Five favorite books of 2015 + Dallas coffee pairings

If you know me well, you know there are two things I can't go a day without: a book and a cup of coffee. I read every single day, and I drink way more coffee than I should. I am already freaking out over the caffeine restrictions for pregnant women, and my husband and I are still years away from children. That, my friends, is called an addiction.

I challenged myself to read a variety of books this year. The variation includes, but is not limited to:

  • Read a book with more than 500 pages

  • Read a book that is more than 100 years old

  • Read a book after you see the movie (this one is difficult for me)

  • Read a collection of poetry

With four-ish months left in 2015, I can confidently say I am on my way to completing this challenge. This has been a fun way to force myself to break out of my comfort zone and read different genres, authors, and books set in different countries.

Today I want to share my five favorite books I've read so far in 2015. I wish I could add my current read, Girl at War, because I am slightly obsessed with it, but that would be cheating because I have not finished it yet.

In addition to sharing these books, I have a special treat for my Dallas readers. I love, love, love reading with a good cup of coffee, so I paired each book with a cup of coffee from one of my favorite Dallas coffee shops. Indie coffee FTW!

Enjoy!

5. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

I know, I know. There is a ton of controversy surrounding this book, and Goodreads peeps weren't super friendly on the rating (3.48/5), but I loved it, and I especially love the story behind it. If you don't know much about this work, let me enlighten you. Basically, Harper Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman before she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird (my all-time favorite classic novel). Lee's editor was more interested in Jean Louise as a child, a.k.a. Scout, so then came Mockingbird and all of its glory. The manuscript for Watchman went into hiding and was uncovered recently, published, and either harshly criticized or welcomed with open arms. I loved it, mostly because I saw it for what it was: Lee's very first work published exactly as it was written in the mid-1950s. If you are expecting a recently-authored novel with 60 years of hindsight, you are not going to be pleased. I personally love the contrast it draws between the child's perspective we get in Mockingbird and adult Jean Louise's perspective in Watchman. So, depsite the criticism and angry readers who are upset with what they got, I loved it and will read it again in the near future.

Dallas coffee pairing: Check out Oak Lawn Coffee's lattes and parfaits. This is a great fit because the shop has a classic coffee shop feel, complete with work space, bar seating, and cozy chairs, so you'll feel right at home here with a latte and a classic work.

4. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

This book was difficult to read at times because of the sheer horror and abuse Louis Zamperini and other POWs endured, and it was a tough reminder of the cost of war. Laura Hillenbrand does a brilliant job of portraying exactly what these men went through while POWs during WWII, and it's one of those books that will move you beyond words. I don't believe my words do this book justice, so I can't say much other than you need to read this book. I watched the movie afterward, and I'll be honest, I fell asleep (whoops), but the book is definitely not a snoozefest.

Dallas coffee pairing: Just like the history found in Unbroken, White Rock Coffee in Lake Highlands sits in a neighborhood full of Dallas history. Grab an iced chai (SO GOOD), head upstairs, and immerse yourself in a history lesson and a lesson in fighting for your life against all odds.

3. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild was my first read of 2015, and talk about a book to get you going in the new year. I can totally identify with Cheryl Strayed's fear of doing something crazy like hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I could NEVER envision myself on that trail, especially alone, and that is exactly how Cheryl Strayed felt in the days leading up to her journey and even into her hike. This book is a phenomenal tale of starting over, surprising everyone--including yourself, and discovering who you truly are as a person. Wild made me want to hike the PCT, even if that feeling lasted only a hot minute.

Dallas coffee pairing: I recently discovered The Corner Market on Greenville, and when I visited this market/coffee shop/flower shop, I saw two guys who were wearing what looked like hiking backpacks...on Greenville...in Dallas. So, that's the only reason I thought to pair this shop with this book, but it works, right? Grab their iced dirty chai (chai + espresso). It's incredible. I think it has a hint of cinnamon, so that makes it a bit wild, right?

2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I recently finished this book, and despite some readers' claims that they hated all of the characters and the main character was a self-pitying lunatic, I actually found her endearing. She was one of those characters the author created with a specific purpose in mind: you are supposed to feel mixed emotions about her, but at the end of the day you can't help but like her. The story features tons of twists and turns that I didn't see coming, and I like to think that I am a pretty perceptive reader. This is a fun read that will keep you on the edge of your seat/couch/bed/wherever, and you're sure to finish it quickly.

Dallas coffee pairing: The fast-paced nature and suspenseful plot goes perfectly with an espresso from Houndstooth Coffee. I love this shop and their espresso offerings from around the world. I'm definitely going to miss this coffee shop when we move to San Francisco.

1. 11/22/63 by Stephen King

I CANNOT SING THIS BOOK'S PRAISES ENOUGH.

Let me start with a simple disclaimer: this is not your typical Stephen King novel. When my friend recommended it to me, I was skeptical for three reasons. 1) Stephen King. He's an amazing writer, but I scare easily. 2) It is 849 pages. I'm not afraid of a long novel by any means, but I read this in the middle of a semester while I was teaching, and I was worried it would take me longer than normal. 3) I love history, and I especially love JFK, so I was very worried about how a fictitious JFK story would play out.

I finished this book in four days, and I absolutely LOVED it. 11/22/63 basically tells the story of a man who has the ability to change the course of history and save President Kennedy from his assassination, but changing this one event comes with a significant price tag. It's not just a story about JFK, though. Stephen King crafts several other narratives that are all intertwined, and it is so entertaining, thought-provoking, and impossible to put down. I plan on re-reading this book at the end of the year when I have completed my entire reading challenge. AND, I recommended it to several friends (including my former English I Pre-AP teacher from high school) and they all loved it. Don't let the size intimidate you; this is a book everyone should read.

Dallas coffee pairing: I have the perfect coffee pairing for you, Dallas. I found this amazing indie bookstore/coffee shop/beer parlor/wine bar in Oak Cliff. It's called The Wild Detectives, and it's nestled in Bishop Arts near some of my favorite brunch spots. If you know Dallas and specifics of the JFK assassination, then you know Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK (depending on who you ask), and you know Oswald lived in Oak Cliff. Pack up 11/22/63, stop at WD for a latte, glass of wine, or a beer (among other drinks and food items), and get lost in time travel and alternate endings to a national tragedy. Also, you may end up leaving The Wild Detectives with a book or two (or three).

There you have it! I hope you choose to pick up one of these books in the near future. They will not disappoint!

What are your favorite books you've read this year? Let me know in the comments section! Also, if you're interested in starting your own reading challenge, email me at becca.culotta@gmail.com and I'll send you my list!

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