Best Reads of 2015

Books a Million: My Reading List, Part XI

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It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to do a book report post, mainly because being back in an office job means my reading time is a bit more limited than usual (though, let’s be honest, when has “free time” ever been a concept with which I’m familiar?).

BooksBut these are the books I’ve read over the last part of our European vacation this summer and into the fall, many of which are the latest installments in series that I love. If you’re looking for more recent releases, The New York Times just put out this “100 Notable Books of 2014” that should help you out there. As always, please let me know in the comments which books I should add to my always-growing, rarely-shrinking reading list!

19. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

I fell in love with Rowell’s writing when I blew through Eleanor & Park last year and quickly downloaded the rest of her repertoire of books. In this novel, Lincoln O’Neill is working a mindless job in the IT department of a newspaper where he’s made to monitor the internal correspondence taking place between employees. While scrolling through messages one night, he comes upon a thread between a reporter Beth and copy editor Jennifer and becomes deeply entwined in their lives—without them every knowing it. The inevitable happens, and Lincoln starts to fall for Beth without ever having met her—and that’s all I can say without spoiling anything. But it’s a very sweet and touching read, one I enjoyed immensely.

My rating: 4 out of 5

20. I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg

I have now read and loved every Fannie Flagg book—other than Fried Green Tomatoes, oddly enough (though I’m a fan of the movie). Her characters are always so quirky and endearing, and I can’t help but think I’ve met every one of them at some point in my life. The way she writes about the South is pretty on point, and this novel about a former beauty queen who, in her 50s, works in real estate and has still yet to find love, other than a stately old home atop a hill, is quite sweet and funny.  There’s also an air of mystery, as there are in many of Flagg’s other books, and the fact that it takes place in a city I know pretty well—Birmingham—made Dream About You that much more engaging.

My rating: 4 out of 5

21. Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close

I had heard mixed reviews about this hit book, which came out two years ago, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. And in the beginning, with the novel switching narrators each chapter, I admit it was hard to follow and remember who was who. But as I got into the groove, I really fell in love with the poignancy behind this coming-of-age read about a handful of college friends in their 20s trying to survive in New York City while navigating new emotional terrain (namely, friends getting married around every corner). Unlike Girls the TV show, I found White Dresses startlingly accurate to what it’s like being young, broke and living in Manhattan—not to mention, as a Southerner whose friends started marrying as young as 18, I also felt every character’s every high and low as if I were reliving those years myself.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

22. The Smart One by Jennifer Close

I impulse-bought The Smart One after reading and loving Girls in White Dresses. Similar to Close’s debut read, this novel follows the rotation of narrators formula, making it again a bit fuzzy in the beginning, but stick with it and it will be worth it. Similar to its predecessor, The Smart One follows four recent graduates—three of whom are siblings—as they each struggle with different decisions post-college, mistake by mistake. Though different than White Dresses, The Smart One includes every nightmare scenario for a Millennial: unplanned pregnancy, living at home at 30, a suffocating mom, a broken engagement and a throwaway job when you just couldn’t settle on a career. It’s one of those books that every one of us could relate to at some point in our lives, and while definitely not uplifting throughout its 434 pages, it’s honest and raw.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

23. Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen

The latest installment of the Royal Spyness series sees Lady Georgiana Rannoch crossing the pond and heading for Hollywood! The last Georgie book was my least favorite so far (which isn’t saying much as I’ve loved every one), but I was particularly eager to see how the prim-and-proper Brit would adapt to California in the 1930s. She didn’t disappoint me, and some historical characters such as Charlie Chapman made appearances as Georgie’s mom vies to become a star on the big screen.

My rating: 4 out of 5

24. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

This past summer, I got the chance to interview one of my writing idols, Ann Patchett, who is a Nashville native and not only a novelist but also a veteran magazine writer. When I left, she gave me a paperback copy of her latest non-fiction read, which is a compilation of essays and published pieces she’s written over the past three decades. While non-fiction is normally not my bag, Patchett is so gifted with words that I found myself wanting to read every last piece back to back. I think anyone would find Patchett’s work—from becoming a dog lover to her divorce to her decision not to have children—interesting, but if you’re in the publishing world (or hope to at some point), it’s a must-read as she dispenses nuggets of wisdom throughout.

My rating: 5 out of 5

25. Landline by Rainbow Rowell

My third Rowell read was not as enjoyable as the first two. I found the characters a bit unlikable—at least, I strongly despised the husband to whom we are supposed to feel sympathetic as his wife is a workaholic who doesn’t give him or the kids the time and attention they need—and the storyline a bit lacking (Georgie finds a magical phone in her childhood bedroom that allows her to call Neal 20 years prior as an attempt to repair their marriage before the decline begins…I mean, really?). Overall, I’d skip it, as it’s Rowell’s weakest read yet (though definitely pick up Attachments).

My rating: 2 out of 5

26. Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella

I know many people find Becky Bloomwood annoying, but I think she is positively hysterical and endearing. In fact, there’s yet to be a Shopaholic book I didn’t like (contrary to Kinsella’s other reads, none of which I haven’t been a huge fan). In the latest installment, her husband Luke gets sent to LA for three months for a new client, a well-known actress, and Becky throws herself into the world of the rich and famous as she attempts to become a stylist to the stars. Kinsella’s token humor is at its best as Becky checks into a “wellness retreat center,” crosses paths with an old enemy and even catches a celebrity shoplifting red-handed.

