Well, it's that time of year when everyone is putting up lists and since I love reading these lists I thought I might as well put up my own list, too.
I'm also pretty curious about seeing what people thought of all the books they read, not just their top 10 or so, and so I've loosely ranked all the books I read this year (except the rereads). Yeah, this is a long post.
Best of the best
These are the five star or near five star reads. The books that utterly transfixed me while reading them and still command my attention long after I've turned the last page. I know I'll be re-reading them and they all hold a place on my Special Shelf.
Queen of Fashion by Caroline Weber
Marie Antoinette is one of my favorite historical figures to read about, and Queen of Fashion has easily become one of my top favorite books on the monarch. It's a non-fiction book, but written in such a fluid, linear narrative style that I almost felt like I was reading a novel. A perfect blend of history, politics, personality, and fashion.
Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
This isn't a perfect book for me, but it's pretty darn close. Main character Caitrin didn't fully manage to become a forever friend, but I do like her. Likewise, Anluan wasn't exactly what I was looking for in a male lead, but he was a good fit for Caitrin. The side characters did steal my heart, though, and the dense, palpable story absolutely swept me away. Part fantasy, part Beauty and the Beast retelling, part Gothic mystery equal all things I adore in a book. I was so utterly absorbed while I was reading and I'm still aching to go back.
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (review to come)
I was nervous about this book because I love Maas's ToG series so much and I was afraid this new series wouldn't live up. And, while I don't love Feyre as much as I love Celaena (Aelin, I'm sorry, I still can't do the name change), I do love the darkly seductive world and barely restrained tension of ACOTAR. Even more reminiscent of Anne Bishop's Black Jewels trilogy, ACOTAR is like rich chocolate ganache—a total guilty pleasure.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik (review to come)
Yet another book with a main character and male lead I liked but did not adore. But that world. I was sucked into the mystery of the Wood and I still find myself slipping away into its dark, frightening, and tantalizing clutches. I've been holding myself back from rereading, but I think I'm going to have to give in soon.
The really good
These are primarily four star reads, give or take a half star. These books made me happy and many of them I want to own so I can reread them. They don't have that something that would make them Special Shelf books, but many of them are very close.
Dreamy and lush, this book is just like a lazy, innocent summer afternoon—with the ever-present looming responsibility of the fall slinking just along the edges. The events are pretty obvious, but no less enjoyable. Main character Coriel was a little too naive for my tastes, but that did add to the charm of the story overall. A perfect mix of amber honey, hopeful innocence, tender love, and dark tragedy.
Legacy by Susan Kay (review to come)
Unlike Marie Antoinette, Elizabeth I is not a historical figure I particularly like. She is interesting, though, and Susan Kay does a brilliant job bringing out all the nuances of Elizabeth's personality and rule. I felt utterly saturated in Elizabeth's life and mind and the turmoil and conflicted emotions of the many men surrounding her. This book is a powerhouse.
First Truth by Dawn Cook
Though not quite as amazing as The Decoy Princess, this start of another fantasy series was still thoroughly enjoyable. This is a slow, close book with a tiny cast and not a whole lot of high adventure, but an interesting central mystery. Sometimes I felt myself getting antsy and wishing for more, though I'm not even sure what more I wanted. The magic system is interesting in the broad strokes but so boring when we go into the details. The strength of this series is in the characters: strong-willed Alissa, meticulous Strell, evil Bailic, and enigmatic Useless. Their push and pull against one another, care, growth, and secrets makes this book for me.
I've been a fan of this series from the beginning, with each installment as strong as the last. This is one of those books that is just fun and comforting. There wasn't as much high adventure in this final book, but it was still thoroughly enjoyable. Kat's relationships with her family really stand out as a strength and I like the way they have grown by this final book. I'm disappointed to see the series end, as I could easily continue reading more of Kat's adventures.
Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan
Isabella reminds me of Kat, and like the Kat books I could happily read a million of Isabella's adventures. The last book was my favorite and really set the bar high, so this third book had a lot to live up to and it didn't quite get there. That's partially my fault since I'm usually predisposed to not love sea voyages, and partially the book's fault for squashing the romance I was hoping to see develop. I was so into the book that before I knew it I was turning the last page and the journey was over. I'm looking forward to doing a more leisurely re-read where I can really sink my teeth into the story and enjoy it more.
Maid of Deception by Jennifer McGowan
I was surprised at how much I liked the first book and then surprised yet again by how much more I liked this second book. Beatrice is a mean girl with heart and I couldn't help liking her. At this point I don't even fully remember what happened in the story because it was Beatrice, and not the plot, that kept me engaged. This is a strong, nice series that sadly doesn't get near the attention it deserves.
