I read a lot. About two books a week—I’m at 46 books so far this year (with two in progress). Naturally I come across a lot of fabulous books in my reading, and the next best thing to discovering a wonderful book is sharing that book with others. Or maybe sharing it is the best thing. It’s a really good feeling.
I’ve put together my very top book recommendations from the last two to three years of voracious reading. I’m not including the classics (BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and ENDER’S GAME are still closest to my heart)—this is in answer to the “I’m looking for a new book” inquiries.
You’ll notice most of this list is YA (“Young Adult”) titles. Yup. I love storytelling most of all, and I find the storytelling in YA fiction right now to be so dynamic, diverse and fresh. The YA years are an inherently exciting time in a person’s life, plus the writers in this genre are collectively raising each other up, and therefore raising up the whole category (in my own opinion, from reading the books, blogs and tweets).
If you love great books (and you do, or you wouldn’t be reading a book rec blog) you’ll love this book. The voice, the characters, the humanity. (The voice, you ask? Yes. I didn’t really understand the concept before… then I read this book.) (And re-read it, about four times so far).
This is YA Contemporary about twins Noah and Jude (boy and girl), both artists. It’s told in alternating points of view between Noah at age 13 and 14 and Jude at age 16. Some big things happen in those years between, and it’s a mystery element for the reader, in piecing together what happened to get from point A to point B.
One of my favorite things about this book is the way Jandy captures each unique character. For example, she expresses how the character Noah is feeling throughout by titling/describing the paintings he thinks up in his head:
Self-portrait: A Window Flies Open in My Chest
Self-portrait: The Boy Hiding Inside the Boy Hiding Inside the Boy
Family portrait: Assume the Crash Position
My description is not doing justice to the book, because there is no way I can capture in words how fabulous this book is (if I could, I would be a published, multi award-winner like Jandy). You just have to read it for yourself.
I have recommended this title to more friends than any other book, and they’ve always come back to me to thank me. Or share with me that their whole book club loved it. So help me feel that wonderful feeling again: read this book.
This is a YA Fantasy/Dystopian book about Juliette who cannot touch anyone without killing them. There are three fabulous reasons to love this trilogy: the language, the character arc, and the irresistible men.
Tahereh’s language completely breaks all the rules, and it’s amazing. Just read a taste for yourself:
“I do so much with these lips, I think. I taste and touch and kiss and I’ve pressed them to the tender parts of his skin and I’ve made promises and told lies and touched lives all with these two lips and the words they form, the shapes and sounds they curve around. But right now my lips wish he would just read my mind because the truth is I’ve been hoping I’d never have to say any of it, these thoughts, out loud.”
“I am falling to pieces in his arms. My fists are full of unlucky pennies and my heart is a jukebox demanding a few nickels and my head is flipping quarters heads or tails heads or tails heads or tails heads or tails.”
The character Juliette’s journey is epic and so well written. I totally get how this girl gets from point A (totally broken) to point B. More like point Z.
The men (boys?) are complicated, smart, so sexy. This, coupled with Tahereh’s innovative language, makes for THE scene. You’ll know it when you get to it.
This is also YA, an alternate history. But this is unlike any other book I’ve ever read, let alone any other YA title.
This takes place after World War II, only the Axis powers won. Germany and Japan control all of Europe and Asia. There is an annual motorcycle race across the two continents, and the winner gets an audience with Hitler. Yael is entering the race… to assassinate Hitler when she wins.
But Yael is special—during scientific testing in the concentration camps (they were trying to see if they could make a Jewish girl Aryan), she mutated and now she can change her appearance. So she’s competing in the motorcycle race as a famous blonde haired blue eyed woman.
Talk about a unique view of race and prejudice.
This book is thought-provoking without losing any of the fast-paced energy of a cross-country fight-to-the-death motorcycle race. Plus, there’s some fascinating potential love interests (they think Yael is someone else, for example: his sister) and a surprise ending that is perfect. I cannot wait for book two.
YA Fantasy again here, but I don’t actually see why they can’t be adult series. The leading female characters, Celaena and Feyre, are totally badass and layered. Like, just because they can wield weapons and destroy you doesn’t mean they can’t like fashion, chocolate, and art. The romance is sexy (and often quite steamy). The plots are epic.
And if you love these stories, you will have a lot of words to enjoy! Sarah J. Maas is turning out huge novels at a breakneck speed. Perfect for obsessed fans like me. I’m counting down the days until the 5th THRONE OF GLASS novel, out September 6th.
Maggie Stiefvater may be more famous for her werewolf series and THE RAVEN BOYS series, but werewolves don’t do it for me and I found RAVEN BOYS to be ultimately disappointing (happy to debate you on this).
But I absolutely adore her standalone, THE SCORPIO RACES. This is YA (fantasy, I guess?) that is definitely appropriate for younger teen readers, unlike my other recs. This is also the oldest title, by pub date, on my list. But it’s a treasure and I think people forget about it.
It’s the story of orphan Puck Connelly (a girl) who lives on the made-up isle of Thisby that reminds me of someplace off Ireland or Wales. She must enter a dangerous race with man-eating water horses in order to save her family home. She ends up getting help from the best water horse trainer/racer on the island, the strong and silent Sean Kendrick.
Sounds a little weird, right? Especially if horses aren’t your thing (they definitely aren’t mine). But this is beautiful storytelling, characters with such heart. Sean Kendrick is my number one literary crush—might have something to do with the fact that I married a strong and silent type in real life. But I think if you enjoy the classic fairytales and folktales, you will love this little novel.
Bonus: the audiobook of this is fantastic, with a male and female reader, both with brilliant British accents. Perfect for transporting you away from the stress of commuting.
This is Adult Fantasy, which I don’t usually read, but luckily a friend recommended this and I dished back all the love to her. I’m obsessed with this series.
The world has four Londons, with varying degrees of magic, and only a few people can pass between the worlds. Including Kell, our slightly nerdy but totally swoon-worthy hero. Or maybe the hero is Lila Bard, the thief who teams up with Kell (sort of, sometimes) when dark magic is accidentally brought to the wrong London.
More beautiful language, gorgeous world(s), irresistible characters. I dare you not to enjoy every minute of these books. Example:
“Delilah Bard,” she said. “We’ve met before. And you looked worse.”
Rhy laughed silently. “I apologize for anything I might have done. I was not myself.”
“I apologize for shooting you in the leg,” said Lila. “I was myself entirely.”
Rhy broke into his perfect smile. “I like this one,” he said to Kell. “Can I borrow her?”
“You can try,” said Lila, raising a brow. “But you’ll be a prince without his fingers.”
7. This is the part where I cheat.
The whole genre of YA Fantasy is particularly strong right now, and I can’t narrow my list down. Each of the of the following titles is unique and worthy of its own write-up, but there are some things these titles have in common: strong female characters, interesting & complex worlds, and killer plotting. If you appreciate great storytelling, I think you will love these books/series as much as I did: AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir, SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo, THE CROWN’S GAME by Evelyn Skye, REBEL OF THE SANDS by Alwyn Hamilton, THE WRATH AND THE DAWN by Renee Ahdieh, PASSENGER by Alexandra Bracken, THE WINNER’S CURSE by Marie Rutkoski and TRUTHWITCH by Susan Dennard.
What book recs would you share? Any you think I would like?