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Year in Review -2015

It’s that time of year! Well, it *is* the brand new year. So, I get to look back on the old, and share with you the best of what I have read this year. I came in under what I normally do, numbers-wise, because school took a toll, but I still had enough to compose this list.

I read a lot more poetry this year than usual, so I am adding that as a category. I am also adding short story collections this year.

I am going to start off with science fiction. Again, my science fiction-reading took a hit, but here we go (this list is a top 6, because I could not decide which one to drop.) Also, science fiction seems to start with “The” a lot.

Top Five Science Fiction Books

6.  The Circle by Dave Eggers . This was unique, but with google growing  like it is, I can see this happening. The Circle is a Google-esque growing web company, which is great, except the work environment is cultish. Read this and think about what you are posting online.

5. Under the Skin by Michel Faber. Different. It was very interesting, though. Unique. The protagonist is trolling the highways for good-looking men, who are built well. The reason? Well, slightly gruesome.

4. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Dystopian, speculative fiction. Atwood is the master, er, mistress, at this, but this book definitely leaves you wanting more, which you get with the second book in the series, The Year of the Flood. This book is great, I love Jimmy, even though he’s something of an asshole. This dystopian world is a little different than most, because there is a new race similar to homo sapiens. Just read it, you will not regret it.

3. The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein. Heinlein is unarguably the greatest science fiction writer ever, and this book does not disappoint. The book is alternately funny and serious, and a great alien read. I definitely have more Heinlein on my list for 2016.

2. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick. What a great alternative history to the end of World War II. In this novel, Dick gives us a view as to what happens if Germany and Japan had won World War II. Very scary, and a good example of how the megalomaniacs of the Third Reich were not to be trusted. Read this, then watch the series on Amazon.

1. The Martian by Andy Weir. I had checked out this book in 2014, but never read it, then a friend recommended it. Unfortunately, I had to wait until my first semester of grad school was over before I could actually read it. It was great! Definitely a number 1. The science was not so deep that I could not understand, the monologues were handled well, and the humor/sarcasm from a man stranded on Mars is well-done. For science fiction, this was a very quick read.

Top Five Poetry of 2015

Well, I read enough poetry that I could throw that out on a list, which is new. So, here goes.

5. Oranges and Snow by Milan Djordjevic. I love translated poetry, for some odd reason. This one is fun and easy to read, nothing too deep.

4. Mornings Like This: Found Poems by Annie Dillard. This was fun. Dillard is an excellent writer, and has taken other texts and converted to her own poetry.

3. Angina Days by Gunter Eich. Another work of translated poetry, it was very interesting.

2. Impromptus by Gottfriend Bien. This was great. Bien was a Nazi when the party hit the scene, but soon realized that it was not what he was expecting, or that he could be involved with it, so he withdrew from the Nazi Party, and just sucked up the consequences. The poetry is spectacular, and I love how some of it is about autopsies he had done previously.

1. When Angels Speak of Love by bell hooks. Loved her poetry. hooks is the queen of feminist rhetoric, but also has a handle on poetry. Definitely a must read.

Short Stories

5. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. This was a very unique collection of intertwined stories. I had to think a little hard about how some of them were connected, but it was pretty interesting, especially went I got to the one that was done in PowerPoint format.

4. Kill Marguerite by Megan Milk. This was a great collection of stories, that were extraordinarily unique. The first one was essentially a video game committed to paper, and she also included an updated version of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. She also created a “choose your path” Sweet Valley High story.

3. Good Bones and Simple Murders by Margaret Atwood. I love Atwood, and Atwood in short story form is most excellent. Atwood creates twists in many well-known stories, such as Dracula, Hamlet, the Little Red Hen, and fairy tales. Great collection.

2. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. Nice collection of stories from Lahiri, who gives a good look at Indian culture.

1. Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman. This is a great collection of short stories by Gaiman, who we all know I love. A lot. Gaiman includes a story from the American Gods universe, a Doctor Who short story, and a Sherlock Holmes short. Definitely worth the read.

