The best reads in fiction, nonfiction and kid-lit in 2015
As you look back over your year, there are a lot of things you notice. You had fun… you had some really great meals with really great friends … and especially in my case, there were books. Out of more than 120, here are the ones that stood out in 2015 (many with LGBT themes, characters and authors).
I always loved author John Boyne’s books; in fact, The Absolutist is one of my Top Five Ever. But A History of Loneliness has to be right up there. In this book, a priest explains his relationship with a colleague who always seems to be moved around from parish to parish. What’s wrong will slowly dawn on you, but our narrator is a little slower on the uptake. What happens will make you want to crawl into bed and cry for an hour.
In One Night by Eric Jerome Dickey, a woman who has nothing left to lose meets a man who has everything in life. She needs money. He decides that he needs her and they embark on a one-night stand that’s almost unbearably taut. I loved the mixture of this book: psychological, erotic and sass.
Also tightly written is The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister. It’s the story of a small-town sheriff who finally captures a killer who’s been on the loose for some time. She’s a slippery one — an illusionist — and he hopes she’ll offer a confession. Instead, she tells him a story. The sheriff doesn’t know what’s lie and what’s not … and neither will you in this wrap-you-up tale with an ending you totally won’t see coming.
Remember what it was like to be a kid? You’ll revisit it again in My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman, the story of a 7-year-old who loses her grandmother. Else is precocious, Granny was her only real friend and she was somewhat of a rascal. And as proof of that, before she dies, Granny leaves Elsa with an assignment. Part fantasy, part childhood, all charming, this book from the author of A Man Called Ove is a wonderful winner.
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz might be found on the Young Adult section of your bookstore or library, but I definitely thought it was more of an adult novel. It’s the story of a teenager who leaves her family because her father is abusive, and she moves to Baltimore to become a housemaid. It’s 1911, she’s Catholic, but her new employers are Jewish and the learning curve is steep. There’s adventure, heartbreak, romance, and history here — and yes, you can still share it with your favorite teen…
You may find Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson on other Best Of lists this year, and for good reason. This is a historical account of the sinking of a ship but there’s more: Larson is known to tease a story out, adding small side notes and spinning off in ways that enhance the tale he’s telling. That makes for a fascinating, heart-pounding true account you won’t want to put down.
Bobby Wonderful: An Imperfect Son Buries His Parents by Bob Morris made me laugh and made me cry …. a small creek. It’s the story of Morris’ mother, her life and her death, and the relationships she had with her family. It’s also a gay man’s love letter to his very supportive Mom, and it definitely lives up to its name: it’s wonderful.
Though it may sound odd, Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett put me in a good mood when I read it, maybe because it was as refreshing as its subject. Here, Barnett writes about all aspects of that stuff that falls from the sky — historically, culturally and meteorologically speaking — and she sprinkles readers with facts, disasters and sunshine. This book simply made me happy, which is why it’s on this list.
As a lover of All Things Scandalous, I found Good Mourning: A Memoir by Elizabeth Meyer with Caitlin Moscatello to be absolutely delicious. After Meyer lost her father, a high-powered lawyer, she realized that she was rather fascinated with death, just a little bit. So she marched into one of Manhattan’s premiere funeral homes, asked for a job and ended up being a funeral planner (think: services that are anything but dead). I loved this book for its behind-the-scenes peeks, and for the tales that only an insider can tell.
There’s a tie for the last slot on this non-fiction list: I loved Rosemary by Kate Clifford Larson for its jaw-dropping look at history, the Kennedys, and power gone wrong. I also couldn’t put down Lights Out by Ted Koppel, a cautionary, scare-the-daylights-out-of-you book on what could happen if our electric grid and internet infrastructure are attacked by terrorists.
If you ever had an imaginary friend, then The Imaginary by A.F. Harrold, and illustrated by Emily Gravett, is a book to read … or to give to your 9-to-12-year-old. It’s the story of a little girl who, of course, has an imaginary friend she loves. But one day, they come to realize that the imaginary friend isn’t the only Imaginary around — and the newcomer could mean danger. This is an adventurous book with a hint of thrill and a sweet ending that adults and kids will love.
I loved, loved, loved Spelled by Betsy Schow, a fairy-tale-ish book that’s part Cinderella, part Wizard of Oz. It’s the story of a spoiled princess whose parents have sheltered her, and who’ve also chosen her new husband. Problem is, she doesn’t want a husband and when she throws a Royal Fit, all spell breaks loose. This is a great young-adult book, but it’s one that grown-ups will get a kick out of, too. Pay close attention to the language, and you’ll be captivated.
And finally, Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter & Shane W. Evans really captured my attention this year. It’s a picture book that tells the story of an elderly woman and the first time she steps up to cast a vote. As she travels to the polling place, every step reminds her of the steps taken by others so she can exercise a privilege that others didn’t always have.
— Terri Schlichenmeyer
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 25, 2015.