Best Books of 2015

Books a Million: My Reading List, Part XII

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It’s about that time of year when I show up to further your intellect! (Heh.) Or rather, inform you of all the things I’ve been reading when I should actually be taking advantage of the few quiet hours I have each night to sleep.

It’s been a good reading year so far, y’all. While, as always seems to be the case, I haven’t checked off nearly as many books as I’d like, the ones I have read have been stellar. Quality over quantity, I suppose.

1. Emily & Einstein: A Novel of Second Chances by Linda Francis Lee

A friend who is an AP English teacher recommended this book I’ve never heard of, and she and I are always on the same page (no pun intended) when it comes to reading so take her recommendation I did. You may have noticed that I sort of love books narrated by canines.

This one is different, though. In the opening of the book, one of the two narrators, Emily, loses someone very close to her. Someone who—a bit of a spoiler here—comes back to life in dog form, a dog that—you may have guessed—Emily winds up adopting (she doesn’t know it’s her lost love, obviously). There’s a lot more to the story than that, but in a nutshell: The soul of the perished man is living in a sort of purgatory until he learns to be a good person (er, canine), and Emily is trying to deal with the loss while simultaneously climbing the ranks as a book editor in a tough work environment. Both characters save each other in a sense, and the book is so wonderfully written and poignant that I cried when it was over. Gotta love a good book that you mourn when you’ve reached the end.

My rating: 5 out of 5

2. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

I know, I know; I’m horribly late to the train on this one. But I had to squeeze it in at the beginning of the year while the movie was still in theaters. Verdict? Book: Two enthusiastic thumbs up. Movie: Meh; it wasn’t awful but it left out so many vital details. It’s still heartbreaking to me that the subject, Louis Zamperini, died just months before the movie came out. At least he got to see his life memorialized in a book, I suppose.

The book’s modifier says it all: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. I guess what kept me from reading this for so long is the non-fiction element; I am typically drawn to fiction nine times out of 10. But Unbroken taught me to change my tune. It was a history lesson of World War II I didn’t get in high school (because high school history in the South = taught by unqualified athletic department employees), and while the unbelievable nature of Zamperini’s life in a POW camp is gruesome at times and can make you start to doubt humanity, Hillenbrand is such a great narrator that she actually makes you start to pity his captors toward the end of the book.

Even if you’ve seen the film, I encourage you to read this book. There’s so much more to it that the film leaves out, like Zamperini’s PTSD coming home from the war, his alcoholism and subsequent “finding religion” moment that brings him out of it and, of course, his resolve to forgive the Bird later on in life.

My rating: 5 out of 5

3. The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

Y’all all read the first Rosie Project, yes? If not, close your browser and go do that immediately. It only released a year and a half ago, so how delightful that the sequel is already out? This follow-up to the first installment sees Don Tillman and his (SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t read the first one!) now wife Rosie in New York for her PhD program. What they weren’t expecting so soon in their marriage was a baby, so the entire book is about adjusting to life in New York and a little one on the way. There are a lots of ups and downs—and some very funny moments that would only happen to Don—and this tale is every bit as poignant as the first. Now, I’m just hoping for a sequel to this sequel when the baby has actually arrived…can you imagine Don as a father?!

My rating: 5 out of 5

4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

People love this book. It was an instant bestseller, and capitalizing on the post-apocalyptic “OMG THE WORLD IS ENDING” phenomenon, I can see why. It took me a bit longer to get into it than most, so for those of you who also think Station Eleven starts off pretty slow, just know: It’s worth sticking with it.

