Favorite Books of 2015

Well, this is embarrassing. I’ve read half as many books as I did last year. That meager 25 is staring back at me from my Goodreads shelf and filling me with shame.

Nevertheless, there are some really good books on my tiny shelf. These are my favorite books of 2015.

  1. A Lot of Butt-Kicking – the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

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    Throne of Glass follows Celaena Sardothien, an eighteen-year-old assassin, as she fights to become the King’s Champion and win her freedom. The next two books in the series uncover the political turmoil in the kingdom of Adarlan and Celaena’s role in it. I love this series for many reasons: the action scenes are intense, the writing is detailed and poetic, and the characters and their relationships are captivating. The best thing about ToG, though, has got to be Celaena herself. She’s fierce, she’s strong, she’s flawed, and she absolutely slays (often literally). I recommend this series to any and all fantasy fans.
  2. Ugly Crying – If You Find This Letter by Hannah Brencher

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    Hannah Brencher has been one of my favorite writers for a while, and If You Find This Letter just made me love her even more. This book details HB’s stay in New York, battle with depression, and eventual founding of one of my favorite movements, More Love Letters. If You Find This Letter is deep, rich, and truthful. If you’re looking to learn about yourself, God, the world around you, and your place in it, or if you just want a good ugly cry, then this book is for you.
  3. Surprisingly Not Depressing – Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon 

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    Everything, Everything 
    also earned a spot on my “so cute I cry” shelf, if that’s any indication of how wonderful this book is. If that and the gorgeous cover above haven’t already enticed you to read it, then you should know that it follows Madeline, a teenage girl who’s essentially allergic to the world, and her relationship with Olly, a new neighbor. I love Everything, Everything for its creative writing style, wonderful characters who bring me joy, thematic depth, and a twist ending. If you like cuteness, if you like contemporaries, if you like creativity, if you like PoC main characters, then you should definitely pick up Everything, Everything (and then check out my review here!).

  4. Pride and Prejudice-Ception – The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick and The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley

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    It’s no secret that I love Pride and Prejudice. I wrote my Common App essay about it, it’s the first book I read on my kindle freshman year, it’s the reason I’ve read all five of Jane Austen’s other novels, and it’s why I’m forcing my family to take a detour to Bath this summer. These two books are a spinoff on a spinoff of this beloved tale of first impressions. “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” is a YouTube video adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel, and those videos were then re-adapted into Secret Diary, whose follow-up (told from Lydia’s POV) is Epic Adventures. Confusing, I know, but basically: these two books are excellent retellings of Pride and Prejudice. The main characters’ voices are strong, the modernizations are clever, the character development is wonderful, and the relationships are on point. I recommend Secret Diary and Epic Adventures to anyone who loves Pride and Prejudice, “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” or both. (You can check out my review for Epic Adventures here!)

That’s it for my favorite books of 2015! I’m planning my 2016 TBR now and hoping that it will be a better year for reading. Feel free to check out my 2014 favorites and all my book reviews as well. Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you’re having a lovely holiday season filled with lots of books!

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Review: The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley

The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley follows Lydia Bennet of “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” a modernized vlog-style adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Epic Adventures picks up immediately after the end of “LBD” as Lydia applies to college, becomes interested in psychology, and moves on from the terrible events with George Wickham. It’s full of character growth with a standalone plot line and lots of laughter. I give The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet 8/10 stars for excellent characterization, being reunited with all my old friends, and generally all the feels.

