My Favorite Books of 2015

Wow! It’s been a while since I’ve done this. It’s been so long, I had to reread my old posts to see how I usually start these things. But I decided since this is a new year (and I have some impressive down time at work), it was time to come back full-force, and as you can see, with a makeover.

To be brief, I’ve decided to change venues for my blog (moving from my four-year-old blogspot to a brand-new wordpress), because if I want to keep this going for the long haul, I want to do it on a platform that offers room to grow. I wanted this blog to mature as I have. Thus, welcome to my WordPress! Now, with that settled, onto today’s topic…

I may not have done a ton of blogging in 2015, but you know what I did do consistently? Read. Yes, I was an English-major and yes, I’ve always loved to read, but I reached record highs this year: 72 books this year! I haven’t read that many books since 2008 (which I know since I’ve kept track of every book I’ve read since 2005). And not only did I read a lot, but I read good books — books with interesting premises, complex characters, sentences that made me sigh with envy. If only I had thought to put those words in that order! 

As an avid reader, I find myself constantly asked for book recommendations. What have I read? What might so-and-so like? So, I have compiled a list of my favorite books I’ve read this year, with hopes that maybe you’ll find another book to add to your undoubtedly long must-read list.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I didn’t number this list as not to be biased (you like books for different reasons and so forth), but Station Eleven might just be the best book I’ve read in a long, long time. It starts on a cold winter’s night, as famous actor Arthur Leander has a heart-attack on stage during a performance of King Lear. Unbeknownst to him, the audience and the rest of the world, this night is the eve of a viral outbreak that will devastate the world’s population. Soon, there will only be handfuls of people left.

Despite the very post-apocalyptic tones, Station Eleven is more a character piece, jumping through time from Arthur’s fledgling actor days to a post-outbreak Shakespearean performance troupe traveling the Great Lake region to add a little more joy to this hollow, broken new world. The novel studies everyone from Leander’s first wife to the paramedic on hand during his heart attack to the young actress who played his daughter the night of his heart attack, doing less to piece together to life of one man and more to reflect how our lives and the lives that surround us can change course by the slightest interaction with one another. Beautifully written, engaging, and surprisingly hopeful, I wished I could have read this book forever.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

 

It is no surprise that I fell head-over-heels in love with Mindy Kaling’s new collection of essays, Why Not Me? Since the last time we’ve read her writing, a lot has changed for Mindy Kaling. She’s a household name. She is the executive producer and star of her own television show. She’s dated someone in the White House. But she’s still our girl, taking each step of her busy and now iconic life with the same qualms and quips as we all do.

What I love about Mindy’s writing is that it always comes to me in a time where I need some comfort and she knows just what to say. Making adult friends. Only having so many hours in a day. Adjusting to LA. For me, sometimes, it feels like she’s writing just for me. Her writing is that personal and easy to relate to. You’ll find yourself laughing when she talks about her brief experience as a sorority girl and how she’s dealt with (minor, as she says) fame; root for her to make it with her White House hottie; and get a little teary when she talks about losing her, and her complicated relationship with her best friend and soup snake, BJ Novak. It’s a dream for anyone who loved her first collection or loves her in general.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Should you pick up this book, don’t let the bright colors and cute fonts fool you. You’re in for a doozy. Me Before You is the story of Louisa Clark, recently unemployed with a family that desperately needs her wages. She soon finds a position as the caretaker of Will Traynor, a 30-year-old active adventure paralyzed in a car accident. Despite Louisa’s uncertainties and Will’s pessimism, the two strike a friendship, which inspires Louisa to show Will all the ways he can still be himself in the world.

As you can tell, this story felt very personal to me; Louisa’s early fumbling around Will felt eerily similar to my first interactions with my cousin Matt in the hospital after his accident. The story had a lot of heart and unexpected depth, with the two main characters anchoring this story that, at the root of it all, is about finding yourself no matter what age. And make sure you check it out soon, because the film adaption, starring Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke and The Hunger Games‘ Sam Claflin, comes out June 3rd.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Another book heading to the big screen, though not until 2017, is Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. The year is 2044, and our hero Wade Watts is one of the millions of people who spends his life in OASIS, a virtual reality developed by the genius, Howard Hughes-type billionaire, James Halliday. Years before, when Halliday passed away, he promised his wealth, and control of OASIS, to the gamer who could solve his three-clue quest that takes place all around his expansive virtual world. Until this point, leads have dried up and many have lost interest, but when Wade, a devotee to the quest, solves the first little and gets on the game board, he has changed the course of his world forever.

What’s incredible about this sci-fi adventure is its pop cultural references. Halliday was a child of the 80s, so Wade’s journey is entrenched in nods to John Hughes, Star WarsSchoolhouse Rock! and traditional video games like Pac-Man and Joust. The 80s/90s nostalgia strong today seeps into the narrative of this book, which contributes to what makes it such a fun, edge-of-your-seat read. And if that isn’t enough to get you interested, Steven Spielberg is helming the film adaption.

