Best Books of 2015: What I'm loving (Eight Hundred Grapes) and loathing (The Daylight Marriage) in the reading world this year.

Books a Million: My Reading List, Part XIII

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It’s about that time of year where I pop in and share everything that’s been on my Kindle! Are you ready for some good reads?

This year’s reading started off pretty slow, but I managed to make a (marginal) dent in my reading list for the summer, then check a few more off the list while I was in the Caribbean last week.

Best Books of 2015: What I'm loving (Eight Hundred Grapes) and loathing (The Daylight Marriage) in the reading world this year.

Here’s what I’m reading, loving and loathing:

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

I know, I know, this was a bestseller last year, but it finally came out in paperback, so let’s pretend The Paying Guests is still relevant? Set in 1920s London, this period novel chronicles Frances and her mother as they’re forced to take in housemates to their stately old home that’s seen better days after the war and Frances’ father passes away. What evolves is an unlikely kinship between the 26 year old and the wife of her new tenant that takes a few unexpected twists and turns.

Ultimately—or TL;DR, as the kids say—this book is about relationships and, without spoiling anything, addresses an interesting topic (particularly for the time period). However, while well executed at times, I think it could have easily been cut in half and had the same effect; at 600 pages, it took me a month to complete. I do think, should they turn it into a movie—and let’s be honest, when does Hollywood not gobble up a bestseller?—it will translate well to the screen.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida

Warning! This book is sure to cause stress, suspense and all the uneasy feelings. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let me say this: YOU WANT TO READ THIS BOOK.

The underlying theme of this quick 200-page read is how easily one can alter her identity. The book is written in second person—an interesting literary device, I think—and starts with a 30-something woman flying to Morocco for a vacation to get over a recent divorce. Her passport and belongings are stolen the first morning she gets there, and what unfolds in the wake of her trauma is interesting, funny and, at times, a bit heartbreaking. I think everyone should read Diver’s Clothes, male or female, traveler or not—it’s so different than anything else I’ve read in some time. I will say, though, that my mom and I usually have similar opinions on books, and she was not at all happy with how it ended, though personally, I thought it was the perfect way to wrap it up.

My rating: 5 out of 5

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

This was another Entertainment Weekly recommendation that I downloaded on a whim from the library. I immediately was sucked in because it takes place in Wine Country, an area I got to know very well while living in San Francisco. Plus, Dave has a very engaging and easy-to-digest writing style, and this novel cruised right along from the beginning.

It opens with the protagonist, Georgia Ford, a lawyer who flees LA in her wedding dress (why? we don’t know just yet) and coming home to Sebastapol to find her parents’ marriage disintegrating and her father selling the beloved family winery, Last Straw Vineyard. There are multiple story lines within—like a testy relationship between her brothers, a set of twins with very different personalities; a new investor who knows how to push her buttons; a fire that threatens to wipe out the family legacy—but ultimately, this novel left me with a smile on my face, the sign of any good read.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor

I came across this novel, which came out in the summer, on a suggested reading list in a magazine. And sure enough, I started off thinking it was going to be one I highly recommend. Then, the plot developed and I wasn’t really sure which direction it was heading. The basic premise: A husband and a wife have a huge fight, and she disappears the next morning in Gone Girl-style. Parts of it definitely do channel Gillian Flynn’s epic novel—only not done nearly as well. The marriage was quickly unraveling, and many of the chapters flashback to the glory days of when the couple met, got married, had kids, etc. The ending, however, was a bit anticlimactic and just depressing.

Bottom line: Don’t waste your time with this book; you’ll just be disappointed by the end.

My rating: 2 out of 5

The Martian by Andy Weir

Often, the kick in the pants I need to read a book like this one is the movie coming out. After seeing The Martian trailer, I immediately added it to my list, because like I’m going to miss a chance to see Matt Damon on the big screen! I’ll admit: I was hooked on Weir’s writing style from the first page. It’s so pithy and engaging; it’s very rare you meet a scientist with such a quick wit who can dumb down science speak for the masses. That said, the talk of CO2 and nitrogen and all sorts of spacecraft was mind-numbing at times, and I’ll confess that I sometimes skimmed those pages.

