There’s really not one unifying reason for all the books being on this list, and so there’s really no order to them either. Put simply, these are the books that I enjoyed the most this year, the ones that I look back on most fondly. For that reason, I didn’t actually give all of the books on this list a five-star rating (though really, if I’m being completely honest, there’s no logic behind which books I give five stars and which I don’t) and I’m certainly not saying that these are the best books ever written, or that they’ll appeal to everyone, I literally just enjoyed reading these books a whole lot, and I’m very excited to talk about every single one of them.
When making this list, Uprooted was the very first book that I thought of. I heard the premise before it was published, and knew I had to get it, and then proceeded to struggle finding it anywhere (I could have bought it on my kindle, but…look how pretty…). I started reading it the moment it arrived. I dedicated the entire day to reading it, and only stopped because it was getting to the climax of the plot, and I knew I was too tired to give it my proper attention. It’s a very endearing fantasy novel—I’m tempted to call it light fantasy, as it certainly doesn’t sit among intense high fantasy novels, like A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s most easily compared to Howl’s Moving Castle, in that I don’t particularly think it should be taken too seriously. I read this book in May, right after submitting the final assignments of my undergraduate degree, and I’m grateful to it because it kept me excited about reading after a period of incredibly intense reading, i.e. a degree in English Literature. It’s marketed as adult fantasy, presumably because it has sex in it, though really it probably does sit more comfortably with young adult fantasy books. Which is not to say that it’s inferior by any means, just a lot more fun.
I won’t talk about this too much, given that I did an entire review on it. But like, I am still thinking about this book. I haven’t had time to reread it, which I was very keen to do, but I know I’ll get around to it soon. Like Uprooted, it’s a very fun fantasy novel. The characters were incredibly endearing, and it contains what is easily my favourite romance. Admittedly, it leans heavily on the existence of Harry Potter (arguably it couldn’t really exist without the context of that series) but I don’t particularly mind. I’ve become incredibly fond of it incredibly quickly
Perhaps in contrast to the first two books on this list, Only Ever Yours is quite an intense read. Perhaps given the sheer volume of them, young adult dystopian novels have become light reading for me, so I actually bought this book on my kindle to read on holiday. Put bluntly, this was a mistake. A big mistake. Only Ever Yours is brilliantly written, incredibly heavy going, and had me itching to make notes the entire time I was reading it. It’s easily the best debut novel I’ve ever read. It doesn’t have a happy ending, which might be a spoiler, but is something I do feel I should warn about, given that a lot of the negative reaction to this book is precisely due to this absence of a revolution that’s so common in YA dystopia. For me, it became obvious quite quickly that nothing was going to change. The protagonist quite literally does not have the capacity to imagine change. Honestly, that’s what makes this book so good. It’s a very exaggerated post-apocalyptic patriarchy, wherein everything is awful and stays awful because the attitudes that have enabled its creation have existed for far too long. It’s a really brilliant book, one that I’m very keen to give a proper reread.
I know, I know, you’re sick of hearing about The Martian. I’m sorry. The Martian works because its protagonist, the stranded Mark Watney, is so, so great. The whole book would fall apart if you found yourself unable to root for Watney, and Weir makes it incredibly easy for you to root for him. Watney keeps his sense of humour even though he’s stranded on a desolate planet, but there’s still the edge of fear (which is definitely something I thought the film did brilliantly). A lot of people have said that the science/maths parts were incredibly boring and took them out of the story, and I admittedly did skim read a lot of those parts. Initially, this did make me hesitant to talk about the book so highly, but the more I think about it, the more I think those parts were necessary for the realism they gave the story. I have no idea whether any of it was true, but if it wasn’t there the story would have been too unbelievable, and would have been more about some guy bumbling his way out of a terrible situation with the help of some intelligent people back on earth. Instead it’s about an incredibly intelligent guy working with people on earth, often solving problems by himself. The fact that Watney was an individual was one of the things I ended up liking so much about the book—when I saw the film with a friend who had no idea what it was about, she said that she was surprised that Watney didn’t have a family to go back home to, but that’s what makes it so good. If it had been about getting some white dude back to his wife and kids, I don’t think I would have cared, instead, like that excellent quote suggests, it’s about saving someone because it is a basic human instinct to help someone who needs it. So all in, it was a surprisingly uplifting read.
I read the first book in this trilogy, Half Bad, early on in the year at my friend Julianne’s insistence. I liked Half Bad, but I absolutely adored Half Wild. For whatever reason, I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed it—it took turns I genuinely wasn’t expecting, and the developments to the characters and the world were incredibly interesting. One of the things I was sceptical about in Half Bad was the romance subplot between Nathan and Analise, in that it didn’t work for me at all, but Sally Green took that into a brilliant direction that I didn’t anticipate and was genuinely pleased about. This series continually surprises me, and while I’m excited for the final instalment, I’ll actually be a little sad to see these characters go.
These actually do make the ‘best books’ list, but frankly this post is long enough as it is. So very briefly: I feel that I should mention Nimona, because it’s brought me so much joy. Louise O’Neill’s second novel, Asking For It, also makes the list because, like Only Ever Yours, it was absolutely gut-wrenching in its realism, and really made me think. I devoured Saga this year, and am eagerly anticipating the release of the next volume. I’m particularly thankful to Saga for introducing me to comic books/graphic novels, which is certainly something I’d like to read more of going forward. I really enjoyed A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas when I read it in the summer, it was a nice fantasy/romance book read at the perfect time. And my final honourable mention is Patrick Ness’ novel The Rest of Us Just Live Here, because it’s nice to remind myself just how much I love his writing.
So those were my favourite books of the year! I’d love to know if we share any favourites!