My Favorite Books of 2015

Oh my god, it’s winter break. So much sleep. So much reading. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Now that the year is drawing to a close, it seems only right to tally up some of the best books I read this year and decide which ones were my absolute favorites, and oh my goodness were there some really amazing ones. To make it a little bit easier, I’ve split them up by genre this time around.

Fantasy

I really gravitated towards contemporaries this year, meaning that I also really stepped back from fantasy for awhile, which is a little strange considering fantasy books are a large part of what made me fall in love with reading and start this blog in the first place. (Hence the first review being about The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale.) But that does not at all mean that I don’t still adore great fantasy books, and oh my god were there some fantastic ones.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa TahirAn Ember in the Ashes

An Ember in the Ashes was the first fantasy I read after a looong stretch of mostly reading contemporaries, and it was the best re-introduction into the genre I could have asked for. This story of two very different characters living under the rule of the brutal Martial Empire–Laia, a slave girl, and Elias, an extremely accomplished soldier–is absolutely captivating, filled with complex characters and a plot that makes you feel like you’re constantly holding your breath as you turn the pages. There’s magic, an amazing setting, and some of the highest stakes I’ve ever read about, and it is fantastic. This is the kind of book I want to throw into people’s faces just so they’ll read it and can freak out about it with me. Especially Helene, because oh my god Helene. (I also went to a book event featuring Ms. Tahir at Politics and Prose in D.C., and she is absolutely lovely, not to mention hilarious.) (Full review here.)

The Wrath and the DawnThe Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

The Wrath and the Dawn is another fantasy that grabbed me, pulled me in, and refused to let go. Renée Ahdieh’s retelling of One Thousand and One Nights is so full of talent and skill that it still makes my head spin, and its story of Shahrzad and Khalid swept me up and made it near-impossible to put the book down for even a second. Shahrzad and Khalid are both so amazing and complex, not to mention all the other characters, and I fell in love with them so completely that I think I’m still recovering. Ahdieh’s writing is downright gorgeous, and she paints the world of Khorasan so masterfully that it only absorbed me even more. I loved so many things about this book–the plot, the characters, and especially the friendship between Shahrzad and her handmaiden Despina, because yes to awesome female friendship in books. Not to mention the romance, which made me fall in love so completely that it’s arguably the best ship I read about all year. This book made me forget lunch, guys. It’s so good. (Full review here.)

White is for Witching by Helen OyeyemiWhite is for Witching 2

White is for Witching is the most recent fantasy I read, and it’s also one of the most interesting things I picked up all year, nightmares and fairy tales mixed with the very real dangers of the world into a captivating cocktail. Helen Oyeyemi’s tale about Miranda Silver, and the lives of the Silver women who came before her, is something like labyrinth, weaving together what is real and what is not, what is light and what is dark, and and what the reader can and cannot trust. She writes in a way that draws the reader in and then doesn’t let them go, and uses the magic and darkness of her story to also touch on the very real issues of our world. Miranda and the other characters are drawn in a way that makes them feel real and human, despite the supernatural voices that haunt their lives, and the narration is done in such an interesting way that I was caught almost from the beginning. It’s the kind of story that you just can’t look away from, and I loved being swept up in it. (Full review here.)

Contemporary

This year led to me realizing that contemporary is one of my favorite genres in pretty much ever–I love reading about characters in high school, going to work, carrying out their lives in the very same times we live in. While there likely isn’t going to be any pixie dust or dragons, contemporaries can have some amazing stories, and falling headlong into some of them this year led to a lot of great discoveries.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao 2The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

If I had to name one book I read this year that was closest to my favorite, it would be The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz. I’d been meaning to read this book for ages, and when I received it as a present at the start of the summer, it wasn’t long before I finally tried it. Junot Díaz writes in a way that I fell in love with, and I adored learning about Oscar’s life and those of the people around him, especially the unnamed narrator that we finally meet more than halfway through the book. He narrates in a voice that draws the reader in and makes it incredibly hard to escape, and the characters are all so human and flawed that by the end I felt as if I really knew them. The plot covers generations of Oscar’s family, taking the reader from his home in New Jersey to the Dominican Republic and back again, and it’s filled with conflict, romance, and tons and tons of stories. I loved it so much that I bought the short story collections Drown and This Is How You Lose Her right afterward, which were just as amazing, and my only regret is that I sped through them so quickly that now I don’t have anything else new from Díaz to read. Let the rereading commence.

Purple Hibiscus 2Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Purple Hibiscus is another contemporary I read this year that I became completely absorbed in and absolutely loved. I’d never read anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie before, and her first novel was more than enough to convince me to read anything else by her that I can get my hands on. Purple Hibiscus focuses on the lives of Kambili and Jaja, two children living in the household of their fanatically religious father, and Adichie tells the story of their growth and education (particularly while visiting their aunt’s family in Nsukka) in a way that makes it all seem so real and vibrant that I was totally drawn in. She paints the picture of Kambili’s family’s lives in a way that makes the reader feel as if they actually know them, and each of the characters is incredibly real, with their own complex emotions and desires. I loved getting to read about all their conflicts, both internal and external, and part of me wishes that the book had gone on much longer just so I could have read more.

To All the Boys I've Loved BeforeTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is one of the many great books of 2014 that I missed out on, but I absolutely adored falling into it this past spring. The story of Lara Jean Song and her hidden (and then not-so-hidden) love letters totally drew me in, full of cookie-baking, fake dating, and sisterly love. I loved getting to know these characters, especially Lara Jean and Peter K, and it was so much fun to see the way they bounced off each other and interacted. Han’s writing and Lara Jean’s narration was as addicting as the cookies Lara Jean bakes, and I loved reading about her family’s interactions and her friendship with her sisters. This is the kind of book that I started reading and just couldn’t stop, and when everything was mixed together–the characters, the details, the romance–it made my little reader heart so very happy 🙂 Not to mention more than a little hungry.

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih AlameddineAn Unnecssary Woman

An Unnecessary Woman follows a plot that is just about as far away from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before as possible, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it just as much. Rabih Alameddine’s story of a 72-year-old woman working as a translator in her book-filled apartment in modern Beirut was incredibly hard to put down, especially because of the amazing narration of Aaliya, the main character. Aaliya’s voice is one that I fell completely in love with, telling her own stories and those of other characters in a way that made her almost irresistible. She has the best way of putting things, full of wry and cutting remarks, and describes them in a way that made my weakness for amazing descriptions all the more apparent. She paints a picture of Beirut that made it seem so real I could almost reach out and touch it, a city wracked by the Lebanese Civil War and home to everything she loves. I loved seeing everything through Aaliya’s eyes, and the other characters were just as much fun to read about, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, and always interesting. What made it even better was Aaliya’s deep and abiding love of books, written in a way that made it seem as if it was almost a living thing, radiating from the pages. It’s yet another one of my weaknesses, and for that I adored the book all the more.

