At the beginning of January, I set a goal to read 100 new books by December 31, 2015. Considering I had only read about a third of that number in the year prior, I was skeptical about whether or not I’d be able to reach that goal. However, by the time June rolled around, I was surprised to find that I was already more than halfway there. I read as many different types of books that I could: classic literature, contemporary literary fiction, fantasy, romance, young adult, business/communication, and self-help to name a few.
While my viewpoints changed and grew with each book I read, the most important changed occurred within me. Many of the books I read related to my life profoundly, and I have a timeline of the year that can be recalled based on the books I read during that time. The characters I encountered inspired me to cultivate a life that I was proud of. The worlds I discovered helped me find new light and hope in my own world. Arguably, the most important thing I learned is that I can do anything I set my mind to. No goal or dream or aspiration is impossible.
Below, I’m going to share with you my favorite books from 2015, along with my favorite quotes and characters I found along the way.
1. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
This was the first book I read in 2015, and I was blown away by Rainbow Rowell. She writes with a level of simplicity and sweetness that I love, but also beautifully articulates complex themes effortlessly. This book takes the ideals you see in a typical love story and completely turns them around. Eleanor & Park reminded me that love comes in all shapes and sizes, and everyone deserves to be loved.
2. Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone and Bruce Patton
I read this book for a course I took on managing conflict during my last semester at the U. While I believe it holds its own as a book for the business realm, I feel like the messages shared are the kinds that every person should hear. As I was reading, I could relate specific instances in my life to concepts in this book, and was amazed at how truthful, simple, and relevant they were. I learned about the importance of showing people who I really am and allowing myself to be heard. “If you are sometimes lonely or despondent and never share with those close to you, then you deny them the chance to come to know a part of you.” Overall, this book is stellar and everyone should read it. Hands down.
3. Slammed by Colleen Hoover
Okay so don’t judge me on this one… because this book is technically classified as romance. However, I feel like this book transcends the typical story line of romance novels, especially when it comes to YA. Colleen Hoover incorporates several different mediums into her writing that add to the story as a whole. Slam poetry plays a major role in this novel, which is one of the things I love most about it. In addition, she uses quotes from a band called The Avett Brothers, who I have come to love and listen to regularly. This book talks about death and cancer and making difficult life choices. Also, there’s a good amount of Chuck Norris jokes, pink balloons, chocolate milk, and “basagna.” In my opinion, the best books are those that can make me laugh and make me cry, and this one has a healthy dose of both.
4. Love, Rosie by Cecelia Ahern
Rosie and Alex become best friends at a young age and continue to have correspondence throughout the rest of their lives. The story is told only through notes, letters, emails, etc. and has all of my favorite things: sass, Britain, and enough almost-moments to last a life time. (There’s also an abundance of Alex’s spelling errors, poor guy.) The author of this book also wrote P.S. I Love You and I love the characters she creates with Rosie and Alex. My favorite quote from this book is: “I’ve learned that home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.”
5. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan
Of all of the books by John Green, this one is my favorite. The story rotates around two teenagers who are both named Will Grayson. Throughout the course of the book, their paths cross and their lives mesh. In addition, there is a very large, very gay guy named Tiny Cooper (oh, the irony), who writes musicals for his high school and hates the song “Over the Rainbow.” There are multiple themes in this book but the biggest are about friendship, coming out, depression, and LGBT issues. It is also clever and witty and had me laughing so hard I cried. “Love is always a miracle, everywhere, every time. But for us, it’s a little different. I don’t want to say it’s more miraculous… It is, though. Our miracle is different because people say it’s impossible.”
6. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
“When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person realize his dream.” I honestly don’t have enough good things to say about this one and I can’t even begin to describe the beauty and power that is conveyed within its pages. The book is about Santiago and a quest that takes him across continents and through many obstacles. Ultimately, the biggest message is all about following your dreams. I wept as I read many of Paulo’s profound words and felt incredibly empowered after I finished it. (Shout out to my Corazon, who encouraged me to read this, I know the universe is conspiring to make all of your dreams come true!) This is another that I think everyone needs to read.
7. The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute
The Anatomy of Peace was another book I read for my course on managing conflict in business, but this book actually addresses conflicts in all facets our lives. This fictional story is set at a rehabilitation facility called Camp Moriah, founded by an Arab man named Yusuf and an Israeli man named Avi. These two men spent most of their childhoods hating the posterity of the other, and both lost so much along the way. The camp was created because of their friendship that blossomed as they worked through the trials and prejudices of their youth. My favorite theme of this book is having a “heart at peace” vs. a “heart at war.” The authors of the book use fiction to communicate the principles/concepts, and the examples they use are extremely moving. “Such stories show me that it is possible to find peace once more, even when much of my life has been a war zone.”
8. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Anyone can betray anyone. This book is best described as Graceling meets The Hunger Games and I was hooked within the first few pages. The people in this world are separated by blood; the mortals who bleed red and the elite with additional abilities, who bleed silver. Mare is a teenage thief who finds herself in a deadly competition at the King’s palace. Even though she bleeds red, she discovers along the way that she has powers of her own and also learns about a growing rebellion among the people. This book is the first in a series and I am very excited for the second book to come out in less than a month!
