Favorite Books of 2015

28 Dec

These are my favorite books I read this year, not necessarily books that were published in 2015.

Middle Reader

Counting by 7sCounting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Counting by 7s is a book I’d been meaning to read and people have highly recommended to me but only got around to now. And, I can’t believe I had put off reading this book for so long! It has elements from a couple of other books I enjoyed- The Meaning of Maggie and A Snicker of Magic (which is another one of my most favorite favorites)- but Counting by 7s is singularly its own wonderful entity.

I loved the characters from twelve-year-old Willow Chance who likes to assess other people’s medical conditions to Quang-ha, a lone wolf of a teenager who is more insightful than he lets on.

I had refrained from reading this sooner because the tragedy of losing two sets of parents seemed overdramatic and unnecessary but everything that results from it is incredible- heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. That what the story is about- the surprising consequences of our actions- or from life’s unexpected moments.

No one who meets and understands comes out unaffected.Readers will feel transformed as well!
View all my reviews

And don’t miss:

RooftoppersRooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
‘Books crowbar the world open for you.’

In this magical tale, a girl with hair “the color of lightning” is raised by an eccentric but kind man. When the Welfare Agency decides that he is not suited to be raising a girl, off they flee to Paris in search of her mother. There they find a new world populated by Rooftoppers, homeless kids who live on roofs. It’s a thrilling chase full of beautiful characters and language that plays like music. I felt the book ended too soon!
View all my reviews

And these are other middle readers I loved recommending this past year:

Dory FantasmagoryDory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There’s much to like about this new early chapter book series. The format reminded me I should get a move on with my own story I’m working on!

Dory (or, Rascal as she’s called by her family) has a great imagination and very determined to stay in character. She’s eager to please and willing to do anything to be liked. Unfortunately, she has two older siblings who’s rather not play with her at all.

Kids will delight in her adventures, especially with the characters she comes up with. Adults will find her endearing- if not a bit exhausting as well!
View all my reviews

Masterminds (Masterminds #1)Masterminds by Gordon Korman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There’s something screwy in Serenity, New Mexico.

Everything should be perfect. In fact, it is. There’s no crime, no poverty, nothing bad to speak of at all in this small town.

But five kids will learn a devastating secret that will change their lives forever in this fast-paced, exhilarating first book in a new trilogy.

Offering various points of views, the picture is completed piece by piece. Boys and girls will find something to enjoy in this adventure story.

It’ll be criminal to miss out on such an exciting read!

(Aside from some questionable vocal choices, the audio book was very good.)

View all my reviews

Circus MirandusCircus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the story of a boy, Micah, whose grandpa is very sick. His grandpa, as a child, met a magician who owes him a favor. It’s up to Micah to find the secret Circus Mirandus where the mysterious Lightbender lives and get him to grant the miracle for his grandpa.

As a fan of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, I loved the setting and characters of this book. Actually, I loved everything about Circus Mirandus.

I gravitate towards everyday characters who are faced with unusual situations. I tend to like characters who have a strong moral compass but aren’t goody-two-shoes. And Micah definitely fits those descriptions. His friendship with Jenny doesn’t seem forced. They quite complement one another. His relationship with his grandfather is admirable.

The pacing of the story is seamless. The chapters revealing the backstory don’t interrupt the flow at all. The story ends in a way that provides closure but makes you want more.

Even when things don’t work out the way you expect them, you’ll still end up believing in the power of miracles, in magic.
View all my reviews

The MarvelsThe Marvels by Brian Selznick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Brian Selznick’s works have always been singularly original creations and The Marvels is no exception.

The first part of the book tells the story of the Marvels, a family of actors through multiple generations. It is told entirely in pictures with text embedded in some of his distinctive illustrations.

The second part jumps to the 1990’s where a young boy runs away in search of his friend and any clues to his family history. How these two parts relate drive the rest of the narrative towards an ending that will leave readers wonderstruck by the power of the marvelous human invention that is storytelling.
View all my reviews

Picture Book
Young Adult

More Happy Than NotMore Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I ended up staying up until 3am reading this book. It was unputdownable!

