One of my favorite blogs of all time is Wait But Why written by the indomitable and endlessly hilarious Tim Urban. Recently, Tim wrote a post called The Tail End, in which Tim depresses the hell out of all his readers by calculating how many occurrences of a given activity they have left in their life. Example – Tim is 34 and, optimist that he is, uses a 90-year life expectancy for his calculations. That means, he’s got 60 Superbowls left and 15 more presidential elections. He also calculates roughly 1,220 Chinese takeout meals. Then Tim goes deep. Realizing that he visits his parents about five times a year and assuming they both also live to 90, he calculates that he’s got only about 300 visits left with them optimistically. One take on the article is to realize how precious your time is and spend it with the people you love. (Cue willowy violin music). The real point, however is – holy crap, I don’t have that many books left in my life!
I read, on average three books a month. I work out, eat healthy, and floss every day (okay, almost every day), so I have a shot at making it to 90. That gives me just 2,160 books left to read in my life. That may seem like a lot, but consider that in 2013 Forbes estimated that up to 1 million books are published each year…and that’s on top of all of the books that are already floating around.
In other words, you and I need to start being more picky about which books we decide to spend our precious, precious time with! No more trying to drag our eyes through War and Peace out of stubborn pride or sticking with something that is okay because we’re too lazy to find something else. The best way to find awesome new books? Recommendations from people you trust.
With that in mind, here’s a quick list of the ten best books I read in 2015. Any one of these would be well worth your limited and valuable time. (Note: It was hard enough culling this list down to ten. I’m not going to stress myself out by trying to rank them. They’re listed in alphabetical order.)
All the Stars in the Sky, Book 3 in the Until the End of the World Series
Author: Sarah Lyons Fleming
Genre: Dystopian, New Adult, Zombies
The Gist: In the third and final book of the Until the End of the World series, Cassie is determined not to lose anyone else she loves. She and her small band of survivors are on the run from ever-growing mobs of Lexers (AKA zombies) as they desperately search for a new sanctuary.
Why I Love It: Sarah Lyons Fleming has a gift for writing extremely real characters. Cassie feels like my best friend throughout the series. She’s a kick-ass kind of girl but also thoughtful and awesomely sarcastic. Her setbacks and tragedies are my own, but luckily so are her triumphs! If you want to give this book a try, start at the beginning, with Until the End of the World. At the time of this writing, the book is FREE! No excuses.
Dauntless, Book 1 in the Lost Fleet Series
Author: Jack Campbell
Genre: Science Fiction, SciFi Military
The Gist: John Geary wakes up from survival hibernation to discover that 100 years have lapsed and he is now revered as a hero by a society that has been mired in constant war during the entirety of his Rip Van Winkle routine. When a massive offensive charge ends in crushing defeat, Geary must take the reins and use some of his old-school knowledge to get the battered Alliance Fleet back home before his enemies, including some within his own fleet, succeed in destroying him.
Why I Love It: Sure, the characters are a little flat, and John Geary is an utter Boy Scout, but the rip-roaring plot makes up for the lack of character subtlety. This is popcorn in word form, and it’s oh-so-good. I gobbled up all six books in The Lost Fleet series and loved every minute of it.
Cover — Dragonfly in Amber
Dragonfly in Amber, Book 2 in the Outlander Series
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction, Highlanders
The Gist: An accidental tumble through a magical set of stones takes Claire Randall 200 years into the past and into the muscly and delicious arms of the enigmatic highlander, Jamie Frasier. In book two of the Outlander series, Claire and Jamie travel between Scotland and France in a desperate bid to prevent a disastrous battle that will forever destroy the highland clans.
Why I Love It: I’m not usually one for mushy, mushy romance, but author Diana Gabaldon has an amazing gift for capturing even the smallest detail in the most fascinating way. She cooks up multi-faceted characters who caper through a plot that never slows down. The solid, passionate bond between Jamie and Claire provides the foundation for this endlessly enjoyable tale. Give yourself plenty of time to savor this book and make sure to start at the beginning with book one, Outlander.
One Summer: America, 1927
Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Non-Fiction, American History
The Gist: Author Bill Bryson proves that some years are just special. 1927 was one of them. Bryson weaves a fascinating tale stitched together by Charles Lindbergh’s groundbreaking flight across the Atlantic. Bryson takes us through Babe Ruth’s quest for the home-run record, to prohibition, and the introduction of The Jazz Singer with his signature humor and eye for the absurd.
Why I Love It: I love history not for the huge, big events but for the people who make them happen. Bryson sucked me right into 1927 with his trademark narrative voice that can paint a scene in vivid colors and make you laugh the whole time. You will be transported.
Shogun, Book 1 in the Asian Saga Series
Author: James Clavell
Genre: Historical Fiction, Adventure, Ancient Japan
The Gist: When English pilot John Blackthorne washes up in feudal Japan, he must learn fast how to survive in this alien culture built on honor, obedience, and rigid ritual as he becomes a pawn in an epic battle of wits, deceit, and blood.
