Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My 10 Favorite Reads of 2015

I actually wasn't planning on doing this post.  I mean, choosing your favorite books is like choosing your favorite children (sort of...).  However, when I posted my 2015 recap, I received a few requests.  So, I decided to try to narrow things down and I came up with 10 books.

Now, these books are in order than I read them, not in order of preference.  Also, not all of them were published in 2015, but I did read them in 2015.  I will include a snippet from my review (when applicable) and, by clicking on the title, it will take you to the full review (again, when applicable).  I am including affiliate links, indicated at the end of each book section at the link saying "Click here to purchase from Amazon."  If you choose to order a copy, I will receive a (very) small commission in return--which will most likely go into buying more books.  Just sayin'.

So, here we go:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (finished February 18, 2015)
Mandel's language is just lovely and I found her way of taking the mundane and making it art interesting.  For example, there is a fair amount of Shakespeare in this story--Arthur dies during a performance of King Lear, the actors from the Traveling Symphony perform A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the entire plot is, well, Shakespearean.  However, in the same way and given almost the same weight, are lines from Star Trek: Voyager.  And,no, it does not come across as pop culture pandering.  Instead, it shows that there is art and beauty in every age (I'll take Mandel's word on the importance of Star Trek: Voyager, though...)
Click here to purchase from Amazon

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson (finished April 1, 2015)
Setting in this book is paramount.  Both lives that K experiences is set in Denver, but in different worlds in the same city. If my memory is correct, I've only been to Denver twice and both times I was stuck in the airport.  So, I have no way of knowing if the portraits of Denver Swanson draws are accurate--but they are definitely evocative (for the record, it seemed like a hybrid between Portland and Tucson, which probably isn't too far off).  I felt like I was right there in Denver of the early-60s.  And, speaking of the time period, Swanson also uses current (to the time) events to set things up, something which I appreciated as a reader.  In a book where reality is questioned, it was nice to have an"anchor."
Click here to purchase from Amazon

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (finished April 20, 2015)
I truly feel that this is an important book for young people to read.  Yes, it examines the struggles of modern Native Americans but, more importantly, it is about finding your own place in the world.  And to all those people who try and challenge this book....don't worry, when my children are older, they won't be checking this book out of the library. I'm going to buy them their own copies.
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The Martian by Andy Weir (finished May 12, 2015)
The big question is: does it live up to the hype?  Yes, yes it does.  I was actually a little wary of this book going in.  From what I had heard about it, I was afraid it would be a Castaway scenario where it would be one character talking to himself (or to an inanimate object).  Thankfully, that is not the case.  Yes, the bulk of the book is Mark Watney trying to survive on Mars, but there are also scenes with NASA and with Watney's crew as they travel away from him.  And Mark never talks to a soccer ball, or personifies any other non-living thing, so that is a plus.
Click here to purchase from Amazon

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter (finished June 10, 2015)
The characters are what really make this book work.  I won't go into the specifics about each one (like story lines, characters abound here), but I will say that I found myself relating to all of them, including the one really unlikable (yet entertaining) character.  Because there are so many people and story lines, Walter explores facets of the characters instead of developing the entire character.  In another book, I would find this annoying.  However, there is more than enough here so that Walter's approach is successful.
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Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (finished July 16, 2015)
The original suggestion that Lee should write about Scout's childhood does make sense.  We all know about the wonderfully precocious Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, but I must tell you that the Jean Louise of this book is freaking awesome.  I can't think of another character of that age in literature who I have enjoyed as much as I did Jean Louise (who I will call Scout from here on out--because she will always be Scout in my mind).  She's opinionated and brash and knows how to make a situation deliciously uncomfortable.  Also, this Scout is a natural evolution of the Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird.  There are a lot of flashback scenes to her childhood and they read as if they could have come out TKAM.
*Note: I debated including this one.  Frankly, it is not a very good book.  However, the experience of reading it made it worthwhile.  If you are looking for a similar experience, but would rather not read this book (I do understand the reasons for that), I highly recommend Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I would have included on this list except that I read over half of it in 2014.
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Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (finished August 20, 2015)
The language of this book is absolutely breathtaking.  This particular sentence sold me (found on page 5 of my copy): "Night was the dark of the soul and being up in an hour when the rest of the world was dead with sleep gave me a sinful thrill." Once I read that, I knew that Krueger was a writer of great note.
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A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev (finished October 18, 2015)
I really appreciated how Dev wrote this--there are a lot of interesting cultural details, but Dev doesn't put them out there like a lesson.  Too often in books set in a non-Western (or even just non-American) culture, the author feels that they have to take the time to explain everything.  Dev, on the other hand, just puts it out there like it is the most normal thing in the world to the audience.  The reader may not catch what something is the first time it is mentioned but, by the end of the book, they know what it is.
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The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev (finished November 19, 2015)
Forgive me, but I don't have a review for this one.  I was so busy with NaNoWriMo in November that a number of books I loved just didn't get reviewed.  However, the fact that I picked this up so soon after reading A Bollywood Affair should be a good endorsement of both books.
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My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (finished December 31, 2015)
The review for this book will be posted on February 25, so come back then.  I will say now, though, that the hype for this book and its series is well-deserved!
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