Historical Fiction

When I came to this category, I realized that I read very little historical fiction this year, which is a definite lamentable fact. Historical fiction can be so extremely well done (see: Ann Rinaldi), and I’m not entirely sure how I ended up reading so little of it these past 12 months. Hopefully I’ll get to some really amazing reads in 2016, but for now, there is one book that totally bowled me over in a way that only the best books can.

The Valley of AmazementThe Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

I finished The Valley of Amazement about two days ago, and I think a part of me is still reeling. It’s the first Amy Tan book I’ve ever read (I know I’m disappointed too), and after finishing it late at night it took me forever to finally fall asleep, because oh my god feelings everywhere. Tan tells the story of Violet Minturn, a young girl growing up in her mother’s courtesan house in Shanghai during the early 20th century. But when a web of lies ends with Violet being forced to become a virgin courtesan, it sends her on an entirely different track in life, one that Tan captures with so much mastery it left me wondering what to do with myself after I was finished. Tan’s writing is amazing, and the story of Violet’s life, interspersed with those of the myriad of other characters, made it near-impossible to put the book down. Each of the characters is original and flawed, and by the end I felt as if they had actually existed, wondering what happened to them after the pages were closed. The writing itself only drew me in more, capturing the expansiveness of the story and switching capably between different points of view. It tackles feelings of love, hate, and abandonment, and I loved it so much that my only problem now is moving on from it and picking which of Tan’s books to read next.

Nonfiction

Like historical fiction, nonfiction is not a genre that I focused on very much this year, despite my newfound love of historical musicals about Alexander Hamilton (seriously, don’t get me started because I could ramble on about Hamilton for literally hours without pausing) (>resists the urge to start singing<). But of course, there is one book that stands out as one of my favorite nonfiction books of the year, and also ever.

March: Book Two by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate March--Book TwoPowell

I adored the first book in Congressman John Lewis’s March series for many reasons–the illustrations, how vibrantly it tells the story of his childhood, the look it gives into the Civil Rights Movement. And I was just as captivated by March: Book Two, if not more so. It’s true that it’s very different from the first book–it’s more violent, more mature, and it gives a much deeper look into the people of the movement and the challenges they faced. Lewis writes unapologetically about these challenges, describing in detail the vicious brutality with which the protests were met, as well as the conflict within the movement itself. Powell’s illustrations only make the book more absorbing and striking, stark black-and-white images accompanying each of Lewis’s words. It brings the racism and brutal history of our country–one built on the genocide and exploitation of black people–to terrifying life, in a way that made me more furious than any other book this year. It’s the kind of book that I want everyone to read, especially in times when the racism of the United States is still alive and well and affecting people in a million ways. It tells a story that’s wholly human and that needs to be told, and if there’s one book people read from this list, I hope it’s this one. (Full review here.)

And that’s about it for my favorite books of 2015. I’m hoping I’ll find myself reading many more in the next year, and hopefully (>crosses fingers<) writing about them as much as I can. It’s true that I didn’t read as much as I would have liked to this year, but many of the books I did get to were absolutely fantastic, and I can’t recommend them enough. And now I’m going to go make Christmas cookies, because it doesn’t need to be the actual holiday to use copious amounts of decorative sugar.

Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season, and Happy New Year!

–Nora

P.S. I feel like it says something that the little blurbs I write for books are now just about as long as the first reviews on the blog. A master of brevity I am not.

White is for Witching

Hello again! I’m alive! I’m still reading! I haven’t totally fallen off the face of the earth!White is for Witching

Quick general update: Things have been fairly busy/stressful around here since school started. I’m in my junior year of high school now, and while many of my classes are interesting, I’ve gotten pretty caught up in managing the workload, along with still trying to do fun things outside of school (and I need to really start focusing on thinking about college because WOW THAT’S A THING). Unfortunately, the blog kind of fell by the wayside in the midst of all of that, but I’ve still been reading and trying to work on various posts. I’m hoping that now that I’ve gotten fully immersed in junior year and have a better feel for things that I can manage an at-least-semi-regular posting schedule, and I’m really going to try to get a better handle on everything that’s going on. And what better way to start that than with a brand new book review?

(Please note: Trigger warning for eating disorders.)

White is for Witching is the third novel by author Helen Oyeyemi (her most recent is Boy, Snow, Bird), and is the second of hers that I’ve read. The book revolves around one Miranda Silver, a girl living with her parents and twin brother in Dover, England, in the childhood home of her mother. Miranda’s life is inextricably intertwined with those of the Silver women who came before her–her mother, Lily, the grandmother she never knew, Jennifer, and her great-grandmother, Anna Silver. After Miranda’s mother dies, she begins hearing voices. She has an appetite for chalk and plastic. She can’t sleep, she can’t eat, not even the delicious concoctions her father cooks up for her. And after she leaves to attend university at Cambridge and returns with a friend, things only get eerier.

White is for Witching is without a doubt one of the most fascinating and original books I’ve ever read. It’s a maze–winding path after winding path of subplots and language and unreliable narrators. It’s incredibly hard to wrap your mind around, even after the pages are closed, and once you’re done it seems like the only thing to do is to pick it up and reread it to see if you understand it more the second time. It’s so hard to get a handle on, and yet still so amazing to read. It’s also the kind of book that makes me a little scared to tell anyone too much about it, for fear of ruining the mystery for them.

One of the things that makes White is for Witching so fascinating and absorbing is the narration. The story of Miranda and the people she knows is told from various points of view, allowing the reader to become intimately acquainted with Eliot (her brother), their family, a friend she meets at college, and more. The narration is constantly twisting and changing, making it sometimes hard to know who is saying what, and whether you can even believe what is being said. But despite this confusion, it makes the story more complete, adding hidden layers that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. I loved that I got to know so many of the characters, in ways that added a whole new depth to the story overall.

