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.
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.