Saturday, 2 January 2016

Best Reads of 2015 & Must-Reads 2016.

So, we all know I can be truly tragic at time-keeping, right? Well, if you didn't know that about me I suppose you do now. Oops. It's one of my many new years resolutions to fix this; I have a feeling that this will be the resolution that falls by the wayside as I focus on the much more exciting and important ones, but the intention is there, I swear...


Anyway, my most recent terrible time-keeping has been in blogging. I have written so many posts lately, I've been on such a roll (and no doubt actually saying this will jinx me for several weeks).
I've written about the importance of loving your body, the normality of, well, loving your body mm mmm yeah, a little something about my feelings on the traditions present in weddings, a good old rant about friends in relationships/third wheelin', my personal highlights of 2015 and resolutions/hopes for 2016, even a teeny piece about how I first found out Santa was not a legit human...
..........................................................and yet I really struggled to get this one out there, to compile this very important list! 
My Top Reads of 2015!
In fact, I have left this so late that I have decided to simply condense and combine it with my Desperate To Read 2016 post. My New Year TBR! Yes, that's right, yet another TBR post.

Right so, here we go...

2015 was a big year for me in terms of books. Around the beginning of the year I finally acknowledged and accepted that my love of YA fiction was not a guilty pleasure, but a real genuine legitimate...pleasure. A real love. And I mustn't be ashamed of that! YA has been such a mind-blowing and much-needed addition to the literary world. Little did I know that come the end of 2015 I would have not only met – and in some cases chattered with, bought cocktails with and even cuddled up with – some of my favourite YA authors, but we would all follow one another on social media and a whole community of book bloggers and booktubers would be welcoming me into their fantastical world with open arms and perfect cuppas.
The UKYA community has been wonderful, to say the least. I'd actually say that back in November when I was undergoing intense radiotherapy treatment each day, the highlight of my week was coming home on Friday evening – because at 8pm I'd be sitting on the sofa half-watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine with the family, but mostly engrossed in the incredible #ukyachat discussing all things bookish and YA with all my amazing pals!
Anyway, I could go on and on about this community for the entirety of this post, but I must stay on task. For now.

This year my Goodreads challenge was 35 books in a year. I surpassed that, which was actually a shock as I'd thought what with full-time work, my problematic brain needing medical assistance, and (finally) writing my own novel, I'd have almost no time to read. How wrong I was. One major helper here was whenever I was visiting friends in other cities or towns scattered around the country I'd be travelling on a train with headphones in and my nose in a book. I finished so many books on three-hour train journeys – I started taking more than two with me per trip.
I find the Goodreads 'My Year In Books' thing so awesome. It reminds me what I loved most, and also tells me which books are generally read most (or liked least) by my book-loving peers.

PLEASE NOTE: these were all books that I READ in 2015. They may not all have been released in 2015. Cool.
Oh also, I would post a photo of all of these books in a very artistically assembled stack, however most of them are currently on loan to various friends, so...


Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig.

I've written about the awesomeness that is this book already in the 'BooksThat Changed My Life' post; because that's what it did. It changed my life. I then lent my copy to all my friends and family members that I thought would enjoy and benefit from reading it, and also needed their life changed and their brain explained (at least in part) by Matt Haig, my Twitter friend and life guru. 
This book taught me more about mental health than any medical documentation I've been given in the past; even more than all the blog posts on the subject I have read over the last couple of years combined. I saw myself in so many of Matt's experiences and feelings, yet also couldn't comprehend the intensity of his suffering.
Obviously I'd recommend this book to anyone and everyone – however I also feel like I should warn y'all before you read it. It will change you.
This book has been a huge hit this year, and was up for the Waterstones Book of the Year award (it should have won); right now it's Waterstones Non-Fiction Book of the Month! 


The Art of Being Normal, by Lisa Williamson.

