Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Favorites of 2015

I always wait until the end of the year. What if I read something incredible in the last couple weeks of the year, and I've already posted my picks? And, that happened this year, so I'm glad I waited. Here's my top 10 of 2015, the books I most enjoyed reading. As I've said before, these don't fit anyone else's criteria. These are my favorites of the year.

Deanna Raybourn's A Curious Beginning launches a new historical mystery series. In 1887, Veronica Speedwell is about to leave London for a career indulging her passion for butterflies, when adventure finds her. Following a kidnapping attempt, and a murder, Veronica finds herself on the run with a scientist, Stoker, using scientific observations and knowledge, skills learned in foreign countries, and a hatpin, to stay alive.

In See Also Murder, Larry D. Sweazy introduces an unusual amateur sleuth, and puts her in a gritty environment, the plains of North Dakota in 1964. Marjorie Trumaine was content to be a farm wife until her husband's accident. Now, she's also working as an indexer. She's barely managing to keep their heads above water when their neighbors are killed. And, the sheriff asks her to research an item found in the possession of the dead couple. It's a beautifully written, atmospheric mystery.

Nancy Herriman's riveting historical mystery, No Comfort for the Lost, launches her Old San Francisco series. Set in 1867, it introduces two strong lead characters.Celia Davies, a nurse, teams up with a Civil War veteran turned police officer, Detective Nicholas Greaves, to investigate a murder. And, these two are the only ones who really care about justice for the victim.

I do have a couple nonfiction books on the list, beginning with Sarah Vowell's Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. She brings the Marquis de Lafayette and the sometimes cranky Revolutionary War figures to life in her combination of history and wry humor. In a book that unites history, popular culture and culture, Vowell beautifully tells the story of the founding of the country, hinging her account on a revered figure.

The other nonfiction book is Rick Bragg's My Southern Journey. His latest collection of essays, My Southern Journey: True Stories from the Heart of the South, is pure poetry. It's often humorous, sometimes a little melancholy, but always warm, heart-felt, and written with love. If you like Southern storytelling, rocking on the porch stories, stories of family and food and home, My Southern Journey is a comfort read.

Manners and Mutiny is a concluding volume instead of the first in a series. It's the last book in Gail Carriger's Finishing School steampunk series, and it's a perfect ending. It has all the espionage and suspense of the previous books, along with explosions, surprises when it comes to characters, and romance. For one last time, Carriger throws her heroine, Sophronia Temminick, into a world of supernaturals, werewolves, and vampires working for Queen Victoria, while noblemen called Picklemen plot against the government, using mechanical devices when possible.

Laura Anne Gilman's Silver on the Road is an intense novel that launches a compelling epic fantasy series, a series that could be called a fantasy western. In fact, this is book one in The Devil's West series. It's an atmospheric, wonderful beginning. It's the early 1800's in an alternate North America, divided partially into The United States to the east, the Spanish Protectorate to the southwest, the Northern Wilds, and in between, the Territory, where the boss, the devil, has power. Izzy signs a contract with the boss to become the Devil's Left Hand, Isobel nee Lacoya Tavora of Flood, The Devil's Hand. And, she becomes a rider in the Territory, with Gabriel Kasun as her mentor, a man who also makes a pact with the boss to turn the girl-child into a rider, and prepare her. The Devil's Hand; "It is the strength of the Territory, the quick knife in the darkness, the cold eye and the final word."

At this point, I'm glad I waited until the end of the year to do my list. When Anne Cleeland contacted me, offering to give away all three books in her Acton & Doyle series, I had not yet read any of the books. And, even now, as I finish the third, Murder in Hindsight, I can't decide which book I should select for the list. The first, Murder in Thrall, introduces Kathleen Doyle, a rookie at Scotland Yard, and Chief Inspector Michael Sinclair, Lord Acton, who becomes obsessed with the new detective. This novel of obsession is followed by Murder in Retribution. Characters are further developed, and Doyle faces a threat, as the turf war between the Russians and Irish continues in London. And, in the third, Murder in Hindsight, the fascinating couple continues to juggle their personal and professional lives, as Doyle worries about her husband's professional interests. The two eccentric characters are both remarkable; Doyle, who can tell if people are lying, and Acton, called "Holmes" by fellow officers because of his aloofness and his remarkable ability to solve crimes. But, at what cost? This is a series that works well if you read them in succession, so I'm picking the series, rather than an individual book, although it's only Murder in Hindsight that came out in 2015.

What would this list be without a Louise Penny book? The Nature of the Beast is one of my two favorite in her series; the other being How the Light Gets In. Even in retirement, Gamache continues in the ongoing battle of good vs. evil. When a young boy goes missing, after crying wolf once too often, the entire village sets out to find him. Monsters threaten the world, and the darkness has reached Three Pines. Gamache, representing Everyman, stands as witness to the knowledge that we all have the potential for evil, the potential for good, and, in The Nature of the Beast, the awareness of our own cowardice in the face of evil.

There was no question about what book tops my list. It was a book I shared with family and friends as soon as I read it. It still remains on the bestseller lists, and I'm going to suggest it for my book club next year. Although Kristin Hannah has long been a bestselling author, I see The Nightingale as her breakthrough novel. In The Nightingale, a story of war-time France, she wrote an unforgettable story. It's so much more than a story about sisters. Hannah says, "In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are." This is a powerful novel, often difficult to read at times. It may be a novel, but it's one that speaks the truth. When war comes to their small village, the two sisters react differently in a story that reveals more about the Resistance during the Second World War than many readers will have known. The Nightingale is a beautifully detailed novel about the women who fought in their own way, survived, and didn't leave behind a record of their courage. 

