Sunday, January 3, 2016

The best books I read in 2015...

So, in case you haven't noticed, I read a lot.

I love movies, and try to exercise as much as I can, and love spending time with those I care about. But when I have spare time, I usually read. Reading brings me peace and relaxation, it helps calm my mind (even when the books I'm reading may ratchet up my blood pressure or make me an emotional wreck), and through the years it has brought me so much joy.

In 2015, I read 140 books. This is the most I've ever read (at least as long as I've counted), and this isn't bad considering I got a new job, did a lot of traveling for work, moved into a new house, and readied our old house for sale. I've read some phenomenal books, some great ones, a lot of good ones, and honestly, very few bad ones. I've been blown away and I've been disappointed; I've devoured books in one sitting or one day, and I've struggled to finish a few. But this was a great year for reading, as far as I'm concerned—and there are a lot of books I wanted to read that I didn't get to!

As I've done the past few years, I've selected the best books I read this past year, plus a few more that just fell short of the very best but I still think they're too good to miss. I've linked to my original review of each so you can read more about each one. I'd love to hear your thoughts, and know which books you'd count among your favorites, even if you didn't read as much as I did!

While I've traditionally put this list together in random order, I'm going to list my top six of 2015, and then list the rest randomly.

The Best of the Best

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara: Simply put, this was a masterpiece. The best book I read all year, and one of the best of this decade. The book spans several decades in the lives of four college friends, and contains one of the most memorable characters I've ever seen, the enigmatic and troubled Jude. It's a book about the power of friendship and love—platonic, romantic, filial—but it is also a story of the fragility of emotions, the fears we must confront, and the devastating effects a lack of self-worth can have. Read my original review.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven: Touted as The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park—an unfair comparison which doesn't negate the fact that this book left me as much of an emotional wreck as the other two—this is the story of two teenagers who have the best-ever meet-cute but ultimately deal with crushing grief and debilitating mental illness. While as with many YA books published recently, the characters are far more articulate and intelligent and sarcastic than most teenagers really are, the dialogue was beautifully written, and I found the characters, Finch in particular, to be truly memorable. Grab the tissues and the Visine—you'll need it with this one. Read my original review.

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes: An intense, terrific read that had my heart pounding, amazingly, this was the first book I read in 2015, and it never truly left my mind. It's the story of an immensely clever man on the hunt of someone who might be even more clever—and infinitely more dangerous. It's the story of friendship, of loyalty, of bravery, of trying to do right by those who believe in you. There's some fantastic action and suspense—it's a sweeping thriller with intelligence and heart. Read my original review.

Infinite Home by Kathleen Alcott: Lyrical, moving, and absolutely exquisite, this is a book about how we find comfort, and sometimes anguish, in the home we make for ourselves and the family we choose to embrace, biological or otherwise. It's also a book about finding strength where we didn't know we had it, and the different ways we adapt to and cope with change. The story of Edith, the landlady of a Brooklyn apartment building for years, and her tenants, this is a memorable book, told in short chapters, memorable both for how it is told and the characters on whom Alcott focuses. Read my original review.

All This Life by Joshua Mohr: Tremendously thought-provoking, compelling, and slightly disturbing, this is an intriguing commentary on the chaos wrecked by society's constant obsession with social media, and how it simultaneously connects and disconnects us. I found this book really fascinating and powerful. Mohr weaved a number of seemingly disparate storylines together, and all but one seemed like a story you'd hear about from a friend, or perhaps see on social media. So many issues, emotions, and tough questions are pondered here, but the book never really seems heavy; it seems very current and relevant. Read my original review.

Secrets in Big Sky Country by Mandy Smith: Mandy Smith's powerful, painful memoir is worthy of tremendous notice, and Smith is to be praised for bringing attention to the tragedy of child sexual abuse. The story of Smith's sexual abuse at the hands of her uncle/stepfather, which began at age three, and the effects it had on her life from adolescence through adulthood, as well as her brother's, this is brutal, but it isn't gratuitously graphic—it's honest. Smith bared her soul and her scars, and I hope it helps make strides toward greater awareness and prevention of this abuse. Read my original review.

More of the Best

Call Me Home by Megan Kruse: Beautifully poetic yet emotionally brutal at times, Megan Kruse's Call Me Home is about what we do for love, and how sometimes we put our own self-interests last, much to our detriment. It's about the pull of family and those we choose as our family, and the importance of belonging and feeling a sense of security. It's also a book about the destructive effects of abuse on all of those who witness and live through it. This is a moving book that packs a powerful punch. Read my original review.

Why They Run the Way They Do by Susan Perabo: The characters in Perabo's 12 stories face emotional crossroads of all kinds—spending time with their terminally ill mother, dealing with a serious infatuation with a childhood best friend, being confronted with evidence of an extramarital affair in an unusual way, or trying to help a friend escape a mental hospital so she can commit suicide, for starters. But so many of these stories are more complex than that, even surprising at times. Perabo packs a tremendous amount of heart, character development, and plot into fairly short stories, but they don't ever feel confusing or unfinished. Read my original review.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli: Simon Spier is a friendly, slightly goofy high school junior. He knows he's gay, and doesn't think that either his family or his friends will have a problem with it, but he just doesn't want to make a big deal out of it, you know? But when he starts corresponding via email with a fellow gay student known only as "Blue," and their correspondence falls into the wrong hands, needs to decide what to do—about coming out to his family and friends, and whether or not to continue to press Blue for the chance to meet each other. I cannot even begin to put into words how much I freaking loved this book. Sappy heart, be still! Read my original review.

