Top 12 Books I’ve Read This Year

By Jim Dean, December 29, 2015

These are in order by author surname as I couldn’t possibly pick between them – except for the last one, which in a year including some truly remarkable books is absolutely my favourite. I’d also like to mention The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson, We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen, and The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah (Fox) Benwell – none qualify for this list as I didn’t read them in 2015, I’d been lucky enough to get early copies – but all three are absolutely outstanding! In addition I find it VERY hard to judge series books (in particular series enders) against standalones – Will Hill’s Darkest Night deserves a mention as a truly epic conclusion to one of the very best paranormal action series of recent years. Everyone should buy the entire Department 19 series! I’ve also limited the list to UK releases.

(Also, a lot of these are edited version of previous posts here rather than try and find yet more words to describe the brilliance of some books I’ve talked about rather a lot!)
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Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Penguin) – Gorgeous romance between two high-school boys who meet over the internet and know they go to the same school but aren’t aware of each other’s identities. Lovely, heart-warming, FUN read and some adorable scenes between lead character Simon and his friends and family. A staggeringly good debut, looking forward to the companion novel Becky’s mentioned on Twitter she’s working on!

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Orion) – Even better than Leigh Bardugo’s fabulous Grisha trilogy, the first book in her new series – set in the same world – is a stunning heist novel with a brilliant cast. All six lead characters here are very well-rounded while the relationships between them are outstanding and there are so many wonderful bonds of friendship, and in many cases possible romance. Some AMAZING twists and turns in the plot, as well!

How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne (Usborne) – The only 2016 release to make this list (although there are lots of others I’ve really enjoyed, with Sara Barnard’s Beautiful Broken Things coming extremely close), Holly Bourne’s second book in her Spinsters Club trilogy is a superb follow-up to the also brilliant Am I Normal Yet? Main character Amber, who tries to rebuild her relationship with the mother she hasn’t seen for several years, and also negotiate a budding romance, is awesome. It’s also fabulous to still see Amber’s friends Lottie and Evie via Spinsters Club meetings over webcam.

One by Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury) – This breathtaking verse novel about conjoined twins Grace and Tippi is a powerful read and, for me, one of the very best books of the year. It’s lyrical and heartbreaking, and narrator Grace has a superb voice. This is the shortest novel in my top 12 but it’s one of the most powerful – and, along with The Wolf Wilder, perhaps the most gorgeous to look at. (Bloomsbury really have had an incredible year for cover design and producing beautiful books!)

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The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Macmillan) – This Victorian-set fantasy is a story about the strength of women, and is wonderful at showing so many great female characters who have a lot of strength in very different ways. A superbly portrayed setting, seriously creepy atmosphere, and some incredible twists and turns make this a truly magnificent novel.

Leap of Faith by Candy Harper (Simon & Schuster) – The third in Candy Harper’s series about schoolgirl Faith is the best yet (and given I’ve bought 17 copies of book one at various times, that’s seriously high praise!) I adore this set of books for the amazing relationships between Faith and her family and friends, especially the way they talk through issues with each other.

The Next Together by Lauren James (Walker) – Lauren James’s stunning debut covers four time periods – two near-future ones and two in the past – one during the Crimean War and one during the Siege of Carlisle. She tells the story of a couple fated to meet, fall in love, change the world for the better and die tragically young, then be reborn and start the cycle over again. The four timelines ALL build to an incredibly exciting conclusion and I can’t wait to read Lauren’s upcoming sequel The Last Beginning!

The Curious Tale of Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson (Corgi) – Based on the true story of a young woman of colour who convinced a respected family she was a princess from the South Seas, this is a fascinating tale of a historic hoax. I love Caraboo herself – she’s a brilliant lead who’s clever and likeable. Catherine Johnson also brings the time period to life wonderfully well.

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The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (Walker) – This isn’t just an awesome read; it feels like a phenomenally important one (without ever being preachy!) Lead character Mikey, who suffers from OCD and anxiety, is a main character I adored, and I love that there’s all too rare positive portrayals of medication and therapy. The story of a possible apocalypse, as seen through the eyes of the ‘normal’ teens rather than the superheroes (here called ‘indie kids’) trying to prevent it, this is a fabulous novel.

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill (Quercus) – This is a ferocious and important read for older teens. Lead character Emma falls victim to horrific abuse from a group of popular boys while drunk at a party, and doesn’t even remember what happened when she awakes – until the photos spreading like wildfire via social media bring things back to her. This is all too horribly believable, in the wake of Steubenville, as we see the town rally around the abusers, beloved for their sporting prowess, rather than Emma. There are rays of hope – I loved Emma’s supportive brother – but the vast majority of this one will have you screaming in fury at just how messed up people’s priorities can be, and how hard it is for young women to be believed.

Remix by Non Pratt (Walker) – There are so many authors who do a fantastic job creating wonderful characters – but Non is the ABSOLUTE BEST at it, as she confirms with her second book here. This one is about fun, friendship, festivals, families, and whimsical badger vests. It is EVERYTHING I want in a YA contemporary – including a rare but absolutely perfect scene of two teens actually talking about a girl’s first time not living up to her expectations. (Some YA-appropriate sex scenes so best suited for slightly older/more mature teens.)

Book of the Year

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, illustrated by Gelrev Ongbico (Bloomsbury) – Perfect for anyone who loves thrilling adventures, incredibly well-described settings and exquisite prose. Rundell’s writing style has always stood out, while illustrator Gelrev Ongbico’s drawings add a lot to her outstanding story. The tale of a young girl in Tsarist Russia who sets out, alongside a pack of three wolves, to rescue her imprisoned mother, I was expecting this to be exciting and wonderfully written. It doesn’t disappoint on either account! What I wasn’t expecting was the humour that is in the book – despite the terrible situation Feo is in, her incredible spirit and relationship with the wolves, and her new friend Ilya, had lots of moments that made me smile.

What do you think?