Top Five Books of 2015

I completed the 50 Books Challenge by late November, a feat that both surprised and pleased me. I went on to read a few more and will likely round off the year at 54 if I finish Station Eleven by New Years Eve.

Of the 50+ books I read in 2015, I chose five as favorites, along with an honorable mention. To meet the criteria of “favorite,” the book had to 1) keep me interested 100 percent of the time, and 2) be one that I’d recommend to anyone and everyone. Note that these aren’t books that were written in 2015. Some are several years old.

I’ve placed them in order, so I’ll start with number five. (Each title is linked to my original review.)

PatronSaintofLiarsNo. 5: The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett. This was my introductory book to Ann Patchett’s writing, and since reading this one I’ve acquired two more from resale shops. She is a beautiful storyteller and in this novel weaves together three points of view regarding an unwanted pregnancy, an escape to a nunnery, and a slew of lies used to comfort oneself. It is a revealing story about the things we do to make ourselves feel better.

No. 4: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. This one had me at the start because I simply could not conceive of doing away with one child to appease another. Of course the plot isn’t that simple. Not far into the story we learn that Fern wasn’t a normal child, and the family in which Fern was placed wasn’t a normal household. This book is so well thought out that the author practically spoon feeds readers proportionate bites of information at the proper time. It is a must-read for animal lovers.

No. 3The Circle by Dave Eggers. This book is the cautionary tale of our time. It is the 1984 of our generation. Though every character is an archetype and the equation of the plot is semi-predictable, it is a wild ride down a road that could very well be our future. Read with caution and let’s go off the grid together.

The GoldfinchNo. 2: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Not everyone would agree that this book was a home run. A few folks I know tried to read it and couldn’t get through, but that was not the case for me at all. I came to care for Theo, the main character so dearly that I couldn’t bear for the story to end. In my mind, he exists still. The story is so much more than the journey of a painting. It’s about how we long to make sense of things we don’t understand.

No. 1: Night Film by Marisha Pessl. This shouldn’t surprise you one bit. If I know you in real life, then I’ve tried to push this book in your hands. It’s not literary like The Goldfinch and it’s not endearing like We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. It’s not rooted in reality like The Circle and it’s not heartstring-tugging like The Patron Saint of Liars. It’s just pure reading fun. It sucks you in and won’t let you go until the very last word on the very last page. It’s CRAZY and bizarre and a touch scary.

Night FilmNight Film wins because it put me in a trance for four days and that’s the kind of magic I want out of a book. I read it at every free moment and hardly fed my children because I couldn’t put it down. That’s the sort of power I’d like to have in storytelling, and since I don’t have that power, I’ll give a hardy handshake to the writers that do.

The honorable mention goes to Tana French, writer of two books I read this year and fully enjoyed: In the Woods and Faithful Place. They are part of an ongoing crime series set in Dublin and I plan to continue reading onward.

What are YOUR favorite books from 2015?

Book Review: Faithful Place by Tana French

Faithful PlaceWhen I read In the Woods, I didn’t know it was part of a series about Dublin murder cases, but alas, it is. In Faithful Place, Frank Mackey is our grouchy protagonist who went into police work after running away from his ghetto neighborhood at nineteen years old. He intended to run away to England with his girlfriend, Rosie, but when she didn’t show up on the get-away day, he assumed she lost her nerve.

Her body is discovered years later in an adjacent townhouse and Frank is determined to find out what happened to his first love.

A few things I loved: the crazy family dynamic, the gruffness of Frank’s discontent, the poetic way Tana French describes each scene and character…

The thing I didn’t like: The lack of suspense. Just as soon as the investigation got underway I knew who killed Rosie. It poured out of the pages with such clarity that I was sure a twist or turn would yank away my suspicions. But no. The person who I thought did it actually did it, so when the confession came, I wasn’t blown away. (That wasn’t the case for In the Woods, by the way. That one had me on edge.)

Don’t get me wrong – Tana French is a beautiful writer. Case in point, this first paragraph of Chapter 4:

The rain had slackened off to a faint damp haze, but the clouds were getting denser and darker; there was more on the way. Ma was pressed up against the front-room window, sending out curiosity rays that practically burned my eyebrows off. When she saw me looking in her direction, she whipped up a J-cloth and started furiously cleaning the glass.

French writes with careful cadence, the sort of rhythm that makes each sentence easy to read. I don’t know a thing about living in Dublin but French makes me think I do. Everything is so well described that almost nothing is left to the imagination. Not everyone loves that sort of writing, but I do. I want to submerge myself in a setting so that I actually live there for the duration of the book.

Perhaps it was her attention to detail that made the criminal so obvious. The character jumped off the page immediately, so much that I even thought, “Surely it’s not this person. That would be too obvious.”

In the Woods was a better book, but French’s writing is impeccable all around.

Buy Faithful Place here.