12. Peony in Love by Lisa See
Lisa See brings another little known (at least in the Western world) phenomenon from Chinese women's history to life. Peony, the character and the book, is representative of a historical cohort of women who fell in love with a fifteenth century opera, The Peony Pavilion, and, in imitation of the main character, wasted away from 'lovesickness.' Read my full review here.
13. The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
14. The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
Like the first book, A Girl of Fire and Thorns, the second and third books in this compelling trilogy, show that author Rae Carson is not afraid to pull the hard punches. The novels continue to be strong on character development, especially for the main character Princess Elisa, and world-building, set in a mostly desert world with a fascinating religious backstory. Overall, I think the first book is my favorite, but I'm glad I continued to follow Elisa's journey. The end is both satisfying and leaves room hopefully for more books set in this world. Highly, highly recommended.
15. Tarnish by Katherine Longshore
Katherine Longshore has accomplished that wonder of wonders and created a fresh version of the Anne Boleyn story. Read my full review here.
16. Son by Lois Lowry
In each of her books in The Giver quartet, Lois Lowry skilfully builds worlds around a single word. The final installment, Son, illuminates the meaning of the title, and sheds more light for the curious on Jonas' Community, unseen since the first book. The story of Claire, mother of Gabriel, overlaps with and diverges from Jonas' until she finally reaches her eponymous goal. This is a satisfying book in itself and as an end to the series, although The Giver remains my favorite.
17. Pax by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Jon Klaussen
This book broke my heart, a little. It's a children's story about a fox and his boy, in what seems like a possibly dystopian England. The fox, Pax, has an imaginatively rendered way of thinking and speaking that again, seems calculated to evoke the heart strings. I had to curl up for a while with my little fox (read: corgi mix) after reading. Read at your own risk.
18. A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Obbotson
This was a cute audiobook about a Russian countess who escapes the revolution to become an English maid. It's enjoyable, with a predictable ending, but some of the attitude rubbed me the wrong way. The audience is invited to sympathize with a character who habitually fondles maids, and while it's overtly acknowledged that this behavior is "incorrect," it seems to be validated in the end, when pretty maids are hired with him in mind...ugh (it's tacitly excused because the maids in question either like it or don't mind and he "never goes too far" but yeah, not okay). Also, a lot of weird/archaic stereotypes, but the author does seem to be trying to promote diversity...Otherwise, positive message about how eugenics is evil (yeah, I'm not sure why this novel when in that direction, but it did).