My Book Reviews of 2015

Books 2015

Confession time: I love reading! A few travel bloggers I follow have incorporated book reviews into their websites (I’m looking at you Kristin and Kate). I take a lot of inspiration from these posts, so I hope that I in turn can inspire some of my readers.

Let’s start with some statistics:

I’ve read 19 books with a total of 8,583 pages.
The shortest book was The Last Dance: And Other Stories by Victoria Hislop (164 pages)
The longest book was The Passage by Justin Cronin (963 pages).

1. Jojo Moyes – Me Before You

Books 2015
The best way to start is with a favourite. Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You is a very special book, and I’m happy I can write a review about it rather than speaking about it in front of people. After finishing it, my face was blotchy and my eyes were red. I was crying for at least an hour during the last 100 pages of the book.

This is the first time I’ve come across the genre weepie, and it’s so incredibly suitable for this kind of book. I simply couldn’t put it down, and within three days I finished the whole thing. The writing style reminds me of David Nicholls’ One Day, another one of my favourite books.

For those of you who haven’t read it yet (read it!) the story is about a girl who is down on her luck, because she has just been fired from her job in a coffee shop. Her family is also affected by this change as they were counting on her cash flow. Through the Job Centre she finds a well-paid job as a carer for the quadriplegic Will. She doesn’t need medical knowledge (which she hasn’t) and all Will’s family expects from her is that she brightens up his days, which is proving to be difficult as he doesn’t want to be cared for.

Such a beautiful book and an easy read (which is not always positive but in this case it is). I heartily recommend this novel to anyone!

My rating: 5 out of 5

2. Eleanor Catton – The Luminaries

Books 2015
From the best straight on to the worst book (in my opinion) of 2015. This Man Booker Prize winner of 2013 drags on and on and on and on.

I am a fast reader, but for the first time every time I finished a few pages and put the book away to pick it up the next day I could not recall what I had read. The characters are very uninteresting. The story does not make any sense. Even after finishing it, I don’t know what it’s about.

There are twelve main characters in this book who all revolve around each other. The overall story is simple. A prostitute is found unconscious on the road, a hermit is found dead in his cabin with a fortune all over his house, a rich young man is missing and this all coincides with the arrival of Moody. He accidentally enters a room where twelve men are trying to figure out the mystery. Don’t think it’s some Sherlock Holmes story, it’s not. Instead what the writer has managed to do is to complicate everything by giving everyone a side story, which connects to the main story. And as I said, at the end I still don’t know what exactly happened.

The book has a mathematical structure which I don’t understand. The first chapters are very long and they become shorter and shorter as the book goes on. The main characters are constellations according to the introduction, which again doesn’t make any sense to me. I did not enjoy the book. And the fact that it was 832 pages long only made it worse.

My rating: 1 out of 5

3 & 4. Victoria Hislop – The Last Dance: and Other Stories & The Sunrise

Books 2015
I’ve read two books by Victoria Hislop this year. Normally, she’s one of my favourite writes (The Thread & The Island are fantastic!) but one of the two books I’ve read this year didn’t WOW me.

The Last Dance did. It’s a great collection of short stories to read on a summer’s day. It is composed of ten short stories which all are about every day Greek life. The stories are short and sweet, sometimes sad; but always beautifully written.

My rating: 4 out of 5

The Sunrise is the one that didn’t WOW me. It’s extra disappointing when a novel is not as good as the others written by the same author. High expectations make the apple extra sour.

This time the story is set in Cyprus. Hislop is very good in going backwards and forwards in time, however, for this novel she chose to stay in the past. The story centres around the occupation of Northern Cyprus and particularly Farmagusta. It tells the story of two families, one Greek Cypriot one Turkish Cypriot, and how they survive together in an occupied city.

That having been said, the characters themselves have no depth. The history is well laid out, but what is missing in this book is the human element. To make a long story short, I always recommend Hislop to friends. This one is best to be ignored.

My rating: 2 out of 5

5 & 6. Lee Child – The Enemy & One Shot

Books 2015

I’m a bit surprised I’ve only read two Jack Reacher novels this year. I started reading Child’s books a few years ago and I’m trying to get all the way to his latest books. The Enemy is number 8 and One Shot number 9, to give you a good idea of how much more I have to read: he’s now at the 20th novel.

Ok, The Enemy. Apart from one disappointing book, namely Echo Burning, Child has been consistently good. Don’t get me wrong, the novels aren’t literary feats; but they are very entertaining.

This is the first Jack Reacher novel that takes us back in time to when he was an MP. The story is set in 1990 when the army is undergoing internal changes due to the looming end of the Cold War. There’s usually an interesting fact or catch phrase I like to share after finishing a Lee Child novel and this time it’s a sentence that sums this novel up perfectly: “The enemy. When your back is to the wall. The supreme proof of a commander’s courage. the surest test of his strength of will.”

