Thursday, January 7, 2016

My 10 Favorite Books of 2015

When I started deciding which books I would pick for my top ten I had to make a decision. Do I include re-reads? I decided that no, I wouldn't. Everyone knows I LOVE Harry Potter and that hasn't changed so I don't need to use 7 of my 10 for those books. (Or even one if I lumped them all together). There were a few re-reads this year that I absolutely loved including Princess Academy, The Hiding Place, And Then There Were None, The Da Vinci Code, the Fablehaven books, and Dracula but it was hard enough to narrow this list down to ten without adding all of those.
These books are then my favorite books I read for the first time in 2015. 

In order of when I read them:

1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

"On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood. Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared. It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard. So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.

The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini. In boyhood, he’d been a cunning and incorrigible delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails. As a teenager, he had channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics and within sight of the four-minute mile. But when war had come, the athlete had become an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, a tiny raft, and a drift into the unknown.

Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will."
 (blurb from Goodreads)

This was a full five star read for me. It was non fiction that read like fiction and I was so involved in the story. It taught me a lot about this time period that I didn't know. I shed lots of tears. It was inspiring, heartbreaking, and wonderful. 

2. A Fine Romance: Falling in love with the English Countryside by Susan Branch

"A thrilling ocean voyage on the Queen Mary 2 from New York City to Southampton culminating in a two-month ramble through the charming backroads and small villages of the pastoral English countryside in the spring of last year is the subject of this delicious travel journal that Susan has painstakingly hand-lettered and watercolored in the way many of us have grown to love over the years.
A Fine Romance is a work of art, part love story, part travel guide and all dream come true" 
(blurb from Goodreads)

I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads. I have read it once fully and flipped through it many times since then. I plan on reading it again before my trip to England in a few months. 
For a full review, write up, and to see more pictures of the inside of the book check out my post about it on Scones and Crackers here

3. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
(The Stormlight Archive #1)

"Speak again the ancient oaths,
Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.

and return to men the Shards they once bore.
The Knights Radiant must stand again.

Roshar is a world of stone swept by tempests that shape ecology and civilization. Animals and plants retract; cities are built in shelter. In centuries since ten orders of Knights fell, their Shardblade swords and Shardplate armor still transform men into near-invincible warriors. Wars are fought for them, and won by them.

In one such war on ruined Shattered Plains, slave Kaladin struggles to save his men and fathom leaders who deem them expendable, in senseless wars where ten armies fight separately against one foe.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Fascinated by ancient text The Way of Kings, troubled by visions of ancient times, he doubts his sanity.

Across the ocean, Shallan trains under eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece Jasnah. Though Shallan genuinely loves learning, she plans a daring theft. Her research hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war." 
(blurb from Goodreads)

I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads as well. It took me a few chapters to become engaged but then I was in and couldn't get out. This is epic fantasy at its finest. It has become one of my favorite fantasy books I have ever read and I am excited to continue on with the series this year. Two of the characters, Kaladin and Dalinar, have become two of my favorite fantasy characters of all time. 

4. The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks

   "Old world met new when a shepherd in the English Lake District impulsively started a Twitter account. A routine cell phone upgrade left author James Rebanks with a pretty decent camera and a pre-loaded Twitter app--the tools to share his way of life with the world. And what began as a tentative experiment became an international phenomenon.
James has worked the land for years, as did his father, and his father before him. His family has lived and farmed in the Lake District of Northern England as long as there have been written records (since 1420) and possibly much longer. And while the land itself has inspired great poets and authors we have rarely heard from the people who tend it. One Twitter account has changed all that, and now James Rebanks has broken free of the 140-character limit and produced "the book I have wanted to write my whole life." A Shepherd's Life is a memoir about growing up amidst a magical, storied landscape, of coming of age in the 1980s and 1990s among hills that seem timeless, and yet suffused with history. Broken into the four seasons, the book chronicles the author's daily experiences at work with his flock and brings alive his family and their ancient way of life, which at times can seem irreconcilable with the modern world.
     An astonishing original work, A Shepherd's Life is an intimate look from inside a seemingly ordinary life, one that celebrates the meaning of place, the ties of family to the land around them, and the beauty of the past. It is the untold story of the Lake District, of a people who exist and endure out of sight in the midst of the most iconic literary landscape in the world."
(blurb from Goodreads)

This is another book that I have done a full review of on Scones and Crackers and if you want to know just how much I loved it check that out here.  
Basically this book was a surprise for me. I picked it up on a whim after seeing it in a book haul on a YouTube video and ended up loving it so much. It is so interesting and taught me so much about the life of a shepherd. I gave it four stars on Goodreads. 

5. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

 "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a powerful and sometimes violent novel of expectation, love, oppression, sin, religion and betrayal. It portrays the disintegration of the marriage of Helen Huntingdon, the mysterious tenant of the title, and her dissolute, alcoholic husband. Defying convention, Helen leaves her husband to protect their young son from his father's influence, and earns her own living as an artist. Whilst in hiding at Wildfell Hall, she encounters Gilbert Markham, who falls in love with her. On its first publication in 1848, Anne Brontë's second novel was criticised for being 'coarse' and 'brutal'. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall challenges the social conventions of the early nineteenth century in a strong defence of women's rights in the face of psychological abuse from their husbands."
(blurb from Amazon)

This was a four star read for me. I have talked about it twice on Scones and Crackers so you can check those out here and here.  
It is a great book that gives you a lot to think about, especially when you think about the time period and social norms of when it was written. 

6. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

"Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. The first of his works set in Wessex, Hardy's novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with his evocative descriptions of rural life and landscapes, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships."
(blurb from Goodreads)

This was another four star read. I really loved it. I felt like I really knew the characters. I love Gabriel Oak. I found myself frustrated with Bathsheba and wishing she could see what I could see! 

7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

"Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature's hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein."
 (blurb from Goodreads)

I did a very thorough review of this book on Scones and Crackers right after reading it. Check that out here.   This was another book that took a while for me to get into and I wasn't sure at first if I was going to like it. Then it turned into one of my favorites. It is a spectacular piece of work and gives you so much to think about. Four stars. 

8. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein

"Kyle Keeley is the class clown, popular with most kids, (if not the teachers), and an ardent fan of all games: board games, word games, and particularly video games. His hero, Luigi Lemoncello, the most notorious and creative gamemaker in the world, just so happens to be the genius behind the building of the new town library.

Lucky Kyle wins a coveted spot to be one of the first 12 kids in the library for an overnight of fun, food, and lots and lots of games. But when morning comes, the doors remain locked. Kyle and the other winners must solve every clue and every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route. And the stakes are very high."
(blurb from Goodreads)

I went back and forth on whether this would make the top ten over a few of my other favorite reads but I decided to add it because of the fact that I really enjoyed it and knew that if I had read it when I was 8-12 it would have been one of my all time favorite books. I told Abigail that she would like it and she breezed through it in two days and said she loved it as much as Harry Potter. It has opened an entire genre of middle grade scavenger hunt/ mystery type books to her because she loved it so much. And for that it makes my top ten. 

9. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

"Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise — she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.

Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.

As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story.

Both women will have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets... and the ghosts that haunt them still."
(blurb from Goodreads)

This was a full five stars for me. I listened to this from Audible but I immediately ordered a physical copy as soon as I was done because now I want the experience of reading it and seeing it on my shelves. It is such a wonderful story. It was published in 2006 but feels like a classic and a peer to the Brontes. I loved every minute of this story through all of its twists and turns. I am very interested in reading more from this author now. 

10) The Fairy Tale Girl by Susan Branch

" Based on the diaries Susan Branch has kept since she was in her twenties, The Fairy Tale Girl is an illustrated memoir, designed in Susan's trademark style with original watercolors and personal photographs. The Fairy Tale Girl is an ages-old story of youth, innocence, love (and loss), grief, discovery, friendship, and magic that begins in a geranium-colored house in California and ends up, like any good fairy tale, on the right side of the rabbit hole. As we've heard so many times, it's not the destination, it's the journey."
(blurb from Goodreads)

 I read this book in ONE day. And it isn't small. I opened it on Christmas morning and had finished it before I went to bed that night. I loved it so much. It is no secret that I love Susan Branch and her art work and it was so interesting to find out about her early life. She presents her history in such an interesting and beautiful way. I can NOT wait for the next one to come out. Five stars. 

There you have it! My ten favorite reads this past year. I feel like I have to briefly mention five more books because I almost made it a top fifteen. It was so hard to leave these five books off of the list but I decided that I could keep it at top ten if I at least mentioned my five honorable mentions. 
They are: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, The Fellowhip: Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip and Carol Zaleski, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, The Brontes: Wild Genius on the Moors by Juliet Barker, and Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien. These books were all four to five stars.
There were a lot of books I really enjoyed this year but these ten (or fifteen) were definitely the best of the best. 
*What are your favorite books of 2015? 
*Would you be interested in a post about my least favorite books?


The Kings said...

Good selections! I have only read two of those you showed! Glad you enjoyed your reading!

cheryl said...