Things I Liked:

  • The Ly-di-ah, a.k.a. the adorbs, is back! I was so proud of her growth as she learns to be confident in herself, wants to help people, and works on her relationships. Overall, my favorite part of reading The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet and The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet was definitely that it felt like being reunited with lots of old friends. I just really, really, really love “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” and both of these books were an incredible way to keep experiencing one of my favorite stories in an entirely new way.
  • I loved reading from Lydia’s POV. Though her voice isn’t quite as strong as Lizzie’s in The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, it’s still present, funny, quirky, and very Lydia. The writing in Epic Adventures also has phenomenal quotes, including…
    • “Here’s the thing about good guys. They don’t tell you they’re good guys.”
    • “… strangely connected to strangers telling secrets that weren’t really theirs.”
  • The setting in Epic Adventures is really strong, and I enjoyed every change in location. From Books Beans and Buds to the idyllic New York apartment rooftop, each place contributes really well to the plot and Lydia’s attitude and character development.
  • The failure essay is very important to me. I was waiting to read Lydia’s essay about her failure and learning from it for the. entire. book. And it was so worth it. I was actually crying when I read it; that’s how proud I was of her.
  • Lydia stands up to stupid George Wickham and it is the best thing ever. This comes in a close second to her standing up to stupid Cody (which is also the scene of one of my favorite quotes from the book: “I’m Lydia freaking Bennet. And I’m done being lame.”).
  • The Mechanics are a really great musical addition! I enjoyed all of the concert scenes, especially when Mary has to join in on bass and Lydia is enthusiastically cheering her on.
  • I just really love Lydia Bennet.

Things I Didn’t Like:

  • Epic Adventures was just a tad predictable. I called it that Cody is bad news and that the book would end with Lydia’s failure essay. The whole thing certainly wasn’t predictable (I definitely didn’t think we’d be seeing any more of George or that we’d go to New York), but those parts were pretty easy to figure out.

Favorite Character:

  • In case it isn’t obvious… Lydia Bennet. Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat.

That’s it for The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet! If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend you do the following things in the following order:

  1. Read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
  2. Watch “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.”
  3. Read The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick.
  4. Read The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet by Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley.
  5. Fall into the inevitable pit of awesome that is the literary inspired web series fandom. Good luck!

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see y’all soon with a new post!

Review: The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis

(I received an early copy of The One Thing from Disney Hyperion in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.)

The One Thing by Marci Lyn Curtis follows recently blind Maggie Sanders, a teenager struggling to come to terms with her loss of sight and soccer dreams. Her blindness and her anger toward it fuel a school prank which lands her with a probation officer… whose nephew is Ben Milton.

Whom she can see.

The rest of the book follows Maggie’s relationship with Ben and his older brother, Mason, as well as her healing process. It’s hilarious, angsty, and has a happy ending, so it’s basically everything I look for in a contemporary. I give The One Thing 7/10 stars for the humor, good ol’ teen angst, and happy ending.

Things I Liked:

  • The writing, particularly the humor, is phenomenal. I cannot tell you the amount of times I laughed out loud at Maggie’s sarcasm or Ben’s quirks. In general, it’s important to me that books are funny, whether they’re existential teen crises books or adventurous dystopian novels. The One Thing definitely passed that test.
  • Another thing that’s ridiculously important to me in books is minor characters, and The One Thing delivered on that as well. Maggie’s parents, Ben and Mason’s mom, Clarissa, Samantha, Gramps, Lauren, Sophie… this book had a wonderful, complex cast. I love it when minor characters are just as real and struggle just as much as main characters.
  • My heart has a soft spot for the disabled, so I loved reading a book about blindness. I’ve even had a blind girl in my group before at a special needs camp I volunteer at. I am all about any sort of diverse representation, from race to disabilities.
  • I also loved the way music weaves its way into the story. As a musician, I loved reading about The Loose Cannons, songwriting, and Maggie rediscovering her piano talents.
  • Maggie’s character development is wonderful. She can definitely be a pain, but by the end of the story, she grows so much and I was so proud of her. Her perspective and her attitude improve 110%, and she works on both herself and many of her relationships. Go Maggie!
  • The ending is unexpectedly happy. I was prepared for angst and sadness, and I ended up grinning like a goofball. All’s well that ends well, and The One Thing definitely does.

