It’s our last week of work before the kids’ school holidays begin…and of course, we’re also frantically gift-shopping at this time of year! In case you are, too, it seemed like a good moment to start posting my totally subjective, personal lists of favorite books I read this year. (Also, I just like looking back on them!) So here is my first list – all MG novels I utterly adored, in no particular order:
Sally Nicholls, An Island of Our Own
When I asked for recommendations of books that were filled with real comfort and joy, Frances Hardinge & Terri Trimble both recommended this one, and they were absolutely right. In terms of voice, overall feel and sheer charm, this book felt like a contemporary MG version of I Capture the Castle. Totally enchanting, heartfelt, and full of warmth, with wonderful characters and such a fun story. I loved it!
(ETA: A reader on Facebook pointed out that this isn’t available in the US, so I wanted to let you guys know that you can get it from The Book Depository with free worldwide delivery.)
Ronald Smith, Hoodoo
Hoodoo has one of the most fabulous narrative voices of any MG novel I’ve read in a long while. It is SO delicious and compelling, and I love the way the (creepy) magic is worked so seamlessly into the everyday life of the characters! This whole book is gorgeously creepy and magical.
Note: I really mean it about the creepy bit – I had to put it down at one point because I couldn’t read it at night! (I am a horror wimp) – but the characters are all SO wonderful, the story is so much fun and the magic feels so real, I HAD to go back to it afterward, no matter how much I knew it would scare me. (I just made sure to read the rest of it earlier in the day! ;) )
Natasha Farrant, Time for Jas
An absolutely beautiful conclusion to one of my favorite-ever MG series. When I finished reading, I literally cried even though it wasn’t a sad ending – I was just so full of emotion! I loved this book SO MUCH. It’s funny – sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious! – and zany and fabulous, with one of my favorite-ever big, quirky literary families (who wouldn’t want to hang out with the Gadsbys? they’re so much fun!), but it’s also a book that really profoundly looks at the questions of why we make art and how creativity works. It’s a deeply compassionate look at complex, sometimes incredibly painful and yet still loving family dynamics, and what it’s like to be someone who doesn’t fit in to the norm, and and and…
It’s just beautiful. Really, really beautiful. And it’s my favorite book in this whole fabulous series, which is saying a LOT. (You can find the whole series listed in order here.)
Anne Nesbet, Cloud and Wallfish
This book is utterly BRILLIANT. It’s exhilaratingly smart and fun, a wild ride from the very beginning, when 11-year-old Noah is picked up from school in Virginia by his parents only to be told his name isn’t really Noah, he isn’t really 11 after all, and they’re heading to East Berlin (this is set in 1989, when the Wall was still up) IMMEDIATELY, using an all-new set of names and a made-up history he urgently has to memorize….oh, and that from now on, he can’t ask any questions, because SOMEONE will always be listening from the moment they arrive in East Berlin!
It’s a fascinating and enormously fun story full of secrets and codes and mysteries, the setting is incredibly rich…and oh, the emotional developments as Noah makes a true friend in one of his neighbors and is drawn into her own painful and mysterious story!
This was an utterly compulsive read from beginning to end, I enjoyed every moment of it, and again, the ending made me cry in a very, very good way.
Jewell Parker Rhodes, Bayou Magic
Beautiful magical realism full of rich family relationships, strong women and girls, and beautiful writing. It isn’t fast-paced, but it is luscious! I looooved dipping into it a bit at a time and I always came out of each reading session feeling better about the world.
Emma Carroll, Strange Star
Magical, creepy, and so beautifully written and immersive. I devoured it within less than 24 hours! As someone who’s always been fascinated by Mary Shelley, I personally loved the masterful way Carroll built real history into her drama (and played with echoes of Frankenstein, too!), but this book would be just as much fun for someone who’d never heard of the Shelleys in their life. The voices of the characters are utterly compelling, the story is exciting and scary, and even when I was most filled with dread, I could not stop reading.
Sheila Grau, Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions
This book is full of wacky, funny, gross-out fun AND an enormous amount of real heart, and I loved it. Runt Higgins is a non-morphing werewolf who was left as a baby at Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions for his own protection. Now – in hopes of finding his parents again – he’s trying out for the elite Junior Henchman training program, with the help of his wonderful group of friends, including Frankie, a Frankenstein-style created boy whose head pops off when he gets too upset, Syke the hamadryad who can swing from tree to tree, and the crowd of sweet, shuffling zombies for whom Runt’s become responsible. The characters are all fabulous and very funny.
It’s such a great mixture of fun and humor and genuinely creepy moments, and what carries it all through is Runt’s true sweetness, his unstoppable optimism and his deep love for his created family. I enjoyed every minute of this book SO MUCH.
Lucy Worsley, Eliza Rose
I absolutely devoured this book, a delicious historical novel set in Tudor England, with a fabulously sharp and spiky narrator who is the cousin (and rival) of Henry VIII’s ill-fated wife Katherine Howard. The truth is, I’m not sure exactly which genre to class it in, as it breaks some of the “rules” of children’s literature – it looks from the cover like an MG novel, and starts with Eliza at 12, but by the end of the book she’s 20 and has been dealing for years with the questions of how to operate in a licentious and brutal court. There aren’t any explicit sex scenes, but the issues discussed are certainly adult…as, of course, teenage girls were expected to be in that era.
It’s all incredibly addictive, smart and entertaining and perfectly handled. I loved that Worsley let her heroine be sharp and unlikeable at various points, with her pride getting in the way of her own good. I loved Eliza’s voice – and oh, I swooned over her romance! And the historical era is conveyed beautifully throughout. I was already a huge fan of Worsley’s historical nonfiction, and now I can’t wait to read her next novel too!
(ETA: Apparently this is going to be published under a different title in the US, as Maid of the King’s Court, and not for a while yet. But you can find the UK edition on The Book Depository now.)
Later this week or next week, I’ll post about my favorite adult f/sf books of the year. But in the meantime, if you’ve been curious about my own next MG book (dragons and chocolate!)…
For the next 24 hours, you can bid to win a signed, early (final!) copy of The Dragon Heart as part of the #FundsForFox auction, raising money for wonderful YA writer and all-round wonderful human being, Fox Benwell. The book won’t be published until February in the UK and May in the US – but if you bid now, you might be reading it in the next couple of weeks! Good luck!
(And I was absolutely thrilled by this lovely review of the book by one of my favorite book bloggers yesterday. Hurrah!)
What were your favorite books this year (in any genre)? I’d love to know!