Books

2015: A year in reading

(*) = a pick for top 10 of 2015

January

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

The Fever by Megan Abbott

Shopaholic to the Stars  by Sophie Kinsella

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner

I’m just getting my bearings working at the new library that opens in Halifax. An almost hour-long commute on the bus means plenty of time to read and so I devour novels like light snacks. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night lives up to the Giller-prize hype and I find myself wishing I hadn’t put it off for so long, O’Neill’s first book Lullabies for Little Criminals still echoing in my mind from years ago. From there I pick up another much talked about novel The Paying Guests which is equally as good about a woman who falls in love with her married tenant and the tragedy that results from their affair. There’s something about affair story lines that always intrigue me, keep pulling me back for more, the ultimate question of happiness and fidelity never gets old. Landline was my first taste of Rowell which was surprisingly grounded considering the outlandish premise (a woman finds a way to talk to a past-version of her husband from a rotary phone in her childhood bedroom… I know, right?) and I thoroughly enjoy it the way you might enjoy a jelly-filled doughnut, which if you’re me, is immensely. I’ve already forgotten the newest Shopaholic book and what it was about, ditto the Weiner. Both are just filler, but fun filler, if you know what I mean. The Fever starts out strong but devolves half-way through.

 

February

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

The Mime Order (The Bone Season, #2) by Samantha Shannon

The Diviners (The Diviners, #1) by Libba Bray

Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter

Paper Towns by John Green

My first non-fiction in I don’t know how long is heavy (430 pages heavy) but like watching Tom Cruise bounce on Oprah’s couch—distasteful but impossible to look away. Going Clear tells you everything you ever were curious to know about Scientology plus a lot more you maybe wish you didn’t. After all that, I need something I know I’ll enjoy so I pick up the new installment in a great fantasy series that I really love—The Mime Order. It’s every bit as exciting as I thought it would be. Which gives me a taste for YA-skewed fantasy so I go for Bray’s book which I’ve seen around for ages but never actually got my hands on. Then it’s just downhill from there. Kidding, Ugly Girls is good (though honestly not that memorable) and Paper Towns… is well, everywhere.

 

March

When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey

The Appetites of Girls by Pamela Moses

I start with one of CBC Canada Reads recommended books but really can’t enjoy it to be honest, not my cuppa tea. Which makes me want to skew back to familiar territory with Solnit’s book of fantastic essays. I enjoy Everything I Never Told You even with the sad lack of tension in what appears to be a mystery, it doesn’t grab me in the way I need it to. The Appetites of Girls is better, the way friendship through the ages always is but for all its hype I get my first flop of the year in Nobody is Ever Missing. I really dislike the writing style and the story is one long stream of consciousness run-on sentence that I have to force myself to stick with. If I wasn’t going for a reading goal this year I would have ditched this 1/4 through. It feels gimmicky and insincere.

 

April

The Walking Dead vols. 16-22 by Robert Kirkman

Outline by Rachel Cusk

In April I remember that I should catch up on The Walking Dead, so I do, furiously. I’ll never understand people who only watch the show or movie and neglect the comic or book—there’s so much more in pages than on screens, and when you put the two together, even how they differ just fills up the empty space. I’ve heard good things about Outline but I end up hating it. If we’re judging books on technicality then yes, it’s well-written but nothing about it catches and holds on to me, it’s like sitting through a lecture for a class you have no interest in passing. Its title feels so spot-on, for me, there is nothing but hollowness in the middle.

 

May

The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman

Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn

The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum

Mouthful of Forevers by Clementine von Radics (*)

Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth

I write about most of these and some from June in Read my list: books for your next beach trip in The Coast. All around a great month for reading, The Country of Ice Cream Star is a stand-out, and I fall into poetry again. Clementine von Radics is the kind of poet that fans tattoo lines onto their bodies for—she gets under your skin—while Tamblyn proves people still underestimate her.

