Best books of 2015 – Amy’s picks
Amy’s picks for 2015.
1. Lisa Jensen – Alias Hook
JM Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan’ is my favourite book, and has been since I was about seven. I therefore approach any prequel, sequel, spin-off or retelling (in any medium) with EXTREME caution. Lisa Jensen’s ‘Alias Hook’ tells the story of Captain Hook – his history, entrapment and escape ultimate escape from Neverland – which could have been terrible but somehow managed to be so perfect that, had the whole ‘happy thoughts’ thing been real, I could have flown through the roof. This is Neverland with all it’s dark and rotten bits. Hook is not a good man, and Peter is no innocent, either. Their endless cycle of skirmishing is interrupted by the arrival of a grown woman, whose mere presence tips the island off-balance, and who quickly becomes Hook’s last shot at redemption.
What I love about this book is that everything fits with Barrie’s original story. This is just the adult version – the Neverland that the children will never see. I love that I can have a Peter Pan story for myself both as a child and adult reader. I don’t think ‘Alias Hook’ is yet being published in Australia, but if you have any attachment to the story, I urge you to track it down!
2. JK Rowling, ill Jim Kay – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Illustrated Edition
I grew up alongside the Harry Potter books, and this new illustrated hardcover edition made me fall in love all over again. Jim Kay illustrated Patrick Ness’s award-winning ‘A Monster Calls’, and there are hints of that book’s inky menace. Kay has done a beautiful job of reimagining Hogwarts and its inhabitants – suffice to say that the Harry in my head no longer looks mostly like Daniel Radcliffe. And the page showing Harry with the Mirror of Erised broke my heart. My only regret is that Bloomsbury is only releasing one book per year, so I will have to wait until 2021 for the full set.
3. Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – Illuminae (Illuminae Files 01)
This is a science fiction YA thriller told entirely through hacked documents – interview transcripts, military records, emails and IMs. It starts with a small mining colony on a backwater planet being destroyed by a rival corporation, then follows with an interstellar pursuit, a zombifying rage plague, and a rogue AI (phew!). Caught up in these events are Kady and Ezra, newly ex-girlfriend and -boyfriend, who both now find that the other is all they have left. My enjoyment may have stemmed largely from the novelty of the format, but Illuminae is also a breathlessly paced page-turner with some great plot twists and some real emotional punch. Am keeping my ear out both for the sequel and a rumoured movie adaptation.
4. Shirley Barrett – Rush, Oh!
‘Rush, Oh!’ is the debut novel by Australian screenwriter and director, Shirley Barrett. It’s a poignant, quietly hilarious novel, the story of the Davidson family – whalers on the New South Wales coast – as chronicled by the eldest daughter, Mary. Hers is a story of love, struggle, and misadventure, with a strong Jane Austen-ish vibe. Also a fascinating portrait of a small piece of Australia’s whaling history, starring a pod of cheeky killer whales. I loved Mary’s voice and the excerpts from actual newspaper accounts. Well worth a look.
5. VE Schwab – A Darker Shade of Magic
I’m a sucker for London-based fantasy, and this book ticket all my boxes. Kell is a traveller between worlds. Lila is a thief with nothing to lose. Magic in this book is dark and bloody, plus Kell has a multi-sided coat. And there are THREE Londons! Well, technically four, but nobody talks about that other one… First and foremost, this is a fun read, and there is a sequel due next year.
My prefence for fantasy (and London) means that I sometimes need prodding to read present-set YA. Pieces of Sky by Trinity Doyle and Clancy of the Undertow by Christopher Currie made me regret that bias. Both are emotionally resonant, contemporary Australian YA fiction, and very excellent.