Friday 28 February 2014

Celebrating 600 Posts: Six Top Sixes (and a giveaway!)

So, here they are - six top 6s from me to celebrate my 600th post; the very best books I've read since I started blogging at the end of December 2010. This has been really difficult to do (apart from anything else I keep changing my mind whether I mean 'YA contemporary debuts', including authors who've written non-contemporary books before, or just limiting it to complete debuts, which is what I ended up going for. (People who entered my competition on Twitter, this choice DIDN'T affect the results; the same person would've won either way.)

Scroll to the bottom of the page to enter my other competition, by the way.

YA Contemporary Debuts

The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Far From You by Tess Sharpe
Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson
Skin Deep by Laura Jarratt
In Bloom by Matthew Crow
Pushing The Limits by Katie McGarry

The Sky Is Everywhere was the most emotional book I'd ever read at the time of reading; it recently got knocked off that spot by Tess Sharpe's stunning Far From You, which has a great chance of being my book of the year after it left me crying for six hours. Overall, though, The Sky Is Everywhere is still my favourite read of the last decade; it's wonderfully written and also a work of art to look at, with the photos of poems scattered throughout the book making it stand out.

I love a road trip and Amy and Roger's Epic Detour is perhaps the best I've ever read, it's another one which is gorgeous to look at thanks to its scrapbook style, which complements the writing perfectly. Katie McGarry's Pushing The Limits is a brilliant read with stunning chemistry between the two leads and a cast of characters who all feel perfectly realised.

The two outstanding debuts of UKYA authors in the past few years, for me - beating off some strong competition from Non Pratt's Trouble, Keren David's When I Was Joe, and several others - are Laura Jarratt's fantastic dual narrative Skin Deep, featuring one of my all-time favourite couples and looking at a wealth of difficult topics, and Matthew Crow's In Bloom. I keep getting worried I'm over-hyping books so probably shouldn't tell you that this is a bit like The Fault In Our Stars, but better. (But it is!)

I ran a competition on Twitter to see who could guess closest to my top 6; it was really difficult - partly because of the confusion over whether they had to be complete debuts or just contemporary ones, with nearly everyone going for Candy Harper's Have A Little Faith, actually my second book. No-one got more than 2 right (to be fair I was impressed anyone got two!); however @secretlyzuzana of It Was Lovely Reading You won on a tie-break as she chose both my two absolute favourites - well done! I'll be in touch about the prize...

YA Contemps Non-Debuts

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
You Don't Know Me by Sophia Bennett
Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley
Crash Into You by Katie McGarry
Have A Little Faith by Candy Harper

Leila Sales's This Song Will Save Your Life caused great embarassment to me when I read it last year; I stopped crying for long enough to moan at people I'm following on Twitter for not telling me how AMAZING it was, then I found out that nearly everyone I'm following HAD said how brilliant it was, I just wasn't reading their tweets enough. Apologies again, all, I should've known a book like this wouldn't go under your collective radar. Looking at my YA Contemporary spreadsheet the one book which has got even more unanimous praise out of last year's releases is Sophia Bennett's stunning You Don't Know Me. This was the one that inspired me to write my first Ten Reasons Why post last week as I'd already reviewed it but there was so much more I wanted to say about how incredible it was.

Morgan Matson followed up Amy and Roger's Epic Detour with another which is in my top 10 YA novels of all-time, the tearjerker Second Chance Summer. This story about Taylor and her family returning to the scene of happy childhood holidays to spend one last summer together as her dad is dying hit me like a sledgehammer. The only other author to have books in both these contemporary top 6s is Katie McGarry, whose Crash Into You may be ever so slightly better than Pushing The Limits. It takes PTL supporting character Isaiah and focuses on his relationship with rich girl Rachel, reintroduces us to brilliant characters met in PTL and Dare You To, and brings in several other wonderful ones.

I love dual narratives done well, and McGarry is one of the best at writing them. One of my all-time favourites though, is Cath Crowley's beautifully lyrical Graffiti Moon, which sees a romance develop between two teens over the course of one night as they look for a mysterious graffiti artist. Possibly the best writing in any book I've read over the last few years; Crowley's style is beyond gorgeous.

Candy Harper's Have A Little Faith is so good I bought it ten times; I'm giving copies to everyone I can. It is a stunningly funny read which had me in stitches all the way through both when I first read it and when I reread it. I think there's a tendency to not give light, humourous reads as much acclaim as those dealing with darker subjects; this deserves its place up there with the very best of YA.

