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Lara’s Top Picks of 2015

booksIt’s the most wonderful time of the year. For my blog. It’s that time where I post my personal “Best Of” list for 2015. And as I’ve done in years past, this is a list of the ten best books I personally read this year — NOT a list of books that were published this year. (For that, check out the New York Times.) Most of the books on my list are at least a few years old, and it just took me until now to get around to reading them. Anyway, keep reading for a pretty great list of books, and scroll to the bottom for the complete list of the 25 books I read this year.

10. Insurgent by Veronica Roth. A follow-up to the bestselling young adult Divergent series, Insurgent follows Tris and Four as they aim to take down the leader of a government gone wrong. While Divergent is mostly exposition and setup for the rest of the YA series, Insurgent is almost all action and continues to put Tris at the forefront of strong feminist characters. Buy it now.

9. Armada by Ernest Cline. A high schooler and video game junkie’s dreams and worst fears come true when he learns the video game he’s been playing is actually training for a real world alien battle he must help fight. The follow-up to Cline’s bestseller Ready Player One is not as innovative or good as Player, but it incorporates the pop culture references, adventure and heart that made his debut novel so special. Buy it now.

8. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. A small town in the UK is turned upside down with a dark chain of events when an untimely death leads to an opening on the town’s parish council. This was the first adult novel Rowling wrote after her Harry Potter series came ended, and while some felt it was too dark and twisty, I felt it was perfect. That darkness Rowling writes with is what made her later Potter novels so great and what makes the events of this one so unexpected.Buy it now.

7. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. The death of Theo’s mother leads him to a strange world: the underworld of art, as he carries around a mysterious piece of art throughout all the highs and lows of his hard, inconsistent life. The Goldfinch is LONG, yes, but it’s beautifully written and tells an intriguing story of an intriguing boy and life. It won a Pulitzer Prize for a reason.Buy it now.

6. A Letter to My Mom by Lisa Erspamer. A collection of essays and anecdotes about mothers come together in this cute book that will make you laugh, smile and cry hysterically. It was a book that made me think of my mom, thank my mom and know exactly what I’m giving her next Mother’s Day. Buy it now.

5. The Martian by Andy Weir. Man goes to Mars; man gets stuck on Mars; NASA spends years effecting bringing him home, while he figures out a way to survive on his own. It’s an amazing story, which seems totally plausible — if someone as smart and amazing as Mark Watney were to ever get stuck up there. This bestseller-turned-book is not only powerful and intense, it’s also funny, funny, funny and incredibly enjoyable. Buy it now.

4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Alternating narrators connects the stories of the drunken, depressed woman who rides the train, her ex and the couple whose house she passes everyday on the train. Dubbed “the next Gone Girl,” The Girl on the Train is a suspenseful murder mystery and thriller that keeps you turning pages in a classic whodunit story with a modern twist. Buy it now.

3. Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe. Rob Lowe narrates the story of his rise to fame on this audiobook memoir with stories of celebrity and scandal, work and success. Stories is great because it offers exactly what one wants from a celebrity memoir — behind-the-scenes secrets and details of some of his greatest films and TV shows and details of his scandals of the 1980s. Buy it now.

2. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. When Jacob goes to Wales to research more about this late grandfather, he learns that he and his grandpa share no only a special, sci-fi, fantastical connection, but also a whole other secret world. It’s a YA novel that feels more adult, and is filled with excitement, wonder, heart and bravery — the first in a series of Miss Peregrine books, the rest of which I can’t wait to read. Buy it now.

1.  Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger. A behind-the-scenes look at the real-life 1988 Permian Pantheers football team from Odessa, Texas, this is the book that started the FNL sensation. This nonfiction story is even more heart-wrenching and despairing than the story lines on the show, but it’s the detailed, beautifully written prose by Buzz Bissinger that makes this version exceptional. Buy it now.