9. I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson
I don’t have enough good and lovely things to say about this novel. This story revolves around twins named Noah and Jude, and how they deal with death, change, and independence. One of the best aspects of this book is the way the story is told; for Noah, we hear his story from his earlier years. For Jude, we hear her story told a few years later. They were once inseparable, but now barely speak. I could talk about this novel for days, but I’ll keep it brief. If you like John Green, this is a must-read. It’s another one of those that qualifies as a “best book” for me, because it is emotionally touching and also witty and funny. My favorite quote, from a parrot named Prophet: “Where the hell is Ralph?”
10. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
A spin-off from Fangirl (another of Rowell’s awesome novels), Carry On follows the story of Simon Snow and his arch-nemesis named Baz. They are in their final year of magic school and have tried to defeat each other every year. Simon is this is explosive, all-powerful magician who is also volatile and unpredictable. Baz is this mysterious, possible-vampire who tries his best to thwart Simon’s plans. What’s my favorite part about this book, you ask? Well, I won’t give away. But I will leave you with this quote from Baz that you can draw your own conclusions from, “I realized I’d be the one who was most miserable if I ever succeeded in doing Snow in.”
11. Life and Other Near-Death Experiences by Camille Pagan
I read this novel at a point when I really needed a pick-me-up… particularly one that had inspiration, humor, and a strong female lead. Libby is a woman who receives two huge piles of bad news on the same day, one from her doctor and one from her husband. In response to these changes, she decides to do some soul-searching, so she puts her home up for sale, quits her job, and heads to Puerto Rico. This novel has some stellar supporting characters, but Libby is this sassy and brilliant lead who I just love. For example, when her husband delivers the bad news, she stabs him with a fork. This novel discusses death, loss, change, and fear in a beautiful and inspiring way. I closed this book feeling uplifted and happy and hopeful. “I wished that my mother, like so many stars in the sky, were still in transit. That some part of her, somewhere, was able to see that Paul and I were still here, making our way.”
12. Sounds Like Me by Sara Bareilles
If you know me at all, you’ll know that I am seriously and completely in love with Sara Bareilles, so it’s not surprising at all that I loved her book. She leads each chapter with lyrics from some of her best songs and then tied each chapter into the story behind them and the things she’s learned. She is funny and honest, and also brought me to tears. I was touched to find that she often feels the same way I do: lost and confused and insignificant. I didn’t know it was possible, but this book just made me love her more. I love you Sara, I’ll wait for you!!! (JK…kind of.)
13. Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas
I read the first four books in this series in less than a week, because it is addicting and unpredictable and so. Freaking. Good. The main character is an assassin named Celaena, who had spent the last year in essentially a slave prison. She’s abruptly pulled from this prison to fight in a competition to become the King’s Champion. This series has so many complex characters, with plot twists that sometimes have me yelling out loud. This series is easily one of my favorites I’ve ever read, and I’m incredibly impatient as I wait for the last two books to come out. My favorite book out of the series (so far) is Book 3, Heir of Fire.
14. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
This book was a gift from my best friend, and it has become a treasure to me since I read it. The author talks about the difference between guilt and shame, and how “shame is basically the fear of being unlovable.” She also defines courage as “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” The book spoke so many profound truths straight to my heart and soul, all about self-love and courage and hope. She quotes Leonard Cohen as she says, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
15. The Shadowhunter Chronicles by Cassandra Clare
“All the stories are true.” So… I saved the best for last. 🙂 This obsession-worthy series is my favorite of the whole year, and ranks among the top for all time!! Since I finished Harry Potter, I have been craving another story about another world that exists inside of our own. I have wanted to read about characters who love as fiercely, who stand with as much bravery, and who make changes that surpass bigotry, prejudice, and of course, evil villains (hahah) as Harry Potter does. All of those things I was searching for I found in this series. While nothing could rival the books by the Queen J.K. herself, these ones take a close second. So far, there has been a series of six books (The Mortal Instruments), a series of three books (The Infernal Devices), two books of short stories, and dozens of online snippets published. The first book in another trilogy comes out in two months, and another trilogy will begin in the next year or so. There are so many things I love about these books, but the thing I love most is the emphasis on love in all of its forms. There is the love that is magically bound between friends, or the love of people who are willing to die for each other. This love passes through generations and each series is connected by familial ties (thus the reason for so many separate series). Trust me, if you love Harry Potter, give this one a try (start with City of Bones or Clockwork Angel). I know you won’t be disappointed. (Shout out to Scottie for getting me hooked and for sending me endless Pins on Pinterest about it!)
2015 Honorable Mentions: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Paper Towns by John Green, Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult, This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordian.
Favorite Quote: “Life is a book and there are a thousand pages I have not yet read.” – Will Herondale, Clockwork Princess
Favorite Characters: Celaena Sardothien (Throne of Glass), Simon Lewis (Mortal Instruments) and Alec Lightwood (Mortal Instruments).
First-Reads List for 2016: Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, The God Who Weeps by Terryl and Fiona Givens, & The Oddfits by Tiffany Tsao.