TTT: My Top 10 Favorite Reads of 2015 (So Far)

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So, once more, I was off having adventures* apart from my computer, and I have neglected my blog. But you just can’t blog and drive. Not yet. But I digress (as usual).

I am nearly always confused about what day it is, but my computer decrees that today is Tuesday, which means it’s time for the Top Ten Tuesday meme with The Broke and the Bookish. If you’d like to participate, click here.

The theme today is Top 10 Favorite Books I’ve Read So Far In 2015. Despite my busy work schedule, writing, and marathon driving, I have actually read a lot of books this year. So this might be hard. But I always try, I do.

MY TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2015 (SO FAR)

1. Both Thorn and Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani

You may have read my review of Thorn here (if not, do it, or better yet, just read Thorn,) and if so, you know I loved this book. However, I liked her novella, Sunbolt, even more. Though I haven’t reviewed it here yet, I fully intend to, but you need to know that I liked it even more than Thorn. From the gorgeous prose to the fabulous world building, Khanani is a talent to watch, and her heroines are both strong and realistic. Do yourself a favor and read her books. Now.

“Absolutely. Justice served with a side of pineapple. That’s what I’m here for.”
Intisar Khanani, Sunbolt 

 

 

2. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

The Princess Bride is one of my all time favorite movies, and I really enjoyed this genteel, humorous, and thoughtful look behind the scenes. As a bonus, Elwes really comes off as a gentleman and a thinker, which was nice. From backstage anecdotes to touching tributes, this book is a must read for any Bride aficionado.
And seriously, if all of that background stuff on the “Greatest Swordfight of All Time” didn’t make you pull out your DVD again, I don’t know what will.

“like a good wine without iocane powder, it seems to get better with time.”
Cary Elwes, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

 3. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Shakespeare, viruses, aging actors, Michigan locales that I recognized, and so much more made me love this dreamy, nostalgic, and beautifully written novel. It’s basically a literary post-apocalyptic novel with real depth and imagination. The way every little detail ties into the plot gave me a severe case of writer’s envy. This was the first book of Emily St. John Mandel’s that I ever read, and it will not be the last.

“He found he was a man who repented almost everything, regrets crowding in around him like moths to a light. This was actually the main difference between twenty-one and fifty-one, he decided, the sheer volume of regret.”
Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

4. The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

 I tend to avoid most R-rated movies**, so I never saw the movie, but I did pick up the audiobook for one of my long drives last week.  I had no idea what to expect. However, I was utterly disarmed by Pat’s narrative after only three sentences. Quick’s depiction of mentally “different” characters is spot on, sensitive and never patronizing. From Pat’s endless repetition of certain phrases and ideas, to his obsession with staying fit and Eagles football, I loved every bit of this book. It was so funny, yet so sad, and one of the best contemporary novels I have read in a looooooong time.***

“Life is hard, Pat, and children have to be told how hard life can be.” “Why?” “So they will be sympathetic to others. So they will understand that some people have it harder than they do and that a trip through this world can be a wildly different experience, depending on what chemicals are raging through one’s mind.”
Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook 

5. Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl

Another book I recently reviewed, BW:FR was a fun spy novel that featured one of my favorite Avengers.
As an added bonus, my copy is a signed ARC that I got at BookExpo, which made it extra special.

“Natasha Romanoff hated pierogies—but more than that, she hated lies.
Lying she was fine with. Lying was a necessity, a tool of her tradecraft. It was being lied to that she hated, even if it was how she had been raised.
Everything Ivan used to say was a lie.“—Margaret Stohl, Black Widow: Forever Red

 6. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

This was one of those love it or hate it books, I think. Everyone was reading it, there was so much hype, yada yada.

Fortunately, I avoided most of that, and didn’t read any reviews, so I read Red Queen with zero expectations. The fun X-Men vibe and treacherous characters made for good reading, and it was far better than a lot of its fellows.
I really liked that the romance wasn’t the ultimate plot. (Power, betrayal, family, revolution, and all of that interesting stuff supplanted it).****

“It’s our nature. We destroy. It’s the constant of our kind. No matter the color of blood, man will always fall.”
Victoria Aveyard, Red Queen

7. Where Women Are Kings by Christie Watson

I met Christie at BookExpo. She was a lovely person who made time to sign my book, even though she was tired and it was ten minutes after her official signing.

Where Women Are Kings was not a “fun” book — but it was a beautiful, compassionate, heart-rending story about a little boy with a tragic past, his troubled Nigerian birth mother, and the English family who just wants to love him.

“Your story begins in Nigeria, which is a place like heaven . . . Nigeria
is brightness and stars, and earth like the skin of your cheeks: brown-red,
soft and warm.” — Christie Watson, Where Women Are Kings

8. Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

I just wrote a post about my love for Cupid and Psyche/Beauty and the Beast retellings, so I’m sure that this isn’t a surprise. What is surprising is that it took me so long to get around to reading it!
From the romance***** to the world to the writing to the concept, I loved pretty much everything about this book, and I can’t wait to read more of Hodge’s writing.

“Why is he scared of the dark?”

I meant the words for a joke, but Shade nodded seriously. “Like all monsters. Because it reminds him of what he truly is”.”
Rosamund Hodge, Cruel Beauty 

9. The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The only thing I really didn’t like about this was the ridiculous swooning woman cover. I was too embarrassed to read it until I found out that it was more like a romantic drama in the world of The Thief.

