The Top 10 Books I Read in 2015

I put together a list of 10 of the best books that I read in 2015. It took me forever. For some reason, it’s much easier for me to write about books I hate than it is to write about books I like… never mind books I love. But I tried.

Not all of these were published in 2015, although a surprising number of them were… I didn’t realize that I’d read so many new books this year until I made this list. Choosing only 10 was tough. Some of my honorable mentions include Dark Places and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, The Long Walk by Stephen King, Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, and The Diviners by Libba Bray.

10. George by Alex Gino (2015), read in December

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George is a sweet, middle grade tale written by first time author and trans* rights activist Alex Gino. George knows she’s a girl, and feels like it might be time to tell everyone, by auditioning to play Charlotte in her 4th grade play. This novel is simple and straightforward. It’s not too sentimental, nor too depressing. Children will be able to relate to George, even if they’re not transgender, and adults will both feel George’s pain and admire her spirit.

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December 2015 Reading Wrap-Up

I didn’t read as much as I did in November, due to Christmas and all… but I still had a pretty damn good reading month. I read 1 YA novel, an adult non-fiction book, 2 adult novels, and 5 middle grade novels, because I had a goal to read 60 books this year and in order to reach that goal I needed to find quick, easy stuff to read. (Plus, I’m always surrounded by middle grade books at my job. It’s hard not to read them.) So here we go… 

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2015 Reading Survey

[Stole this off someone at Goodreads, so don’t give me credit for it.]

Answered some fun questions about the books I read this year. Tomorrow (or so) I’ll post my top favorite and least favorite books of the year in their proper orders. Shouldn’t be too hard. 

Best Book You Read In 2015? Ug… can I really decide right now? Ok… going with my gut and saying In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. It’s brilliant. Capote was brilliant. Read it.

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All the Bright Places: Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee Review

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5star

About 40 pages into this I started to feel as if I was riding into a deep, dark tunnel with no chance of escape.

See, if I’d known what this book was about…what it’s really about, I mean… I wouldn’t have read it. Not in a million years. I knew that two kids with depression fall in love, and I knew that the guy’s more messed up than the girl. But I’ve read books like this before and they didn’t turn me into an emotional wreck. Actually, I read a book like this a few weeks ago, My Heart and Other Black Holes, which is well-written and brutal in it’s own right, but nothing like this. Not to me. Because the guy in All the Bright Places, Theodore Finch, has bipolar disorder and is serious about committing suicide. And that hit me really close to home.

This book is very highly rated on Goodreads and elsewhere, but I’ve seen my fair share of reviews that I can only describe as: “Oh myy gawwd! This book is so unrealistic! People with mental illnesses aren’t all quirky and poetic, and if you like effing John Green, you can read this trash, but this is actual crap. And it’s so disrespectful to people who really have a mental illness!” Sooo… you can dislike this book for whatever reason, it’s a free country. But I’m going to be real freaking honest with all of you: 1) I don’t think the dialogue in this book was nearly as complex and unbelievable as in TFIOS (which I liked btw), and 2) if you read this entire book and come away with the impression that Finch is nothing like someone who has a “real mental illness,” then you have obviously never known someone with Bipolar I Disorder.

Yes, everyone is different, but trust me when I say that Finch is sooo much like the bipolar friend I had in college. Finch describes his manic days (what he refers to as “awake” days) as both exciting and terrifying. He barely sleeps. He talks a mile a minute. He can run for hours without getting tired. He has a thousand different thoughts going in and out his brain at one time. He knows a ridiculous amount about random stuff, because when he’s “awake” he has time to learn and do so much. He doesn’t have many friends because the kids at school know he’s weird, but can’t put a finger on exactly what’s wrong with him. My old friend is all of these things. But of course, Finch and my old friend are much more different than they are similar. Because like Finch says, he’s more than just a label. The symptoms of his illness can’t capture the person he really is—someone who loves music, and fake accents, and the great outdoors. The problem is, Finch isn’t sure what kind of person he really wants to be.

Finch thinks he wants to be with Violet, but he tells her she should run away from him if she knows what’s good for herself. (And man, have I heard this line before…) Violet basically tells him, “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m broken too.” Her sister passed away almost a year ago, and Violet’s fallen into a depression because of it. So these kids can relate to each other, but what happens when you’re the less mentally ill one in a relationship where both of you are mentally ill?

Seriously, this book is so important . Everyone should read it. Especially if you’re a parent, or you know someone with a severe mental illness, or you’re about to enter the phase in your life when many people are diagnosed with mental illnesses…that-no-so-magic 16-20 age range. Read it even if you’re like me and you know that it’ll mess you up for a bit. I’m going to compare All the Bright Places to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me of all things. I said in my review of that book, I said that Coates doesn’t give us the key to ending racism, but he can help us understand why racism exists in this country and what it feels like to be a victim of this institutional racism. I believe that empathy can go a long way. So read All the Bright Places and walk a mile in the shoes of a kid with bipolar disorder. Then come back and dare to tell me that we don’t need to fix the way we talk about and treat mental illness.

Last thing: I’m glad that this is going to be a movie, because I know Finch and Violet’s story will reach more people that way. But I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to watch it. Definitely approve of casting Elle Fanning. She’ll do a great job.

George: Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee Review

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5star-2

I can confidently say that this book is near perfect.

George is a very simple, straightforward story about a 4th grader who was assigned male at birth but knows in her heart she’s a girl. She comes out to her friends and family after declaring that she wants to play Charlotte in her school’s rendition of Charlotte’s Web. [And lemme just take a moment to say that the idea of a group of 9-year-olds acting out Charlotte’s Web on stage makes me so happy.] George’s character shines, as does her best friend’s, her best friend’s dad, her mother, her brother…really, all of the characters are well-developed. And the series of events are realistic. It’s not too sad or sappy, but it might make you cry a little, and cheer a little bit more.

