Best Books of 2015

Best Books of 2015: Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

December 20, 2015

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.

Thrillers

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.

Cozy Mystery

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.

Literary Mystery

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.

Women’s Fiction

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.

Historical Fiction

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.

Foodie Fiction

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.

Historical Romance

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.

Contemporary Romance

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.

Nonfiction

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.

Cookbooks

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.

YA
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.

Holiday

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.

Best Books of 2015: Paul Lane

1) Cost of Life by Joshua Corin: Giddy ride about a hijacking of a passenger airline. Well done character presentation of feelings and thoughts of both hijackers and their victims.

2) One Man’s Flag by David Downing: Very well researched novel set during the early period of World War I and the Irish rebellion against England. Mr Downing paints his characters as they would have been during the period described. They act and talk as they most likely would have at the time they existed.

3) Trust No One by Paul Cleave: Cleave tells the story through the eyes of an author of books dealing with murder. The individual, Jerry Grey is sinking into early onset Alzheimer’s and is beginning to believe that he actually committed the murders described in his books. The novel is a brilliantly handled description of Grey’s gradual descent into the disease and the solving of actual murders via the clues that his non lucid ravings provide.

4) Night Tremors by Matt Coyle: A detective story set in Southern California, La Jolla and San Diego. Coyle proves adept at introducing many characters with varying connections to a murder that occurred eight years ago. His detective Rick Cahill, suffering from the horrors of his beloved wife being killed two years prior to the opening of this book is attempting to regain some semblance of order in his life.

5) Clear by Fire by Joshua Hood: A book about men and women in combat told by a veteran of war in both Iraq and Afghanistan. An adrenalin rush of constant action with the advantage of both intimate knowledge of both the weapons and tactics utilized as well as the emotions, thoughts, and reactions of the people involved in the battles.

6) Chimpanzee by Darin Bradley: Set in the near future when the US economy has collapsed, unemployment is rampant and millions defaulting on their loans. The government has evolved a method of collecting the principal defaulted on by actually recovering on his memories through Repossession Therapy. Ben Cade has been called to undergo the Therapy, but discovers a novel way to prevent this. A book that could predict the future as government giveaways destroy the economy and drive millions into debt that cannot be repaid.

7) Storm Front by Robert Conroy: Well done novel about the damage unrestrained nature can cause when let loose. An unexpected major snowfall hits the town of Sheridan Michigan and causes everything to stop. Compounded by the presence of two killers that entered Sheridan and cannot get out due to the weather. Plenty of well done action.

8) A Different Lie by Derek Haas: Married couple has a baby, the norm for a happy marriage. Minor problem. The husband is an assassin and his wife works at the details in setting up a hit. Very different picture of a loving husband and wife just having a baby.

9) Sunfail by Steven Savile: Jake Quinn was formerly a member of the armed forces Special forces. He now works as an electrician for the New York subway system. He comes upon two young men spray painting graffiti and comes to the realization that the writing is actually a code in an ancient language. The “hidden” are calling to each other and Jake is dragged kicking and screaming into a world of conspiracy and menace. An all nighter from the very inception.

10) The First Hostage by Joel Rosenberg: The author has written several novels about terrorism in the middle east. His knowledge is uncanny and each novel seems to forecast what is to occur. J.B. Collins is a foreign correspondent for the New York Times He becomes witness to a devastating attack by ISIS terrorists in Amman Jordan. The terrorists are able to capture the US president who is in Jordan to meet with the leaders of Israel and Palestine and attempt to reconcile their differences. Fast moving and a picture of ISIS and it’s goals.

Best Books of 2015: Becky LeJeune

  1. BRED TO KILL by Franck Thilliez – This second in Thilliez’s series picks up right where Syndrome E left off. It features another weird and dark premise with more of the science-based theory of its predecessor as well. Definitely a favorite new series for me! 
  1. TRIGGER WARNING: SHORT FICTIONS AND DISTURBANCES by Neil Gaiman – with everything from fantasy and horror to Doctor Who and American Gods this newest collection of shorts from Gaiman features first run and previously published tales perfect for hardcore fans and newcomers to his work as well. 
  1. GIRL UNDERWATER by Claire Kells – a harrowing debut about a college swimmer whose plane crashes in the Rockies. We know from the outset that she’s survived but we don’t know what happened in the time it took to be rescued.
  1. LOVE IS RED by Sophie Jaff – a cross-genre read that kicks off a new trilogy, Love is Red is part horror, thriller, fantasy, and romance. It’s dark and twisty and completely wonderful! 
  1. NO ONE GETS OUT ALIVE by Adam Nevill – I’m a huge horror fan but most of it doesn’t really give me the heebie jeebies – except Adam Nevill. He freaks me out! This one is a dark and twisted haunted house story that is the stuff of nightmares. 
  1. DAY FOUR by Sarah Lotz – this companion to The Three is set on a cruise ship that loses power and communications while at sea. As the passengers become more irate and supplies begin to dwindle, the crew starts to report strange happenings. And that’s only the beginning! 
  1. EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING by Nicaola Yoon – Yoon’s teen debut is about a girl who is allergic to everything. But while her home has become a sanctuary, it has also become a trap preventing her from experiencing life and true love. The charming heroine, illustrations, and fabulous plot make this a perfect read for both teens and adults. 
  1. CHARLOTTE’S STORY by Laura Benedict – The second novel featuring Benedict’s uber creepy Bliss House. This one takes readers back to the 1950s and a story that’s hinted at in the previous installments. The series can be read in any order, but I do love the way Benedict is moving backwards in the timeline with each new release.
  1. DAUGHTERS UNTO DEVILS by Amy Lukavics – the comparisons to Stephen King and Little House on the Prairie definitely caught my attention on this one and I have to say it lived up to the promise of that strange combination. Lukavics is one to watch for sure! 
  1. SEIZE THE NIGHT edited by Christopher Golden – if you’ve tired of romantic vampires and crave horrific ones once again, this is the anthology for you. Scott Smith, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Michael Koryta, Kelley Armstrong… the list of contributors is amazing and the stories are all incredibly creepy.

