a very dangerous fighter. She probably spent most of this camouflaged like Peeta. Ironically Tamlin probably spent most of his time camouflaged too as some sort of animal. Must have run into one another while trying to hide out. 

Day 3

Elend Venture killed by Virginia “Mustang”

If this is before the end of The Well of Ascension this makes sense. If not then it’s a lot harder to believe for spoilery reasons. 

Karou killed by Cinder

I guess Cinder must have used the fact that she is a cyborg to her advantage. Karou wouldn’t have expected that. 

Day 4

Darrow killed by Celaena Sardothien

Darrow might be Gold now (Golds’ bodies can withstand more than most and they’re generally extremely strong) and have an uncanny ability to survive impossible things, but he’s still no match for Celaena. 

Kell killed by muttation attack

I think the capital must be hiding the fact that Kell left the game and transported himself to a parallel world with this attack. Otherwise Kell’s magic would keep the mutts from getting to him. 

Virginia “Mustang” killed by Khalid

Oh, I see. Khalid has killed two girls now. In The Wrath and the Dawn Khalid marries one girl a day to have her killed at the next dawn. Is he trying to keep up the practice? Still surprised he managed to kill Mustang though, she’s good at outsmarting people. 

Day 5

Celaena Sardothien killed by Fayre

This is surprising unless Fayre got a hold of some arrows and got Celaena while she wasn’t looking. 

Raffe killed by Khalid

This is surprising. Guess Raffe must not have his wings or sword, because that’s the only way Khalid could defeat an angel warrior. Also Raffe isn’t a girl so killing him doesn’t upkeep his wife killing ways. 

Vivienna killed by Vasher

But the two of them were starting to get along so well! I can’t see Vasher doing it unless he is under Nightblood’s influence. Nightblood seems to like Vivienna so I’m not sure even that would do it. 

Tamlin killed by muttation attack

Wild animal attacked by wild animals. I guess the mutts just need to be bigger. 

Day 6

Shahrzad killed by Vasher

It’s shocking she survived so long. Vasher’s Awakening is more than capable of taking her and most of the others out. 

Cinder killed by muttation attack

Possible, must have caused her cyborg body to short circuit or something. 

Fayre killed by amoebic dysentery

Possible, Fayre has gotten close to starving to death before and the faeries are always reminding her what a fragile human she is compared to them even though for a human she is really quite strong and able. 

Day 7

Vasher killed by Khalid

This is very unlikely unless Vasher is out of Breath. He wouldn’t even need to be the one to kill Khalid. His Lifeless army or even an Awakened rope would be more than capable. 

The victor is: Khalid

Khalid is one of the most unlikely victors out of the characters listed here. Also probably the one I wanted to win the least due to his wife killing despite the fact that I actually like him as a character and like him much more than the other person involved in The Wrath and the Dawn’s love triangle. 

Golden Son by Pierce Brown Five Stars

18966819Title: Golden Son (Red Rising #2)

*Note: This is a review of the second book in a series. If you have not read the first book I suggest reading my review of Red Rising instead to avoid spoilers.

This review contains major spoilers for Red Rising, but not for Golden Son. 

Author: Pierce Brown

Publication date: January 6, 2015

Genre: Science Fiction

Synopsis: The mines of Mars are an unforgiving place. There the “Reds” labor believing their work is critical to both humanity’s survival and the process of making Mars habitable. Never realizing the Martian surface was settled centuries ago and humanity’s population has never been higher. This was Darrow’s childhood.

After successfully infiltrating the “Gold” upper class Darrow might just have the chance to spark the revolution to help free his people. Darrow’s plan to destroy the upper class from within is challenged more and more each day. Not just by Darrow’s enemies who long for his death, but by Gold friends who make him question his hatred of the upper class as well. It’s up to Darrow to decide whether he is after retribution or freedom from oppression.

Review: Resuming four years after Red Rising started, Golden takes the conflict and world building in this series to a new level. The first book took place entirely on Mars, but most of this one takes place primarily in outer space. The change in setting gave me an idea of the true scope of this society that I lacked in Red Rising.  It also made the book feel less like a dystopian and more like a space opera even as the story-line focused more on the rebellion. I’m not the biggest fan of dystopian novels at the moment so I appreciated the new direction.

