Best Books of 2015

It was a good year. A really solid year. I am on my way to setting a new record for # of books read in a single year, so making a Best List presented a bigger challenge than usual. In the end, my Top 5 was relatively easy. Just like last year, I knew while I was reading them that they would be here. Sometimes you just know. I actually struggled the most with the rest of the list and I still feel guilty over all the books not included. 

My Top 5 are all pretty damn heavy, I won’t lie. That’s the kind of book that tends to affect me and settle down inside my bones. Honestly, it’s not until you get out of the top 10 that you’ll find lighter offerings because I naturally gravitate towards dark and complex books. With that said, 4 of my top 20 are absolutely delightful and heartwarming and wonderful, so I’m not fully gone. Promise. There really is something here for everyone. It’s been a really good year.

Beyond breaking these down into 1-5, 6-10, and 11-20, I couldn’t do any additional ranking so please take them in Alphabetical order within their chunk. These are only 2015 releases, I’ll cover a broader look at books in a later post.

Top 5

 Best Books of 2015 A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It should not be a surprise to see this in my Top 5. I read it in January and immediately declared it the best book I would read this year. Maybe someday I will have the strength to re-read it and see if I can cement it on my all-time list. I’ve been a huge advocate for it, and it’s always wonderful when you see a book you tell everyone to read get the kind of success this book has had. It is not your typical giant book, it is not your typical prizewinner, it is not trying to be cerebral, this book is just feelings, lots and lots of feelings, high melodrama. If horrible things happening to people is too much for you, you may want to skip it, because it turns the dial up to 11 on the horrific and the sublime. Friendship, trauma, healing, love, it’s all there.

Between the World and Me Best Books of 2015 by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It is rare for nonfiction to show up at the top of my list, but this book is so important, so affecting, so unforgettable that it demands nothing else. Everything you’ve heard about it is true. It is not possible to over-hype this book because it delivers so thoroughly. It is wise and deep and speaks truths that we all need to hear about race in the US today.

 Best Books of 2015Fifteen Dogs Best Books of 2015 by Andre Alexis is probably the biggest underdog on this list (though it recently won a big Canadian prize, and I’m so happy for it!) though I think it has great mass appeal. The titular 15 dogs are given human consciousness, and that alone should be enough to get you hooked. This is one of those books that keeps you on the edge of your seat with a quick and fascinating plot, gets you all attached to its characters, and at the same time speaks volumes about what it means to be human. An amazing and underappreciated book that deserves your attention.

 Best Books of 2015The Fishermen Best Books of 2015 by Chigozie Obioma. After multiple Rioters talked it up, I finally picked up this book on audio. No one warned me. I wanted to listen to this book constantly but I also dreaded turning it on because I worried so much about what was going to happen next. It’s very hard to talk about it without spoiling, so I won’t add any more detail. Needless to say, this book about four brothers in Nigeria will leave you absolutely floored. We’re talking Shakespearean level drama. I cannot believe this is a debut novel. I also cannot get it out of my head.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015The Story of the Lost Child Best Books of 2015 by Elena Ferrante. This book gets a very unfair advantage since I read it shortly after devouring the three previous books in the Neapolitan series. So it gets to ride all my accrued love for those books and for the author, who writes under a pseudonym and whose real identity is unknown. I have probably recommended these books more than any others this year and I will keep doing it. Outside of book nerd land, I don’t know that Ferrante has caught on all the way, but you really should get on board. You will not regret it. These books are absolutely amazing, and like many of the other books on this list, they’re incredibly readable, piled high with plot, and have characters that you’ll never forget. 



Daughters Unto Devils Best Books of 2015 by Amy Lukavics. Don’t underestimate Young Adult novels. This YA horror is one of the most frightening, creepy books I have ever read. It is scarier than most adult horror. It is a masterclass in horror. It’s basically a kind of Little House on the Prairie meets Rosemary’s Baby, with a family living on the frontier, literally getting cabin fever, possibly being haunted by demons, etc. Just read it. But maybe not at night.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015In the Country Best Books of 2015 by Mia Alvar. A short story collection on my top 10! Will wonders never cease? I read some great story collections this year, but this one is by far my favorite. There is not a weak one in the bunch and it’s so full of emotion. Many of the stories have that classic short story moral dilemma, but there is so much complexity in each brief tale. The stories are about Filipino families, those living in the Philippines and those who have emigrated to the US or to the Middle East. These are not the kinds of stories you get to hear very often, and that’s exactly why you should read it. (Also because the writing is so good I can’t even.)

