While I may not have read as many books as I wanted to in 2015, I still read 78 of them, 26 of which I awarded 5 stars on Goodreads, so there were definitely some good books in my selection! I don’t think that I could viably rank these books, as I read some of them so long ago, and others are completely incomparable in terms of genre, purpose and effect, so I’m not going to rank my top 15 of 2015. I am, however, going to choose the 15 books I feel make my ‘top books of the year’ list, in no particular order.
For the full list of what I read in 2015, check here
‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen
Read 4th March
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
So begins Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s witty comedy of manners–one of the most popular novels of all time–that features splendidly civilized sparring between the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet as they play out their spirited courtship in a series of eighteenth-century drawing-room intrigues
As a required read for my A-Level course (and a romantic one at that) I was adamant that I was going to hate studying ‘Pride and Prejudice’, but how wrong I was! I spent a very long time between August 2014 and February 2015 struggling to get into this one, but once I finally began to analyse it, I gained a huge appreciation for the story, the social message behind it and Austen’s writing, all in one. A book that surprised me by surpassing my expectations of it. [Completely unrelated, my fondness of it is naturally enhanced by the fact that this text got me top marks in my English exam!]
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee
Read 24th July
‘Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’
A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story, an anti-racist novel, a historical drama of the Great Depression and a sublime example of the Southern writing tradition.
Another classic that I had (almost surprisingly) never read before this year – I have heard of a lot of American schools teaching this one repetitively, but while this was on the English Literature GCSE syllabus for many until last year (before being removed alongside all the other American books on the list), I was never taught this as a kid, therefore never really thought to read it. With the hype around the release of ‘Go Set a Watchman’ (my current read) I decided it was about time I rectified the situation and picked this one up, and I did truly have a lovely time reading it. It is a very powerful novel with some very dark themes cushioned with childish innocence, and it really did hit hard. A must-read for anybody, I feel.
‘Blue Karma’ by J.K. Ullrich
Read 4th June
Water. It covers almost three-quarters of the planet, comprises more than half the human body, and has become the most coveted resource on Earth.
Amaya de los Santos survived the typhoon that left her an orphan. Now she scrapes by as an ice poacher, illegally harvesting fresh water for an always-thirsty market. But when she rescues an injured enemy soldier, she’s pulled into a storm of events more dangerous than any iceberg. After years of relying only on herself, she must learn to trust another…or risk losing all that’s left of her family.
Blue Karma is a story of choices and consequences, humanity and love.
Anyone who followed this blog back in June will remember my love for this one! When J.K. Ullrich approached me asking if I would like to read ‘Blue Karma’ for review I was admittedly a tad worried: the plot sounded right up my street, but I was dreading the moment that happens all too often with dystopian/sci-fi novels where a brilliant core idea is poorly executed and ends up feeling like a carbon copy of every other book filling the same niche (especially as I’d agreed to review it!) Thankfully, ‘Blue Karma’ completely lived up to its intriguing, fresh ‘cli-fi’ blurb and captivated me from beginning to end, making itself firmly at home on my list of favourites of the year. Couldn’t recommend this one more!
‘We’ by Yevgeny Zamyatin
Read 17th June
In the One State of the great Benefactor, there are no individuals, only numbers. Life is an ongoing process of mathematical precision, a perfectly balanced equation. Primitive passions and instincts have been subdued. Even nature has been defeated, banished behind the Green Wall. But one frontier remains: outer space. Now, with the creation of the spaceship Integral, that frontier — and whatever alien species are to be found there — will be subjugated to the beneficent yoke of reason.
One number, D-503, chief architect of the Integral, decides to record his thoughts in the final days before the launch for the benefit of less advanced societies. But a chance meeting with the beautiful I-330 results in an unexpected discovery that threatens everything D-503 believes about himself and the One State. The discovery — or rediscovery — of inner space…and that disease the ancients called the soul.