Ricki from Unleashing Readers recommended it to me. I’ve been so “tired” lately of most MG and YA novels because they’re too downright depressing or after school special-ish. And I don’t really like reading teenage angst.

But a few pages in, once I got the feel of the book with the use of young street type talk and the abundance of nicknames, I got sucked in and started caring for the characters.

Any questions you may get about the the main character’s motivations will be answered. There’s plenty of twists that will keep you turning the pages.

They weren’t kidding when they said this was a mix of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (one of my favorite books)and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (one of my favorite movies.)

Refreshing. Heartbreaking. Unforgettable.
View all my reviews

And don’t miss:

Far Far AwayFar Far Away by Tom McNeal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Once upon a time there was a boy who had a ghost for a best friend- and not just any ghost but that of Jacob Grimm. And, so begins a dark modern fairy tale.

Jeremy Johnson Johnson is a very genuine character. A teenage boy who hears the voices of the dead and has a strong sense of what’s right and wrong. His predictable life veers of in unexpected directions once he starts hanging out with Ginger, a spit-fire of a girl but good-natured at heart. Having Jacob Grimm narrate this tale was a great choice.

One might argue that it took rather long to get to the core of the story- this whole business of a malevolent entity known as the Finder of Occasions. But the characters were too likable for me to care. I loved getting to know them better and all the fairy tale references thrown in. And each incident was like a breadcrumb, a clue, leading to the big reveal. Some might even say it’s heavy on foreshadowing but, for me, it just created a great sense of anticipation.

The Finder of Keeper is truly one of the most sinister characters I’ve ever encountered. This was a great story all around!
View all my reviews

All the Bright PlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The first absolute Must Read of 2015! Fans of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park will want to add this YA novel to their collection.

All the Bright Places begins with not one but two suicide attempts. Finch is the school outcast, the black sheep in his family. Violet is still recovering from the death of her sister. After an unexpected run-in with one another at the top of their school’s bell tower, they become friends.

Told through their alternating perspectives, we discover how their wandering around Indiana gives them back a wonder of the world- and life itself.

Finch and Violet truly come alive and you share their ups and downs. You root for their budding relationship- particularly when they quote Virginia Wolf and Dr. Seuss. You’ll hope their happiness can last because this book deals with some serious stuff- aside from suicide, death of a loved one, there’s also (verbal, mental and physical) abuse and depression.

My biggest take away from the book is this: Live life to the fullest. Find all the bright places and people you can and hold them close.
View all my reviews

We Are All Made of MoleculesWe Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’m calling this a Must Read YA of 2015.

I wonder if there’s something about teen novels with two perspectives that make me like them more. Like All the Bright Places, Eleanor & Park, and I’ll Give You the Sun, just to name a few, We Are All Made of Molecules alternates between point of views. Stewart is a gifted yet socially awkward boy whose mother had died of cancer. Ashley is a popular mean-girl aware yet unaware of her reputation whose dad just came out of the closet. They are forced into each other’s lives when their parents decide to move in together.

Memorable characters, beautiful writing, and captivating storylines make this a great read. Someone said fans of Wonder who are ready for a more mature read (subject-wise) will like this. I agree.

I would also pair this with Rebecca Stead’s upcoming Goodbye Stranger. They both touch upon an alarming issue that girls seem to have to worry about now with technology and cell phones. I’ve got to say some parts toward the end made me feel uncomfortable, which in a way is good.

And, to get on a soap box for a moment, as I finished this book I couldn’t help but think the following: Let’s respect girls. Let’s model good behavior for boys to make them respect girls and their privacy. Let’s respect one another and be examples of good behavior.

To quote a quote by Einstein shared in the book: “The world is a dangerous place to live,not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
View all my reviews

Audio Books

The True Meaning of SmekdayThe True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I didn’t know what to expect with this book. My interest was piqued when I saw there was a sequel and a movie.

I decided to read this as an audiobook, which had its share of of pro’s and con’s. Pro: It was a great production. The reader, Bahni Turpin, did an amazing job with all the aliens’ voices. Con: You miss out on the illustrations in the book. There are a few sections told in comic strip form.

