Sunday, January 17, 2016

Best books I discovered in 2015

(All purchased by me; Affiliate links)

Strange things are afoot at the Circle-K...

I’ve been a bit busy lately, and my blog has suffered—the most relevant reason is that I was contacted by an indie publisher interested in publishing one of my books, and I’ve been researching like crazy to see if we’re the right fit. Exciting, and I'll keep you posted!

Before time got away from me, I intended to put together a year-end post about a few of the books I read and enjoyed last year…So today we're gonna jump into the not-so-way-back machine and travel to the last week of 2015 to enjoy a year-end review of my favorite literary-type discoveries!

Let's start with some serious stuff...

An Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Alameddine

Summary: Aaliya Sobhi has spent her life set to the side by circumstance and culture, unwanted, unnoticed, and for the most part, unloved. She navigates war-torn Beirut and the loss of almost everything that matters to her with stolid doggedness; her life force comes always through books: selling them, reading them, and translating them. As she approaches the nadir of her life, an unexpected tragedy threatens to take the painstaking translations she's spent her life shaping, and she has to learn a new form of acceptance to save them.     

Why I love it: Aaliya's story could easily be a depressing indictment or veer off into cheesy redemption, but Alameddine manages to make it nuanced, engaging, and relatable. She explores the complexities of Lebanese culture and the disparities of gender while eschewing stereotypes and easy explanations. Aaliya shouldn't be likeable, but she is; she touched the part of me that knows what it's like to be marginalized and is afraid of finding myself alone. The ending is powerful in an understated way, and Aaliya has stayed with me for months.     

Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

Summary: Middlesex follows the story of Calliope Stephanides, beginning two generations before she's born. Cal is a hermaprodite, her biological reality the fluke result of her Greek grandparents' incestuous marriage; their complicated love story and the consequences of their choices interweave with Cal's discovery of her body and the development of her gender identity. 

Why I love it: As a developmental psychologist and amateur family genealogist, the story of how a family's complicated history culminates in the identity of one modern-day protagonist pulled me in from page one (not a surprise--my first novel, Hazel-Green, is a family saga with similar themes). Eugenides celebrates taboo topics rather than 'deals' with them--he explores without judgement and as a result allows the reader to engage fully with important questions of nature, nurture, and the human spirit. 

And now for something completely different...

Soulless, by Gail Carriger

Summary: Alexia Tarabotti has no soul--and that's a good thing. At least, it is when you live in a world populated by werewolves and vampires, because it means you can neutralize their powers with a touch of your hand. Of course, that ability makes Alexia dangerous to many and useful to others, and within pages she's being hunted by those who want to destroy her and those who want to employ her. Add to that her hidden (even from herself) passionate love for one of the most powerful werewolves around and you have a fun, fast-paced steampunk romp with a fair amount of suggestive situations and even some steamy sex.

Why I love it: Steampunk. Strong female protagonist. Steamy situations. Isn't that enough? Oh, fine--Carriger's writing is also witty, her dialogue engaging, and her world-building strangely believable, given the content revolves around werewolves and vampires. This book is a good time, plain and simple. Grab some tea and biscuits, cuddle up in a cozy throw on the couch, and enjoy the ride.

Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger

Summary: Sophronia Temminnick is a spirited fourteen-year-old tomboy who doesn't fit the Victorian template for what a young lady should be. When her mother reaches the end of her rope, she sends Sophronia off to a finishing school; but as it turns out, while this school is about 'finishing' young ladies for their introduction to society, it's also about teaching them to 'finish' off anyone who poses a threat to that society. They learn how to dance, and how to use weapons; how to flirt, and how to deceive; how to be beautiful, and how to be lethal.

Why I love it: Steampunk. Strong female protagonist. But-- appropriate for teen readers. Sophronia deals with the politics of young girls and young love (ish) while learning how to climb airships, care for mechanical pets, master martial arts, and faint without wrinkling her frock. I wish I'd had this book when I was a teenager, and I'm not too proud to love it now. The world Carriger builds is full of fun surprises, and Sophronia is an empowered young woman you'll want to spend lots of afternoons with. 

There you have it! Hope you saw something that intrigued you. I'd also love to hear about which books you loved last year--tell me about them in the comments. 

Happy reading!