You know those books that you adore, but can’t quite explain why? They have a huge impact on you, and they remain with you for long after you’ve turned the final page. ‘We’ was undoubtedly one of those books for me. I read it in preparation for an independent analysis piece of coursework, and despite wanting to read it for a long time, and knowing that it would work perfectly for my ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ comparative piece (given that this appears to have been the source for most of Orwell’s ideas), I didn’t realise until I’d already finished exactly how much of an impact this dystopian would have on me. With prose that I vastly preferred to Orwell’s, and the Russian communist background upon which this was written (and which interests me so much) practically screaming off the page, ‘We’ will stick with me for a very, very long time, and has become a firm favourite.
‘The Lady in the Van’ by Alan Bennett
Read 19th November
Life imitates art in The Lady in the Van, the story of the itinerant Miss Shepherd, who lived in a van in Alan Bennett’s driveway from the early 1970s until her death in 1989. Bennett concedes that “One seldom was able to do her a good turn without some thoughts of strangulation”, but as the plastic bags build up, the years pass by and Miss Shepherd moves into Bennett’s driveway, a relationship is established which defines a certain moment in late 20th-century London life which has probably gone forever.
Beautifully observed, The Lady in the Van is as notable for Bennett’s attempts to uncover the enigmatic history of Miss Shepherd, as it is for its amusing account of her eccentric escapades.
One of the last things I read in 2015, I picked this up in eBook form with the intention of going to see the film (never got around to it, unsurprisingly). This short recollection of the life of Miss Shepherd, an eccentric lady who set up home in a van in playwright Alan Bennett’s garden. This very short memoir is fascinating, humorous and very much worth the short amount of time it takes to read. Now to actually plan to see the film at some point!
‘Silksinger’ by Laini Taylor
Read 30th January
Whisper Silksinger is the last of the secret guardians of the Azazel, one of the powerful Djinn who dreamed the world into being. Relentlessly pursued by bloodthirsty devils, she flees to the city of Nazneen to restore the Azazel to his temple. At the same time, Hirik Mothmage is also on a secret quest, to find the Azazel and restore his disgraced clan’s ancient honor.
And behind them all flies Magpie Windwitch, first champion of the new age of faeries, desperate to rescue Whisper and the Azazel alike before they fall in the clutches of a sinister hidden enemy.
The second of Laini Taylor’s ‘Dreamdark’ faerie series (and the last, given her seemed abandonment of it), this book was just as delightful as the first. The new characters worked seamlessly with the old (who were all welcome returns), Taylor’s writing is as beautiful as ever and the plot developed effectively, building up perfectly for the third book… Shame it never happened! Because of the knowledge that Taylor put this series on hold, the ending does feel a little incomplete (this would be remedied if she ever published the sequel) but despite this, I marginally prefer this series to what I have read of her popular YA one, ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’, and if you like Taylor’s writing, or just children’s faerie stories, you can’t go much wrong with this.
‘Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian’ by Rick Riordan
Read 14th January
MOST PEOPLE GET PRESENTS ON THEIR SIXTEENTH BIRTHDAY, I GET A PROPHECY THAT COULD SAVE OR DESTROY THE WORLD.
It happens when you’re the son of Poseidon, God of the Sea. According to an ancient prophecy, I turn sixteen and the fate of the entire world is on me. But no pressure.
Now Kronos, Lord of the Titans, is beginning his attack on New York City. And the dreaded monster Typhon is also heading our way. So it’s me and forty of my demigod friends versus untold evil…
Continuing the children’s book theme, the conclusion of the popular ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ series couldn’t have been better. I think the series really grew into itself and got better with every book, and by this point, Riordan had done a very good job in moulding an exciting world, developing likeable characters and polishing off an ever-stronger story.
