Each year the Hypable staff pick their favorite books of 2015 and this year’s list is an ecclectic mix of young adult and non-fiction. Get your TBR piles ready for some new books!
‘An Ember in the Ashes‘ by Sabaa Tahir
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir is one of the strongest, most enchanting books I’ve read in a long time. Inspired in part by the plight of child soldiers, An Ember follows Laia, who spies at an elite military academy for a rebellion under the guise of a slave, and Elias, a skillful but unwilling soldier in training, as their paths become entangled with the future of the Empire they inhabit at stake. These two characters — and their respective tangled webs of relationships — inhabit a beautifully built world that echoes Ancient Rome. No punches are pulled in terms of the brutality or violence that comes from living in an oppressed society, yet the writing is deceptively simple and smooth. With well-developed female characters and male characters with hidden depths, An Ember in the Ashes is a must-read for any fan of dystopian fiction. The upcoming sequel, A Torch Against the Darkness, is among my most anticipated properties of 2016.
‘Da Vinci’s Tiger‘ by Laura Malone Elliott
Though I originally had another pick for my favorite book of the year, Da Vinci’s Tiger managed to sneak into my life at the last possible minute and steal my heart. This is not your typical historical novel, which can often be dry and unengaging. Rather, Da Vinci’s Tiger is part love story, part feminist triumph. It details the life of Ginevra de’ Benci, who was used as a pawn to influence politics, yet never ceased to use her own wits to gain favor for herself and those worthy of her attention. Though she desires a love she can truly connect to, her intellectual curiosity is first and foremost what she looks to satiate. In a time when women were revered for nothing more than their beauty, Ginevra — with the help of Leonardo Da Vinci’s portrait of her — became a revolutionary. A simple painting has captured her spirit, and it is nothing less than a testament to how she was able to change the course of history. (You can read my full review here.)
‘Wolf by Wolf‘ by Ryan Graudin
As soon as I read it, I knew that Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin was going to be my favorite book of 2015. The novel centers around Yael who lives in an alternate reality where the Third Reich won WWII and rule the world with Imperial Japan. Every year, Hitler and the Japanese emperor hold a motorcycle race with the empire’s most able-bodied youth as a reminder of their strength. In order to take down Hitler and end the reign of terror, Yael, a skinshifter, enters the race as a previous victor in hopes of getting a moment alone with the Führer.
Yael’s strength of character (as well as physical strength) is what makes this novel as great as it is. She really leapt off the page for me, embodying the every girl (literally). I also found it fascinating that she could be anyone she (or someone else) wants her to be, which I think has the potential to bring up even more issues and ideas than it already has in this book.
This is one of the most imaginative and well thought-out books I’ve read in a long while, not to mention one of the most entertaining. The world-building is fantastic and really makes you wonder “What if?” I’ve been telling anyone and everyone about this book as much as I can. Read it, and you will too.
‘Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan
Tiny Cooper kindly asks that you take your favorite book of 2015 and use it to level that wobbly table in your house because he has something more entertaining for you to pay attention to — him! When John Green and David Levithan embarked on an adventure to write a novel that told the completely separate but equal stories of Will Grayson and Will Grayson they accidentally created something, or rather someone, bigger than life. Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story ventures to tell the life story of Tiny Cooper, a 16 year old openly gay football and musical theater star. The musical in novel form, or novel in musical form, depending on how you spin it is a tell-all life story written from the perspective of a teenager who craves all the hot glow of the spotlight. The script contains intricate stage notes that read more as requirements than suggestions. The tunes, however, are open to a bit more interpretation.
Okay, the description sounds ridiculous. But Levithan’s uncanny ability to take a figment of John Green’s imagination and give him the stage to pour his heart is anything proves to be anything but a farce. From the string of ex-boyfriends to the one that got away, Tiny Copper tells a hear wrenching tale of coming out, coming of age, that will move you to tears with from laughter or sobs.
The best part of Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story? Glad you asked — the fact that you can adapt it! It’s all there for the taking! The lyrics, the costumes, the casting guidelines! All that is missing is a few vats of glitter, a flare for musical theater and your ambition!
~ Brittany Lovely
‘The Royal We‘ by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
I’ve been obsessed with modern royals since before I can remember, but rather than longing to be a princess, my love for them has always tied to a huge amount of pity for their lives in that particular, unrenounceable spotlight. The Royal We, by Go Fug Yourself geniuses Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, and the Fug Girls must be my kindred spirits, because theirs is only book I’ve ever encountered that thinks about the life of a 21st century royal family with the same amount of nerdy historical fascination and the same amount of empathy that I do.
Yes, the cover art is meant to reference Wills and Kate’s famous wedding kiss photo, but this isn’t your average cliched romance novel. The Royal We subverts the glamorous dream of marrying into the royal family — instead it’s a compassionate, funny and sad account of falling in love with a person who comes with the baggage of being a prince. The book opens on the eve of the wedding of the century. Bex and Nick — that is — Rebecca Porter from Iowa and His Royal Highness Prince Nicholas of Wales, are about to tie the knot while the world watches. It then flashes back and charts the course of the couple’s relationship from their first meeting at Oxford and Bex’s introduction to the (fictional, but historically plausible) royal family – and yes, there’s even a rakish, redheaded “spare” to fulfill all your deepest Harry needs. The research is meticulous, creating a story that’s as realistic as it’s possible to be — what The Martian is to real-life potential Mars travel, The Royal We is to royal weddings — and the book as a whole is literally everything I could ever want in a novel.