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015The Library at Mount Char Best Books of 2015 by Scott Hawkins. Another one I picked up based on Rioter buzz. I tend to be cautious about Fantasy,  but this really isn’t Fantasy as much as it is every single genre all together. This book is stuffed to the gills with mythology and surrealism and horror and everything else you can possibly think of. And yet it works. It works beautifully. There is high and low, beautiful and horrible. But there’s also cops and ghosts and reincarnation and swat teams and pretty much anything else you can think of. This book will blow your mind in the best way.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015More Happy Than Not Best Books of 2015 by Adam Silvera. When I read this YA novel, I really liked it. But then something happened. I couldn’t shake it. It stayed in my head. It did not leave. And it remains the one that I come back to in a year where I read some incredibly strong YA. This book will give you so many feelings. Aaron is a poor brown kid in the projects. Thomas is his new friend. And as they become inseparable you start to wonder, “Is Thomas maybe…” and then I will not spoil a thing. But this is a great book dealing with identity, LGBT youth, and much, much more. 

The Whites Best Books of 2015 by Richard Price (writing as Harry Brandt). I love me some Richard Price. He’s one of the best crime writers we have, arguably the best. And this book was his attempt to write something lighter, faster, and more pulpy. It didn’t work. It became a Richard Price book, sprawling and epic, yet intimate and tight, showing crime from a variety of different angles. The parallel narratives are particularly strong, one of his best, and his best is really, really good.



 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015Dumplin’ Best Books of 2015by Julie Murphy. I read it in a frenzy and immediately told most of my friends who read a lot of YA to read it immediately. Dumplin’ is a contemporary YA with a lot of what you’d expect: struggles with friends, with family, with romance, with identity. What separates it is a heroine with a vibrant voice who also happens to be fat. She knows she’s fat, she knows how other people look at her, and she loves herself anyway. Being in the presence of Willowdean is a joy.

Eden West Best Books of 2015 by Pete Haumann. I’d never read Haumann before, but after this book I looked into him and wasn’t surprised to learn that he’d written one of the seminal YA novels on religion and faith. Eden  Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015West is also about those topics, and honestly I think it can be marketed just as easily to adult as teen audiences, I don’t really know where I’d personally categorize it. The story follows a young man growing up in a cult whose life is changed when he meets a local girl while he’s walking their borders. There are lots of cult stories. It’s kind of a thing. I read at least 3 just this year. This one had so much truth and it’s rare to find a book that can respect its character’s faith in something that is objectively terrible to an outsider.

Fates and Furies Best Books of 2015 by Lauren Groff. It’s one of the big books of the year, you’ve probably seen it and heard about it by now. It’s a book that demands discussion, and I found it incredibly intriguing and interesting. I love books that mess with your expectations and this one completely does. It’s an exercise in structure and character that is also incredibly satisfying, a rare combination. A warning: you have to give this book more time than you usually would. You’ve got to get at least halfway before you really know what you’re getting into.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015Kitchens of the Great Midwest Best Books of 2015 by J. Ryan Stradal. I don’t read a lot of happy books, as I mentioned. Kitchens is a book that manages to be happy AND hit my dark and complex sweet spot. It’s one of those books of connected stories, a difficult task, but one Stradahl does better than anyone I can remember off hand. All his characters feel real. And reading his book reminds you how heavy our modern fiction is with city people, how rarely we depict the people who make up most of our country. It’s also great for all you foodies out there.