My rating: 4 out of 5

The story that features in One Shot was made into the movie called Jack Reacher with Tom Cruise. I decided to read all the books when I watched this movie, because its style was reminiscent of my favourite movies Die Hard and Lethal Weapon.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie nor read the book, the story is about a gunman who shoots five people on a square with six shots. The evidence unmistakably points to an ex-army man James Barr. He is captured and the only words he utters are: “Get Jack Reacher.” Jack Reacher always lives off the grid, so he’s impossible to find, but when he hears about Barr’s imprisonment he makes his way to the city straight away to settle an old score.

My rating: 4 out of 5

7. Justin Cronin – The Passage

Books 2015
I went through different phases while reading The Passage by Justin Cronin, just like the novel takes us through different story lines.

The story starts in the present day with lengthy descriptions of how prisoners are collected for some secret test conducted by the CIA or some other governmental agency. Aside from the prisoners, a little girl called Amy is also tracked down and taken to the facility with extra security. This part is really good.

Then the story shifts to a few decades later. After the post-apocalyptic event of the viral outbreak, the reader is taken to a little village which has been maintained for decades by keeping the virals away with lights which are on 24/7. This is when the story became a little bit boring because the narrative reaches a standstill. This standstill lasts for around 200 pages and then it gets exciting again.

The third part is about a group of people from the village who decide to explore the surrounding areas. So much happens when they leave their safe village that it’s hard to describe, but it’s sufficient to say that the last few chapters managed to catch my attention and I will certainly continue and read the next book in this trilogy before the movies come out, because with a story like this it is inevitable that it will be made into a movie franchise.

My rating: 3 out of 5

8. Griet op de Beeck – Kom Hier Dat ik U Kus

Books 2015
This review will be in Dutch because the book is only available in Dutch.

Het verhaal gaat over Mona. Een normaal meisje in een gebroken gezin. We lezen over haar als ze tien jaar is, vijf-en-twintig en vijf-en-dertig. Mona’s gedachten en monologen en dialogen klinken heel realistisch en dat maakt het zo’n goed boek. Haar angsten en gedachten zijn iedereens angsten en gedachten. Heel leesbaar, heel goed geschreven, zeker aan te raden.

My rating: 4 out of 5

9. Stephen King – From a Buick 8

Books 2015
Throughout the years I continue picking up Stephen King’s books, whether they’re old or new. Sometimes he disappoints, sometimes he blows my mind, that’s why I’m addicted to him. From a Buick 8 is certainly not the best Stephen King novel I have read, and to be honest the story could’ve fit perfectly into a short story collection. The novel was simply too lengthy for the story it was telling.

One day police officers find an abandoned Buick 8. They decide to take it back to the precinct and watch over it because there is something strange with the Buick. It doesn’t have any of the equipment to run even though it was abandoned at a gas station and the attendant swears he saw it drive up. Then lighting starts to come out of the car and strange creatures as well, not to mention the police officers that have gone missing recently in the vicinity of the car …

As I said before, it would’ve been an entertaining short story, but as a 460 page book it was simply too much.

My rating: 2 out of 5

10. Richard Flanagan – The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Books 2015
I find it difficult to rate The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, which was the Man Booker Prize Winner of 2014. It’s quite a compelling read compared to the 2013 winner, The Luminaries. However, it’s difficult to describe the true essence of the book.

For example, I don’t think that the back cover does the story any justice:
“In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Burma Death Railway, surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever.”

The novel is so much more than that. The story doesn’t just centre around the struggles of Dorrigo. It describes a few other POWs as well. You get pulled into their stories only to be roughly awoken by the harsh reality of life. Not just life as a POW, just life itself. Central themes in the book are love, companionship and survival.

This is the best way I can describe it. I enjoyed reading it, that’s why I’m giving it 3.5 stars now, but it’s not a book that I will be able to describe next year. It’s quite a forgettable story, even though some of the scenes in the POW camp are etched into my brain and can never be erased.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

11. Elif Shafak – The Bastard of Istanbul

Books 2015

I saw this book before I went to Istanbul . The cover drew me in and the title intrigued me. However, I was reading other books at the time, so I forgot about it for a while until everyone started mentioning this book.

After my visit to Istanbul, and seeing all the contradictions in this beautiful city, I decided to finally buy and read the book. The story actually addresses all the contradictions I have seen. I love it mostly for that reason, Elif Shafak is very open about her culture and about the history (so much so that she was almost jailed).

