Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
I'm just starting off with the only non fantasy on the list, and one of the ones I read most recently. It's made a pretty big splash in the book world and for good reason, it tells the chilling story of a girl and her family who are forcibly relocated from Lithuania by the Soviets. They have to try to survive in awful conditions in Siberia, while at the same time trying to find their father who was separated from them. The author went to Lithuania to talk to people who had similar experiences, and it's awful to think of how everything in the book could have and probably did happen to someone. But it's not completely depressing, there are little glimpses of love and happiness amidst everything else, and hope for a better future.
Red Glove by Holly Black
This is the middle book in a series about a world very like our own where 'curse workers' (people who can do some kind of magic) are criminals and have to hide their talent, or very often join the mafia. I read the first book last year and was kind of eh about it, but this one I loved. My issue with the first book was that it was all good and fine but I never really connected with Cassel, the main character. I didn't have that issue at all in the second one, I liked him immediately and got swept up in everything right away. I loved the plot, and his friends are awesome, and it left me eagerly waiting the third book.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
This was by far my favorite dystopian of the year. After the world has gone to pieces and wars and craziness happened, a system of five factions (groups to promote different virtues, like honesty, selflessness, peacefulness, bravery, and intelligence) has taken over the society. At sixteen every teen has to choose to be in one, and then undergoes training to see if they're worthy. But the thing that is most valued in that city is control, and the few people called the Divergent (people who could fit into more than one faction) are hard to control, and therefore dangerous. After that awesome set up, there were characters I really liked and an intriguing plot that was always moving, so there weren't really any downsides to this one!
Forever by Maggie Stiefvater
The last in the Shiver series, Forever is told from four points of view which I loved. The writing is gorgeous, I love the characters (Cole especially), and it was a satisfactory ending to the whole story. It was just really good, but I can't say much about it without giving away the other two books! I'm sad the series is done but this book made me really happy.
Pegasus by Robin Mckinley
Oh, how I adore Robin Mickinley's writing. It's just wonderful. Pegasus is about a princess who, when she is bound to her Pegasus, discovers that they can hear each other's thoughts. This forms a strong friendship that the whole book revolves around, her adventures with Ebon, the things they discover, and the changes they inevitably start making in the world because of their bond. I so wish I had a flying horse to ride on. I know I'm going to say this with every single book on this list but it really is one of the most important things for me: I loved the characters. Especially Sylvi and Ebon, but tons of the other small ones too. They were all really good. And then this book completely and totally wins the award for WORST cliffhanger EVER. It made me SO upset (and no, it wasn't anything ridiculous like a main character dying *glares at a different book*) and it was like a kick in the gut, but it had to happen for the story I think. So it wasn't just a trick to get you looking forward to the next. Still, I wish 2014 was tomorrow!
Chime by Franny Billingsley
This book was really interesting, very twisted, had excellent character development and characters in general, and had simply gorgeous writing. It felt like every sentence had been fine tuned and worked on until it was the best it could be, and it captivated me. It's setting is really interesting too, a small town on the edge of a swamp in England somewhere in about the late 1800s I thought, but there are old ones, and witches who are sentenced to death if they're found. Briony is a witch, and is to blame for most everything wrong in her family's lives. But through an unexpected and extraordinary turn of events, she slowly starts to think that maybe that isn't true after all.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Karou isn't really sure who she is. She lives with Brimstone, in his shop of teeth and wishes, and is an art student in Prague with friends who think that she actually dyes her hair blue. But the discovery of an entirely other world through a shop door and the reappearance of Seraphim in the human world means that she will find out after all. There's been a ton of buzz about this book and I read the author's blog, so I was really looking forward to reading this one. It did not disappoint. The worlds are lush and detailed, from colorful Prague to the city of the Chimaera. I really liked the characters and the writing and the plot, and I love Karou! Can't wait for the next one.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
The Scorpio Races is about two people who live on the little tiny island of Thisby. Thisby is mostly populated by fishermen, and it's economy survives because of the annual Scorpio Races. The waters off of Thisby are full of the capaill uisce, water horses that sometimes come out of the water and eat people. And every November people race on them, for fame and glory and lots of money. Puck is the first girl to enter the races and Sean is a four time winner of them, and alternately they narrate the story of competition and home and family and love. Things I especially loved about this book: the mood, the setting, the characters (George Holly! Finn Connolly! Corr!) the writing, and the ending. You really should just read it.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Elisa is the chosen one, she is the one person per century who has a Godstone. Everyone who recieves a Godstone is meant for great things-- whether or not they accomplish them is another matter. She is also a princess, which means that she is married off to a neighboring king at sixteen. It is only when she is in his kingdom that she finds out what being a chosen one really means, and that there are people who would go to any lengths to get her power for themselves. This one's really hard to describe without giving away the plot, so I'll just say, there's court intrigue, kidnappings, trekking across deserts, romance, wars, finding power in yourself, sadness, and hope. I loved it. Elisa is smart and strong all the way through and I loved seeing her come to believe that. And it's set in the desert, and the world is SO well built and believable, and all the characters are amazing. Cannot WAIT for the next one!
Plain Kate by Erin Bow
Kate, an exceptional carver and orphan, has to leave her town when too many people start thinking that her talent with wood means she's a witch. She makes a deal with Linay, an actual witch, who helps her leave and makes her cat able to speak-- but the deal has repercussions that Kate never foresaw. It draws her into a tangle of shadows and death that is almost impossible to get out of. I first have to say, Taggle is my FAVORITE talking cat I have EVER read about. I loved him so much, in every way. He never lost his catness even when he could talk. And Kate is such a smart and brave and likeable heroine, and Linay is probably the most complicated and well drawn out bad guy of the year. I'm still not even sure I would call him the bad guy. The writing is gorgeous, simple and poetic. The world is beautiful and scary, and this book made me cry SO hard. I hit the big climax and started crying, and pretty much didn't stop until after it ended. I know it won't affect everyone like that, but everything about it just hit me the exact right way. I get teary even now, ten months after I read it. And if it had just been completely sad, nothing good happened, I would have just disliked it, but it was so full of hope and perseverance in the end. I loved it.
That took me ages! But there it is, my favorite books of the year.