‘Shaking Hands with Death’ by Terry Pratchett
Read 15th December
When Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in his fifties he was angry – not with death but with the disease that would take him there, and with the suffering disease can cause when we are not allowed to put an end to it. In this essay, broadcast to millions as the BBC Richard Dimblebly Lecture 2010 and previously only available as part of A Slip of the Keyboard, he argues for our right to choose – our right to a good life, and a good death too.
My final read of the year, in 45 minutes sitting in Foyles Charing Cross, waiting for my father to finish browsing – at least I finished before he had done so I didn’t have to pay for it! This short essay is incredibly powerful and poignant, raising questions about degenerative illnesses, assisted suicide and life and death. When reflecting on Pratchett’s final years, it is rather emotional, and certainly inspires a lot of thought, as well as encouraging you to live every day to the full, given that you never know what is around the corner.
‘Murder on the Orient Express’ by Agatha Christie
Read 11th May
Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. One of his fellow passengers must be the murderer.
Isolated by the storm and with a killer in their midst, detective Hercule Poirot must find the killer amongst a dozen of the dead man’s enemies, before the murderer decides to strike again…
Anyone who knows me knows that my favourite author is Agatha Christie, and this is undoubtedly her most popular work; I can certainly see why. I knew the outcome before reading it – I have seen this on TV and film many times, but it is a pretty well-known outcome regardless – however knowing the conclusion in no way hampered my enjoyment of this. Of course, I was bound to enjoy it as it is a typical Poirot, but I would still recommend it to anyone as a must-read – then again, I would recommend anything by the Queen of Murder Mystery! An Agatha Christie side-note: I saw ‘The Mousetrap’ for the first time when it came to my local arena on its nationwide tour, and I truly loved it. It’s not hard to see why it has been running for so long!
‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell
Read 2nd March
‘It is the history of a revolution that went wrong – and of the excellent excuses that were forthcoming at every step for the perversion of the original doctrine,’ wrote Orwell for the first edition of Animal Farm in 1945. Orwell wrote the novel at the end of 1943, but it almost remained unpublished. Its savage attack on Stalin, at that time Britain’s ally, led to the book being refused by publisher after publisher. Orwell’s simple, tragic fable, telling what happens when the animals drive out Mr Jones and attempt to run the farm themselves, has since become a world famous classic.
Everyone knows that Orwell’s famous political allegory is a must-read, and I wondered if it would have the impact that everyone always states it does. I have to say, I think it completely lives up to its hype, and, as I said with ‘We’, this is a book with a message that will linger for a long time to come.
‘Stolen Songbird’ by Danielle L. Jensen
Read 12th February
For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the mountain. When Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she realises that the trolls are relying on her to break the curse.
Cécile has only one thing on her mind: escape. But the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time…
But the more time she spends with the trolls, the more she understands their plight. There is a rebellion brewing. And she just might be the one the trolls were looking for…
Yes, it is a YA fantasy-fairytale-romance, a genre which is swarming with similar spins on the same basic ideas. This one does have a few of the predictable plot-lines that appear in this genre, but overall it was a very welcome deflection away from the love triangles and poorly developed world I was expecting. With a strong cast of characters, a likeable female protagonist (rare!) and some rather dark, mysterious undertones, this became one of my favourite YA fantasies, on a par with ‘Throne of Glass’ by Sarah J. Maas; if the rest of this series gets better, and ‘Throne of Glass’ continues on a downward slope indicated by ‘Heir of Fire’, this may even overtake it for me, which is an impressive feat! I hope to continue this series soon.
‘Into the Still Blue’ by Veronica Rossi
Read 7th January
Their love and their leadership have been tested. Now it’s time for Perry and Aria to unite the Dwellers and the Outsiders in one last desperate attempt to bring balance to their world.
The race to the Still Blue has reached a stalemate. Aria and Perry are determined to find this last safe-haven from the Aether storms before Sable and Hess do-and they are just as determined to stay together. In this final book in her stunning Under the Never Sky trilogy, Veronica Rossi raises the stakes to their absolute limit and brings her epic love story to an unforgettable close.