The story of this novel is about the intertwining lives of an American-Armenian girl who grew up with a mother who married a Turkish man after she divorced an Armenian man. And a Turkish girl who grew up as a bastard in Istanbul with only women in her family. The lives of these two girls become entangled when they both meet. One of the two wants to make amends with the past, the other does not want to face her past.

Such a beautiful story, it reminds me of Victoria Hislop’s novels where the future and the past meet in a very natural and uncomplicated way. I can definitely recommend this book!

My rating: 5 out of 5

12. Anthony Doerr – All the Light We Cannot See

Books 2015

I picked up this book because I saw it had won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2015 and apart from The Road by Cormac McCarthy I’ve not read a Pulitzer Prize Winner book for years.

The story takes place before and during World War II and it is about multiple characters. A blind girl and her father from Paris. A boy and his sister in a German Orphanage. An angry German colonel. And some smaller characters as well who make regular appearances (I’m looking at you Frederick). The book is well-written and the storyline is decent. Even though I’m missing the significance of some items, such as the stone.

Long story short, the novel simply didn’t pull me in. I wasn’t enthralled enough to enjoy it. I read it because it’s easy to read and it’s interesting but completing it was a feat. It’s a pity because it could’ve had so much more potential in my view. The start dragged on a bit and the ending was good, but you have to get through 450 pages to start reading the ending…

My rating: 3 out of 5

13. Chris Cleave – The Other Hand

Books 2015
I had very low expectations of this novel. I mean, even the cover looks a bit bland and meaningless. The only reason I took it with me when I travelled to Greece and Bulgaria this autumn was because I’ve had it in my bookcase for ages and it’s a small portable book

The story blew me away though! The blurb on the cover states that it doesn’t want to give too much from the story away, so I won’t either. Let it be sufficient to say that it’s about a family’s life being turned upside down by a visit from the past.

My rating: 5 out of 5

14. Jo Nesbø – The Bat

Books 2015

I had purchased three of Jo Nesbø’s books a few years ago. However, I found out that they were part 3, 4 and 5 in a series about detective Harry Hole. I like doing things chronologically, so I waited for 1 and 2 to be translated from Norwegian in order to start the series correctly.

The Bat is the first Harry Hole story. The reason it was translated later than the others was because it takes place in Australia rather than Norway.

The way the narrative is constructed takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s a good crime-thriller with a lot of unsuspected twists and turns. I can’t wait to read his other books.

My rating: 4 out of 5

15. S.J. Watson – Second Life

Books 2015

I regretted not picking up S.J. Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep when it just came out. There was a time when everyone was reading that book!

So I thought I’d make it right by picking up Second Life (his second book) the moment it appeared in the shops. What a mistake. The first warning sign should have been the fact that it only contains excellent reviews of Before I Go To Sleep. I don’t even know how to class this novel, is it erotic? It’s definitely not much of a thriller….

The characters are so weak. The main lady Julia is slightly dim. The first part of the book is filled with her first life; the drug and alcoholic girl she used the be and the second part is all about her second and I guess third life. The life with her family and the one with her lover.

Let’s not even start about the open ending! How can a book like this have an open ending? What’s the use of reading it in the first place?

My rating: 1 out of 5

16. Markus Zusak – The Book Thief

Books 2015
2015 marks the year that I reread one of my favourite books, The Book Thief. I cried all over again like it was the first time I picked it up.

Great book! Read it if you haven’t read it yet.

My rating: 5 out of 5

17. Michael Palin – Himalaya

Books 2015

The main reason Michael Palin travelled through Himalaya was to create a BBC TV series.

This book has been written based on Palin’s diaries he kept during his travels through the Himalaya mountains. Unfortunately, these descriptions are not sufficient to get a good idea of the different countries he visits during this trip. If the photos would’ve been better and the travel stories would’ve been better this book could’ve definitely been used as a travel guide to a region not many people have visited.

If you like Monthy Python’s Michael Palin though, you might really like this book and his writing style.

My rating: 3 out of 5

18. Nathaniel Philbrick – In the Heart of the Sea & 19. Herman Melville – Moby Dick

Books 2015

Nathaniel Philbrick describes the true story of the ship Essex which was attacked by a whale. This story back in the 1800s inspired Herman Melville to write his classic Moby Dick.

When I started reading In the Heart of the Sea I thought it would be similar to The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger, because it contained a lot of: “ifs” and “probablies” and “maybes”.

The biography starts out that way when it’s setting the scene in Nantucket from where the whalers start their unfortunate journey. However, when the story reaches the sea and the site of the disaster the narration becomes very clear and descriptive. He uses several real accounts to tell the story as realistically as possible.

