Sunday, 3 January 2016

My Favourite Books of 2015

Whenever the New Year comes around, I always set myself a reading goal of 52 books in the year on the Goodreads Reading Challenge. 2015 proved an excellent year for beating this challenge. I read a total of 63 books and over 20,000 pages in the year, and I discovered a whole load of new favourites too!
And now the time has come to reset the reading challenge for a new year, and to choose my favourite reads of the past 12 months. Choosing just ten favourites out of 63 potentials has been a particularly difficult task this year, and these are not really in any particular order, apart from, perhaps, the first three in the list, which really did stand out above all the rest.
But without further delay, here are my favourite reads of 2015!

All the Bright Places
by Jennifer Niven

Publisher: Penguin
Release date: 8th January 2015
Book Depository | Goodreads
Read my review

Goodreads synopsis:
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister's recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it's unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the 'natural wonders' of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It's only with Violet that Finch can be himself - a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who's not such a freak after all. And it's only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet's world grows, Finch's begins to shrink.

This is, without a doubt, my absolute favourite read of 2015! I loved it so much that I read it twice; once in February, and again in October. Reading it again so soon definitely didn't take anything away from the reading experience, but I think I actually enjoyed it even more the second time (despite being prematurely emotional, thanks to knowing what was about to happen the whole way through). My copy of the book (signed after meeting the beautiful and seriously lovely author) has so many tabbed pages from pages I adore, beautiful quotes and sections I personally relate to that it looks as though I've just gone through and highlighted the whole book.
I know it won't be long before I'm reading this for the third time. If you've not read it yet ... stop what you're doing and go pick it up right now. This is a book that definitely deserves every ounce of hype.

Reasons To Stay Alive
by Matt Haig
Publisher: Canongate Books
Release date: 5th March 2015
Book Depository | Goodreads

Goodreads synopsis:
I want life. I want to read it and write it and feel it and live it. I want, for as much of the time as possible in this blink-of-an-eye existence we have, to feel all that can be felt. I hate depression. I am scared of it. Terrified, in fact. But at the same time, it has made me who I am. And if - for me - it is the price of feeling life, it's a price always worth paying.

Reasons to Stay Alive is about making the most of your time on earth. In the western world the suicide rate is highest amongst men under the age of 35. Matt Haig could have added to that statistic when, aged 24, he found himself staring at a cliff-edge about to jump off. This is the story of why he didn't, how he recovered and learned to live with anxiety and depression. It's also an upbeat, joyous and very funny exploration of how live better, love better, read better and feel more.

The only non-fiction book to make the list is probably one of the most important books published so far this century. Like Matt, I don't usually 'go' for the self-help genre – I just don't ever find them particularly helpful. But Reasons To Stay Alive is an entirely different story. It's a self-help book that helps without explicitly trying to help. Here Matt tells the story of his own struggles with mental health – depression, anxiety, panic disorder etc – how he came to find himself in a dark place, how he found his way back into the light and how he has learned to live with and manage mental health even now, over a decade later.
Although everyone's experience of mental health problems are different, Matt's writing about his own experiences still resonated with me, as I know it has with other readers, and it is somehow comforting to hear it put into such precise and beautiful words.
This is the Waterstones Book of the Month for January, and deservedly so. If you're in the UK and have yet to read this (whether you've suffered from mental health problems or not) you need to get yourself a copy.

The Throne of Glass series (so far)
by Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Latest release date: 1st September 2015
Book Depository | Goodreads

Goodreads synopsis (Throne of Glass):
Meet Celaena Sardothien.
Beautiful. Deadly.
Destined for greatness.

In the dark, filthy salt mines of Endovier, an eighteen-year-old girl is serving a life sentence. She is a trained assassin, the best of her kind, but she made a fatal mistake: she got caught.

Young Captain Westfall offers her a deal: her freedom in return for one huge sacrifice. Celaena must represent the prince in a to-the-death tournament—fighting the most gifted thieves and assassins in the land. Live or die, Celaena will be free. Win or lose, she is about to discover her true destiny. But will her assassin’s heart be melted?