YA Fiction

I did not read as much YA fiction as I normally do, but wanted to create a list, anyway.

10. As Simple as Snow by Gregory Galloway. The book was engrossing. A young girl goes missing, seemingly under her boyfriend’s nose. Great book, intriguing read.

9. Frost by Marianna Baer. For some reason, young adult novels set in prep schools has become a thing for me. I think because I so enjoyed The Secret History last year, I am seeking to recreate that love. This was more of a paranormal novel. It was nothing earth-shattering, it was interesting enough for me to read to the end, and I genuinely liked the Leena Thomas.

8. Unbreakable by Elizabeth Norris. This was the second in the Unraveling series. I was a little bit disappointed in this one, compared to the first, but anytime you have time and parallel universe travel, I am there.

7. New Girl by Paige Harbison. Okay, color me excited and meh all at once. I just grabbed this one on Scribd, because I was looking for something fun and quick to read, as I finished up the semester. It did not strike me until I was well into it that it was a modern, young-adult retelling of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. These types of books have also fallen into my wheelhouse as of late, because they are really quick reads to undertake while I am in school.

6. Endlessly by Kiersten White. This was the last in the Paranormalcy series – very quick read, great compilation of different legends about supernatural creatures. Consider this a Sookie Stackhouse lite.

5. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer. Say the name aloud. Belzhar = Bell Jar. This is something of a paranormal prep school story, but there were a lot of literary references in it. I enjoyed Meg Wolitzer’s adult novel The Interestings, so gave this one a try. I did enjoy the literary references, and it was an interesting story.

4. Famous Last Words by Katie Alender. I love this author so much. Yes, the books are mindless, but the stories are always interesting, and have a great touch of the supernatural. This one is set in Hollywood, where a killer is recreating murder scenes from movies.

3. The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender. Told you I love this author. This one hits on another theme in my wheelhouse: asylums. I love books set in asylums, whether they are ghost stories or actual stories set in old asylums (for some reason I always think of Charlotte Perkins Gilman). This book was fun and a little scary, and for Alender, it was pretty sad.

2. Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige. This is another retelling, definitely unique and more modern than Baum’s Oz series. Amy is the “other girl from Kansas,” who was transported to Oz in much the same way Dorothy was. Dorothy is no longer the sweet-faced girl the world knew, and Amy is charged with taking Dorothy down.

1. The Retribution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. I waited so long for this final book in the trilogy to arrive. Mara has special powers, and she’s been manipulated because of these. The truth finally arrives in this book, and it is far different than what I expected.

Non-Fiction

Of course, I read a lot of non-fiction for school, but over the last few years, I have discovered I really like non-fiction. I am all over the place with the non-fiction I read, not necessarily just history.

10. I Am America, and So Can You! by Stephen Colbert. This was hilarious! Very satirical – one of many reasons people struggle to figure who Colbert is (in the American sense of “who”: is he Far Right Conservative, or a Liberal who is poking fun at the Conservatives??) My youngest listened to most of this with me, and for a teenager, she really “got” it.

9. None of Us Will Return by Charlotte Delbo. This is one of the few Holocaust books I have on the list. Why so few? Because I recognize that my chosen field of study is grim, so I will only recommend certain books to my friends. This one was written by Delbo, who was a member of the French Resistance, and was one of 230 women who was sent to Auschwitz. Delbo was one of only 49 who returned from Auschwitz. The book alternates between prose and poetry, and is a stark look at what life in the camps was like. Most memoirs/diaries of victims of the camps were written from the Jewish survivors’ perspective, so this memoir is unique in that aspect.

8. Hitler’s Last Days: The Death of the Nazi Regime and the World’s Most Notorious Dictator by Bill O’Reilly. It’s O’Reilly. Hard-hitting, quick-paced, and succinct, this book gives a quick look at Hitler’s last days. It was a very, very fast read.