I finished this book in two days, firstly because I wanted to finish it before the movie came out, secondly because when I started I simply couldn’t put it down.

My rating: 4 out of 5

After finishing the previous biography, I couldn’t wait to finally start reading Melville’s fictional account of the same story. Melville was a contemporary of the whalers and he also met some of them when they recounted their stories. I had to stop reading this book though. I started skipping so many way too descriptive chapters that I wasn’t really reading the book at all anymore. People who know me know that I don’t stop reading a book lightly, so this was a big move from my side to stop reading Moby Dick after 270 pages.

I did read the summary online and that was enough Moby Dick to satiate my needs.

My rating: 2 out of 5

Have you guys read any good books you could recommend to me for next year? I’m always happy with some good book recommendations!

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6 thoughts on “My Book Reviews of 2015

  1. I’ve read The Bat as I LOVE Jo Nesbo’s books about Harry Hole. I’m not good with reading outside my area of interest (crime!), but I’m determined to branch out and so am half way through Go Set a Watchman. I’m not enjoying it, but determined to get to the end!

    Happy New Year, Dom, and keep up the great work on your blog. You’ve given me soooo much inspiration for my travels xx

    1. Happy New Year, Suz! I’m happy I’ve provided you with some inspiration! 🙂 I’ve always been inspired by your fridge magnets of all the states you visited in the US and the stories on your blog make me even more eager to go there. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make my way there in 2016!

      I’m reading Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo at the moment and then I’ll start on The Redbreast, Nemesis and The Devil’s Star because I’ve had them in my book case forever 🙂 Good luck with Go Set a Watchman, keep in mind that once you finish it you can start reading crime novels again 😉 xx

  2. Hey Dominique,
    I had a look at your book reviews, you’re quite the voracious reader! Nice to read your reviews. As for me, I also like to read a lot, but more on and off: sometimes I read several books in a row, and sometimes less so. What intrigues me: I am totally unfamiliar with the books you’ve read, even most authors are unknown to me. If there is one book from your list that I should read, that is probably Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You? I think I’ll try that one; btw I saw it has just been made into a movie.

    If you’re interested in a suggestion from me: I just finished reading The Informer by Akimitsu Takagi, which I enjoyed a lot. It is a bit of an oldie: a Japanese crime novel from the ’60s, but it holds up really well (though perhaps not in the gender equality department). A few other suggestions: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson (non-fiction; don’t be fooled by the somewhat silly title); Carol by Patricia Highsmith; The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Up to you!

    1. Me Before You is a real weepie, so you have to be into a book like that. Most people that have read it, couldn’t put it down, including myself. I finished the whole thing in 1.5 days. The Book Thief is a bit more of a literary work, I’ve read it twice and loved it both times!

      Thanks for your tips, Menno! I’ve put Three Cups of Tea on my to-read list straightaway; it sounds like a book I would enjoy. I’m always a bit hesitant reading Japanese authors, although I’ve read four books by the amazing Haruki Murakami 🙂 Do you know him? Carol, I’ve already seen the movie. The Bell Jar I’ve read during my studies!

      1. Haha, I may try the weepie anyway. But there are definitely other books from your reviews that I’ll have a look at too. Are you going to do any more book reviews soon? Keep it up!

        I can really recommend Three Cups of Tea, let me know what you think when you read it (or do a review…). At the moment I am re-reading Blackwater by Kerstin Ekman; I enjoyed it a lot at the time, curious to see what I’ll think of it this time. I am reading it in Swedish, to try and keep that up.

        Most Japanese authors I know are from quite a while back (Kawabata, Tanizaki, Endo, Oe); I wouldn’t recommend them in general, if only because they are so different from what we are used to (I have been reading their works for so long, they have grown on me). For one thing, “plot” does not play as crucial a role in their books as we tend to expect. I recently read “Strange weather in Tokyo” by Hiromi Kawakami, which didn’t really convince me. I read 19Q4 by Murakami, and Norwegian Wood; I don’t really know what to think of him, perhaps I should give it another try. Which ones have you read?

        By the way, my lifelong favorite is A Hero of our Time by Michail Lermontov. A real classic (from 1840), but still very worthwhile. It left me in a daze when I read it; hm, should probably re-read that one too, it is so long ago.

  3. PS: something I just found out by coincidence about “Three Cups of Tea”: it appears that Mortenson may not be the starry-eyed do-gooder he pretends to be. John Krakauer wrote a book basically denouncing Mortenson:

    If Krakauer is a right it is a bit of a desillusion, but at the same time perhaps even more interesting – I am very curious to read Krakauer’s book and find out more. He is btw the author of “Into the Wild”, a wonderful book on which on equally wonderful, and sad, movie is based.

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