Top Ten books you read in 2015

Last year’s thread: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=745066

Doesn’t matter when published, but you read 'em and loved 'em in the last calendar year. I’ll be along to shortly to post my favorites.

I read a lot of best-sellers and award-winners this year, so a pretty conventional list:

[ol]
[li]Just Mercy[/li][li]The Martian[/li][li]Station Eleven[/li][li]Unbroken[/li][li]The Wind-up Bird Chronicle[/li][li]The Brothers K[/li][li]Between the World and Me[/li][li]The Three-Body Problem[/li][li]Ready Player One[/li][li]Wool (Omnibus ed.)[/li][/ol]

I see from my notes that I read 53 books last year, up from 2014. About a book a week, which surprised me.

In no particular order, my Top Ten were:

Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris - The last of Morris’s masterful trilogy about Theodore Roosevelt, focusing on his post-White House years. Detailed but very readable.

The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat - I re-read this classic, about Royal Navy corvette sailors fighting U-boats during World War II. Engrossing, darkly funny and, at times, heartbreaking.

The End of All Things by John Scalzi - A collection of four very good interlinked stories in his Old Man’s War military sf series. “The Life of the Mind,” the first, is the most deliciously satisfying revenge story I’ve ever read.

The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries by Emma Thompson - Witty, touching and funny; fascinating to see the changes between Thompson’s Oscar-winning screenplay and what ended up on screen. She includes her clever Golden Globes acceptance speech, written as if by Jane Austen herself.

Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie - A very interesting autobiography, with a focus on the author’s years in hiding under British police protection after the Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced a fatwa against him for writing The Satanic Verses. I came away from this book firmly convinced both that (a) Rushdie was on the right side of history and (b) he’s a womanizing jerk with a gigantic ego.

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari - Interesting, opinionated, at-the-gallop overview by an Israeli historian of how humanity came to dominate the planet, with a particular focus on empire, literacy and agriculture.

The Martian by Andy Weir - A great near-future sf novel of grit, determination and ingenuity, with generous doses of gallows humor.

Redshirts by John Scalzi - A very funny spoof of Star Trek and other such TV shows, with a surprisingly touching conclusion.

Find Momo from Coast to Coast by Andrew Knapp - Charming photo book of a man and his dog crossing the U.S.

The Churchills: In Love and War by Mary S. Lovell - Places Winston Churchill in his familial and social context. More family gossip than political history, but quite good.

In rough order of when I read them:

  1. The History of Henry Esmond, Esq. (by William Thackeray)
  2. Babbitt (by Sinclair Lewis)
  3. Wuthering Heights (by Emily Bronte)
  4. The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard (by Arthur Conan Doyle)
  5. The Well at the World’s End (by William Morris)
  6. New Arabian Nights (by R. L. Stevenson)
  7. The Shaving of Shagpat (by George Meredith)
  8. Main Street (by Sinclair Lewis)
  9. The Three Impostors (by Arthur Machen)
  10. Martin Chuzzlewit (by Charles Dickens)

In no particular order:

  1. Hollow Boy by Jonathon Straub. This book was a rollercoaster from front to back. The action never let up.

2, Graveyard of Memories by Barry Eisler. Again non stop action with a hefty amount of violence. :smiley:

  1. The Redbreast by Jo Nesbo. It was a bit heavy in places and a bit of a slog, but the good parts were fantastic and haunting. The book will stick with me for a long time.

  2. Sandman Vol 2 The Dolls House by Neil Gaiman. Darkly satiric it really hit my warped, twisted humour buttons!

  3. Echo Park by Michael Connelly. I think this is his best book, the pacing was perfect, the mystery tantalizing and the characters believable.

  4. New York to Dallas by JD Robb. One of her “In Death” series this book is a straight forward mystery with a lot of tension. It was a page turner and nicely lacking in the overly flowery sex scenes of most of the series. Robb did an excellent job at providing a page turning sense of dread.

7, Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch, I don’t like the way he ends his books and I don’t much care for farce but the wry, snarky humour and fabulous characters will keep me coming back to the series.

  1. The Devil You Know by Mike Carey. It was what Urban Fantasy should be: magical, shiny and occasionally a bit silly.

  2. Dragons at Crumbling Castle by Terry Pratchett. A collection of stories he wrote as a teen that even though it was aimed at a child audience still make be laugh and smile.

  3. Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman. Three mysteries entwined as well as the thorny issue of Navajo relationships, Hillerman handled the moral issues of right vs wrong and punishment vs restitution very lightly and never beat his readers with them.

Here’s a partial list, in no particular order.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Go Set A Watchman” - Harper Lee, of course.

You’ll see a theme coming up here:

“Called For Life” by Amber and Dr. Kent Brantly. He was the first Ebola-stricken American missionary to come back here for treatment; the book is not preachy at all and the story ended at Christmastime last year, at which time he considered himself fully recovered. (see footnote)

“In Harm’s Way” by Nancy Sheppard. This is a self-published book by one of the Brantlys’ colleagues and is their story. Unlike most s/p books, it’s also very good and I’m surprised a major publisher didn’t pick it up.

“My Spirit Took You In” by Louise Troh. The autobiography of Eric Duncan’s girlfriend, which I also thought would be s/p until I found a copy at Barnes & Noble. My local library had it, so I checked it out. While most Americans would consider her “poor”, she inhabits the lap of luxury compared to the life she had in Africa.

“The Malaria Project” by Karen Masterson. Admittedly a difficult book to read, it’s the story of malaria and all the attempts made to treat it and maybe come up with a vaccine.

“Fever: The Hunt For a New Killer Virus” by John Fuller. Published in the early 1970s, I first read this as a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book when I was about 10 years old. It’s about the discovery of Lassa fever in 1969-70, and I re-read it this year. Wow, is it scary! Patients med-evaced on commercial trans-Atlantic flights, scientists mouth-pipetting specimens on open countertops…and some patients who got really sick but didn’t have Lassa or Marburg, which had just been discovered a couple years before, and I wonder if they actually had Ebola.

“The Rising” by Ryan D’Agostino. The story of Dr. William Petit, a Connecticut physician whose wife and teenage daughters were murdered in 2007, and he almost died himself.

“Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” by Judy Blume. Incredibly, I had never read this, so I decided to do it. :stuck_out_tongue: Some of the concepts in it would have been dated by the time I was part of its target audience, but others are timeless.

“Going Clear” by Lawrence Wright. The HBO documentary isn’t 1% as scary as this book, the story of Scientology.

Footnote: When the Brantlys’ book came out, I thought it would be kind of funny if yet another entry on the bucket list they didn’t know that had would be “knocking Harper Lee out of #1 on the best-sellers chart” but that didn’t happen. Oh, well.

Richard, hogarth and other posters after this - please tell us why you particularly liked your ten.

Only 46 books last year, and most of them were only so-so. Still, there were these:

  1. Bloody Crimes, by James L. Swanson, detailed descriptions of both the hunt for Jefferson Davis after Lincoln’s assassination, and of Lincoln’s funeral train from Washington back to Illinois. Lively and informative, as was:

  2. Manhunt, also by James L. Swanson, very detailed account of the hunt for John Wilkes Booth.

  3. Mark, by R. Alan Culpepper, a reasonably good commentary on the earliest gospel.

  4. Rothstein, by David Pietrosza, generally interesting discussion of the life and times of the man who was the inspiration for Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls.

  5. If Chins Could Kill, by Bruce Campbell, biography telling how he made it in showbiz. Fun.

  6. So Anyway, by John Cleese, biography telling of how easy it was for him to break into showbiz. Lots of pleasant snarking.

  7. Who Chose The Gospels, by Charles E. Hill, reasonable defense of why the four gospels we know were the ones that made it into the canon.

  8. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, by David Sedaris, humorous essays that are well-written but tend to the repetitive.