Things I Didn’t Like:

  • I know I literally just said Maggie’s character growth is spot-on… but let’s go back to the “she can definitely be a pain” part. At times, it was challenging or irritating to read her complaints or struggles. I just wanted to grab her by the shoulders, shake her a bit, and yell at her to just talk to her mom.
  • It’s a little predictable at parts. [Minor spoiler alert] I knew from the description on the back cover that Ben was dead or dying. That just felt a little too obvious.

Favorite Character:

  • Because this book has such strong minor characters, it was hard to pick just one, but I had to go with Ben. He’s quirky, funny, and adorable. What’s not to love?

That’s all for The One Thing! Thanks for reading this review; I hoped you liked it!

Review: Drowning Is Inevitable by Shalanda Stanley

(I told y’all I had a lot of reviews coming your way. I received an early copy of Drowning Is Inevitable from Random House in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Trigger warning: mentions of abuse and suicide.)

“I think you’ve heard what happened. Most people have. We made national news. You don’t know the truth, though. The newspapers didn’t tell the whole story.”

Drowning Is Inevitable, chapter 1

Welcome to Drowning Is Inevitable, which is dark and intense and really freaking sad. This book follows seventeen-year-old Olivia, who has grown up in small-town Louisiana with the shadow of her mother’s suicide hanging over her; her best friend Jamie, whose family sucks about as much as Olivia’s; Maggie, the local free spirit; and Max, Olivia’s on-again-off-again boyfriend. A terrible tragedy bonds these four friends-then-fugitives together in a dark, twisted adventure with a shocking ending. I give Drowning Is Inevitable 6.5/10 stars for the stellar relationships, fairly relatable characters, and overall intensity.

Things I Liked:

  • The strength of Olivia’s and Jamie’s friendship is incredible. I just loved them a lot.
  • The writing matches the story really well. To me, it seemed plain, but its simplicity, moodiness, and darkness fit together with the plot like weird puzzle pieces. The writing also feels almost detached emotionally; the author describes more events and actual happenings rather than overusing flowy metaphors about pain, which worked really well. Add in several quotes that stood out to me, and I ended up liking the overall writing.
  • The setting is really great! Even though I grew up in Atlanta and not a small town in Louisiana, I could relate to a lot of the Southern traditions, charm, and heat mentioned throughout the book.
  • I like that Olivia’s relationship with her mom weaves in with the plot rather than being the plot in its entirety.
  • It’s a good sad book. I read a lot of sad books with sad endings and characters who are pretty messed up. Angst is my friend. Think Looking for Alaska (minus a lot of the humor) or We Were Liars. If that’s what you’re looking for, I highly recommend Drowning Is Inevitable.

Things I Didn’t Like:

  • Drowning Is Inevitable is, like I said, a good sad book, but nothing stands out to me about it or makes me want to shout out from the rooftops that I would marry it if I could. I try to save 9 or 10 stars for books that absolutely blew me away. Drowning Is Inevitable was certainly a great and worthwhile read, but to me, it just wasn’t that extra level of phenomenal.

Things About Which I Have Conflicting Feelings:

  • Olivia’s and Max’s relationship is so. frustrating. On the one hand, this makes it seem more realistic: he doesn’t solve all of her problems for her because he can’t, no matter how hard he tries. On the other hand, I just wanted them to kiss and make up already.

Favorite Character:

  • My favorite character for this book goes to Maggie! This is entirely because of the line, “No one matched the sheer velocity with which she approached life.” Maggie is a phenomenal secondary character, complete with a lot of support for Olivia, individual talents, and her own tragic backstory. Like Olivia says in chapter 2, “Everyone needed a Maggie.”

That’s it for Drowning Is Inevitable! Thank you to Random House for the advanced copy. Hope you enjoyed this review!

Review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

(I received an early copy of Everything, Everything from Random House in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Also hot dang look at that cover.)