The Sellout Best Books of 2015 by Paul Beatty is a dark, biting satire dealing primarily with race. Even when it seems fun or jaunty, there’s always some wise darkness just around the corner. You cannot relax with this book. It does not let you get comfortable. It makes you judge characters then makes you anxious about judging them. It is some of the strongest satire I’ve seen in years and we really need more books like this in the world.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda Best Books of 2015 by Becky Albertalli. I often read a book not knowing the author’s name due to the formatting on electronic galleys. I was convinced this book was written by a young gay man, one who’d recently been to high school and lived through these kinds of experiences. But no, Becky Albertalli was never a teenage boy. How she creates Simon and makes him so full I don’t know, but I’d love to ask. This is straight up contemporary YA, but it’s so perfectly done that it should be a model for the genre.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015Sorcerer to the Crown Best Books of 2015 by Zen Cho. The canon has a problem. It’s all white authors and white characters. And then you get into genre fiction and you find the legacy continuing despite the world having changed. Fantasy, science-fiction, historical fiction, it can be hard to find books by authors of color with characters of color. Luckily now you have this book, which is kind of like if Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was a lot less brooding and had a lot less white people. So basically, it’s AWESOME. It’s also hella feminist (another problem you run into) and witty and delightful and really, why haven’t you read it yet? (I don’t even like Fantasy and I totally dug it.)

Unfinished Business Best Books of 2015 by Anne-Marie Slaughter. The only book on work-life balance I have ever liked. The only one I’ve ever read where I nodded my head and said, “Yes, yes, this is exactly it.” I hate the articles, the panels, the same discussions over and over again without anyone saying what the real problem is and what most people face every day. I just want to get rid of everyone talking about these issues and instead have us all read this book. Give it to your boss, give it to your company’s CEO, give it to the working women and men in your life. It needs to be read.

 Best Books of 2015 Best Books of 2015Welcome to Braggsville Best Books of 2015 by T. Geronimo Johnson. At first you think this book is about being that kid who never fit in in a small Southern town and going to college and finding your people. But that’s just the intro. This book has much more to say and it’s not going to beat around the bush. It’s going to give you crazy plot twists, commentary on race and media, and a distinctive voice that stays with you. Amazing stuff, perhaps the book I’ve read that most reminds me of Junot Diaz’s Oscar Wao.


Honorable Mentions

A God in Ruins Best Books of 2015by Kate Atkinson. A companion of sorts to Life After Life, but I liked it better. Gutsy and ambitious.

Idyll Threatsl Best Books of 2015 by Stephanie Gayle. Fantastic new mystery series about a closeted cop who moves to a small town.

Lost Canyon Best Books of 2015by Nina Revoyr. Deliverance for the modern age, this time featuring more than just white guys!

Our Souls at Night Best Books of 2015 by Kent Haruf. His last, slim novel is beautiful and still and utterly affecting.

Speak Best Books of 2015by Louisa Hall. What is intelligence and consciousness and connection? A book with a lot to think about.


Fall Books!

I keep procrastinating this post because I am still not done reading many of the big Fall Releases. But September is almost over and I really can’t put it off forever. They’re coming out right and left and best to have it done.

Fall is basically the season of heavy hitters in the book world, with most of the big guys coming out in September. It’s kind of like how all the big Oscar movies tend to come out in December. There are still light, fun books in Fall and there are plenty of big, literary books the rest of the year, but there’s definitely a concentration. Here’s a roundup of some of my favorites of the Fall Releases for 2015, links are to Amazon and all are affiliate links. 

Literary Fiction

These are the books I get asked about the most because they get a lot of press, a lot of attention, and the gap between the critical reception and the real-world reception can be pretty wide. I tend to take a common-sense approach to literary fiction, when possible.

 Fall Books! Fall Books!Fates and Furies seems to be getting the most buzz, if we focus on the book instead of the author. It’s not a surprise once you’ve read the book. This is a book that has a lot to say about the novel. It’s an exercise in structure. The first half of the book can even be read as satire in retrospect. Yeah, all this sounds really dull, doesn’t it? I admit, I was halfway through thinking, “Do I really want to finish this?” and I only pushed forward because I had so many friends who enjoyed it so much. I’m glad I did, turns out I enjoyed the second half like crazy. All that said, having to commit to over 200 pages before you know if you really like a book is a tall order. But if you’re looking for something that’s basically a fancy, cerebral Gone Girl, you should consider it. 

