In which we Book Smugglers present our top 10 books of 2015…
Ana: Hello, I’m Ana.
Thea: And I’m Thea.
Ana & Thea: And we are…BOOK SMUGGLERS!!!!!!!
*play facemelting riffs on air guitars*
We’ve brought you some of our favorite authors and bloggers with their reflections on 2015… We’ve once again proved that the hardest Feat of Strength is to restrain ourselves NOT TO BUY ALL THE THINGS after so many awesome lists… And now it’s finally time to get our own hands dirty! We have scoured our personal libraries, gone through all our reviews for the year, and we are happy to report that we finally have our final picks ready to go.
We Smugglers are proud to present you with our Most Excellent Books of 2015!
MOST EXCELLENT BOOKS OF 2015
Ana’s Most Excellent List:
Well, 2015 has been unlike any other year for me.
1) I read and reviewed only 110 books this year in what is an all-time low. This year kicked my ass in terms of work, health issues and stress so even though I “only” read 110 books, I am actually surprised that I managed this many…
On the other hand,
2) 2015 is by far the best reading year since we started The Book Smugglers and for the first time the average rate actually matches this impression with a whopping 7.35 average. Further, this is also the year with the most books given a perfect 10 – SEVEN. I have given seven books a perfect 10 this year: this is unheard of and makes me think I have finally honed my skills at picking perfect books for me. It only took eight years.
Obviously, this made picking only 10 books for my top 10 SUPER HARD.
With that said, here is the nitty-gritty of stats. Out of those 110 books read, a whopping 85 were by female-identified authors, or 77% of what I’ve read. The vast majority of those 110 books were unsurprisingly, under the Speculative Fiction umbrella. Genre-wise, 47% are Fantasy and 19% of the books read are Science Fiction. But not as surprising as realising that 36% of the books read were adult fiction, with the rest split more or less evenly between Middle Grade and Young Adult. I had an even split of 50-50% for ebooks x print – but the fact that I read a lot of comics this year might account for that – 19 assorted volumes, amounting to 17% of everything I read.
18% of the books read this year were written by authors of colour. 15% of the books I read featured LGBTQIA characters as either the protagonist OR important secondary characters. And here is the best stat: 47% of the books I’ve read in 2015 featured protagonists of colour.
And now, without further ado: here is my top 10 of 2015, in no particular order.
10. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Sorcerer to the Crown is possibly the most delightful book of 2015. A book that is in conversation with feminism, topical issues within SFF, racism and colonialism at the same time that pays homage to regency romance with a charming couple of protagonists and a main female character – Prunella Gentleman – that I want to be friends with. Incredibly light, delightful, charming, friendly and important in ways that we don’t usually see in mainstream Fantasy.
9. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby
I said in my review: Bone Gap is a book about perspective. About the difference between looking and seeing. About fairytales, self-image, the heavy burden of beauty and the pernicious ways we look at and treat women. It’s awfully tense and there is this feeling of anxious momentum that runs through this novel. It’s also very romantic where it matters, empowering where it counts and beautiful in its telling.
I stand by those words – the moment I read this book way back in March I already knew it had a safe spot on my top 10.
8. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
Another year, another Frances Hardinge novel published, another Frances Hardinge novel on my top 10.
The Lie Tree is Frances Hardinge’s least fantastical book but just like her other stories before this one, The Lie Tree offers a complex narrative of subtly interwoven storylines that are surprising, dark, sad and incredibly beautiful. Actually, this might be her most beautiful book to date.
7. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
The last book in Ann Leckie’s excellent trilogy broke me: because I didn’t expect this trilogy ender to be so perfect in how it combined ludicrous hilarity with momentous scenes. Ancillary Mercy is a brilliant piece of fiction that is uplifting, complex, clever, heart-warming and fun – it’s the perfect ending to a perfect trilogy.
6. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Fairytales, history and female friendship are the central focus of this novel. Uprooted is fantastic because it uproots (sorry) its own world: it delves into the origins of storytelling, using the foundation of fairytales to tell a story that is at once familiar and comforting as well as subversive and progressive. And extremely beautiful, hilarious, romantic, clever and sexy.
5. Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace
The most surprising novel of the year because I wasn’t expecting it to be so awesome. Archivist Wasp or as I fondly refer to it, Feminist Wasp, is THE ONE book I hand-sold the most this year. A novel of post-apocalypse, with ghosts and supersoldiers, about friendship, agency and revolution with an ending that Mad-Max-Fury-Roads like a boss. This book is spectacular.
4. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
A novel of interstellar identity, of re-imagining yourself without losing track of your roots and history and traditions, Binti has the Nnedi Okorafor’s hallmark storytelling, a fantastic main character and a plot that explores the ways that the personal and the cultural are interconnected and intertwined in myriad ways.
3. A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moscowitz
Cannibalized fairies that still get to live forever, a war, a cast of LGBT characters, an unreliable narrator and I don’t know that I ever read anything quite like A History of Glitter and Blood, a novel that is so edgy, it might cross a line somewhere. It’s SO dramatic and dark and uneasy and different and so, so weird, it almost exists on a realm of its own and I regret giving it a 9, because in my heart this book is the eighth 10-rated book of 2015.
2. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
2015’s dark horse, a book I read very late into the year, one I almost didn’t read at all and it’s such a superb novel, I am thankful I got to read it just in time for this. A crazy AI in charge of three ships fleeing a war, a disease spreading in a confined environment, two teenagers in love, epistolary narrative. In the future. In SPACE and I can’t begin to tell you how fun AND harrowing this book is.
1. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Speaking of being broken by a harrowing book: The Fifth Season is Jemisin’s best book to date (and I love all her books) and one that is a triumphant, layered novel of broken worlds, ever changing geology, shifting power and people’s evolution (and revolution) and of revenge. Like I said in my review:
One woman learns something in one timeline, another lives through it. One of the narratives, the most impacting, affecting and exciting one, is in second person. History unfolds as the narratives beautifully fold into one another. The ending of one story is just the beginning of another as the narrative tells us at the start. The ending of this book is just the beginning of a much larger story, one I can’t wait to follow through to its own conclusion.
Thea’s Most Excellent List:
Like Ana, 2015 was a tough year for me. For personal reasons, particularly where Work and Real Life are involved. I’ve never in my life been so challenged by my job, and I’ve never been as overwhelmed with other relationships and striking the balance between work, personal life, and The Book Smugglers. With all of that said–and with all of the books we published this year–I’m shocked that I reviewed 80 books in 2015. This is an all-time low, but, like Ana, I’m impressed I was able to pull that off! So let’s look at the stats:
- The quality of books reviewed were pretty awesome. My overall average was 7.175, versus last year’s average of 6.85 or 2013’s average of 6.7–HUZZAH!
- This year, I only assigned TWO perfect 10s, and only one of those pertained to a book published in 2015 (Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson).
- Conversely, I assigned TWO horrible 1 ratings–both of those to books published in 2015 (Earth Flight by Janet Edwards, Dark Disciple by Christie Golden). Ugh.
- Exactly 50% of the books I reviewed were written by female-identifying authors.
- Of all the books I read, 56% featured diverse (PoC, LGBTQIA) characters and/or authors.
- Genre-wise: 97.5% were speculative fiction of some sort (surprise, surprise), with a strong emphasis on Fantasy (40%), Science Fiction (28.75%), Horror (23.75%), and a surprising showing from Contemporary/Urban Fantasy (15%), and Comics/Graphic Novels/Manga (22.5%).
- Age-wise: 36.25% of the books I reviewed were for Young Adults, and only 8.75% were for Middle Graders. I vow to increase these numbers in 2016!
