Fav Books of 2015

January 14, 2016


I could’ve sworn I wrote a “favorite books of 2014” post, but can not find it. Regardless, they were so good I still remember them: The Goldfinch, The Signature of All Things and All The Light We Cannot See. A year later, I am still recommending these books to people.

I read more books in 2015 than ever before (I also kept the best, if still incomplete, record so that may have something to do with the high number) totaling 30 books, 5 of which I didn’t finish yet or quit. I wanted reading and books to be more prevalent in this space hence my reading life and library haul posts.

*Note – I’m linking to the author or publisher’s page about each book because I do not do Amazon affiliate links nor do I have a Goodread’s account… and b/c sometimes reviews by the general public are insane to read and I’d rather not send more eyeballs their way. Instead, ask your best friend what they just read and go read that. Basically I’m writing this post so I can send this link to my friends when they ask the same of me.

Without further ado, my favorite books of 2015:

ONE – Station Eleven
::sigh:: Station Eleven was just so gorgeous. Take one of my favorite genres (post-apocalypse, though this time it’s post-pandemic), add in a major dose of commentary on the value of art, tie a bunch of seemingly unrelated characters together through vignettes of pre- and post-flu lives, add a (comic book) story-within-a-story, and sprinkle some hope and man, Emily St. John Mandel nails it. Could be one of my favorite books of all time. The language alone is worth the read. “What I mean to say is, the more you remember, the more you’ve lost.” Yes, this.
What I remember while reading it: That I was still so sad from the first miscarriage. How the language took my breath away. And a traveling circus, which just made me want to read The Night Circus again.

TWO – Bel Canto
Let’s just talk about Ann Patchett for a second because I could joke 2015 was the year of AP for me. Not only did I read Bel Canto, which was grace on the page, but I read State of Wonder and it seems she and Ms. Gilbert are besties, so she also popped up in my Big Magic read-a-long. Somehow by complete accident, I’ve read almost half of her published works (and This Is A Story Of A Happy Marriage is on my 2016 TBR). In short, I’m an AP fan and Bel Canto is at the very top of my list. Character-driven stories are my fav and you’d be surprised to know that this poetic novel about a political hostage situation is driven by the people involved and not by the chain of events. Using the omniscient third person narrator to move from person to person in a room and opera to tie everything together, this story still feels real to me.
What I remember while reading it: feeling terribly exhausted from so much travel, reading in bed in the afternoon, barreling through and savoring.

THREE – The Secret History
Have I told you how much I’m a sucker for the New England / boarding school setting? Or when the narrator is an aloof wallflower who is desperate to become somebody? Or when the rest of the characters are smart, spoiled and probably alcoholics? (See also another 2015 read of mine The Interestings – really good, but not top 5 good). There’s murder, conspiracy and really fantastic language. It’s a rambling, long (560+ pages), melodramatic read, and I loved it. In fact, I could argue I liked it better than The Goldfinch mostly because The Secret History’s ending was more satisfying for me. Either way, def top 3 for the year.
What I remember while reading it: how much it reminded me it’s been a while since I read a John Irving novel. June gloom. Pass the whiskey.

FOUR – The Martian
The Martian is not my typical read (see above top 3), but it was excellent, made more so by simultaneously listening to it on audio book with H. Mark Watney is a smart-ass botanist astronaut stranded on Mars. His keen sense of humor and resourcefulness battle against the elements in a part science class, part rescue mission narrative. It’s a fast, smart read. And if you want to know – I liked the movie, but not as much as the book. Obvi.
What I remember while reading it: Getting to talk about it with H because he was also “reading” it (audio book). H sitting in our living room chair, explaining the science to me, and me being so happy we could talk “books”.

