Weekly Musing: Favorite Reads of 2015

Last week I went over my least favorite books of 2015 in which I happily noted most of the books I read this year I enjoyed. Below are the books I consider to be my favorites of 2015. They’re a mixture of new releases and books that have been around for a while.

I quickly noticed a trend that many of the books I loved I discovered via my book club. The leader of it does a great job of selecting books that are thought-provoking and fun. So if one of your resolutions is to join a book club, I encourage it. If joining a book club isn’t one of your resolutions, make it one. Your mind will thank you.

The Humans by Matt HaigThe Humans is a sci-fi book set in modern England where an alien comes down to Earth to eliminate the knowledge a scientist has that would allow humans to explore the galaxy. However, when the alien comes to Earth, he discovers the scientist is already dead. But no one knows so he takes over the dead scientist’s body in an effort to investigate who else might know.

This book is heartwarming and funny exploring what it means to be human. Yes, this is a subject that has been explored numerous times throughout history. Clearly it’s still a popular subject but Haig does it in a different way as the alien inhabiting the man’s body repairs the damaged relationships in the human’s life. Haig’s book is both absurdist yet utterly down-to-earth. Several times I cried and laughed at the same time.

Lock In by John Scalzi – Another sci-fi book, Lock In is dark yet still has a lot of humor in it. Set in the future after a fast-acting and deadly virus, similar in many respects to polio, devastates the human population worldwide.

But the focus of the book is not the disease or its after affects. Instead it’s a murder mystery which spans coast to coast. It also involves corruption at the corporate and political levels. The virus does play a heavy role as the main character and one of the detectives on the case, is a survivor of the disease. The disease leaves its victims essentially in a permanent vegetative state. With their minds perfectly able to function, though, the survivors are able to live be transferring their thoughts into bodies which they control.

It’s a great mash up of so many genres and I loved how Scalzi maintained the focus of the story as a murder mystery rather than just a straight up sci-fi novel. The main character was fascinating as was his partner as they came from different backgrounds. For example, the main character had been the poster child for the disease as his parents are high up in the government. Yet he is far from being a spoiled brat as evidenced by his choice of professions.

The City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett – Unlike the above books, this is a fantasy novel which takes place in a world once ruled by a particular set of gods. But then a mere mortal man came along and managed to defeat many of those gods while the others went underground. This war with the gods fractured the world geopolitically.

As of late strange things have begun happening which seem to suggest perhaps the remaining gods want to make a comeback. Because of strange occurrences, it’s up to the niece of a high-level government official to figure out what’s going on.

What I really loved about this book was that Bennett draws upon various religions, cultures, and history for inspiration. He explores the question of what is religion? Is it about whom we worship? Is about how we worship? Do the god or gods shape the religion or do the followers shape it? He doesn’t answer this questions which I appreciate.

It’s not just this rather neutral way of examining religion that I enjoyed about The City of Stairs but the main character of Shara. She’s a quiet, yet not shy, and is a powerful person. She’s physically short and with her rather ordinary face means Shara can easily disappear into the background. I found her love of learning and drive to do the right thing enduring and relatable.

And it’s not just Shara’s character that I fell in love with. The supporting characters range from the bawdy, loud, cigar-chomping military commander to Shara’s silent, fearless bodyguard who has no problem launching himself into the belly of a kraken. Yeah, you read that right. A kraken. I’m looking forward to the other books in this series since I am intrigued by the world it’s in.

Alias by Brian Michael Bendis – Last week I talked about how The Pulse, featuring the character of Jessica Jones, was a huge disappointment after reading Alias. Again, because the show on Netflix has recently come out, I’m not going to go into details about the plots and what not. I’m simply going to summarize why I loved Alias.

It all comes down to Jessica Jones. She’s incredibly rough around the edges yet is also very vulnerable. She tries to hide it from people but it doesn’t work. But nor does it hurt her when she is vulnerable with people. From the very first issue she’s a well-fleshed out character, far beyond what I expected. At least for someone who used to be a superhero. Perhaps that’s because she wasn’t one of the A-listers or even a B-list superhero. Her past isn’t what defines her and she fights to get that idea through to people.

I love, too, that she’s a private investigator. In a way she’s still out to save the world but the reality of it is she is mainly taking pictures and gathering information hired by people with cheating spouses. That being said cases focused on in the Alias volume are far more complex and tie in heavily with her past.

