2015 flew by, and it's hard to believe that 2016 is almost here! As usual, I didn't read nearly enough, but I did read quite a few books that I really enjoyed. Here are the stats:
37 books read
19 books with an "A" rating
15 books with a "B" rating
3 books were marked Did Not Finish
After all is said and done, these were my top ten reads of 2015:
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
In a small rural
village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as
Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night and then
set fire to her home. When their lifelong neighbor Akhmed finds Havaa
hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision
that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the
abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats
For Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an
unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on
additional risk and responsibility. But over the course of five
extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the
intricate pattern of connections that weaves together the pasts of these
three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. A story
of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.
Paperback, 416 pages
Published February 4th 2014 by Hogarth (first published January 1st 2013)
ISBN 0770436420 (ISBN13: 9780770436421)
In this astonishing book from the author of the bestselling memoir The Good Good Pig,
Sy Montgomery explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus'
surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature: and the
remarkable connections it makes with humans.
Sy Montgomery's popular 2011 Orion
magazine piece, "Deep Intellect"; about her friendship with a
sensitive, sweet-natured octopus named Athena and the grief she felt at
her death, went viral, indicating the widespread fascination with these
mysterious, almost alien-like creatures. Since then Sy has practiced
true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to the reefs
of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, pursuing these wild,
solitary shape-shifters. Octopuses have varied personalities and
intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape
enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like
balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and
running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot,
venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a
being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think?
intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted
by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the
octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of
their color-changing camouflage techniques. Montgomery chronicles this
growing appreciation of the octopus, but also tells a love story. By
turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about consciousness and the meeting of two very different minds.
Hardcover, 272 pages
Expected publication: May 12th 2015 by Atria Books
ISBN 1451697716 (ISBN13: 9781451697711)
The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo
From a bright new talent
comes this debut novel about a young woman who travels for the first
time to her mother’s hometown, and gets sucked into the mystery that
changed her family forever
Mattie Wallace has really screwed up
this time. Broke and knocked up, she’s got all her worldly possessions
crammed into six giant trash bags, and nowhere to go. Try as she might,
Mattie can no longer deny that she really is turning into her mother, a
broken alcoholic who never met a bad choice she didn’t make.
Mattie gets news of a possible inheritance left by a grandmother she’s
never met, she jumps at this one last chance to turn things around.
Leaving the Florida Panhandle, she drives eight hundred miles to her
mother’s birthplace—the tiny town of Gandy, Oklahoma. There, she soon
learns that her mother remains a local mystery—a happy, talented
teenager who inexplicably skipped town thirty-five years ago with
nothing but the clothes on her back. But the girl they describe bears
little resemblance to the damaged woman Mattie knew, and before long it
becomes clear that something terrible happened to her mother, and it
happened here. The harder Mattie digs for answers, the more obstacles
she encounters. Giving up, however, isn’t an option. Uncovering what
started her mother’s downward spiral might be the only way to stop her
Hilarious, gripping, and unexpectedly wise, The Art of Crash Landing is a poignant novel from an assured new voice.
Paperback, 416 pages
Published September 8th 2015 by Harper Paperbacks
ISBN 0062390546 (ISBN13: 9780062390547)
My final word: I enjoyed the writing. It was a playful and
fast read with colorful characters. The author does a good job of
building the story and providing
well-developed characters. It is told first-person, with flashbacks
providing insight into Mattie's past. The author succeeds in creating a
severely flawed and screwed up character in Mattie, while she is able to
keep her likable and
sympathetic. The banter is fun, and counter-balanced with some deeply
emotional and revealing moments. I really liked this story, and the
author's writing style!
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Neil Gaiman meets Joe Hill in this astonishingly original, terrifying, and darkly funny contemporary fantasy.
not so different from the other human beings around her. She's sure of
it. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a
phone. She even remembers what clothes are for.
After all, she was a normal American herself, once.
was a long time ago, of course—before the time she calls “adoption
day,” when she and a dozen other children found themselves being raised
by a man they learned to call Father.
Father could do strange
things. He could call light from darkness. Sometimes he raised the dead.
And when he was disobeyed, the consequences were terrible.
the years since Father took her in, Carolyn hasn't gotten out much.
Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to
Father's ancient Pelapi customs. They've studied the books in his
library and learned some of the secrets behind his equally ancient
Sometimes, they've wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.
Father is missing. And if God truly is dead, the only thing that
matters is who will inherit his library—and with it, power over all of
As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her.
Carolyn can win. She's sure of it. What she doesn't realize is that her
victory may come at an unacceptable price—because in becoming a God,
she's forgotten a great deal about being human.
Hardcover, 388 pages
Published June 16th 2015 by Crown
ISBN 0553418602 (ISBN13: 9780553418606)
My final word: I was initially nervous about my choice to
read this book, but by chapter four it started to get under my skin.
Little by little things came together, and I began to see the big
picture. It became more engrossing as time went on, and I was really
impressed with the writer's ability to captivate and draw me in. I'll
still be hesitant to read fantasy and sci-fi, as I still think it is a
shaky genre for me, but this author has definitely won me over!
Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
With a missing girl in
the news, Claire Scott can’t help but be reminded of her sister, who
disappeared twenty years ago in a mystery that was never solved.
But when Claire begins to learn the truth about her sister, nothing will ever be the same.
Hardcover, 397 pages
Published September 29th 2015 by William Morrow
ISBN 0062429051 (ISBN13: 9780062429056)
My final word: This book is graphic
and filled with disturbing images, but I found it really suspenseful.