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon is about a girl named Madeline who’s essentially allergic to the outside world: she stays in her house all the time, attends school online, hangs out with her mom a lot, and reads countless books (that have been decontaminated and vacuum-sealed, of course). All that changes, though, when a new family moves in next door and she sees Olly: all-black wearing, parkour-performing, totally mysterious and intriguing Olly. You can guess what happens next. As their relationship grows, Madeline learns more about the outside world she so desperately wants to be a part of and has to make a choice: stay alive or start living. I give Everything, Everything 9.5/10 stars for #relatable characters, such cuteness that I can’t even, all the deepness, and an ending that I truly did not see coming.

(Warning: this post contains minor spoilers!)

Things I Liked:

  • I absolutely adored the characters in this book. They’re super relatable and real. Madeline has this incredible balance of wanting a different life and trying to be content with the life she has; she isn’t some sort of “poster kid” trying to “live her best life today” and cheesily remaining positive in the face of every obstacle life throws her way, but she also doesn’t spend the entire book moping. At first, Olly seems like your stereotypical punk teenager, but you find out that he has a lot of depth, feelings, and hardships. He definitely reads like a real person rather than a stereotype. Nurse Carla and Zach are just fantastic. I love everyone.
  • The main character is a person of color! Diversity for the win! #WeNeedDiverseBooks
  • Two things stood out to me regarding the writing: great quotes and the super interesting way the book is put together. Rather than simple prose, going from paragraph to paragraph, Everything, Everything contains medical records, diagrams, Gmail-chatting, definitions from “Madeline’s dictionary,” and “Life is Short TM” book reviews. These pieces are incredibly creative and add a whole new dimension to the story. They also bring a lot of humor to a book whose subject matter could have been crazy angsty; this creativity is a great way to balance out the heaviness of Madeline’s struggles.
  • Madeline’s character development is phenomenal. I was so proud of the way she grows, and I loved how her growth is influenced both by her relationship with Olly and her increasing desire to be a part of the outside world. She goes through a lot and the odds are against her, but she keeps going, and I was very inspired by the way her character learns the difference between surviving and living.
  • I honestly did not see the ending coming, which grows rarer and rarer the more I read. Kudos to Nicola Yoon for surprising me.
  • Certain parts of this book are just so cute that I can’t even. The Gmail-chatting! Their first kiss! Their reunion! Gah.

Things I Didn’t Like:

  • There was one scene in Hawaii that I wasn’t too big a fan of.
  • That’s really it.

Favorite Character:

  • As I said above, I loved every character in this book, but the favorite character award has got to go to Zach. He’s only in about five pages, but I could not stop laughing for those five pages. He’s such a funny third wheel and he’s got dreadlocks and he’s just great. I love Zach. A lot.

That’s it for Everything, Everything! I recommend this book to anyone looking for something cute like Stephanie Perkins mixed with the character development of John Green. I’ve got a lot of reviews coming this week, so be on the lookout for those. Hope you guys enjoyed this review!

Review: Hunter by Mercedes Lackey

(I received an early copy of Hunter from Disney Hyperion in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.)

Hunter by Mercedes Lackey is about Joyeaux Charmand, a teenage Hunter of monsters from the Otherside who is called to protect the citizens of Apex. On the outside, it looks like a sort of fantasy-dystopian combination with the chance for some action-packed goodness and a female main character who can kick some butt. On the inside… eh. I did not enjoy Hunter very much: the writing didn’t stand out to me, I didn’t really connect to any of the characters, and a lot of the backstory just did not seem very well done. I give Hunter a 3/10, because truthfully, I struggled to read it.

Things I Liked:

  • Hunter did have its moments. The pacing was pretty good, with conversation or personal reflection time to balance out the action-y scenes.

