Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Year in Review: 12 Best Books of 2015

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 women.

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!


Kelly (She Wears a Red Sox Cap) said...

Yay, I love this post!!!

I completely agree about Book of Unknown Americans, The Martian and Nightingale. I also loved everything by Lisa Genova this year, especially Love Anthony and Inside the O'Briens.

Kyria @ Travel Spot said...

Oh man, where to start!? I love these lists as well and I always go down them and add any books to my Goodreads list that I have not read yet. Your list actually features a few I have not read (adding now!) and a few I did read but did not top the tippy top of my list (it was hard to choose this year!) and many that I did have on my list (Nightingale, The Martian).

I did read Girl on the Train but did not like it as much as I liked Gone Girl. However, I did like it, just not as much! Also Americanah was a great one but just got edged out by others, and The Book of Unknown Americans was good but I think I was in a weird head space at the time and it just did not grip me like I thought it would. I also enjoyed Everything I Never Told You. The rest I am adding to my list!

Jeanie said...

Thanks for the list, Lisa! Mine is probably coming sometime next week. I have a couple of those on my list (Martian, Nightingale), love "Train" and the others sound very good. I'll be sharing this one with my book club!

CML said...

I love the end of year "best of" lists as well! Yours is a great one, and I'm adding the 3-4 I havent read to my "to read" list. I really loved americanah as well as All the light we cannot see.

Stephany said...

Everyone in my book club recommends the Nightingale! I'm reading through Hannah's book list right now, so I probably won't get around to it soon (I'm going in chronological order because I'm a nerd, ha), but I can't wait to get my hands on it!

I'm publishing my post tomorrow on my favorite reads of 2015, and Americanah and The Martian will be on them!

Emilie said...

I have not read any of the books on your list but there are several that I've been wanting to read for a while now. I think my favorite book of 2015 is the first book I read this year, Unbroken. It was tough to read at times but I enjoyed it so much (as much as you can "enjoy" a book with a heavy subject matter).

The Many Thoughts of a Reader said...

I think the only book we had in common this year is The Nightingale! I have a lot on my TBR list though. I keep trying to convince my book club to read the Celeste Ng book! I am currently reading Defending Jacob.

Marlys said...

One of my college friends mentioned "Nightingale" in her Christmas letter as her favorite book of 2015, so I must check it out!
I love this list of books!
84 books is a LOT of books - wowzers!

Abby said...

This is one of my favorite posts -and I'll often screenshot it, so I have a list of books! I want to read Nigtingale!

Gracie said...

Thanks for the recommendations! I'm currently rereading my absolute favorite book - an old 1960's nonfiction called "Our Murdered Presidents - the medical story". I love the medical details and doctor's notes. It's fascinating.

megabrooke said...

Good list! I'll have to keep a little bookmark on this, because I'm looking for some new reads. I also read We Were Liars and really enjoyed it! And like everyone else, Girl on the Train topped my list this year!
I really enjoyed What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty too!

Jolene - EverydayFoodie said...

Ooooh, I think I'd like "Fates and Furies" :-) That one sounds really good! I don't read much fiction, but I always enjoy it once I get into a fiction book.

Amber said...

I have read 7 of the books on your list and really enjoyed all 7 of them as well - they were all 4 or 5 stars for me. I am going to request a couple of the other ones you loved at the library right now like We were liars and The Book of Unknown Americans. Both sound awesome!

You read A LOT this year! I started the year off really strong but my reading lagged through the summer! 41 books is still more books than I've ever read in a year though (at least since I started keeping track a few years ago).

Anonymous said...

Great list and, seriously girl, you could have my job with all of the books you read!

Raquelita said...

84 books is an amazing reading accomplishment! I've read four of your favorites -- Fates and Furies, Americanah, The Martian, and Everything I Never Told You -- this year also. I really enjoyed them all and am looking forward to talking about The Martian at my next book club meet up in a couple of weeks. I'm on the waiting list for The Nightingale and The Girl on the Train right now. I just finished David Mitchell's Slade House, which I liked but didn't love. My favorite books that I read this year were probably 1Q84, Americanah, A Head Full of Ghosts, and Tell the Wolves I'm Home.

Linda said...

Adding Fates and Furies to my TBR list now! Thanks for sharing! I too loved Americanah, Girl on The Train, and Everything I Never Told You.