 Fall Books! If we’re talking about author buzz, then the award clearly goes to Franzen. His new novel, Purity, is interesting, a fast read, a page-turner, a domestic drama with an international lens. A book that manages to be about the East German underground, a Julian-Assange-like internet lord, and a rather dull twenty-something girl with a crazy mother who lives in a co-op in San Francisco at a dead-end job. This is Franzen, so it bounces between overly-brainy descriptions and genre-worthy plot twists. But if you’ve enjoyed either of his previous novels it’s worth a look. And I’m just going to leave it there.

 Fall Books! Fall Books!There’s a new Margaret Atwood out this month! And it is… well it’s not normal. Atwood has been doing her own thing for several years now, experimenting and mashing genres and doing whatever it is she feels like. Respect. And this book perhaps expresses that better than any of her previous ones. The Heart Goes Last is just plain weird, a book that almost feels like someone dared her to mix 5 different Cards Against Humanity cards into her plot. But it works. It’s dystopian and has plenty to say about marriage, adultery, planned community, sex, obsession, and a lot more. There are sex dolls, Elvis impersonators, prisons, roving gangs, a huge financial crisis, and plenty more. Personally, I dig novels where I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen next. But if you don’t like it when a book colors outside the lines, this one probably won’t be right for you.

There’s a new story collection by Adam Johnson, the recent Pulitzer winner for The Orphan-Master’s Son. It’s called Fortune Smiles and the title is used ironically. It’s depressing and heavy and really interesting. He’s got particularly interesting things to say about marriage and relationships that really stuck in my brain. There’s a new novel by Salman Rushdie, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, which includes a few thousand years of history, a jinn who marries a human, and a gardener who looks down one day to find he’s floating a few inches above the ground all the time. Like many of Rushdie’s recent novels, this isn’t one you can read in a fury, but it’s constantly smart. David Mitchell has a new novella that’s set in the universe of The Bone Clocks called Slade House which I didn’t love, but then again I’ve liked The Bone Clocks less and less as time passes. And there’s a debut novel from essayist Sloane Crosley which I also didn’t love, but I fully acknowledge that this book hit several of my totally subjective personal pet peeves (books about young rich people, 20-somethings struggling to find their place in the world, people making ridiculous choices that would destroy them if they weren’t in a novel, etc.) but I know many others who enjoyed it. 

Genre Novels

Genre = mystery, romance, sci-fi, etc. All those books that get grouped in some category based on their plot. There’s a bunch of great ones so I’d hate to focus too heavily on the literary stuff.

 Fall Books! Fall Books!Sorcerer to the Crown is a fantasy novel and I am not a fantasy reader. But a fellow non-fantasy reader recommended it and I figured I’d try and holy cats, it is amazing. A kickass novel that reminded me more of J. K. Rowling’s light and agile wit than any other book I’ve read. Set in an alternate-universe 1800’s Britain where magic exists but most “magicians” are just rich dudes who use it as an excuse to make their own club. The Sorcerer Royal, whom no one cares for much, is Zacharias, a freed slave whose birth and skin color separate him from everyone around him. Then there’s Prunella, the orphaned girl whose parentage is unknown except that there’s clearly something “not British” in there, who’s been taken in by the proprietress of a girls’ magical boarding school and finds herself suddenly ousted upon reaching adulthood. Prunella and Zacharias cross paths, of course, and there’s a quest to save England from its quickly depleting supply of magic, and that’s just the beginning of this delightful book. I honestly can’t recommend it enough. 

 Fall Books! Fall Books!Getting into more of my usual stuff, my favorite thriller of the fall is Idyll Threats by Stephanie Gayle. Set about 10 years ago in a small Connecticut town, it’s about Thomas Lynch, a former NYPD cop who’s left the big city for a job as a small town sheriff after his partner dies. Oh, and he’s gay and closeted. Lynch lives a secret life on his own and then goes to work every day to a police force that eyes him with suspicion and disdain. A quick tryst one night seems uneventful, until he realizes that he was one of the last people to see a murder victim alive… and he can’t tell anyone. It’s a well-plotted book, heavy on character, and the first in a series. I am 100% on board, one of my favorite mysteries of the year.