Best Books of 2015: Jack Quick

THE BAT by Jo Nesbo First Harry Hole. Inspector Harry Hole of the Oslo Crime Squad is dispatched to Sydney to observe a murder case.  Harry is free to offer assistance, but he has firm instructions to stay out of trouble. The victim is a twenty-three year old Norwegian woman who is a minor celebrity back home. Never one to sit on the sidelines, Harry befriends one of the lead detectives, and one of the witnesses, as he is drawn deeper into the case.  Together, they discover that this is only the latest in a string of unsolved murders, and the pattern points toward a psychopath working his way across the country. As they circle closer and closer to the killer, Harry begins to fear that no one is safe, least of all those investigating the case.
THE ASSASSINATION OPTION by WEB Griffin: Interesting take on the post- World War II transition from the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) to the CIA. We spent more time fighting among ourselves than we did worrying about the new threats to our country.  James Crowley thought he had done well—he didn’t know he’d done this well. His first successful mission for the about-to-be-official new Central Intelligence Directorate has drawn all kinds of attention, some welcome, some not. On the plus side, he’s now a captain; promoted to Chief, DCI, Europe; and in charge of a top secret spy operation. On the minus side, a lot of people would like to know about that operation, including not only the Soviets, but his own Pentagon, as well as a seething J. Edgar Hoover. Crowley knows that if just one thing goes wrong, he’s likely to get thrown to the wolves. As if that weren’t enough pressure, complications are springing up on all sides. He’s discovered a surprising alliance between the former German intelligence chief and, of all things, the Mossad. A German family that Crowley never knew he had has suddenly, and suspiciously, emerged. And he’s due for a rendezvous with an undercover agent against the Soviets known only as Seven K. It’s when he meets Seven K that he gets the real surprise.
HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins – How do you write a review of something that almost everyone has read and/or seen the movie? But for those few who haven’t, it is the story of a young girl in a future United States which consists of 12 districts subservient to THE CAPITAL which appears to be in the Rocky Mountains. Each year the Districts, each of which specializes in a different commodity (District 12, the one our heroine comes from supplies coal and appears to be the former Pennsylvania area). Every year each District is required to furnish one mal and one female between the ages of 12 and 20 to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death contest. The sole survivor wins a lifetime of riches. Our girl, Katniss, volunteers to keep her younger sister out of the competition. How she does in the games makes a remarkable story/ First in a trilogy and definitely recommended.
HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY: BOOK 2 CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins. I found this volume to be more chic-lit than book 1 as Katniss worries if she will ever be able to marry her true love Gale or will be forced to marry her Hunger Games partner Peeta. Just beyond the mid-way point of the book it seemingly becomes a moot point as Peeta and Katniss are selected to be in the 75th anniversary Hunger Games, in which one or both will surely die. In the background are the whisperings of a rebellion – sparked by Katniss performance in the previous Hunger Games. Ready now for Volume Three.
 
HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY: BOOK 3 THE MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins – After a stirring Book One, and a somewhat mediocre (to me) chic-lit Book Two, Collins returns the story to its roots in Book Three resolving most of the issues raised in Book One and Book Two. At the end Katniss gets married, but I won’t say to whom. As with One and Two there are enough twists & turns to keep you turning pages.
THE TRAP by LJ Sellers:  While skydiving with an adventure group, FBI Agent Jamie Dallas overhears plans to carry out criminal acts against a politician. The bureau sends Dallas to infiltrate the activists, but to get inside the tight-knit clan, Dallas makes dangerous compromises and starts to sympathize with their cause. She ends up so deep undercover she can’t make contact with the bureau. Across town, a Washington DC detective investigates a death that looks like a simple “hooker homicide.” But as Detective Larson peels away the layers, she uncovers something far more sinister, something deeply connected to a high-profile judge’s death. Meanwhile, working against her own conscience, Agent Dallas struggles to gather evidence and push the activist group toward the major takedown the FBI has orchestrated. But inside the group’s safe house, another imposter lurks, and when the real motive surfaces, Dallas is caught in a cunning trap that will make her both a victim and a killer. Cant beat L J Sellers for twists and turns.

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