The Best of 2015 (So Far)

JUNE 30TH. Halfway through the year. Holy cats, when did that happen?

It's been a pretty fine reading year in these parts so far; though I had a few weeks of ho-hum reading, I found my groove in recent months and have found some real gems. In no particular order, the best of the best I've read so far this year:



The Book of Speculation, by Erika Swyler: Swyler's debut spans family secrets, circuses, tarot cards, magic (maybe?), curses (maybe?), and some damn fine writing. While I'm never much for "this book is a combination of X meets Y and does Z!" type descriptions, this reminded me of the best parts of Water for Elephants and The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, and the combination works.

Our Endless Numbered Days, by Claire Fuller: I never found the words to adequately review Fuller's novel, which centers on a father and his daughter who flee the end of the world for a cabin in the woods. My recommendation: read this as soon as you can get your hands on it, and read it knowing as little as possible about it going into it.

Saint Mazie, by Jami Attenberg: Saint Mazie is the story of Mazie Phillips-Gordon, cobbled together from scraps of her unpublished autobiography, journal, and interviews with those who knew her. Through this kaleidoscopic lens we see Mazie's life, lived in the ticket booth of the Manhattan movie theater where she worked, dedicated to quietly helping the streets of New York in its worst moments. "She had just lived a big life," Attenberg writes, "even though it was in this confined space. And when you live big you fall big."

The Shore, by Sara Taylor: Shannon's been talking about this book for what feels like ever, and what can I say? She's not wrong. The novel reads like a series of interconnected short stories, and true: it takes a little work to get the family tree sorted out at the beginning, which is necessary to making sense of the ending. But if you don't mind taking notes while you read, The Shore is smart and worth the effort, and proves to be a dark and violent tale of Southern life and family tensions and the lasting impact our decisions have on those around us.

The Star Side of Bird Hill, by Naomi Jackson: Jackson's novel moves between New York City and the West Indies as two sisters are sent from their mother in Brooklyn to live with their grandmother in Bird Hill. It's a big novel, full of heart and place and culture, never shying away from difficult subjects but finding some kind of hope nestled in the darkest of moments.

The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins: It's practically impossible to summarize this epic fantasy, so let me leave it at this: The Library at Mount Char is weird and strange and wonderful and did-I-mention-weird? and think-y. It requires a little bit of trust and a little bit of patience and if you go into it with both, it will prove a mindfuckery of a book in the best way possible.

The Fishermen, by Chigozie Obioma: Obioma's debut centers on four brothers and a prophecy that tears them apart. Told from the point of view of Benjamin, who witness these events when he was only nine years old, The Fishermen is tinged with the sadness of understanding one's youthful mistakes only from the vantage point of adulthood, when it is too late to change things. Obioma is a voice I'll be looking for more from in the future.

Terms of Service, by Jason Silverman: I've had more luck with fiction than non this year so far, but Silverman's account of social media and how it has impacted our culture today--complete with the price we pay in privacy in exchange for the use of these "free" social tools. Terms of Service is thoughtful and thought-provoking and well worth the read.

Trigger Warning, by Neil Gaiman: I came late to Gaiman's novels, starting with The Ocean at the End of the Lane (which I adored). This collection of "short fictions" is alternately fantastical and horrific--and sometimes both--and combines the best of what fans have come to expect from Gaiman's writing.

Little Black Lies, by Sharon Bolton: Those who know my reading habits may be surprised to find this here, as it falls outside my typical sweet spot for "favorite" reads. But I do love a good, suspenseful mystery when the mood suits, especially when said mystery is smart and makes me think. Little Black Lies is just that: weeks after finishing it, I'm still thinking over the questions Bolton raised about guilt versus grief and everything in between. It's haunting and creeping and set in the remote Falkland Islands and really quite excellent.

Backlist pick: Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell: I was late--way late--to the David Mitchell party, but I'm glad to have shown up at all. Cloud Atlas was challenging (it took me two months to read in full) in the best way possible, and I'm still marvelling at Mitchell's ability to pull together so many disparate threads of story into one cohesive, thought-provoking novel about life and belief and how we tell stories about ourselves and others.

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So far this year, I've read 64 books (about 21,000 pages in total). Of all of the 76 books I've picked up this year:

  • 7 are DNFs (5 are in progress)
  • 63% were written by female authors
  • 30% were by or about diverse populations
  • 22% were by non-US-born authors
  • 55 were published in 2014 or 2015
  • 40 were read as ARCs
  • Only 1 (one!) was a classic. And I didn't even finish it.
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How's your reading year so far? What are your favorites??


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19 comments

  1. So many great books and we're only halfway through! I'm reading Saint Mazie now and absolutely love it. Hope the rest of your reading year is just as good!

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  2. So many books that I want to read on this list! Happy to see Saint Mazie made the list - it just came in for me from the library and it's going to be one of my first reads in Michigan (going back yet again on Thursday). Sounds like a perfect travel novel.

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  3. I devoured (and adored!) Saint Mazie. So glad to hear you're loving it as well!

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  4. I read it on a train to/from NYC and it was a perfect travel novel! Totally captivating, but it's also told in small chunks of diaries, autobiographies, and interviews, so easy to find a breaking point without losing the stream of the story as travel things demand attention.

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  5. Great list! I've been seeing The Library at Mount Char and The Shore floating around quite a bit lately, will have to check them both out at some point. And Terms of Service looks like a very informative read.

    My TTT

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  6. Such a great list! Some are on my list as well and some are ones I'm interested in trying (Bird Hill, Fishermen).

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  7. I've heard so many good things about all of these books. The Book of Speculation will probably be my first read from this list. My list is over at my blog. :)

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  8. I've read 37 books so far this year. I haven't read any of these books, so I've added most of them to my list!

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  9. They are both so good! I hope you like them if (when?) you get to them ;-)

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  10. It's a pretty quick read--it moves along really fast once it gets going!

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  11. I hope you like what you pick up!

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  12. Terms of Service is interesting. I was surprised it didn't get more buzz when it came out earlier this year, but then, so many books and all that jazz...

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  13. I've heard so much about The Library at Mount Char, I can't wait to get my hands on the book. It sounds unique and a little out there. Was it long?

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  14. It is more than a little out there, but I didn't think that was a bad thing. My review goes up later this week. I think it was 400 or so pages, but it FLEW by; I read it in a few days because I couldn't put it down. Stayed up well past my bedtime and all that jazz.

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  15. I've been thinking a ton about the ideas in Terms of Service lately so it totally sounds like one I need to read!

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  16. Good books! I loved Saint Mazie, The Shore, and Our Endless Numbered Days. And I need to get my hands on Trigger Warning and The Library at Mount Char!

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  17. I'm finished off The Star Side of Bird Hill right now! Despite a bit of a slow start for me, it's really found its groove in the second half. My e-galley has a few weird formatting things, but I'm trying to not hold it against the story :) GREAT list, and a few newbie (to me) books to look into!

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  18. Emma @ Words And PeaceJune 30, 2015 at 9:42 PM

    Have not read any of these. Min is The Ravens, by Tomas Bannerhed

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  19. I'm a late arrival to Neil Gaiman's work too. I started with a children's book my daughters received, Blueberry Girl. I'll add Trigger Warning to my list (though "fantastical and horrific" stories are a little outside of my comfort zone). Thanks for the recommendation!

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