That’s enough with the statistics–now, onto THE LIST! This was very, very hard and a number of books are on the bubble. In descending order, my top 10 books of 2015 are:
10. The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason
I kick of my favorite books of the year with The Empress Game by Rhonda Mason–a surprise book that caught me completely unawares. The Empress Game follows Kayla “Shadow Panthe” Reinumon as she is roped into a deadly game of politics and deception–forced to impersonate a princess in a gladiatorial contest to become the next Empress. Kayla is no ordinary pit fighter and warrior, though; she’s also one of the last two surviving members of the Reinumon royal family (a powerful family in Wyrd space, and possessing intense telepathic abilities).
Like I said in my review: Sophisticated space opera. Psi powers. Holographic princess impersonation. Badass female protagonists who display said badassery in the physical AND political arenas. What else could you possibly ask for?
9. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
A fantasy novel that travels between different versions of London, V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic is a pitch-perfect contemporary urban fantasy story that is chock-full of action, brilliant imagination, and devastating magic. In these four Londons–Grey London, Red London, White London, and Black London–there are magic-wielders, who amass power through blood and violence. This is a dark, funny, bloody fantasy novel and I cannot wait for more next year.
8. The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
The follow-up to The Three-Body Problem my favorite novel of 2014, The Dark Forest is a… controversial book. There are things about The Dark Forest that are sexist and horrible. There are problems with this book, and I understand why people (Ana included) do not like it. That said, the good things about The Dark Forest are so freaking fantastic and mindblowing and paradigm-shifting, that I cannot NOT have it in my top 10. Bring it on, book 3.
7. Lightless by C.A. Higgins
This next book is a debut science fiction novel from a young author with a degree in astrophysics, about a sentient space ship, an engineer who is intimately familiar with its dealings, and revolution in outer space. It’s a story of altered states, and chaos, and entropy, unfolding in the style of a mystery play–and it’s fantastic and completely unexpected.
6. Golden Son by Pierce Brown
Pierce Brown’s Red Rising was one of my favorite books of 2014, and so it follows that Golden Son was one of my most highly anticipated books of 2015. I’m so happy that this sophomore installment to the series did not disappoint–expanding on the worlds and politics of the first book, Golden Son takes Darrow’s journey to the ultimate, highest stakes.
5. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Like Ana, I am a huge fan of N.K. Jemisin’s work, and The Fifth Season is one of her finest books. A pre/post/apocalyptic fable about remembrance and vengeance and the lives and worlds that are shattered in the wake of extreme power, The Fifth Season is ambitious, non-linear, and breathtaking in scope.
4. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Talk about surprising–Illuminae was a super-hyped book for 2015, pushed enormously at BEA, through advertising and marketing efforts, and had the hallmarks of a Dreaded Over-Hyped Novel. But you know what? Illuminae was SO worthy of the hype–because this epistolary novel about a corporate conspiracy, a deranged AI, a zombie-like virus, and young star-crossed lovers, is ABSOLUTELY AWESOME. Damn, I love this book.
3. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
This year, I’ve had the pleasure of getting acquainted with Naomi Novik’s writing–first, with Temeraire, and then with the unrelated, standalone Uprooted. This novel is gorgeous: lushly written, featuring powerful characters, sinister magic, romance, and best of all, a powerful friendship between two female characters. This is fantasy at its finest and most magical.
2. The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Coming in at number 2 on my list is this controversial title from debut novelist Seth Dickinson. Billed as Guns, Germs and Steel meets Game of Thrones, this is a fantasy novel that focuses on policy, economics, cultural assimilation, imperialism…and vengeance. It’s a powerful book about the debits and credits that run a revolution, and that tax one’s soul with compromises.
1. Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
My favorite book of 2015 was this sprawling narrative about humanity leaving for the stars…and discovering that the stars are neither kind nor habitable. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora is the tale of a generation ship destined for the eponymous moon, Aurora, in the Tau Ceti system, on the last 10 years of the century-plus-long journey. This is a sweeping, powerful epic about humanity, survival, and interstellar travel–at its most pessimistic and humane hour. This is the only new book to which I gave a perfect 10 rating, and hands down was my favorite book of 2015.
