Archive | November, 2015

Best Litpicks of 2015

18 Nov

Some years are better than others, that’s just the way it is. 2014 was great in terms of new fiction – some books that may have found a spot on my All Time Favorites list. 2015, sadly, didn’t do so well for me. I found myself struggling to come up with a list of more than 3! Maybe I’ve said before, but I think it alternates – amazing year, not so amazing year, amazing year… The best thing I read this year, the one I am nerdily excited about, comes out in Feb of 2016. More on that at the end of the list. So, here are my Top 4 Litpicks of 2015:

These are the four books I absolutely loved and would recommend that EVERYONE read.

  1. The Improbability of Love: Such a fun novel about the art world with a cast of crazy and fun characters. It has EVERYTHING you could want in a novel – good art, good food, great characters, lots of twists.
  2. Circus Mirandus: Ok, so this one is a middle reader – targeted toward ages 8-10. HOWEVER. If you loved The Night Circus, if you know a child (any child) or ever were one, you should read this. It’ll come out in paperback in early 2016 and sell for a whopping $7.99 or something and it was SO great.
  3. The Red Notebook: Good news! This one is the only one on the list that is available in paperback right now. It’s short and sweet – if it were a movie it would be black and white and Cary Grant would play the owner of a bookstore, Grace Kelly the woman who loses her purse (and her red notebook). If you just need an escape, or are looking for a gift for someone (probably a woman) but don’t know what she reads – this is it.
  4. Fates and Furies: This one is on the short list for the National Book Award (winner announced tonight) and it was the best “literary fiction” novel I read this year. It’s about a married couple and split into two halves – Fates is the story of the husband, Furies the wife’s. The husband’s half is good – but when the narration switches it gets GREAT.

So those are the VERY best of what I read this year. Here are the 6 others ones that make the list:



5. A God in Ruins: This one is long. And kind of slow going. BUT if you stick with it, the pay-off is worth it. It’s the companion novel to Life After Life, one of my favorites from last year or the year before and tells the story of Teddy, a WWII vet. Kind of jumps around from his early childhood to his years in the war as a fighter pilot to his marriage, children and grandchildren. If you are into historical fiction, this is a great one.

6. Circling the Sun: Another great historical fiction about the life of Beryl Markham. I didn’t know much about her and expected this to be mostly about airplanes, but it was SO much more. Set during that crazy time when lots of British people fled to Africa to drink and sleep around. If you liked Out of Africa, you’ll love all the references to those same people.

7. Book of Speculation: It’s weird that in an off year, two of the books on my list have to do with the circus but that’s just the way it is. This one is for adults, though, about a family with a strong circus history (women who can hold their breath for a VERY long time) and a curse with a deadly timeline. Sort of a gothic-style mystery that moves fast.

8. In The Country: A collection of short stories that was so great – all either set in the Philippines or about Filipinos abroad. I can think of three collections of short stories that I have truly loved – News from Spain, The Other Language, and one that comes out in 2016 (see below), and if you liked either of those you should give this one a try.

9. The Thing About Jellyfish: It’s also weird that in an off year I have THREE books meant for younger readers. This one is, I would guess, a shoe-in for the National Book Award. It’s set in the present day about a young girl whose friend drowns over the summer while on vacation. So a part of it is dealing with grief, which you kind of expect when you hear the plot line. But so much more of it is about being in middle school, struggling to be comfortable with who you are, making new friends, learning the value of family. If you only read one novel for younger readers, it should be Circus Mirandus, but if you love that one and are up for another, put this on your list.

10. The War that Saved My Life: This one is also a novel for younger readers, but if I hadn’t known that going into it, I would have looked for it in with regular adult fiction. This story is about a young girl with a club foot during WWII. Her mother is completely wretched and oh so mean to her, so when her younger brother gets evacuated to the countryside the girl decides to go too. She teaches herself to walk (up until that point her mother forced her to crawl) and escapes the city. The siblings end up staying with a single woman who changes both of their lives.


Lastly – a sneak peak into my Best of 2016 Litpicks:


In the Land of Armadillos is a brilliant collection of linked short stories set in a small town in Poland during WWII. Helen Maryles Shankman incorporates a lot of Polish folklore into the stories and each one is so incredible I don’t even know which to describe first. I think my favorite is a story called Jew Hater about an antisemitic Polish man who has no problem turning in his neighbors or even his friends for helping or hiding Jews. Then one stormy night there is pounding at his door and two rebels leave a young Jewish girl in his care, promising to kill him where he stands if anything happens to her. Over the course of the story the Jew Hater becomes something completely different, and his transformation literally made my heart ache in such an amazing way. For a collection of stories that take place during such a brutal time, I thought that each one was uplifting and complex in a way that everyone will appreciate. Still tough, because they were tough times, but so, so so good. If you skip every single book on the 2015 list, make sure you don’t miss this one. It comes out in February of 2016.