Thursday, December 31, 2015

Favorite Books of 2015


Picking my favorite books is always a tricky endeavor. It depends so much on my mood, energy level and expectations.  Sometimes a book is a favorite for being light and fluffy and the perfect thing to take my mind off of deeper issues.  Sometimes a book is a favorite because it sparks conversations or takes me on a journey or inspires deeper understanding of an interesting topic.

 I don't define a "favorite book" the same way across the board.  My main measure of a good book is if I continue thinking about it after I've finished reading.  If I've been inspired by the story enough to dwell on it, or if I think about the characters and the changes they made or if I remember facts and interesting tidbits, I know the book was good.

The ability to fit all of these needs is one of the main reasons why I love reading.  But it also makes it difficult to recommend books to others.  You may not be in the same position I'm in.  You might not be struck by these books like I was, but these 17 books made an impact on my year.  I'd like to share them with you.

Fiction:


Beautifully heartbreaking and at times very difficult to read. As a foster and adoptive Mama I've been on both sides of this story. I felt like the author did a tremendous job portraying the feelings of loss and suffering that come with miscarriage and the loss of a child, as well as the feelings a child would experience when taken from the only home she'd ever known.  I still find myself thinking about the characters and wishing I could fix everything for them. 






Delightfully creepy and twisty.  I debated a couple of times about whether I should continue reading because the book seemed to be taking a ghost story turn, but I'm really glad I continued on. Despite a few hard-to-read moments, (I'm rather sensitive to scary images) I really enjoyed this story.  As any good mystery does, it contains a surprise around every corner and just enough creepiness to make it a perfect Halloween book for sensitive souls like me.






I am not usually a fan of scary or creepy books or movies.  My imagination is much too active and I really struggle to leave the story behind.  I can't tell you how many times I've convince myself that when I open my eyes after washing my face I'll see a ghost (or a Bad Guy or a Zombie...) standing behind me in the mirror.  Having said that, I really liked The Haunting of Maddy Clare.  It was creepy enough to be a fantastic Halloween read, but not so creepy that I couldn't sleep afterward.  I listened to the book while I painted our master bedroom and a couple of times I had to turn it off because I was getting a little jumpy.  I was not interested in being up on a ladder while I listened to some parts. :)  Overall I feel like there was a very good balance of spookiness, plot line and character development. 



This book was a page-turner once I got into it (it always takes a me a little while to get going on Kate Morton books). It's full of the mystery and family drama that Kate Morton does so well.  I can't think of anything to say about it that won't be slightly spoilery, so I'll end now.  Just know that I loved it.









Loved this coming-of-age story about a young girl coming face to face with racism and the heartbreak of a neglectful Mother.  The main character has as strong voice and it's delightful to see the world through her eyes and join her on this journey.









Non-Fiction:




A simply incredible story. I thought I'd read this book already, but as it turns out, I read Devil at my Heels by Louis Zamperini.  Both books relate the same incredible story, but Laura Hillenbrand's version is definitely a stronger narrative.  Most everyone has heard of the amazing life of Louis Zamperini and his early life of theft and poverty, his Olympic running career and position of gunner in WWII. When his plane was shot down, he and his companions survived in a life raft (surrounded by sharks) longer than any other person in history. He became a POW who was savagely beaten and starved for years.  He was released and returned home, only to fall victim to post-traumatic stress and alcoholism.  A deeply moving and incredible story about the power of faith and the human spirit.  Read it!  And then watch the movie, it's pretty incredible in its own right!



As a big believer in the power of habit and of spending time on your art (whatever that might be) daily, I found this book fascinating. It's a peek into the lives of successful artists, writers, musicians, thinkers, etc. throughout history and a description of the methods they used to produce their best work.  The thing that stood out to me most was that while there were plenty of the "tortured artist" types--those who abused substances, battled demons and kept odd hours-- many more of the people featured in the book just set aside time for their work and sat down and worked.  Every single day.  It may have been for 8 hours, it may have been for only 2.  But they put in the time and made it a habit and creative amazing work because of that habit.




Journalist John Griffin decided to cross the race line in the deep south in the 1950s.  He takes medication to darken his skin tone and dyes his skin in an effort to understand better the difficulties of black people living in the south at this dangerous point in history.  He changes only the color of his skin, but keeps his background, education, manner of speaking in tact.  It's incredible to read about the way he was treated and the terrifying experiences he encountered.  The danger he was in, and the danger to his family once the story broke was real and intense.  I highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to understand more about the history of race in our country.  I'll definitely have my kids read it as they get older.




I am such a Bill Bryson fan; I find his dry humor and self-deprecating style utterly delightful.  His descriptions of everyday life resonate with so many of us because we can see ourselves in his place.  I loved this book, just like I've loved everything I've read of his.  My favorite, at this point, is A Walk in the Woods, his memoir about his experiences hiking the Appalachian Trail. Jason and I read this together years ago and both of us loved it. It inspired a Bill Bryson binge-reading period for us.







I shared this on Instagram, while reading Wave: Oh, my heart. If you need a reminder to hug your loved ones tight today and not take a moment with them for granted, read this book. Right now. The true account of Sonali and her family, who were hit by the tsunami in Sri Lanka in 2004. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking glimpse into the disaster, and the shock and grief she experienced.




This gripping memoir was dictated letter by letter by Jean-Dominique Bauby after he suffered a stroke which left his entire body paralyzed, except for his left eye.  He blinked this eye in order to communicate. He tells his story in a beautifully frank voice and inspired me with his spirit and perseverance.







Favorite Read-Alouds:

War Horse and Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo 

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