Another thing that makes the book so captivating is how Oyeyemi uses the supernatural elements of her story to touch on things in the real world. She addresses xenophobia, describing the sometimes violent reactions to Kosovan refugees who fled to the UK during the Kosovar War, something still all-too-relevant today. The book also touches on racism and prejudice, and when Miranda’s friend Ore comes to visit her in Dover, these things become physically manifested within the family home. Oyeyemi addresses these subjects so capably and in one of the most interesting ways I’ve ever seen, not shying away from them at all, and it’s part of what makes me want to experience the book all over again. She mixes the supernatural terrors of her stories with the very real issues of our time, and the result is a fascinating use of language that I kind of (and very nerdily) want to analyze in my English class.

And then, there is the plot–the plot that made me feel like my head was spinning and so confused I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was going on. The plot is the complete opposite of a straight line. It twists and curves and runs in circles. It follows Miranda’s story and the changes in her psyche, while also weaving in the stories of the other Silver women and how they all interact. It felt like Oyeyemi had thrown me into some whirling, twisted dream, where from page to page you can’t help but wonder what’s real and what’s not. What are the voices in Miranda’s head, the person who responds when she writes questions on a piece of paper? What truly inhabits the house in Dover? It’s all so incredibly tangled, but in a way that made the book only more absorbing and hard to put down.

White is for Witching is without a doubt one of the most captivating books I’ve read all year. It resembles a fairy tale, but not at all the ones that are found in Disney movies–it’s twisted and eerie and dark, and sometimes so disturbing I had to take a break from reading to absorb what had happened. Oyeyemi doesn’t shy away from the gruesome or the frightening. She infuses her story with the stuff of monsters and nightmares and things that go bump in the night, drawing the reader in with her prose and characters. It’s strange and peculiar, and, most definitely, not for children.

That’s all for today. Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving, if you celebrate it, and that you’re enjoying the last couple days of November!

–Nora

Bookish Quote of the Day: “Miranda Silver is in Dover, in the ground beneath her mother’s house.” —White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

P.S. White is for Witching leans more towards adult on the spectrum of book genres, and lately I’ve been exploring more adult books when I choose what to read. I’m definitely still very much in love with YA, but just a heads up that some upcoming reviews will feature books that are more likely to be found in the adult section of the library. But of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t be perfect for teens as well 🙂

The Wrath and the Dawn

Hi everyone! Recently I realized that there is one thing that I forgot about summer–how easy it can make it to read more of a book in one day than you usually would in a whole week. And, you know, do barely anything else.

See, I planned to do things when I was reading this book, I swear. Maybe bake a batch of cookies, go for a run, do some more of that summer homework that’s sitting on my desk. Nice, productive things! But then after breakfast I thought, “I’ll just read a little more of The Wrath and the Dawn, maybe a couple chapters. Then I’ll do stuff.” And. Well. Honestly, I’m a little surprised I stopped long enough to make lunch.

This book (written by the wonderful Renée Ahdieh) is absolutely amazing, not to mention one of the best books I’ve read all year. It’s addictive, it draws you in and it makes you exclaim aloud as you’re reading because it is that good. I was totally bowled over, in so many ways. But now I’m just getting ahead of myself.

The Wrath and the Dawn tells the story of Shahrzad al-Khayzuran, the newest bride of Khalid al-Rashid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan. A boy-king known across the kingdom as a murderous madman who takes a new bride every night only to have her hanged by a silk cord at dawn. But Shahrzad does not intend to meet that same fate–she intends to exact revenge on her new husband, in retribution for the loss of her best friend, Shiva. And she refuses to fail.

Shahrzad keeps herself alive night by night, enchanting the boy-king with tails of sailors and thieves and men with blue beards, not to mention her own razor-sharp wit. But as her time in the palace lengthens, Shahrzad becomes aware of two things: That the story of Khalid and his crimes is much more complicated than she ever imagined, and that she may or may not be falling in love with her captor. Which presents a serious problem.

One of the things I absolutely adored about The Wrath and the Dawn was Shahrzad herself. Shahrzad is the star of this book, running through almost every chapter with her fierce intelligence and determination not to lose the game she and Khalid are playing. She’s brave and daring, but still human and flawed, and always ready with some biting remark, whether it be for Khalid, the Captain of the Guard, or anyone else. (Seriously, I could not get enough of her wit.) I wish I had half the guts she does, but more than that, I wish the book had gone on for at least several more chapters just so I could read more about her. Shahrzad is amazing.

And oh, Khalid. Khalid is quite possibly the most cryptic, complicated character in the whole book, but he’s also one of my favorites. He’s cold, and often distant, constantly hiding his emotions behind a blank mask, and with a quick temper to boot. But I loved watching him grow closer to Shahrzad, as well as getting to learn more about him as the story went on. He’s tortured, and more than a little terrifying, but he’s also one of the things that makes this book so incredibly hard to put down.

But Shahrzad and Khalid are by no means the only characters I fell in love with while reading. I couldn’t get enough of those around them, especially Jalal and Despina (the Captain of the Guard and Shahrzad’s handmaiden). Jalal is playful and flirtatious (not to mention endlessly clever and cocky), but also caring and so, so much fun to read about. And Despina, I absolutely loved Despina. She may be Shahrzad’s handmaiden, but she’s also not inclined to put up with anything she doesn’t want to, and is most likely the only person in the history of Khorasan to refer to the queen as the “Brat Calipha.” Despina and Shahrzad have one of the best book friendships I have ever read about, and I could watch them banter and interact forever. My love for their friendship reaches astronomical levels.

While I adored the characters in this book, the plot also reeled me in and kept me there until the very last page, hence my almost forgetting to eat lunch. Shahrzad’s world is full of danger and suspicion, as well as the very real possibility that every dawn could bring her death. But it is also full of mystery, and I couldn’t wait to find out what was really going on. It’s suspenseful and secretive, and I was on the edge of my seat almost the whole time, dying to know what would happen next but also dreading the moment when it would be over.

But one of the things that most stands out for me regarding this book is the romance. I absolutely fell in love with the chemistry between Shahrzad and Khalid, and I shipped it so much by the end of the book that I’m pretty sure there was a tiny Nora in my head flailing because THIS SHIP. It’s dark and complicated and messy but I loved being able to watch these two characters falling in love, learning to respect each other and their ideas. They’re both such strong characters on their own, and seeing them together made my reader heart do a little tap dance of shippery. It’s one of the main reasons this book left me feeling like I had the biggest book hangover ever after I was done.

But I also loved reading about the world of the book, as well as the characters, from the palace of Khorasan to the streets of Shahrzad’s city. Ahdieh gives us a world that is rich and sumptuous, painting it with a wealth of beautiful details without ever dumping too much information at once. The descriptions are wonderful, from the clothes to the food, and I felt like I could really see the palace and the world around it. It makes me remember why I love fantasies, and I want to find a way to teleport to Khorasan as soon as possible, if only to see it in person.