I first read Throne of Glass in 2012, shortly before its UK release, and adored it. So I'm not sure why it took another three years for me to continue with the series. I am, however, glad that I didn't have to wait between each book. I binge-read all four books in a little under three weeks (over 2000 pages!), and wow, wow, WOW it blew my mind.
I hardly ever encounter such a richly painted fantasy world, especially one that I have been so reluctant to leave. And the characters that inhabit the world are so complex that they walk straight off the page – especially the 'leading lady' (a term I think she may be fond of), Celaena, who is described in reviews as a hero, though I think she is much more of an anti-hero for the majority of the series so far. But she's incredible. If I could choose a fictional character to befriend in real life, it would almost certainly be her. I can't wait for the fifth book to be released later this year ... it will be pre-ordered as soon as it is physically possible to do so.

Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline
Publisher: Arrow Books
Release date: 5th April 2012
Book Depository | Goodreads

Goodreads synopsis:
It's the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We're out of oil. We've wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread. Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS - and his massive fortune - will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation. For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle.Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real-world dimensions - and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.

And on the subject of richly painted worlds, Ready Player One is another of those rare gems, except in a futuristic, science-fiction, gaming platform kind of a setting. Never has so much INFORMATION been packed into one novel without it being tedious. On the contrary (I've always wanted to use that phrase!), it instead builds the world and drags reader even deeper into it. There are A LOT of references to 80s pop culture, especially games, films and the odd bit of music and literature, and as I was born at the beginning of the 90s, a lot of these references passed me by, but that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book at all, it just added to the vibrancy of the story.
I love the virtual reality element of this story, and how the virtual and real wove so tightly together. Amazing book and I can't wait to read more of Ernest Cline's stuff (Armada is already on my shelves waiting for my attention!).

The Marvels
by Brian Selznick
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release date: 15th September 2015
Book Depository | Goodreads

Goodreads synopsis:
Two seemingly unrelated stories--one in words, the other in pictures--come together. The illustrated story begins in 1766 with Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck, and charts the adventures of his family of actors over five generations. The prose story opens in 1990 and follows Joseph, who has run away from school to an estranged uncle's puzzling house in London, where he, along with the reader, must piece together many mysteries.
Brian Selznick is one of those authors that I am so totally in love with that I will now pick up and read his books without needing to look at what the book is about. I pre-ordered this as soon as I could, and read it the moment it dropped through my door, I was so excited about new Brian! And I was certainly not disappointed! This has the same kind of magic that Hugo has, the same cinematic feeling and heartwarming atmosphere.
Unlike Hugo, The Marvels is split into two parts: the first part of the story, the historical story, is told entirely through illustrations (although there is the odd newspaper article or letter dotted throughout, which gives a little more context and those all-important character names), and the second part is all in prose.
The Marvels was everything I was hoping it would be and more. I will definitely be re-reading this one at some point soon.

A Court of Thorns and Roses
by Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release date: 5th May 2015
Book Depository | Goodreads

Goodreads synopsis:
Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price.

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.

And already we're back to Sarah J. Maas! She really is dominating this favourites list, and with really good reason. She's one of the best fantasy authors I've ever read, and certainly one of the best at world building. Her worlds and characters are all so rich and tangible, I just can't help but want to live in them for as long as possible. A Court of Thorns and Roses immerses us in a world split in two, one part taken by the human population, and the other, considerably larger chunk is inhabited by the fae, a brutal race of supernatural beings.
I am SO EXCITED about the sequel to this one, A Court of Mist and Fury, which is out on 5th May this year.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
by Neil Gaiman
Publisher: Headline
Release date: 18th June 2013
Book Depository | Goodreads

Goodreads synopsis:
Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

Like Brian Selznick, Neil Gaiman is another author I will pick up and read without knowing what the book is about – I've loved his other books so much that I can trust he will entertain me every time. So when I started reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane I had no idea what it was going to be about, apart from, apparently, an ocean situated at the end of a lane.
As it turns out, that's what it was about, although not an ocean as you or I would know it.
In typical Gaiman style, this book was full of strange happenings and magic, plenty of quirky characters and a really beautiful atmosphere. I adored every second.