It kept me on the edge of my seat, wondering what was coming down the
pike next. The author is very readable, the characters well-developed,
the storyline provocative. I really, really enjoyed this story, and that
feels a little "wrong", given how violent the story was, but I just
can't help it. The story could get a little preposterous at times and
requires some "suspension of disbelief" to get through it, but it is
really a great escape if you like mystery and suspense, and you aren't
put off by graphic violence of a sexual nature. I'd give two thumbs up,
if it weren't for the thumbscrews and shackles!
Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam
Big Fish meets The Notebook
in this emotionally evocative story about a man, a woman, and an
alligator that is a moving tribute to love, from the author of the
award-winning memoir Rocket Boys—the basis of the movie October Sky
Lavender and Homer Hickam (the father of the author) were high school
classmates in the West Virginia coalfields, graduating just as the Great
Depression began. When Homer asked for her hand, Elsie instead headed
to Orlando where she sparked with a dancing actor named Buddy Ebsen
(yes, that Buddy Ebsen). But when Buddy headed for New York, Elsie’s
dreams of a life with him were crushed and eventually she found herself
back in the coalfields, married to Homer.
Unfulfilled as a
miner’s wife, Elsie was reminded of her carefree days with Buddy every
day because of his unusual wedding gift: an alligator named Albert she
raised in the only bathroom in the house. When Albert scared Homer by
grabbing his pants, he gave Elsie an ultimatum: “Me or that alligator!”
After giving it some thought, Elsie concluded there was only one thing
to do: Carry Albert home.
Carrying Albert Home is the
funny, sweet, and sometimes tragic tale of a young couple and a special
alligator on a crazy 1000-mile adventure. Told with the warmth and
down-home charm that made Rocket Boys/October Sky a beloved
bestseller, Homer Hickam’s rollicking tale is ultimately a testament to
that strange and marvelous emotion we inadequately call love.
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published October 13th 2015 by William Morrow (first published September 28th 2015)
ISBN 0062325892 (ISBN13: 9780062325891)
My final word: Clever, curious, and colorful, this story keeps you guessing. You never
really know how much truth lies in it, but you get the feeling that
there may have been a fair bit of truth, dressed up to make it a little
fancier and bigger than life. Elsie can be a bit off-putting much of the
time, but then she redeems herself with some tender moment, kind
gesture, or humorous quip. And I found myself continually rooting for
Homer in his quest to make her happy. Just a man, his wife, her
alligator and a rooster on a road trip. What more could you ask for? I
can almost hear Albert happily expressing yeah-yeah-yeah.
Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich
From a remarkable new voice in Southern fiction, a multigenerational saga of crime, family, and vengeance.
Burroughs comes from a long line of outlaws. For generations, the
Burroughs clan has made its home on Bull Mountain in North Georgia,
running shine, pot, and meth over six state lines, virtually untouched
by the rule of law. To distance himself from his family’s criminal
empire, Clayton took the job of sheriff in a neighboring community to
keep what peace he can. But when a federal agent with the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms shows up at Clayton’s office with a plan
to shut down the mountain, his hidden agenda will pit brother against
brother, test loyalties, and could lead Clayton down a path to
In a sweeping narrative spanning decades and
told from alternating points of view, the novel brilliantly evokes the
atmosphere of the mountain and its inhabitants: forbidding, loyal,
gritty, and ruthless. A story of family—the lengths men will go to
protect it, honor it, or in some cases destroy it—Bull Mountain is an incredibly assured debut that heralds a major new talent in fiction.
Hardcover, 290 pages
Published July 7th 2015 by G.P. Putnam's Sons (first published July 1st 2015)
ISBN 039917396X (ISBN13: 9780399173967)
My final word: Clayton is the hero you can root for, and
it's hard to feel too bad for his kith and kin as their livelihoods are
threatened. Clayton's wife Kate is admirable and sympathetic, having
battled with Clayton's demons for years. There is a nice twist or two in
the story to keep things interesting. I really loved the author's
writing, and I was already a fan of the subject material (I love
southern lit and stories about Appalachian mountain families and the
like). The jumping back and forth between different perspectives and
time periods can be tricky to navigate, but you settle into the format
and it does get easier as the story goes on. There is nice tension and
suspense, a couple of twists and turns, some colorful characters with
some very good character development. However one area I felt it fell
short was in the character development of Agent Holly.
The New Sugar & Spice by Samantha Seneviratne
A wonderfully unique
and unexpected collection of desserts that showcase spice over sugar,
with 80 recipes that both reinvent classic sweets and introduce more
unusual spice-infused desserts.
In Sugar and Spice, veteran food
editor and recipe developer Samantha Seneviratne invites readers to
explore a bold new world of spice-centric desserts. Each chapter centers
on a different spice--some familiar, like vanilla, cinnamon, and
ginger; others less expected (especially in sweet preparations), such as
peppercorns, chiles, and cardamom. With fascinating histories, origin
stories, and innovative uses for each spice, this book will inspire
readers to rediscover and re-stock their spice drawers, and raise their
desserts up to a whole new level of flavor.
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published September 8th 2015 by Ten Speed Press
ISBN 1607747464 (ISBN13: 9781607747468)
My final word: I was so
excited to open this book for the first time. It looks and feels high
quality. There is beautiful photography throughout to entice you,
charming stories shared by the author. The recipes are easy-to-follow
and have some pretty common ingredients that should be easy to come by. I
love complex flavors and textures, and this cookbook is right up my
alley! This isn’t just a cookbook. It’s a memoir and world travelogue of
It was a pretty good year, and I look forward to 2016!