Book of the Month 2014

January

Inkheart

InkheartMeggie loves stories, but her father, Mo, hasn’t read aloud to her since her mother mysteriously disappeared.

When a stranger knocks at their door, Mo is forced to reveal an extraordinary secret – when he reads aloud, words come alive, and dangerous characters step out of the pages.

Suddenly Meggie is living the kind of adventure she has only read about in books, but this one will change her life forever.

This book enchanted me. It might be longer than average but the steady pacing and the wonderful characters made me wish it would go on even longer. Although the main character is a young girl, I never felt like the book was aimed just at kids. This is one of those awesome books that everyone can enjoy.

The world Cornelia Funke has created is richly realised, every setting coming to life on the page and sucking you into the story. The characters too, burst to life in a way that makes you feel that they really have stepped from the pages of a book into the real world *nervously checks over shoulder for Capricorn*

What’s especially intriguing is that this book isn’t plain black and white as a lot of books aimed at a younger audience are. Dustfinger particularly brings out the shades of grey. He is a self-serving character but you can’t help rooting for him. The characters have their own agendas and their own ways of achieving their goals. Meggie might be the main character but the entire book doesn’t revolve around her.

 

February

Shift

ShiftWhen two boys – one living, and one a ghost – each hold a piece of your heart, how do you choose?

Aura’s life is anything but easy. And ever since her boyfriend, Logan, died and came back as a ghost, it’s got even more complicated. Aura loves Logan, and as she watches him struggle between ghost and shade, she knows he needs her now more than ever. But she can’t deny the connection with her very alive and very cute friend, Zachary. And Aura’s not sure she wants to.

Logan and Zachary each fight to be the one by her side, but time is running out and Aura realises that she needs them both to help her uncover the mystery of the Shift – and her past. As their search uncovers new truths, Aura must decide who to trust with her secrets…and her heart.

I’m not normally a fan of love triangles but I found it impossible not to fall in love with this book. Aura’s struggle with being caught between her past with Logan and her future with Zachary is much more poignant than if they’d both been alive and she just couldn’t choose between them.

But this is so much more than just a teen romance. The mystery of the Shift, as well as Aura and Zachary’s connection to it, is a constant presence throughout the book. The DMP is a lurking menace that threatens to overshadow everything. Between them, Aura and Zachary follow clue after clue – solstice, astronomy, and family secrets – and start unravelling the mystery. And the ending is just beautiful. Be warned, you may need tissues for the tears!

The characters are incredibly real. Their relationships, both in this book and the first one, develop and evolve, and come to life in that way that only special fictional characters do. The world Jeri Smith-Ready created is fascinating and unusual. The paranormal elements are sometimes subtler than other novels in the same vein, but they’re magical nonetheless.

I really don’t feel these books have got the recognition they deserved. If you haven’t already done so, go and pick up Shade, the first book in the series, and get reading.

 

March

The Evolution of Mara Dyer

The Evolution of Mara DyerMara Dyer knows she isn’t crazy. She knows she can kill with her mind, and that her boyfriend, Noah, can heal with his. Mara also knows that somehow, her ex, Jude, is not a hallucination. He is alive.

Unfortunately, convincing her family and doctors that she’s not crazy isn’t easy. The only person who actually believes her is Noah. But being with Noah is dangerous and Mara is in constant fear that she might hurt him. She needs to learn how to control her power, and fast! Together, Mara and Noah must try and figure out how Jude survived the asylum collapse, and how he knows so much about her strange ability…before anyone else ends up dead.

I adored the first book in the series, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, and the sequel more than lived up to its predecessor. Mara’s situation in this book is genuinely frightening. She’s stuck in a psychiatric ward and no one believes a word she says. Dun dun duuuuuuuuun!!!