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall
These books are feel-good comfort reads, pure and simple. They're about family and they're chock full of heart-warming scenes and endearing moments. They don't have high action or peril or anything like that. They're just straight up nice, and I like that.
A Heart Revealed by Josi S. Kilpack
I was expecting a Regency romance to make my heart swell, and while I definitely got that, I also got a lot more. Main character Amber goes through tremendous character growth and faces an awful situation that caught me completely by surprise. There's also the development of a friendship that was unexpected and wholly welcome. This was a surprising win all around.
Hugh and Bess by Susan Higginbotham
I thought this was going to be more straight historical fiction like the previous book I read by this author, but instead this was more of a clean romance set with a heavy historical backdrop. This was a nice surprise and I liked the balance between historical detail and the romantic plot.
Goddess Girls (10-13) & Grimmtastic Girls (3) by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
These books continue to deliver. Inventive world-building, fun interpretations of the original tales, and heart-warming friendships with sweet messages, these books are total comfort reads and my go-to series for readers in the target audience.
These are also three and a half and four star reads, but they didn't quite stick with me the way the others have. I liked them a lot and I'm glad I read them, but I'm either less likely to do a re-read or they had something significant that stood out in a not so great way.
Paranormal investigations can very easily be my thing, and Kalayna Price's series definitely fits the bill. I like main character Alex Craft's personality, magic, sleuthing, and relationships (especially her dog and ghost sidekick). There are definitely some flaws in this series (mainly the love triangle that is getting pretty irritating), but I'm invested enough to read the fourth book when it releases in 2016.
Isle of the Lost by Melissa De La Cruz
Color me surprised because I was so not expecting to like this book as much as I do. I didn't expect to miss reading it. Or to be excited for the sequel to come out already. I'm shocked, mostly because objectively I know this book really isn't all that great. But, I don't know. I guess it's fun and the characters struck a chord. Isle of the Lost turned out to be a surprisingly light and sweet comfort read like the Goddess Girls series.
Body and Soul by Stacey Kade
It's been fun spending time with Alona and Will as they sleuthed their way through paranormal mysteries, battled ghosts, bickered with each other, and slowly fell in love. This is another series that I wish had more attention than it does. Alona and Will are both strong characters with clear character growth who always manage to stay true to themselves.
Fame, Glory, and Other Things on My To Do List and It's A Mall World After All by Janette Rallison
Janette Rallison books are a sure bet when I'm looking for something light, funny, mildly romantic, and with grudgingly good humored character growth. These two books delivered on all fronts. I would be more inclined to put these in the category below because these are pretty fluffy and forgettable, but Janette Rallison's writing gets a bump.
The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani
Stick this one in the same category as Isle of the Lost. In both cases I objectively don't think they're very good books. TSfGaE had so many contradictions that it made frustratingly little sense and I'm still not sure what my takeaway is supposed to be. But still, I liked the characters, especially Sophie with her pretty princess evil queen thing going on. I can't explain it, but this book has stuck with me.
The Seven Tales of Trinket by Shelley Moore Thomas
Short stories are hard to do, but Shelley Moore Thomas pulled it off in this loose novel/short story collection. I enjoyed her mix of traditional and fresh spins on these lesser-known fairy tales.
Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama
The modern day sections were the weak link for me, but I loved the Gothic backstory that was slowly uncovered. Love, tragedy, loss, and revenge always make good themes and they were used to good effect here.
VIII by H. M. Castor
Henry felt more like a caricature than a real person, but I still appreciated getting his perspective when usually I read about his story from the perspective of one of his queens. His relationship with his mother as well as his superstitious beliefs and pressing urge for an heir came through strong and have stuck with me. Rough, but not without merit.
This was a nice book. I liked the magic and the main character and how the author reimagined the Baba Yaga tale. Also, the cat. The book made me think about what I would do if I ever landed in a similar situation, both as Baba Yaga and as one of the townspeople who have the opportunity to ask one question. I love it when books engage me in this way, and so A Question of Magic got extra points for that.
I was both disappointed and thoroughly engaged with this follow up to one of my most enjoyed books last year. This book, and in particular, main character Jared, felt really young and improbable and that clashed for me with the dire high stakes of ungentlemanly war and devious political intrigue. Then again, I really enjoyed the dire high stakes of ungentlemanly war and devious political intrigue. So, there's that. The huge cliffhanger ending and rumor of no contract for book three has left me on a more sour note than this book probably deserves.