There are multiple subjects in this book, subjects that span different times and places, which confused me in the beginning because I couldn’t figure out how they all are woven together (it does come together in the end, so know that beforehand). A flu wreaks havoc on the world, the collapse of civilization as we know it, and the survivors life in nomadic camps of sorts, doing what they must to survive. For those who watched the short-lived Revolution, it often felt very similar in parts, and at times felt like the districts in The Hunger Games. If you’re into those sorts of shows and books, you’ll like Station Eleven very much.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

My Favorite Books

5. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

I’ve got to confess upfront that I still haven’t finished this book. I will, I’m sure, and I found it very interesting, which makes it even odder that I have yet to reach the end. I think it’s the heavy science nature of this work of non-fiction: a lot of talk of stem cells and DNA that I can’t quite grasp being of writer’s mind (science was my worst subject after all). But the whole concept, that a writer could spend so much of her life researching such a subject, and that the cells of a poor black tobacco farmer who ultimately died of cancer could live on in scientific research that her family was not aware of is fascinating to me. It’s just no quick read is all.

My rating: 4 out of 5

6. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I shouldn’t have to tell you anything about The Girl on the Train as I’m sure it’s been all over your every feed for the past few months. And with good reason: A debut author pens a thriller that immediately goes on to sell more than 1.5 million copies in the first four months? It’s a Cinderella story of the best kind. (Note: Hawkins has written multiple books, none too successful, under a pseudonym, but this is her debut novel under her own name—her last attempt at fiction, she noted, before throwing in the towel.)

It’s a chilly, suspense-fueld tale of an alcoholic British woman, Rachel, who is borderline manic depressive and obsessed over other people’s love stories: both the love story of her ex-husband and his new, perfect wife and baby, as well as the love story of “Jason” and “Jessica,” two complete strangers she watches each day from the train as she makes up their own story in her head. What she never expected to be is part of that story when “Jessica” goes missing, and Rachel finds herself in the very middle of the investigation to find out what happened to Jessica. There are three different female narrators, none of whom seem the slightest bit trustworthy, andt he end is a bit of a whammy, so I’ll leave it at this: Go. Read. This. Book.

My rating: 5 out of 5

7. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

I’ve never even read The Red Tent, Anita Diamant’s most popular work to date, but for some reason this book popped out at me when I saw it in my Kindle archives (my mom, my dad, SVV, Kari and me all share an account so you never know what you’ll find). It’s the story of an elderly woman who grew up in a very poor family and is giving the oral history of her life—primarily, from pre-World War I through Prohibition—as a Jew in Boston. It’s told in a very casual, conversational manner, which means it was a quick read with a good flow and pace. Again, like with Unbroken, I felt this was a history lesson delivered in an entertaining way (though make no mistake, it is actually fiction).

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

8. Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Jessica Knoll is a former magazine editor at Cosmo and Self, and I wrote for her one time in the very distant past, but we also have mutual industry friends, one of whom slipped me an advance copy of her debut novel, which comes out in a week. And friends, I could. not. put. it. down. People are comparing it to Gone Girl—quick side note, but is that forever going to be the standard for any work of fiction with a multifaceted, unabashedly egotistical protagonist?—but I think it deserves a category all of its own. It definitely targets those who like chick lit (*raises hand unapologetically!*) but is far too smart to be lumped in that category. Knoll is lethal with a pen—it makes me want to go back and read more of her journalistic work—and somehow manages to capture the world of magazines in a way that hasn’t been done before (i.e. the brutality and superficiality that goes with getting into such an industry).

But that’s not really what the book is about even. TifAni FaNelli grew up on the wrong side of the tracks but had a chance to shoot for the life she always wanted when she enrolls in a very prestigious private school. Something awful happens—a something awful you won’t learn about in detail until close to the end of the book—that will haunt her for life. In the meantime, she manages to fake it till she makes it: landing a cush job at a fictitious Cosmo-like publication and a huge rock on her finger thanks to her Wall Street banker fiance, to boot. The novel flashes back to those years in high school as she simultaneously plans her dream wedding in Nantucket and prepares to appear in a documentary about what exactly happened while interlacing present day commentary. It’s quick, it’s smart, it’s riveting. Now go and pre-order it, so it will arrive on your Kindle on May 12! (It’s already been optioned by Lionsgate, and Reese Witherspoon is set to produce.)

