If there’s one thing I love about December, aside from the holidays, it’s the Best of 2015 book lists that come out.
As a former librarian and a huge reader, both on my own and with my small children, it’s basically like Christmas all over again when I get a little time to pore over the lists and max out my library card with the ones I haven’t read yet.
Of course, I can never resist putting together my own list too. If you’re looking for something great to give as a gift to a spouse, friend, parent, or co-worker, you can’t go wrong with any of these 20 books. And since they’ve all come out in the last year, you’re less likely to give a duplicate.
And, who know, maybe you’ll even have a little time this holiday season while work and school are out to dive into one or two of them yourself!
Here’s my list…
- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. This was one of the biggest titles of the year, and if you loved Gone Girl, it’s definitely the one to check out next, since it has some of the same elements – marital relationships gone wrong, an unreliable narrator, and an ending that will take you by surprise!
- The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. For every royalty lover who follows Kate Middleton and Prince William with delight, this book is just perfect. This spin on their love story (the characters have different names and some things play out quite differently, but there are many similarities to England’s most famous pair) is fun from the first page to the last. I read it over the summer and begrudged anything that took me away from this hilarious and romantic story.
- The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. If you’re a non-fiction lover, you can always count on David McCullough to pull through for you. This story about the birth of aviation is no exception. The man is a master, and his recounting of bicycle shop owners and brothers, Orville and Wilbur, brings a pivotal moment in American history to life in bright color.
- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. If you can’t get enough of WWII books, here’s another one that has charmed readers all over the world this year. This book is about two French sisters who, living apart, both get involved in the French underground movement during the war. The book is narrated by one of the sisters in the present day, but you’ll be guessing until the very end which of the sisters it is.
- Styled: Secrets for Arranging Rooms, from Tabletops to Bookshelves by Emily Henderson. Whether you’re breaking in a new apartment/house or have been in the same place for years, this book is loaded with inspiration for making your house look like something from a magazine or Pinterest. (And it’d make a great house-warming gift). Also, if you like your house-decorating with a dash of DIY, try out the new book from the Young House Love power couple, Lovable Livable Home.
- Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin. I was dubious that she could write anything that would live up to my love for The Happiness Project, but this book, all about habits and how to make and break them, is so useful. I found myself reading huge sections of it aloud to my husband (and then my mom when she visited a week later) and it was so inspiring. It’s the perfect book to read in December in anticipation of a new year and fresh start.
- After You by Jojo Moyes. You probably know Moyes from her international best-seller, Me Before You, and this book is the much-anticipated sequel. After the events in the first book, Lou has to figure out what life holds for her and how to move on. It’s not quite as good as Me Before You, but it’s still absolutely worth a read. And if you’re giving a gift, bundle the two together and you won’t see the recipient for a week while they plow through them both.
- My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes That Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl. I’ve loved Ruth Reichl since Garlic and Sapphires, where she wrote about being the food critic for the New York Times. This book – part cookbook, part memoir – is about the year after Gourmet, where she served as editor-in-chief abruptly shut down, leaving her unemployed and wondering what was next for her. Critics are calling this one her best book yet, so it’s definitely worth a read. Just make sure your kitchen is ready for some cooking when you’ve finished.
- Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen. If young adult books are your thing, nobody does contemporary teen fiction like Sarah Dessen. Her newest one is her best in years, I think, and follows Sydney who has grown up in the shadow of her golden boy brother, Peyton. But when he starts getting in trouble with the law and finally lands himself in prison after a drunk-driving accident, Sydney’s whole life changes, and she has to change along with it.
- Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. She’s written a couple of books since Eat, Pray, Love made her a household name, but this is the first one that’s been an instant best-seller and for good reason. This non-fiction title about fostering creativity is just phenomenal and you’ll be itching to stretch your creative muscles within a few pages (even if you think of yourself as uncreative, there’s something in this book for everyone!)
- The Lake House by Kate Morton. Kate Morton’s mysteries are the perfect books for curling up by the fire with on a cold winter night. Here a family discovers that their baby has disappeared without a trace during a summer party on their grand estate. The family is devastated and torn apart by the tragedy. Years later, one of the older sisters becomes caught up in a quest to discover exactly what happened all those years ago to her tiny brother. I always find her books a tiny bit slow at the start, but after a chapter or two, I just want to hide in my bed and read nonstop.
- The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica Turner. If you’re wondering how to make more time for the things you love in your life, whether it’s reading or exercise or friendship or just a bubble bath, this book is for you. Filled with worksheets to help you identify what you want to do and how to fit it in, this book is a quick and delightful read that I found very inspiring to help me make my life full of the things that bring me joy.
- The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler. When librarian Simon Watson receives a handwritten book on his doorstep with his grandmother’s name in it, he learns about the drowning of a circus mermaid, and he begins to fear that his family is cursed. And that this curse might be about to descend on his sister, if he can’t find a way to save her. This one was picked as an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and it’s an amazingly strong debut novel.
- Rising Strong by Brené Brown. After Daring Greatly, everyone asked how Brené Brown could ever top that. And now most people are saying she managed to do just that. This book, about how to be brave and overcome challenges, setbacks, and fear, is profoundly important.
- Secrets of a Charmed Life by Susan Meissner. An American student in England meets an elderly woman who shares with her the secrets about her past she’s never told anyone about. This story about two young sisters during WWII evacuated to the rural countryside during the German bombing of London is heart-wrenching and beautifully told.
- The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows. Annie Barrows was the co-author of the enormously popular The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and this book is just as delightful. It follows Layla Beck, daughter of a US senator, who is required to join the Federal Writers’ Project and suddenly her life as a socialite changes to writing the history of a tiny town in West Virginia. But, of course, nothing is as quiet and simple as it looks from the outside, and Layla soon discovers that there is plenty to write about here.
- Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. The creator and producer of some of the most popular shows on TV today (think Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, to name a few) has a secret – she is super introverted and hated going to public events and parties. After a challenge from her sister, Shonda decided that, for a year, she would say yes to everything. And the results are not only downright magical, but also hilarious and touching.
- Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. Whether or not, science fiction is your genre of choice, this is a spectacular read. With the disintegration of the moon, the human race has only two years to escape Planet Earth and head off in spaceships until Earth is habitable again. But how do you decide who to send? And how do things go for those lucky few who are hanging around waiting for their world to be ready to welcome them back?
- How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt. Remember when everyone was burning CDs on their computer and music pirating became a huge thing? And then there were MP3s and iPods and everything about the music industry changed. This book chronicles all those stories into a non-fiction work that is as full of greed, money, theft, and change as any novel.
- Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling. You already know Mindy Kaling from her best-selling collection of essays, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and this new set of essays is just as funny as she chronicles her journey to find happiness and peace in her adult life. It’s an easy book to jump in and out of, and you’ll laugh your head off, so it’s the perfect thing to read during the busy holiday season.
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