I was not the biggest fan of the first book in this trilogy. The second was a vast improvement, yes, but nothing prepared me for how good a series end this one would turn out to be! After vast improvements to character development, world creation and plots, this book was truly gripping, and got me all excited about where the story was going, something its predecessors, fundamentally failed at. It was a very satisfactory ending that really makes the series worthwhile in my mind, and had all three books been at the level of this one, I think it may have been a favourite.
‘Shadow and Bone’ by Leigh Bardugo
Read 16th February
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.
Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.
Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.
I was pretty certain I would not enjoy this as much as everyone else seems to when I started reading. However, as usual, I was proved wrong. This was a fantastic start to the series and a brilliant opener to the world and the characters within it. I got a tiny bit tired about two-thirds in, and thought it was the beginning of the slope into a disappointing ending, however it quickly redeemed itself. Another series I am excited to continue in 2016.
‘The Book of Ivy’ by Amy Engel
Read 14th January (I read a lot of good stuff last January!)
After a brutal nuclear war, the United States was left decimated. A small group of survivors eventually banded together, but only after more conflict over which family would govern the new nation. The Westfalls lost. Fifty years later, peace and control are maintained by marrying the daughters of the losing side to the sons of the winning group in a yearly ritual.
This year, it is my turn.
My name is Ivy Westfall, and my mission is simple: to kill the president’s son—my soon-to-be husband—and restore the Westfall family to power.
But Bishop Lattimer is either a very skilled actor or he’s not the cruel, heartless boy my family warned me to expect. He might even be the one person in this world who truly understands me. But there is no escape from my fate. I am the only one who can restore the Westfall legacy.
Because Bishop must die. And I must be the one to kill him…
I didn’t have the highest of expectations going into this one, but perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so much – it turned my common reaction to romance-focused plots on its head; because that’s what this fundamentally is – it may be in a dystopian society, but like ‘The Selection’, it is romance-focused. However, unlike ‘The Selection’, this book had so much more to it. Rare for a YA romance, we got the emphasis that the female protagonist’s survival is not dependent on her husband – we see a strong female with independence and an appreciation for herself as an individual over herself in a partnership, which I love to see. While the plot is simplistic (and I was a tad unsure about the end) this was a delightfully refreshing quick read, made 100x better if, like me, you had no expectations at the beginning.
‘The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry’ by Gabrielle Zevin
Read 23rd March
A.J. Fikry owns a failing bookshop. His wife has just died, in tragic circumstances. His rare and valuable first edition has been stolen. His life is a wreck. Amelia is a book rep, with a big heart, and a lonely life. Maya is the baby who ends up on AJ’s bookshop floor with a note. What happens in the bookshop that changes the lives of these seemingly normal but extraordinary characters? This is the story of how unexpected love can rescue you and bring you back to real life, in a world that you won’t want to leave, with characters that you will come to love.
Last but certainly not least, a beautiful and poignant story that appeals to your inner bookworm. Having read two other of Gabrielle Zevin’s books, and finding one pleasant but unimpressive and another rather poor, this was kind of like a third and final strike for her works, and as it is arguably her most popular, I was hoping to be surprised. I certainly was; this story is in equal parts entertaining, amusing, gripping and heart-wrenching, and certainly had me captivated until the final page. A truly lovely novel.
That makes 15! There was a lot of variety in that list, which I’m glad to see, and there were many more books that came close to appearing, including:
- ‘A Room with a View’ by E.M. Forster
- ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’ by Matthew Quick
- ‘Candyfloss Guitar‘ by Stephen Marriott
- ‘The Year of the Rat’ by Clare Furniss
- ‘Keeper of the Lost Cities’ by Shannon Messenger
So despite a rather underwhelming year in terms of number of books read, the quality was definitely strong! If I read as many good books in 2016, I’d be satisfied for sure.