But the story itself sucks you in, and once you make it halfway through this read about an astronaut stranded on Mars for four years, you’ll be at cruising altitude. And I also love the idea that this novel started as a blog series, followed by Weir publishing it in a Kindle format, long before there was a book deal or movie options.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

Scents & Sensibility by Spencer Quinn

By now, you know what a fan I am of Spencer Quinn’s detective series that follows a PI and his pup, Chet, solve one mystery out of another. There’s rarely been an installment of the eight-book series that I didn’t love—until now.

The most recent adventures of Chet and Bernie have them following the mysterious unearthing of saguaro cacti—a felony in the Southwest, apparently—and the drug ring that is behind it. While I will still continue to read every book that Quinn puts out about this lovable pair, but I found the writing on this one a bit too contrived at times, unfortunately.

My rating: 2 out of 5

Right now, I’m halfway through All the Light We Cannot See, which I started early in the summer but keep putting down as I get emails that library holds have come available. It’s extremely well written but relatively long; at this pace, I’m hoping to finish it by winter! Likewise, I’m midway through Re: Jane, which can’t seem to hold my attention, and should be finished with Her Royal Spyness‘ latest read over the weekend.

What are you reading and loving? I need something I can really dive into right now!

  • October 30, 2015

    Two things:
    I just finished We Were Liars. Read it in about three days. Worthwhile and not a huge time investment.
    Before that I trudged through Poisonwood Bible. It started out ok, but in the end was just tedious and drawn out and I couldn’t wait for it to end. I hate books like that for wasting my precious reading time.
    I’ll be adding (some of) your recommendations to my evergrowing reading list! 🙂

    • October 30, 2015

      Oooh thank you! Downloading We Are Liars now. Funny, I never read Poisonwood either, even though I was a big fan of all of Oprah’s book club picks back in the days.

  • October 30, 2015

    The Paying Guests held such promise, and I flew through the first half, but MAN did it drag on and on. I agree that it could have been about half as long. Pity, because Waters’ The Little Stranger is a great book, and one of the creepiest I’ve read in a long time. The pacing and suspense in that book is spot on, but she really missed it in Paying Guests.

    • October 30, 2015

      Same! Though it was more like the first 30 percent for me, then the second the lawsuit happened, I was all YAWN, NEXT!

  • October 30, 2015

    I really loved The Paying Guests and didn’t notice it was long! Recently loved The Moth stories, The Solitude of a Prime Numbers and Us. Also highly recommend The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect.

    • October 31, 2015

      Well, we clearly have similar tastes as the Rosie books were two of my favorites in years! I’m assuming he’s writing a third with the baby on the way?

      I’ll check out the others! I haven’t read any of those, so thanks for the recs =)

  • October 30, 2015

    I struggled SO much with All the Light We Cannot See. I managed to finish it but it took forever because it couldn’t hold my attention. And honestly, I don’t think it ever got any better!

    I really enjoyed Malice at the Palace, best in awhile!

    I’ll Give You the Sun, Station Eleven, We Never Asked for Wings, the Goldfinch (not a quick read) and Unbecoming are some good books I’ve read lately.

    • October 31, 2015

      OK, I’ve had the Goldfinch in my Kindle for two years now and still haven’t even opened it. I’ll admit, the size intimidates me. Though I made it through The Paying Guests (600 pages), so what’s 100 more, right?

      Loved Station Eleven, but haven’t read the others, so I’ll check them out. Finished Malice this morning–I agree, it’s the best she’s written in awhile! Have you read any other of Rhys’ series?