FIVE – Ready Player One
Another out of character book for me, but one that was oh-so-awesome. Promoted as Willy Wonka meets The Matrix, we’re back to another favorite genre of mine, dystopian, plus science fiction. You follow teenager Wade Watts aka “Parzival” through a treasure hunt game-within-a-game of the virtual reality world called OASIS. The game maker, who is obsessed with 1980s, has died and left his fortune to the player that can crack the code. Commence video game, movie, and TV puzzles with references to more 80s pop culture than you’d think could be stuffed into one book. Also, an awesome audio book listen. Highly recommend if you have a teenager who could be reading more.
What I remember while reading it: Wanting to read it every second of the day and it being over way, way too soon (it reads so fast!). And again, listening to it on audio book with H.

Honorable mentions: Big Magic and Bag Of Bones

I couldn’t leave Big Magic off because it really was a great read. It was also the first time I tried a read-a-long on the blog. I heard it’s fabulous on audio book as Gilbert reads it to you herself, and maybe if I had that version, it would’ve made my top 5. Unfortunately, my reading experience felt like a lot of revisiting the topics of conversation Gilbert’s been covering on her Facebook page. This makes sense as she used that space to test and tease content. I’m all for that – I just found my familiarity with the content lessened the a-ha moments. Still, totally worth mentioning.
What I remember while reading it: Reading at the kitchen table with a highlighter. How much Gilbert’s explanation of inviting in and playing with inspiration is another way to talk about pregnancy and the path to parenthood. Seeing Gilbert live in Pasadena on her book tour.

Last but not least, I finally read a Stephen King novel and it was spooky, engrossing and wwwaaayyyyyy better written then I expected. I don’t know why I thought SK wouldn’t be a great read as I love love love his memoir On Writing, but I held some unfair bias that SK would be “below” my typical reading some how. Bag of Bones put me in my place – it was a great reading experience.
What I remember while reading it: Sitting on the couch of our Airbnb during the Manhattan Beach stay-cation. Basically overindulging in reading to balance out the major stress I was experiencing at work.

What about you? What were your favorite reads, and favorite reading memories, of last year?

Happy reading!

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  • Reply Rita January 14, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    I also loved Station Eleven. I bought it in an airport, had never heard of it (and still really haven’t seen/heard much about it), and found myself enthralled. I love surprises like that. I also read All the Light… this year. That’s one I think I will always remember. I also really enjoyed The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey). It’s a few years old. A quiet book. Centers on a middle-aged couple (of a hundred years ago) who move to Alaska in response to their pain over not being able to have a child. (May or may not be a good choice for you right now. Even as many years away from that kind of pain as I am, the passages about the wife’s feelings touched a nerve.) Because I work for school libraries, I read some children’s lit. Roller Girl (recently awarded a Newbery honor) was definitely a favorite, and I read the sweetest series of early chapter books by Rose Lagercrantz, about a girl’s life after her mother’s death (My Heart is Laughing). Looking forward to checking these out, as I think we might have similar tastes.

    • Reply jtao21 January 14, 2016 at 7:06 pm

      I will check out The Snow Child for sure – I’ve heard of it but haven’t picked it up yet. Love that you also read kids lit — you may want to check out Emily Arrow (I can send you a link). She’s a children’s music artist who coined the term “kidlit” for MUSIC — songs based on children’s books. She’s a friend. Love her. If we have similar tastes that would be excellent – I only have about 2 people whose recommendations I trust hah. Happy reading!

  • Reply Lindsey January 14, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    I loved Station Eleven. One of my top books ever. And we are huge The Martian fans at my house- my son plowed through the book in a day and we all watched the movie and adored it. Flat-out adored it. I lvoe the story of Andy Weir going from self-publishing to huge hit (and now Oscar nominated best picture) too! I have to confess I’ve tried twice to love Bel Canto and I just can’t. Don’t know what’s wrong with me. I loved State of Wonder. I should try again… xoxo

    • Reply jtao21 January 14, 2016 at 7:00 pm

      Yes, yes Station Eleven – I could reread it right now. I can totally see it as a book for you. The Martian was awesome – so fun – and I didn’t suggest it, but also perfect for a younger reader barring the few bad words. Great story too for Andy Weir. I recommend it on audio too, Will Wheaton narrates 🙂 Interestingly, I loved Bel Canto and I didn’t love State of Wonder as much. I wonder why that it’s opposite for us?? So curious what resonates and what doesn’t. I always love your book recommendations, but you already know that.