I didn’t expect to get so immersed in it. This is great for even emergent (reluctant?) readers because it’s an adventure story about an alien invasion. It’s also a fun friendship story with lots of action and heart thrown into the mix.
View all my reviews

I also listened to Far Far Away by Tom McNeal in audio book and it was another great production. See my review of the book in the Young Adult section.

The following are also great audio books:

Stella by StarlightStella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Another historical fiction I enjoyed. I listened to this as an audio book and I have to give props to the reader and everyone involved in the production of it. I loved the gospel songs.

Stella is a child of the 1930s when people were being discriminated against based on the color of their skin. Although, sadly, there is still some of this going on. That’s why I don’t like reading books that tackles racism. It makes me sad and angry how much there’s still left to be done.

She uses her aspirations to be a writer to help make sense of the world around her- why the KKK is burning crosses where her and her family and friends live, why her father despite having been given the right to vote is given a hard time when registering to vote.

It’s a coming of age story that will resonate and get readers thinking of what they can do to make sure they are on the right side of history, of spreading love and kindness in a world that surely needs it.
View all my reviews

Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay RightsStonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights by Ann Bausum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Stonewall, a nonfiction book intended for a teenage audience, is an informative look into an important part not only in gay history but American history as well. It details the corruption and the causes of the infamous riots, noting the key players and events that would spark a revolution. It includes a note from the Author sharing her story why she wrote this. With all the news involving gay rights, it’s an exciting look at how far we’ve come and what’s possible ahead.

The audio book is narrated by Tim Federle, author of Better Nate than Ever.

View all my reviews

Guys Read: True StoriesGuys Read: True Stories by Jon Scieszka
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In this newest Guys Read collection, Jon Scieszka (founder of the Guys Read web-based literacy program) shares ten non-fiction tales from ten different contributors tackling a variety of topics and in different ways.

I would say this would be good for older readers as well. Some stories got me queasy. And I’ve never heard so many tales about having to drink urine either one’s own for survival or as part of a concoction to help with teeth problems.

I listened to this as an audio book so I had my first experience listening to a short story in grahic novel form. I also missed out on Brian Floca’s illustrations for each of the story.

Other words to describe this anthology: Intense. Gory. Light-hearted. Funny. Informative. Interesting.
View all my reviews

Graphic Novel

The Shadow HeroThe Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
My first book of 2015 is The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang.

Gene Luen Yang is probably my favorite graphic novelist out there. I won a signed copy of The Shadow Hero last year and made it a point to finally read it.

And, it did not disappoint. A part of me is wary about superhero comics and another part tends to avoid stories with any historical context so I was kind of hesitant to read a re-imagining of the first Asian American superhero. But Yang is such a masterful storyteller. I was hooked right from the start and I wanted more by the end!

This origin story finds a nineteen-year-old grocer’s son donning some questionable costumes after his mom wants to turn him into a superhero. What starts of as (not so) fun and (physically painful) games turns into a revenge story against a crime empire in the depths of Chinatown.

I loved the humor which was the biggest surprise- that with all the action, I would be laughing so much!

If the first book I read in 2015 is any indicator of how good my reading year ahead will be, then I say, “Game On!”
View all my reviews

Young Adult Graphic Novel

NimonaNimona by Noelle Stevenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I don’t think I’ve been as impressed with a graphic novel in such awhile as I’ve been with Nimona. Sure, stories have hooked me- as it did here too- but reading this graphic novel was so refreshing. I felt I was in whole new territory despite the familiar fairy tale feeling.

All the characters were unique, their backstories gripping, and their relationships complex. I had been reading an Advanced Reader Copy of this and I had absolutely no idea what to do with myself since it didn’t contain the epilogue of the actual release. The actual release also had additional sketches and two holiday shorts.

Fun, exciting, thoughtful, and moving. I wish there were more but only if they are of the same or better caliber of this one.

View all my reviews

Middle Reader Graphic Novel

Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to EarthHilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I wasn’t sure I was ever going to read this because it was written by a previous Real World cast member but I’m glad I did. Not only was it a reminder that reality TV was better and more substantial back then but HiLo is one of my favorite graphic novels this year.

Lots of adventure and humor. Great cast. Can’t wait for the next one!