 Honestly, what’s with the ball gowns in a world based on Ancient Greece and Rome? Naturally, since it’s on my list, I really liked it anyhow. It was fluffy but not stupid, romantic but not soppy, and I enjoyed the worldbuilding.

 “She saw, yet again, that her friend’s compliments were just bits of art and artifice. They were paper swans, cunningly folded so that they could float on the air for a few moments. Nothing more.”
Marie Rutkoski, The Winner’s Curse 

 However, nothing prepared me for how epically horrible the sequel’s cover would be.


Just LOOK AT THIS FOR A MINUTE———–>

YOU DON’T/CAN’T HOLD A SWORD LIKE THAT, WOMAN!!!

 I won’t be able to read this one for awhile, no doubt.

10. William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace by Ian Doescher

I love both Shakespeare and Star Wars, so obviously this silly series is a hit with me. It’s hilarious and brilliant, and I have loved every installment. I can’t wait for the Attack of the Clones one, I’m anticipating more side-splitting humor of this variety:

“QUI-GON: I know not who you are or what you want, Yet I do have skills most particular, Acquir’d throughout a Jedi’s long career. These skills do make me nightmarish to such As you. Surrender now, and you shall live— If not, you shall be dead, and there’s an end.
MAUL: I’ll not be taken by you, man naïve; Your feeble skills are naught when match’d to mine. This is the moment I have longèd for: Two Jedi to assuage mine appetite.”
Ian Doescher, William Shakespeare’s The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars Part the First

Footnotes:
*I drove up and down the country 4 times. Parts were fun, parts were dreary, but I felt like a trucker.
**I can easily count the R-rated films I’ve seen. Most of them just weren’t good enough to be worthwhile, but this is a matter of opinion. For the record, Slumdog Millionaire and The Fall were two of the worthwhile ones.
***The language is foul, often coarse or crass, and there is a lot of cursing. Just an FYI. 
****I swear I’m not anti-romance, really. I just get tired of it (especially the shallow faux-love in YA novels), and want exciting swashbuckling things to happen.
*****See, this book is basically a romance, and I loved it. Point. Proven.

Book Review: Thorn by Intisar Khanani

The artist is Jenny from Seedlings Design

I stumbled across Thorn on Goodreads and the gorgeous cover art caught my eye. When I realized that it was a retelling of The Goose Girl and written by indie author* Intisar Khanani, I purchased a copy. 

The cover is even more beautiful up close. However, like the best fairytales, the beauty of Thorn isn’t just skin deep.

Princess Alyrra is the ignored and neglected princess of a backwater kingdom. Her only friends are the servants and a playful wind. Still, she is content enough until the powerful neighboring King of Menaiya shows up with a startling proposition: he intends to bring Alyrra home as a bride for his son Kestrin.

Alyrra has no idea why a powerful prince would want someone like her for a bride, but it doesn’t matter, as she has no choice. Or so she thinks. When a sudden betrayal turns Alyrra’s life inside out, the princess must choose between doing (what seems like) the right thing, or pursuing the life she makes for herself.

Thorn is a beautifully written book, and a thoughtful take on The Goose Girl. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but if you’ve read the original fairytale, you should be familiar with the basic plot. There was so much I enjoyed about it, but here’s a quick 5 reasons you should buy a copy:

1. Alyrra was very different from your average YA fairytale heroine. Accustomed to both abuse and hard work, she relishes the position of a lowly goose girl. The hard work is fulfilling to her, and she has chosen it for herself, which makes it better than her life as a “useless” princess. Her character arc and development was logical and well done, and I love how her hidden strengths bloomed and truly made an impact on the plot.

2. The “romance,” is much more mature and believable than most YA novels. Kestrin and Alyrra’s relationship was slow-burning, and fraught with (understandable) conflict and deception. Where it ends, in particular, was realistic and a bit messy, not tied in a perfect bow, and it made a lot of sense.

3. The writing. I cannot say this strongly enough: Intisar Khanani has a gift for language. Her prose is elegant and descriptive without being flowery. It immerses you in her world.

4. The serious plot elements are well-handled and thought out, not just thrown in for pathos or shock value. Some truly terrible things happen to these characters! Khanani touches on topics from physical abuse to murder, The characters have to deal with these things, and they retain both baggage and scars that influence them and those around them.

5. The characters. Even the “villains” were nuanced, with histories and motives that helped you understand them, even if they deserved their fates. Characters grew, changed, and had to deal with real consequences from both action and inaction. Kestrin was an interesting foil for Alyrra, and a complicated character in his own right. However, none of the characters were just throwaway or fillers.

I only had one real complaint: It was too short! I would have loved to read more about this world and its people, and I want to know more about the mentioned Fair Folk. There were so many elements hinted at in the story that, while not bearing on the plot, intrigued me.

In summary: 4.5 out of 5 stars. This was a brilliant Goose Girl retelling from an author to watch. I will definitely be reading her other books.

Have I convinced you yet? Here is a link to her books so you know where to buy them. I ordered mine through the indie bookstore store where I work (and I plan on stocking a copy). Have you discovered any fabulous indie authors that we should check out? Sound off in the comments.

Footnotes:
*Thorn was self-published. I don’t just buy any book, self-published or otherwise, but I strongly believe in supporting the brave, independent people who take their own path. On top of that, this book is very good, which makes it even more deserving.