Sunday, 18 January 2015

Pen to Paper's Best of 2014

I think it's fair to say that a lot of really awesome books were released in 2014! I think it's pretty clear that YA is continuing to go from strength to strength.
Of course, I won't just be choosing books that were released in 2014, because there were some awesome, slightly older books that I read in 2014 that I would love to share with you too.
I wanted to get to this much sooner, but it was hard work deciding which books to put on this list – I did so well choosing the books that I read in the last year that there weren't many that I didn't enjoy. But I have to pick the best of the bunch, so I've chosen my top ten books that I read in 2014 (in no particular order, because, let's face it, it was hard enough picking them in the first place).

Echo Boy by Matt Haig
Series: Maybe?
Pages: 400
Publisher: Bodley Head
Release date: February 6th 2014

My review
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Goodreads synopsis:
Audrey's father taught her that to stay human in the modern world, she had to build a moat around herself; a moat of books and music, philosophy and dreams. A moat that makes Audrey different from the echoes: sophisticated, emotionless machines, built to resemble humans and to work for human masters. Daniel is an echo - but he's not like the others. He feels a connection with Audrey; a feeling Daniel knows he was never designed to have, and cannot explain. And when Audrey is placed in terrible danger, he's determined to save her. The Echo Boy is a powerful story about love, loss and what makes us truly human.

Okay, so I might have lied a little about the no particular order thing ... but only a little. This is the one book that I would consider putting right at the top of the list. Matt Haig is one of those few authors where I would pick up and read literally anything they write – this is the extent of my trust in him. I read The Radleys a few years ago, when it was part of the Channel 4 TV Book Club and adored it. When I heard that The Humans was coming out, I knew I had to get myself a copy as soon as I could. This turned out to be one of my all-time favourites, if not my absolute favourite.
I knew the same thing about Echo Boy, although I have to admit that I was worried it wouldn't live up to The Humans. My worries were soon cast aside, though. In true Haig style, this is a fantastically thoughtful, imaginative and compelling read. I'm sure I saw him talking online about a possible sequel as well, which I would love.
Seriously, if you haven't read Echo Boy, or any of Matt Haig's books, for that matter, go out and get yourself a copy. You can thank me later.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Series: Shatter Me trilogy
Pages: 340
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release date: October 2012

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Goodreads synopsis:
Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war – and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

Shatter Me is one of those books that is going to stay with me for a very long time – it's one of those rare trilogies that I know I'll read again and again. The first thing that really drew me into this book was the writing style – the way Tahereh plays with language is incredible. Her words are so rich and vibrant that not only can you picture the world she's created, but you can taste, touch and smell it too. Anyone who has read this trilogy will likely say the same thing – that is what makes these books so incredibly unique.
I'm going to cheat a little here and say that I'd also like to add the second book in this trilogy to my best of 2014. Unravel Me was equally as beautiful, and if anything, even more exciting and action-packed. The characters all develop so much that I'm not sure who I like and don't like any more (which is a good thing, trust me). I can't wait to finish the trilogy (and its short stories) in 2015! I'm sure the final book will make my best of list for 2015!

Sorta Like a Rockstar by Matthew Quick
Series: None
Pages: 344
Publisher: Headline
Release date: January 2014

My review
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Goodreads synopsis:
Amber Appleton has a lot to be thankful for.


Amber Appleton has never had it easy.

Both are true. On the one hand, she's got the best friends a seventeen-year-old could ask for and a loyal dog, Bobby Big Boy. On the other, her mum frequently has too much to drink, Amber's never quite sure where her next meal will come from and ever since her mum's latest boyfriend kicked them out, Amber and her mum have been living in the back of a school bus.

Amber has always found it easy to be upbeat, to find the light in the darkest of situations. Until, that is, an unimaginable tragedy occurs. Forced to rethink her way of life, can Amber remain a rock star of hope?

This is the story of a very special teenager, whose faith and hope is tested to the limit.

Sorta Like a Rockstar was one of the books I read in 2014 that really surprised me. I had only read one book by Matthew Quick before, and that was, of course, The Silver Linings Playbook, which I had enjoyed but wouldn't have put it anywhere on my favourites list (I actually enjoyed the movie much more – don't hurt me!). So I went into Sorta Like a Rockstar thinking (quite correctly) that it would be not a whole lot like Silver Linings, but thinking that I would probably like it at about the same level. How wrong I was! This book blew me away.
Amber Appleton is one of the most refreshing characters I have ever had the pleasure to meet. She's witty, quirky and kind and I fell in love with her almost immediately, and her voice comes through in the writing really strongly – I love that about a book. And the story ... wow. I did not expect to feel all the things this book ended up making me feel. I laughed and cried, loved and grieved.
This is yet another book from 2014 that will be staying with me long in to the next few years, and another that I think I will definitely be reading again.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
Series: None
Pages: 325
Publisher: Orion
Release date: February 2013

My review
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Goodreads synopsis:
Eleanor is the new girl in town, and with her chaotic family life, her mismatched clothes and unruly red hair, she couldn't stick out more if she tried.

