Kristen and Julie’s Favorite Books of 2014!
Today’s brew: Caramel Chai tea
Happy New Year! Yeah, I know I’m a day or so late on this, but whatever. You know we’re on Undead Duo time.
I’m not a huge fan of year end nostalgia. I don’t need the news to remind me about Ferguson or Ebola like it’s a new story. But I love these year-end book lists. There’s a lot of books out there. A lot. There’s no way to keep up with them all. I’ve discovered some new interesting books these past couple weeks. I hope you guys will with our lists, too.
Julie reads differently now that she’s an author and an editor, but it hasn’t changed what she likes. Sci fi, dystopians, vampires, horror, stories of warriors and stories of romances that will never end. “These days the character has to drive the story for me without question. A good idea isn’t enough. A character that I want to see more of is the critical element that I demand as a reader, writer and editor. I read with an open heart as author David James once said. I don’t go in looking for what I personally could do better, or what doesn’t work,” she says. She reads more carefully now, because she doesn’t have the time that she did before. “But I must read for my sanity and for my job as author. I read with strategy now. First I like to read something that relates to what I’m writing so that even when I’m reading, I’m in the mood to write. It can be as simple as that I’m working on a YA so I read YA.” She likes to see how authors make their reputations, and how they make a story their own.
Yes, she sees more typos now. But as long as the story and characters are captivating, she can overlook them. “I’ve seen works that had an incredible premise, and the character wasn’t complex enough or the themes fleshed out enough for me to buy into it. That’s the editor and the writer in me that wants every story to work. The editor in me wants to take the great idea and make it come alive the way the author intended it, in their voice, and it saddens me when that hasn’t happened,” she says.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente: Yes, the world is stunningly imaginative and vivid with Neil Gaiman-like depths and Oz-like creepiness/beauty, but what makes the series is September. September is a less than likely heroine, because she’s twelve. But man alive is she self-aware, self-possessed, and while she’s afraid of her choices, she makes them with conviction. She’s entirely believable as all of these things because of Valente’s gorgeous writing style that is breathtakingly poetic when she tells us things like September is a child, and therefore mostly heartless. The relationships that the child forms are solid, thoughtful, full of plausible, sweet love and ones I want to revisit in every novel in the series. Another thing Valente does incredibly well– she keeps the relationships interesting and fulfilling while still giving us loss and realism. Just an amazing feat of literature.
Poison Princess (The Arcana Chronicles) by Kresley Cole: I’m a sucker for dystopian novels, as well as for new and exciting paranormally/urban fantasy stuff. Cole gives us both of these things plus a great heroine with a bitchin’ dark side, a cast of delicious characters and a love triangle for the ages. As far as page-turning, can’t-get-enough stuff, this was by far my favorite book this year. Cole roped me in with references to the world’s end that this seemingly ordinary young girl managed to survive, and as if that isn’t enough to keep me reading, Cole throws at us this amazing mythology of the Arcana and our heroine’s place in it, the worldly and otherworldly loves that she falls into, and then puts this nice girl in a bunch of death traps that test her and make her grow on each page. I’m in love.
Matched by Ally Condie: This one surprised me. At first I found it stiff, didn’t see what was exciting about the main character that would make me want to follow her story. But Condie had a plan, and it came to light quick. The stiffness lent to the Orwell-ish setting, but I wanted emotion, a breakout hero from that dystopia. It was when Condie ocassionally hit me with gorgeously poetic and hopeful prose that I saw there were more layers to this novel than I originally thought. And when Cassia’s voice seeped through those layers, hidden by the Society even in the very wording, I found myself truly excited by her. Her willingness to learn, to be different, while very quietly remaining a part of the Society. And as the series (which I devoured fast) moves forward, we see Cassia emerge more and more from the text and the story becomes truly complex, heartbreaking, and powerful. Condie hooked me.
Sinnerby Maggie Stiefvater: This was an easy one. Stiefvater is one of my favorite authors, and the Wolves of Mercy Falls is my favorite series of hers, so when this unexpected addition to the series came to life, I was the first one at the book store smelling my copy. Don’t judge me. This novel is not just a shut-up-my-fans book (something I don’t think Stiefvater would be capable of). She takes characters that another author would make vapid and dull, and gives them gorgeous, loveable depth. Isabel, the fashionista rich bitchy girl, has serious trust issues and Cole, rockstar werewolf back from the dead, is an egomaniacal drug addict with poetry in his heart and a monster sense of humor. It was love at first sight with this book. Stiefvater never steers me wrong. (Note from Kristen: I need to read this.)
Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby: I’ve got a thing for circus stuff, despite having never been to the circus. Writing a story about a freak show that’s not ALL FREAKS at the heart of it is a feat. This is the story of how Portia ended up at the freak show, her heartwrenching story and the strength it gave her to go to a place where she didn’t belong among a bunch of people that don’t belong. She’s clever, brave, calculating. And yet we love her for what she’s lost, for her hopes, and for the sweet little love story that barely forms throughout. I just love this book and plan to read it again and again.
