If you’ve spent time combing through the wealth of writing and editing advice for aspiring authors, you’ve no doubt come across this valuable nugget:

“Read in the category/genre in which you want to write.”

And what valuable advice it is. Reading in-category and in-genre familiarizes you with the styles, themes, and moods that dominate those fields and are pertinent to your writing interests. I’ve followed this advice and followed it well. Before I continue, indulge me in a quick bit of history:

2014 was the year of upheaval – a move to a new state, an extended bout of unemployment followed by a new adult job, and new living arrangements, to name the more salient changes. It was easily one of the worst years I’ve had to date, and I’ve had….well, I’ve had a sufficient amount of years. Stress was a bosom associate during that time. I needed something to occupy my mind and my hours.  So, this was the year I finally unpacked my long-neglected passion for fiction writing. I channeled the energy of my personal strife into crafting a young adult fantasy novel – book one of a completely arced tetralogy – for a set of characters I conceptualized ten years ago. I loved the finished product, but I knew it needed work.

So 2015 was the year I got down to the unglamorous side of writing – editing. The grammar part didn’t worry me. I’ve always been adept at the mechanics of a well-constructed sentence and paragraph. I was less familiar, however, with popular – or even accepted – protocols of characterization, themes, and manuscript lengths. To fill that gap, I devoured every article and blogpost I could get my hands and eyes on about young adult fiction and writing in general. When I came upon the advice – again and again – to read what you want to write, I took it to heart.

I consumed more than 30 books last year that fall under the “speculative fiction” genre label in the young adult and middle grade categories. That means, on average, I managed to read one book every twelve days. Dedicated readers may scoff at so paltry a number. But for someone with a full-time job, a most-times family and a desire to write above all else, I am rather proud of my 30 books.

Of course, I admit it was easier to attain that number with audiobooks. I have a 75-minute commute one-way to my big-girl job, so that’s 2.5 hours a day existing in teeth-gnashing traffic. I fill much of that time with audiobooks from the county library. It’s a perfect use of what would otherwise be wasted hours. More than that, it’s an investment in my writing career, as I see it. (I also alternate audiobooks with RadioLab and PubTalkTV podcasts. Hey, everybody needs a little time away, I heard someone say…)

That awful segue (brought to you by Chicago) leads me to the entire point of this little chat (and you thought I didn’t have one!) I’d like to give a little love to the books that resonated with me the most in 2015. To an extent, I enjoyed all the books I read/listened to/consumed. But some books…OH, MAN. Some books just stick with you. Some books make you listen a little closer. Make you read a little slower to absorb the characters, the setting, and the writing. And it’s those books that inspire me to continue revising, polishing and writing, so that one day, perhaps my own work will sit alongside them on a library or bookstore shelf. So without further ado, in no particular order and with a short blurb of what I liked best about each of them, here they are:

  • The Darkest Part of the Forest* by Holly Black — a gorgeous modern-day fairy tale
  • Graceling & Fire* by Kristin Cashore – empowered and unapologetic female protagonists
  • The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer – engaging and artfully interconnected story arcs
  • The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place* by Julie Berry – a wonderful and witty cast of characters
  • An Ember in the Ashes* by Sabaa Tahir – spellbinding story, smart writing and characters that come alive
  • Blood Red Road* by Moira Young – spectacular main character voice
  • The Accident Season* by Moira Fowley-Doyle – mysterious and compelling story that keeps you guessing
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender* by Leslye Walton – The Feels! And beautiful, lyrical writing
  • The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J. Maas – engaging plot lines and a well-written main character
  • The Mark of the Dragonfly* by Jaleigh Johnson – beautiful relationships between the young

If you have room on your reading list, I highly suggest adding any of the above books to it. The ones with * are ones I listened to on audiobook. I freely admit that the passion and engagement of the audiobook narrators for each of those selections may be a major reason they are on my favorite list but by no means the primary reason.