Park is the boy at the back of the bus. Black T-shirts, headphones, head in a book - he thinks he's made himself invisible. But not to Eleanor... never to Eleanor.

Slowly, steadily, through late-night conversations and an ever-growing stack of mix tapes, Eleanor and Park fall for each other. They fall in love the way you do the first time, when you're young, and you feel as if you have nothing and everything to lose.

Eleanor & Park is another book on the list that took me totally by surprise. I had already read and loved Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, but this sounded so different, and seemed to be just a romance, so I wasn't sure if I would like this on the same level. Little did I know, I would end up loving it even more!
This story is one that will totally sweep you off your feet, suck you in and hold you there until well after you've turned the last page. I really don't know how else to put this to you – you will fall in love with Eleanor & Park. And you will obsess over that last sentence for a very long time. Never before have I been so happily frustrated by an ending! But I like to think that the ending I wanted to happen does happen, but beyond the words in this cute little volume.
If you've not read any Rainbow Rowell, please start with this one! Just beware of the book hangover – you have been warned!

The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks
Series: None
Pages: 268
Publisher: Penguin
Release date: March 2013

My review
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Goodreads synopsis:
Room meets Lord of the Flies, The Bunker Diary is award-winning, young adult writer Kevin Brooks's pulse-pounding exploration of what happens when your worst nightmare comes true - and how will you survive?

I can't believe I fell for it.

It was still dark when I woke up this morning.

As soon as my eyes opened I knew where I was.

A low-ceilinged rectangular building made entirely of whitewashed concrete.

There are six little rooms along the main corridor.

There are no windows. No doors. The lift is the only way in or out.

What's he going to do to me?

What am I going to do?

If I'm right, the lift will come down in five minutes.

It did. Only this time it wasn't empty . . .

This is possibly one of the most gripping books I have ever read. And the most terrifying. An epistolary novel (written as a diary – hence the title), it tells the story of a young boy, Linus, who is abducted by a mysterious figure while he's living rough on the streets, and when he wakes up, he finds himself locked in an underground bunker with six bedrooms. He is to be the first of many.
When the bunker is full of captives, including a little girl taken on her way to school and a relapsing drug addict, their unknown captor, who watches from cameras placed in every room, begins to play games with them.
This books is so real it's terrifying, and I found that once I'd started reading, I couldn't bare to put it down – I had even been reading and walking (and I was in London at the time, so this is no mean feat). It was also awarded the Carnegie medal last year, so if I haven't already convinced you to go and pick it up, then hopefully that will. It's a terrifying, controversial masterpiece.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Series: None
Pages: 350
Publisher: Piccadilly Press
Release date: May 2014

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Goodreads synopsis:
In the tradition of Out of My Mind, Wonder, and Mockingbird, this is an intensely moving middle grade novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.

Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

In a similar sort of way to Sorta Like a Rockstar, this book made me feel just about every emotion there is, and it was another one where the character voice really stood out.
The book starts with a tragedy, and I wondered how I was ever going to feel okay again. Only a chapter in and already I felt close enough to the character to cry for her. As we all know, this is a very good start for a book. Two chapters in, and it had snared me in its net – I was going anywhere until the story was done. Yes, I grieved when reading this book, but I was also warmed and loved by it. It's a fantastic story about what family really means and how love can conquer anything.
I made the mistake, when I finished reading this, of not sitting down and giving it the proper review it deserves, so I'm very much looking forward to having the excuse to re-read it so that I can get that review out there. This book is definitely deserving of a much bigger audience!

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Series: Grisha #1
Pages: 352
Publisher: Indigo
Release date: May 2012

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Goodreads synopsis:
The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowly destroying the once-great nation of Ravka.

Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom's magical elite - the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?

The Darkling, a creature of seductive charm and terrifying power, leader of the Grisha. If Alina is to fulfil her destiny, she must discover how to unlock her gift and face up to her dangerous attraction to him.

But what of Mal, Alina's childhood best friend? As Alina contemplates her dazzling new future, why can't she ever quite forget him?

Glorious. Epic. Irresistible. Romance. Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and Laini Taylor.

This has got to be one of my favourite fantasies of recent years. This is a seriously compelling story that was inspired by the history and folklore of Russia (evidence enough, I think, for it being truly unique), written in such a way that you really believe in the world of the Grisha. This is one of the fantasy worlds that I would definitely put on my list of 'fictional worlds I'd like to visit', simply because I think it would be so exciting (that, and I would love to be one of the Grisha!).
I think this is going to remain one of the most popular YA fantasy trilogies for a very long time to come.

Finding Jennifer Jones by Anne Cassidy
Series: Jennifer Jones #2
Pages: 304
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Release date: February 2014

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Goodreads synopsis:
This is the second book in a series. If you have not read Looking For JJ, this synopsis will contain spoilers.

