Favorite Books of 2015

Hello, friends. Happy belated New Year.

I started this post, then Milo got sick. I have lost my train of thought about everything for a few weeks, but if I don’t publish this soon we’ll be halfway through 2016.

DT will surely call me a certifiable nerd for this, but….I’m so mad I missed my Goodreads 2015 reading challenge by about 200 pages. Where did December go? I got off to a great start early in the year and had a few spells where I was just tearing through books, but alas. Came up short.

I read some good books in 2015 (also some not-at-all good books). You win, you lose. Below are the highlights, hope they bring some reading inspiration to you.

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg – I read Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage right before and knew I’d want to check out her first book. Food, storytelling, and reflecting on life always go well together. (I also started listening to her podcast, Spilled Milk, and following her blog Orangette.)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – A rather eccentric, loner, curmudgeonly bookstore owner receives a surprise delivery that gives his life new meaning and a reason to find joy again. I could easily transport myself to Alice Island in this sweet story.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand – Wow. This is an extraordinary story. I was in awe of the capacity for human survival and spirit for nearly 500 pages. I don’t know how many times I said, or thought, “I can’t imagine….” Because I can’t. I really, really can’t. A true history lesson.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain – I just enjoyed this unapologetic behind-the-restaurant-scenes memoir. I love watching cooking shows and I have my favorite celebrity chefs. This book showed a completely different side to the industry, and I didn’t mind the raw honesty.

The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick – This was a strange, but sweet story. I’m kind of over the quirky, over-the-top-out-there characters I feel like I’ve read a thousand times. But Bartholomew Neil stole my heart a little bit and made me sad. I wanted him to come out of his shell and I was so happy when he and his little motley crew of friends set out on their adventure.

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper – Whoopsie, I watched the movie before I read this book. I enjoyed both. A dysfunctional family grieves their patriarch over the week-long Shiva and learns a whole lot about each other. The movie has a big-name cast, so I found myself thinking of the actors and actresses who played each character as I read the book. Which wasn’t a bad thing.

The Dinner by Herman Koch – Dark. I felt like the whole time I was reading, it was dark. Two families hiding the horrible secret of their sons. I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likable, if that comes as any surprise with that description.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler – I listened to Amy Poehler read her book to me in the car, and as if I didn’t already like her….I LOVE HER now. I loved her stories and her wisdom, and she has plenty of both.

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell – The mafia and a hospital….two of the most fascinating things to me in one book. So, LOVE. This book is fast-paced – Dr. Peter Brown is in survival mode and doesn’t give a flying rat’s behind about anything.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki – A story, actually two stories, that toggles across the ocean and women who are distantly intertwined. I enjoyed the relationship between Nao and her 104- year old Buddhist grandmother. This was a bond the girl seemed to so desperately need for the wisdom, grounding, and esteem she could not find at home.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt – This book was so sweet, and I just ached for June and her grief for her uncle Finn. Finn’s sad death comes with the revealing of a new friend for June, also revelations about her family and the complicated circumstances around Finn and Toby. I really, really liked it.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – I couldn’t help but think of Gone Girl when I read this book. I didn’t feel quite as dirty, but certainly as uncomfortable. A lost, lonely, woman with an addictive personality rides a train to a job she doesn’t have. Every day, she observes the world outside the tracks, and eventually gets herself wrapped up in a big old mess. The end was a little like….”Wha?” for me. The story, and its characters, just kind of messed with my brain the whole time.


Favorite Books – 2013

I have to say, I read some really bad books this year!  (In my humble opinion.)  Or, put another way, I read a lot of books I really did not like.  That’s probably more appropriate (and accurate).

It’s always so disappointing to start a book and find 5, 10, 50, 117, 239 pages in that you have no way to relate to it, you aren’t drawn to the characters, the story does not move or inspire you, and you’re just stuck.

I’m one of those people who cannot NOT finish a book I’ve started, so I’ll power through even the worst of them – which is an enormous waste of time, and ultimately really gives me no satisfaction.  But an unfinished book would haunt me for years, I’m fairly certain.

It’s also a bummer to read something you’ve heard so many good things about – whether from family, friends, fellow book-clubbers, or reviews – and not like it one bit.  Then I feel like I’m missing something, or I didn’t get it and should have.  That happened several times this year.

Well, anyway.  This is about the books that were GOOD!  Here are those I really enjoyed:

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – My book club read this last winter, almost a year ago!  For me, The Paris Wife kicked off three stories about women drawn to creative, artistic men, following them as they pursue their ambitions.  Paris in the 1920s was rollicking, filled with an artistic community that lived hard and fast.   At the center of this social circle:  Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Hadley Richardson.  While Earnest is proving his worth in the literary world, Hadley struggles to define her place and hold their marriage together.  At first it sounds like a novel, carefree life, but it’s easy to see how quickly it can unravel.

The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle – This was one that my book club absolutely loved.  It was an extremely difficult story to read, and by the end you’re just exhausted for the characters fighting adversity day in and day out.  There was a passionate discussion and we actually spent the entire time on the book – no tangents that night.  It makes you think long and hard about how quickly we place judgment and the stereotypes we unfairly assign.

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse – This book was….quirky.  I liked it.  I can’t even remember where I heard about it, but I loved the idea of this literary super team uniting to build a storefront with cherry-picked titles.  Not everyone appreciates their efforts, though, and the store owners unexpectedly find themselves having to protect their dream and the secret committee behind it.

Z:  A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler – I had to read this on the heels of The Paris Wife.  Another perspective of the Lost Generation, this time from Zelda Fitzgerald.  Like Ernest and Hadley, the Fitzgeralds’ marriage begins passionately and compulsively, but grows strained under the pressures of F. Scott’s career and the high intensity of their lifestyle.  Zelda seems largely misunderstood, living in an era when women often took a backseat to their husband’s dreams and eccentricities were mistaken for some darker malady.  In the end, Zelda’s talents and zeal appeared to be lost and it felt like she was largely alone to find her way.

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan – I knew mostly nothing about Frank Lloyd Wright, his work, his life, or his affair with Mamah Cheney until reading this story.  It was fascinating, but the most frustrating after The Paris Wife and Z.  The characters are so much less sympathetic to me.  While I could applaud Mamah Cheney’s quest for independence and yearning to break free from the world she was expected to live in, and the person she was expected to be in that world, she often came off as totally indifferent.  She just got up and left her husband, her kids, her best friend, her life – and never really apologizes for it.  The ending, though….after everything, just made me feel hollow and sad for everyone.

Tell me – what did you read and love this year?  I can’t wait to kick off 2014 reading!