Michelle Hodkin’s characters are wonderfully flawed. The fact that Mara’s something of a damaged character, and her situation means you’re never quite sure how reliable she is, makes her a breath of fresh air. Her relationship with Noah is enchanting. There’s no insta-love here, but the unfolding story of two people who have genuinely fallen in love, who know each others faults and secrets, who cling together in a crazy world without ever feeling obsessive or cliche.

Hodkin’s writing is beautiful and haunting and the suspense climbs with every chapter until you’re clutching the book with white knuckles, so excited that the only noise you’re capable of is a sort of high-pitched gibberish.

Seriously, read these books!

 

April

The Immortal Rules

The Immortal RulesTo survive in a ruined world, she must embrace the darkness…

Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a walled-in city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten. Some days, all that drives Allie is her hatred of them—the vampires who keep humans as blood cattle. Until the night Allie herself dies and becomes one of the monsters.

Forced to flee her city, Allie must pass for human as she joins a ragged group of pilgrims seeking a legend—a place that might have a cure for the disease that killed off most of civilization and created the rabids, the bloodthirsty creatures who threaten human and vampire alike. And soon Allie will have to decide what–and who–is worth dying for…again.

This book blew me away. After thoroughly enjoying the first book in Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series, I had similarly high hopes for this one. Before I read it, I’d been wondering what to do about the Book of the Month segment. Although I’d read plenty of books this month – some of them very good – I hadn’t found one that absolutely knocked my little socks off. This book is a sock-knocker!

The vampire world that Kagawa has created is unique and thrilling, completely different than any other vampire story I’ve read. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, someone comes along with an amazing new twist that makes you say “Whaaaaa….?”

Allison is an intriguing heroine, her human morals constantly at war with the lure of her vampire nature. She is tough and relatable at the same time, the kind of well-rounded kick-ass heroine I haven’t seen in a while. I’d argue that this is a character-driven novel and with a character as awesome as Allison Sekemoto, what more can you ask for?

Clocking in at more than 500 pages, this is longer than the average YA novel but it’s one of those books you wish would never end.

 

May

Forever

ForeverSam has always loved Grace. As a wolf, he watched her from afar. As a boy, he held her in his arms.

Now facing the possibility of a life without her, he will do anything to keep her safe. Even if it means facing his demons. Even if it risks everything he has.

Anything, as long as their love can survive…

I fell in love with Sam and Grace in Shiver, and this final instalment of their story doesn’t disappoint. Maggie Stiefvater’s style of writing is as beautiful as ever – I devour her words like they are pieces of creamy chocolate. (It’s a good thing books don’t go to your hips or I’d be huuuuuuuge!)

The sweetness of Sam and Grace’s relationship make it seem much more real and much more poignant than some of the insta-love I see in YA novels. And Cole and Isabel’s relationship is just as enthralling, in a completely different way. The characters are complex and incredibly real. I loved them all, despite their flaws, despite their mistakes.

But it’s not all sweetness and love and happily-ever-afters. There are some heart-wrenching moments which I won’t talk about because I don’t want to ruin it for anyone. The series is brought to a bitter-sweet, beautiful, heartfelt conclusion with more than a few surprises along the way.

 

June

Blood Promise

Blood PromiseThe recent Strigoi attack at St. Vladimir’s Academy was the deadliest ever in the school’s history, claiming the lives of Moroi students, teachers, and guardians alike. Even worse, the Strigoi took some of their victims with them…including Dimitri.

He’d rather die than be one of them, and now Rose must abandon her best friend, Lissa – the one she has sworn to protect no matter what – and keep the promise Dimitri begged her to make long ago.

But with everything at stake, how can she possibly destroy the person she loves the most?

I’m a huge fan of the Vampire Academy series and this book in particular stood out to me. Throughout the series, Rose has been such a strong character, and this book showed her in a different, altogether more vulnerable light. Rose is a survivor, and nowhere is that more apparent than in this book.