Other books to check out until then, Smash: Trial by Fire by Chris and Kyle Bolton and Earthling! by Mark Fearing.
View all my reviews

And this was probably my most recommended graphic novel:

Roller GirlRoller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Roller Girl is perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier’s Smile and Cece Bell’s El Deafo. It’s an honest coming-of-age story that depicts the grayness of certain situations and the unavoidable imperfections of people.

My only complaint was Astrid’s nickname even if it was intended to be mean. But Astrid as a name does pay off in the end.
View all my reviews

Adult Non-Fiction

For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet's JourneyFor All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey by Richard Blanco
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Richard Blanco’s For All of Us, One Today manages to be timely and timeless, personal and for everyone. It is a memoir and a poetry primer- a behind the scenes look at the poet and the craft. It is a love letter to America and its people. It is also a beautiful reminder of how words can transform and bring people together.

I want to give this book to everyone I know. I want to have it with me whenever I write to be inspired and to learn from it.

More: https://thechroniclesofachildrensbook…
View all my reviews

I was pleased to see that “One Today” is now available as a picture book beautifully illustrated by Dav Pilkey. This is perfect for younger readers!


Don’t miss out on these other adult non-fiction books:

State of Giving: Stories of Oregon Nonprofits, Donors, and VolunteersState of Giving: Stories of Oregon Nonprofits, Donors, and Volunteers by Greg Chaillé
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Reading this book took me forever to read- not because I didn’t like it but because I was constantly being inspired and had to put it down to mull things about. I would have thought the format of talking about each non-profit- what they do, what help they need- would bore me like reading a textbook but the people and the stories behind each one gives readers a connection.

I was definitely introduced to people I would consider heroes and to causes and organizations I want to reach out to. It gave me a new way of seeing Portland. The names of some buildings and other structures are now familiar to me because who they were dedicated to.

This book is a necessary call to action. It also serves as a reminder to myself and to others: Look for the good in the world. Be the good in the world.
View all my reviews

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond FearBig Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Hello folks, creative friends. Please allow me to go all Oprah on you for a moment as I tell you to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. Whatever field you dabble in or even if you’re not sure yet but just want a field to play in, this book will give you a nudge in the right direction. Read it!

I already want to reread it myself because there were so many parts that spoke to me and I want to make sure I let them soak in.
View all my reviews

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday LivesBetter Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Better than Before offered a lot of A-ha moments. The fact I find myself agreeing with Gretchen Rubin more often than not is like living vicariously through her. She applies her research to her life and shares her experiences in a conversational manner that’s accessible.
View all my reviews

Adult Fiction

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I may be late to get on this bandwagon but I’m on it now with all the others who are raving about this novel.

All the Light We Cannot See is truly a masterpiece. It took Anthony Doerr a decade to write this and it shows in the style and the attention to the details- wonderfully plotted like the miniature cities that play important pieces in the story.

Alternating mostly between Marie-Laure, the blind daughter of a museum keeper and locksmith, and Werner, the orphaned boy with a shock of white hair, their stories jump through the years until the inevitable collision of their two worlds. The fact that the moment is expected doesn’t take away the anticipation and the dread leading up to it. And, by the time it happens, readers would have already been dazzled by the writing, the story and the characters of All the Light We Cannot See.

It reminds me of The Book Thief and The Invention of Hugo Cabret, two of my other most favorite favorites.

View all my reviews

My least favorite of the year:

A Little LifeA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I was so angry with this book, I didn’t even want to finish it 633 pages into its 720. It makes me wish I read Go Set a Watchman instead!

It’s like drawing a picture of a toilet with poop in it to show it’s dirty and then taking an actual dump on it for no good reason.

I hardly got through the last part with all my tears. At one point I realized I had mimicked the book’s cover in my agony. And of course you’re going to cry because it felt like emotional manipulation. I think the best kinds of fiction (whether as a book or a movie) is one that feels real or grounded in real life but somehow elevated or better (and I don’t mean that it has to have a happy ending.)

Another thing that annoyed me was the summary implying we’d follow four friends through the year. And while we do, again it seemed unnecessary to “focus” on the other two, especially when we get someone else’s point of view in a few chapters.

I really wanted to like this.
View all my reviews

Stay tuned for my Favorite Picture Books of 2015 on Thursday!


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