The book also drew me in with the absolutely gorgeous writing. Ahdieh writes with such talent and wit that I wanted the pages to go on forever, if only so I could see more. She paints Shahrzad and Khalid’s world in a way that makes it so incredibly hard to put the book down, and the dialogue both made me laugh and catch my breath. The writing is awesome, and I can’t wait (cantwaitcantwaitcantwait) to see more of it.

When I say that I loved The Wrath and the Dawn, I mean I loved The Wrath and the Dawn. It’s dark and sumptuous and imaginative, and it’s one of those books that I wanted to go on forever because it was just so good. It utterly absorbed me, and it made me feel so much, from breaking my heart to wanting to jump around with excitement because this book guys, this book! From the plot to the characters to the writing itself, I fell completely in love with it, and I’m going to be counting down the days until I can get my hands on the sequel. It’s really, really good.

Hope you’re all enjoying your summers!

–Nora

Bookish Quote of the Day: “For nothing, not the sun, not the rain, not even the brightest star in the darkest sky, could compare to the wonder of you.” —The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

An Ember in the Ashes

Hi everyone! Summer is finally upon us, which means a number of things–no homework! More ice cream! Trying not to melt in the all-consuming inferno that is summer heat! And more time for reading/blogging! Which is good, because I have a lot of reviewing to catch up on. And number one is An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir.

The book centers on Laia and Elias, who at first glance couldn’t be more different. Laia is a Scholar living with her grandparents and older brother, somehow managing to survive day-to-day under the brutal rule of the Martial Empire. Elias is the most accomplished student of Blackcliff Academy, where the Empire’s most deadly soldiers are trained. But despite his high status, Elias wants nothing more than to just escape.

When Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, she serves as a spy for the Scholar Resistance, going undercover at Blackcliff in exchange for their help in freeing Darin. It is here that she and Elias meet for the first time. But there’s trouble brewing at Blackcliff, and both Laia and Elias are confronted with much more danger than either of them imagined. This is especially true once the Trials to choose a new Emperor begin.

An Ember in the Ashes is one of those books that left me feeling totally bowled over and like I need to lay down for a while and simply absorb everything about it. (Seriously. On the outside I’m calm, but on the inside there is FLAILING.) So, without further ado, I’m going to try to break down everything in some sort of logical fashion:

The World

An Ember in the Ashes is the first fantasy I’ve read in quite a while. But oh my god, what a fantasy.

The book is set in a fantasy world in which the Scholars have been conquered by the Martial Empire, led by Emperor Taius. The Scholars are brutally oppressed by the Empire, subjected to raids, murder, and slavery. It’s terrifying and violent, and Laia becomes part of fighting that when she agrees to help the Scholar Resistance. Of course, then she’s heading into the belly of the beast.

What struck me about the world of the book was how rich and detailed it was. I loved falling into it, learning more about the people’s lives and how everything worked. The Empire is perhaps the most brutal fantasy regime I’ve ever read about, but Tahir pulls it off in such a brilliant way, and I couldn’t help but be fascinated by Laia and Elias’s world. Everything is painted in such an interesting and detailed light that it just made it harder to put the book down. The courtyard of Blackcliff, the marketplace of Serra, the dunes that surround the school and the desert where the Tribes live. The magic and the setting are all so unique, not to mention non-Eurocentric, and it’s a place I can’t wait to read more about. I felt like these places were almost real, almost close enough to touch, and I loved it.

The Characters

>deep breath< Okay, I am calm, I am calm.

The setting of the book isn’t the only thing that is filled with talent and detail–the characters get a fair share of it themselves. Tahir’s characters are almost living and breathing–they range from the brutal to the cryptic to the oh-my-god-let-me-hug-you variety, but each of them is so well-drawn and unique.

I loved reading about both Laia and Elias. The book is narrated in their alternating POVs, so we get to hear from them both. Laia is so scared at the start of the story, and understandably so–she’s terrified of what she has to do, and she has no idea how she’s ever going to pull this whole spying thing off. But she grows so much throughout the book, and watching that was such a great experience. Elias is also a well-done character, and I really liked that I got to see what it’s like to be a part of Blackcliff through the eyes of someone who’s a part of it, despite how much he wishes he wasn’t. Both of their voices are original and well-written, and I can’t wait to see more of them.

The side characters are also some of the best parts of the book. The Commandant of Blackcliff Academy is terrible–and I mean terrible. She’s brutal and cruel, but also still a character with depth and a story. I was fascinated by Cook, one of the slaves Laia meets at the school, and I also liked Keenan, one of the members of the Resistance that Laia works with. (But don’t mention Mazen to me because I have FEELINGS about Mazen.) (Also Marcus. Never ever mention Marcus. I could stab Markus in the EYE.)

And oh, Helene. I could write for ages about Helene. I could write essays on Helene. Helene is quite possibly the most complex character in the whole book. Unlike Elias, she believes wholeheartedly in the Empire and what it teaches them, but there’s also so much more to her than meets the eye. She’s his best friend, and the only female soldier at the Academy, but she is also full of emotions and skill (I only wish I could wield a sword as capably as Helene). She’s a mix of light and dark and she gives me so many feelings and I need to read more.

The Plot

This plot. This plot blew my mind.

The thing about this book is that the stakes are higher than five Empire State Buildings stacked one on top of the other. Both Laia and Elias, as well as many of the other characters, are surrounded by danger–danger from the Martials, from their own friends, from other things that I don’t want to mention because SPOILERS. It is insane, and it makes it so hard to stop reading. The danger is one of the many things that made this book nearly impossible to put down.

But the mysteries were another thing I loved about the plot. This book is full of twists and turns, and there are secrets around every corner. I was dying to find out what everything meant, who Laia and Elias could trust, if they would ever actually kiss, if they would actually survive. I had to know what would happen next, and I could barely turn the pages fast enough. (There was also an angry yell at one point. I believe it was around page 389.)

I loved the action and the mystery, but I also loved the more subdued scenes and parts of the plot. The section where Laia attends the Scholar-held Moon Festival is definitely one of my favorites, and I loved the looks Tahir gives into the backstories of the characters and their relationships. She finds a wonderful balance between the dangerous, holy-crap-what-is-going-on scenes and the ones that occur in the spaces between those, where we get to see a little more of the characters, and hopefully catch our breath (right before getting it stolen again because THIS PLOT). I can’t remember ever being bored while reading this book. In short, the plot is A+++.

