2015 was a fantastic year of books! Here are reviews for five of my fifteen favourite books from last year: Saint Anything, Ink and Bone, Vendetta, The Potion Diaries, and Am I Normal Yet?
Feel free to post your favourites and any recommendations from last year or for the new year in the comments!
- Saint Anything, Sarah Dessen
My rating: * * * * *
Publication date: May 2015
Goodreads synopsis: ‘Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?
Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.’
I am a huge fan of Sarah Dessen novels, and I was very excited to read her latest one. I loved Saint Anything and would definitely rate it as one of my favourites of Dessen’s novels, along with ‘The Truth About Forever’, ‘Just Listen’ and ‘Along For the Ride.’
Sydney, the protagonist of Saint Anything, feels invisible, and the novel is her journey from feeling that she lacks any kind of identity and is overshadowed by her brother, to finding a loyal group of friends, coming to terms with the actions committed by her brother, Peyton, and finding herself.
I love Layla, Sydney’s vivid and energetic friend. She brings wonderful humour to the novel, with her gift of 50 root beer lollipops to Sydney, her verdicts on French Fries from different sources and systematic process for applying condiments to them, and her gobsmacked amazement at the studio in Sydney’s house.
I also really enjoy the fact that a recurring theme throughout the novel is Sydney’s ability to make predictions about people from their pizza orders. She helps out Layla’s brother, Mac, with the orders, and always manages to successfully guess the purchasers.
Dessen’s novels are always thought-provoking, with a reflective quality to the prose. One of my favourite quotes from the novel is from a scene where Sydney is with Mac, and she comments on the way he never throws anything away, and Mac replies:
‘”There’s no shame in trying to make stuff work, is how I see it. It’s better than just accepting the broken.”I wanted to say he was lucky he even had a choice. That for most of us, once something was busted, it was game over. I would have loved to know how it felt, just once, to have something fall apart and see options instead of endings.’
Sydney is a figure who you attach to straight away, because the difficulties she faces in feeling invisible are ones felt by all teenagers at some point. Like all Dessen protagonists, at the close of the novel, she feels like an old friend. Her story is moving and also dark at times, but it is ultimately hugely uplifting and one with great heart.
- Ink and Bone, Rachel Caine
My rating: * * * * *
Series: #1 The Great Library series
Publisher: Allison and Busby
Publication date: July 2015
Goodreads synopsis: ‘Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.
Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.
When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn…’
I was so excited to find this book. During a reading slump I was looking up my favourite authors, checking if they had any books coming out. I went on Rachel Caine’s website and saw that she was writing a new novel….and that it was due out on July 7th. And this was on July 6th! And I had no idea it was coming out so I didn’t have a long wait! I rushed to get it on July 7th, and was hooked from then on.
The prologue is an absolutely gripping introduction to the novel. In it, the young Jess, the protagonist, who is illegally smuggling a book to give to a private owner, discovers just how corrupt his society is, and the selfish greed that people have for knowledge. The sight that he witnesses is one which he will never forget, and it ignites his appreciation for novels and his commitment to protecting them.
The world building in this novel is first class. The setting has a 1984- feel to it of constantly being observed, with the automaton lions and their ever-watchful eyes, the London Garda, and the formidable force of the Library.
Additionally, I really like the fact that between chapters there are notes, decrees or letters from and to Archivists, Obscurists, and Linguas, from across the centuries, which build up the sense of the Library as a sinister being, and those at the forefront of it as manipulative, controlling and dangerous. Tension builds throughout the novel, through the main plot, and also through these letters.
The novel is packed with fantastic characters, from Jess, a protagonist who you automatically root for, his inventive best friend, Thomas, and his initially aggressive roommate, Dario, to Morgan, a mysterious latecomer to the Library, and Wolfe, the fierce mentor to the Scholars.
The final chapters of novel are really tense and climactic, with Jess’ decision about Morgan, the Postulants’ positions for the next year being revealed, and the appearance of the Artifex.
I am hugely excited for more of Jess’ story in Book 2!
- Vendetta, Catherine Doyle
My rating: * * * * *
Series: #1 Blood for Blood series
Publisher: Chicken House
Publication date: February 2015
Goodreads synopsis: ‘When it comes to revenge, love is a dangerous complication.With a fierce rivalry raging between two warring families, falling in love is the deadliest thing Sophie could do. An epic debut set outside modern-day Chicago.
When five brothers move into the abandoned mansion in her neighbourhood, Sophie Gracewell’s life changes forever. Irresistibly drawn to bad boy Nicoli, Sophie finds herself falling into a criminal underworld governed by powerful families. As the boys’ dark secrets begin to come to light, Sophie is confronted with stinging truths about her own family, too. She must choose between two warring dynasties – the one she was born into, and the one she is falling in love with. When she does, blood will spill and hearts will break.’
This book is awesome!
A great strength of Vendetta is that you can visualise everything. Doyle gives the perfect amount of description of the settings, the characters, and the situations in the novel so that it captures your imagination. The publisher’s note at the beginning of the book compares it to a movie and he is absolutely right. This is especially true of the scene where Luca pulls up and interrupts Sophie and Nic in his car, of the basketball game scenes, and of the final scenes, but the whole book is like watching a TV thriller.