These are my favorite books of 2015. Many of the titles won't make the more literary lists that have already appeared. But, they were satisfying reads, entertaining books with original storylines. My favorite types of books.


Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Nice list! The only one I've read so far is the Vowell. I will have to put my own list together but it's hard to narrow it down. In non-fiction, I'd also list CAN'T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT?: A Memoir by Roz Chast, THE GOLDEN AGE OF MURDER (about the Detection Club in England) by Martin Edwards, and THE MOST OF NORA EPHRON.

Let's see. These would make my list:

Olen Steinhauer, ALL THE OLD KNIVES
Patricia Abbott, CONCRETE ANGEL
Wallace Stroby, RUN YOU DOWN
Joe R. Lansdale, PARADISE SKY
William Kent Krueger, ORDINARY GRACE
Michael Connelly, THE CROSSING
Stephen King, THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS (stories)

Kay said...

I have not read any on your list yet - not even Louise's book. I've been saving her book for just the right time. I do that sometimes. Anyway, I own several of the other ones and hope to get to them in 2016, my year of reading what I already own. LOL

Lesa said...

Thank you, Jeff. I could have done 15, but the top ones really did stand out, even at the end of the year. LOVED Ordinary Grace, but I read it originally last year, so it didn't make this year's list. And, that's one I did recommend to the book group. At least I recognize the titles of all of your books, even though I haven't read the other ones.

Lesa said...

I understand, Kay. I don't wait to read Louise's. I read it just before it's released. But, I do clear my schedule so I can devote a weekend to it alone. Good luck with that books I own attempt. I'd have a hard time because I'm always tempted by new titles.

Kaye Barley said...

I always look forward to your list.
And I always know we will share at least a couple (and always Louise Penny).
I was happy to see Rick Bragg here - I think this book was absolutely incredible.
Happy New Year, Lesa!

Melinda Ott said...

I have both The Nightingale and the Sarah Vowell book in my TBR pile...I'm hoping to get to both of them soon.

Margie Bunting said...

Thanks, Lesa. There are several on your list that I will be looking for. I am reading A Curious Beginning right now, and I agree--it is fantastic! I just finished Fredrick Backman's My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry, and it has to be one of my top books of the year--utterly original, magical, and moving. I can't recommend it highly enough. I thought it was even better than Backman's first, A Man Called Ove, although that was also excellent. They are written in Swedish, but the translator is top-notch.

Others that hit the top of my list are After You by Jojo Moyes, a sequel to the outstanding Me Before You, Jan Karon's Come Rain or Come Shine, and Sarah Addison Allen's First Frost. Close behind are The Nature of the Beast (of course), Philip Gulley's A Place Called Hope, Martha Woodruff's Small Blessings, Lou Berney's The Long and Faraway Gone, Nancy Thayer's Guest Cottage, Marisa de los Santos' The Precious One, Vanessa Diffenbaugh's We Never Asked for Wings, Robert Galbraith's Career of Evil, and Lisa Scottoline's Corrupted.

In the world of cozies, I "discovered" two new series this year that I absolutely love, from Laura Morrigan (Call of the Wilde) and Victoria Abbott (Book Collectors).

It's great to be retired, as I'm going to hit 170 books read this year!

Lesa said...

Happy New Year, Kaye! I hope the New Year brings health and happiness to you, Donald & Harley. Love to all of you. Wasn't that Rick Bragg book wonderful? He's such a beautiful writer. Hugs!

Lesa said...

I hope you enjoy both of them, Melinda, along with anything else you're reading.

Lesa said...

I've heard wonderful things about Backman's book, Margie. Librarian friends love it, too. I just can't get to everything, as much as I would like to. I read a number of those books on your top list - Karon, Allen, Penny, Gulley, Woodruff. Good books, aren't they? I also read books in both cozy series. I traveled a little too much to make that 170, but I'm over 150 for the year & still working. Congratulations on that 170 and retirement!

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

The last time I was over 170 was 2008, and 2002 was the last time I read over 200 books. Oh, for the college year I read 333 books.

I waste way too much time online these days, or perhaps I am harder to please. Plus, books that were 200-250 pages 40 years ago are now 400+ more often than not.

Oh well, I did reach my short story goal and, indeed, set a new personal record with about 780 read. Final totals tomorrow.

Marce said...

I have decided to read Nightingale as my 1st book of the year. I love Kristin Hannah and I am hoping I enjoy this as much as her others. It was on so many top ten lists.

Lesa said...

333 books! My gosh, Jeff. That's unbelievable. You're right. I always liked mysteries that were 192 pages. Remember that? They were always 192 pages.

Lesa said...

Marce, This one is different from her other ones. I hope you enjoy it as much as the rest of us did.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Well, of the 333 books about 100 were plays. But still, I can't even believe the total when I look back at it.

Lesa said...

It doesn't matter, Jeff. I used to love to read plays. It's been a long time, though. It's still a fantastic number.

Janet Schneider said...

So glad you loved the Doyle and Acton series, Lesa! They are SO great; genuinely addictive too. Also agree with Nightingale and Louise Penny. Great list.