The Writing

(You might think that there is a limit to how many things I can love about this book, but you’d be wrong.)

Tahir’s writing is another one of the great things about An Ember in the Ashes. She writes about the characters and the amazing fantasy world they live in without ever just dumping info on the reader or making it feel stilted. While I did feel a little disoriented in the fantasy setting for the first couple chapters, the confusion was quickly cleared up and after that there was no turning back. She draws the reader in and keeps them turning the pages, and the alternating POVs worked very well (and only made me feel more invested). I adored the plot and characters, but the writing just makes the story even better.

In short, there is talent just radiating from the pages of this book. It’s one of those books that I finished in a fog one afternoon, when I couldn’t put it down and I had had had to keep going. And then afterward I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I needed the book to go on, because as badly as I wanted to know what happened next, I never wanted it to end. It’s the kind of book that you can fall into and stay there for hours. I absolutely loved Ember, and I want to shove it into the hands of pretty much everyone I meet. It’s that good. And if you want to learn more before taking the plunge into Laia and Elias’s world, there’s also this amazing website with a book trailer, character trailers, information about the world, and more.

Until next time, hope you’re all enjoying your summers! Eat some ice cream for me.

–Nora

P.S. An important note: This book does deal quite a lot with violence, and there is also a lot of mention of sexual assault and/or rape, as well as an actual instance of assault. This could be triggering.

P.P.S. Also, this book is downright GORGEOUS. The cover is all glow-y and there are two different maps on the endpapers and just look:

An Ember in the Ashes CollageHave a great day everybody!

Lies We Tell Ourselves

Hi everyone! Whoa it has been a while. Things got a little crazy at school once AP tests hit, but at long last they are over! I finished a book for the first time in ages and it was lovely. And speaking of books, I do have quite a bit of reviews to catch up on. So let’s get to it, shall we?

As you can probably see, the book of the day is Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley. This book was so good it made my post about my favorite books of 2014, and with plenty of reason. It’s high time it had a review all of its own.

Sarah Dunbar and Linda Hairston have never met before, but that’s about to change. Sarah, a high school senior, is one of a group of African American students integrating Jefferson High School in 1959. Linda, a white senior also attending the school, is the daughter of one of Davisburg’s most prominent segregationists. For obvious reasons, the girls do not get along. But when they’re forced to work on a school project together, they find themselves developing feelings for the one person they never wanted to have feelings for.

One of the reasons I loved this book so much was that I didn’t want to put it down. Talley times the plot so well that there was always something that kept me turning the pages, wanting to know what happened next. I had to find out where the characters were heading, what would happen to Sarah and Linda and everyone else. And I still wanted to know what would happen, even after I read the last page and the covers were closed. I was still so invested in the characters and their lives.

The characters are another reason I enjoyed this book so much. Sarah and Linda are both very different, with very different backgrounds, but they’re also somewhat alike. Sarah is well behaved, the constant good girl, but she’s also tough and brave in a way that I loved. Linda is smart but totally misled by her father and the constant racism around her, her views warped by that ugly vortex. As the girls argue and battle, they both learn things from each other, in a way that feels very real and genuine. There’s so much more to each of them than meets the eye. Watching them grow closer and fall for each other was something I loved reading about, and part of me wants to go back and experience it all over again. The side characters are terrific as well, and Sarah’s friends Chuck and Ennis just make the story better, as does Sarah’s friend Judy.

Lies We Tell Ourselves is not a light book by any means, but it is also a great one. It encompasses many things–from racism to fear to accepting yourself–but Talley handles it all in a way that only makes it harder to put the book down. It’s the kind of book I finished and immediately wanted more of, and I can’t wait to read what Talley publishes next. Part of me is still hoping for a sequel. 🙂

Have a great week!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “We always had plenty to say, even if we were shouting it. Even when she was wrong, there was a certain pleasure in correcting her. In seeing the way her face creased when she tried to think of how to answer me.

Talking to her came naturally. Like breathing.” —Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

March: Book Two

Hi everybody! As you can probably see, the book of the day is March: Book Two, written by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, with art by Nathan Powell. And I’m already sure it’s one of the best books of the year.

As I’m typing this, Congressman John Lewis is in Selma, Alabama, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday civil rights march, in which protestors marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge were assaulted by Alabama State troopers and police. The protestors were attacked with tear gas and night sticks, many injured and seventeen sent to the hospital. Congressman Lewis, one of the leaders of the march, was sent to the hospital with a head wound.

But Bloody Sunday isn’t the only march Lewis participated in, not in the least. Lewis got his start in the Civil Rights Movement by participating in sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville, and also served as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). March, a graphic memoir told in three parts, tells the story of those experiences.

While Book One is closer to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement and focuses partly on Lewis’s childhood, Book Two is both longer and more violent, getting to the heart of the protests and the brutality they were met with. It focuses largely on the Freedom Rides of 1961, the protests against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, and the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And Lewis and his peers are in the thick of it all.

Part of me felt like I couldn’t look away from this book. Lewis and Aydin’s writing is straightforward and eloquent, and it almost feels like Lewis is sitting in front of you, telling the story of his life. Powell’s illustrations make it even harder to put the book down–they’re striking and hard to forget, complementing the writing in a way that makes the book even better.

March also offers a look at history that you just can’t get anywhere else–from a textbook, a classroom, or Wikipedia. Lewis shows the behind-the-scenes work of the movement, from arguments over methods of protest to the orchestration of the March on Washington. He introduces the reader to other leaders and protestors, such as A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, showing the work that had to be done in order for these protests to go on. It’s absolutely fascinating to see the conflicts and discussions that went into the fight, and I already can’t wait to read more about it.

One of the main things I remember about reading this book is being angry. So, incredibly angry. It still makes me angry to think about some of the things that are described–mobs of people screaming the n-word, police setting dogs on unarmed protestors, fire hoses being turned on children. People looking at these protestors and automatically thinking of them as “less than,” and then not even understanding why that’s wrong. I’m furious that our country didn’t stop it, that these people were brutally attacked, that this racial inequality was allowed to happen in the first place. That it still happens today.

March is one of those books that you cannot forget about easily, nor do you want to. It’s hard, and brutal, and tough. It stays with the reader almost from the first page, forcing us to acknowledge the awful things that our country has done. And while reading it left me crying and furious and upset, it’s not a story about hopelessness. It’s not a story about giving up.

