Wednesday 30 December 2015

The Book Zone Book of the Year 2015

Every year since 2010 I have posted a list of my favourite books of the year. This year, that list appeared first over on Middle Grade Strikes Back an hour or so ago, albeit missing a small number of YA books that I loved in 2015. In 2015 I seem to have read less YA books than ever before, but with my appetite for exciting action adventure stories being fully satisfied with books for this younger age group I have rarely felt the need to dip into the world of young adult fiction this year.

This originally started out as a Top 10 middle grade books of 2015 post, although I had a nagging feeling that this might not be as easy as I originally thought as 2015 has been a tremendous year for mg books in the UK. A quick look back through my goodreads account showed a huge list of MG books that I have given 5 stars to in 2015, so I've had to engage my brain even more to decide which among all those A Grade books should be elevated to the equivalent of the GCSE A*. The three YA books I have included were complete no-brainers.

And so, in no particular order, other than to leave my personal favourite middle grade book of 2015 to the end, these are the books I truly loved in 2015:

Bloodstone by Allan Boroughs

The sequel to the author's 2014 debut, the fabulous Ironheart. It's a hugely enjoyable action/adventure story in a post-apocalyptic setting filled with wonderful characters.

Fire Girl by Matt Ralphs

In Fire Girl, author Matt Ralphs has created a thoroughly entertaining blend of alternative English history and thrilling magical fantasy. Everything about this book is great: the plot, the pace and above all the characters. Special mention should also be given to Bramley the dormouse and one of my favourite lines of the year: "That's it, witch-child, burn it all down!"

The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands

A thrilling middle grade historical mystery story set in Restoration London. The Blackthorn Key is perfect for lovers of mystery thrillers, and young readers will find the London of 1665 brought completely alive for them as they race through its back streets and alleyways with the young protagonist, Christopher. 

Demolition Dad by Phil Earle

A cracking middle grade British comedy stories, in a similar vein to Walliams and Dahl. It is laugh-out-loud funny and chock full of wonderfully engaging and endearing characters, elements that should make this a guaranteed  hit with young readers.

Alfie Bloom and the Secrets of Hexbridge Hall by Gabrielle Kent

The last 18 months has seen a number of children's books featuring magic and adventure. Alfie Bloom and the Secrets of Hexbridge Hall is, in my opinion, easily the best so far. It has shapeshifters, mythical creatures, time travel, ancient druidic magic, a rather splendid and mysterious butler, and the wonderful Hexbridge Castle itself - almost a character in its own right.

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

Katherine Rundell did not disappoint with her first book to be published since the multi-award winning Rooftoppers. A future classic is a phrase too often used these days, but rarely has it been more deserved than when applied to this thrilling, humorous and heart-warming story. 

Urban Outlaws by Peter Jay Black

This year has seen the release of two books in Peter Jay Black's thrilling Urban Outlaws series, Blackout and Lockdown. With its blend of heists, action and hi-tech adventure, this exciting, hi-octane series has now become one of my favourite series of the last year or so.

Murder Most Unladylike mysteries by Robin Stevens

This is another current favourite series that has seen the release of two books this year, both of them even better than last year's fabulous Murder Most Unladylike. Arsenic for Tea introduced us to Daisy Well's wonderfully dysfunctional family, and then First Class Murder took the two girls on murder-filled journey on the Orient Express. Jolly Foul Play is one of my most anticipated reads of 2016.

The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

Middle grade mystery stories are enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment, led of course by Robin Stevens. With her debut, The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow, Katherine Woodfine has leapt into the fray. The setting of a new department store in Edwardian London is wonderfully realised and the perfect location for this thrilling mystery adventure sotry.

Hamish and the Worldstoppers by Danny Wallace (illustrated by Jamie Littler)

The past 18 months have seen a much greater number of middle grade books published with accompanying illustrations. Danny Wallace's debut for kids, Hamish and the Worldstoppers, is my favourite of those published in 2015, both in story and artwork. It is the kind of book that has something for everyone: action, adventure, humour, fantasy and brave kids fighting battles against nasty monsters from another dimension.

The Imagination Box by Martyn Ford

This modern, exciting and very funny take on the classic genie-in-the-lamp tale still has me chuckling now when I think about it, many months later. You see, it has a talking finger monkey called Phillip, and it's worth reading purely for this. However, if you expect more from your books than a talking finger monkey called Phillip, then it is also a thoroughly entertaining, funny mystery adventure story.

Young Adult

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

It's a brilliant heist story. That's usually enough to grab my attention on its own. But it's also a heist carried out by a team of misfits, each with their own special abilities, assembled to carry out a seemingly impossible mission. All set in Leigh Bardugo's wonderfully imagined fantasy world. Even if I had read nothing by YA this year, I can't believe that there would have been many books I enjoyed reading more than this one.

Railhead by Philip Reeve

I was sold on this book when I heard Philip talk about it and read a passage from it at an event some time before its publication. It's trains in space! What more could you possibly need to know? OK, so it is also a fantastic space opera style science fiction story for older middle grade/young adults, the kind of which has been sorely missing for this age group in recent years. 

And my two favourite books of 2015 are (and this will come as little surprise to some as I have been singing the merits of the MG book all year, and the YA book is the final instalment in my all-time favourite YA series ):












Middle Grade Book of the Year: The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone

I have heaped so much praise on this book over the past year that I am finding it difficult to find any superlatives that I have not already utilised. Simply put, in a year when there have been so many fabulous middle grade books published in the UK, Abi Elphinstone's debut, The Dreamsnatcher, still manages to stand head and shoulders above the rest. The sequel, The Shadow Keeper, would be the book I am most looking forward to reading in 2016 if I hadn't already been incredibly fortunate to be sent an early proof. Needless to say, when it arrived I dropped everything to read it, and hand on heart, I can honestly say it is even more wonderful and magical than The Dreamsnatcher.

Young Adult Book of the Year: Darkest Night by Will Hill

I have reviewed all five books in Will Hill's brilliant Department 19 series, and now, with the publication of this final instalment, I can say with all confidence that this is my favourite series of books for this age group... ever! As I said in my review, I had "never looked forward to and simultaneously dreaded reading a book so much since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" and Will Hill did not disappoint in the slightest. This finale was everything I had hoped for, and brought the whole story to an incredibly satisfying end. In the summer my wife and I borrowed her parents' motor home and rove down through France. Carcassonne was high up on my list of must-visit towns, but it was only as we walked into the old town that I remembered it as the setting for the final battle between the forces of good and Dracula, with his legions of vampires. Never could a real-world location be more fitting for such a finale!