Writing has changed the way I read this year. If you’re wondering what my Achilles’ heel is, it’s reading. I haven’t read nearly as much as I’ve wanted to this year, and I’m making a concentrated effort to catch up. I’ve been reading for research lately, but not non-fiction. I’ve been reading a lot of book by popular romance authors, a genre I never paid enough attention to before I branched into writing straight romance. Don’t get me wrong, like Carrie Bradshaw, I am in love with love, but it had been a long time since my first choice wasn’t paranormal, biographical, or even literary fiction. Needless to say, it’s been an up and down year. I’ve picked up some things I normally would not have. Some captivated me and I still can’t stop talking about them. Some had me muttering curse words under my breath. I’m not as afraid to abandon ship on a book. If it’s not working for me, I’ll find something that does.
Regrettably, there are some books I can’t read any more. I have a hard time with classics. I’m horrified by this. But some of them are just too slow for me now. Blame it on my ADD, I guess. Like Julie, I notice typos more, and I’m okay with that. I know how hard it is to make something flawless.
I don’t think my taste has changed, like Julie, I’m pickier now, but I’m still all about a good, smutty, fantastical story at heart.
Poison Princess by Kresley Cole. First of all, I should be on Kresley’s payroll for this book. I’ve sold it to random strangers in Barnes and Noble. But silly Kristen did not want to read this book when Julie so kindly offered me something for my plane ride to Vegas. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but I’d been working like a dog, and I didn’t have a chance to pick anything up. So I took her Kresley Cole book. I was alright with Kresley’s vampire stuff, but it was nowhere near my favorite. And this was YA? Dystopia? Ugh. Julie. But it’s six hours to Vegas, so this girl begrudgingly opened the book. Then I could. Not. Put. It. Down. I almost threw it out the plane window in the beginning, while Evie’s still in High School, but once the Flash hit, holy crap. Buckle your seatbelt. I could not put this down. The story reached up and grabbed me with both hands. The world, the struggles, and Jackson Deveaux. He was my first book boyfriend in a long time (although he’s sharing the throne now, keep reading). Cole nails the alpha male. I drove around Vegas like a maniac looking for the second book, Endless Knight, because I COULD NOT WAIT to have it. Book three, Dead of Winter, comes out Tuesday, and all I can say try not to need me because this chick has a date with Jackson.
Stormby Carian Cole. This book is the proof to me that blog tours work. I found this book as I scrolled through my Facebook feed on my author page, and a blogger had a release day blast. I mean, look at this guy. If you’re wondering what the men in my brain look like, it’s that. Storm Valentine. So I totally bought this book based on its smokin’ hot cover. And Storm was just as hot on the inside as he was on the outside. I’m wary of rock star romances. Some of these guys get written like brainless sex machines, but Storm was written with complexity and emotion. Three months later, I’m still captivated by this guy. He was the one who managed to unseat Jackson. I could totally identify with Evie as well, settling for the safe things, afraid to take a chance. Readers get down on heroines like that, and I think it’s because they can hit a little close to home. Book two, Vandal, comes out in February, and that’s another day you can’t need me, because I need to get to know Storm’s brother.
Promiscuous by Isobel Irons I offered to beta this book, and man, was that a good decision. This book showed me what New Adult literature could be. Brash, unapologetic, and raw. This book shies away from nothing. Tash gets labeled as the school slut, and she’s fine with that. But she’s actually a virgin. Her best friend is wilting under high school pressures, and dying from an eating disorder. They live in a trailer park, and come face to face on a daily basis with the uglier things in life. Also, I loved Margot’s grandma and aunt. A+ old ladies in a young persons’ book. This book woke up my writing. Instead of writing a story, I let my characters tell the story in their own voices. I owe a lot to Isobel Irons for that. Reading this book liberated me.
Alone with You by Debbi Rawlins Yeah, this one surprised me, too. I got it for free at the NECRWA conference, and opened it because I needed to something to read in a pinch. I judged it for looking a little cheesy. And I’d read plenty of genre Harlequins, historical, erotic, what have you, but never a straight one! Yes, this is true. I was really impressed with this book. Sure, it followed a formula, the poor little rich girl and the bull rider (Tanner! Fans self), but they had complexity and I was really into their story. Again, I enjoyed Tanner because he was alpha without being demanding or abusive. He was a man who was sure of himself. So if you turn your nose up at these kind of books, do yourself a favor and give one a try.
TIE: LOVE, CARLY by Rosemary McElhannon and AND SCENE by Nikki Rose. I can’t link you to any pretty pictures or buy links on these ones. Why? These books aren’t out yet. They were both submitted to me when I mentored Pitch Wars. I chose Love, Carly as my top pick and turned down And Scene because there was nothing I could do to make it better. They’re both movie star books, which is another genre I usually steer clear of. I work in the industry, and I’m going to spot bullshit from a mile away. But both Rosemary and Nikki nailed their movie stars. In Love Carly, Devon Hayes is on top of the world and Carly Klein is straight out of a stint in rehab. They’re costarring in a movie. Can they make it through without scandal? Do they want to? Devon is hot. In And Scene, Preston’s a Dom who’s looking for a sub who can keep his A list sized secret. He finds Mina, and they even have the same hard limit: love. I know an agent or two reads this blog, and if you’re reading this, please consider these books! They’re well written, well developed, and they made this list ahead of a lot of other well read authors. Get in touch and I’ll point you in the right direction!