It’s a story about the men, women and children who fought for human dignity and the right to be treated as equals. It’s a story about marches, bus rides, and speeches given to scores of people gathered at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It’s a story about facing injustice and fighting for what is right, even when those efforts are met with cruelty. It’s about history, courage, and determination. It’s about love.

But most of all, March is human. And that’s all anyone could ask for.

Bookish Quote of the Day:

“We will march through the South, through the streets of Jackson, through the streets of Danville, through the streets of Cambridge, through the streets of Birmingham. But we will march with the spirit of love and with the spirit of dignity that we have shown here today.

By the force of our demands, our determination and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them back together in the image of God and democracy.

We must say, ‘Wake up, America. Wake up!!!’ For we cannot stop, and we will not be patient.” –John Lewis’s speech to the March on Washington, March: Book Two, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

P.S. You can also watch Lewis speak about the events of Bloody Sunday here.

Love Stories: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hi everyone! So I am a bit of a hopeless romantic. I live for things like beautiful romantic gestures and cute couples and sweet love poetry. And since today is Valentine’s Day, it seems like as appropriate a time as any to post some of my favorite romances and love stories. So, let’s get to it, shall we?

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars is about many things, but it is primarily about the friendship and romance between Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster. I love Hazel and Augustus as individual characters, but I love them just as much as a couple. They’re both intelligent and flawed, and their relationship is full of nerdiness and banter and the kind of conversations that you just love to read about, about everything from An Imperial Affliction to scrambled eggs. They care deeply for each other, and I loved reading about the “third space” they entered when they talked on the phone, or how Hazel can hear his smile when he talks. They’re one of my favorite fictional couples ever. But please don’t even think of mentioning that last page because NO. >grabs tissues< (Review here.)

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

So to balance out the tears and heartache and asdfghjkl served up by TFiOS, I offer you Pride and Prejudice, which has to be one of the best love stories in literature. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are without a doubt one of my favorite pairings of all time. He’s prideful and awkward, she’s playful and reluctant to let go of first impressions. But they’re both so quickwitted and clever, and they complement each other in the best way possible. They argue and they engage in battles of wits and, despite their differences in society and class, there’s respect between them. I could listen to them banter for ages. And the walk they take in Chapter 58 made me want to bounce up and down with happiness.

3. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

This book fills me with so many feelings that I’m still not sure I can be coherent about it, despite finishing it months ago. Two Boys Kissing isn’t exactly a love story about one couple–it’s about multiple couples, or former couples, or people who are simply single. It’s about Tariq, and Harry, and Craig, and Cooper, and Avery, and a host of other characters. Some of them are in love, some of them are in like, some used to be in love but aren’t anymore. But each of the boys is completely his own, and they’re each written in a way that makes me want to read this book again and again. Also, the writing. I will never be able to stop gushing about this writing. David Levithan writes such beautiful sentences that I want to dive into this book and never come out. It’s so good. (Review here.)

4. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I didn’t read Anna and the French Kiss for the longest time, but I am so glad I picked it up. Despite the excitement of it all, Anna Oliphant is a little bit terrified to be going to boarding school in Paris. But then she starts to make friends, one of which happens to be Étienne St. Clair, a short history nerd with absolutely amazing hair. It’s so much fun to watch Anna and Étienne’s relationship develop over time, through misunderstandings and jokes and the best series of holiday emails I have ever read. I love so many things about this book and their relationship that it would take me forever to list them all. Anna! Movies! Cuteness! Paris! It’s such a wonderful read, not to mention the fact that Stephanie Perkins writes some of the best characters ever. I may need to write a full review because I have so many feelings about it. I wanted to live in Paris with Anna forever.

5. My True Love Gave to Me ed. Stephanie Perkins

I remember reading about this book ages ago and immediately freaking out because it sounds like what dreams are made of. A holiday story anthology? Edited by Stephanie Perkins? With an absolutely perfect illustrated cover? It sounded wonderful. It was wonderful. (I literally finished it this morning, so I’m a little late, but oh well.) There are stories from a host of talented authors–Holly Black, David Levithan, Kelly Link. While not all of the stories were my cup of tea, there were quite a few that I adored. Stephanie Perkins’s has all the cuteness and romance that she does so well, Matt de la Peña’s made me decide that he is definitely becoming one of my favorite authors, and Laini Taylor’s was so magical and fantastic I never wanted it to end. I could go on. Each of these stories is so unique and original, and I may very well reread it when the holidays roll around again. Besides, that cover!

6. Love poetry

As much as I enjoy love stories, I adore love poetry just as much, if not more. Poetry can capture emotions like that so well–heartache, happiness, longing. There are so many love poems that I reread again and again, but some of my favorites are “A Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns, “Zodiac” by Elizabeth Alexander, and “A Glimpse” by Walt Whitman. And many, many more, but by the time I was done writing about them it wouldn’t even be Valentine’s Day. (And I know Poetry Speaks Who I Am isn’t strictly love poetry, but it does have quite a few in it.)

Love stories are some of my favorite stories, and I’m not really sure why. Part of it might just be the magic of watching two people fall head over heels for each other, as they meet that one person and everything starts to click. It’s so much fun to read about characters who are wholeheartedly in love and want each other to be happy.

Loving is good. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “The right person at the right time can open all the windows and unlock all the doors.” —Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

P.S. There are many more great quotes from Two Boys Kissing here.

Happy Galentine’s Day!: My Favorite Female Characters

Hi everyone! So, until about half an hour ago, I had no idea what Galentine’s Day was. All I knew was that it happens to be today, February 13th, and I saw it mentioned on Twitter a few times. But, as this article has so helpfully told me, Galentine’s Day is a day for celebrating women. Or, as the article says, ladies celebrating ladies. It was first mentioned on an episode of Parks and Recreation, and while I admittedly haven’t seen very much of the show (I’m so sorry please don’t hit me), I thought the idea sounded pretty cool. And then that made me want to write about some of the favorite lady characters I’ve read about. The only thing is that I have to head to bed soon so if this is slightly less coherent then usual, you have my sincerest apologies. Okay cool female characters go.

Hermione1. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowing

Hermione was the first character that popped into my head when I was thinking about this post, and there are many, many reasons why. Hermione is so purely awesome–she’s smart, she’s brave, she’s kind. But she’s also very human and flawed. She’s amazingly good at magic, and I wish I was half as hardworking as she is, because then I would be so much better at not procrastinating on, oh, everything. We all know Harry and Ron would be totally lost without her. Plus, she’s a total bookworm, so of course I relate to her on a deeply personal level.

