Frank Reads: Favorite Books of 2015

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Right off the bat, let me be clear that, while I did read a number of new releases in 2015, others were older. So when I say that this post is about my favorite books of 2015, I mean that it’s my favorite books that I read in 2015, regardless of what year they actually came out. Also I realize that this post is coming a bit late, but life got in the way.

So… books. I like ’em. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t have something I was reading. I’ve heard there’s a recovery period after college, but for me that lasted only a few months while I got settled into teaching, and then I started tearing through books again (“tearing” might be a generous term for me because, as with everything I do in life, I read very slowly because I’m afraid of missing something, much like I eat very slowly because I’m afraid of choking, and I run very slowly because I suck).

Process

I use Goodreads to track everything I read, manage my TBR list (which is unmanageable at this point anyway because every time I hear about a book I want to read, I go to Goodreads and add it immediately to my “want to read” list), and set yearly goals for myself. The Goodreads reading challenges are definitely not perfect, but I’ve found that it works well for my purposes. If you wonder what books I’m in the process of reading at the moment, check out the Goodreads widget in the sidebar.

Right, then. In 2015, I made it a goal to read 19 books. I read 21, so I met 111% of my goal. Here’s my data, along with the books I read in the order that I read them in 2015:

Renee’s Year in Books

click to enlarge

I think it’s interesting that Sara Bareilles’ book was the least popular but also the highest rated. Not as many people reading it as something like Why Not Me, but I loved it. I love Sara Bareilles. Also Mindy Kaling. 

Also worth noting: a few of these I listened to on audio, something I like to do when I’m making the 3h45m drive to my parents’ house, when I go for walks, and when I’m doing mindless stuff around the house. I do consider audiobooks reading, but the experience is obviously different (again, another post for another day). Those books were:

  • The Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (a quick way to re-read before Go Set a Watchman came out)
  • The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I have a Scribd subscription that I primarily use for audiobooks (I don’t do ebooks, largely due to too much screen time already, but if you do, Scribd is even better for that), but I also sometimes use the audio services that my local libraries provide.

Final note: In the interest of saving myself time, I am going to copy some of my commentary from my Goodreads reviews. The Amazon links included are not affiliate links.

Top 5 Favorite Books Read in 2015

This is going to be tough. I liked a lot of books last year, but here goes.

mcmahon5. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

The last book I completed in 2015, but also one of my favorites. This book was a creepy one, telling the tale of of two different families: one in 1908, and one in the present. In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea’s beloved daughter, 8 year old Gertie, dies under mysterious circumstances. Weeks later, Sara is found murdered — very… graphically — in the field of their farmhouse. In the present, Ruthie Washburne, 19, lives in Sara’s old house with her mother and younger sister. When their mother goes missing, they begin exploring all of the “hidey-holes” in the old house, finding some evidence that something weird is happening (like why does their mother keep her closet door boarded up from the outside so nothing can get out?). At the same time this is happening, something is pulling other characters to West Hall, VT to come to the house to solve their own mysteries. All of the stories converge, eventually. While you do have to suspend belief and there are some loopholes left at the end, it was a page turner (which seemed to be the trend of the year for me — I was always looking for those). [Amazon]

Penumbra4. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

This was a fun, whimsical read that somehow managed to find the intersection of my personal and professional interests: online marketing, Google, books, bookstores, printing, writing, secret societies, and the general intersection of literature and technology. Also: the book glows in the dark!

It was a quick read and kept my interest with lots of mystery. You definitely have to suspend belief at times, but you feel okay about it. It’s a fun place to be, especially if you are a lover of books and technology. The only character I wasn’t sure about was Kat, Clay’s girlfriend who works at Google. I just couldn’t figure out if I really liked her or not. I knew what her purpose was in the book — to help Clay and Neel with all of their needed connections to Google — but I didn’t really like her a lot of the time.

One thing I was really curious about (and still am) is what kind of research Robin Sloan did for this book. I know that some of the content is based around things that are real, but I don’t know how much of it actually IS real (for example, how much of the Google stuff is real? I would guess that he couldn’t just make that stuff up).

I also just discovered that there was a prequel published in 2012! Add that to the TBR… [Amazon]

186937633. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

My #2 and #3 books this year were really close calls. I still don’t know if I got them in the right order, but oh well. This book is a heartbreaking character-driven story of one Chinese-American family’s struggles in the 1970s — to find acceptance for who they are and who they want to be, to make peace with their pasts, and to move on in the wake of a tragedy that is further unraveling them, which is the death of their beloved oldest daughter and prize child, Lydia (that’s not a spoiler — it’s revealed on the book jacket).

The book deals quite a bit (even if in understated ways) with what it means to be different. I liked that a lot, even if the outcomes were sad ones. As the stories weave together, it starts to paint a picture that, though there is definitely a “grass is always greener…” mentality going on, you see what the cost of that greener grass is. And when you find out how Lydia actually died… I’m still not sure how I actually feel about it, but it’s a very sad thing.

