Review: The Best Books I’ve Read (or am Currently Reading) This Year: 2015

I love the end of the year.  Autumn and winter are in full swing, there’s a chill in the air, and the lists of bests start rolling in quicker than is humanly possible to sift through.  I’ve been sharing a few lists of my own over the past month or so with movies and television, but I want to talk today about my favorite books, not ever mind you–just what I’ve been into this year.

I’ve accrued a fair number of books this year but I’ve had a hard time getting through them; taking on a lot of projects does that sometimes.  But I enjoy reading a lot–that’s the English major in me–and while I may not be able to get to them all in a timely manner, there’s something about that “to be read” stack that just makes me get excited.  I want to do my best to share a few of those books I’ve been enjoying, if I can, in no particular order, so that if you are looking for a new book to read, you may not have to look any further.

Vicious

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Superheroes are a very big thing right now, much to the surprise of our younger, nerdy selves.  To imagine that an Avengers movie or an Ant-Man movie or one about Iron-Man or Black Panther or Doctor Strange would be good (in the case of the ones that have been released), much less be made in the first place, is somewhat mind-blowing.  But we’re in an age where the nerd is king and superhero stories can have weight in a way that we never thought possible before.

Vicious is a by product of that thinking, but it isn’t often that we see heroes, or villains for that matter, presented in the way they are presented here.

Vicious tells the story of two men who are so intertwined in the fate of the life of the other that their story, their choices, their consequences, their lives are entirely revolved, over a ten year period, around one another.  Upon discovering that certain circumstances can cause a person to develop abilities they wouldn’t have otherwise, the two men begin their journey from college students to superbeings and unknowingly enter a sub-society much darker and more realistic than the one depicted in the comics.

Heroes and villains in that world are often black and white, but here–they’re grey; such is real life.  The heroes are flawed, and the villains, even more so, and the difference between one and the other is often times only perspective.

It was a fascinating book that I sped through in a week–and I want more of it, not necessarily as a continuation of these characters, but with someone, in someway, within the same space.

I love it.

The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

If Vicious was the first on my list of “books I’ve read” then this is the first of “books I’m reading.”  I’ve made it, so far, about half way through The Bone Clocks, but I feel like I’ve gotten a good enough sense of the writing, the story, the characters, and the tone overall to place this in my top 5–though, it’s a hard one to describe.

When viewed at the macro level, this book is about the supernatural, about an unseen world at war with itself and the unsuspecting human people who are dragged into it with little understanding as to why, but when you get down into it, and view it page by page and chapter by chapter, that isn’t much of it at all–it’s really only the backdrop.

The core of this story is the people who are in it, is the girl who’s life is perpetually affected by the unsolved mystery of her brother’s disappearance, is the Cambridge student conning his friends and their affluence for his own, unknown gains, and the war reporter stuck in the conflicts oversees, unable to adapt to his civilian life; that’s only to name a few. Everything revolves around the first girl mentioned, but her life and the lives of the people she comes in contact with are far more interesting than the backdrop they’re set against.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been intrigued by what mysteries are to be unfolded in the background, but David Mitchell does a phenomenal job at not making the lives of the characters here revolve around the conflict first presented.

They live, they thrive, they cry, they die, all the while the world spins on behind them.  That’s what makes this all so intriguing.  That’s what makes it good.

Mr. Pen book store

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

I don’t think there’s an English major alive who isn’t fascinated by bookstores.  Corporate chains have an allure of a sort, but it’s the brick and mortar, narrow shops nestled between a bakery and a pizzeria that are easily the most enchanting.  And while I haven’t read much of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, perhaps the most interesting thing about it is the secrecy centered around a small, specialty bookstore and the man unknowingly involved in it–all at three in the morning.

I’ve only just started this book, but I’m really digging the direction it’s taking.  I don’t know much about it, but I’m very interested in finding out.  It seems, without knowing much, to be a neat little read and I can’t wait to dig in a little bit more.

Trigger Warning

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

The first bit of experience I unknowingly had with Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning was from a couple of years ago when I read his “A Calendar of Tales.”  ACoT was a social media experiment where every hour he released a prompt for a story corresponding to a certain month and based on one of the ideas that was given, he would write a story.  This resulted in 12 stories about anonymous mother’s day gifts, igloos made of books, and a brazier that erases all evidence of everything it burns–to name a few.

And compiled within Trigger Warning is not only the collection of those stories, but others as well with just as much imagination, as much wonder and genius as not only those, but any story he’s ever written.

Neil Gaiman is a master at his craft and while not every story here, or every novel he’s ever written, will land the same with some people as it will with others, even his worst book is better than the best many others could do and that’s what makes this so great.  There is so much variety, so much right that something that misses never really does.  It’s all so good, so magical, so fascinating, and I could always do for more Gaiman.

WCTBATH

Who Could That Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket

The relationship I have with Lemony Snicket is an odd one: I’ve always been fascinated by his gothic worlds, his prose, his wonder, but I’ve only completely read through this book of his.  I don’t know why I’ve never dug in deep yet to anything else he’s written, but such is the way it’s been and I’ll try to do better in the future.

For anyone who has read Lemony Snicket, his books are fairly meta, wherein “Lemony Snicket” is a character and the narrator of his stories, and the books are to be thought of as having been written by him.  Seeing as how they are children’s books, this is something that can be really neat.  The thought of the author of your favorite book being an actual person within it who has seen and done the fantastical things he is writing about is nothing short of awesome.

The All The Wrong Questions series of which the book mentioned here is a part, details the early life of Lemony Snicket.  Snicket is at his start as a young apprentice for a secret organization, and, through assignment, is sent to a town called Stain’d-by-the-Sea.  He is to steal a statue and return it to its rightful owners, but–when is it ever that easy?

The story is, as you might expect, not terribly complicated, and the language used isn’t either, but what I loved about this book that I don’t often love in other books is how charmingly crafted everything is: the romanticized spy organization, the town that once exported octopus ink–it’s all very childlike and I love it.

I’m a sucker for the whimsy of a good children’s book and this caught me hook, line, and sinker.

 

And that’s it! I read some other great books this year, and some that weren’t so great.  Unfortunately I didn’t read as much as I’d like and I’m hoping next year that’ll change.

Here’s to 2016. Let’s hope it is filled with books.

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