I’d recommend this little gem to everyone- as a lesson in acceptance, to inspire confidence, and/or just for a good read.

My Heart and Other Black Holes: Goodreads Chioce Awards 2015 Nominee Review

(Man that’s a long title.)

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4-out-of-5-stars

My Heart and Other Black Holes, written by first-time YA author Jasmine Warga, is about a suicide pact. I know. It could be beautiful and profound, or it could be full of disastrous cheese and cliches. And honestly, I was getting ready to shit all over this book. But surprisingly, I actually liked it.

A lot of young adult authors turn mental illness into something way too interesting and dramatic… their female characters cry about the losses they’ve experienced every night, longing for an adventure to take them out of their slump, and crap like that. In reality, depression is usually pretty boring. Jasmine Warga does a good job conveying this. The protagonist, Aysel, is a very regular girl. She has serious issues, but she’s a regular girl nonetheless. She doesn’t have many friends, or interests, or talents, and she has no hopes for her future because she wants to kill herself. In the meantime, she spends her freetime doing a lot of nothing. Sadly, this is what depression looks like in the real world. Her voice is also very authentic. She doesn’t use any flowery language to describe her day to day activities. Because not everyone who’s depressed or terminally ill is a poet, guys.

But don’t get me wrong, the book is far from boring, and Ayself herself isn’t boring. Underneath her depression, you can see clear hints of a personality, and the kind of life she’d want to live if she didn’t have this “worm” inside of her killing all of her passion. Early on, Aysel meets her suicide partner, and the impact they have on each other unfolds nicely. I think Aysel’s backstory also unfolds nicely. There aren’t any major twists. Everything appropriately reveals itself gradually.

I’ve read that some people take issue with the ending. I can see where they’re coming from. It was a bit rushed for me too. But it didn’t offend me. When I closed the book I was satisfied. I don’t know if it would be a good read for someone newly struggling with depression, because it doesn’t offer up too many solutions. But for someone who’s “been there, done that” with mental illnesses a few times, it was pretty uplifting.

Let me know what you thought about this book if you’ve read it! You can also see the full list of Goodreads Choice Award Nominees that I want to read here, and check out my Goodreads account here.

Book Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

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Ways in which The Diviners is so much like A Great and Terrible Beauty:

-Historical fiction + fantasy
-The young female protagonist has a special gift
-The young female protagonist has two female friends- one who’s a loser and one who’s beautiful and popular but very troubled
-The young female protagonist is mourning the loss of a family member
-The authority figures are constantly telling the young female protagonist that she needs to behave
-There’s some sort of weird cult involved
-There’s an interracial romance
-It’s a time of women’s sexual liberation and that’s part of the problem for the bad guys
-There’s an lgbt character
-The book is huge for YA and there are a lot of characters and plot lines to keep track of
I love love loved it!!

When I was in about 9th grade, the Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy were my favorite books, other than Harry Potter. They were so unique—a blending of all of my favorite genres (historical fiction, horror, fantasy, and girl power). They were also well written, and they made me feel a little dirty and grown-up because were a bit sexy at times. (With hot guys, of course.) After the series ended, I longed for more stuff like that from Libba Bray, and was then devastated to find out she was taking her writing in an entirely different direction. I get it now. I can’t even imagine how difficult it much be to construct a series as complicated GTB. But I’m sooo glad she returned to the yummy trail-mix of a genre that made her popular. Yah, The Diviners came out way back in 2012, and I’ve owned it since about then. I’m actually glad that I waited 3 years to read it, because now I don’t have to wait another 3 years for the sequel, which came out just a few weeks ago. Yaaaaaay!

While A Great and Terrible Beauty takes place in late 19th-century England, The Diviners is set in mid-1920s US. One of the biggest criticisms I’ve read of this book is that Bray never lets you forget that it’s the 1920s. It’s true. The book is packed with ’20s slang, and references to the clothes people wore, and pop culture, and the biggest news stories. It didn’t bother me that much. I bought into the idea that the main character, a bratty 17-year-old troublemaker named Evie, would be obsessed with everything trendy—just like how most 17-year-old girls today say “bae” every other word and often talk about what One Direction is like post-Zane. I also learned a lot about the 1920s that I didn’t know (even after watching hours of Downton Abbey), and I’m sure younger readers would learn even more.

And these characters are so great. Evie might seem like a Mary Sue at first, but early on you realize that she’s hiding under a lot of pain. She’s also very funny, and smarter than people give her credit for, and I think her spunk and confidence is admirable. I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable with my younger sister reading books featuring main characters like Evie. Her friends are great too. I loved Theta especially, and I want to learn more about her. But hell, I want to learn more about everyone. I’d forgotten how good Libba Bray is at constructing back stories for minor characters without making them too obvious, cliche, or taking anything away from the main plot. I’m also giving the romance a big thumbs up. It was appropriately subtle for the first book, and I believed the chemistry between *spoilers* and *spoilers.* I even managed to start crushing on one of the guys… like I did in the freaking 9th grade… I am now 8 years older… and these boys are barely 18. #old. #ug. In my defense, the guy looks a lot like my boyfriend.

So grab some gin and tonic and pick up this book if you haven’t yet! Actually, please don’t drink gin if you are a child. Also, don’t drink gin if you hate gin. I personally don’t actually care for gin… But if I lived in the 1920s I guess I would have had to drink gin instead of vodka. In a secret place with the blinds drawn. What a dark time.