It is my pleasure to present my favorite reads of 2015. Once again I didn’t constrain myself to any arbitrary number of good books – these are all terrific and are listed alphabetically by author within each category. That said, my top three for the year would have to be The Crossing by Michael Connelly, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, and Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. But believe me when I say every one of these books is worth reading!
Perennials – these are the authors that I wait for each year, and somehow they just seem to get better and better.
MAKE ME by Lee Child: When I review a new Jack Reacher book, it often feels like I will run out of superlatives or lapse into another review that sounds much like the one before it. But really, it’s not my fault if Child keeps pumping out series books that get better every time – especially considering that he started out with a winner. This is a dark and twisty story as only Lee Child can tell it, and I stayed up late into the night to finish it.
THE CROSSING by Michael Connelly: This is the beginning of a new Harry Bosch. Connelly has gone where he swore he wouldn’t go and Harry is working for his half brother, the Lincoln Lawyer himself, Mickey Haller. As far as I’m concerned, Connelly is the best crime fiction writer out there, and his latest just proves it.
CORRUPTED by Lisa Scottoline: Bennie Rosato, founder of the Rosato & Associates law firm, is a very private person, even with her staff. This book moves back and forth in time from a young Rosato handling a juvenile case, to a present day murder case. Both are compelling on their own, but the combination and the glimpse into Bennie’s younger self make this a wonderful addition to the series.
CHECKED OUT by Elaine Viets: The fun continues, this time at the library, in Viet’s latest entry into one of my favorite mystery series. I love the south Florida culture that Viets always infuses her mysteries with, and this time out she also inserts lots of interesting library trivia, and any library regular will love all the inside gossip. Another great cozy mystery with lots of laughs, warm, wonderful characters and an intriguing premise. Being a librarian, this book holds a special place in my heart.
COLD COLD HEART by Tami Hoag: Tami Hoag has been writing nail biting thrillers for years, but takes a different turn here, while fans will recognize some series characters in minor roles. While the suspense is high, the stakes are even higher as Hoag delves into traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. This unusual look at the serial killer genre is a most welcome exploration of these brain injuries and what it is like to be a survivor.
A COLD WAR by Alan Russell: This “Cold War” has nothing to do with Russia and everything to do with an Alaskan autumn, and is a fascinating look at survivalists and the wilderness of our fiftieth state, as well as being a truly gripping page turner.
CRAZY LOVE YOU by Lisa Unger: This is a complex, intricate story yet the pages fly by as Ian, the most unreliable narrator since Nick Dunne in Gone Girl, leads us on a wild ride in this superb psychological thriller. Unger is at the top of her game here.
TWENTY-EIGHT AND A HALF WISHES by Denise Grover Swank: There is a lot of humor in this book that borders on but never quite crosses over to silly, and the mystery here almost takes a backseat to Rose and her declaration of independence. It is light, fluffy Southern fun and should appeal to Mary Kay Andrews and Charlaine Harris fans.
EILEEN by Ottessa Moshfegh: Eileen is the narrator of this dark look back at her life during a 1960’s Christmas week. Eileen has to be one of the most damaged characters in fiction. A friendship turns into something truly ugly that leads to a shocking ending. This is literary psychological suspense at its best.
THE DRESS SHOP OF DREAMS by Menna van Praag: This is a fabulist, wondrous story about a girl, the guy whose been in love with her for most of their lives, and her grandmother. There are several storylines here that flow seamlessly together and make the pages fly by. I loved this magical read, and just might read it again – which is high praise indeed.
WHO DO YOU LOVE by Jennifer Weiner: I have loved Jennifer Weiner since her first book, Good in Bed, and she has grown since then, graduating from smart chick-lit to smart women’s fiction. These characters are complex and real, and this is a beautiful coming of age story in a addition to a sweeping romance. Best of all, the book is totally unputdownable – I couldn’t stop turning the pages and when I finished it, I couldn’t stop thinking about these characters, and that is the highest praise I can give.
THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah: This was a completely mesmerizing story, a female side of the war that isn’t often explored. I was totally immersed in their world, and often brought to tears. It is a difficult subject, and the brutality and violence is not whitewashed at all, but is necessary to the story. I have read a lot of Holocaust fiction and this was one of the more interesting, unusual and compelling books on the subject. This strong, well written feminist historical fiction is simply not to be missed.
ALL THE STARS IN THE HEAVENS by Adriana Trigiani: In a bit of a departure from her usual big Italian family sagas, All the Stars in the Heavens takes a look back at the glamorous Hollywood of the 1930s. The story centers around Loretta Young, Spencer Tracey and Clark Gable and the fascinating lifestyles of these rich and famous. If you haven’t read Trigiani, this is a terrific place to start and if you’re already a fan, you won’t want to miss this one.
THE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE by Amy E. Reichert: One of my favorite movies is You’ve Got Mail, the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romcom written by Nora & Delia Ephron that is set around NYC bookstores. Much as You’ve Got Mail was a love letter to New York City, Coconut Cake is a love letter to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Reichert did an amazing job – I want to go! The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is the foodie equivalent of Mail, and that completely worked for me.
KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST by J. Ryan Stradal: This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It has everything; great characters, terrific setting, a creative premise and mouthwatering meals. This is a story about fathers and daughters, mothers and daughters, and community. It’s always about the Midwest and the foodie culture that has pervaded America. There are a lot of laughs, poignant moments that brought me to tears, and everything in between. The prose is beautiful, almost poetic at times, but it is the characters that completely stole my heart. It is a book that begs to be read slowly and savored, and book that craves to be discussed.