In my house we've always joked (joked most seriously, mind you) that the word 'normal' is ugly and unwelcome. It's a swear word. I'm so glad to have grown up believing this, believing that 'normal' is just not a thing, not something you can put your finger on, but I know some kids and adults have their own ideas about the concept and some will do whatever they can to get it. To get normal.
This book was the most perfect account of two teens trapped in the wrong bodies; finding their way in the world and being oppressed by society (perfectly represented in their playground).
David & Leo are the most perfect misfits. David wants to be a woman. He frequently takes notes of his observations about his body, and has his secret goals in mind. Leo is the new kid at school, with the mysterious past. David is determined to befriend him, to find out why he seems so surly and angry at the world. They become unlikely pals and tackle some of their biggest issues together.
This is one of those books that I find hard to summarise as a) it's so much more than the perfect story, and b) I don't want to give too much away...

TBR 2016 (onwards): Lisa's next novel. I'm already excited for it, and I have a feeling I will identify with it a ridiculous amount. 


BOTH BOOKS OMG by Louise O'Neill.

Oh c'mon, if you follow me on Twitter and/or Instagram (@gracieactually on both, yeah) AND if you regularly read Oh No (which you totally should) then you'll know that my love for Louise O'Neill is eternal and knows no bounds. I tend to tweet her when tipsy. I have no shame. I believe at one point I was even trying to set her up with one of my uni friends/exes.
My love for her began when I read her ingenious debut Only Ever Yours, then rapidly escalated when I attended the New Day New Normal tour at Waterstones Piccadilly, and then just when I thought it could go no further I read Asking For It and, well...whoa.

Only Ever Yours is about women in a futuristic and oppressive misogynistic world. As in, misogyny is the norm. This is a world where females are not born, they are designed. They compete with each other. This story was dystopian deliciousness; Freida will soon be graduating from her school, these are her final few months being taught and trained before the Ceremony in which she and her classmates will be put on their future paths of Companion, Concubine or Chastity. 

Asking For It (#NotAskingForIt) is the story of Emma, a girl in a little Irish town who wakes up one morning on her front porch after a mad party the night before. That day photos of her, unconscious and in hideous compromising positions with the lads from the local team, the town's sporting heroes, are released onto social media. She was raped. Gang-raped.
The story follows her in the aftermath of this awful occurrence, and it is possibly the most brutal and painful read I've experienced in a long time; it's terribly excellent. And so, so important. I want it to be a mandatory module read someday in every school in the UK.

I also want to be Louise when I grow up. For now I'll settle for being her bestie/embarrassing little sis. 


The Next Together, by Lauren James.

I read this book in a week – and that was only because I was savouring it so so much. The majority of it was read in the cafe on the second floor of the Natural History Museum; when sitting there I alternated between devouring Lauren's beautiful words and scribbling down ideas for my second novel (I know I know, I should really finish the first...first...)
Katy and Matt have met before. Several times. As Matthew and Kit, as Matt and Katherine...they are secretly destined to be together, to meet and get together, in so many alternate lives. Their coming together is inevitable, but their relationship is turbulent – mostly due to the disasters they face and the fatalities that occur. Sadly those fatalities are also inevitable. The powers that be try to assist as best they can, but it's rather complicated work...
The story was perfectly told through historical documents, diary entries, emails, notes and of course the loveliest prose. I fell so madly in love, again and again. 


2016 TBR: The Last Beginning. Lauren's sequel to this tale that I already know will be epic and heartbreaking and gorgeous. When the last page of The Next Together featured those three words, that amazing title – and then my annotated copy (which I will treasure forever and always, thank you Lauren I properly love you) had the word SOON written beneath it...yes, I squealed.


Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne.

2015 was the year I discovered Holly Bourne. I read The Manifesto on How To Be Interesting in January, on my trains to and from work. I then got hooked on The Site, the rad website Holly worked on giving advice and guidance to young adults in their day to day lives and struggles (then my wicked friend Louise got a job there and made me a Peer Editor and omg). Holly's style of writing is magical; funny, identifiable, insightful and just perfectly readable.
Am I Normal Yet? was amazing. Teenage Evie has OCD and is on the road to recovery after a particularly challenging time with her illness. She's feeling things for bad boys, making friends with awesome girls who are reclaiming the word 'spinster', and generally working hard to appear, well, normal. This book covered so many crucial topics, and it covered them brilliantly.