Things I Didn’t Like:

  • I really didn’t connect very much to any of the characters. There were moments when I really liked Joyeaux at the beginning, but those tended to fade as I got closer to the end. She’s strong and can definitely kick butt, which I usually enjoy, but for some reason I was just not attached to her. All of the characters in Hunter fell flat for me.
  • The writing is bland and lacks maturity or sophistication. Comma splices and excessive explanation points drove me insane, but mostly it just felt very childish. Mercedes Lackey also uses annoying dystopian vernacular, in which new technology or innovations are just a play on current, similar objects. For example, “Hot Chocolike” is the new version of hot chocolate. This vocabulary in dystopian novels irritates me.
  • I was definitely not a fan of the backstory. The Diseray is basically when society fell apart and all the monsters from the Otherside came through into our world, and it was caused by the Christers, who are obviously Christians. I still can’t tell if this rubbed me the wrong way solely because I’m a Christian, or if non-Christian readers would find it odd that this book very clearly blames Christians for its apocalypse. Either way, the backstory felt random, unnecessary, and slightly offensive.
  • There are too many details to keep track of. Along with the backstory, new monsters are constantly being introduced, such as Gazers and Jackals. There are so many different monsters, and each of them is described briefly and then referred to only by its name, that I had trouble remembering them all. This made certain sections of the book quite confusing.
  • Honestly, the book didn’t hold my interest enough, and for the last 100-150 pages, I was just trying to get through it to the end.

I don’t really recommend Hunter. Maybe I couldn’t get into it because I have so much else going on with school and college applications, but I definitely did not enjoy it. I hope all of my lovely readers are enjoying interesting books right now, though, and I’ll see y’all soon with a new review!

Review: Nightborn by Lou Anders

(I received an ARC of Nightborn in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own. This review is being posted before publication to celebrate the release of the paperback of Frostborn!)

Nightborn is the second book in the middle-grade fantasy Thrones and Bones series by Lou Anders. It follows the adventures of half-giantess Thianna Frostborn and game-loving farmer Karn Korlundsson as they attempt to find an ancient mythical object. There are dragons, elves, riddles, and disguises, among other fantastical things. This series has been a pleasant surprise: very well-rounded and balanced, which I definitely needed. I give Nightborn a 7.5/10 stars for being one heck of a sequel.

*SOME SPOILERS AHEAD (I did my best guys my reviews are usually super spoilery)*

Things I Liked:

  • World expansion is the bomb. In Frostborn, the story sticks to the northernmost corners of the continent of Katernia; in Nightborn, there are tons of new cities and places because “hey! We have flying creatures who can travel quickly!” I really enjoyed getting to see how the adventures impact the world outside of Norrongard.
  • Cast expansion (is that a thing? Just made it one.) is also the bomb. The minor characters, especially Desstra, and their development kept me a lot more interested. The bigger the cast of a series, the more invested I am; I liked that Frostborn features a nice cast of pretty detailed minor characters.
  • The riddles are really fun, especially with all the play on words. I’m a sucker for a good mystery riddle leading to treasure.
  • The climax is awesome! The book builds really well to the final scenes, including the shocking twist at the end. As much as I love good riddles, I love exciting battle scenes even more.
  • The lines between good guys and bad guys are a little blurry, which I always love; unclear morality is one of my favorite things in any story. The themes of the book don’t really explore this too much, but the bad guys are usually the ones whose goals conflict with Karn and Thianna’s, or the ones who are mean. I hope moral ambiguity gets developed more in book three, because it always makes me feel for the characters more (a la The 100).
  • The brains are the dude and the brawn is the girl. Reversal of gender roles for the win. I loved that Karn is the one who thinks his way out of sticky situations and Thianna is the one who smashes first and asks questions later.
  • They remain platonic! Which is really, really, really refreshing!
  • Friendship = feels. I freaking love Karn and Thianna. My heart.

Things I Didn’t Like:

  • The humor fell a little flat for me. This is probably because it’s a middle-grade series and I am a little over six months away from adulthood (hahahahahahahahahaha), but I wasn’t as charmed by the funny scenes as I would’ve liked.
  • Though it didn’t detract from the story, the writing didn’t particularly wow me either. This could’ve made the experience a little more enjoyable, but the overall story is totally worth it.