I like Anne Boleyn as a volatile and clever seductress hungry for security and egged on by a power hungry family. Jean Plaidy gave me a prudish Anne Boleyn filled with righteousness, a lack of interest in the king and a lingering wish for a quiet, domestic life with another man. I could not get into Plaidy's version, even though I still like Plaidy's writing. This one could go up here or in the category below, but I'm bumping it up on the grounds that it's Plaidy.
Dense and dreamy, this book contains a very simplistic and nice fairy tale-like story dressed up with a lot of fancy language and imagery. I liked it, but I like Sharon Shinn and Juliet Marillier more.
So much potential! I don't think it fully lived up to both my expectations and its potential, but it came really, really close. Now that I know what to expect from it, I think I'll like it a lot more on a reread. Interestingly enough, even though this is a Beauty and the Beast retelling, it reminded me strongly of that sort of fantasy, dystopian feel of Incarceron.
The King's Rose by Alisa M. Libby
Points to the author for making me actually care about Katherine Howard (doomed wife #5 of Henry VIII). I feel like I finally get her and I feel for her and her situation. Humanizing Katherine also made Henry seem simultaneously more human himself, and more monstrous. I wish the author had a backlist I could read through.
Icefall by Gillian Philip
This was a fitting end to a strange and beautiful series. I'm not sure if I like it, dislike it, or love it. I think a mix of all three. It's confusing and I don't know what was going on half the time or why the characters were doing what they were doing. But gosh, it was gorgeous. And so fiercely, emotionally powerful. The ending punched me in the gut and I love it.
These are mostly three and three and a half star books. These are the books that are good, but not really memorable. They didn't change me or grab me, but they were pleasant enough diversions.
A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep
The adventure was pretty meh, though definitely more thrilling to the target audience. Transcending age, though, are all the parts about friendship and grief. These parts are touching and resonated with me, but they weren't enough to carry the book.
Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
A nice middle grade book, but one that is definitely middle grade, though a darker middle grade. A cute mystery, a fun mansion (though the author never really explored it) and a big reveal that was both predictable and unique, if that makes any sense. I liked it in the moment, but it hasn't really stuck with me.
The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan
I still think of this as that Percy Jackson book because it feels like a copy of that series. Same formula, different mythology. But, unlike the actual Percy Jackson books, this new series doesn't have very many characters I actually like. Everything felt pretty forced and I'm not sure if I'll pick up the rest of the series.
House of Ivy and Sorrow by Natalie Whipple
This book had a feel I didn't like. The story was ok and the characters were ok-ish and while I was in the right mood and invested enough to finish the book, I wasn't invested enough to read a sequel (if there was one. There isn't.) or check and see if the author has written anything else. I don't think this was the right fit for me.
The Disappearance of Emily H. by Barrie Summy
Another middle grade book that is probably better suited to a middle grade audience. The mystery and main character were both ok, but I think they'd both resonate more with the target audience. For me, this book is fading from my memory fast.
Prince Puggly of Spud and the Kingdom of Spiff by Robert Paul Weston
This is a book written in verse. I don't like books written in verse. It rhymed well. The story was cute. It was mildly funny. And, it's written in verse, and I don't like books written in verse.
A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston
I wanted this book to be more, but what it was is pretty nice. But it wasn't memorable. It didn't strike me or grab me or any of those high action phrases. I liked the story, but it kind of bored me. I wanted it to be Toads and Diamonds but instead I got Tiger Lily.
Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville
Some things about this book make it worthy of the category above, but ultimately I don't think it will stick with me. Another one that was fun in the moment, and this one was very enjoyable, but it doesn't have enough substance to keep me.
Maid of Wonder by Jennifer McGowan
I love this series, but I don't love Sophia, the maid this book focuses on. I had a hard time picturing the paranormal bits and I don't like how the romance resolved itself. Here's hoping the next book is better, because despite this hiccup, I'm definitely going to read it.
Project Alpha by D. J. MacHale
I have a feeling I liked this book more because it was D.J. MacHale. Too bad the rest of the series isn't written by him. The Voyagers series feels like a trip back to 1990s' TV tropes, which isn't a bad thing even if it is an eye-rolly thing. I'm not hooked enough to actively seek out the rest of the series, but if they turned up in my library I'd give them a shot.
Red Girl, Blue Boy by Lauren Baratz-Logsted
Thankfully politics aren't a thing in this book. Romance is though, and it's the fluffy, predictable kind you get in a teen romantic comedy movie. These types of stories don't usually get super high ratings from me because they're rarely amazing. What they are is enjoyable, which is exactly what this book is, and sometimes that's exactly what I'm looking for.