YA romantic thrillers can sometimes be cliché, but Vendetta is not because it’s so well written. There is romance but there is also constant tension and many twists and turns throughout the novel. I really like the idea of the jar of honey mentioned in the beginning and its later significance.
The dialogue, too, is punchy and I love the way that Doyle intersperses bits of Italian for the scenes with the brothers. I enjoy the way that each of the five brothers has a distinctive personality and the way that they act around each other is also really interesting. Valentino’s speech about masks is a stand out:
‘This life is so complex that we rarely get to be the people we are truly meant to be. Instead, we wear masks and put up walls to keep from dealing with the fear of rejection, the feeling of regret, the very fear that someone may not love us for who were are deep in our core, that they might not understand the things that drive us. I want to study the realness of life, not the gloss. There is beauty everywhere; even in the dark, there is light, and that is the rarest kind of all.’
However, most of all, I love Luca and his complicated relationship with the heroine, Sophie. Their notes to each other later on in the book are adorable. I really hope there’s lots of Luca in the second book!
I would definitely recommend Vendetta and the great news is….it’s less than a month until the sequel, Inferno, is out! I cannot wait!
- The Potion Diaries, Amy Alward
My rating: * * * * *
Series: #1 Potion
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publication date: July 2015
Goodreads synopsis: ‘When the Princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn.
Enter Samantha Kemi – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they’ve fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? Just how close is Sam willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing former classmate and enemy, in the meantime?
And just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news.
No big deal, then.’
This novel is the perfect summer read: witty, charming, and creative!
The parts from Evelyn’s – the Princess of Nova, who has fallen in love with herself- POV are hilarious, especially her awe at first glimpsing her own reflection:
‘She’s over there, by the mirror. I can just about spy her out of the corner of my eye. My god, she is so beautiful. I should go over to her. I should say hello.’
The novel is also action-packed. The main protagonist, Sam, faces confrontations with a crone mermaid, the evil magician and royal family member Emilia Thoth, and even an abominable, after joining the Wilde Hunt, and there are no dull moments in the novel.
I also really like the inclusion of social media, as although it’s a huge part of the modern world, it isn’t a part of as many YA books as I would think it would be. The use of social media site ‘Connect’ in The Potion Diaries builds tension as different participants check in ready to fly to find ingredients, and adds to the competitive nature of the Hunt.
The Hunt is a battle between corporations, like ZoroAster, which manufacture synthetic ingredients on a large scale, and family-run businesses, like the Kemis’, who use the ancient art of potion making. This parallels a very real problem in our society – that of big businesses thriving at the expense of smaller ones.
I love following Sam’s discoveries of the different ingredients, the highs and lows of her time in the Hunt, and her journey to different countries to find elusive parts of the potion – the novel is full of adventure. The last ingredient is particularly inventive.
Overall, The Potion Diaries is a refreshing novel which is huge amounts of fun to read, and I would definitely recommend it for holiday reading.
- Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne
My rating: * * * * *
Series: #1 Normal Series
Publication date: August 2015
Goodreads synopsis: All Evie wants is to be normal. She’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the girl-who-went-crazy. She’s even going to parties and making friends. There’s only one thing left to tick off her list…
But relationships are messy – especially relationships with teenage guys. They can make any girl feel like they’re going mad. And if Evie can’t even tell her new friends Amber and Lottie the truth about herself, how will she cope when she falls in love?
This novel is a must-read. It’s witty, honest, sensitive and heartfelt, and deals with important topics such as mental health and how it’s viewed, feminism, and relationships.
I absolutely love the friendship between Evie, Amber and Lottie, and the humourous conversations that they have together. They each have distinctive personalities but fit together perfectly and are constantly entertained in each other’s company. It’s the ultimate friendship. Even when Evie is suffering at home, with them she is always laughing.
I also really want to join their Spinster Club! What a great idea. ‘We can reinvent the word ‘spinster’, make it the complete opposite of what it means? Like ‘young’ and ‘independent’ and ‘strong’? Their enthusiasm in making the group is tangible, and passes over to the reader, inspiring them, too. Additionally, being in that group with Amber and Lottie makes means, for Evie, that, ‘For the first time ever in my life, I felt strong.’ Her friendship with Amber and Lottie empowers her.
The structuring of the novel is also really effective, with the excerpts from Evie’s recovery diary, inputs of ‘bad’ and ‘good’ thoughts, text messages, and the subheadings, such as, ‘How to Wash Your Hands – The Evie Way’.
Over the course of the book, through following her journey, you grow close to Evie and feel a connection with her. She is such a vivid protagonist, with a character you instantly warm to and feel for. The question she poses, ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ is one which all teenagers ask themselves at some point.
This book underlines the seriousness of mental health issues, and challenges the stigmas and assumptions that people make about them. I think, therefore, that this novel is not only an enjoyable read, but a highly relevant one.