Unputdownables 2015: My Best Books of the Year

Thursday, 14 January 2016

I totally forgot how long these posts take! But I love writing them, so it's all good. It's time for my ...


1. Landline by Rainbow Rowell



I read two books by Rowell this year, one being Fangirl, which I was surprised to find I didn't like very much (considering it is essentially about a Harry Potter geek who is socially awkward and just wants to sit alone in her bedroom and write all day). But Landline? Loved it. A sweet, smart, funny love story about a couple that felt, to me, realistic. Check out my review here.

2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern




I cannot believe I didn't get round to reviewing this one!

A while back, my friend Mark recommended this book. He kept raving on about it. 'You'll love it, Meg, it's so good.' So I bought it to read in Lanzarote. I read the majority of it by the pool in two days and spent the rest of the holiday explaining the plot in great detail to Chris (which he really enjoyed, obviously).

You should have seen the look of joy on Mark's face when I saw him next and the first thing I said was 'You were right, the Night Circus is SO GOOD!'

Because it is. It really is! The story is set in a black-and-white-striped circus, that appears in the night with no warning or advertisement. Slowly, people start to gather, drawn in by the sense of mystery and the smell of caramel apples wafting through the air. At it's heart, though, there is a fierce competition underway. Celia and Marco are young illusionists, trained their whole lives for this moment, this contest with one another: a competition run by their mentors, who have very different ideas on how magic should be done.

I don't want to say much else, but my gosh. I loved everything about this book. I became attached to the characters straight away. Morgenstern writes beautifully (I was pretty sad to learn that The Night Circus is her first book and she hasn't written anything else yet). Her world is luscious and beautiful and imaginative (and fairly dark at times). The circus itself is astonishing. I wish I could tell you about it, but I kind of want you to discover it for yourselves.

I'll tell you this, though (because you'll see it coming a mile off so it's not exactly a twist) - The Night Circus is a love story at its heart, wrapped in magic and rivalry and complications. The further you progress into the story, the more danger and tension builds, and it builds to this explosive ending that had my heart racing.

I loved it. Really truly loved it. (Can you tell?) Buy it if it sounds like your kind of thing. I haven't read anything as imaginative as this for a long time.

3. Hippy Dinners by Abbie Ross




I reviewed this book here, but to briefly recap: a fond recollection of one woman's childhood in (very) rural Wales. Funny and sweet, it felt like I was walking into the memories of a golden-hazed summer. Loved it. (Best freebie of the year, too! Thanks Britmums)

4. 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker



Jen Hatmaker and her husband Brandon were heading up a church in Austin, Texas when they suddenly felt compelled by a painful truth: despite being Christians for many years, and running a successful church, they felt they had missed the point of it all. And so began a radical life-changing journey for their whole family, which Jen writes about in her book Interrupted: When Jesus Interrupts Your Comfortable Christianity.

Which I am not writing about now, because I haven't read it. But she refers to it a few times in 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. Jen feels compelled to make more big changes in her lifestyle, but has no idea where to start: thus, the '7' challenge is born. 7 challenges, each a month long, all to do with cutting down on excessive consuming.

The challenges range from the kind of silly - like 'Food' (only eating 7 kinds of food for a month), 'Clothing' (only wearing 7 items of clothing) to the cathartic ('Possessions': the family go on an belongings purge, trying to give away as much as possible to people in need), to the more difficult to pin down ('Stress'). It is funny, and sometimes very silly, and other times so poignant and challenging that it made me cry. At times I found myself cringing (the clash between her American-whole-heartedness and my British cynicism) but mostly I found myself utterly convicted as her family find out how they can live, and thrive, whilst consuming much less.

5. Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions by Rachel Held Evans



I'm about to write a blog post about this, but it has been a difficult, up-and-down year for me, faith-wise. I found (and still find) myself questioning all the time. Mostly this has been a positive experience, because I found that, despite some of my views changing quite radically from when I first became a Christian, my faith remains. In some ways, it is stronger than it was before. It has been a life-changing year in that respect.

But the initial questioning? Was kind of intimidating. Because despite what Rob Bell taught me very early on about how asking questions and discussing and praying about difficult things is a good thing, I also at some point absorbed the idea that certain topics were non-negotiable, when in fact, there are a variety of different viewpoints, all of which are worth considering.

Which is the journey Rachel Held Evans went on. Born and raised an Evangelical Christian, Evans was raised in the town that held the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial - about whether or not evolution should be taught in schools. She explores this, and her college education, and the journey she went on, moving beyond sudden and distressing doubts into a new, stronger kind of faith.

Her journey has really resonated with me. Although I wasn't raised a Christian in the kind of environment that she was, her feelings of doubt caused by witnessing the pain that humans inflict upon each other mirrored my own feelings this year. And the conclusion that she eventually reaches is so uplifting that it helped me see my own 'evolution' as a good journey to be on, and not a scary or wrong one.

6. Lilabean by Kate Carpenter



Lilabean describes itself as a 'storybook' for 'grown-up girls' and that kind of perfectly describes it. It is poetry and an important life message all in one hit. Lilabean finds herself up to her eyeballs in both excessive amounts of 'stuff' and a huge amount of stress. She embarks upon a journey to make her life simpler, and finds herself with more room to breathe. A short but sweet read that I have revisited a few times this year.

7. The Fever by Megan Abbott



I've read a few books by Megan Abbott - Dare Me, The End of Everything, and this year, The Fever. I wanted to read it for a while before I eventually caught it on sale on the Kindle.