2. Alanna of Trebond from the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora PierceAlanna

If there is one book character that makes me want to bow down and gush about how cool I think she is, it’s probably Alanna of Trebond. Alanna is without a doubt one of the most awesome characters I’ve read about–she disguises herself as boy for years as she trains to be a knight of the realm in her home of Tortall. Of course, this isn’t easy, especially when she finds herself making a very, very powerful enemy. I think what I love most about Alanna is how fiery and tough she is. She is completely herself (despite the whole disguising herself as a boy thing), and she’s also feminist in a way that makes my heart do a tap dance of joy. If you have yet to read the Song of the Lioness series, for the love of God, please do. Alanna is fantastic. And I am endlessly jealous of the fact that she can both swordfight and do magic.

Lizzie Bright3. Lizzie Bright Griffin from Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt

I read Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy a long time ago, and I really need to pick it up again, but Lizzie Bright Griffin had a lot to do with why I loved it so much. She’s smart and clever and not afraid to speak her mind, and she changes the life of Turner Buckminster in a myriad of ways. She’s brave, too, even in the face of the prejudice and racism she faces from the white people near where she lives. She truly is bright, in every sense of the word. Just please don’t make me talk me talk about the ending because tears. There will be tears everywhere. (Also, this book is both a Newbery and a Printz Honor, which I think is pretty cool.)

Lizzy Bennet4. Lizzy Bennet from Pride and Prejudice

Oh, Elizabeth Bennet. Jane Austen referred to her as “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print,” and I don’t blame her in the least. We’re reading Pride and Prejudice for my English class right now, and I love being able to rediscover how much I adore Lizzy’s character. She’s intelligent and witty and kind, while also being flawed. She’s very human, and so, so much fun to read about. I think she’s definitely my favorite character in the book, with Darcy coming in as a close second.

Hazel5. Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

>sobs violently into pillow<

Ahem. Anyway.

Hazel is one of my favorite things about The Fault in Our Stars. Hazel has cancer, yes, but that is by no means all there is to her character. I love her voice in the novel, the way she describes things and the things she says. I love that she says things like, “Suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate.” She’s smart and nerdy and honest, and has a bit of a smart mouth, which means I’m pretty much guaranteed to like her. Also, she has such a love of books, and I am a sucker for characters who love books. (Also people who love books.) (Also she loves poetry, so extra points.)

Phillis6. Phillis Wheatley from Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons by Ann Rinaldi

Ann Rinaldi’s books are so ridiculously good, and Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons is one of her best. It covers years of Phillis Wheatley’s life, from childhood to adulthood, and I loved being able to read about her character. Phillis is tough and smart, not to mention kind and complex. She adores writing, and I loved reading about her discovery of it, of her writing the poems that people still read today. I couldn’t put this book down, and part of me (or all of me) wishes there was a sequel could I keep reading about Phillis forever.

Amelia7. Amelia McBride from the Amelia Rules! series

The Amelia McBride comics are some of my favorites in pretty much ever. I remember devouring these books when I was in elementary school, and they can still suck me in. Amelia is the glowing main character and narrator, and I loved reading about her adventures with her friends, superhero escapades and all. She’s spunky and clever, and doesn’t always know when to keep her mouth shut, which somehow makes her even more likable. The Amelia Rules! books are some of my favorite graphic novels of all time, and a lot of that is due to Amelia herself. Not to mention that her Aunt Tanner is absolutely awesome.

Alexandra Bergson8. Alexandra Bergson from O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

Alexandra is arguably one of the coolest characters in fiction ever. She grows up on the prairies of Nebraska, and almost single-handedly turns their family’s plot of land into a prosperous farm, with help from her brothers and friends. Alexandra is incredibly intelligent and smart, and I wish I had some of the persistence and energy that she does. Then again, thank god I don’t live on the prairie, because I wouldn’t survive a day.

Little Women9. Beth and Jo March from Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott

Believe it or not, I actually hadn’t read Little Women until just this past Christmas, >ducks to avoid thrown tomatoes<, but I am so glad I did. I really enjoyed reading about all the March sisters, but Beth and Jo are without a doubt my favorites. Jo is endlessly spirited and clever, and Beth is the kind of character I want to hug for ages and then make cookies for. I loved Jo’s spunkiness, as well as reading about her writing, and I wish I could be even half as sweet as Beth is. There’s a reason I was sitting up in bed weeping in the middle of the night when I got to you-know-what. They may just be my favorite characters in the entire book. (Also, it thrills me to no end that Katharine Hepburn plays Jo in the movie adaptation. It seems so fitting.)

Dealing with Dragons10. Cimorene from The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

This was one of my favorite fantasy series as a kid, and it still is. Cimorene is a princess, sure, but she doesn’t exactly want to be, nor does she want to get married. So, of course, she runs away and lives with a dragon. And that’s just the beginning. Cimorene is adventurous and smart and wry in a way that I love, and her friendship with the dragon, Kazul, is actually one of my favorites in the whole series. I have half a mind to go back and read about Cimorene all over again. Plus, she makes an excellent cherry jubilee.

There are many, many other characters I could think of to add to this list, but I’m afraid that’s all for now. Also, I should really be getting to bed. So Happy Galentine’s Day to all, and to all a good night!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” —Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

P.S. Yes, I know that quote is magnificently out of season. Please don’t judge me. I miss our Christmas tree.

P.P.S. Also Flavia de Luce from The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. A precocious 11 year old chemist who solves mysteries and has a specialty in poisons–what more could you want?

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and March by John Lewis

Hi everybody!

As most of you probably know, today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And while I think in past years today has largely been a day to simply remember the civil rights leader and what he did, this year it’s a day of both protest and tribute–especially in the wake of the murders of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and many other African Americans by police.

Just as it’s important to understand things like the Revolutionary War or World War II, it’s also important to understand the struggles people of color have faced throughout U.S. history, especially when many of these struggles still exist today. It’s not just African American history–it’s American history, something everyone should know about. And probably one of the best books I’ve read that helps in this understanding is March: Book One.

One of the most noteworthy things about March is that it’s written by someone who not only lived through the Civil Rights Movement, but was a prominent leader of it as well. Congressman John Lewis served as Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, participated in the Freedom Rides of 1961, and spoke at the 1963 March on Washington. March is a graphic memoir, and the first of three books focusing on Lewis’s experiences in the movement. And it is amazing.