Separated from Lissa (who has more than a few problems of her own to overcome) Rose is forced to make this most terrible of journeys alone. She knows keeping her promise to Dimitri could easily kill her – emotionally as well as literally – yet she packs her bags and heads off to Russia anyway. This problem isn’t one that can be solved with fists. For this, Rose needs a different kind of strength.

Richelle Mead’s beautiful writing keeps the book moving along at a brisk pace – Rose is taken on an emotional rollercoaster when she meets Dimitri’s family, learns there’s more to the world of vampires and dhampirs than she realised, and finally faces her greatest and most terrible challenge. And even then all is not quite what it seems.

There are some truly heartbreaking moments in this book. It is raw and powerful and will play with your emotions like a kitty with a ball of wool. Sometimes the middle books of a series can feel a bit like filler. Not this one. This book is the strongest in the series so far.

I’m salivating for Spirit Bound.

 

July

Between

BetweenElizabeth Valchar – pretty, popular, perfect – wakes up after spending her eighteenth birthday party on her family’s yacht to investigate a thumping noise.

What she finds will change everything she thought she knew about her life, her friends, and everything in between. As Liz begins to unravel the circumstances surrounding  her birthday night, she will find that no one around her, least of all Liz Herself, was perfect – or innocent.

I. Loved. This. Book.

There are some books that make you feel this incredible sense of WOW when you’re reading them, and this was definitely one of those books. I literally could not put it down.

Liz is a fascinating character and she really stood out from other heroines in the YA crowd. Why? Because she wasn’t at all likeable. Not at first anyway. She’s rude, she’s spoiled, she’s conceited. But the further you read and the more you get to know her, the more you realise there’s a lot more to her character than it first seemed.

I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading this book. I picked it up on a whim, having never even heard of it before. I didn’t expect the emotional rollercoaster, the fascinating, complex characters, and the beautiful way the mystery unravels and the story comes together. I’m not much of a crier and it’s very rare that a book makes me cry. This one did.

Before I picked up this book, I’d never even heard of Jessica Warman. Now I want to read everything she’s ever written.

 

August

Generation Dead

Generation DeadAll over the country, teenagers who die aren’t staying dead.

Against her better judgement, Phoebe finds herself drawn to Tommy Williams. He’s gorgeous, funny, on the football team. And dead.

But not everyone is as accepting as Phoebe. There are those who would like to rid the community of this sinister phenomenon, and they’ll stop at nothing to achieve it…

This book is such a breath of fresh air in the zombie genre. People looking for a typical blood ‘n’ guts zombiefest won’t find it here. People looking for a thoughtful, unusual read, with supernatural prejudices paralleling issues in human history – this is the book for you.

Arguably this is character-driven rather than plot-driven, and the characters don’t disappoint. Phoebe is a fascinating and memorable heroine, and her clashes with best friend Margi regarding their differing view of zombies – or living impaired – are among the highlights of the book.

The best part about Generation Dead is the powerful message contained in its pages – a message of tolerance that could easily be applied to real life situations, both past and present. This is not a fast-paced, action-packed book, but Daniel Waters’s lovely prose keeps things briskly moving along without ever feeling boring.

In a genre filled with lacklustre clones, this is one book that stands out.

 

September

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

12813630Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. And once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

This is a YA vampire book with bite. Cheesy, I know, but it’s true.  I’ve read most  of Holly Black’s books and this is hands down the one I’d vote the best. I remember reading the short story that preceded it and thinking, “Hey, this would make a great novel.” I was right.

Through a crowded subgenre, The Coldest Girl blazes a bloody and chilling path, one that will stay with you long after you turn that final page. The Coldtown that Tana travels to is both seductively compelling and terrifying ugly, is a world of blood and decadence and danger. As usual, Holly Black favours characters with a darker edge – shades of grey rather than black and white.

The beautiful prose and fascinating characters make this one of those books you don’t want to end. I found myself putting it down because I didn’t want it to end too quickly, then picking it up almost immediately because I was desperate to find out what was happening.