  9. X, by Sue Grafton, latest in the alphabet murder series, better than W but ultimately formulaic.

  10. Blackout, by Connie Willis, ultimately frustrating time-travel novel.

Read about thirty books this year. My ten favorites more or less in chronological order…
As You Wish - Cary Elwes
The Princess Bride - William Goldman (reread)
Lonesome Dove - Larry Mcmurtry (reread)
The Road - Cormac Mcarthy
Blood Meridian - Cormac Mccarthy
The Noble Hustle - Colin Whitehead
Replay - Ken Grimwood
Aurora - Kim Stanley Robinson
Seveneves - Neil Stephenson
Trigger Mortis - Anthony Horowitz

The Boys in the Boat
The Martian
The Fetterman Massacre
Johnstown Flood
Fatal North
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
Astoria
In The Kingdom of Ice
The entire Longmire series

standing, Chef, please see post 7.

  1. The Prettiest One, James Hankins–A thriller that actually kept me from doing stuff I should have been doing
  2. Rock Breaks Scissors: A practical guide to Outguessing and Outwitting Almost Everybody, William Poundstone. This was a fun book. Hard to tell if the techniques actually work as I am an overall winner of RPS, even before reading, but some cool things to read anyway.
  3. Irreparable Harm, Melissa F. Miller–Spookily enough, I read this right before an actual instance of an airline flying into a mountain on purpose.
  4. There Was An Old Woman, Hallie Ephron–A lot of things I like to read about: History, families, hidden things & secrets.
  5. Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, The Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, Gilbert King–At times, this was one of those instances where history, written compellingly, was more gripping than fiction. At other times it was confusing. But overall, a win.
  6. True-Life Adventure, Julie Smith–Another one I stayed up way too late for the purpose of finishing. Bring the PI up to date.
  7. A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler–She is one of the very best at calmly describing an American family and how they are different from all other families.
  8. Low End of Nowhere, Michael Stone–A very fun read, with some despicable characters and the noble bail bondsman hanging onto his principles, mostly.
  9. Poor, Poor Ophelia, Carolyn Weston–Classic whodunit from the second golden age.
  10. At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Peter Matthiessen–I don’t know how I missed this one for so long. Good and evil, evil in good, good in evil…
  11. Green-Eyed Lady, Chuck Greaves–Another mystery involving art, election scandals, dead bodies (of course). Funny and fast-paced.

Okay, so there was a tie. Sort of.

I so loved the “world” of these books, and many of the characters, but there were so many times when I was asking “Why? WHY? Why did that even happen?” I enjoyed it a lot, but I agree that it was also quite frustrating.

My top reads, of 60 new (to me) books read this year:

Non-fiction

  1. Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It won the National Book Award, so it probably doesn’t need my extra endorsement!
  2. Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story, by Michael Rosen, which is essentially a giant book of trivia facts in essay format about the evolution of the English alphabet. It was really interesting! And once I got used to his dry British humor, I found it really funny as well.

Fiction
3. *The Darkest Part of the Forest *by Holly Black. YA novel, teens and elves, romance. It was sincere, sweet, and interesting.
4. Fangirl and 5. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. Two by the same author in one year, one right at the beginning, and one right at the end. Fangirl is about a college freshman who writes fan fiction, and it was so popular that Carry On is the fan fiction.
6. The Martian by Andy Weir. What’s not to like? And it was especially fun to read a book that was a big sensation so that a lot of people were reading it at about the same time, because you could always find someone to talk about it.
7. The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman, which is an ambitious post-apocalyptic novel where there has been a plague that killed nearly everyone, and the survivors only live until their late teens before succumbing. It’s long, brutal, and it’s written in a very intense fictional dialect, so it’s probably not everyone’s thing.
8. The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz, about a servant girl at the turn of the century. It’s a pip, and it’s best point (also most hilarious point) is how good the author is at writing from the often-confused point of view of a young girl just starting out in a big city, yet you the reader get exactly what is going on and where the misunderstanding is.
9. The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, which I first heard about in our monthly reading thread. Middle reader supernatural mystery series, I liked it because it’s a solid story with interesting characters and it takes itself seriously enough that you buy into the supernatural premise, but is still fun to read. And it’s a little bit of a send up on kids genre mysteries, so if you are a fan you get some of those nods too.

