As all the cool kids are putting out Top 10 lists, I thought I’d share my Top 10 books of 2015. The problem is I read so many good books last year, I couldn’t narrow it down to ten. So, instead, here is my Dazzling Dozen:
The Girl on the Train
This book absolutely lives up to the hype. I listened to the audiobook and really enjoyed the different voices the readers brought to the story. The protagonist, Rachel, could be any woman. She’s had her problems and made poor choices that make her unreliable, both as the narrator of this story and as a witness to the murder she uncovers. Despite her deeply flawed character, I couldn’t help but root for her, and yet she continues to sabotage herself and make progressively worse choices, until I found myself begging her not to screw up again. Yes, perhaps the ending is a little predictable, but it’s also hugely satisfying, and the ride to get there is nail biting.
All the Light We Cannot See
This was perhaps the most beautiful book I read this year, worthy of its Pulitzer Prize and a second read. Set in World War II France, it follows the stories of Marie-Laure, a young blind girl evacuated to the coast with her father, and Werner, a German orphan recruited to a Hitler Youth academy. Doerr weaves their stories together so deftly, offering glimmers of connection until their paths ultimately intercept. Add in the mystery of the missing jewel, the stunning image of the perfect scale model Marie-Laure’s father builds to help her navigate her new home, and the brutal details of war, and this book is as close to perfect as any I’ve read in a long time.
Emily St. John Mandel
I fell in love with this book on page one. It’s beautifully written and brilliantly intriguing. Mandel switches effortlessly between the points-of-view of several characters and takes us back and forth in time, weaving together both strange and familiar worlds, so that the book is impossible to categorize. Is it science fiction? Is it a gentle tale of aging and regret? Is it a literary insight into the impact of art on a destroyed society? The answer is yes; it’s all these and more.
I knew from reading the back cover that all these stories would somehow intertwine, but I’d read more than 75 percent of the book before the threads began to converge and it wasn’t until the final few chapters that everything slid perfectly into place. I don’t often reread books, but this is one I wanted to read again as soon as I finished, to go back and pick up all the clues and details I missed the first time.
How to Build a Girl
I loved this book, but am reluctant to recommend it to many people. To call Moran irreverent is an understatement and she pulls no punches in this tale of her teenage protagonist’s odyssey from Midlands council estate to indie music journalist. It’s a gritty coming-of-age story about a teenage girl so ashamed of who she is that she reinvents herself, adopting not just a new name, but a new edgier, more daring, more dangerous persona. Just as she thinks she’s built the ultimate girl in “Dolly Wilde” it all comes crashing down. The jacket copy reads “Image The Bell Jar written by Rizzo from Grease” and I think that’s the perfect description for this painfully funny read.
The Rosie Project
Socially inept Don Tillman is a total pain, and yet I fell for him on page one of his project to find a wife. An accomplished geneticist, Don applies science to his quest for love by employing a detailed profiling system for eliminating inappropriate dates. So when Rosie, a bartender on a mission to identify her biological father, stumbles into his office, attraction doesn’t even enter Don’s mind. In fact, he’s the only person who can’t see that they are perfect for one another. I loved Simsion’s humor and wry observations, and I found myself laughing the loudest when I saw myself in Don’s nerdy character.
A God in Ruins
Atkinson is one of my favorite authors and this book is a devastating companion to her wonderful (and highly recommended) Life After Life. Leaping back and forth in time and between characters, as only Atkinson can, we follow the life of Teddy, World War II bomber pilot, father, grandfather, and reluctant subject of the fictional Tales of Augustus. Atkinson explores family truths and redemption. Her impeccably researched war stories are poignant and harrowing, and her detailed portraits of unforgettable characters are meticulous. I’m anxiously awaiting her next project and may have to go back to Behind the Scenes at the Museum to reread everything while I wait.
The Invention of Wings
Sue Monk Kidd
I listened to this on audiobook, so I got the benefit of the reader bringing Handful and Sarah to life. It’s the story of a wealthy southern girl and the slave she’s given as a gift on her eleventh birthday. But neither of these young women is prepared to follow the expected rules of their roles. This tale is full of texture and tactile descriptions, as well as being a riveting tale. It’s also based on real events.
The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus
I read this book as research for my novel The Smallest Thing and it blew me away. Truth is definitely stranger—and more frightening—than fiction. It’s a great mix of science, history and personal stories. An excellent reminder of the fragile balance of nature and our ecosystems.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Karen Joy Fowler
I was immediately pulled into this story of Rosemary, a young woman revisiting her childhood and the disappearance of her beloved sister, Fern. But as the book unfolds, it’s revealed that Fern was not a human child, but a chimpanzee, and the sisters and their brother were part of a bizarre experiment by their scientist parents to raise humans and chimps together. Based on true events, this heart-wrenching (I cried) and humorous story explores the meaning of family and the thin line that exists between humans and apes.
Feet in the Clouds: A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession
Under the category of “Mad dogs and Englishmen” this is the book that got me lacing up my running shoes again and committing to a half marathon. It’s part history of the uniquely British sport of fell-racing (running up and down mountains (fells) at impossible speeds) and the author’s introduction to the sport and his subsequent obsession with completing the illustrious “66 miles in 24 hours” Bob Graham Round. It’s funny, inspiring, and full of colorful, larger-than-life characters, plus it transported me to some of my favorite parts of the British Isles.
This is Your Life, Harriet Chance
I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon this book, but I’m glad I did. It’s sort of a cross between The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry as it follows the title character on her odyssey of self-discovery. After the death of her husband, Harriet’s children want to move her to a care facility, but Harriet is determined to go on the cruise her husband won but never got got to take. As she moves tentatively out her her small world, Harriet sees her whole life from a different angle, and it’s not always pretty. The story jumps in short chapters between 78-year-old Harriet and versions of her younger self. It’s funny, heart-warming, and thought-provoking.
I listened to the audiobook after seeing the movie, so I had the benefit of knowing what happens! And of course, the book trumps the movie, which is no small feat. I loved the humor the author brings to the main character and to the supporting cast. I also geeked out on the science and calculations he used to figure out how to rig his survival. Check out the story of how this book came about and how the author went from publishing chapters on his blog and being persuade by fans to self-publish a book, to catapulting to the top of the bestseller lists and the subsequent blockbuster movie.
So far, I have a short list of books to read in 2016. If you have a book you loved, please share it in the comments.
Happy 2016 and happy reading.