Written by Lewis with the help of his employee Andrew Aydin, and accompanied by the illustrations of Nate Powell, March begins with Lewis’s childhood and moves forward from there. He gives the reader a unique and detailed look at what his life was like, in a way that is both eye-opening and interesting. He encompasses everything from his love of the Bible, to his dedication to school, to the way he would preach to the chicken coop at night and run for the school bus in the morning. He also takes the reader through his adolescence and into college, during which he was introduced to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And then Lewis describes his growing involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, and the way he became immersed in the ways of nonviolence.

March is one of those books that I can’t help but want everyone to read. Lewis is a wonderful writer, and presents the movement in a unique way that you just can’t get from a textbook. He shows so many different facets of it–from the racism he saw all around him as a child, to the nonviolent workshops he participated in, to the brutal violence and backlash the protesters faced. So many parts of the book stand out in my mind, especially the trip Lewis took as a boy to the North with his uncle, and the shock he felt at seeing that there were white people living next to black people–on both sides. And Nate Powell’s illustrations only enhance the story, providing striking pictures that suit Lewis’s words perfectly.

I don’t think I could ever do March justice simply by describing it in a single post. But during a time when African Americans and other minorities are still faced with a system that continuously gives preference to white people, when racism is still alive and well in America, March is important. It’s important to know about what happened during the Civil Rights Movement and what progress was made, especially when there is still so much to be done. And that’s why it’s heartening to see the protests taking place today–because that shows that things can change. And I think Dr. King would be pretty proud of that.

Bookish Quote of the Day: “Then, one Sunday morning in early 1955, I was listening to WRMA out of Montgomery when I heard a sermon by someone unknown to me–a young preacher from Atlanta. I didn’t catch his name until the very end.” —March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

P.S. And if you like March, there’s terrific news–the sequel is officially out January 20th, 2015. Which happens to be tomorrow! 🙂

My Favorite Books of 2014

Well, it’s that time of year again (and has been for quite some time, but I’m late as always). Cookies have been baked, trees have been decorated, menorahs have been lit, and that means that the end of the year is nigh. However, as of right now it is still December 30th, 2014, and that means I still have time to post my favorite books of the year. And oh gosh, they were so good. So before I get distracted. . .

This Star Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Grace Earl by Esther Earl, with Lori and Wayne Earl

There are some books that I feel like everyone should read at some point, and This Star Won’t Go Out is one of them. Esther Grace Earl may be best known for helping to inspire John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, but she was also a remarkable young lady all on her own. TSWGO is a collection of her artwork, diary entries, and writing, allowing the reader to get an up-close look at Esther and her life. Esther’s voice is so distinctive that I could still hear it in my head even when I wasn’t reading, and the amount of love she had for her family and friends is apparent throughout. TSWGO isn’t just about Esther the Harry Potter Fan, or Esther the Cancer Patient, or Esther the Catitude Member. It’s about Esther in all her entirety, and it’s without a doubt one of my favorite books of the year, and one of the ones I loved the most. (Review here.)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

If I were to compile a list of the books that blew my mind in 2014, We Were Liars would be at the top of it. It tells the story of Cadence, the oldest grandchild of the elegant and wealthy Sinclair family. Every summer the family gathers on Beechwood, their private island not too far from Martha’s Vineyard. But when an accident on Beechwood changes almost everything about Cady’s life, she’s left with no memory of what happened, and no one seems to want to enlighten her. Even the Liars, a group comprised of two of her cousins and their friend Gat, are being secretive. E. Lockhart paints the picture of her story in a way that’s hard to forget, slipping between prose, poetry, and clever retellings of fairy tales in a way I’ve never seen before. Even the writing itself is shocking, and as for what actually happened. . .well. You’ll have to find that out for yourself. (Review here.)

Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

The fact that I immediately thought of rereading this as soon as I typed the title should give you an idea of how much I absolutely loved this book. It tells the story of a teenage girl living as part of Hitler’s inner circle in Munich in the 1930s, and how drastically her life changes in the time leading up to Hitler’s election as chancellor of Germany. Blankman’s plot and characters are incredibly well done, and she handles the heavy subject matter in a way that is both mind-blowing and so, so good to read. Definitely one of my favorite historical fictions ever, let alone from just this year. (Review here.)

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Set in 1959 Virginia, Lies We Tell Ourselves is about what happens when two very different girls (with two very different worldviews) are forced to interact. Sarah Dunbar is one of the African American students integrating all-white Jefferson High School, while Linda Hairston is the white daughter of the one of the town’s most vocal segregationists. When the girls have to work on a school project together, they find themselves each developing feelings for the other, in ways they never wanted to. Robin Talley writes her characters in a way that sucks the reader in, and I kept wanting to know what happened next, even after the pages were closed. Part of me sincerely hopes for a sequel, but in the meantime, definitely give Lies We Tell Ourselves a look. I’m looking forward to whatever Talley has coming out next.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

>mind blown all over again<

If Prisoner of Night and Fog was one of the best historical novels of the year, I’ll Give You the Sun is one of the best contemporaries. Jandy Nelson portrays the messy, complicated, art-infused relationship between twins Noah and Jude with considerable talent, hopping between two different time periods of their lives and pulling it off very well. The characters are one of the shining stars of the novel, and the writing is fantastic. I couldn’t put it down, and when I finally did, I kept reeling over how good it is. (Review here.)

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

All the books listed before this have been fiction, but Brown Girl Dreaming (by the talented Jacqueline Woodson) is far from it. This is Woodson’s memoir in verse, taking the reader through her childhood, from Ohio to South Carolina to New York. She makes even the most everyday activities become lyrical and beautiful, and she touches on everything from her love of writing to the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panthers. Brown Girl Dreaming is the story of how Jackie Woodson became Jackie Woodson, yes, but it’s also a story with many important points to make, and a beautiful book of poetry to boot. It’s definitely one of the best books of the year, as well as a National Book Award winner! (Review here.)

Well, that’s about it (although I could very well think of more after I post this). I didn’t get as much reading done this year as I would have liked to, but 2014 brought some seriously amazing reads to the shelves, and introduced me to several authors I can’t wait to read more of. I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday season so far, and an absolutely marvelous 2015. 🙂 Happy New Year!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” –Dr. Seuss

P.S. And thank you so much for visiting the blog this year. For liking, commenting, subscribing, putting up with my crazy rants and my lack of caps lock self-control. Thank you just for taking the time to read. It means a lot and I’m grateful for it all 🙂 Have a great holiday, and read some good books! (And eat candy!)