    • Reply Rita January 21, 2016 at 12:22 pm

      Thank you, Lindsey, for being the first person I know to admit out loud that you couldn’t do Bel Canto. Me either. Some of Patchett’s writing is some of my favorite writing, but not that one. Wish I knew why…

  • Reply Renee January 14, 2016 at 10:22 pm

    I love this so much. Especially your “what I remember while reading it.” Unless I write down the summary of a book I’ve read, or it’s really really memorable, a few years later I will most likely forget most everything about the plot (I do this with films too, no idea why) but with almost every book I’ve read I remember the time, place, setting in which I was reading it. Like, White Oleander I read, I don’t know, eight years ago, and I don’t remember much, but I remember reading most of it in the bath. I read a bunch of Sophie Kinsella books too back then, also in the bath, when I was going through a long string of those sorts of books, which usually aren’t my thing. No idea about their plots, but apparently I loved bathtime reading. 🙂 As for last year…I loved Ready Player One. I loved Station Eleven. The Martian, which you kindly gifted me, I haven’t gotten to, but Matt just read in three days last week (the first time I’ve seen him with a book in a couple years)…It made my heart happy to walk into the living room and see him curled up in the corner with coffee and a book (and he loved it, for what it’s worth!) Big Magic was an absolute gem for me and I savored it in small chunks. And I absolutely adore Stephen King and the way he builds character and setting – I’ve only read a handful, but I grew up with my dad’s basement being full of them, so that’s what got me into him. I read his book 11/22/63 last year and it was enormous and I struggled through a bit after three-quarters of it, but a big epic story and I’d highly recommend if you’re at all interested in the idea of time travel type stuff. I read three Mitch Albom books and they were really touching reads, which surprised me, as I had a sort of bias against him and his views going in, but I can’t deny beautiful writing. I read Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines trilogy at the very beginning of the year and absolutely loved all three – I think that’s what gave me the final push to start my novel. Room was…creepy, hard to read at times, and I’m not sure I’d put it in the list of my favorites, but definitely one of the most unique things I’ve read. As for 2016? Ann Patchett is on the list for sure. I’m currently bouncing between Matched by Ally Condie (not loving it, though it has a lot of similarities to what I’ve been writing and I’m not sure if I should be encouraged or bummed out by that), Broken Grace (mystery about a woman who gets in a car accident and loses her memory), The Picture of Dorian Gray (old, old classic), and 8 Habits of Love, written by a liberal Episcopalian minister from Pasadena. There are so many things on my reading list this year. SO MANY THINGS. Probably everything you listed here that I haven’t read is in my Goodreads list. Oh, and a friend of mine from college (before Berklee) wrote and published a Western Romance novel called Haven’s Flame, so I’m reading that too, in between the others. I have book ADD sometimes – Matt thinks I’m crazy, but somehow I can compartmentalize them in my head! Happy Reading 2016. 🙂

    • Reply jtao21 January 18, 2016 at 7:36 pm

      I love this! I also struggle with remembering plot points, of both movies and books. Instead I tend to remember the *feelings* of the book, the vibe, stuff like that. I LOVE reading in the bathtub! Oh man, I wish I could do that every day. I even put my Kindle in a Ziplock hah. I liked Room 2 or 3 years ago, the first half more than the second. I liked White Oleander and read that during college. I remember you were loving Wayward Pines – adding it to my list again. Currently, I’m slogging through Fellowship Of The Ring and thinking about taking a break to read “Wool”, which ended up magically in my hands. I could use something faster paced. Happy reading fro 2016!

  • Reply Piqued – Allowing Myself January 15, 2016 at 10:02 pm

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