I’m sticking with nine, because those were the ones that rose to the top in terms of how excited I was about them.

Having a four year old, I also read a lot of picture books, and there were two new ones this year that stood out a lot for us, so I’ll mention them:

The Skunk, by Mac Barnett, which is like a noir/avant garde mystery about a skunk, and it uses a classic comic illustrative style that I find mesmerizing. When I read it out loud, I use this pensive monotone voice and I crack myself right up. I’ve given this as a gift a lot this year, and think it is terrific for kids from 3 - 6.

The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Roach which is a fun unreliable narrator story, because how likely is it that a bear ate your sandwich?

I only read 24 books in 2015 - mainly because I wasted too much time on the computer, but also because three of them were rather hefty volumes. Unusually, none of them were rereads.

The two best books of the year:
The Cold Dish (Craig Johnson): The first mystery starring Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire - good plot, good characters, and an author with a good sense of humour.
A Brother’s Price (Wen Spencer): A world in which females make up ~90% of the population, and a boy marries all of the sisters in a family.

The other five books that I listed (elsewhere) as favourites, in the order I read them:
Punch with Care (Phoebe Atwood Taylor): Asey Mayo mysteries are always great fun.
My Real Children (Jo Walton): An old woman remembers both sets of her children - the four she had after marrying a man, and the three she and her lesbian partner raised after she refused to marry that man. And both sets of children are visiting her in the nursing home…
Red Rising (Pierce Brown): First volume in an SF trilogy in which humanity is genetically divided into colour-coded castes, and the lowest caste are attempting to rebel.
Golden Son (Pierce Brown): The second volume. (The third comes out this month.)
Nathaniel’s Nutmeg (Giles Milton): Non-fiction about the 17th-century struggle between England and Holland for control of the Spice Islands.

And three more to finish a list of ten, also in the order I read them:
Undersea Warrior (Don Keith): Biography of WWII submarine skipper “Mush” Morton.
Hell with the Lid Blown Off (Donis Casey): The seventh mystery starring Alafair Tucker, an Oklahoma farm wife, set before and during WW I.
Kindness Goes Unpunished (Craig Johnson): The third Longmire mystery, mostly set in Philadelphia.

The Martian isn’t on this list because it was the best book I read in 2014. :smiley:

This one got added to my TBR list a few months back.

This is in order of how recently I read the book. It’s all of my 5 star books for the year, plus a few of my favorite 4 star ones thrown in:

  1. Be A Better Runner by Sally Edwards – Not literature, but a great book chock full of advice and techniques on how to improve your running. I thought it was well-organized and well-written.
  2. Gold Dust by Kimberley Freeman – I really just like anything Kimberley Freeman writes. This was about three girls in soviet Russia who use elicit means to rise out of poverty, and while they enjoy their new lives, they have trouble escaping the consequences of their pasts.
  3. Evergreen Falls by Kimberley Freeman – A romance with class divisions, mystery, secrets, and death. God I love reading Kimberley Freeman books!
  4. The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman – This whole book feels more like a poem than a novel. So much imagery and symbolism, just beautifully written.
  5. Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger – A steampunk novel about a teenage girl who goes to a magical finishing school to learn how to be both a lady and a spy. One of the most fun novels I’ve read.
  6. *The Sports Gene *by David Epstein – On the role genetics plays in athletic performance. Also touches on how cultural upbringing and training affects performance. Both educational and fascinating.
  7. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt – I just love the way relationships unfold in this novel. It was both touching and believable. (Also, this was probably my favorite book cover of the year!)
  8. *Gone Girl *by Gillian Flynn – I didn’t want to read this book because it sounded so twisted and wrong. Then I saw the movie with a friend, and loved it so much that I went back and read the book after seeing the movie. And while it is, indeed, twisted and wrong, it’s also brilliant.
  9. The Ocean at the End of the Lane – One big mystical allegory about transitioning into adulthood. Couldn’t put this down.
  10. A Half Forgotten Song by Katherine Webb – A tragic but beautiful story about obsession and its unintended consequences.

