My best reads of 2015

>> Thursday, December 31, 2015

So, best reads of 2015. This didn't feel like a great reading year, and that was all about me going through a bit of a romance reading slump. When I started looking back through my spreadsheet, there were loads of books I enjoyed, just not many in the romance genre.

In the second half of the year I actually went through a 5-month period where I didn't read even one romance that I rated a B+ or better. Everything I tried felt really lackluster. Not sure if it's me or where the romance genre is going, but it's still going on. I hope that changes in 2016.

I haven't tried to come up with a top whatever number of books. Below I list the ones I rated A, plus a selection of the B+ titles that, after a few months, still make an impression.

Hope you all had a fantastic 2015, and here's to an even better 2016!

Shining Through, by Susan Isaacs: A+

I wasn't sure whether I should include this here, since it was a reread, but hey, why not? This is an old favourite, the story of a secretary in 1940s New York whose humdrum life changes in unexpected ways. It's got one of my favourite characters ever, the incomparable Linda Voss, and I adore the writing.

Mirror Dance, by Lois McMaster Bujold: A

I was in the middle of reading this one when I posted my 'Best of 2014' list, and I could already see I'd need to save it a spot on this year's. Having read a lot further in the series now (as you can see below!), I can say that this is where things start to get really, really, REALLY good. This is the book where we get to know Miles' brother Mark and where he comes into his own, which is something I didn't know I want. I thought I didn't, but Bujold clearly knows best!

Memory, by Lois McMaster Bujold: A

Memory is completely different to Mirror Dance. It's a much quieter book, with what's really a mystery plot... a very good one. It's also the book where Miles Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith come together and become one person. A super satisfying read.

A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold: A+

The culmination of Miles's romance (it starts in Komarr, which I loved but not quite enough to include it in this list... there are enough Vorkosigan books here anyway!). It's a wonderful read, featuring Miles at his most Miles-ish, which is something that leads to both disaster and triumph. Brilliant.

The Girl With All the Gifts, by MR Carey: A-

This is a post-apocalyptic zombie novel narrated from the point of view of a little girl who, we realise quite quickly, is actually one of the very zombies that terrify the rest of the population. Great storytelling, culminating in one of the best endings I've ever read.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell: A-

Mitchell's most traditionally-structured novel, it tells the story of characters, both Dutch and Japanese, living around Nagasaki in 1799-1800. It's super fun as an adventure novel, but it also has wonderful characters and an excellent sense of place. And as usual, Mitchell's writing just sucks me in...

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell: A-

This is the third book I've read from Rowell, and they've all been quite different. This is about the protagonist learning to make her own way in life during her first year in university. It's funny and sweet and I wanted to hug her so hard!

Why I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming, by Mike Brown: A-

I bought this ages ago but only picked it up around the time the New Horizons probe was going past Pluto. It seemed timely :) Anyway, it was wonderful. Brown has a really engaging writing style, and he never lost my interest. I was entertained by the skullduggery and manouvering (who knew?) and fascinated by the details of what exactly it is that an astromer does. Did I choose the wrong career?

A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler: A-

Probably my favourite of the Man Booker books (it's either this one or A Little Life -see below). It's the story of a family, told in ways that are structurally really interesting but don't get in the way of the story and the characters. I loved that such a domestic story was shortlisted!

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers: B+

A quiet, character-focused science fiction story. There's a plot (and quite an interesting one, too), but the story is basically all about the interpersonal relationships of a spaceship's multi-species crew. It's a celebration of good people trying to be good people.

A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara: B+

This was the other book I really liked on the Man Booker shortlist. It starts out seeming like it's going to be the story of four friends in New York, but soon focuses on one of them, Jude. Jude is a survivor of horrific abuse as a child, and that abuse has had lasting consequences, both physical and psychological. The book is an in-depth exploration of his life and struggles. It's pretty harrowing (even though some elements are so over-the-top that this diminishes their impact), hard to read emotionally, but with prose that grabs you and keeps you turning the pages compulsively.

Blonde Date, by Sarina Bowen: A-

New Adult novella with a nerd-perfect princess plot, which is not usually a favourite of mine. This one worked for me completely. Bowen managed to make it clear that Katie wasn't an object to Andy, and her attraction for him felt just as well-developed. It felt just right.

The Beast of Blackmoor, by Milla Vane: B+

Milla Vane is a pseudonym for Meljean Brook, who's one of my favourite authors, so I was predisposed to like it. It's a setting I'd never come across before for romance, a sort of mythical barbarian time. It's quite a dark romance, but Vane manages to keep enough hope in there and avoids it going into stereotypically grimdark territory. It's a novella and I was left wanting more, so definitely a success.

A Desperate Fortune, by Susanna Kearsley: B+

This one has Kearsley's usual dual-timeline storylines and, also as usual, both are fascinating. I particularly loved the heroine in the present-day story and the hero in the one in the past, who starts out actually quite scary and is revealed only gradually as a sweetie.

Trade Me, by Courtney Milan: B+

I'm always a bit doubtful about historical romance authors moving to contemporary, but Milan has done it beautifully. Her characters felt truly modern, and I liked the way she played with the "let's switch lives" idea. It's a lot more complex than the use of the trope might indicate, probably because that isn't what the book is about at all.


Sun,  31 December 2015 at 13:33  

Great list as usual! Hooray for the Vorkosigans. The Girl with All the Gifts was my top ten last year too and I know what you meant about Fangirl. I spent such a fun few months translating it for the local publisher. I'll be sure to check out the Pluto book. And maybe Milan's contemporary will cure me from a reading slump.

Thanks for all the reviews. Hope to see many more to come. Happy New Year!

Li 31 December 2015 at 15:21  

Second the hurray for the Vorkosigans! I also loved FANGIRL when I read it last year - it was such a good read.

Hope you're enjoying the sunshine and Happy New Year!

Angiegirl 31 December 2015 at 18:32  

Fangirl is completely wonderful!

Both A Desperate Fortune and Trade Me made my list this year as well. :)

Marianne McA,  1 January 2016 at 11:16  

Happy New Year!

(Hope you've well away from the flooding.)

I counted, and I've read four of those books solely based on your reviews, and I enjoyed them all. So thanks again.

And, Vorkosigan-wise, you've still Ivan's book to come in 2016 - I love it, because she doesn't change Ivan one smidge, so you have this book where the hero's preference is to avoid taking action where possible, hoping everything will blow over. And it's fun seeing how Bujold forces the story along in the teeth of Ivan's inertia.

Rosario 1 January 2016 at 11:42  

Thanks, all! Any particular favourites this year you think I should definitely try? I think I picked up The Girl With All The Gifts after you guys told me in the comments on my best of 2014 post!

And Marianne, yes, thank you, fortunately I'm nowhere near the floods. The rain has mostly been in Southern Brazil, and the floods well north from where I am. Hope you're away from any floods yourself? The pictures from the UK look even worse than the ones here!

Anyway, can't wait for Ivan's book. That might be started on the flight back!

Anonymous,  1 January 2016 at 22:27  

I went through a bit of a romance reading slump this year as well.

There's a lot of really great picks on your list though! I enjoyed "The Beast of Blackmoor" a lot as well. I'm having some withdrawals on Meljean Brook's work. It seems like she's going through a really rough period of writer's block.

I've been wanting to read "The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet" so bad! I really need to get around to picking it up this year.

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