I’m really glad I picked up the Thrones and Bones series! The adventure and the characters have been surprisingly fun and enjoyable, and I’m really excited for book three. I recommend this series to anyone looking for a relatively easy read with a nice blend of action and character development.

Review: Off the Page by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer

Off the Page is the companion novel to Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Samantha van Leer. Between the Lines follows a girl named Delilah and her efforts to get a fairytale prince named Oliver out of a book and into her life so they can be together; Off the Page shows the consequences of that decision and how it affects not only the lives of Delilah and Oliver, but also their friends and loved ones. Both books were cute, fun, lighthearted reads, but I became less engaged after a while because of the relentless focus on romance. I give Off the Page 5.5/10 stars for solid secondary characters, cute scenes, and humor, but also too many love interests to hold my interest.

Things I Liked:

  • Split POVs are actually done really well. In my opinion, it’s very difficult to pull off split POVs (another example of success with these is the end of The Retribution of Mara Dyer [which I’m still not over because it’s flawless]), but I think Off the Page balances Oliver, Delilah, and Edgar really well. Edgar POV in particular was very exciting to me, because I wanted to see a lot more from his character after Between the Lines ended.
  • The secondary characters introduced in Off the Page expand it a little beyond a simple romance. I liked Chris and James and Jessamyn because they distract a little from the pining.
  • Jules.
  • I liked that the characters figure out how wishes navigate between the real world and the fantasy world. It would have been annoying if Off the Page had turned into a repeat of Between the Lines, where the main plot is someone stuck in the book who doesn’t want to be. Instead, there’s a lot more back and forth, people popping in and out of the book, which makes the plot seem deeper than Between the Lines.
  • Off the Page definitely has a more grown-up vibe, and the maturity is a positive change from Between the Lines.

Things I Didn’t Like:

  • Boys have cooties. Seriously though, this book is just too focused on romance. I like action and butt-kicking and friendships and sarcasm and one-liners and romance, but Off the Page is mainly a lot of pining. I didn’t mind at first, but after a while, the whole sixteen-year-old-who’s-found-her-true-love thing got a little old.
  • Jules, one of the only non-pining characters, is also the only character who doesn’t get a happy ending. Not fair.
  • While I was reading it, I could ignore it, but the stereotypical-ness got to be just a little much.
  • Okay, but, like, you’re sixteen? How do you know this is your true love? Especially when you’re not bonded by some supernatural connection or action-packed backstory? Why are you acting like this is the point of your entire life? Be independent, woman! (Me to Delilah.)

Even fictional boys are gross after a while. Though Off the Page has a lot going for it, after a while, I wanted something more. Romance, even when there’s funny characters and cute scenes involved, can’t compensate for a lack of explosions or battles or villains. Off the Page is fun and cute, but I was still left wanting something else to add a little action or interest or not-romance.

(I received an ARC of Off the Page from Random House in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.)

Favorite Books of 2014!

I read over fifty (50!!!!) books in 2014. These are some of my favorites.

1. Cliffs of Insanity – The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan

I finally read the Heroes of Olympus series this year, after reading the Percy Jackson and the Olypmians series growing up. And boy, does HOO have some cliffhangers. The end of Mark of Athena made me sit back in shock, my face contorted with ugly crying. The three middle books in the series are amazing for their humor, their action scenes, and their Percabeth. If you’d like to hang from some cliffs, I’d recommend the Heroes of Olympus series, except I don’t really because Blood of Olypmus was such a disappointment.

2. Cliffs of Intensity – the Mara Dyer series by Michelle Hodkin 

The Mara Dyer series has some pretty crazy cliffhangers, too, but it’s much more thrilling and creepy than Heroes of Olympus. These books are not for the faint of heart. I love Mara Dyer because the characters are so strong and unique, the writing is so beautiful, the relationships will physically make your heart ache, and the plot is suspenseful AND actually makes sense! Also, the Lord of the Rings references are pretty great. Recommended for people who want to be so scared they pee their pants and so attached to characters that they feel actual pain when the characters suffer. (Because there’s a lot of suffering.) (Also, read my review for the last book in the trilogy, The Retribution of Mara Dyer, here!)