My rating: 5 out of 5

So there you have it: Every book I’ve read this year gets at least four stars from me (which is significantly less reliable than, say, The New Yorker‘s seal of approval, but take it for what you will). Next up, I’ve got The Paying Guests.

What are you reading and loving of late?

  • May 3, 2015

    As if I needed any more books on my never-ending reading list… Must. Read. Faster.

    I too read Emily & Einstein, and I too couldn’t help but crying. It was silly, for sure, but still made me feel all the things in the end.

    • May 21, 2015

      I hope you got some reading done on your big Euro trip! =)

  • May 3, 2015

    I’ve read several of these and loved them, too! I always enjoy peeking into your reading lists. Thanks for introducing me to Chet and Bernie long ago 🙂

    • May 3, 2015

      And thank YOU for inadvertently reminding me that Spencer Quinn’s new book came out last week! 😉 It’s YA, but sounds promising nonetheless:

      The next Chet and Bernie comes out in July!

  • May 4, 2015

    I love it when you do your book round-up because it gives me ideas on what books to check out next! Luckiest Girl Alive and The Girl on the Train both sound really good – I’m going to place holds for them at my library. Don’t fret too much about Henrietta Lacks – I have a science background and it took me quite some time to finish the book too! I recently finished reading Yes Please by Amy Poehler and thought it was hilarious. If you’re ever in the mood for non-fiction, check that one out 🙂

    • May 21, 2015

      Oh, thank you for the tip! I think my sis has Yes Please in our Kindle account already, weeee. Will add it to the list!

  • May 4, 2015

    Two of my favorite authors right now are Charles Cumming and Stella Rimington – both are British and their books are excellent. Rimington is a former Director General of MI5. If you like spy novels I highly recommend their books.

  • May 9, 2015

    I loved The Girl on the Train. I couldn’t get past the first chapter of The Rosie Project. Sometimes whether I like a book depends very much on my mood though.

    I’m adding Luckiest Girl Alive to my list.

    • May 21, 2015

      Try it again! I really feel like if you can get in the groove and get acquainted with Don’s style of narrating (which admittedly took me a few chapters on the first book), it’s totally worth it. So charming and sweet in the end.

  • May 10, 2015

    I’ve been wondering about The Girl on the Train! Thanks for the review–I’m going to download it!

  • May 11, 2015

    Re: Unbroken. YES, YES, YES!!! The book was so much better than the movie; the book was one of the better ones I’ve ever read, the movie was marginal at best. And in talking to a number of friends about this we decided that the book has so much of Zamperini’s internal thoughts and dialogue that is not captured in the movie. Subtle facial movements and long cinematic shots of eyes and muddy faces just cannot capture the same thing as a few paragraphs of heart-rending explanation.


    • May 21, 2015

      My thoughts exactly! How can you just end the movie with him getting off the plane after the war? I was baffled.

  • May 12, 2015

    One more amazing article on this blog. Thanks for sharing.

  • May 13, 2015

    I home school my kids and we just finished up for the summer!! I have some free time to read now 🙂 I really want to get girl on a train. I love your list of books, I will need to make a list of what I want to read this Summer as well.

    • May 21, 2015

      Thank you, Tanya! Hope your kids give you some time to do some reading for yourself 😉

  • May 14, 2015

    GAH! So many more books to add to my list now! I love when you post these. 🙂

    I read Henriette Lacks right when I started at my current position, and was learning all about cells and science-y stuff, so I was pretty fascinated. And while I’m not a big non-fiction reader, I did find the writing style very engaging. I hope you finish it! (Though I will also admit I had to renew it at least three times to get through it. It’s engaging but dense. Lot of info to take in….)

    *Also unabashedly raises hand in support of smart chick-lit!*

    • May 21, 2015

      Haha that makes me feel better (both the renewing it three times AND the chick lit!).

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