The Mussorgsky Riddle by Darin Kennedy – Last, but not least, is The Mussorgsky Riddle. This was one of the first books I read this year and it set the tone for what I would find enjoyable in 2015. I won’t go into the plot as I reviewed it earlier in the year.

One of the biggest reasons why I enjoyed the book was that the case was not typical and neither is Mira. She’s not a fraud or charlatan. Instead Mira is honest, warm, and empathetic. She doesn’t rush to judgment of people in the story since often the situations in the story appear to be one thing when they aren’t.

I also really loved how Kennedy weaved in the composer Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition into the story and made it a huge part of the story. The book is clever and unique without coming across as pretentious.

 

There it is my favorite books of 2015; a list of stories around people, and an alien, which felt real dealing with real situations even when the stories are set in made-up worlds. This makes sense as I’ve always been drawn to stories with real, honest people and I believe all the books listed above possess that quality.

Weekly Musing: Regretful Reads of 2015

To paraphrase a famous quote “Read everything you can get your hands on.” This means the good, the great, the bad, and the truly atrocious books. Up until the last few years I was always one of those people who had to finish a book no matter what. Even if I hated the book early on I still stuck it through in the hopes that perhaps the book would get better. However, the older I get and the more books I acquire, the more I realize if something doesn’t do it for me then it’s okay to not finish the book.

Even armed with this philosophy I still wind up finishing most books I start. There were a few I simply couldn’t finish and didn’t think it was fair to include those on my list of least favorite books of 2015.

Jessica Jones: The Pulse by Michael Bendis – I can’t really go into too much about this since the Netflix’s series Jessica Jones has recently premiered and I’m not sure if they pulled anything from this. Let me quickly state I read the first set of comics the Jessica Jones character appears in and loved, loved them. This joy didn’t transfer over to The Pulse which is the second volume of comics she is the center of.

And that’s one of my biggest problems with it. What made reading Jessica Jones: The Pulse rather unbearable is that despite being written by the character’s creator, she barely resembles herself. Supposedly she has a job with The Daily Bugle acting as a liaison between the paper and superheroes but she doesn’t actually do anything. All she does is whine. I guess when you leave your private investigation business you become annoying as hell.

Another thing that bugged me is how many of the stories don’t center on her. It’s more about other superheroes and J. Jonah Jameson. When she is there, she just exists. No clue where the gritty, troubled, and utterly human Jessica Jones we were first introduced to went. I have a hard time believing just because The Pulse is supposed to be more PG or PG-13 that that somehow meant the writer felt he needed to gut the character. Major disappointment.

The Unfinished Garden by Barbara Claypole White – I’ve previously reviewed this book so my reasons for putting it on this list have already been documented. I’ll save everyone the time of rehashing.

Amethyst by Lauren Royal – Much like last year when I read a book called Danielle simply because that’s my first name, I decided to read this book because the main character’s first name happens to be my birth stone. I need to stop doing that. They do nothing but disappoint.

Amethyst is a typical historical romance in that we’ve got our female heroine who meets by accident a rich, young, and handsome Duke, Baron, whatever title. Naturally they fall in love and live happily ever after despite trite obstacle after trite obstacle. And of course both our leads are involved/promised to other people they clearly shouldn’t be with because they are horrible people.

The only thing that was kind of neat was Amethyst was the daughter of a jewelry maker (hence her name) and was talented in her own right. Other than that, this was incredibly forgettable.

Wild Abandon by Joe Dunthorne – This book was weird which isn’t what I had a problem with. When a story is set in a hippie commune in modern day Wales it’s to be expected the characters and story are going to be a bit weird. What bugged me most about the book was not so much the head-hopping but which characters’ heads the reader was forced into.

If the author had stuck to the family at the center of the story then this book would have been better. After all, the heart of this book is how a family that has existed solely within the commune deals with the modern world as it creeps into their sphere. If the book had stayed focused on this family dynamic rather than subplots that really did nothing to support the main plot, then I would have enjoyed it more.

 

There you have it a nice short list of books that bugged me to read this year. Next week’s list of books I truly enjoyed is longer. Maybe that shows I’m getting pickier or maybe I just don’t want to waste my time. Who knows.