YA/Adult SFF series

The Dagger and The Coin by Daniel Abraham
Wereworld by Curtis Jobling
GONE by Michael Grant
Department 19 by Will Hill
Micah Grey series by Laura Lam
Monstrumologist series by Rick Yancey

I slipped one adult book into the YA celebration - book 4 in the Dagger and the Coin sequence is the only adult novel to be on my 'top ten most wanted of 2014' - but it's right at the top. Daniel Abraham has created a cast of hugely compelling characters and with brilliant world-building as well, this is a must-read.

Speaking of compelling characters, Curtis Jobling and Michael Grant are the masters of stunning character arcs developing over numerous books. Wereworld's Hector, Gretchen and Trent, and GONE's Albert, Caine and Breeze are six of the best characters I've ever read about, while others in both series are all wonderful as well. These two are gripping series which you simply have to read if you haven't already.

With those two coming to a close last year, the two SFF series I'm desperately anticipating more from are Will Hill's Department 19 - which shows just how incredible a book you can write by mixing classic characters like Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster with your own brilliant ones - and Laura Lam's Micah Grey series. Pantomime and Shadowplay are superb novels and it's great to see an intersex character taking centre stage. The recent news that Laura is releasing short stories set in her fabulous world of Ellada is hugely exciting.

Rick Yancey's The Monstrumologist is a series I still haven't finished because I'm just not ready to leave his outstanding characters yet. The title character Pellinore Warthrop is one of the greatest recent creations I've read, and his writing gets better and better throughout the series. The third, The Isle of Blood, is an absolute masterpiece.

YA Historical

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
The Things We Did For Love by Natasha Farrant
Love in Revolution by BR Collins
Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
Flappers series by Jillian Larkin

Code Name Verity and The Things We Did For Love are utterly heartbreaking stories about World War II. I made the mistake of reading them both in one weekend, and was left with a book hangover which lasted for months as nothing came close to them. (Oh, and with about six empty boxes of tissues!)

Lesbian romances Love in Revolution and Silhoutte of a Sparrow are completely gorgeous books with brilliant central relationships; I don't think SoaS is out over here yet but it's amazing and well worth getting an import if you can. (I grabbed one from Foyles Charing Cross Road!) The 1920s is my favourite period of history to read about and there have been loads of recent releases that capture the age superbly. Silhouette is one, while Jillian Larkin's Flappers trilogy is another. All three title characters in this wonderful series are fabulously written, while Larkin brings the Prohibition era to life fantastically.

Rooftoppers is my pick for the Carnegie because it feels like a classic novel already. It's beautifully written and has wonderful characters; I can't wait to read more from Rundell.


Kat Stephenson series by Stephanie Burgis
Life According To Alice B Lovely by Karen McCombie
Tarzan series by Andy Briggs
Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur
Billie Templar's War by Ellie Irving
Twerp by Mark Goldblatt

Stephanie Burgis's Kat Stephenson trilogy is one of my all-time favourite series, with arguably the finest heroine of the last decade and a bunch of other great characters. It's funny, it's clever, it's tense, and it's either perfect or incredibly close to it.

Karen McCombie is possibly the most consistently awesome author of recent years, with everything she releases being very good to superb. Alice B Lovely, a story about a teenage girl becoming a nanny, is her very very best.

Andy Briggs has brought Tarzan crashing into the modern world with a wonderful update of the series, memorable for the pro-environmental message, the action which fills the books, but most of all the brilliant character of Jane, one of the best heroines of recent times.

Eight Keys is a stunning novel with every character fabulously portrayed; it's also a real tearjerker (and little for this age range normally makes me cry!)

Ellie Irving's debut For The Record was really good but Billie Templar's War, which sees a young girl plan to bring her soldier father home from Afghanistan, is even better. Billie, a sometimes unlikeable but always brilliantly-portrayed, is a wonderful character.

Mark Goldblatt's Twerp is another which I'm not sure has been released over here yet but is absolutely amazing. It's about a young boy growing up in 1960s New York, and brings the setting to life fabulously. One of my favourite coming-of-age tales for a long, long time.

Sites/People Who Are Going To Bankrupt Me (There are LOADS of great blogs out there giving fabulous reviews, these are ones where my tastes tend to line up very closely.)

