December is one of my favorite months of the year for many reasons - one of which is the plethora of "Best Of" lists that are floating around in the interwebs. I especially love the best books of the year lists as I'm always curious to see what made the cut for other readers.
As of the writing of this post, I've read whopping 84 (!!!) books which is the most books I have likely ever read in a year, edging out my record of 79 books in 2013. I read a lot of really awesome books this year, but here are the 12 best books, in no particular order. I'd confidently recommend all of these to other readers.
1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah - Truth be told, I'm typically not a huge Kristin Hannah fan as some of the books I've read by her felt like the kind of chick lit that makes my skin crawl a bit (e.g., weak and/or helpless female characters). But after hearing others rave about this book, I decided to give Hannah another shot and I am so glad I did! This book falls under the category of WWII historical fiction but what I loved about it was that it mostly focused on the courageous women who did what they could to fight the Nazi's in ways both big and small.
2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins - Everyone and their mom loved this book, and I loved it, too. It's a psychological thriller that will engage you from the get-go. Some have compared it to Gone Girl as it is a page turner that features an unreliable narrator but unlike Gone Girl, the author is not utilizing the unreliable narrator to manipulate the reader.
3. The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez - This book is a great book to read to gain an understanding of what it is like to come to the U.S. as an immigrant, and if there was ever a time to put yourself in the shoes of an immigrant, now is that time. In this book, we meet several different families that have immigrated to the U.S. from countries such as Mexico and Panama. The families come to the U.S. for varied reasons but the common thread among those reasons is to provide a better life for their families. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different person but the book comes together seamlessly. It will make you think about how all the seemingly insignificant decisions we make every day form the path our lives will take.
4. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - This is another immigrant story as it about a Nigerian woman that immigrates to the U.S., spends about 13 years in the U.S., and then returns to Nigeria. It will make you think about race and our class system. It's a bit long and dense at times but worth the read.
5. The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan - Shifting to a lighter book, this novel tells the story of the woman behind the ubiquitous "A Diamond is Forever" campaign. Besides learning about the life of the woman that came up with that slogan, the book also follows 4 other stories which are interconnected. The stories are all about relationships, engagement rings, and the diamond industry.
6. The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar - This is the 3rd book I have read by this author and I loved it just as much as the other two. In this book we meet Lakshmi. She has attempted to commit suicide so is working with
a therapist named Maggie. The narration shifts between each character and the
book is about the lives of both women as well as their patient/therapist
relationship. Both characters have flaws and make poor choices but the author
writes about them in a way that helps the reader to feel compassion for both
7. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff - Of the books that made my best of list, this is definitely the most "high brow" as it firmly falls under the category of literary fiction. That said, it is excellently written so while the writing techniques went over my head at times, I still loved the book. It tells the story of a marriage and is broken into two parts: the first part is told from the husband's perspective and the second party is told from the wife's perspective. The book left me thinking about how what others observe when viewing
relationships from the outside is only the tip of the ice berg. It also raises
the question of - how well can you really know another person?
8. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri - I typically am not a huge fan of short story collections, so the fact that this collection made my best of list speaks to how well it was written. Sometimes short stories feel inaccessible and I struggle to feel connected to
the characters since they are somewhat brief but that was not the case with this
book. For the most part, the stories all made me feel something and I was sad to
see each one come to an end. The writing was so very beautiful - it's likely a book I will re-read down the road.
9. The Martian by Andy Weir - This is a book that I likely would not have read if not for the Read Harder challenge as the cover and topic (space) wouldn't have appealed to me, but I ended up loving it! The voice of the main character is hilarious and the book was so engaging. I also saw the movie and it was probably one of the best book adaptations I've seen!
10. Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg - This book made the long list for several awards, so I decided to check it out and am so glad I did. This novel manages to be both a quiet story and a story that takes the reader by
storm due to the heavy subject matter (the tragic and sudden loss
of a woman's daughter, soon-to-be son-in-law, boyfriend and ex-husband on the
eve of her daughter's wedding). The story is told from multiple points at view
and at times it is hard to keep the cast of characters straight, but it somehow
works - really well. I was really sad when the book came to an end as I wanted
to hear more of the story and how the characters carried on, which is the mark
of a good book in my opinion. In some ways, the feel of this book reminded me of the book "Every Last One" by Anna Quindlen, so if you enjoyed that book you should check this one out.
11. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart - I read this book in one sitting during a read-a-thon in January. It's one of those books that has become a "Swiss army " recommendation as it's a book that I feel confident recommending to anyone regardless of their reading preferences. It's a gripping page turner with an ending that was stunning for me. It's classified as young adult but don't let that classification turn you away as I think a person of any age will enjoy this.
12. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng - This was a great book that grabbed me right from the beginning. It's about a family dealing with the mysterious death of their daughter. The author shows us the aftermath of her death as well as the days, months, and years leading up to the time of her death. It addresses topics like racism, the sacrifices parents make and the weight of expectations of parents. I felt a sense of dread while reading the book and it's one I have continued to think about. It's a great book club book as there are so many topics and issues to discuss.
I can tell that I really focused on reading more diverse books in 2015, thanks to the Read Harder Challenge, as my best of list features a lot of women writers with diverse backgrounds/countries if origin.
What were some of the best books you read this year? What are you currently reading? I'm reading and really enjoying The Goldfinch!