Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The End of 2015

I'm still having a hard time believing that this is the final week of 2015. I'm not exactly sure where it went, but looking back through my reading log, I think I spent a lot of it buried in a book.

My final reading numbers for this year were:

115 books read
114 authors (the only author I read twice was Neil Gaiman)
88 authors who were completely new to me

87 books were fiction
28 non-fiction
78 print books
37 audiobooks
26 debuts

67 books were written by male authors
43 were written by female authors
5 were written by male and female writing teams (that number surprised me)

For next year, I'm adding a column onto my reading log for authors outside the United States. I read a number of translated works this year and quite a few non-American authors, but I'm not positive how many in total.

So for my favorites lists this year, I'm going to divide it into two posts. Today I'll cover my favorite debuts, non-fiction and audiobooks. Since they comprised a smaller fraction of my overall reading, I'm making each of these lists 5 books long. It was a challenge to narrow the non-fiction down to 5. I didn't read a ton, but what I read was good! So here we go.

My 2015 Favorite Debuts Are (in no particular order):

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe. I still have to post this review to my blog, but it was a starred review at Shelf Awareness and I chose this book as my co-pick for the November Nerdy Special List. A fun new female protagonist with a lot of gumption. She calls to mind a female Sherlock for some.

The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young. This book is so atmospheric and richly written, I simply lost myself in it. The language is gorgeous and the complexity of the plot makes it an engaging read. I'm looking forward to more from Hester Young.

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell. Charming is the word that best describes this lovely little memoir. I finished it wanting a penguin of my own. The events of this book made my heart swell, laugh and rejoice. If you need a glimmer of hope, this is the book to pick up.

Wanted by Chris Hoke. A powerful look at our prison system and its residence from the perspective of a prison chaplain. Hoke humanizes those individuals our society feels are worthless monsters. It's a harsh reminder that life isn't that simple. This one isn't a easy, feel-good read because it challenges stereotypes and brings reality up close and personal, but it's written with stunning beauty and amazing compassion.

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders. Flanders isn't technically a debut, but this is her first go at fiction. I listened to this one on audio and it's fun. The perspective of the publishing world adds an entertaining angle to the murder mystery. I hope there's more from Flanders.

I also wanted to make a mention of The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton. I had this one on my favorite debuts list last year, which was in error. I read it early for a Shelf Awareness Max Shelf issue and forgot that its release date was January of 2015. Ooops. So I mention it again this year.

My 2015 Favorite Non-fiction Works Are (again, in no particular order):

Wanted by Chris Hoke. See above for gushing on this title.

A Force for Good by Daniel Goleman. Writing this I discovered that I never posted this review to my blog. Yeesh! This was the most inspiring book I read this year. I've recommended it to many people and believe whole-heartedly in the importance of compassion over greed. I appreciated that this book gave focus to the individual, showing me how I can make a difference. I don't need to have a lot of money or power or influence in order to do so.

Saving Capitalism by Robert Reich. The former U.S. Labor Secretary makes a strong argument for why Capitalism is failing now when it was so successful in the 60s, 70s and 80s. He outlines how the trend toward a shrinking middle class can be reversed and why that's so vital. His insights are eye-opening and he has a strong understanding of what he's professing, so he's able to explain it in layman's terms. You don't need an advanced degree in economics to comprehend these ideas. I'd rank this as the most important book I read this year.

The Bassoon King by Rainn Wilson. Now at the other end of the spectrum I offer you some humor. I don't watch TV, so I'm not an Office groupie, but this book was fantastic. It's funny, insightful, inspiring and just overall enjoyable. Wilson's wicked wit wins in The Bassoon King.

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell. Again, see above for gushing on this title.

Last but certainly never least, my 2015 Favorite Audiobooks Are:

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, narrated by Scott Brick. It's often difficult for me to read books that people recommend to me simply because of time constraints, but I did pick up The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry because several friends raved about it. And they certainly were right to do so. It's a glorious tale and a delightful audiobook. I'm not always Scott Brick's biggest fan on thrillers, but he struck gold in his narration of this book. He truly taps into the soul of this story. If you haven't experienced this one, definitely put it on your list to read or listen to.

Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty, narrated by Gerard Doyle. As an audiobook listener, I appreciate the narrations that obviously delve into the heart of the author's work. They connect with the emotions, the atmosphere, the tone. Adrian McKinty has a very distinct tone to his novels and Doyle is without a doubt in tune with it. The darkness is palpable and the element of crime is rich. And the icing on this delectable cake is Doyle's grasp of McKinty's humor. An all-around excellent recording.

Night Life by David C. Taylor, narrated by Keith Szarabjka. The Night Life audiobook shares many of the attributes of Gun Street Girl. The atmosphere is so vital in this novel and Szarabjka is keenly aware of it, bringing it to life as much as the human characters. Szarabjka also excels with the range of dialects he portrays in this novel, which are essential to the setting. This is also another debut and most worthy of your attention, most especially if you're a crime fiction fan.

The Bassoon King by Rainn Wilson, narrated by Rainn Wilson. You can see my above entry for gushing on the book itself. As for the audiobook, Wilson is dynamic, funny and puts his acting chops on display as much as any stage or screen performance he's done. His humor is well-timed, as is dramatic inflection. He saves the passion for perfect emphasis. And you realize just how intelligent this man is. Superb recording!

The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein, narrated by Kirby Heyborne. This is the only children's title on my list this year, and unfortunately I didn't fit in the review of it. Heyborne does an exemplary job with the hilarious cast of this book. From a very self-assured Robin Hood to a bit of a bumbling Hercules, this narration is fun and I would have to believe young readers would be just as entertained as I was. Its focus age group is middle grade, so 4th-8th grade, give or take depending on reading ability.

That's just about enough for one day. Please share with me your favorites in any of these categories. It's always fun to hear what others are enjoying. Plus I love to have ideas I can share with other people even if I'm not always able to read them all myself.

I'll share my favorite crime novels and my favorite overall books of 2015 tomorrow. Hope you'll stop back. Happy Reading!


le0pard13 December 29, 2015 at 9:58 AM  

We didn't have a lot in common in our reading this year, but GUN STREET GIRL and SAVING CAPITALISM we certainly agree upon. I'll need to check out more of those on your list 'best' list, Jen. And you are the best, Jen. Happiest of New Years, my friend.

Kristine December 29, 2015 at 11:45 AM  

Oh how I love this post! Your reading spreadsheet must be amazing. I would love to be able to look back at my year this way, but it would take forever since I don't have all the categories you do. Goal making time! Thanks for sharing your audio book picks -- I just got a gift card for Audible and have to make some hard choices. Happy new year, Jen!

Kay December 29, 2015 at 2:16 PM  

I have been meaning to read The Gates of Evangeline for months now. It's on my Kindle. Need to choose it soon. One of my 2016 goals is to read from my own shelves. I know. Everyone says that, but I really mean it this time. LOL

Happy New Year, Jen! Here's to 2016 and some good, good reading.

Jen Forbus December 30, 2015 at 10:15 AM  

Michael, one of the greatest things about reading and this community has been meeting you and your amazing clan. I am blessed. May 2016 be your best ever! xoxo

Jen Forbus December 30, 2015 at 10:17 AM  

Kristine, I'm beginning to think my spreadsheet is reflecting my OCD, but I do enjoy looking back at the year with it! :-) Hope you find some great audiobooks for 2016. Happy New Year!

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