In no particular order, here are the books I read in 2015. New this year: ratings for my quick take on the read.

Fiction

Circling the Sun (4/5)

I read Paula McLain’s previous book, The Paris Wife, and while I hoped it would be great (“the love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley” set in Paris) I thought it was just ok. When I read the description of Circling the Sun, I really wanted it to be good: “an engrossing story of love and adventure in colonial Africa, complete with gorgeous landscape, dissolute British ex-pats, and lots of derring-do with horses, motorcars and airplanes.” Thankfully, it was fantastic! It’s Out of Africa meets Amelia Erheart – in fact, characters from Out of Africa are portrayed in the novel. Well written and an engrossing story, I highly recommend this book.

The Magicians (3/5)

My sister and I read this together in our own private book club. It started off good – a Harry Potter in college including drinking and inappropriate hookups. However the pace moved too quickly (all four years of college in one book), and then took a very weird turn. It’s part of a series and neither my sister or me are continuing.

Paper Towns (4/5)

From the same author as The Fault in Our Stars, which I loved last year, this is another high school story about a girl that goes missing and a boy who obsesses about finding her. Both books were made into films; The Fault in Our Stars was done well but I haven’t seen Paper Towns yet.

Astonish Me (4/5)

 “For years Joan has been trying to forget her past, to find peace and satisfaction in her role as wife and mother. Few in her drowsy California suburb know her thrilling history: as a young American ballerina in Paris, she fell into a doomed, passionate romance with Soviet dance superstar Arslan Rusakov. After playing a leading role in his celebrated defection, Joan bowed out of the spotlight for good, heartbroken by Arslan and humbled by her own modest career. But when her son turns out to be a ballet prodigy, Joan is pulled back into a world she thought she’d left behind—a world of dangerous secrets, of Arslan, and of longing for what will always be just out of reach.”

Some people reported not being able to get into this book. I liked it, but I do LOVE ballet. There was less Paris in it than I’d hoped, considering its on the cover. And most of the characters I didn’t particularly like, but I don’t think I was meant to like them.

The Circle (4/5)

“When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency…  What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.”

I loved the concept of this book, however I did not always like Dave Eggers’s writing. The future he paints is fascinating – what would happen if Google, Facebook, and Paypal merged into one platform. This book is worth a read as food for thought on social media and the internet.

The Rocks (3/5)

“A romantic page-turner propelled by the sixty-year secret that has shaped two families, four lovers, and one seaside resort community. Set against dramatic Mediterranean Sea views and lush olive groves, The Rocks opens with a confrontation and a secret: What was the mysterious, catastrophic event that drove two honeymooners apart so suddenly and absolutely in 1948 that they never spoke again despite living on the same island for sixty more years? And how did their history shape the Romeo and Juliet–like romance of their (unrelated) children decades later? Centered around a popular seaside resort club and its community, The Rocks is a double love story that begins with a mystery, then moves backward in time, era by era, to unravel what really happened decades earlier.”

I wish this was as good as the description; I forced my way through it.

The Rosie Project (4/5)

“After launching his Wife Project, which includes a hilarious questionnaire intended to weed out imperfect candidates–smokers, makeup wearers, vegans (“incredibly annoying”)–Don meets Rosie, a stunning, maddeningly disorganized bartender/student who’s looking for her biological father. The reader knows just where the story is headed: Rosie’s so wrong for Don, she’s perfect. That’s not giving anything away. Half the fun of the book is watching pent-up, Asperger’s-afflicted Don break free, thanks to Rosie, from his precisely controlled, annoyingly sensible, and largely humorless lifestyle. “

This book made me laugh out loud, but a few people I recommended this to didn’t like it. There’s a follow-up but I haven’t read it yet, and I believe there’s a movie in the works.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender (4/5)

“Magical realism, lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga.”

Beautifully written book and very absorbing tale of the youngest in a family of doomed lovers, who is inexplicably born with wings. While this is young adult fiction (grade 9 and above), I found the ending to be quite dark.

Where’d You Go Bernadette (4/5)

“To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence–creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.”

Don’t typically like this kind of structure – a series of documents rather than written prose – but thought it worked in this novel. I found it engrossing and a fun read.

City of Women (4/5)

Set in Berlin during WW2, this book is about the women left behind. Not just their daily struggles to survive, but the moral dilemma of if and how to help their Jewish neighbors. A really good book about identity and courage.

Garden Spells (5/5)

“In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it….”

This was a sweet book that I read very quickly. It’s like Practical Magic meets the Language of Flowers.

Memoirs

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry (3/5)

How had I not heard of this? Cooking school in Paris? The meat sections were a little gory for a quasi-vegetarian.

Traveling With Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story (4/5)

“…in this wise and engrossing dual memoir, she and her daughter, Ann, chronicle their travels together through Greece and France at a time when each was on a quest to redefine herself and rediscover each other. As Sue struggles to enlarge a vision of swarming bees into a novel, and Ann ponders the classic question of what to do with her life, this modern-day Demeter and Persephone explore an array of inspiring figures and sacred sites. They also give voice to that most protean of human connections: the bond of mothers and daughters.”

I loved the dual memoir style of this book, and the explorations into the divine feminine. Having traveled Greece and France with my mother at around the same age, I found their insights into their respective lives profound.

Personal Development

Polish Your Pose with Madame Chic: Lessons in Everyday Elegance (2/5)

I have enjoyed Jennifer’s previous two books (in fact I am re-reading At Home with Madame Chic: Becoming a Connoisseur of Daily Life and think it is excellent). However, this one fell short in my opinion. She may be running dry on material, or perhaps these were already concepts I had mastered.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (3/5)

Everyone in the world read this book this year. In case you haven’t, it’s about decluttering using a simple principle: Keep only what brings you just. I found it useful (vertical stacking!), but skimmed it.

Relationships

Every year I seem to go through a binge on a certain topic. In 2013 it was the psychology of French women. This year it was relationship books. We’ll see what I get into in 2016!

Wired for Love (4/5)

This is a quick read and I thought it was quite useful. Simple version is that it uses neuroscience to wire you and your partner for love instead of fear/conflict: “Wired for Love is a complete insider’s guide to understanding your partner’s brain and enjoying a romantic relationship built on love and trust. Synthesizing research findings on how and why love lasts drawn from neuroscience, attachment theory, and emotion regulation, this book presents ten guiding principles that can improve any relationship.” One of my takeaways: hug your partner until you both relax when one of you returns home to attune yourselves to each other.

Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus (5/5)

I always thought this pop classic was silly until I heard an interview with the author and thought his insights were amazing. I read the book and found a lot of useful guidance in it. You have to disregard some of the stereotypical language and examples, but on the whole I took away some great advice.

Mars and Venus on a Date (3/5)

As a follow-up I read the Mars-Venus book about dating. It was still informative but not as great as the original. The framework of moving through different stages in the relationship helped me out, in particular the piece of advice that if a couple is at two different stages in a relationship, you should move back to an earlier stage (read the book for that to make sense).

The Zimzum of Love (2/5)

I skimmed this in an afternoon. I know I got one or two aha’s out of it, but don’t remember what they were.

Happy reading!

What books have you read this year? I always am looking for suggestions – what should I put on my list for 2016?

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