I just wish it was part of a series so I could spend more time in this fabulously flawed world.

 

October

Pandemonium

Pandemonium+by+Lauren+OliverLena’s been to the very edge. She’s questioned love and the life-changing and agonising choices that come with it.

She’s made her decision.

But can she live with it?

Delirium was one of my favourite reads of last year, but it took me a while to get round to reading Pandemonium. Why?

Because the first book was just so good. It’s not everyday you come across something so beautifully written and, in my own weird way, I wanted to savour that.

Pandemonium doesn’t disappoint. Having escaped into the Wilds, Lena must now face the harsh reality of a life without Alex. The prose is as beautiful as the first book, Lauren Oliver’s amazing talent with words painting an incredibly raw and realistic picture of the world Lena is thrust into.

There’s a fascinating new cast of characters and even a new love interest. I’ll admit that I don’t like Julian as much as I liked Alex, but the other characters more than make up for a slightly weaker male lead.

As for the amazing cliffhanger ending? Thanks to spoilers I already knew what was going to happen at the end of this book. And it still hit me like a massive, unforeseen twist. This is the power of Lauren Oliver’s writing.

I’m trying to hold off reading Requiem because I don’t want this amazing journey to end, but after that cliffhanger I probably can’t hold off for long.

 

November

Peter and the Starcatchers

Peter and the StarcatchersHow did a flying boy first meet a certain one-handed pirate?

Deep in the hold of leaky old ship the Neverland, a mysterious chest is guarded night and day. Does it contain gold, jewels or something much more valuable? Orphan boy Peter is determined to find out. But he is not the only one after the precious cargo…

I adore Peter Pan. When I was a kid I read the original story over and over again, and my love of Neverland has not diminished over the years.

Peter and the Starcatchers is essentially a prequel to Peter Pan, explaining his history with Hook, his arrival at Neverland, and the origin of all the things that Pan fans will remember from J.M.Barrie’s magical story.

Some people have complained that this book is too ‘Disneyfied’ and avoids the darker aspects of the original. There is also some criticism levelled at the book’s authenticity and the fact that it doesn’t exactly follow the framework of the original Peter Pan.  But, honestly, does it really matter? This book is just another way for people to enjoy Peter Pan. It doesn’t quite fit with Barrie’s version of how the boy who never grew up came to Neverland, but it’s entertaining and fun to read. The two authors have a wonderful imagination and they put it to excellent use in this novel.

Peter and the Starcatchers might not strictly adhere to the Peter Pan world that many know and love, but it’s still an exciting and fast-paced read, packed with magic and adventure. Bring on the sequels!

 

December

TimeRiders

TimeRidersLiam O’Connor should have died at sea in 1912.

Maddy Carter should have died on a plane in 2012.

Sal Vikram should have died in a fire in 2029.

Yet moments before death, someone mysteriously appeared and said, ‘Take my hand…’

But Liam, Maddy and Sal aren’t rescued. They are recruited by an agency that no one knows exists, with only one purpose – to fix broken history. Because time travel is here, and there are those who would go back in time and change the past.

That’s why the TimeRiders exist: to protect us. To stop time travel from destroying the world…

This may sound ignorant but, generally speaking, I prefer my sci-fi on a TV screen rather than between the pages of a book. I’ve read too many sci-fis that get so bogged down with technical detail that they become a chore to read.

Not this time.

TimeRiders hooked me from the very first page with its fresh, unusual take on the butterfly effect of messing with time. I love the idea of these kids being plucked from certain death so they can act as time police. The young heroes in question are developed and distinct, opposed by a fascinating protagonist, and the novel is surprisingly deep, focusing on a possible future world in which Nazis take over America.

Alex Scarrow writes with fluid competence, presenting a shades of grey world that pulls you in and doesn’t let go. Dangerous, exciting, and at times touching, TimeRiders more than stands out in a crowded YA market.

And the sequel has dinosaurs! Need I say more?