WHEN A SCOT TIES THE KNOT by Tessa Dare: This was such a fun read! I admit, I have a thing for Scots – at least Scots men in kilts – thank you, Diana Gabaldon. And I love Tessa Dare. Lots of angst, sex and a bit of history are thrown into the mix. I haven’t had this much fun reading a romance in a while.
FOUR NIGHTS WITH THE DUKE by Eloisa James: Eloisa James is my favorite romance writer. She does historical romance, this one set in late 18th century England. This is another wonderful romance, filled with likeable characters, enough drama to make the pages fly by and as always, lots of passion. I loved it.
IT HAPPENED ONE WEDDING by Julie James: This book was on so many best romances of the year lists for 2014 I quickly got on board. And am I glad I did – I found a new author that I will continue reading. Plus this is book 5 of a series which means there at least 4 more I can get my hands on. I loved this fast paced romance. The characters were believable, their stumbling blocks realistic, and having a wedding as a backdrop just added to the charm of this book.
PLAYING WITH FIRE by Kate Meader: This is the second book in the series but my first Meader read, and I’ll be back for more. A contemporary romance bordering on erotica but not quite crossing the line, Meader excels at heating things up page by page, and I couldn’t turn them fast enough. Loved her main character, a female firefighter, and the chemistry between her and the mayor up for reelection. A super fun, sexy read.
LEAN IN by Sheryl Sandberg: I don’t read a lot of business type books, but I ripped through it in one Sunday afternoon – I could see why there has been so much hype around this book. The book is part memoir, part career advice, and eminently personal. This is an inspirational and important book, and I urge anyone who works to read it – both men and women. There is a new edition called Lean In for Graduates, which expands on this book with additional chapters “offering advice on finding and getting the most out of a first job; résumé writing; best interviewing practices; negotiating your salary; listening to your inner voice; owning who you are; and leaning in for millennial men.”
HEADS IN BEDS by Jacob Tomsky: Jacob Tomsky works the front desk of high end, luxury hotels. Here he offers up the inside dirt on what really goes on, how to get the most bang for your buck, but really his point is how to beat the system – all told in a most entertaining fashion. I listened to the audiobook, which the author reads, and he does a really good job. I actually had to stop it a few times to take notes! But for the most part, the note taking portion is in the appendix. The book itself is by turns funny, horrifying and always interesting – at least to anyone who has ever stayed or is planning to stay in a hotel. A fun and informative read.
THE PIZZA BIBLE by Tony Gemignani: I am Italian by marriage, and over the years we have gotten pretty serious about pizza, serious enough that my husband built a wood burning pizza oven in the back yard. For the beginner to the Professional Pizzaiolo, this book works for everyone. This is an excellent cookbook, well laid out, easy to use, with recipes that work. It is pizza nirvana.
FOOD52 GENIUS RECIPES by Kristen Miglore: Food52 is one of the great foodie blogs out there. The pictures are gorgeous, they offer columns with lots of really useful info, tons of recipes, a hotline where you can post any kind of cooking/kitchen question, and lots more. This cookbook is a collection of recipes from many chefs, all tops in their fields like Julia Child, Dorie Greenspan, Marcella Hazan, Dan Barber, James Beard, & Tom Colicchio. Having all these amazing recipes in one book means that this is a book I will keep on my kitchen counter and draw from again and again.
Coffee Table Cookbook
A NEW NAPA CUISINE by Christopher Kostow: There are cookbooks that have great recipes that I can’t wait to try, and there are cookbooks that have the most gorgeous pictures. This is one of the latter. This is a beautiful coffee table book, from the cover, which is a sort of burlap-like fibrous material, to the stunning photos of the Napa Valley, the local artisans, the farms, and of course the food.
EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicola Yoon: Who can forget the Bubble Boy? Well, I certainly couldn’t, and Nicola Yoon takes that story and gives it a modern, unique twist. Short chapters are interspersed with drawings, charts & graphs, drawn by the author’s husband. I love epistolary novels and this is a really good one, filled with unforgettable characters.
CHRISTMAS BELLS by Jennifer Chiaverini: I figured if I keep reading Christmas novels, eventually I’ll find one I can rave about…and here it is! This book is a twofer – two stories told in alternating chapters that are set over a hundred years apart. The obvious inspiration of the historical story neatly focuses the modern day one, and I loved them both. This is heartwarming, of course, but also fascinating and beautifully written.
Older books I found this year:
JOSHUA: A Brooklyn Tale by Andrew Kane: At its heart, it is a coming of age story but it is also a history of the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, starting in the late 1950s but with some additional historic information going back to the 1800s. This a completely engrossing story, with well defined characters that the reader can’t help but care about. The tumultuous times add a lot of drama and action, making this a fast paced story as well. What I really liked is that the author showed both the good and the bad in all these racial and religious groups. There was no black and white, only the more realistic shades of gray.
DREAMING OF YOU by Lisa Kleypas: The innocent yet smart woman saving the damaged man is a standard in the romance genre, and this is an excellent example. The cover has actually been updated, the book was reissued last summer and from what I can tell has been in print continuously since 2000. There are probably thousands of paperback romances that have gone out of print in that time so while that may not sound like a big deal, trust me, for a paperback romance to be in print for that long, especially to be reissued with a new cover 15 years later, is a very big deal. But having read it, I completely understand.