 

June

The Opening Sky by Joan Thomas

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Skin Cleanse: The Simple, All-Natural Program for Clear, Calm, Happy Skin by Adina Grigore

Still No Word by Shannon Webb-Campbell (*)

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda

Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas

Maybe I have more time in the summer, I’m not sure, but I pound back books like shots. The Opening Sky is another broken family novel (I do so love those) this time following a teenage couple that gets pregnant which just drives their families further apart. The Girl on the Train is a bestseller for good reason, hard to put down but ultimately a bit of a let-down climatically. Still No Word (read my review at The Coast) by a local poet and acquaintance of mine makes it on my year-end list and Mother, Mother is so much better than I thought it would be, more credit due to the fact that it ends up standing up against most of what I read this year, but who would have known that in the summer. It’s about an over-bearing abusive mother and the three children and husband who manage to survive her.

 

July

Second Life: A Novel by S.J. Watson

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (*)

The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty by Amanda Filipacchi

Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

The Walking Dead, Vol. 23: Whispers Into Screams by Robert Kirkman

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume (*)

I get married at the end of the month, surprisingly these books aren’t a blur. When I’m looking forward to something I’m more focused than usual. Second Life is a decent mystery about a woman whose sister dies and she tries to unravel the reason why—not great, but solid. Eight Hundred Grapes (read my review at The Coast) is light but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have heft. It’s a fun read all the way through about the choices we make, tradition and inheritance. I really loved it, and I guess it’s being turned into a movie so that’s even better. Hopefully they don’t ruin the magic. The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty is so weird. So so weird. But highly enjoyable regardless. A group of artist friends deal with the suicide of one of their own while each also wrestles with their own demons. One character is so beautiful she wears a costume to appear ugly just to live an uninterrupted life while another learns to control emotion with music. Perhaps one of the most original stories I’ve ever read. Love May Fail is OK. Nothing special. In The Unlikely Event (read my review at The Coast) is ambitious and Blume rises to the occasion.

 

August

Wake The Stone Man by Carol McDougall

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay

Beyond The Pale by Emily Urquhart

His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay (*)

The Bones Below and New Shoes On A Dead Horse by Sierra DeMulder

The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson

Wake The Stone Man (read my review at Atlantic Books Today) is informative and interesting but lacking something to really make me love it. I liked it quite a bit but it didn’t get to the heart of me. Luckiest Girl Alive lives up to the hype, a tense quick read the exposes the underbelly of high school, cliques and things that happen to us that we can’t forget and really shouldn’t. I really enjoyed it. Following up with Sarah Kay’s fantastic book of poems No Matter the Wreckage. She is one of the most talented slam poets I’ve ever heard. I love her and especially this poem “If I Had a Daughter.” I picked up the memoir Beyond the Pale after reading a review somewhere that raved about it. Emily Urquhart talks about her experience raising a daughter with albinism and the different mythical stories she discovered about the condition as well as some horrible tragedies happening the world over to people who have it. Really really good. Sad. Intriguing. His Whole Life (read my review at The Coast) was just fantastic. Perhaps my favourite book of the year. Hard to tell. It definitely made my year-end list. Elizabeth Hay always astounds me. The two books of poetry by Sierra DeMulder were also great, another talented slam poet. My favourite poem of hers is this one “The Unrequited Love Poem.” (“My body is a dead language/and you pronounce each word perfectly”). Check her out, she’s the real deal. I summed up the month with a return to Sci-Fi, I can’t help it, I just adore dystopian futures. The Affinities is one where people can take a personality test that allows them access to clubs of people exactly suited to them. It’s about looking for purpose, belonging, and what happens when you get it. (Not always good things…)

 

September

The Summer of Good Intentions by Wendy Francis

Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner

The First Husband by Laura Dave

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (*)

Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight by M.E. Thomas

I take a break in September and read three light novels in a row that are all mediocre before I settle in for Between the World and Me (read my review at The Coast) it deserves all the accolades it’s getting. A really vital read. Of course then I follow it up with the least vital read, a memoir that is passable at best.