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney: In 1986, two separate crimes rocked Oklahoma City. In a rundown movie theater, six employees were killed in a robbery, although one mysteriously survived. And then at the State Fair, Genevieve, a teenage girl, disappeared after leaving her younger sister on the midway for a few minutes. No answers were ever found in either crime. Twenty-five years later, both crimes are explored again, in this powerfully written, compelling, and fantastic book. If you've ever found yourself unable to move on from something that once happened to you, you can identify, although perhaps only on a small scale, with these characters. Read my original review.

Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich: Bull Mountain in North Georgia has been home to the Burroughs clan for a number of generations. The Burroughs aren't what you'd call an upstanding family—years of running moonshine led down the dangerous path to production and sales of marijuana and crystal meth. The oldest brother runs his kingdom with an iron fist; the youngest brother is the local sheriff. A sense of impending danger pervades the book from nearly the very first sentence. Read my original review.

I Regret Everything by Seth Greenland: Wills and trusts lawyer Jeremy Best has nearly always taken the safe choices in his life, causing him more regrets than he'd like. He does have one interesting secret: he's also a poet of some promise, publishing under the pen name Jinx Bell. He is utterly unprepared for the arrival in his life of Spaulding Simonson, the 19-year-old troubled daughter of his boss. Somehow she knows that Jeremy and Jinx Bell are one and the same. And she loves his poetry. Jeremy can make a long list of reasons why he shouldn't get involved with Spaulding, but he can't seem to get her out of his system. Read my original review.

The Short Drop by Matthew FitzSimmons: Ten years ago, 14-year-old Suzanne Lombard disappeared from her home. Suzanne wasn't just any runaway, however—at the time of her disappearance, her father was a U.S. senator. As the 10th anniversary of Suzanne's disappearance draws closer, her father, now the vice-president, is expected to become the next President of the United States. At the same time, Lombard's former security chief asks Gibson Vaughn, a former nemesis who was once a surrogate brother to Suzanne, to help with a covert investigation into Suzanne's disappearance. And the tangled web begins. Utterly excellent. Read my original review.

Beneath the Bonfire: Stories by Nickolas Butler: The characters in Butler's 10 stories are all struggling in one way or another. They're struggling to find or keep love; they're struggling with the circumstances they've found themselves caught up in; they're struggling with family, friends, emotions, illness, even loneliness. These are stories which will make you feel, make you think, make you laugh, and perhaps even make you cry. (And Butler's first book, Shotgun Lovesongs, made my list of the best books I read in 2014.) Read my original review.

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: This is a heartfelt, nostalgic look at music, love, family, a little magic, and the friendships of our youth which never quite leave us. Meche and her two best friends, Sebastian and Daniela, are growing up in Mexico City in 1988. They form their own little band of outcasts, no matter how hard they try to fit in, and escape their broken families. But when Meche discovers she can cast magic spells using particular songs, their friendships are pushed to the breaking point. More than 20 years later, they must confront their past. Read my original review.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera: This book raises a lot of thought-provoking questions. Are the bad things we experience in life better off wiped from our memories, or do those moments help make us who we are? Is being gay the worst thing that can happen to you? Should we deny who we really are and how we really feel for the sake of others? The story of a teenager growing up in a Bronx housing project, who can't seem to figure out who he is, is a bit of a downer, but really powerful. Read my original review.

The Bigness of the World: Stories by Lori Ostlund: This collection of stories, which deal with seemingly ordinary men, women, and children confronting the unexpected, won the Flannery O'Connor Prize in 2009, when it was originally released. Ostlund's stories are set everywhere from Minnesota to Malaysia, but their themes are universal. And while many deal with gay and lesbian characters, their sexuality doesn't define them or the stories; it's just another plot point to consider in many cases. These are beautifully written, emotionally evocative stories which will move you, make you think, make you chuckle, and perhaps help you realize your life may not be so chaotic or problematic after all. Read my original review.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf: One day, 70-year-old widow Addie Moore goes to visit her widowed neighbor, Louis Waters. The two have always known each other, but were never friends. But that doesn't stop Addie from asking Louis a difficult question: would he be willing to come over to her house one night and sleep in her bed, and perhaps talk? Few authors can captivate with simple, straightforward, moving storytelling as well as Kent Haruf did. Read my original review.

Love on the Big Screem by William J. Torgerson: I don't know why I loved this book so much—maybe it's because I'm a child of the 80s, or because I'm obsessed with movies like the book's main character. This story of best friends at a small religious college in Indiana, who pursue truth, compassion, God, and women (not necessarily in that order), is utterly charming, full of 80s nostalgia as well as the nostalgia of simpler times. The story is simple, but it's high on entertainment value. Read my original review.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness: Loved this, loved this, loved this. While a small community is under siege by mysterious forces and a group of "indie kids" (aka hipsters) have to figure out who (or what) is responsible before they destroy the world and keep killing people, Ness' book focuses on a group of friends who aren't the chosen ones. They're just a group of best friends, each dealing with their own problems, and just counting down the days until they graduate from high school and can leave their town behind. I love books that make me feel all the feels, and this one definitely did that. Read my original review.

A Few More Not to Miss
Rainey Royal by Dylan Landis

The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington

Einstein's Beach House: Stories and Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets by Jacob M. Appel

In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen

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