Most Honorable Mentions of 2015
As with every year, we have a hard time sticking to just one list. Because we’ve read SO MANY AWESOME BOOKS this year, we feel it’s only fair that we give a shoutout to those titles on our Best of 2015 longlist (all of which have been published in 2015). In no particular order:
Ana’s Most Honorable Mentions:
1. The Very Best of Kate Elliott by Kate Elliott, 10 (Fantasy, Science Fiction, Short Stories)
2. Prairie Fire by E.K. Johnston, 8 (Fantasy, YA)
3. Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, 8 (Fantasy, YA)
4. A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas, 8 (Fantasy, YA)
5. Infandous by Elana K Arnold, 8 (Contemporary YA)
6. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, 10 (Fantasy, Comics)
7. Space Hostages by Sophia McDougall, 8 (Science Fiction, YA)
8. Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams Garcia, 8 (Children)
9. The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor, 8 (Science Fiction)
10. A Darker Shade of Magic by V E Schwab, 8 (Fantasy)
11. Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman, 8 (Science Fiction)
12. About a Girl by Sarah McCarry, 8 (Fantasy, YA)
13. Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, 8 (Fantasy, YA)
14. The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, 8 (Fantasy, YA)
15. Planetfall by Emma Newman, 8 (Science Fiction)
Thea’s Most Honorable Mentions:
(I just realized that I only had ONE YA book on my top 10 list for the year! There were many other YA and MG books that are on the bubble, though.)
1. The Suffering by Rin Chupeco, 8 (Horror, YA)
2. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, 7 (Fantasy, YA)
3. Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, 7 (Historical, Fantasy, YA)
4. The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender, 8 (Horror, YA)
5. Touch by Claire North, 8 (SFF)
6. The Edge of Dark by Brenda Cooper, 8 (Science Fiction)
7. Vertigo CMYK (Issue #4), 8 (Horror, Speculative Fiction, Comics, SFF)
8. The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, 8 (SFF, Dystopia, YA)
9. Moving Target by Cecil Castellucci & Jason Fry, 8 (Science Fiction, MG)
10. Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory, 7 (Fantasy, SFF, Horror)
11. The Fog Diver by Joel Ross (SFF, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Dystopia, MG)
12. The Stars Seem So Far Away by Margaret Helgadottir, 8 (Science Fiction)
13. Wayward (Vol 1) by Jim Zub, 8 (SFF, Comics)
14. Space Hostages by Sophia McDougall, 8 (Science Fiction, YA)
15. Wytches by Scott Snyder, 8 (Horror, Comics)
Most Excellent Books Published PRIOR to 2015
Last list. Promise. There are a treasure trove of awesome pre-2015 books – especially now with Old School Wednesdays – we have read this year, and here are a few of our favorites:
Ana’s Most Excellent Oldies:
1. Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones, 8 (Fantasy)
2. Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin, 8 (Historical Fiction< Fantasy)
3. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Montgomery, 10 (Children)
4. Temeraire by Naomi Novik, 9 (Fantasy)
5. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill, 8 (Dystopia, YA)
Thea’s Most Excellent Oldies:
1. The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, 9 (MG, Fantasy)
2. A World Without Princes by Soman Chainani, 8 (MG, Fantasy)
3. Sweet Tooth (TP Vols 1-5) by Jeff Lemire, 8 (Science Fiction, Apocalypse/Dystopia, Comics)
4. The Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King, 8 (Fantasy, Horror, SFF)
5. The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King, 8 (Fantasy, Horror, SFF)
6. The Waste Lands by Stephen King, 8 (Fantasy, Horror, SFF)
7. Morning Glories: For A Better Future (Vol. 1) by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma, 7 (SFF, Comics)
8. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Montgomery, 10 (Children)
9. Temeraire by Naomi Novik, 9 (Fantasy)
10. Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Books 1-5) by Rick Riordan, 8 (YA, Fantasy, UF)
And with that we, your Friendly Neighborhood Book Smugglers, close the books on 2015. Bring on 2016 and don’t forget:
Be Excellent to Each Other, dudes and dudettes!