A few years ago, we watched a documentary about a strange case in America of what some people believe is mass hysteria, and what others believe to be a mysterious, unknown illness. In upstate New York, in a small industrial town called Le Roy, a strange condition swept through a group of girls, leaving them suffering from tics, almost like tourettes syndrome. Despite some people blaming it on the HPV vaccine, and others on environmental causes, doctors eventually decided it was a case of mass psychogenic illness.

The Fever is loosely based on that. It follows a small group of high school girls. One of them has a fainting episode, leading her to seriously injure herself. And then, one by one, more and more girls start to exhibit the same symptoms.

The novel ramps up the tension as the media start to get involved, and before long, everybody in the town becomes almost hysterical with fear. In the meantime, the group of friends start to unravel what is really going on underneath the surface.

8. Papertowns by John Green



I preferred this to The Fault In Our Stars.

I know everyone loves TFIOS but, although I loved it, in places it felt so 'now' that it made me feel unbelievably old. (Okay, that might say more about me than it does about the book). Paper Towns was a surprise to me because I knew nothing about it, and found it to be really addictive. I finished it in two sittings (with a little bit of sleep inbetween).

It is a coming-of-age story about a guy called Q (actual name Quentin) and his encounter with a mysterious girl named Margo (as much as I love John Green I think he has Naming-People-Issues). Margo disappears, and the story follows Q's obsessive search for her. 

It became so exhilarating that I couldn't stop reading it, but what I loved was the theme of how we see people, and the sometimes too-perfect image we project onto them, and how that can be unfair to others but also to ourselves.



I'd heard about this a while back on a book podcast I sometimes listen to (yes. I know.) and wanted to read it, and was very pleased and happy when Chris surprised me with it out of the blue. Then I read it, and OHMIGOSH it's so good.

But I have trouble explaining it without making people laugh because it does sound kind of silly when you explain the premise.

It's about ... bees. 

It's a thriller. About bees.

The book starts with the protagonist, Flora 717, being born. Immediately, you are plunged into another world. Very quickly, she realises a) who she is and b) her job role (sanitation worker). Flora, like the other bees, is utterly dedicated to the Queen. However, it is discovered that she has some unusual abilities for a lowly worker bee. And so begins a thrilling adventure that manages to touch on political tensions and ambition and complex relationships and it manages to feel really strange, yet utterly readable, and at times extremely dark, and breathtaking at points ...

And it's about bees.

What more do you need?! Go and read it!



I'm not really allowed to review this because (whispers) I haven't finished it yet. Chris got me this for my birthday, and it has taken me that long to read it because it is a) quite complex and b) so beautiful that I don't dare read it whilst eating/having a bath/at the same time as cleaning like I normally do with my books, so that cuts out a big amount of reading time, and I also don't feel happy leaving it around my daughter in case she picks it up and shakes all the bits of paper out of it.

Let me tell you about it briefly though: J.J Abrams came up with the concept for this, and Doug Dorst wrote it (brilliantly). The main body of the book is called The Ship of Theseus, a story about a man who wakes up with no idea who or where he is, and gets captured and taken away on a mysterious ship. Around the margins of the book, there is a second story happening. A young woman called Jen picks up a copy of the book from a library, and finds compelling notes written by a previous reader. Tentatively, she starts to write to him, and he writes back. The pair of them try and figure out the identity of the books' author, the unknown and kind of notorious V.M Straka, whilst they get to know each other.


It is so good. And so beautiful, filled with loose bits of paper, letters and postcards and articles and photographs. It occasionally makes me feel a bit headachy as I try and figure it out - the notes Jen and Eric write to each other aren't in chronological order, which means a lot of flicking back and forth - but I love it, and I will finish it this year, and I'll write about it properly then.

***

Are you still with me?! If so, let me tell you quickly about my reading challenge for this year:


Unfortunately I don't know where this image comes from originally - I found it on a Facebook page called Smashed Peas and Carrots but if anyone knows where it came from, please let me know so I can link to it. Anyway, it sounds like a good idea. I'm already working on it and have plans for the books I'm going to read.

Also I'm hoping to get into graphic novels this year. I got this for Christmas from my lovely in-laws:


It is The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger (i.e. the lady who wrote The Time Traveller's Wife) about a woman who finds a mobile book library, that has a copy of everything she has ever read. It's supposed to be good. I've been hunting down non-superhero graphic novels and I've managed to find some really interesting sounding ones on Amazon, so I know what I'll be asking for for my birthday this year ;)

If you are reading this and love books like I do, let me know what you've read and enjoyed in 2015! (My Amazon wishlist is bursting at the seams at this point but hey ho). Or, let me know your reading plans for 2016, especially if you are undertaking a challenge!

See you later on in the week for my first non-list-based post of the year ...

And if you fancy even more book recommendation, check out my post Unputdownables 2014.

Jera's Jamboree/Talk of the Town

4 comments:

  1. I have a confession Megan, a signed copy of The Night Circus is sat on my bookshelf. I've read quite a few negative reviews (from bloggers I trust) that I've been put off reading it. I love your enthusiasm for the story :)

    Look forward to keeping up with your 2016 reading challenge.

    Thank you for linking with #TalkoftheTown
    Shaz

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    1. Shaz, that is so interesting! I've never read any reviews of The Night Circus, just took my friend's word for it that it was good. I really loved it. I'm quite jealous of your signed copy ;)

      Thanks for reading and commenting, look forward to joining in with #TalkoftheTown again soon!

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    2. We watched Paper Towns a couple of nights ago (I haven't read the book) and the movie was addictive too. Like you, I loved the moral in the story. I think it doesn't matter how old you are, it's something we need reminding of. I often forget about others perceptions ...

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    3. Ooh, I haven't seen the movie (or the TFIOS movie). The book is definitely addictive x

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