Editors' Best Books of 2015 — Regina's Picks
With 2015 winding down, the RT editors thought December would be a good time to reflect on what each of us read this year and which books stuck with us long after we finished them. All month long, the editors will be sharing our personal favorites reads of the year, in no particular order. Today RT Editor Regina Small lists her top reads of the year:
2015 was a fantastic year in reading for me, as evidenced by the fact that I simply could NOT narrow this list down to a more reasonable top ten books. So here are my top 13!
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell — This is probably my favorite book of the entire year. Building on the bits of imagined fan fiction she wrote in 2013's Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell expands the world of Simon Snow into its own wonderful, full-length book in Carry On. While I initially had some reservations about the Harry Potter parallels, Rowell presents a strong, distinctive and moving take on the Chosen One trope. Reader, I wept.
Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare — A bare-knuckle boxer, a heroine intent on owning her own brewery and...an elderly bulldog? Tessa Dare's January title charmed me and made me laugh and laugh (and laugh); Dare has such a talent for quick, witty banter and for crafting nuanced characters — I even wanted Rafe's uptight brother and Clio's erstwhile fiancé, Piers, to get his own HEA. I don't suppose Piers could inherit a castle...could he, Ms. Dare?
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab — I may have finished it in March, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about A Darker Shade of Magic. Schwab gives us not only a truly inspired vision of four versions of London, all with varying levels of magic, but a fantastic heroine in pickpocket Lila Bard and a winning hero in Kell, who can travel across all four worlds. Also: CAPES.
The Talon of the Hawk by Jeffe Kennedy — I've been a fan of the Twelve Kingdoms series since the first book, The Mark of the Tala, dropped last June. But Hawk is, by far, the best book in this fantasy romance saga. Watching Ursula stand up for herself and her kingdom, confront hard truths about her father and find love with Harlan is deeply gratifying. I have only two favorite romantic heroes of 2015. Harlan, whose love and support for Ursula is unwavering — even when she literally wants to kill him — is one of them.
Grave Phantoms by Jenn Bennett — My other favorite hero of 2015? Bo Yeung. We first met Bo and heroine Astrid Magnusson in Bitter Spirits, and I IMMEDIATELY wanted their story. Grave Phantoms didn't just meet my expectations — it exceeded them by a mile. Set in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 1920s, this tense paranormal mystery also explores the longstanding feelings between Astrid, the sister of a notorious bootlegger, and Bo, her brother's right-hand man. Bo and Astrid's connection is so tender and sexy, you'll be rooting for them to overcome all the forces — otherworldly and of our world — keeping them apart.
This Heart of Mine by Brenda Novak — Few romances begin with the heroine just getting out of prison. Phoenix is struggling to rebuild her life after a spurious conviction; she lives in a modest trailer in the same park as her mother, a complex woman grappling with her own demons. All Phoenix wants is to reconnect with her now-teenage son — she doesn't expect charity or even basic kindness from anyone. Especially not Riley, her ex and the father of her child. Phoenix is such an earnest underdog of a heroine that she stole my heart from the beginning.
Radiance by Catherynne Valente — I've said this before, but Radiance is an extraordinarily well-written acid trip of a novel. In this alternate universe SF masterpiece, Valente takes a look at the convention of storytelling itself by chronicling the disappearance of a young documentarian — as told by the films her father makes about her life. This narrative frame gives Valente plenty of room to play with the wild and weird, setting her story across multiple planets as she questions the tricky relationship between art and truth.
Dumplin' by Julie Murphy — This book had a lot of advance hype, which usually makes me a little suspicious. Well: the hype was deserved. The heroine of Dumplin' is fabulous, funny and, yes, fat. Everything about Willowdean Dickson rings true — like any teenager, she experiences some insecurity about her body, but ultimately her brash confidence wins out and she genuinely comes into her own. Dumplin' is so captivating, I wasn't able to put it down.
Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia — Music and magic collide in Mexico City in the late 1980s! Moreno-Garcia's debut impressed me with its entirely fresh spin on fantasy, as Meche, along with her fellow outcasts, Sebastian and Daniela, use their favorite records to change their less-than-stellar lives. It's so rare to read a fantasy novel not set in some approximation of Europe (though God knows I love those, too), so Signal to Noise is refreshing, innovative and really poignant as it delves into the magic of important music and friendships.
The House by Christina Lauren — I picked this book up on a whim, partly because I love stories about creepy houses and partly because I love Christina Lauren. I wasn't sure what to expect, since I've only read their erotic romance, but what I found was a deeply engaging Tim Burton-esque tale of adolescent romance, heavy on atmosphere and mood — with a scary-as-hell sentient house in the mix. It's nice to know that even your favorite authors can still surprise you.
Menagerie by Rachel Vincent — Vincent's genre-bending story of a troupe of enslaved circus performers (aka cryptids) is one of the most exciting things to happen to the paranormal and urban fantasy genres. Our heroine, Delilah Marlow, doesn't possess supernatural strength but instead has a powerful anger that fuels her resilience against the people oppressing her and her fellow cryptids, and it spurs her to foment a revolution. This dark, intense book is a game-changer.
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu — Time travel is pretty much an instant buy-in for me, but the standout of this book is Chu's ability to balance believable, intuitive worldbuilding with emotional gravity. As chron-man James chooses to break from his primary directive of not interfering in past timelines and save Elise Kim's life, he takes a crucial step toward redemption and toward saving humanity. Without a doubt, this is my favorite science fiction title of the year.
Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen — I've never been a huge fan of Westerns, but this isn't your average Western. In addition to being a talented breaker of broncs down at the Double TK ranch, our lead character, Nettie Lonesome, is a nonbinary, queer person of color. Nettie is an exceptional, compelling protagonist, one whose personal journey to find out who she is and where she's going drives this fierce fantasy to an epic climactic battle.
For a peek at all of our editors' picks, go here!