Holly Bourne is very present in my TBR 2016: Soulmates is already cued up on my bedside table, and in February How Hard Can Love Be?, the next in the Spinster series, finally makes its way onto the shelves and into my desperate mucky hands.


All My Friends are Superheroes, by Andrew Kaufman.

I was sceptical when I first picked up this book. Mostly because it's only 100 pages long...but when I sneaked a peek at a few pages while browsing in the shop, I was entranced by the writing style – and the sheer brilliance of Kaufman's imagination.
Tom is a normal guy. All his friends are superheroes, though. He's even married to one, The Perfectionist. She's unfortunately been hypnotised into believing he's not there. On their wedding day, by her evil ex Hypno. He has to now convince her that he's really there, before she moves away forever.
After reading this I snatched up another of his novels, The Tiny Wife, found that just as imaginative if not quite as hysterical.


Panther, by David Owen.

I was first introduced to David at the UKYA Lit Weekender at the Southbank Centre some months ago; he was talking in the most excellent panel about mental health – and general health – in fiction. I heard he'd studied Creative Writing at Winchester uni, and try as I might I could not play it cool upon hearing this. Then I learned he'd done the BA, then an MA, then taught some of my friends! So obviously we had a chat afterwards, as we are Winchies and therefore eternally linked in life...
His debut novel Panther is about a boy, Derrick, who is suffering in his family home as his sister is depressed. His parents are split up, his best friend has turned on him, and he's suddenly seriously overweight. Then he hears news of a wild animal roaming his suburb, being hunted but never caught by the authorities. An invisible beast, a panther. Derrick takes it upon himself to catch it.
I found this a fascinating read as it provides another angle on depression; the family of the one who is afflicted, and how it affects them. How heartbroken and downright resentful they are.
I did see David after finishing reading Panther, at the prestigious event that is #DrinkYA, but couldn't work up the nerve to ask questions...the burning question being 'why did that thing happen at the end? No, the other thing?' I still want to know...


One, by Sarah Crossan.

Twins. Conjoined twins. Tippi & Grace, Grace & Tippi. They have two separate hearts and minds, but are simply stuck together from the waist down.
This was the last book I was reading while having radiotherapy. I do believe I finished it on my last day of treatment – I devoured 300 pages in one morning. The way it's written really is something else. It's the most poetic prose. Somehow Sarah Crossan managed to cram an immense load of feelings into just a few words, beautifully composed on the page.
Also, this particular Grace may be my new favourite namesake in a novel.



There are many more books I read and adored this year, obviously, but these are just a few that stood out to me. THEY ARE NOT a Top 10, I'd never be able to do that...putting books in order of preference seems barbaric and impossible. 

I managed to capture a lot of my New Year TBR in my latest TBR-type post, however there are so many more I had forgotten to include...c'est la vie. 

Counting Stars, by Keris Stainton (AM READING/LOVING CURRENTLY, YAY!)
The Wolf Wilder, by Katherine Rundell.
The Sin Eater's Daughter, by Melinda Salisbury. 
Unbecoming, by Jenny Downham.
The Sky is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson.
Glass Sword, by Victoria Aveyard. 
The Big Lie, by Julie Mayhew.
Spectacles, by Sue Perkins. 
Waiting for Callback, by Perdita & Honor Cargill. 

...plus all of the amazing books my gorgeous friend Michelle sent me after I won a giveaway on her awesome blog! 


And all of the perfect books my lovely and extremely generous Secret Santa (Luna!) sent me for UKBBSS...

2 comments

  1. Thanks for all the amazing blog posts and book recommendations throughout last year Gracie.

    Really looking forward to your posts in 2016 ^_^

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  2. Oh my god I LOVE All My Friends Are Superheroes and actually everything Andrew Kaufman ever does but mainly All My Friends Are Superheroes

    http://eggplantemoji.com

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