Why I Love It: Up for an epic adventure? Then you’ve come to the right place. Author James Clavell pulls off a stunning achievement in crafting this fascinating, intricately detailed novel that brilliantly clashes two very different cultures against each other. This is one of those amazingly rare books that changed the way I see the world. (See how jealous I got of Clavell’s talent after reading this book.)
Soulless, Book 1 in the Parasol Protectorate Series
Author: Gail Carriger
Genre: Paranormal, Steampunk, Vampires, Werewolves
The Gist: Being soulless is the least of Alexia Tarabotti’s worries. Not only is she uncomfortably independent-minded and unmarried at the advanced age of twenty four, but she is also, embarrassingly, half-Italian. When a rogue vampire oversteps all rules of social etiquette to try and make her a snack, Alexia is caught up in the middle of a grand supernatural conspiracy, one that will force her to work in tandem with the loud, shaggy, handsome werewolf, Lord Maccon.
Why I Love It: Let me try and count all the reasons that I love this book. Strong-willed heroine? Check. Uppity British manners? Check. Werewolves and vampires running around in cravats? Oh, you betcha! Author Gail Carriger gives us a delightful protagonist, some seriously steamy romantic tension, and a fascinating supernatural take on London. I couldn’t stop myself from reading every book in the Parasol Protectorate series back-to-back.
Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (or Die Trying)
Author: Bill Gifford
Genre: Non-Fiction, Health, Science, Aging
The Gist: Getting old and dying sucks, which is why people have tried from time immoral to cheat this seemingly inevitable process. Author Bill Gifford explores humanity’s quest to stay young forever, examining historical efforts to beat aging and explaining the latest and greatest developments in this field.
Why I Love It: I’ll admit it, growing old is not something I particularly want to do, including the part where I spend my days telling and retelling the epic story of that time the dryer broke and how I was on the phone with the Sears service technician for two hours. TWO HOURS! Didn’t he know it was time for my nap? Bill Gifford weaves science and history into an informative and understandable story that manages to be amusing the entire way through. I listened to this book as an audio book, and it was a fascinating driving companion.
Author: Andy Weir
Genre: Science Fiction
The Gist: Mark Watney has a problem. That problem is Mars. Specifically, the fact that he is on Mars, accidentally abandoned by his crew that are now on their way back to earth. With unrelenting determination, endless MacGyver-like tricks, and an indefatigable sense of humor, Mark will find a way to survive…or die trying.
Why I Love It: I want to marry Mark Watney. The Martian is filled with his journal entries as he tries to survive on a planet that is constantly trying to kill him. I was instantly sucked into his plight, rooting for him despite the seemingly hopelessness of his situation. Author Andy Weir does a “stellar” (har, har) job of crafting a believable story filled with intricate details that are (usually) understandable to all the non-rocket scientists reading it.
Writing the Heart of Your Story
Author: C.S. Lakin
Genre: Non-Fiction, How-to, Authorship
The Gist: Author C.S. Lakin offers up this short but powerful guide that shows authors how to craft a story with heart, feeling, and depth.
Why I Love It: In a self-publishing world that sometimes seems obsessed with figuring out how to write faster and pump out more and more books, Writing the Heart of Your Story is a refreshing book that focuses on the craft. Many of Lakin’s lessons are not new, but she has a way of making them feel profound. This was my favorite writing book of the year. If you’re not an author, you are grudgingly allow you to skip this book.
Xenocide, Book 3 in the Ender Quintet
Author: Orson Scott Card
Genre: Science Fiction
The Gist: One little planet in a vast solar system could hold the key to finally discovering a way for different sentient creatures to live peacefully together. Too bad the Starways Congress sees Lusitania as a perilous threat and is intent on destroying it. Ender and his small circle of friends and family work against the clock to stop the oncoming Armada, figure out how to control descolada virus, and keep the peace on a very divided planet.
Why I Love It: Okay, so my “Gist” for Xenocide doesn’t even come close to giving this book its due. I can’t say much more than read it! Even if you don’t normally pickup science fiction, read this book. Along with Shogun, this was the only other book I read this entire year that reached all the way into my soul and left it changed forever. This book is about more than aliens and spaceships and faraway planets. It’s about how we treat those who are different than ourselves and our potential as a race. So, you know how I was all like, “Read this book!” I lied. You really want to start with book one in this series, Ender’s Game. Read that. Then Speaker for the Dead (book two)…and then read Xenocide.
So, there you have it, my book recommendations lovingly placed into your keeping. I hope that I can be the instigation for a little soul soaring, big belly laughs, and maybe even a few tears wrung out for characters in their greatest times of need. Remember, your final book tally is a finite thing. Recommendations are a gift, and I hope you’ll spread the love by recommending your favorite books to your reader friends, family, and acquaintances. Happy reading!
Teeny Tiny Note: All of the Amazon links in this blog post are Amazon Associate links. That means if you use the link and make a purchase on Amazon, I get a teensy commission. I only use Amazon Associate links when I am already planning on linking to Amazon. The links do not affect my opinion or my book recommendations.