  • October 31, 2015

    I’m a bit of a reading freak, and never get sick of recommendations. I also just started the Martian last night. A adored Station Eleven as well, and really got into the Elena Ferrante series this year (haven’t read the newest yet). I am also slightly obsessed with A Little Life, the heavily nominated book for awards, but it is heavily disturbing so read a few reviews first to make sure you won’t be too sensitive to the topics…

    • October 31, 2015

      Yes! Station Eleven was so good. I’m not familiar with Elena Ferrante so I’ll have to look into that! I just read both of the latest books for the two series I follow (Chet & Bernie, Her Royal Spyness) so it will be forever until the next ones are out. Speaking of, since you live in London, try Her Royal Spyness out! I was skeptical when my mom first told me but it’s so cute—all about an heiress to the throne circa 1933 and her crime-solving capers. If you love royals, it’s particularly fun as some of the characters are fairly accurate 😉

  • October 31, 2015

    At the moment I’m rereading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak because I read it a long time ago and I don’t remember it (apart from the fact that I loved it).

    I had issues finishing All The Light We Cannot See as well because I wasn’t enthralled enough to enjoy it. Don’t worry though because once you work your way through 450 pages and you reach the ending it starts getting good… 😉

    • October 31, 2015

      Funny, I remember the Book Thief novel well but can’t remember for the life of me if I saw the movie or not, so I just recorded it on HBO =)

      I actually have enjoyed All the Light so far—so well written—so I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to finish it!

  • October 31, 2015

    Up votes for both Book Thief and Station Eleven- both are fabulous. I would advocate for A Storied Life of AJ Fikrey – beautiful story of the life and love of a bookseller. Also- Florence Gordon- the story of a cranky old feminist driving her family relationships and living her life on her own terms.

    • October 31, 2015

      YES! I looooove Book Thief and Station Eleven. I haven’t read Storied Life, but my SIL just recommended it yesterday so now with two votes, that will be my next one =)

  • October 31, 2015
    Cindy Hunt

    Thanks for all the suggestions! I’m currently reading Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi – very cleverly written. A favorite of mine that you might like for its travel and food themes is Provence 1970 by Luke Barr, inspired by M.F.K. Fisher’s diaries and letters with James Beard, Richard Olney and Julia Child.

    • November 10, 2015

      I’ll have to check into Mr. Fox; that just sounds like a book I’d like!

  • November 1, 2015

    I read The Paying Guests earlier this year and loved it. I agree that it could have been shorter, but because I was so enthralled with the characters and story, the length didn’t bother me. I’m reading Euphoria right now and am enjoying it so far. Next up is The Lowland (I love Jhumpa Lahiri’s books) or All the Light… (I already have both), but I’m going to try Eight Hundred Grapes and The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty. Thanks!

    • November 10, 2015

      I found it really captivating UNTIL the murder investigation started and then that whole part just went on and on and on. I wish it had kept the pace of the first third the whole way through!

  • November 1, 2015

    Thanks for these suggestions! Just the push I needed to purchase The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty. I read the sample and loved it, but haven’t hit purchase yet.

    Have you read The Lovers, also by Vendela Vida? From what I can tell, it’s quite a different book from The Diver’s, but it’s a lovely little tale set in Turkey about a grieving American widow. I highly recommend it.

    If you are interested in travel memoirs, I’m the author of Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights, which was published by Pan Macmillian in 2012. It’s the story of my experiences and relationships teaching in Abu Dhabi, and then Dubai.I thought a traveller like you might be interested. 🙂

    Thanks again for the recommendations.

    • November 10, 2015

      I haven’t, but I definitely want to read more of her stuff as I think she’s brilliant! Thanks for the rec; I’ll bump that up in my list (and add Abu Dhabi, as well) =)

  • November 3, 2015

    I’m on a kick about Catherine The Great, Empress of the All the Russias (official-ish title). I’m currently reading her biography and a book about one of the most valuable missing treasures from her time as Empress, the Amber Room, stolen by Nazi’s during WWII and then…well, I don’t know yet, I’ll let you know.