 Fall Books! Fall Books!There’s a new Karin Slaughter novel, and if you know Slaughter you know her books aren’t for the faint of heart. She has no problems finding plots from the darkest places in people’s lives. Pretty Girls starts out pretty normal: well-off woman’s husband is murdered in a robbery gone wrong, woman finds that husband was keeping secrets. But it gets pretty heavy pretty fast. I don’t want to spoil it, so if you’re considering it but are wondering if it’s too icky for you, you can see the spoiler in my Goodreads review (you have to click to open, the rest of you are safe). It is fast fast fast, Slaughter is getting better and better, in my humble opinion, and her recent standalone novels have all been incredibly strong and worthy of the title “thriller.”

Young Adult

 Fall Books! Fall Books!Two of my favorite YA’s of the year are both September releases. First there’s Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, which has had a pretty joyous and enthusiastic reception, and it deserves every bit of it. This is a joyous and enthusiastic book that is so full of feel-good that I’d happily put it in the hands of every teenage girl out there. Willowdean is fat. There’s no tiptoeing around it. And pretty much everything in Will’s life is going kind of crazy. She has a new secret boyfriend who won’t be seen with her in public. Her best friend, the beautiful and skinny Ellen, seems to be moving farther away from her. Her mom, who’s run the city beauty pageant since she won it decades earlier, just can’t understand how Will can be fat and happy with herself at the same time. Will is strong and full of sass, a girl who pulls her inspiration from Dolly Parton. It’s a fun read, an inspiring and funny book, one that gets you thinking about body image and just plain bodies. 

 Fall Books! Fall Books!I was kind of done with all the Sherlock knockoffs, but I picked up Lock & Mori by Heather W. Perry because this time Moriarty is a girl and I thought I’d be interested to see where the book took that. It took it to a very, very good place. Lock & Mori are teenagers in modern-day London, kids from very different backgrounds, who are drawn to each other due in large part to their shared brilliance. There is a murder, of course. But this is not a book where Sherlock gets to be the big hero. Mori is the narrator and she knows more about what happened than she’s willing to tell Lock, even when things start getting serious between the two of them. I tend not to really dig YA mystery, but this novel totally delivered. The will-they-won’t-they-will-they-stay-together of the teenage romance plus a serious mystery plus a heroine with some serious baggage = Jess is very happy.

There’s a few more YA that I’m saving for my upcoming horror post in October, so hold tight on those.


Yes, I have been reading nonfiction, as hard as it is to believe.

 Fall Books! Fall Books!I am a sucker for a medical memoir, so reading Black Man in a White Coat was a no-brainer. Damon Tweedy’s book isn’t just a reflection on his life in training and practice, but a look at how different racial issues play out in medicine. A black doctor-in-training surrounded almost entirely by white trainees and doctors, attending Duke where much of the population is black and poor, Tweedy finds racism in expected and unexpected places. Then there’s issues that go beyond blatant racism, like the treatment gap between the poor blacks and the well-off whites; and the medical issues that disproportionately affect the black community (including Tweedy and his relatives). Tweedy has no agenda. He doesn’t get political. He also borrows freely from other memoirs by doctors of color (yes, including Ben Carson) to show that a problem can be systemic or isolated. It’s a book with heart but that is determined to stay scientific. If there’s someone you’d like to talk about race with but you think they’re not ready for Ta-Nehisi Coates, Tweedy’s memoir is a great, thought-provoking choice.

 Fall Books!I started reading Symphony for the City of the Dead by M. T. Anderson not actually realizing it was nonfiction. Anderson wrote several novels I love, including the Octavian Nothing books which I find positively swoon-worthy, if those books were a person I would consider marrying them. The new book is about the composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the siege of Leningrad. I won’t lie, I am not done with this book yet. I’ve been reading it for a month now. Because the siege of Leningrad is DEPRESSING, YO, and I have to take breaks from the horrors of it. I’ve read my fair share of depressing holocaust books, both fiction and nonfiction, but this book is right up there with them in terms of horrors and crimes against humanity. This is technically a nonfiction book for young adults, but honestly I can’t tell. It is easy to read, but it’s no cake walk. It will be a challenging read for a teen, but I don’t see why a teen couldn’t read it. And I see no reason why adults can’t read it. 