Darrow’s character development takes an interesting turn in this book. In Red Rising Darrow consistently did some pretty remarkable things and the only time he really failed at anything was his dual with Cassius. Golden Son begins with Darrow failing epically. The way Darrow dealt with and eventually learns from his defeat adds interesting depth to his character arc.

Time jumps aren’t something I usually enjoy in fiction, but I understand why this one was necessary. Darrow’s life training with a razor and learning to command space ships wasn’t really relevant to the rebellion and everything Darrow is trying to accomplish. In an interview Pierce Brown stated that the reason for the time jump had to do with the fact that the story was written in first person and the time jump was to get to the next time period in which Darrow could narrate. While many books have the narrators learn skills in ridiculously short periods of time in order to avoid these time jumps I’m inclined to agree with the author here and say this one was for the best.

I really appreciate how well developed side characters in this series are. It’s very clear most, if not all of them each has his or her own motivations, goals, and schemes. I especially liked how the characters who learned Darrow’s true identity in this book each reacted very differently. So many books brush over reveal scenes, and have characters accept one another’s huge secrets without  much skepticism or negative consequences. There isn’t much to say on this topic without getting into major spoilers, but let’s just say Golden Son had some realistic character reactions in this regard.

Golden Son is well paced. I started this one directly after finishing Red Rising and had a lot of trouble putting it down to do things between sittings. This is especially true of the last hundred pages or so which were particularly difficult to put down.

What readers should know: The first book was somewhere on the hazy edge of young adult, adult, and new adult where I just couldn’t decide on an intended audience. In Golden Son Darrow is 20 and though this book probably has less potentially inappropriate content than the first book it is most definitely not young adult anymore. That said, if a person was able to handle the content in the first book they should be able to handle this one.

Rating: This book resolved the minor problems I had with Red Rising and earned a five out of five rating for its excellent side characters, good pacing, and great world building. If you’ve read Red Rising I highly recommend continuing with the series.

five blue jays

Monthly Wrap-Up: July 2015

At the end of June I told myself that I would only read two to three books in July and spend the time I would normally spend reading writing . . . Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Writing 

What I wrote last month: I still spent a significant amount of time writing and accomplished my goal for July of finishing the third draft of my young adult sci-fi work in progress, but the third draft turned out shorter than I wanted. I was hoping for the draft to end up at 70,000 words which is between around 200-350 pages depending on formatting for those people who don’t understand word count. It ended up being around 63,000 words long (only around 33,000 words of that was written this month) which is still an increase from my 54,000 word long second draft and 35,000 word first draft.

I’d like to thank my Camp NaNoWriMo cabin mates for keeping me motivated!

What I plan to write next month: My writing goal for the next couple months will be extensive revisions on my high fantasy work in progress. The first draft was only 40,000 words long. My current revisions have actually made it shorter than that at the moment, but the first draft was so fast paced that I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who would be able to understand it. Believe me when I say there is plenty of room for expansion.

Reading

In July I read five books. One was a graphic novel memoir, one was adult fantasy/steam-punk, two were science fiction novels that my library classifies as adult but I feel are better suited for mature YA/New Adult readers, and one was a YA sci-fi romance novel (yes, these exist).

The Alloy of Law by Brandon SandersonShort Synopsis: Spin-off/book four of the Mistborn series. Picks up a few hundred years after Hero of Ages left off. It blends elements of the original Mistborn Trilogy with those of steam-punk, western, and mystery novels.

Thoughts: My Brandon Sanderson marathon continues. This book is much shorter than the previous ones in the series and Brandon’s other adult books. I enjoyed the original trilogy more, but this was still worth reading. Excited to see where the next few Mistborn novels lead.

Rating:

4.5 blue jays

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Short Synopsis: The true story of a girl growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution.

Graphic novels and memoirs are not something I normally read so I started this expecting it to not hold my attention meaning I have more time to write, but ended up being unable to put it down for long periods of time. I liked the first half more than the second. If it were only the first half this would get five stars.

Rating: 

4.5 blue jays

Red Rising by Pierce BrownShort Synopsis: 16-year-old Darrow has spent his life on Mars mining for the minerals needed to terraform the planet. One day Darrow’s wife dies fighting the repressive “Gold” upper class. He vows to  do whatever he can to keep this situation from repeating.