    Added “The Diver’s Clothes” to my list!


    • November 10, 2015

      I love you and your love for history! I don’t know if I could get into a bio that dense, but I bet Scott would love it =)

  • November 4, 2015

    I have to chime in as someone from the LOVED IT camp of “all the light we cannot see” I thought it was so captivating. Thanks for the list, I love seeing what other people are reading 🙂

    • November 10, 2015

      I really do love it so far! The writing is spectacular. I will finish it, for sure, especially now that I have no library books on hold that will pop up in the interim 😉

  • November 6, 2015

    Your reading posts inspired me to start posting about what I’m reading on my own blog. The best book I’ve read recently was Like Water for Chocolate – and I’m not a foodie at all!

    • November 10, 2015

      You know, I’ve still never read it though I went to the restaurant where it was filmed in Cuba!

  • November 10, 2015

    Thank you for the reading list! All of them sound interesting although I think I would be more inclined to The Martian because I like to see how they translate the story on the big screen.

    As for books Im reading… Im currently taking an American Literature course and just finished The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Its a well known book and I found it interesting because of how closely the book mirrored Plath’s personal life.
    Just last week we began The Things They Carried by Tim Obrien. Its a war book and is pretty good so far.

    • November 10, 2015

      Somehow I still haven’t read The Things They Carried, though it’s been recommended to me for years! I think I get so caught up in reading the new books of the year that I don’t get to some of the older ones.

      • November 14, 2015

        You should definitely try to work it onto your next reading list. Although the stories in the book can be dark at times, Obrien’s writing style is really good.

  • November 10, 2015

    I’ve just finished exams so I can finally get back to reading a lot more. I’ll definitely check some of these out; I haven’t read any of them! But first I think I need to re-read Outlander 😛

    • November 10, 2015

      Cheers to being all done with exams! I own all the Outlanders but have never actually read them because those books are massive and I have them in hardback form instead of easy-to-read-while-traveling Kindle form!

  • November 12, 2015

    Keep going with All the Lights We Cannot See! I also felt the first half is pretty slow, but the pace picks up as you go towards the end of the book (and I consequently couldn’t put it down). I think it’s a very beautiful story – very well written too.

    • November 19, 2015

      Yes! I do like it so far. It’s dense, but the writing is beautiful. I just own that one and keep getting library alerts for books I’ve requested that have had long wait lists, and you only get three days to download and then three weeks to check them out, so it keeps getting pushed back =)

  • November 17, 2015
    Beth B

    I just finished reading “Once We Were Brothers” and it’s wonderful. Easy to read with twists and turns. I highly recommend it.

    • November 19, 2015

      Added to the list! Thanks, Beth!

  • November 19, 2015

    I am about to finish up Marie Antoinette, Serial Killer. I recommend it if you need a little mind candy. It is not serious at (I am sure you could tell by the name of the book) but it takes you on a fun ride through Paris, Mean girl style. Like I said it really is junk food for the brain. I am totally adding The Diver’s Clothes & Eight Hundred Grapes to my reading list now!

    • November 19, 2015

      OMG, that sounds amazing. I’m actually quite into fun period novels about now, so I will definitely add that one. Just add Mr. Darcy’s Daughters to my list, too, speaking of old school Europe =)

  • November 23, 2015

    Dude! Diver’s Clothes, THANK YOU! Destroyed it in about three days, compelling right from the word go. Getting it for mum for Christmas 🙂

    We Were Liars is incredible, for me it had a vibe similar to So Much To Tell You by John Marsden. He’s an Aussie young adult writer that you need to know about, if you don’t already. Checkers is my favourite of his, but his Tomorrow series is amazing. They were the books I was secretly reading when I was supposed to be doing my homework.

    The Goldfinch is totally worth the length. Have you read The Secret History? So good.

    Recently finished The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman, which has a great Jasper Fforde feel to it. It’s the first in a series too, so just hanging out for the next one to come out.

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