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.

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