My top five books of 2015

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I’ve still got a lot of books that I need to review from my baby-feeding-haze at the end of last year, but I have come up with a list of favourites from 2015! Two of them are the same as my list from May – the start of the year was certainly the best for books for me!  Here they are: 

I succumbed to the adverts and read The Tearling – and once I started I couldn’t stop! 

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Kelsea Glynn is reluctant Queen of the Tearling, torn from her isolated upbringing to rule the fractured, downtrodden once-utopia of Tearling. As she attempts to right the hideous wrongs of her society she must also face the angered neighbouring Red Queen with all her powers, win the people to her, master her anger and work out what the jewels she carries are and what the strange visions that plague her mean for her nation…

Okay so I was trying to summarise two books there, hence how stuffed that synopsis is! Basically like a snob for a long time I didn’t want to read this because the heroine is called Kelsea. I mean, Kelsea. In what seems a medieval setting? But Emma Watson’s endorsement convinced me because I think she’s excellent. And I was hooked!!! And the name thing does actually make sense, for anyone else who might initially be put off by that…

I liked this book much more than Ian did – Clariel by Garth Nix

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Clariel has been forced to move from the forest she loves to the city, where her parents have plans for her life that she is not happy with. But there is trouble in Belisaire – a King who does nothing, a man trying to take over, and a free magic beast who is trying something. Clariel finds herself drawn into feuds and battles she would never have chosen, and gradually secrets about herself and her powers are revealed.

My friend Ian reviewed this book for me a few weeks ago, and just thinking and reading about it made me want to read it! And perhaps because my expectations weren’t so high, I liked it a lot more than he did. It’s a prequel to the Abhorsen series – and I very much enjoyed entering into the world Nix has created again and seeing it from a different perspective. The thing that ruined it for me was the fact that pretty much the whole way through I could tell who the main character was going to be in the later series – and it just didn’t feel right.

Fast-paced, fun and dramatic – if stark and cold – The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

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Paige Mahoney, a dreamwalker who can break into people’s minds, has lived in danger of discovery for years – but when she is captured on a train and taken off to an unimagined separate society she discovers more and more about the corrupt and restrictive world she lives in. She is assigned to a gaoler who doesn’t seem to be what he is meant to be, forms alliances and makes enemies in the strange world that has become hers, desperate for the rest of her crew back in London. But forces are rising all around her, and Paige seems to be key to it all…

Sorry the synopsis is a bit vague, I read this ages ago now and have leant someone my copy! I read this because I had heard so much about it, because the author Samantha Shannon is extremely responsive to her fans on twitter, and because I found it for sale on the book barge. I was even more excited when I realised that the author had signed it! In general, though I wasn’t really captivated by the world it was set in, I really enjoyed this book!

My friend Ian set his expectations way too high for Garth Nix’s Clariel

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My good friend Ian Harding read Clariel, which I’ve been really wanting to read for ages! He agreed to write a review for me – plus he’s an English teacher too so he knows what he’s talking about. Anyway, I still want to read this book, even if I’m lowering my expectations…

Thanks for the guest spot Anna.

I’ll begin by confessing that I’m a huge fan of Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom novels: Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen rank as some of my favourite reads of young adult fiction. So when I saw that Nix was bringing out a new novel focusing on the era before the Sabriel trilogy, I was excited to delve once again into the world of the Old Kingdom.

Colleen Houck’s Reawakened – a new teen book that ISN’T a dystopia!!

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Liliana Young goes to the Metropolitan Museum to do some thinking – but ends up waking Amon, an ancient Egyptian sun prince – far from home, with a mission and now magically bonded to her. She is drawn across the sea to Egypt and into his destiny – to revive his brothers and defeat the evil god Seth in a pacy, adrenaline filled adventure – all whilst trying to battle her growing attraction to a certain gorgeous sun god…

Part of the reason I picked this up is because it’s a YA book that is NOT a dystopia! Gosh! In fact… it is referencing the past! Gasp! I think I imagined it was going to go back in time, but it didn’t and it didn’t matter. Despite the slightly awkward title, it was a lot of fun, rife with conspiracy and fun Egyptian-ness!

This would be better if it wasn’t trying to reference Arabian Nights – A Thousand Nights by E.K.Johnson

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When the infamous Lo-Melkhiin whose 300 previous brides died comes to her village to choose a bride, our unnamed narrator knows he will choose her sister, the most beautiful girl there. Determined to save her, she ensures she will be chosen, and journeys with across the desert. Plunged into a new world where death probably awaits her every morning, she finds that her sacrifice has bestowed her with powers that might just change everything…

I expected, and wanted this to be a retelling of Arabian Nights. Understandably, surely? But though a lot of the basic set up was the same, this story really was about magic, power and demons rather than stories. Which I was a bit disappointed by – I’ve yet to read Arabian Nights (SO I COULD BE WRONG ABOUT THIS WHOLE THING) but have always been fascinated by the idea of stories so compelling that they save Scheherazade’s life night after night. That disappointment aside, the story was pretty decent and kept me reading!

Marvellous imagining and characters in Peter Dickinson’s The Changes Trilogy

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No one talks about The Changes. And, since them, no one likes machines. Girls have to wear skirts. Witches must be burned. And anyone who thinks differently has quickly left for France. Nicky was left by her parents, and joins a group of unaffected Sikhs to help them work out how to live in this new world. Madge and her cousin Jonathan find a not-quite-dead witch, and rescue him on an adventure in a forbidden tug boat, and finally Geoffrey, a weather maker, finding himself in the point of being drowned, sets off on a quest with sister Sally to find the source of The Changes once and for all.

I really liked this trilogy! It’s an old one, and has all the elements of great kids adventures stories. Good kids against misguided adults, characters with skills, terrible danger and lots of action. Each book was about one of the three characters, and though they were barely connected at all put together they gave a good triptych of The Changes.

Another romp in the Third Reich – Hitler’s niece adventures again in Blankman’s Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke

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After the gruelling and dramatic adventures escaping from Nazi Germany under her adopted uncle Hitler’s nose with her Jewish boyfriend Daniel in book one, Gretchen has been taken in by an English family and for the first time ever has a place she likes to call home. But Daniel isn’t so well placed – and when he hears his brother is ill he rushes back to Germany. Next thing Gretchen hears he’s accused of murder – and she makes the dangerous journey to Berlin in an attempt to clear his name, encountering gangs, the SS, secrets and old Nazi acquaintances galore as she tries to pull one over on Hitler yet again.

I was initially doubtful about how another book could come out of this. Gretchen escaped from terrible circumstances and crazy happenings – and now she’s going back! What! And once she was back in Germany, the drama came thick and fast. The coincidences were far too many, the story completely implausible – but terrific fun. It’s pushing beyond the limits of believability, but if you accept that, it’s gripping and exciting.

What would you ask an author? Five reasons why it’s harder than you think!

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Very excitingly, I’ve been able to do a couple author interviews on my blog, and just sent the questions off for another. This is another instance of my blog making my dreams come true – not only do I get sent free books but am allowed to question the people who wrote them! Hurrah!

I interviewed Christopher Fowler here and my sister and I interviewed Lynette Noni here. But I’ve found that writing questions isn’t quite as easy as you might think. I find that I spend a long time agonising over just what exactly to ask!

Here are my five quick conundrums: