This list is a combination of what I believe were the best books I read in 2015 and the worst books I read in 2015. That’s right. The best and the worst are hanging out in a top 10 list. This list considers all books I read in 2015, not books specifically released in 2015 in which I read. Restricting the list to only 10 books was a challenge for me as there were some books that I wanted to include but had to boot. Those books will be at the end of this list as honorable mentions.
1- Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber (Best)
I’m not a fan of Christian fiction. I wrote an entire blog series dedicated to why I avoid the genre at all costs. Christian non-fiction is a whole different ball game. While there are the certain types of books I avoid in the genre, I generally enjoy most of what I pick up. What I have observed in the short span of time I’ve read Christian non-fiction is that it can contain many of the same flaws that Christian fiction has. It can be heavy with guilt and way too happy-go-lucky. But then there are also really well crafted Christian non-fiction books. Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Pastrix is just that. This book is incredible (and side note, actually inspired said blog series). I listened to it on audiobook. Nadia is so honest with her readers. She doesn’t try to hide her flaws or make herself look better. She simply is. I would listen to passages and think, I do the exact same thing and often feel guilty about it. What was interesting was that usually in books like this the author will discuss their flaws and say why they were wrong to feel a certain way and why Jesus is the answer. But Nadia doesn’t try to BS anything. She doesn’t condemn herself for what she feels nor does she excuse herself. She just aims to be real and up front, and that is extremely healthy for a reader. It allows them to just witness the story. The book is masterfully written and contains a lot of wisdom. Nadia is the type of person I’d love to go and get coffee with…when can this happen?! The woman is awesome. Definitely pick up this book.
2 – Hogfather by Terry Pratchett (Best)
I’d heard of Terry Pratchett before this book but never had a reason to read any of his material. On the surface, none of it seemed to appeal to me. Truthfully I still don’t think all of it would. But I can safely say that Pratchett is an author I know I haven’t read the last of! Hogfather is a novel that takes place in the Discworld series (which can be read out of order so don’t worry if you haven’t read the first nineteen books!). At it’s basic core it can be described as Death saves Christmas. But man it is SO much more than that. There are so many points I want to address but don’t have the space to do so. Alas I shall try my best to include every single one. First off, we have seen the idea of Death being “alive” before. The most prominent examples of this are from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when Death confronts the three Peverell brothers in the story of the three brothers. Another example is from The Book Thief which is narrated by Death. Both of these books have very different portrayals of Death and are very different from the Death we see in Hogfather. Hogfather’s Death reminds me of a Buddy the Elf type of creature in the sense that he is very literal and single minded. He is fascinated by humans, pointing out that they are so interesting yet have created the idea of boredom. How fascinating indeed. But the only character that I love more than Death is Death’s granddaughter, Susan. My God do I love Susan. Never have I loved a fictional character so much…which may sound strange to hear considering I am such a big reader but it is the truth. She is easily the best female character I have ever come across in fiction. What sets her apart from most heroines in fantasy fiction is that she isn’t defined by one element. She has multiple layers and sides to her character and isn’t predictable. I find her to be absolutely fantastic! I even included her as one of the top female characters in fiction in a blog I wrote on MuggleNet. And beyond all of that, the story is so weird and creative, and it contains so much wisdom. I feel as if I have been robbed of not growing up with Pratchett. Sure I had Harry Potter but Pratchett has an entire different scale next to the Potter series, or most fantasy series for that matter. Now, this isn’t to say that the series or this book is perfect. Far from it. There are many things to find fault with that haven’t been addressed. But overall, this is a must read!
3 – Beauty by Robin McKinley (Worst)
Beauty is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It is said to be a darker reimagining of the classic fairytale we all know and love. This book is anything but dark and sure as hell isn’t very good. For starters, the book doesn’t really reimagine anything. It seems to be a combination of the original story, the Disney film, and Twilight. The plot is very slow. Now, I love slow plots. Slow plots are my jam. But they only work when they are necessary. This book uses the slow plot to try and build some character development but all it does is drag the book and create cliche characters. The problem is that we know what is going to happen. McKinley’s job is to fill in the cracks but all she really does is create mundane storylines that I would often skip over just to move on to the next plot point. But the worst part of this book was Beauty herself. The character of Beauty is very interesting. I know her most as Belle from the Disney movie and I think Disney did a great job characterizing her. This book tries to build off of the idea that Beauty is very intelligent and likes to read. But there is one key problem. The narration says she loves to read but it doesn’t feel genuine. There is no love of books in Beauty’s tone and we hardly ever see her reading except for a few scenes. At the end of the day, this retelling did nothing to build upon the original story and was a real let down.
4 – The Aspern Letters/Turn of the Screw by Henry James (Best)
Believe it or not, this is my first experience of reading Henry James. He is one of many classic authors that I heard about a lot in high school but never actually read until I left the establishment. I can definitely vouch for his inclusion on the classic novels list. He deserves to be on there. Both of these stories were excellent! Both have this wonderful sense of elegance to them, especially The Aspern Letters. What I loved most about the stories were their artistic integrity. With Turn of the Screw, you are constantly kept guessing if the people the governess sees are real or just her wild imagination. James leaves it up to his reader which I love. The language both stories take on is simply beautiful and keeps you wanting more. I genuinely didn’t want to put either story down which says a lot as I’m not the type you will find glued to reading a book. I would definitely pick these stories up, especially around the end of October as they both are haunting.