3. Sad Books Make Me Cry – Looking for Alaska by John Green

Beautiful, funny, heartbreaking characters. Beautiful, funny, heartbreaking relationships. Beautiful, funny, heartbreaking story about the impact that we have on other people and the importance of forgiveness. I recommend Looking for Alaska to all of the people, but especially if you want to deepen your understanding of yourself and the world around you.

4. Why Do I Like So Many Sad Books – Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

I related so hard to Laurel’s character in this book. It’s heartbreaking as Laurel copes with the death of her sister, but she grows so much throughout. I enjoyed this book for the epistolary writing style which combined anecdotal and poetic writing, as well as the character growth Laurel undergoes. Recommended for readers who have been struggling and need to be reminded that it’s okay to struggle. (You can read more of my feelings in my review here.)

5. Seriously Though with the Sad Books – We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I read We Were Liars in one night. My favorite part about this book was the way the tone worked with the mystery, which complemented an overall theme of the novel. While reading, you get the vibe that something is off, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. This is a perfect illustration of the way the Sinclair family works. Ultimately, the ending is way tragic, and you barely get to see the main character, Cadence, let go of the past. But the suspense, the writing, and the story are still just so good. Recommended for people who want a contemporary that’s not focused mainly on character growth or romance.

6. Butt Kicking Is Good, Too – The Archived by Victoria Schwab

Honestly, The Archived is just a really good book. The main character is so awesome. Her romantic interest is so hot. The pacing is so excellent, suspenseful-but-not-too-suspenseful. There’s action, there’s strength, there’s fantasy colliding with reality. My main thought when this book comes to mind is that it’s very well balanced: the writing style, the characters, their relationships, and the plot all weave together wonderfully. Recommended to fans of action and butt-kickery. (Also, there’s a really awesome sequel, too, and there’s been enough support that a third book is in the works!)

7. Approximately Four Percent Were Nonfiction – Kisses from Katie by Katie J. Davis

I read this book just before I went to Haiti, and it was very influential for my experiences there. It taught me so much about complete dependence on Jesus and was a huge part of what God did to my heart this summer. It was touching, thought-provoking, and so meaningful. I recommend it to those looking for direction or feeling alone.

8. Dead Welsh Kings Apparently Pique My Interest – The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven Boys and subsequent books are probably some of the weirdest I’ve ever read, but they’re totally worth it because the characters are absolutely vibrant. The humor, creativity of the writing, and relationships between the characters will also keep you distracted from the fact that the plot is literally about a boy who should have died from hornet stings searching for a sleeping Welsh king on an energy line with his poor friend, his angry friend, his ghost friend, and a psychic’s daughter whom he falls in love with while dodging attacks from their psycho Latin teacher, their other psycho Latin teacher, and a hit man whom said psychic’s daughter’s mom is dating. Recommended, obviously, for those who are looking for something a little different.

9. One That’s Actually Cute and Somewhat Normal – Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I know for a fact that I will always go back to this book to make me feel better, whether it’s after a break up (ha) or a cliffhanger that makes me feel like I’m going to die. 2014 was the year I finally pulled myself together and read Anna, and I’m so glad I did. The characters, the humor, and the writing just make you feel like your heart is melting into a pile of goo and you wouldn’t have it any other way. Stephanie Perkins creates characters and situations that are just so real. I recommend this to people who need a recovery book, because whatever it is you’re going through, this will make you smile.

You have no idea how badly I wanted to add another book and bring the number up to a nice ten, but… oh well. Feel free to tell me your favorite books of 2014 in the comments! Happy holidays and happy reading!