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett
Publisher: Penguin
Release date: 5th June 2010
Book Depository | Goodreads

Goodreads synopsis:
Three ordinary women are about to take one extraordinary step.

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen's best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody's business, but she can't mind her tongue, so she's lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

The Help is quite different from everything else I read this year. It's historical fiction (albeit fairly recent historical fiction), set in the 1960s in Mississippi, where segregation is still very much still present. People of colour are still employed to serve wealthier white families, and they are still treated badly by those employers. But this is the story of a blossoming relationship between Skeeter – a young wannabe journalist – and the help of the families in her social circles. Despite the danger it puts them in, they come together to write the stories of the women whose job it is to serve and care for those who often care so little for them.
I expected this to be a much more difficult read than it was. I'm not saying that the topics touched on were not hard-hitting because a lot of them certainly were, but the way the women's stories were written was refreshing and relatable. I fell in love with each of the women in turn, and I would definitely want to visit them over and over again.

The Miss Peregrine's Children Trilogy
by Ransom Riggs
Publisher: Quirk Books
Latest release date: 22nd September 2015
Book Depository | Goodreads
My Review

Goodreads synopsis:
A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.

A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

I fell so in love with this trilogy that I ended up reading all three almost back-to-back (with only a short break to read a book club book). The first book, as I said in my review, was not quite what I had expected it to be, and I wished that it had gotten to the peculiar children a little quicker than it did, but once I was with the children and being introduced to their world, I was off.
Each book in this trilogy is punctuated with curious and strange photograph, such as those featured on the covers, and in the back of each book there is a list of each photograph and the collection it came from, and it's stressed that the photos are real, which is really incredible, especially considering their age and some of the illusions they show. I have no idea how Ransom managed to string such an incredible story together from these photos ... I'm simply in awe of him for it ... but string it together he did, and in such a magical way. I really highly recommend this trilogy, especially if you love things that are a little bit ... well, peculiar.

by Noelle Stevenson
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: 12th May 2015
Book Depository | Goodreads

Goodreads synopsis:
The graphic novel debut from rising star Noelle Stevenson, based on her beloved and critically acclaimed web comic, which Slate awarded its Cartoonist Studio Prize, calling it "a deadpan epic."

Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from Noelle Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel is perfect for the legions of fans of the web comic and is sure to win Noelle many new ones.

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren't the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona's powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.
There were a lot of graphic novels on my reading list this year, and many of them have been seriously good reads (the new Ms Marvel series, for example, is really fantastic), so I felt I couldn't leave them off the favourites list entirely. But which graphic novel to pick?
Nimona was very much a last minute read at the end of the year – I think I read it the day before New Year's Eve – but it was that unique and entertaining that I couldn't resist choosing this one for the list.
Nimona is a shapeshifter intent on becoming the evil sidekick of the villain known as Ballister Blackheart, and she wants nothing more than to help out with his evil plans, and help burn, kill and pillage everything in sight. But Blackheart has a little more of a moral compass and works hard to keep her in check – that is, until his previous employer, the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, shows itself to be anything but heroic, and he and Nimona must work together to stop them.
I laughed all the way through this story, and I really love Nimona. Despite the fact that she is quite obviously a psychopath, she is loveable all the same.
It only took me about an hour to read this, so it's a nice, quick read for a rainy afternoon, and I can guarantee it will take away those January blues almost instantly.

So those are my top reads of 2015! Did you read any of these books this year? What did you think of them?
What books did you read and love in 2015 that you think I should add to my reading list for 2016? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy New Year everyone, and here's to another fantastic year of reading!


Kristin said...

I loved A Court of Thorns and Roses. It's actually what got me to read her other series. So many good books in your list. I need to add some of them to my GR list.

Ruty B. said...

Happy New Year
Great picks :) some of them are still on my TBR list

Ruty @Reading…Dreaming

Angie F said...

I looooved Ready Player One and The Help! :D

Angie @ Pinkindle

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