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: The Goldfinch

At nearly 800 pages, The Goldfinch was a commitment, but it was one I was ready to make because I’d waited a year for this book to come out in paperback. During that time, it sat comfortably on the New York TImes Bestseller List, won a Pulitzer Prize, and acquired movie rights – and rightfully so.

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch begins with Theodore Decker introducing himself to us – his anonymous reader – as an adult in Amsterdam. He’s ill with some sort of fever and tells us that his life is severed into two parts: before his mother’s death, and after. Then we jump back in time at his re-telling to learn what happened.

Theo was thirteen, a single child to his single mother in New York City, and had just been caught smoking a cigarette at school with a bad influence of a friend. On the way to a parent-principal conference, Theo and his mother stop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to kill a little time. His mother shows him her favorite painting – The Goldfinch, a 1694 oil on panel a little bigger than a piece of paper. Just as Theo’s eyes leave the painting and gaze upon a spunky redhead at the museum with what looks like her grandfather, an explosion rocks the wing, destroying several works of art, killing a handful of people, including Theo’s mother.

In the rubble, disoriented and in shock, Theo finds the older man he saw with the redhead. The dying man says a myriad if disjointed things, then gives Theo an old ring and tells him where to take it. In the confusion of it all, Theo also takes The Goldfinch and leaves the museum through a back door.

All of this happens within the first fifty pages.

The journey Theo takes is a long, winding one filled with guilt, drugs, travel, and unquenched desire – all with The Goldfinch in tow. Welty (the old man) and Pippa (the redhead) inadvertently set him on a path to Hobie (a restoration expert), while the loss of his primary parent sends him first to a wealthy family in the city and then to Las Vegas to live indefinitely with his addiction intrenched father and his sketchy girlfriend. There he meets Boris, a Russian transient who becomes one of the greatest influences of his life – and the reason Theo winds up in Amsterdam.

Always at Theo’s heels is the knowledge that he has stolen a priceless piece of art and the fear that he will one day be caught.

Even though this story rocks my socks off, it isn’t without a few slow parts and heavy-handed description that could’ve been whittled. The end is particularly laden with lecture. Tartt’s few bits of lengthy drivel are probably the parts that warranted mixed reviews from some prominent literary critics, but they didn’t deter my own enjoyment. It was an engaging story, so sad at times, but thrilling at others.

At its core, The Goldfinch is a testimony to how art speaks directly to its viewer – how one interpretation is just as valid and moving and specific as the next. Art allows us to “speak to each other across time,” as Theo says, connecting us in cosmic, desperate ways.

“For if disaster and oblivion have followed this painting down through time — so too has love.”

For that, if no other reason, it’s beautiful. It has a firm place in my top ten favorites of all time.

Buy The Goldfinch here.