I promise I will have another running post up before too long but first I wanted to make sure to hit “publish” on this list of the books I read in 2015. It’s not as long as I’d hoped (28 books) but it’s better than previous years when I was too busy with school or work to do much pleasure reading. I’ve linked to the Amazon pages for each book since they tend to have much better and in-depth reviews than the ones I wrote.
So, without further ado, I present the books I read in 2015. My favorites are noted with a (*).
1)* Incendiary by Chris Cleave. I read Little Bee a few years ago, loved it, and promptly added Cleave’s other books to my Amazon wish list. Incendiary did not disappoint. The narration (a woman writing to Osama bin Laden about her husband and son killed in a terrorist attack) is wonderful. As you may imagine, it is quite sad at times.
2) Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. There are a disproportionate number of Bildungsromans on this list, which is no accident– I’ve loved coming-of-age stories for as long as I can remember. I did not love this book though. I rambled a bit on Instagram about it but my main issue was that most of the characters were very one-dimensional.
3) Yes Please by Amy Poehler. I really wanted to love this but I just couldn’t. It jumps around a lot in terms of topics and timelines, which is a shame because it muddles some very funny and poignant parts.
4) *The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller. I loved this. It was everything that Prep wasn’t– complex, intriguing characters, plus all kinds of deep, dark mystères. I think I read all of this in one day.
5) *Night Film by Marisha Pessl. Sometimes this was a great can’t-put-it-down thriller and sometimes it dragged. I think it could have benefited from some more editing. I definitely enjoyed it but not as much as Special Topics in Calamity Physics.
6) *Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Petersen. One of my favorite summer activities in Austin is the Summer Classic Film Series at the Paramount, so this book was right up my alley. It’s much more academic than the title might suggest but it’s definitely not dense. It really deepened my appreciation for some of the films we saw this summer, most notably It Happened One Night.
7) Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston. The cover describes this as a thriller but I found it pretty slow paced. I can’t say that I disliked it but I felt like it should have been more compelling.
8) *Gold by Chris Cleave. I’m 3 for 3 with Chris Cleave’s books. This one was the most enjoyable read of the three. The main characters are Olympic-caliber cyclists. I am not an Olympic-caliber anything but I found some aspects of their training and competition stress relatable.
9) In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. I was expecting to love this since 1) Devil in the White City was fantastic and 2) I love reading about all things WWII. But for some reason this one never grabbed me. I started reading it back in July 2014 after I finished Devil in the White City and then abandoned it periodically for other books. I finally made myself finish it in March 2015.
10) The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani. I’m just going to copy/paste what I wrote on Instagram: “I can agree with “gorgeously written” but this book was as “sexy” as Lolita, meaning that there are pretty graphic descriptions of a teenage girl and an adult male. I liked Lolita and this was a good quick read for a weekend when I was sick in bed; I’m just not sure that ‘sexy’ is the best descriptor to splash across the front cover.”
11) *River of Time by Jon Swain. This is a memoir by one of the few foreign journalists in Cambodia while the Khmer Rouge was in power. I can only describe his accounts as fascinating and horrifying.
12) The Shadow Girls by Henning Mankell. My mom loves Mankell’s mystery series and suggested I read this stand alone book by the same author. Broadly speaking, it’s about a poet who meets three immigrant women in Sweden. I liked the idea of the novel– raising awareness of the plight of immigrants in Europe– but the book focuses much more on the poet (who is boring) than the immigrant women.
13-17) *The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. This is a 5-book YA fantasy series by the author of The Hunger Games. I preferred The Hunger Games— the writing in The Underland Chronicles seemed very simplistic at times, perhaps because it’s aimed at a younger audience– but I still highly recommend this series. I read a lot of fantasy books as a child and I’m sure I would have adored these if they’d been around when I was in elementary school.
18) *Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. If you Google “Jonathan Franzen jerk” you will find 30,100 results. (Here are some examples). I will admit that there were times in The Corrections and Freedom when I felt like the author was really, really proud of his writing but I still loved both books and was excited to receive Purity for Christmas this year.
19) Dr. Mütter’s Marvels by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz. The Mütter Museum is one of my favorite places in Philadelphia, so I was immediately intrigued by this book about its namesake. Dr. Mütter was an interesting character– he added an umlaut to his name just because!– but I found the sections in the book about the history of medicine more riveting. Highly recommended if scenes of pre-anesthesia and pre-sterilization surgeries aren’t going to make you queasy.
20)*The Circle by Dave Eggers. This was awesomely creepy and prescient.
21) How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You by The Oatmeal. Okay, this isn’t really a book in the traditional sense– it’s a collection of cat comics that I finished in under 30 minutes while killing time at a Barnes and Noble– but it was a good, silly Christmas present for my boyfriend following his cat attack.
22) Cherry by Mary Karr. I read The Liars’ Club a few years ago and liked it, so I figured I’d give one of the author’s other memoirs a try after I found it at a used book sale. It never really grabbed me, which feels like a mean thing to say about someone’s life story.
23) *Two Across by Jeff Bartsch. I usually don’t care much for romance books but I thought this story about two National Spelling Bee champions who reconnect through crossword puzzles was really cute.
24) The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport. I started casually reading about 20th century Russia a few years ago and decided to borrow this book from the library as a more in-depth introduction to the Romanovs. The first 250 pages or so were mostly about mundane family details but the pace picks up significantly after the revolution since I guess government overthrows tend to make for dramatic reading.
25) *The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. I’ve read Go Fug Yourself since its inception over 10 years ago, so I felt like I had overly high hopes for this book. The story is not particularly original (it’s heavily based on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) but I thought it was a light, fun weekend read.
26) The Secret History by Donna Tartt. This was one of those books that I liked a lot more in theory. I liked the literary references and I liked the idea of classics students caught up in a bacchanalian frenzy but I felt like the plot dragged and didn’t care for the central characters. All of the reviews for The Secret History are fantastic so maybe this is a book that I just didn’t “get”.
27) We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. One word: disturbing.
28) The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan. This was my requisite fluffy reading for a long plane ride. I’ve read all 3 of the author’s novels now and this one was definitely my favorite but it’s still very fluffy.
*Bonus: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. I’m about 1/3 finished with this and probably won’t finish it until 2016 but I really like it so far. I haven’t read Middlesex (yet) but I loved The Virgin Suicides.