Paper Towns by John Green

Confession: Until this year, I had not read another John Green book except for The Fault in our Stars. I was so overwhelmed with the love story of Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster that I didn’t think I was another John Green novel for a VERY. LONG. TIME. But then the Paper Towns movie was announced and you have to love Nat Wolff, so I gave it a go. And I was certainly not disappointed.

Paper Towns is Green’s quintessential high school story like The Fault in Our Stars was the quintessential young love story. Paper Towns focuses on Q, an under-the-radar high school senior who knows one thing to be true: he is in love with his adventurous, exquisite neighbor, Margo Roth Spiegelman. Despite running in a completely different social circle, Margo sneaks into his bedroom one night and takes him on a wild night of debauchery and revenge, only for her to disappear by next day’s light. The novel is high school story slash mystery, with one of the most epic and hilarious road trip sequences I’ve ever read. This novel has a lot of humor and heart, and it makes you wish you could hang out with Q , and his friends, Ben and Radar.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

This beautiful gemstone of a novel is the kind of classic, old-time-movie story that is hard not to fall in love with. In the 1950s, a young Hollywood actress Dee Moray, fresh from the set of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s Cleopatra, arrives to a small resort on the Italian island of Porto Vergogna, owned by young and wide-eyed Pasquale Tursi. Fifty-odd years later, Tursi appears in front of famous Hollywood producer Michael Deane and his disillusioned assistant Claire Silver, seeking to find out what became of Dee Moray.

That old Hollywood magic that makes us go back to movies like Casablanca and Breakfast at Tiffany’s is strong in this book. Yet Walter doesn’t shy away from the political side of Hollywood or the somewhat-puzzling choices in movie-making today. As a film buff, I loved it, but it was more than a story about the movies. It was a love story, a lighthearted mystery, a story of redemption. Each character was so rich with dreams and disappointments and dwindling hope, you find yourself swept up in the adventure as much as any one of them. I truly believe anyone can find something to love in this story.

The Silkworm/Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: If you’re a mystery buff, you need to start reading the cases of Cormoran Strike, the rock star’s son and war hero turned private investigator in London. I had the chance to read the second and third iterations in the series, The Silkworm and Career of Evil, and can honestly say they’re not like your run-of-the-mill mystery series. I love my Alex Cross novels as much as the next Patterson buff, but what this series has is an elegance of language and complexity of story that only Galbraith (pseudonym for Harry Potter‘s J.K. Rowling) could give you. With each novel, you get deeper into who the main characters, Strike and his highly-competent and eager assistant Robin Ellacott, are and why they’re driven to this shady life of investigating.

The Silkworm focuses on the disappearance of writer Owen Quine, who’s recently leaked manuscript holds thinly-veiled caricatures of heavy-hitters in the literary scene, sending the whole community on edge. But as to be expected, the scandalous manuscript is only half the story. Career of Evil starts with Strike and Robin receiving a severed leg in the mail, requiring Strike to dig into his past to see who is taunting him and his partner. For its basis in the literary world, I’m a little more partial to The Silkworm, but pick up either one and you won’t be disappointed.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project is definitely one of those feel-good, rom-com-type novels that makes you laugh and smile all the way through. Genetics professor Don Tillman prides himself on living an organized and efficient life, but he realizes he’s missing one thing: female companionship. Despite having all the qualities he believes makes him a good mate, he struggles to connect. So, he devises a survey (The Wife Project) believing the woman who answers everything correctly will be his perfect match.

Then, he meets Rosie. He quickly rules her out as a potential mate, but agrees to help her find her biological father (The Father Project). Despite their differences, they find strengths in each other to help with their respective projects and an unlikely friendship starts to form. A great beach read, I found myself laughing out loud. The strength of the novel comes from Don’s narration — awkward, inept at reading social cues and completely oblivious as he is, I found myself shaking my head with a smile as Rosie shows Don there’s more to the world than the structure he’s given it.

 

Phew! That was a long one. But who doesn’t love the opportunity to meet new people, go new places, all from the comfort of your own bed/couch/nook/beach chair? That’s the best thing about reading. You can escape to a whole new place, live a whole new life, just for a little bit. I truly believe we live in a great age of storytelling — there is always a new story to tap into.

Don’t see anything that interests you? You’re in luck! I’ll (try to) review every book I read here on my blog, so there will be even more recommendations with the . Wow, this is fun! It’s good to be back.

Until Next Time,
Casey Brown | Gal about Town

 

(Image via Flickr user Horia Varlan / CC BY 2.0)

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3 thoughts on “My Favorite Books of 2015

  1. yunalesca10 says:

    I read Station Eleven and seriously struggled with my feelings for it. I’m hoping to write a review for it myself soon, but trying to be vague so I don’t spoil people, the stuff that’s on the back cover of the book was by far my least favorite part of the book, which left me with some uneven pacing issues because I liked two parts of the book but hated that third pesky plotline!

    • caseymbrown4 says:

      Yeah, I totally understand that. But I loved the premise and how as the novel went on, you saw the little ways people connected and influenced each other. And there were so many sentences that haunted me as I read. All those things were beautiful to me and outweighed the other stuff.

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