Welcome to Smugglivus 2014! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2014, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2015, and more.
Please give a warm welcome to Stephanie, everyone!
Happy Smugglivus! This has been such a great reading year for me, it was really, really hard to limit my choices for this entry to just five (with a little bit of cheating, as you’ll see). But, after a long struggle (fueled by chocolate), here are my five top choices for the year, with apologies to all the wonderful books that I had to leave off the list:
Zen Cho’s Spirits Abroad
This was a great year for short story collections, but my very favorite was this one, full of sly wit, joyous humor, bickering dead aunts, arrogant dragons, overprotective vampire relatives, bittersweet romance and much more. It usually takes me weeks or months to read a short story collection by a single author, because I need to take breaks in between each story. This one, though, I devoured in just a few nights, because I was having far too much fun to stop. Some of the stories were hilarious, a couple were genuinely terrifying, and almost all of them were just wonderful. Highly, highly recommended! (And personally, I’d suggest going for the ebook version, because it includes extra stories.)
Jenn Reese’s Horizon
Horizon is the third book in Jenn Reese’s epic MG trilogy Above World. This has been one of my favorite MG series ever since I read the first book, but Horizon is without a doubt my very favorite book of the trilogy. It’s time for the final showdown, and of course that means it’s full of exciting, vividly written action scenes and the real sense of wonder that’s filled every book in this trilogy – but more importantly, this book is where all of the trilogy’s big themes of diversity and compassion and hard choices really come together in a beautiful way.
Aluna, the warrior, has to finally go back and face the family she left behind under the sea, fighting to convince them to join with the world’s other genetically engineered races instead of choosing seclusion, suspicion and isolation. But the even harder challenge, for her, is her battle to make her family accept her for who she really is, not who they want her to be.
Callie, the sweet, nerdy Aviar who fled her own warrior background, has to learn to be a leader herself…but that might mean sacrificing everything else she’s fought for. Hoku, the sweet, geeky tech guy of the group, has to make one of the hardest choices of all. And all of the heroes have to finally come to understand that the frightening Upgraders who form an army for their greatest enemy are just as human and vulnerable as they are, too.
This book is a hugely emotional, overwhelming, exciting, and uplifting end to the trilogy, and I loved it.
Tessa Gratton’s The Weight of Stars
Tessa Gratton’s U.S. of Asgard books form a fiercely intelligent, gritty and emotional series of fantasies for teens, set in an alternate version of America where the Norse gods are real parts of everyday life. The worldbuilding is fantastic, the mythology is worked seamlessly into the storylines, and the characters are all vivid and compelling. Book Two in the series, The Strange Maid, came out this year, and really, I had been planning to put that on this list, just like I put Book One on my list last year. But then…
…Well, then I read this collection of Gratton’s three U.S. of Asgard novellas, The Weight of Stars, and I fell so head over heels in love with it, I absolutely had to include it here instead. All three of the novellas included are smart and snarky, emotional and intense, full of fierce girls and wild magic. They would work just fine as standalone pieces whether or not you’ve ever read the novels (although of course I recommend the novels really highly, too). Each novella has a very different emotional tone, and every one of them is fantastic.
My very favorite of the three, though, was the second one, Lady Berserk. How could it not be? It’s a fun, witty romance where the unreliable trickster god Loki himself is the romantic hero (but does not get any free passes because his godhood from the very, very awesome berserker heroine). Now, come on, admit it. How could that not be the most fun? (Well, maybe it wouldn’t have been if it had been done badly. But trust me: Gratton does it really, really well.)
Laura Florand’s Amour et Chocolat series
A series of contemporary romances for adults, set in Parisian chocolateries – these books are every bit as delicious as they sound, and to me (a chocolate addict who loves European travel), that is saying an awful lot! I finally discovered Laura Florand’s books this year, and since then, I’ve not only devoured every novel and novella that she’s written, but I’ve also re-read many of them already. They’re full of mouth-watering descriptions of desserts, warmth and humor, along with fun, hot romance. Not only do they all fit neatly on my virtual Comfort Books shelf, but they also offer enough variety for a wide range of tastes.
Her first book, The Chocolate Thief, is a fast-paced, funny, battle-of-the-sexes rom-com with some hilarious one-liners. Her second book, The Chocolate Kiss, is a dreamy novel of magical realism (based, of course, around chocolate), with a sweet romance thrown in. Her third book, The Chocolate Touch, is an intensely emotional, passionate romance…that also manages to address the important ethical issues behind chocolate production in a completely non-didactic way.
And so on! If you try one Laura Florand story and it doesn’t work for you, do try another – you might well be surprised. (And, with just a couple of recent exceptions, they all work just fine when read out-of-order.)
As for me, I love them all.
V.E. Schwab’s Vicious
I really didn’t plan to read this book – and I certainly never expected to like it. I saw pictures of both the US and UK covers, neither of which appealed to me. I read the online description – two best friends develop super-powers and become bitter enemies – and shrugged. Honestly, apart from the Avengers movies, I’m just not a fan of superhero/supervillain stories, in general, and I usually prefer there to be at least one strong female protagonist in any book I read (something that wasn’t promised in any of the book’s descriptions). Clearly, this one just wasn’t going to be for me.
I was in the Waterstones in Cardiff when I spotted it sitting on the shelf. Just out of curiosity, I picked it up to read the first page or so…and got completely sucked in. I bought it five minutes later, and then read it obsessively until it was finished. I loved it. Vicious was utterly absorbing, with some of the most compelling characters (both male and female) that I’ve ever read, and with some of the most beautiful writing, too. I could barely stand to put it down until it was finished. Ever since I read it, I’ve recommended it again and again to other readers – but I’ve never loaned out my own copy. I love it too much to let it slip away!
What about you guys? Have you been surprised by any of your own favorite books this year?
Courtesy of the author, we are giving away a Kat package designed by Sally Jane Thompson. It includes a Kat mug (Kat drinking hot chocolate!), a hot chocolate recipe, and a Kat-drinking-hot-chocolate mini sketch by Sally. The giveaway is open until Dec 27 12:01AM EST. Use the form below to enter.