My rating: 4 out of 5

27. Paw & Order by Spencer Quinn

The latest tail, erm tale, of private investigator Bernie Little and his canine sidekick Chet the Jet finds the relentless pair trekking from Arizona out to DC to see Bernie’s girlfriend, Washington Post reporter Susie. It doesn’t take long for the duo to find themselves caught up in a murder that may or may not involve politicians (but then again, what D.C. scandal doesn’t?). I will never tire of Quinn’s hilarious accounts of what goes on in a dog’s head; he’s simply a genius when he comes to writing both prose and inner dialogue.

My rating: 4 out of 5

I’m pretty behind my annual book total compared to previous years, so hope I can knock out another three by January to make it an even 30 for 2014. Next, I plan to tackle Unbroken (finally!) before the movie comes out over Christmas. Similarly, I’ve been avoiding Dark Places (Gillian Flynn’s first novel), which has been sitting on my Kindle for months, because SVV tells me it’s very dark and grim, and I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat. But I also want to read it before seeing the movie, which I’ll inevitably due, so maybe that will be a midday reading pursuit over the Christmas break (because, for once, I plan to take a couple days off in a row come Christmas … famous last words, I know).

What have you read lately that you really enjoyed?

COMMENTS
  • December 3, 2014
    Sian

    Glad to hear the new Rhys Bowen is better than the last. I thought Heirs & Graces was pretty disappointing and I was reluctant to give Queen of Hearts a try.

    • December 3, 2014

      Same! I love those books so I’m hesitant to say a bad word about them, but wasn’t wild about Heirs & Graces either. This one is much cuter.

  • December 3, 2014
    briel k.

    Have you read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell? I really enjoyed it a lot.
    Dark Places is pretty dark. Have you read Sharp Objects yet? I think I liked it better than Dark Places but really all of her books are good.
    Girls in White Dresses has been on my radar for a long time but I haven’t gotten around to reading it. I’ll have to add it to my list.

    I read Amy Poehler’s book recently and really liked it. I love Amy!
    Read Lena Dunham’s book and did NOT like it. Left me feeling kind of disgusted with her.
    I’ve also read Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins in the last few months and liked them.

    • December 4, 2014

      OK, so I have never liked Lena Dunham at all for no reason other than I find her annoying (though her newfound BFFdom with TSwift is making me reevaluate). So I’m glad to know I shouldn’t even pick up that book.

      I’ve never read any books by the funny girls—not Fey’s, not Kaling’s, not Poehler’s. You think Amy’s is a good place to start? (I did love Sloane Crosley’s “I Was Told There’d Be Cake.)

      And I have Fangirl on my Kindle, just decided to give Rowell a bit of a break after Landline.

      LOVED Sharp Objects. Is Dark Places scarier than that one? Because I managed to read Sharp Objects at night before bed, I think 😉

  • December 3, 2014
    Helen

    Always love these posts of yours-thx for the recommendations! I will put Attachments high on my to-read list. I usually don’t read a lot of non-fiction either, but I’m on a Malcolm Gladwell kick as I find his writing and subjects totally fascinating.

    • December 4, 2014

      Awesome! First book you recommend to a Gladwell rookie?

      • December 7, 2014
        helen

        ‘what the dog saw’ is a good intro as it’s a compilation of some of his articles from the new yorker. my second fave is ‘tipping point,’ then ‘outliers.’

  • December 3, 2014

    I finally got around to reading The Glass Castle which came out almost 10 years ago and I loved it. The author has such a good memory and was able to be honest about so much of her childhood and even though her parents put her and her siblings through a lot she wrote the book as an homage to them. It is non-fiction, which I know you said you don’t like, but I think this would be worth your while! It’s not that uplifting but still inspiring.

    • December 4, 2014

      YES! That is one of my all-time favorite reads. Such strong writing and great storytelling. And thanks for reminding me that I saw Jeanette Walls had a new book out (fiction this time)! Need to add Silver Star to my reader.

  • December 3, 2014

    Totally agree on Girls in White Dresses. Loved it and didn’t expect to, assumed it was a quick chick lit read, but enjoyed it immensely.

    And Dark Places is SO GOOD, better, in my opinion, than Gone Girl. Definitely read, but during daylight hours.

    • December 4, 2014

      Ha! Thank you for reaffirming that thought. Maybe I’ll read it during the day on Chrismas since I’ll assumedly be in a cheery mood =)

      Have you read Sharp Objects?

  • December 4, 2014

    I just started the Mercy Thompson series, I have been on a werewolf kick, which I am still trying to decide if I should admit that or not.

    I also just re-read Austenland, which I am pretty sure is my favorite book I have read this year.

    A few of your reads are on my list, I will need to check them out (but like you said who has time lately? lol)

  • December 7, 2014

    I’ve read some books of Mario Vargas Llosa recently. I’m not too interested in South America but I really like his style.
    Few days ago I was talking with my friend about the level of travel books in Poland (I’m Polish, btw ;)) and we couldn’t believe how many new books (although, really poorly written) were recently published in our country… That’s scary! Luckily I’ve got my fav authors. 🙂

  • December 8, 2014
    CJ

    How is it possible that I haven’t read ANY of these? Looks like I know what I will be reading if I ever finish the Song of Ice and Fire series! I’ve also recently read and really enjoyed Amy Poehler’s book, which I would recommend. If you have any long drives coming up then I highly recommend the audiobook; she had several guest readers and improv jokes, and I think her inflection as she read her stories made me laugh out loud more than I would have if I were just reading. And before that book, I flew through the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness (as in, I stayed awake on the Munich-Prague train the entire way to read because I couldn’t put it down).

    I hope you have some down time to read and relax… especially if you are tackling Unbroken; it’s just such an amazing (and well told) story!

  • December 10, 2014

    I just read The Traveller by Daniel Baylis. 12 months, 12 volunteer experiences in 12 different countries. Great easy read. 🙂

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