The Bookbag - When I started reviewing for the Bookbag, I thought getting some books in exchange for reviews would be a good way of saving money. Then I started reading other reviewers there and quickly realised I'd never have any spare money again. Sue, Jill, Linda, John, Anne are probably the five I have most similar tastes to.

Stacked Books - Stacked Books's book lists are outstanding. I was about to try and find a particularly good one, but I'm just heading into London and it's perhaps not the greatest idea to check them out just before going to several bookshops as I already bought too much yesterday!

Dahlia Adler - I've now started saying "NOT TOO MANY" whenever I ask Dahlia for recommendations because it's too tempting to buy ALL of them. She has incredible taste in books; I can't wait to read her debut, Behind The Scenes!

Nayu's Reading Corner - It's much easier to find recs for great YA than for great MG, but Nayu has stunning tastes and covers lots of books for younger readers as well as teens.

Did You Ever Stop To Think And Forget To Start Again? - I always thought I was fairly knowledgeable about Girls' Own, but @chaletfan keeps telling me about amazing books from decades ago that I've never read. This leads to me trawling second-hand bookshops whenever possible!

Project UKYA - Part of me wishes #UKYAchat happened every week, but could ANYONE's bank balance take it? Last night we got recommendations from tons of great bloggers and authors, including Phil Earle, Alexia Casale, James Dawson and MALORIE BLACKMAN - wow!

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  1. Yay thanks so much! And who did i win against?! o.o I love all your recommendations and now..*sigh* i'm off to look them up on goodreads. YOU are going to make me bankrupt now! not that i have anything in my bank in the first place..

  2. YES. Best distinction EVER! And not to bankrupt you further, but I can't wait til you get to read some more contenders for these lists!! (Like, uh, OPEN ROAD SUMMER by Emery Lord and THE SUMMER I WASN'T ME by Jess Verdi for best contemps, and SEKRET by Lindsay Smith for best historical, JUST FOR EXAMPLE.)

  3. You've read some really brilliant books! :-) Must check out some more of these too. I loved The Sky is Everywhere and Pushing The Limits.

  4. Code Name Verity and The Sky is Everywhere are probably the best two I've read from this list - stunning books! Thanks for the giveaway :D

  5. *builds a shopping list* how do you manage to read so much? ?

  6. I don't think I've read any of these books yet, but I am intrigued. You managed to read a lot! I can't wait to try one of them.

  7. I haven't read any yet but I'll be heading to thr library this week to check them out!

  8. So many good books, some I've loved, others on my TBR list! So many books, so little time... *sigh*

  9. I just read Amy and Roger a few days ago and I really really loved it too! <3 I think all your books look great! :)

  10. I ended up buying this song will save your life as you raved so much about it! but it's stuck in my TBR pile- must rectify this at once. I will eb adding so many of these to it now also x

  11. I haven't read any of those! I hate when this happens haha. Thanks for the giveaway :).

  12. You have great taste in books. I read most of the contemporaries and omg, they're almost all on my favorites list. The Sky Is Everywhere, both of Morgan Matson's, PTL series, Graffitti Moon, the Flappers series, etc. Have you read Kasie West's books before? You definitely should if you haven't. They're all so good <3

  13. I have not read any of this . I would love to read Code name Verity and Second Chance Summer. Thanks for the giveaway!

  14. My friend is on one of the cover's of Code Name Verity! And I've been recommended The Monstrumologist :)

  15. I have plans to read so many of these but have not yet read any. Recently ordered Code Name Verity and Rooftoppers as I've heard only good things about them and am really excited to read them.

  16. I want to read so many of these!! I've read a couple; Gone, You Don't Know Me, Code Name Verity and of course, Far From You!!

    Great lists Jim and thank you :P


  17. I read and loved Graffiti Moon. Thank you for the giveaway! :)

  18. I haven't read any of the books that you mentioned although I really want to! Thanks for the giveaway! :)

  19. I read Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein and I loved it! :) Thank you for the giveaway!

  20. I've read Pushing the Limits and the Gone series. I read Gone a while back though, so my memory on them is a little foggy! As for the rest, I've heard so much about them! I'll definitely have to add them to my TBR. Thanks for the giveaway!

  21. Eeeeee, giveaway time! Thanks for holding this… must be so hard when it's been years! At least it's not top 1's :P I haven't actually read any of these but In Bloom & You Don't Know Me I've really wanted to read for awhile!