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

I’m Glad I Did – Cynthia Weil

Amazon Burning – Victoria Griffith

Insurgent – Veronica Roth

The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

At the Water’s Edge – Sara Gruen

Whip Smart: Lola Montez Starts a Revolution – Kit Brennan

Unorthodox – Deborah Feldman

The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling

A Letter to My Mom – Lisa Erspamer

Then Again – Diane Keaton

The Storyteller – Jodi Picoult

Paper Towns – John Green

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

Dark Places – Gillian Flynn

Alexander Hamilton – Ron Chernow

Stories I Only Tell My Friends – Rob Lowe

Bond Girl – Erin Duffy

The Martian – Andy Weir

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

Inconceivable! – Tegan Wren

Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins

Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream – H.G. Bissinger

Armada – Ernest Cline

Walking Distance – David Hlavsa

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Lara’s Top Picks of 2014

Well folks, it’s time for my favorite blog post of the year. It’s time for my personal “Best Of” list. I must reiterate that this is a list of the best books I’ve read this year — NOT the best books that came out in 2014. (If I’m being completely honest, of the 24 books I read this year, I think only two or three were actually released in 2014.) If you’d like a 2014 “Best Of” list, check out the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books of 2014. If you want to check out some really kick-ass books I loved this year, keep reading. And scroll to the bottom for a complete list of all the books I read this year! Bring on 2015!

10. Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. An English teacher and Eagles football fanatic snaps and spends years in a rehab facility, only to return home and find that everything has changed, including himself. Moving on proves harder than he thought it would be. The bestseller-turned-Oscar-winning-movie is a showcase of mental illness and how devastating loss can be. Buy it now.

9. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon. A haunting tale of murders and mysterious disappearances, this novel is chilling and twisted with lots of characters and deep, dark secrets as two young girls try to piece together what happened in their town and their home about 100 years ago that led to their mother’s recent disappearance. Buy it now.

8. Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman. After watching the Netflix series, I had to read the autobiography on which it was based, and I’m glad I did. Now that I know the true story about what happened to Piper, I feel a lot better. You will too. But don’t worry — both the painful and humorous anecdotes are included in this telling of a woman who serves a year in an all-female prison. Buy it now.

7. Divergent by Veronica Roth. The start to another YA dystopian series, this book is a bestseller for a reason. Once they reach a certain age, teenagers have to choose a “faction,” based on their personalities, behaviors and instincts. But when one girl fits into several different “factions,” she starts a much-needed, exciting, painful, and thrilling revolution. Buy it now.

6. 27 by Howard Sounes. You think you know everything about the deaths of Amy Winehouse, Brian Jones, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Kurt Cobain. But you don’t. The uncanny coincidence that they all died at the age of 27 gave biographer Howard Sounes enough of a reason to further investigate this in the nonfiction book simply and eerily titled 27.  Buy it now.

5. Dare Me by Megan Abbott. What a dark story, but what a good one. A cheerleading squad is busy enough doing drugs, skipping meals, and perfecting their bodies to realize that its coach, captain, and squad member are somehow caught up in a murder that appears to be a suicide. The mind games that go on in this novel were enough to make my head spin and my hands turn another page. Buy it now.

4. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead. The second of Maggie Shipstead’s novels isn’t quite as good as her first, but its beautiful story about a dancer who gives up her life as a professional ballerina for family is rather…astonishing. It centers on a scandal, much like Shipstead’s first novel, but the focus on dance and the complex relationships it weaves adds a layer of intrigue. Buy it now.

3. Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead. This bestseller about the beach wedding of a pregnant bride, who comes from a prominent New England family is more than just a scandalous, juicy beach read. It feels like true literature, like an Edith Wharton novel written in the modern day. It’s a painful, but fun and interesting take on who people really are compared to who they seem to be or want to be. Buy it now.

2. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. it’s more than the bestselling YA novel about a girl with cancer who falls in love. It’s a coming-of-age story. it’s a beautiful statement about what young love can mean, and a display of how good young adult fiction can be, even if it’s not a sci-fi dystopian novel. Buy it now.

1. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Bestselling author Laura Hillenbrand takes us on the journey of Louie Zamperini’s life — a true story of an Olympian and WWII POW and hero. What he endured is truly incredible. An inspiring read for anyone, especially as we head into the new year. Buy it now.

Tick to the Tock – Matthew Turner

The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

The Cabinetmaker – Alan Jones

Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand

Orange Is the New Black – Piper Kerman

On Grace – Susie Orman Schnall

Committed – Elizabeth Gilbert

A Fool Among Fools – John Terracuso

The Lucky One – Nicholas Sparks

Divergent – Veronica Roth

Seating Arrangements – Maggie Shipstead

I Remember Nothing – Nora Ephron

The Never Never Sisters – L. Alison Heller

Silver Linings Playbook –Matthew Quick

27 – Howard Sounes

Astonish Me – Maggie Shipstead

Prep – Curtis Sittenfeld

The Killing Chase – Craig Hurren

The Winter People – Jennifer McMahon

Dare Me – Megan Abbott

In the Company of Educated Men – Leonce Gaiter

The Stupidest Angel – Christopher Moore

Blue Wicked –Alan Jones

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