This isn’t a long book, but it’s a fast read, and hard to put down because the narrative sucks you in. Plus I was eager to know what really happened to Lydia. This was a fantastic debut novel. Definitely looking forward to seeing more from Celeste Ng. [Amazon]

luckiest girl alive2. The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

It is so easy to hate this narrator, and that’s what I really liked about this book. Ani FaNelli’s voice is really strong and she’s written so well that she’s not even trying to be likable. As I started reading this book, I discovered a little geo-location bonus: In Ani FaNelli’s past, she grew up in Chester Springs, PA. She discusses the Main Line and how she attends school in Bryn Mawr at a private high school, Bradley. There are many other towns in the western Philly suburbs that are named too, and I liked this because that’s where I live. I could visualize it a little better this way.

When you learn anything about the author, she pretty much lifted the locations from her childhood (she also grew up in Chester Springs and attended private high school in Bryn Mawr at the Shipley School — renamed to Bradley School in the book). It made me wonder how much of the smaller scenes were based on things that actually happened to her or people she knew. The whole group of TifAni’s friends in school was pretty…. unlikable.

The book flashes back and forth between the present, in which Ani FaNelli is about to marry Wall Street guy Luke Harrison who will give her access to the rich life she always wanted growing up on the fringes of the Main Line, and her past, faking her way through high school in suburban Philadelphia. Her family pretended to have money, but they didn’t really. Luke’s family was old money. Everything was perfect. But she’s sitting on a troubling, traumatic part of her past that continues to eat away at her, and it causes her to wonder if she really wants to go through with the wedding.

I really liked this book for the strong voice — it was easy to read and get lost in. It’s a little of everything: humor, dark thriller, coming-of-age, some mystery, and a little twist of romance. It did make me feel a bit anxious at times. I think that I would have liked it even more if the major plot twist had been a total surprise to me. Unfortunately, I googled the author to see where she grew up in this area, and the first link was to an interview she did with Mainline Today. MT gave away the major plot twist in one of their questions. I was only on page 6 at the time and I was really mad about it. But alas. It was still interesting to see all of the things that led to that event. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who likes a little bit of psychological thriller and mystery in their fiction. [Amazon]

girlonthetrain1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This was this year’s tour de force — and another great debut novel. Everyone spent so much time talking everything up as “the next Gone Girl.” I read a lot of those books (some of them in 2015), and while they were ok, they weren’t Gillian Flynn. This book made a whole new name for itself, and now everything is being described as “the next The Girl on the Train.”  If you pick this one up, make sure you get The Girl on the Train as Girl on a Train is a completely different book!

When I read Gone Girl, I was constantly waiting for the moment that everyone kept talking about — “the big twist.” With this book, I wasn’t waiting. I was in a perpetual state of blissful suspense and even when I thought I might have an idea of what was going on, I was never completely confident. It was fun to read. It was easy to read. I sacrificed sleep and being on time to just about everything over the course of the week it took me to read this (very quick for me since I’m such a slow reader).

I loved that it was told from three different points of view — the three women: Rachel, the main character, and then Anna and Megan, as well.

The book centers on Rachel, a sad, middle-aged, alcoholic divorcee who won’t stop following her ex-husband around. She takes the train every day, passing a house where she always sees a couple that seems to be perfect. She names them Jess and Jason and assumes she knows them. She assumes they’re perfect and have it all. She makes up a whole life for them, never expecting that their worlds would come together.

And then Jess — really named Megan Hipwell — goes missing, and Rachel knows that she had been in her town (following her ex-husband, Tom, around) that same night. But she’d been blackout drunk and doesn’t remember anything. Or does she? Suddenly she finds herself trying to help Jason (Scott Hipwell) prove his innocence solely based on what she’s seen from the train. The problem is that the police know she’s an alcoholic and so does everyone else. They all dismiss her.

Over the course of the book, Rachel battles herself and her own demons, but more and more is revealed about all three of their pasts and how their presents are all entwined. The end was not what I expected. It wasn’t completely shocking, but it wasn’t what I expected it to be. I was pleasantly surprised. She kept me on my toes like that.

I had very few true criticisms of this book. After considering those that I did have for a bit, it occurred to me that they were done intentionally to throw the reader off (I can’t say more without giving major plot points away). Some parts are intentionally left vague so as to not be so neatly packaged because real life wouldn’t be that way. [Amazon]


I’d love to be able to say more about the other books I read in 2015, including what I really didn’t like (Yes, Please …. more like No, Thanks). But this is already tipping the 2k scale.

What did you read in 2015? What did you love? What didn’t you like? Tell me about your books! 

All images are from Goodreads. 

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