It's hard to believe that this blog has been going for a whole year. When I started this blog back in January, my aim was to focus more on my reading time and thereby reduce my ever expanding TBR pile. I've certainly achieved one of those goals and have read some excellent books during the course of 2015,the best of which I want to highlight here and encourage you yet again to go and out and read them if you have not already done so!
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
I read this one right back at the start of the year (read my full review here) and knew right then that it was going to be a favourite. A post-apocalypse story with a difference, this engrossing novel follows a group of travelling actors and musicians as they roam America performing Shakespeare to a world ravaged by a deadly flu virus. Alternating between the days leading up to the flu outbreak and the years following, the multiple narratives combine effortlessly to make up a compelling and unusual take on a well worn genre. Even if post-apocalyptic or 'genre' fiction isn't usually your thing, check this one out because it's amazing.
Ready Player One by Ernest Kline
A love letter to all things geek, I adored this book when I read and reviewed it in February. Whilst it's not super original or amazingly clever or even the best written of novels, it is a Grade A geek-fest, filled to bursting with retro 1980s video game and TV references. Ready Player One has everything I could ask for in a book - an epic battle of good versus evil, an intriguing quest narrative, a sense of fun, a bit of romance and a underlying message about the little things that really matter in life. When my book club read this one in October, everyone enjoyed it - even those who weren't into computer games and didn't usually like genre fiction - so I'd urge anyone to check Ready Player One out.
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
Almost certainly my non-fiction book of this year, this account of author Matt Haig's battle with depression and crippling anxiety is brave, honest and inspirational (full review here). As someone whose own life has been affected by anxiety, this was a really important book for me this year. It teaches you that it's okay to have bad days and that normal is subjective and that life has so many beautiful ways of surprising you, even when you least expect it. This is a beautifully written book with an intensity of feeling that just blows you away as you read. Which would be amazing in and of itself. Given that an estimated one in four UK adults suffer from a mental health problem each year however, this book is also vitally important in promoting better discussion of mental health issues and in challenging many of the negative assumptions society makes about sufferers of mental disorders. Go and read it now, this blog post will still be waiting for you when you get back.
An epic story, beautifully told. I listened to this on audiobook (reviewed here) but I'm hoping to get chance to settle down and indulge in the paperback this year in order to really appreciate the slow, gentle pacing of this beautiful, lyrical novel. Set during and in the run up to the Second World War, the novel follows two children - a blind French girl called Marie-Laure and a German boy, Werner, skilled at fixing radios - as they are gradually drawn together by events in the world around them. The attention to detail in this novel is just fabulous, especially when you get to 'see' the world from Marie-Laure's perspective with her heightened senses of smell, taste and sound. Each distinctive voice in this book tells a powerful story and, despite the meditative pacing, it has a page-turning quality from beginning to end.
Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
A relationship novel with a twist, this fabulous debut follows one couple - Eva & Jim - across three different versions of their lives which alter depending on the choices they make during one fateful afternoon in Cambridge. The premise, which could easily have fallen into the 'one-trick pony' trap, is handled with great skill so that you never lose track of each narrative, or get confused as to which timeline you are following. I loved that each timeline has it's highs and lows - there is no 'good' or 'bad' version of Eva & Jim's relationship and Barnett cleverly plays with the notions of 'happily ever after' as we follow their lives together. Definitely more than your standard relationship novel, this is an intricate and cleverly woven tale of love, life and personal aspirations. A great choice for a reading group, with it's multiple versions of one story making for excellent discussion, this also gets my vote for cover design of the year and, if that's not enough to convince you of it's merits, I reviewed this book in full here earlier in the year.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara
I waxed lyrical about this amazing novel in a rather lengthy blog post in August. Basically, this book knocked me over the head, dragged me back to it's cave and took over the entirety of the month until I'd finished it. Beautiful and terrible in equal measure, it's impossible to summarise this massive novel in just a paragraph. Suffice to say that the plain prose style belies an incredibly complex tale of life in all it's messy glory as it takes us into the lives of four friends, JB, Malcolm, William and Jude. It's been one of the most talked about books of 2015 and is quite deserving of every single piece of praise. By no means a perfect book, and most certainly not an easy read, A Little Life remains compelling fiction at its finest and most definitely one of the strongest contenders for my personal book of 2015.
The Vagenda by Holly Baxter & Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
More than just another feminist manifesto to emerge in the wake of Caitlin Moran's 'How To Be A Woman', this is a timely look at women in the media and a scathing examination of the women's magazine industry, journalistic standards and lad culture. Based on the successful blog of the same name, 'The Vagenda' is a witty and insightful call to arms for the modern woman. When I wasn't laughing out loud at the ludicrous depths that companies will stoop to in order to sell women products, I was raging at the worrying ignorance that pervades some elements of the media. Amusing and educational, this is a must read for any men and women alike and completely altered my perception of media culture. A full review can be found here.
Levels of Life by Julian Barnes
A slim, emotional memoir by the prize-winning author that takes two seemingly disconnected subjects (in this case ballooning and grief) and weaves them together in unflinchingly honest prose. It's hard to explain exactly how this book works - on the surface it sounds completely surreal - but all I can say is that Levels of Life packs an emotional punch that belies it's 128 pages. This is a book that lingers long after the final page has been turned and one that my thoughts turn back to even now.
So that was it, my books of the year 2015. To be honest, there were so many great books that I read this year that this list could be double the length it is if I just listed the ones I'd enjoyed the most. These 8 books however are the ones that I both enjoyed reading at the time and which have stayed with me in the months that followed. I therefore see them as books that have a great deal to give to a reader, both during the course of initially reading them and in terms of provoking thoughts and topics for discussion afterwards.
And as for 2016? Well, there's always the goal of reducing my TBR but, given all the great books scheduled for release this year, I doubt that's going to happen! So let's just say that my aim is to keep reading and to keep blogging and leave it at that. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for continuing to read my blog. As always, if you have any suggestions for improving the blog or for posts you'd like to see, or if you just want to have a bit of a book chat with me, let me know by leaving a comment down below or tweeting me @amyinstaffs. In the meantime, have a wonderful New Year, I will see you in 2016 and, as always...
Happy Reading! x