When I look back at my favorite reads of 2015, most have one thing in common. They were published before 2015. From guilty pleasures like The Selection series (yes, I confess!) and YA thrillers like Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick to my latest addiction to motorcycle club romances… Every time I was ready to put a book on my best of 2015 list, it turned out to be published in 2014, or even earlier. So I’ll start with The Selection series, which I almost hate admitting I enjoyed. Almost.

I’m a big fan of young adult fiction. YA is full of great authors who aren’t afraid to approach controversial topics, and who aren’t afraid to give us strong female characters. That’s why embarrassed to admit that the YA series that took me over this year was The Selection series by Kiera Cass. I had avoided reading it when it first came out because of negative reviews. It’s what I call “Dystopia Fluff.” You know, the sort of YA book I can lend to my mother without worry. But then someone compared another “Dystopia Fluff” book I was reading to The Selection, so I decided to try the Selection series after all. Because I was in that sort of mood. The first book dragged me inside. You know what? The negative reviews were right, but I couldn’t stop reading the entire series. The world-building is horrid, full of “What the Front Yard?” moments. (China invaded the U.S.? We have a monarchy now, and a new name? Other countries decided to go back to being monarchies? Why?) The heroine is annoying (she’s no Katniss!), and she’s named America Singer, for God’s sake. And yes, she’s a singer. The prince spends more of his time in business suits doing paperwork than being interesting. So of course I had to flip (OK, swipe to) every page to find out what happened next.

Then I had to gobble down the next two books, The Elite (2013) and The One (2014). Some dark things do happen throughout the stories, interspersed with fancy dresses and fancy meals and friendships and cat-fighting. In a way, the dark things stood out more because they were interspersed throughout such a bizarre book. Like eating a marshmallow bunny with jalapeno chocolates hidden inside. Maybe I managed it by treating it as more a fantasy series than a YA dystopia set in the real world. Or by treating it as a marshmallow jalapeno bunny.

This year saw the publication of The Heir, the latest installment, about the daughter of the couple from the first three books in the series. I was so hooked I preordered it just to get an exclusive signed hardback. The heroine came across as a privileged jerk at first, and I couldn’t figure out how the couple from the original trilogy had raised such a brat. But at least she was never dull. As the book progressed, she started to become more understand of what real people endured, so there is hope for this book yet. Still, I had to put it down for a while. What I liked the better was the latest release, Happily Ever After: Companion to the Selection Series. The “companion” information was pretty lame, but I lapped up the novellas and short stories that let us in on the viewpoints of characters from the original trilogy. Still, I wish there been more from a certain character, and I wished a certain thing hadn’t happened to her at the end of the trilogy. Just when she got interesting.

I finally read the last book in The Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay. I came in knowing that much of what happened was very controversial with fans. However, while I don’t like everything Suzanne Collins did with this book, I couldn’t imagine most of the events happening any other way. Yes, even … That.

Then I jetted back over 100 years when I finally decided to try reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Little Princess. I found a little hardcover edition and took it everywhere, until I finished it. I don’t know why Miss Minchin doesn’t end up on more lists of the top villains of children’s literature! Once I finished, I handed the book over to my mother  — something I couldn’t do with an eBook edition because she can’t get “into” eReaders, smartphones, and apps.

I also got ensnared by Becca Fitzpatrick’s Black Ice, a YA thriller with snow, deception, danger, and not a little Stockholm Syndrome. Imagine my chagrin when I learned it’s yet another 2014 book. But her 2015 YA thriller, Dangerous Lies, is on my the very tippy-top of my TBR pile.

In the science fiction world, much of this year was taken up with the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies controversy over the Hugo Awards. I read about it on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog and Jim C. Hines’s blog. My preferred reading for a while became the many round up posts (and comments) at the File 770 SF/fantasy news blog. Finally, I realized I would be better off reading an actual John Scalzi book, and I read Lock In: A Novel of the Near Future, as well as the prequel, Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome. In Scalzi’s future, after a virus, millions of people experience “Lock in Syndrome” where they are aware and awake, but unable to move or respond to any stimulus. In Lock In, these people (known as Hadens) can interact with the world through robot avatars called Threeps, by “borrowing” another person’s body (through a person called an Integrator), or in a virtual environment created just for Hadens. The technology is blended with a political thriller, but most of all, it’s integrated with the social implications of Haden’s syndrome.

Still, I managed to gather a few favorites that were actually published this year. Long-time AAR fans will know that’s a rarity for me.

As I mentioned in the AAR Picks the Best of 2015 blog, my pick of the year is Redemption Road by Katie Ashley. Yes, it’s a motorcycle club romance, and yes, the hero, Rev, has done horrible things in the past. But he’s trying to go legit. One thing gets in the way, and it’s a big one — trying to rescue a member’s daughter from a sex trafficker. Of course, this raid exposes them all to danger, things don’t go as planned, and this is how the hero meets Annabel. Rev and Annabel have something in common — both have been sexually abused. That’s not the sort of story I expected to get when I opened up a motorcycle club romance, but I also liked reading about a hero I didn’t want to see get thrown in the slammer.

One surprise this year was a Jane Austen variation I borrowed through Amazon: Mr. Collins’ Deception: A Pride & Prejudice Variation Short Story. I am not a Mr. Collins fans. Is anybody? But I could not resist that title. Authors Renata McMann and Summer Hanford asked “What if Mr. Collins not the man he seems to be?” The answer is more fascinating than you might thing. Don’t get me wrong. They understand he would have been the worst possible spouse for Elizabeth Bennett. When I learned they had also written a short story called Lady Catherine Regrets, I had to borrow that one, too. That was one of my other surprises — a new look at both Lady Catherine and her daughter Anne. I liked both stories enough that I bought their anthology Pride & Prejudice Villains Revisited – Redeemed – Reimagined: A Collection of Six Short Stories. I can’t wait to read their take on Wickham!

On a much darker note, Rachel Vincent’s The Stars Never Rise is a dystopia a brutal, Puritanical church took control in response to a wave of demonic possession. This is the sort of world that will burn a teen-aged girl in front of other students for refusing to kneel for worship. If she refused to kneel, she must have been possessed after all. The heroine, Nina, lives on the edge, protecting her younger sister, Mellie, and covering up for their useless mother. They are also in danger from degenerates — possessed people who become monsters. When Nina learns that her sister is pregnant, their lives are in even bigger danger. Will the church imprison Mellie for her sin, or worse? Will the child even have a soul? Maybe Finn, the rogue exorcist Nina met will help them. But Nina has to survive first. She spends almost half of the first book surviving on her own before her world falls apart, and she’s forced to become part of a new world.

Luckily, I also started reading more historical romances this year. Yay! Maybe it’s weird of me, but I like historical romances where the hero learns the heroine isn’t a virgin when they marry. The worst of these are full of jealous heroes who seem to need counseling, rather than a wife. They can be entertaining simply because of they way they make my blood boil. But the best of these are about characters getting beyond a shocking secret, showing kindness, and discovering each other, over time. You know, like normal people. And that’s what I found in The Duke’s Disaster by Grace Burrowes.

I’m also trying to catch up with a herd of 2015 releases, from Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (a fantasy set in the fanfic world she created for Fangirl), Jennifer McQuiston’s Diary of an Accidental Wallflower, and Lost Stars by Claudia Gray (fresh new Star Wars YA fic). Not to mention The Bedding Proposal by Tracy Anne Warren, Again, My Lord by Katharine Ashe, Doing No Harm by Carla Kelly, The Game and the Governess by Kate Noble, and The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean, and Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas. And many, many more. You can see what I’m up against!

Anne Marble