Review: The Retribution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Let me just start by saying this: The Retribution of Mara Dyer was one of the best series finales I have ever read. This book is the third and final book in the Mara Dyer trilogy by Michelle Hodkin, and I’ve been waiting for it since January (which may be why my kindle slipped and I read it in two days). This book was everything I’ve ever wanted in a book three: adventure, humor, intensity, Lord of the Rings references, character development, tying up loose ends, Lord of the Rings references. Michelle Hodkin did an absolutely beautiful job with this book, and I give it a 10/10. (Warning: the following review has spoilers for all of the Mara Dyer series, including Retribution. Basically, leave and go read. Also, the following review is incredibly long because I could not stop raving about this book)

Things I Liked:

  • Is it too vague to say that I liked everything?
  • Probably. Shoot.
  • Okay, the first thing that comes to mind is that Michelle Hodkin ties everything together wonderfully. Going into this book, we knew a little about Mara’s grandmother and her connection with Noah’s mother and next to nothing about Abel Lukumi. But instead of a fantastically boring, Council-of-Elrond-esque backstory, the truth is revealed through flashbacks, random memories, bits and pieces coming together into one final monologue by one David Shaw. I had no idea how Michelle would bring this all together (example: I was beginning to think that Mara was the Doctor). But all the puzzle pieces finally click at the very end in the most dramatic, awesome way possible. #archetypeswag
  • Along with the previous point, the climax scene is wonderful. I was home alone when I read it, and there were a lot of gasps and screams and general bewilderment. It’s intense, surprising, not too lengthy, not too short, and absolutely incredible.
  • The writing is beautiful. My review notes for halfway through, when Mara is bleeding out and we’re getting flashbacks, are full of me VERY AGGRESSIVELY FREAKING OUT IN ALL-CAPS. This scene is just one of many examples of the incredible writing: intense, poetic, full of great lines, incredibly paced, generally on point.
  • Jamie Roth and Lord of the Rings references, ladies and gentlemen. Grumbling about Lembas, “fool of a Took!”, wanting to “Wormtongue” his way out of things, etc. I died laughing every time. Jamie in general is just fabulous.
  • Noah Elliot Simon Shaw. I feel like this might be the point on which most of the fans disagree, but I loved the way he enters toward the end. We’ve never really seen Mara without him, and I think it was important for her character growth that she spend the entire book searching for answers and him instead of searching for answers with him. When he does come in, it’s fabulous and dramatic and perfect.
  • Noah’s computer password is “marashaw.” My heart.
  • Mara and Daniel bro moments!
  • The ending after the climax, with the letters and unfortunately necessary decisions. At first, I was kind of annoyed at Mara having the whole “love Noah to ruins dilemma” again, and then I was upset that there’s not really a satisfying choice. But then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that her choosing Noah over the fate of the world is so consistent with her character throughout the rest of the books. She always chooses Noah, no matter the consequences, and he always chooses her. The fact that they end up in the same messed-up romance that they’ve always been in makes for a more satisfying conclusion than butterflies and rainbows.
  • Noah’s POV is all I could ever ask for in a book. The sass! The darkness! The drama! The sass!
  • Mara’s acceptance of herself is the most perfect thing in the world.
    • “He thought I was someone else… someone who wouldn’t fight back.” BAM.
    • “I thought it would be easier to be someone else than to be who I was becoming, but I didn’t think that anymore. The girl who wanted those things had died with Rachel, buried under the asylum I brought down. And I realized now, for the first time, really, that I didn’t miss her.” *AGGRESSIVE APPLAUSE*
    • “The most terrifying thing in these tunnels is me.” HECK YES.
  • Classic Michelle Hodkin character sass, including the aforementioned Noah Shaw and Jamie Roth. It lightens up these dark, depressing books so much.

Where is my “things I didn’t like” list? Ha. There isn’t one. This book was flawless. All the awards to Michelle Hodkin. Thank you for Mara Dyer, for sharing her story with us, and for this perfect conclusion to an exciting and adventurous series.