Thoughts: I was determined not to read any more dystopian novels, but then I found out this book was set on Mars and saw it had generally good reviews. Mars is my favorite setting so I was thrilled to read this. Would have liked to see the fact that this was Mars incorporated a little more into the wold building (but I think that’s just me), and there were some overused dystopian tropes, but still really enjoyed this. For my full thoughts see my review.

Rating:

4 blue jays

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Short Synopsis: Sequel to Red Rising. Darrow, now 20, continues to infiltrate upper class society in the hopes of freeing his people.

Thoughts: Liked this even more than it’s predecessor. This book felt more space opera than dystopian and I loved this shift as there aren’t nearly enough well written space opera novels. My only regret is not waiting until book three is released to start this trilogy.

Rating:

five blue jays

Broken Skies by Theresa Kay

Short Synopsis: 17-year-old Jax’s brother is abducted by aliens. With the help of Lir, a young alien the group who kidnapped her brother left behind, Jax must find a way to infiltrate their civilization and free her brother.

Thoughts: As always with multi-species romance stories I had to suspend my disbelief. A human and a jellyfish are more similar than a human and any life-form we’re likely to find that originates on another planet, okay? Humans and aliens are never going to date.

That said, this was a well paced, quick read. It satisfied my desire to read about aliens, and I do plan to read the sequel when it is released.

Rating:

4 blue jays

Red Rising by Pierce Brown 4 Stars

15839976Title: Red Rising

Author: Pierce Brown

Publication date: January 28, 2014

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Synopsis: Darrow spends his days on Mars mining the minerals needed to terraform the planet’s surface. He could care less about the fact that he is a member of the lowest “caste”, oppressed by the Society. Darrow is too busy trying to provide for his wife and extended family. Darrow knows the price of rebellion. He attended his father’s execution at five years old.

Darrow’s outlook on rebellion changes when another of Darrow’s loved one is killed by the society. Her dying wish: break the chains. Now Darrow will stop at nothing to make her dream a reality. Even if it means infiltrating the Gold, upper-class, society and pretending to be one of his enemies.

Review: Mars is one of my favorite settings. It’s where I set the first novel length manuscript I completed, and I’ve always had a fascination with the planet. So of course, when I saw a book set on Mars with generally good reviews I wanted to read it.

The first fourth or so of this book is very different from the latter three fourths. Based on reading many reviews, what seems to make or break the reading experience is whether the reader likes the path the story takes in the later portion. For me both portions worked. Although the “teenagers in an arena fighting for their lives” and “boarding school” tropes that showed up in the second half have been overdone in fiction as of late Brown did a decent job in portraying it in an exciting way.

This book clearly draws inspiration from many others. Sometimes this bothers me about books, but for some reason it didn’t in this case. It likely has something to do with the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever before read ideas put together in this particular way before.

The ideas are drawn from so many vastly different places I have trouble categorizing it. The book is set on Mars, but has a very dystopian feel at times. At others it has a mythological fantasy feel with all because the houses at the school Darrow attends are named after Roman gods or even Lord of the Flies.

There is also the question of whether or not it is young adult, new adult, or adult. Darrow starts the book at 16, but within it two years pass, and I know for a fact the next book has a time jump in between and the story restarts with Darrow at age 20. This book is also very realistic in the horrors of the totalitarian regime and the actions of the characters who live within it. Many characters bring out the worst in themselves in this novel.

While I wanted to see more of some world-building aspects others felt overly simplified. I can think of other books off the top of my head that use a color classification system to differentiate between classes of people. Then again, I’ve been reading an excessive number of Brandon Sanderson books lately and have come to expect excellent world-building.

Something I would have liked to see more of is the world building, specifically how living on Mars affected the characters. We’re not shown much of the Martian Civilization, and the rebels themselves. The rebel organization was interesting, but like so many other dystopian novels I’ve read it was skimmed over in this novel, but I’m hopeful more of the rebels will be seen in future books as the story expands in scale.

What readers should know: This book features a significant amount of swearing, mentions of cannibalism, mentions of sex, prostitution murders, executions, and some side characters are raped. The cannibalism, prostitution, and rape do not occur while the main character is present, but it’s clear what is happening. Darrow is present for and sometimes even participates in murders and executions. The sex scenes are not detailed, and the book puts little emphasis on romance.

Rating: I flew through this book and really enjoyed it overall, but would have liked the later portion to be more in depth details about the rebels and the world so I’ve given it a four out of five.

4 blue jays