Kate Rickman seems just like any other nineteen-year-old girl. She goes to university, she dates nice, normal boys and she works in her local tourist office at the weekend. But Kate's not really normal at all. 'Kate' is in fact a carefully constructed facade for a girl called Jennifer Jones - and it's a facade that's crumbling fast. Jennifer has spent the last nine years frantically trying to escape from her horrifying past. Increasingly desperate, Jennifer decides to do something drastic. She contacts the only other girl who might understand what she's dealing with, breaking every rule of her parole along the way. Lucy Bussell is the last person Jennifer expects any sympathy from, but she's also the last person she has left. Finding Jennifer Jones is the powerful sequel to the highly acclaimed, Carnegie Medal nominated Looking for JJ. It is a tense, emotional thriller about guilt, running away and wondering if you can ever truly know yourself.

This was the very first book that I read in 2014 – and the first in the duology, Looking For JJ, was the last of 2013. I was so in love with the first book that I knew I had to start this one straight afterwards!
Looking for JJ tells the story of a trio of young friends who go into the woods together one day, and only two of them come out. It's a chilling and compelling story, that handles a terrifying subject with skill and a great sense of sensitivity.
I really don't want to say any more – to say more than that is to spoil the story, and I think this is best discovered gradually by each individual reader. I would urge anyone new to these books to be very careful of any reviews they might want to read. I would perhaps even suggest going in bling – don't read any more than I have told you here. I think you'll get even more out of it that way.
This is another book that I made the silly mistake of not writing review notes for when I finished it, so I think I'm going to have to take that as an excuse to re-read both the books in this duology!
Seriously fantastic reads.

We Were Liars by E Lockhart
Series: None
Pages: 227
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Release date: May 2014

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Goodreads synopsis:
We are the Liars.

We are beautiful, privileged and live a life of carefree luxury.

We are cracked and broken.

A story of love and romance.

A tale of tragedy.

Which are lies?

Which is truth?

We Were Liars is without doubt, one of the books of 2014. It's also one of the most enigmatic books of the year – you are supposed to know as little about it as possible when you start to read (hence the not-very-telling synopsis). And I think this is the perfect introduction to the book. If you went in knowing much more, the many twists of this story would not be nearly as shocking, and you would not feel quite as tense when you read it (well, I felt tense anyway ... always waiting for something to happen!).
So, of course, like everyone else, I went into this book knowing so little about the book, I may as well not have bothered reading the back. And I came out of it utterly in love. It's a very subtle story that packs a very big punch!
The only thing I would say about this book is that it has been a bit of a marmite read – it seems you either love it or you hate it – and I think the main cause of this is that there has been so much hype around it that a lot of readers have been disappointed.
I would recommend going into We Were Liars with expectations as neutral as they can be – expect nothing, and you will find yourself completely drawn in.

She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick
Series: None
Pages: 354
Publisher: Orion Children's Books
Release date: October 2013
Buy: Book Depository | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones

My review
Add to Goodreads

Goodreads synopsis:
Laureth Peak's father is a writer. For years he's been trying, and failing, to write a novel about coincidence. His wife thinks he's obsessed, Laureth thinks he's on the verge of a breakdown. He's supposed to be doing research in Austria, so when his notebook shows up in New York, Laureth knows something is wrong.

On impulse she steals her mother's credit card and heads for the States, taking her strange little brother Benjamin with her. Reunited with the notebook, they begin to follow clues inside, trying to find their wayward father. Ahead lie challenges and threats, all of which are that much tougher for Laureth than they would be for any other 16-year old. Because Laureth Peak is blind.

She is Not Invisible is an incredible story of a blind girl and her quirky little brother who travel from England to New York in search of their lost writer father. This is all you really need to know going into the book. The rest, I think, should be something each reader discovers on their own.
In the same way as Sorta Like a Rockstar and Counting by 7s has a truly captivating voice, so does this, and Laureth is also one of the bravest characters in contemporary fiction I think I've seen. To go to a strange city in a country you've never been to, when you're blind and are relying on a small child to guide you through the streets, is an incredibly brave thing to do. And Laureth's world is so brilliantly described by the author that I could almost imagine what it must be like to be her.
This is a stunning book, and a great choice to finish up this list with!

So that's it – Pen to Paper's top ten of 2014! It has been a fantastic year of reading for me, and I wish I could fit more into the list, but it would be ridiculously long if I let myself have more than ten.
With 2014 having been such a good year, I'm looking forward to seeing what 2015 will bring!

Have you read any of the books on the list? 
What books would you put into your top ten for 2014? 
Let us know in the comments :)

Happy New Year readers!


Angie F said...

Hooray for Shatter Me! That was my least favorite of the series (novellas included), but Unravel Me and Ignite Me were my top books for 2013 and 2014! :D

I'm currently on the waitlist for We Were Liars, and I hope I love it, too!

Angie @ Pinkindle

beccabooklover said...

We Were Liars was simply amazing. I went into it not knowing anything either and I think I enjoyed it more because of it! Definitely didn't see the twist coming! Hope you have an amazing reading year Dani, quite a few here I need to read this year!

Becca :) x

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