Tuesday 12 January 2016

My Favourite Books of 2015

Happy New Year, everyone!

So, 2016 is in full swing - I don't know about you, but I've been back at my full-time job for a week now. If you only started work yesterday, or are perhaps still on holiday, then I envy you.

I decided to start something new this year, and I think you're going to like it.

According to my Goodreads Year in Books, I read forty-one books in 2015. Looking through those, I see that I gave five-star reviews to three of them. You may think that's not many, but I actually think I was rather generous.

If you follow my reviews, you will know that five-star reviews from me are extremely rare. For a book to get a five-star review from me, it has to be absolutely, completely, flawless. That means the story must hold my attention so well that I'm almost physically unable to put the book down, and there must be no typographical, grammatical, or other editing errors big enough to ruin my sense of immersion, even for a second (or if there are, I must've forgotten about them by the time I get to writing my review).

Anyway, I decided to showcase these three books on my blog. You will notice that none of them were actually written in 2015; that's just when I read them. I seldom read books in the same year as they were published. My to-read pile is just far too long, so it can sometimes take well over a year between me adding a book to the list, and actually getting to read it. Do you find the same thing?

Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson

About the Book

From the author of Legion and the #1 New York Times bestselling Stormlight Archive comes an action-filled novella about privilege, culture clash, and expectations.

God-Emperor Kairominas is lord of all he surveys. He has defeated all foes, has united the entire world beneath his rule, and has mastered the arcane arts. He spends his time sparring with his nemesis, who keeps trying to invade Kai's world.

Except for today. Today, Kai has to go on a date.

Forces have conspired to require him to meet with his equal—a woman from another world who has achieved just as much as he has. What happens when the most important man in the world is forced to have dinner with the most important woman in the world?

My Review

This book was flawless. Absolutely perfect. Really, I can't think of one single negative thing to say about it.

It starts out a little weird, with a God-Emperor standing atop a giant floating disk, surveying his kingdom while musing to his bodyguard and advisor. For the first page or two, you're not really sure where it's going.

And then it just... explodes (the story, not the world). It turns out that we're part of a distant future, a Matrix-like Earth where everyone experiences something different to everybody else, and where everybody is a God-Emperor of sorts.

Being so short, I can't really divulge any more, for fear of spoiling a major plot point... but that's another plus, actually. It's a long novelette, just under twenty thousand words. If you're not looking to commit a week or more on a book, and you like both Science Fiction AND Fantasy, give this book a try. You're sure to finish it in under two hours.

You can pick up Perfect State from Smashwords or Amazon. If you prefer audiobooks, and you happen to be in South Africa, it's available on CD from Loot.

Joyland by Stephen King

About the Book

College student Devin Jones took the summer job at Joyland hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart. But he wound up facing something far more terrible: the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and dark truths about life—and what comes after—that would change his world forever. 

A riveting story about love and loss, about growing up and growing old—and about those who don't get to do either because death comes for them before their time—Joyland is Stephen King at the peak of his storytelling powers. With all of the emotional impact of King masterpieces such as The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, Joyland is at once a mystery, a horror story, and a bittersweet coming-of-age novel, one that will leave even the most hard-boiled reader profoundly moved.

My Review

This isn't your typical Stephen King, but I loved it anyway.

There are paranormal elements (a murdered woman haunts a ride at an amusement park), but I wouldn't call it horror - paranormal fantasy, maybe?

At its heart, it's a deeply emotional journey of a young man of twenty-one trying to escape the pain of losing his first love. To do so, he takes a break from college for a season, and goes to work at an amusement park. There he becomes embroiled in a cold case of a girl who was murdered at the park some years ago.

There's not much more to be said about this book. I felt it was perfect in every way, exquisitely written, and very vivid. I found myself laughing at parts, and wanting to cry at others, because the story of the man's love is so well written and so immediately identifiable. I'm sure that anybody who's lost love before (and who hasn't) will identify as well.

You can find Joyland on Amazon, or you can get the paperback from Loot, if you're in South Africa.

Resonant Blue by C.J. Marsicano

About the Book

"Kid, you're too young, too punk, and too female to be in a real rock and roll band."

When an audition for a guitarist's position in an established group goes sour with one snide sentence, 16-year-old Reina Kawamura is determined to start her own punk rock band.

With her older brother's hand-me-down Strat in hand, her experiences witnessing the California punk scene a few years earlier, and her best friends at her side and on stage with her, the group starts off as a semi-serious lark. As time goes on, the experiences Reina goes through as a musician and a person in the ensuring months end up changing her life - on and off stage - for the better.

My Review

This is a truly inspirational story, and I have no problem giving it five stars!

The year is 1982, and a young girl wants to play in a rock band. I've never played a musical instrument before (unless you count six months of guitar lessons in Primary School, which I sucked at), but I know two people who play guitar, and I recognise many of the brand names and terminology from their anecdotes. And of course, I love music--who doesn't??--so I was delighted at some of the song references.

I was completely engrossed in this young Japanese girl's journey from auditioning for a local band, to starting her own band, to tasting fame, to finding out where she ends up (which I won't share with you). 

The Author's Note at the end gave me goosebumps, as I made the final realisation that this is not just a story about a young girl's musical aspirations, but rather a story for any artist involved in creating anything (and that includes writers), and a declaration that we don't have to wait to be considered "good enough" by music labels, publishers, etc.

One of the best, and most well written, indie stories I've read in awhile. I'll be looking for more by this author!

Resonant Blue can be had from Smashwords or Amazon. If you're in South Africa, and want to splurge on the hardcover, it's available from Loot.

As you've probably noticed, I have a very wide taste in books; I'll read absolutely anything. I also don't discriminate between traditionally published and independently/self-published titles. Two of the books on this list (Perfect State and Resonant Blue) are indies.

If you've read any of these books, do you agree with my reviews? Why or why not? What other books were your favourite reads last year?

Please feel free to let me know in the comments below!

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