‘Queen of Shadows‘ by Sarah Maas
Queen of Shadows is book number four in Sarah Maas’ Throne of Glass series. Celaena Sardothien finally embraces who she is, Aelin Galathynius, the lost Queen of Terrasen.
Aelin faces her fears, chiefly the demons from the past that haunts her, and confronts her grandmother Maeve. Most importantly, Aelin forgives herself for her shortcomings, and strives to change. She doesn’t have to put up walls and a false front to hide who she is physically and emotionally. She is no longer a scared little girl, or petulant teenager. She is Aelin Galathynius, and she is ready to tackle the responsibilities of everything that name means.
In Queen of Shadows, Aelin confronts who she thinks the enemy is risking her life, and the lives of her followers to insure a better future not only for herself, but for all those who were under the thumb of the King of Adarlan. Although, Aelin wins her many battles, these wins come at a cost. Perhaps the enemy is not who she thought, and a new quest lies before her.
Aelin also finally finds out what it means to truly be in love with someone on equal terms. Love requires trust, respect, honesty, and sacrifice. She’s now ready to accept all of those things. Love is risky, but it’s a calculated risk that Aelin knows she’s ready for.
~ Laura Byrne-Cristiano
‘Year of Yes‘ by Shonda Rhimes
Depending on your television tastes, you might have been obsessed with Shonda Rhimes for over a decade and never’ve known it. The mastermind behind Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and the executive producer on How to Get Away With Murder, Shonda essentially owns an entire night of television now. On top of juggling these three shows — basically three full-time jobs, she has been raising three children. Basically, 2013 was a little bit busy. But, she realized she wasn’t really living life. She had a routine that got her by, and she stuck to it. So, in 2014 she resolved to say yes more. This led to her, among many other things, giving the commencement speech at her alma mater, Dartmouth, going to numerous galas, balls, and events that allowed her to wear ballgowns, and rerouting the way she lived life. She realized she didn’t want to be winded giving her daughter a piggy-back ride, she wanted to get rid of her knee problems, so she started working out and realized endorphins can be you friends.
Saying yes to these commitments made Shonda uncomfortable, as she often states in the book. Like us, she liked coming home from work at the end of the day, relaxing into her sofa or kitchen or whatever, and enjoying a few glasses of wine and brownies. It was hard for her to put all that aside for an evening and give an interview or put on heels. But she also realized that these special occasions are just that — special occasions. Going out one night a week still leaves six other nights to do nothing.
What amazed me about this book was not only everything she accomplished last year, but that when her Year of Yes! turned into a Life of Yes! as 2014 turned into 2015, she also managed to write this entire book and get it published just in time for the holidays.
As a fan of Rhimes, I found this book to be one of the most inspiring, true, real, heartfelt, books I’ve read in a long time. Let this book be your guide as you enter 2016, and say ‘yes’ to the next dinner invitation you get. Your comfy clothes and Netflix will be waiting for you when you get home.
~ Kristina Linz
‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed‘ by Jon Ronson
It should be no secret by now that I am an avid reader of non-fiction. I’ll take any excuse to learn about something new, or to get inside someone’s mind. The best non-fiction doesn’t just teach you, it entertains and challenges you — things So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed manages in spades. The book is the latest from journalist Jon Ronson and is told in Ronson’s readable, engaging style. Through interviews and case studies, the book examines the all-too common phenomenon of public shaming, and the transformation of this historical pastime in the social media age.
Ronson, most famous for The Men Who Stare at Goats and Frank, has made a career of taking a bizarre situation and inserting himself into it for the enjoyment of his readers; this book is no different. In his expert hands, we are asked how and why we managed to get to a point where one bad joke on Twitter could quite literally ruin someone’s life. As someone who has penned their fair share of articles about the sexist and/or racist language of various celebrities, I found So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed a confronting read that made me question my own beliefs and intentions as frequently as it made me laugh out loud (a lot).
It is perhaps an unconventional choice for a favorite book, but it is the most through-provoking and relevant book I read in 2015. This is a must read for the majority of us who are now, whether we like it or not, citizens of the internet. After all, this is the world we live in, and as Ronson makes plain in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, we need to find a better way to navigate it.
~ Marama Whyte
‘Blurred Lines‘ by Lauren Layne
I read a lot, so it takes a very special book to be the first one that my mind recalls when faced with questions like: What is your favorite book of the year? This year, the book that instantly came to mind was Blurred Lines by Lauren Layne. It has nothing in common with the popular song that is undoubtedly running through your head right now. It’s a charming little story about two friends who have made it perfectly clear to anyone who will listen that they have no romantic interest in each other. When Parker (the best heroine’s name I’ve read since discovering the delight that is any Jay Crownover lady) finds herself dumped by her steady boyfriend, and she and her bestie, Ben, find themselves in a friends with benefits situation. They both agree that they are in need of some platonic sexy times, and the rest, as they say, is history. I instantly connected to Parker and despite the growing size of my To-Be-Read list, I find myself trying to fit in a re-read as often as I can. ‘Favorite’ barely begins to describe my affinity for this story, these characters, and their creator. Lauren Layne continues to write some of the most realistically charming characters, and I am always itching to read whatever she’s dreamt up next.
~ Kristen Kranz