Lord Fenton's Folly by Josi S. Kilpack
Oh disappointment! Josi's other book was a delightful surprise by offering me far more than a romance. Lord Fenton's Folly, on the other hand, was a letdown for the exact same reason: it had far too much other stuff going on, everything felt underdeveloped, and it all took away from the romance. So much potential!
Isabel, Crown Jewel of Castile by Carolyn Meyer
Pretty standard Royal Diaries book. A solid, good portrayal of a young Isabel. I probably would have rated it higher and it probably would have made more of an impression on me if I hadn't already been blown away by C. W. Gortner's book. Oh C. W. Gortner, you've ruined me (in the best possible way).
Half Upon a Time by James Riley
I had higher hopes for this, but it turned out just ok. It's not bad, but there are so many fairy tale books out there and this one just doesn't stand out. Not even enough to get me excited about reading the sequels. I may, someday. Maybe, probably (mostly because I already have them).
These are mostly two and three star books that were not the right books for me.
The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki
Oh how I wanted to love this! It's a gigantic book about historical figures I really wanted to read about. Alas, all those pages are filled with romantic pining and whining, a wishy-washy sense of time and place, and, the most grievous sin, fact tampering. I've thought about adding the sequel to my TBR multiple times, but then I remember the fact tampering and I dejectedly back away from the Goodreads "Want to Read" button. The Royal Diaries did it better.
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
I might have rated this a little higher, but time and the memory of the DNF-ed sequel have left a bad impression. While reading this book, I did enjoy the mystery and the budding romance, the world and especially a side character. After the sequel, all I can think about is Seraphina's awful personality, the irritating love triangle, and her uncomfortable "garden." Sadly, even the memory of this book has been ruined.
The Woodvilles by Susan Higginbotham
Well, clearly I should stick with this author's fiction books. This is not the type of non-fiction I like. It's filled with block quotes and a non-linear progression that failed to make the connections I wanted it to make. This type of book has its audience, and I am not among their number.
The Reign of Henry VIII by David Starkey
Ditto everything I said above about The Woodvilles.
Cleopatra VII by Kristiana Gregory
Loved the author's book on Eleanor, but couldn't take the loosey-goosey approach to historical accuracy she took in her Cleopatra book. Plus, it didn't give me anything (good) that I didn't already get in Carolyn Meyer's version.
One Witch at a Time by Stacy DeKeyser
Chalk this one up to wrong audience. It's a good book for the target audience, which is why I rated it higher (because it IS a good book), but it was a struggle for me.
Betrayal by Patricia Finney
I'm not sure what happened here. I think it was the wrong book at the wrong time for me. I liked the first book in this series, but this one just grated. It felt very young and historically silly and I really wasn't in the mood for that.
Victoria Rebels by Carolyn Meyer
I feel like apologizing to Carolyn Meyer for this one because I loathed this book. But that's because Carolyn Meyer did such a good job writing Victoria, and I really, really don't like Victoria.
Silver in the Blood by Jessica Day George
My gosh what is happening with me and Jessica Day George lately?! We started out on such good footing with books like Dragon Slippers and Princess of the Midnight Ball, but it's been a gradual slide downhill since then and this latest try was just awful. I will not be reading the sequel.
The Secret Bride by Diane Haeger
Historical inaccuracies abound! That's the quickest way to get me to dislike a biographical historical fiction book, and Diane Haeger dished up an appalling number of inaccuracies that could have been remedied by one perusal of the Mary Tudor Wikipedia page. Add in an over-focus on hollow romance and I'm still shocked I didn't DNF this one.
Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon
Cute enough and probably good for the target audience (though if I had a daughter I wouldn't be giving her this book). I couldn't get over the unattractive illustrations and overdone and silly message the author felt the need to beat over the head of her poor readers. I did like the premise of the Sleeping Beauty princess going all dare-devil adventurer because she knew she couldn't die and I was engaged in that part of the story. Also, the pet quail was awesome.
Appleblossom the Possum by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Cute, sweet, nice illustrations, and kind of all over the place. It started out with a very nice feel of a classic children's animal story and I thought I was in for a real treat. Then the tone completely changed and it turned silly and outlandish and that's when it lost me. Still, probably something the target audience would like.
The Smoke Thief by Shana Abe
I was hoping for something along The Black Jewels trilogy because this book kept getting recommended under the "readers who like..." But where TBJ has heavy character development and world building with a sensual background, The Smoke Thief was sex in the forefront with minimal attention given to character development, world building, and plot. Not good enough.
The one star
Thankfully there was only one.
I grudgingly laughed because, sure, he can write some funny phases. But if this book taught me one thing, it's that I do not like the persona of David Sedaris.