7. Gnarr! How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World by Jon Gnarr. This was such an interesting book, about Jon Gnarr, who created his own political party in Reykjavik. Gnarr is a comedian, but he and his new party turned the economy around in Iceland.

6. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I hated to rank this one so low on the list, because it was so good and heartbreaking. The story was so terrifying, and sickening for the way the Japanese treated their prisoners of war, during World War II.

5. The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. This was a great look at the creator of Wonder Woman, and the (questionable?) feminist background behind Wonder Woman. I say questionable, because in the early days of feminism, dressing a woman in the way WW was dressed, not to mention, always showing her in chains, was a pretty anti-feminist. But, the creator of the comic strip was a narcissistic psychologist, who had a wife and live-in mistress. So very interesting.

4. Maus: A Survivors Tale, Parts 1 and 2 by Art Spiegelman. This is a graphic novel, written by the son of a survivor of the Holocaust. The novel discusses not only Spiegelman’s parents’ experiences during the Holocaust, but also his relationship with his father.

3. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. I loved the description of “mansplaining” and realized that this happens all the time! This was a collection of essays, mostly about feminism, but not in an angry, “hate men” way.

2. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. This collection of essays is a description of how the author is a bad feminist, because she likes rap music. Not all of the essays are about feminism, she discusses movies, and other current events as well. Her writing is sardonic and angry, and very enjoyable.

1. 10% Happier – How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing my Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works – A True Story by Dan Harris. Quite possibly the only book on this list where the title is longer than the URL. I loved this book – so much so, that I listened to it twice within two months. The audiobook is narrated by the author, which allows the humorous moments to shine through. Harris had a major freakout on national TV, which led to him trying meditation. He brought a lot of background to mindfulness, and provided a lot of resources. Definite number one for the year.

Fiction

10. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud. This is one of those books that has a narrator you absolutely hate. I hated Nora Eldridge, but she was compelling. I had been hearing that I should read this, so was glad I finally did.

9. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. This book moves back and forth in time, between Nao and Ruth. Nao is a teenager in Japan who is going to commit suicide, but wants to document her great-grandmother’s life first. Ruth is a novelist who is living on an island, and finds Nao’s journal, washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox.

8. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. This book was hilarious – it reminded me in a lot of ways of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (the movie, not the book, which I have not read all the way through). The book involves a dog, a questionable woman, a professor, his editor friend, an ex-wife, ex-in-laws, and lots of hijinks.

7. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Oscar Wao is the protagonist of this novel. Oscar is a ghetto nerd, and this tale traces his life as he attends school and tries to get rid of the curse that has plagued his family for years.

6. The Round House by Louise Erdrich. This National Book Award winner was poignant and entertaining. It was the story of a young Native American who lives on a reservation, and whose mother is brutally attacked. A good look into life on a reservation, and how different jurisdictions come into play.

5. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. I loved this book about a Chinese American family, who suffers a great loss. When the book opens, we find out that Lydia is already dead, although her family is not aware of this yet. Lydia is their favorite daughter, and the story is told through flashbacks of the family.

4. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Love the way this story is told, in flashbacks and police interviews (several months after I read this, I watched the first season of True Detective, and it was done in a similar style).

3. The Girl on the Train . by Paula Hawkins. This has been compared to Gone Girl, but I think I liked this one better. This was told from a multi-POV, which I love anyway. Rachel rides the train every day, and thinks she witnesses a crime. The problem is, Rachel has a drinking problem, and so when she reports what she thinks she saw, no one believes her.

2. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. I read several books by ToMo this year, due to the seminar I took. However, of all the books I read, this one was my favorite of hers for the year. The book follows Milkman from childhood to adulthood, but also describes the childhood of his parents and his aunt.

1. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. This book was so good. I loved the unique way it was told, and the great characters it involved, in particular the nine-year-old Oskar, who makes it his mission to find the lock that a key fits. He believes the key will unveil some secret about his father, who was killed during 9/11. Great book.

There you go folks!

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