Is this thing on?
Yup, looks like.
So, my domain name was about to expire a few days ago, and given it's over a year since I posted, part of me was really tempted to just let it. But for much of the last decade, this blog was a HUGE part of my life. Through it, I ended up reading a ton of fantastic books, meeting a huge amount of even more fantastic people, and generally changing my world completely. (Seriously, 2010 me - stuck in a job I hated, in a place I had few friends, and with no real plans for the future - doesn't RECOGNISE myself. I think the wedding ring might be the main thing confusing him, but everything else has changed incredibly too.)
So I thought I'd give it one last go. Maybe just a couple of posts - favourite 10 stand-alone books of the 2010's today, favourite 10 series to follow at some point (hopefully before 2021). Maybe something more, we'll see.
These are in no order, by the way. Also stand-alone is slightly loosely used as two books have several companion novels.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Stunningly powerful WWII story about two girls - a pilot and a spy - one of whom is captured and agrees to give up information in exchange for a quick and merciful death. It’s a gripping tale of friendship, courage, patriotism, love, and family, where nothing is quite as it seems. Maddy and Verity are possibly my favourite ever central pairing in a YA novel, the plot here constantly caught me by surprise, and it's one of the most emotional books I've ever read. Verity's narration veers between heartbreaking, brutal, gorgeous, and surprisingly funny. And "Kiss me, Hardy" is still enough to bring me to the verge of tears even now. Sensationally good.
The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
This novel about a girl dealing with her sister's death and being drawn to two boys, her sister's ex and a new guy in town, is breathtakingly, incredibly, heartbreakingly beautiful. Jandy Nelson creates a cast of compelling characters and manages to make Toby and Lennie so sympathetic that what seemed to be a rather unlikely love triangle works surprisingly well.
I loved the setting of the book in Clover, a town where Lennie’s Gram, before Bailey’s death, used to walk around with shears pruning people’s flowers, and Uncle Big routinely has women climbing up trees to spend time with him, and a music teacher will march his band out into the woods to play. This could have been really jarring with the overall themes of loss and grief but instead provides a welcome gentle touch in comparison with the heavier parts of the book.
And then there’s the poems! At either the start or end of nearly every chapter, Nelson provides us with a poem written by Lennie. Written on paper cups, on scraps of paper, or carved into trees or benches, they are presented beautifully and make this a book that’s not just gorgeously written but absolutely breathtaking to look at. Amazing.
The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell
This is the only one on my top 10 books list that I'm not 100% sure should be there, simply because I'm limiting it to one per author and it's HARD to decide if I love this more than my other favourites of Rundell's, The Good Thieves and The Explorer. (To make a point, here, when I finished Katherine's Rooftoppers I'm not sure I'd have believed you if you'd told me I'd read 3 better MG books this decade. Three FROM THE SAME AUTHOR which I prefer to it is pretty much showing off on her part. Rooftoppers, I still love you though!)
I think KR is the best MG author around, although given how many incredibly talented people are writing it, it's close. For me, her marriage of breathtakingly good prose with outstanding characters and clever plots has her beating the field, though. In The Wolf Wilder, fabulous MC Feo - a 'dark and stormy girl' sets out, along with other children and the three wolves who she and her mother have been trying to re-introduce to the wild, to rescue her mother. An incredible adventure ensues.
Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans
After her sister is caught in an accident, Fidge and her annoying cousin Graham are trapped in a bizarre world of children's toys. Definitely the strangest, absolutely the most imaginative, and almost certainly one of the very best children's books of recent years. The story of Fidge and Graham's desperate attempt to escape the tywanny of Wed Wabbit is simultaneously hilarious and moving, with great character arcs for both of them. An amazing set of supporting characters adds to the fun, while Lissa Evans's world-building is A+. Utterly spectacular, an absolute must-read. I also love this a lot because it's (for someone who's read a lot of children's books, admittedly) a really predictable read but it's predictable because the ending is the only one that completes the arcs perfectly.
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
I don’t generally do time travel, but this sounded too intriguing to pass up and requesting it via NetGalley was SUCH a brilliant decision! Starting in the 2016 we were meant to have – a wonderful utopia with unlimited energy (how can you miss a world that never existed!) this follows a slacker who is the son of the man who’s invented time-travel. Despite the perfection of this world, main character Tom is left alone by a series of heartbreaks, and after a time-travel accident ends up wiping out the world and catapulting him into ‘our’ 2016 – which may seem like a nightmare world in comparison, but which has people who love him in it. He’s left to try and decide whether to ‘fix’ the universe, or to hold on to the people he cares for. Stunning voice here, genuinely unexpected twists and turns in the plot, and really lovely characters.
Mama Can't Raise No Man by Robyn Travis
This is a breathtaking debut novel told in letters between a young Black man in prison and his friends and family (with a few court transcripts.) The voice of every character is stunning, while the book is an entertaining, sometimes heartbreaking, and always deeply thought-provoking story of Black masculinity, injustice, life in prison and on the streets, and of being the child of a single mother. It builds to an incredible climax - a truly superb read.
Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
I adore this story of a gay teen blackmailed into trying to set someone he knows up with his friend so that the blackmailer will keep his internet romance with the mysterious Blue a secret, parlty because it's far lighter and more fun than that summary makes it sound. Simon is an amazing character - with a great group of friends, a love of Harry Potter, and an absolutely fantastic voice. The chemistry between Simon and Blue just via e-mails is superb, and the reveal of Blue's identity is a scene which has made my heart skip a beat every time I've read it (and that's quite a few!); it's so beautifully handled. I really liked that Simon's confident in his sexuality, as well - he's certain he's gay, and he's okay with that, with the conflict here coming from the thought of him being forced out rather than being able to come out at a time of his own choosing. In addition, Albertalli's writing style is so fun and easy to read that it's a perfect book for rereading.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
A compelling and heartbreaking story of courage, standing up for what's right, fighting prejudice and the power of community. I fell hard for MC Starr, who becomes involved in protesting the shooting of her childhood best friend by a police officer, her brother and father, and the rest of the characters. There's an intense, justified, anger here - particularly on a devastating final page - but also moments of joy, and an optimism that things CAN get better if enough people use their voice. I hope readers are inspired to follow Starr's lead. One of the very best books I've ever read and a massively important read. The success of both this book, and the film, haven't been remotely surprising but they HAVE been incredible to see.
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes
In the story of 12-year-old Jerome, shot by a police officer as he waves a toy gun around, and Emmett Till, who he meets as a ghost and who shows him how racism has affected Black boys through the years, Jewell Parker Rhodes gives us a middle grade novel which is both heartbreaking and deeply educational. This is super-powerful, perhaps because it's aimed at an even younger audience than the similar books I've read, which for me heightens the tragedy. The author does an incredible job of making such a tough subject accessible to younger readers without ever sugarcoating the horror of both Jerome's death in particular, and the racism in general which has led to so many of these horrible instances. Outstanding.
Bone Jack by Sara Crowe
When growing up a lot of my favourite reads were books like The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo and its sequels, and The Dark Is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper. I adored the way they mixed fantasy plots with a contemporary setting, but for me, Bone Jack - in the way it throws in modern problems like foot and mouth and PTSD - does an even better job of it. It also has two incredibly strong central relationships, with the central portrayal of main character Ash and his mum trying to ease his soldier father back into his old life and avoid stressing him out being excellent, while the antagonistic way Mark and Ash interact feels incredibly realistic for two people once so close.