Agreed on all counts. Delightfully nasty.

OK.

[ol]
[li]Just Mercy: Inspiring memoir of a civil rights legend made into a page-turner by his gripping account of a particular case involving an innocent man sentenced to death. [/li][li]The Martian: MacGuyver meets Apollo 13, with more comedy. Haven’t met a reader who didn’t like it.[/li][li]Station Eleven: Post-apocalyptic fiction done right. The Road but more optimistic, relevant, and slightly more ambitious. Too short.[/li][li]Unbroken: An incredible true story of human perseverance. Puts your life in perspective.[/li][li]The Wind-up Bird Chronicle: Murakami at his best–beautifully rendered intimate characters with just the right amount of Japanese magical realism. [/li][li]The Brothers K: Sprawling family story for people who hate sprawling family stories. Made me want to have more kids. [/li][li]Between the World and Me: Nice pessimistic counterpart to the optimism of Just Mercy on matters of race. [/li][li]The Three-Body Problem: Solid sci-fi. I find many of the entries in the genre tedious[/li][li]Ready Player One: Just so much fun. Not high art by any means, and some significant flaws. But easily the most fun book I’ve read in years.[/li]Wool (Omnibus ed.): Also post-apocalyptic fiction done right. Makes you want to inventory your beans and hug your kids.[/ol]

Good to know. Many thanks!

My stats page on Goodreads says I read 96 books last year, which is a little low for me, but a few of them were 1000-pagers. My favorite ten:

Uprooted, Naomi Novik. Fairytale fantasy, not usually my cup of tea but Novik’s writing is excellent.

Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout. A collection of contemporary short stories set in a small town in Maine and linked together by the title character. Mesmerizing prose. HBO made a mini-series based on this.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder, Eli Brown. Swashbuckling adventure story in which a proper, slightly prudish English chef is kidnapped by a notorious pirate queen and forced to cook gourmet meals aboard her ship, making do as best he can with primitive conditions and limited provisions, while living in mortal terror of her piratical crew.

The Makepeace Hedley trilogy, Diana Norman (her newer historical mysteries were written as Ariana Franklin). Historical fiction which begins in 1765 when a Puritan tavern owner pulls a drowning English aristocrat out of Boston Harbor, earning the wrath of her patriotic neighbors.

Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II, Stephen Budiansky. Fascinating and readable history

Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel. Post-apocalyptic fiction, and about as upbeat as a book possibly can be and still kill off 99.9% of the population.

Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher. A short, amusing novel composed entirely of Letters of Recommendation written by a world-weary English professor at a small midwestern college.

The first Kushiel trilogy, by Jacqueline Carey. Lush epic fantasy set in an alternate Europe where a different religion has overtaken Christianity. The protagonist is a prostitute/spy with a heart of gold who uses use her astonishing beauty and hardcore masochism to save the world. Sounds awful, but it’s quite gripping. Three 1000-page books, one of the reasons my book count is low this year.

The Just City, Jo Walton (but not the sequel, which I disliked). An experiment carried out by the goddess Athena: she creates a Just City as described in Plato’s thought experiment. It’s run by a small group of adults assembled from various times and places throughout history, then populated with 10,000 10-yr-old children. The god Apollo comes along for the ride, reborn into a human body.

Seveneves, Neal Stephenson - the first part, anyway. Riveting account of a handful of humanity trying to survive the destruction of the earth. I was far less enamored of the last part, set 5000 years in the future.

I’ve started reading the Longmire books, too. They’re a lot of fun, although I’m up to book 7 and I don’t see how the man can possibly survive much longer. Bullets, frostbite, broken bones, dog bites - I’m waiting for the author to set him on fire.