 

October

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (*)

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Back to fiction in the Fall. I’m not sure why this was such a lean month, maybe because I was devoting all my time to creating the perfect Gamora costume for Halloween. Another year-end top fiver, Fates and Furies (read my review at The Coast) is so good I can’t stop talking about it to anyone who will listen. Read this book, you will not regret it. I was so looking forward to reading Mindy Kaling’s newest memoir, I think she’s just the funniest, but it really let me down. Why Not Me? feels hurried, it just doesn’t carry the same spark her first one did.

 

November

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes (*)

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

How to Be a Grown-up by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

I am a huge Margaret Atwood fan, however her newest novel The Heart Goes Last was lacking something special for me, it just didn’t do it… whatever “it” is that she usually does. I think it just fell a little flat, it was supposed to be a mystery but there was very little suspense. I didn’t care about any of the characters either. It was alright, but Atwood carries the weight of her career, no one wants to bother with an average Atwood novel. Barbara the Slut and Other People (read my review at The Coast, and on the blog) more than made up for it though. I could write more about this book of stories but I’ve used up enough time. It’s good. Read it. I had heard good things about Spinster but I ended up suffering through it slowly and painfully, barely made it to the end without clawing my eyes out. I’d rather read a textbook tbh. Big Magic (read my review at The Coast) was so so surprising to me. I have enjoyed Gilbert’s books in the past but who knew she could light such a fire under me. If you’re struggling with writers block or finding your creative purpose read this book, it does something to you, lights a match. How to Start a Fire and How to Be a Grown-Up were both really enjoyable, both sort of about finding your way when you’re in your 30s or 40s and still looking. All three authors are ones I’ve loved for a long while, so no surprise there. Ended the month with Seating Arrangements which got a lot of critical acclaim in 2012 and that I never felt like picking up but ended up really fully enjoying. But again, anything with a dysfunctional family, throw in a wedding, romantic disputes, an aging patriarch going through a mid-life crisis and I’m on board.

 

December

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike, #3) by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) (*)

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida (*)

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

It just didn’t feel like the holidays this year. From above average temperatures (it felt like the first day of Fall on Dec 25) to just a general lack of spirit, I escaped to fictional worlds. The newest Cormoran Strike book Career of Evil (read my review at The Coast) really blew me away which was so surprising because while I really liked the first two books, they weren’t something I would rave about really. This one though, hoo boy. The same with The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty (read my review at The Coast) which was so great, but in a totally different way. More of a literary mystery, instead of a genre mystery. Both ended up on my year-end list though. Then I fell backwards into Rainbow Rowell’s world and I may never get back up. I had enjoyed Landline back in January so much that I decided to try some of her YA books, and Carry On was just sitting there on the new releases rack waiting for me. At first I thought it was pulling a little too heavily from Harry Potter but about 1/4 of the way in it really won me over. The love story was so unexpected and sweet, although, if I had read things in order it wouldn’t have been nearly as unexpected. Fangirl is about a college student that writes fan fiction about a fictional series like Harry Potter in the novel, Carry On is basically the fan fiction she’s writing in the first book, only Rowell says it’s not, it’s a totally separate thing. Not sure why she would give it the same title if it wasn’t though. Anyway, both really really good, easy, light, happy reads. I ended the year on kind of a low note with The Opposite of Loneliness, a book of stories and essays by an author taken entirely before her time, only 5 days after graduating from Yale with a promising future ahead of her, Marina Keegan died in a car crash. Her last essay, the titular The Opposite of Loneliness that was published in the Yale Daily News went viral and touched a lot of people. This posthumous collection is really very good, obviously reflecting her burgeoning talent and the promise of a long and interesting career that she would have had.

 

All in, I read 68 books total. Blew past my goal of 52 books in 2015 and there were so many good ones. One of the best years in reading so far.

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