5 – Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher (Best)
I am not a Star Wars fan. Seriously, I don’t enjoy the films. I find them to be boring and predictable…though I will say, the score is incredible. But this book makes me way to become a Star Wars fan. Verily, A New Hope is Star Wars written as a Shakespeare play. No I am not kidding with you. From language to iambic pentameter, this book has it all! What made this book a top on my list is simply it’s creativity! That is literally the only reason. It is projects like these that make me want to jump out of my seat and pump my fist with enthusiasm! We need more creativity like this in the world! There is not much more I can say other than, read this book. You won’t be disappointed.
6 – The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (Worst)
I bought this book at a thrift store. When my friend saw it on my bookshelf, she warned me that she hated the book. I disregarded her comments because her taste in books is very different to my own. Now I have learned my lesson. She was right. This is a terrible book masquerading as a classic piece of fiction. It sort of reminds me of Twilight in the sense that it contains all the right ingredients for a really great book but plays off none of these ingredients and only uses cliches. Literally, that is all this book is. What bothered me the most about it was how the author decided to just borrow from all kinds of beliefs and form it all into one belief. It felt like we were at a grocery store and the author was like, oh I really like this redeeming love from the Christianity aisle. Oh and the Hinduism aisle had some reincarnation I could use. I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating and artificial this is! The story’s title is also a bit misleading as the alchemist himself has little part to play in this story. It is just a giant mess. Stay away from this book.
7 – Home by Marilynne Robinson (Best)
It is no secret that I love Marilynne Robinson. She is my all time favorite author and I can’t get enough of her books. This is the third book I have read of hers. When I began reading I thought, this book will be the one to let me down. I’m sure of it. BUT NOPE! This book was amazing! It seems that Robinson’s fiction can’t keep away from my favorite books shelf! Not only are the characters in this book fantastic but the language is just gorgeous. Robinson has a way of fleshing out circumstances that no one usually talks about so when you read her books they almost feel foreign. But that is why they are so freaking brilliant. She gets to the core of life instead of creating cliches of it. As far as I’m concerned, anything by Robinson is worth reading over and over again.
8 – Inside the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by Devin Brown (Best)
I’m not the biggest Narnia fan. The series as a whole is just okay to me. That being said, I love studying the series and I think certain books are especially good. While I don’t think it is as good as people say, I still love learning about the artistry and meaning behind the books. And C.S. Lewis is pretty much brilliant. I have come across many commentaries surrounding the Narnia series but none have lived up to this beautiful book by Devin Brown. Brown takes us chapter by chapter through the first (first published and first book in the series – I WILL FIGHT YOU ON THAT POINT!) Narnia book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I won’t lie when I say that the book is a bit dense. There were times I was bored out of my mind. So why did it make this list? Simple. Brown literally leaves no stone unturned. He is the Lewis scholar that I now trust wholeheartedly above everyone else. The way he manages to intertwine various pieces of information over years and years of study is just mind blowing. Now I wish there was an equivalent J.K. Rowling scholar out there who would write books like these about the Harry Potter books.
9 – The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (Worst)
I wanted to love this book. For years I’ve heard nothing but praise about the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The occasional critique would leave me shaking my head thinking, they just don’t understand fantasy. But it pains me to say that the critiques I always believed to be phony are now my own critiques. Yes, the first Lord of the Rings book is among the worst books I have read in 2015. When I first started the book I was excited and eager but when I closed the book I was relieved and annoyed. The biggest flaw of this book for me was the intense description. Normally I am not one who is opposed to slow moving fiction but damn, this was a hard pill to swallow. I felt like I was just reading…and reading…and reading…and reading…and reading, and getting absolutely nowhere. I skipped passages in hopes to escape the book sooner and most of the time I was thinking about other books I would rather be reading. I guess this pick is a very subjective one. Either way, I did not enjoy this book. AT ALL.
10 – The O’Henry Prize Stories 2015 edited by Laura Furman (Best)
Lately I have grown very fond of short stories. I love how concise they are and how the author strategically uses little to convey a lot. The reason I picked up this book is because my novel professor in college, Christopher Merkner, had a story which was going to be featured in this book. First of all, how cool is that? Words cannot describe how excited I was for him when I heard the news! I immediately preordered the book and boy, am I glad I did. This book of stories was amazing! Every time I finished one I would think, wow that was really good. I’ll bet the next won’t hold my attention. But that was never the case! Every story kept me engulfed. All of them were well written, had engaging characters, and were just good stories. Definitely pick up this book! Seriously, go buy it now.
Honorable mentions (all books that almost made it in the BEST category) –
11 – Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
This book didn’t hit me until the very end. The best way I can describe it is that it feels like I just read a really good song…which makes sense considering Darnielle is the writer and lead singer for the Mountain Goats.
12 – Finding Unauthorized Faith in Harry Potter by Nicole Rivera
Nicole Rivera’s Harry Potter devotional is literally the only devotional I have legitimately enjoyed. That says A LOT because I usually can’t stand devotionals. They are too repetitive and predictable. This book was neither. It was engaging and insightful.
13 – We the Animals by Justin Torres
While this book kind of disappointed me by the end, I can’t deny how beautifully it is written throughout it’s entirety. Torres is a master craftsman when it comes to sentence structure. This book read like poetry or as one eats a piece of delicious chocolate cake. It is one to savor.
14 – Bless the Beasts & Children by Glendon Swarthout
This book gives us the typical misunderstood kid tale but man am I a sucker for these stories. The characters are all very unique and all of their stories flow well as one whole narrative. The best way to describe it would be a Western Catcher in the Rye with less swearing.
15 – Soul Music by Terry Pratchett
I couldn’t include two Terry Pratchett books in my list and while this one was amazing, my main love for it stems from loving the character of Susan. The book has it’s issues, many that also exist in Hogfather and while I can forgive them while reading, they do take away from the overall reading experience. Plus, one amazing character doesn’t make a good book. That being said, this was still very inventive, humorous, and enjoyable to read.