 Fall Books! Fall Books!I’m also in the middle of a book of essays right now: Me, My Hair, and I: Twenty-seven Women Untangle an Obsession, edited by Elizabeth Benedict. There are some truly amazing essays in here, and if you are a curly girl like me, or someone who hasn’t quite made peace with her hair yet, you need to read this book. I just finished an essay by Deborah Tannen about why mothers are always so interested in their daughters’ hair that was insanely good and everyone should read right now. (Teaser: here’s another essay she wrote about how a woman’s appearance is “marked” in a way a man’s isn’t.) A lot of the essays share a theme of accepting your hair after fighting against it and if you need to hear that, you should probably read it. But anyone will find a lot to ponder, man we all have stories about our hair, it’s fascinating to pick that apart.

There’s more I haven’t gotten to yet, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s new book, Unfinished Business, is sitting next to my bed. (Updated to add I started this last night and OMG I think this may be the best book on work-life balance ever. I’m only through Part I but I am just full of praise-hands-emoji for everything Slaughter says.) But pretty soon it’ll be time to move on to 2016 reads and 2015 reading wrap-ups and holy cow, how did we get here?

How’s your fall reading going? Any big new books on your hold list or on your bedside table?

Spring & Summer Favorite Books

In my drafts folder right now is my write up of the Big Fall Books, which is a thing in the publishing world. But before I finished that, I realized I had to talk about some of my favorite summer books that I haven’t said as much about. I hadn’t realized I’d left out a whole bunch of books since my recent posts weren’t based on release date the way I normally do. So I missed a bunch that are fantastic or that I read after their release dates. (I’m playing catchup a lot these days.) Here’s some of the highlights from Spring & Summer to get from the library or hopefully still on the discounted new release shelf.

As usual, links in this post are Amazon affiliate links.

Top Picks

 Spring & Summer Favorite Books Spring & Summer Favorite BooksKitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal. If there’s a book that I’ve been a big evangelist for recently, it’s this one. It had good buzz but I was worried about the title, it sounded like a light little ladies’ book. It’s not. It’s a book all about food and people who love food. And even more specifically than that, moments in your life where a meal or a dish has some kind of impact on you. While the central figure of this smart and lovely novel is up-and-coming chef Eva Thorvald (in Minnesota/Iowa/the surrounding areas, of course), she is the protagonist of only one chapter. Each one finds a different character in crisis, in a moment of decision, at a crossroads of their life. And the book dances through these scenes with agility, grace, and depth. It’s a real joy to read, one of those novels with a thrill that you just can’t impart to other people, you just have to tell them, “Read it, you should just read it.” (Bonus: it has recipes sprinkled throughout the story.)

 Spring & Summer Favorite Books Spring & Summer Favorite BooksBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. In the book world, this has been heavily hyped. But I know that the book world isn’t always overlapping with the rest of the world. So in case you missed it, this is the most important book of the year. That isn’t an exaggeration. Believe me, I heard so much hype about this book and I’m very skeptical of hype. But it is everything everyone says it is and more. I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, but I also wanted another copy, a paper copy, that I could hold in my hands, that I could underline and highlight and write notes on. Coates, who is well-known for his incisive essays at The Atlantic here writes a long message to his son about race and what the American Dream really is. It leaves you changed.


 Spring & Summer Favorite Books Spring & Summer Favorite BooksThe Ambassador’s Wife by Jennifer Steil is already being turned into a mini-series starring Anne Hathaway, so you’d better read it soon or else you won’t read the book first and we all know it’s better if you read the book first. You can see why she chose this part in this book when you read it. Miranda is an artist and free spirit, but her life changes drastically after she falls in love with the British Ambassador to a (fictional) Middle Eastern country. No longer living as she pleases but under guard, things are very different. But this drama turns much more dramatic when Miranda is kidnapped, held hostage, and forced to find away to stay alive in the most dire circumstances. An interesting novel with an interesting main character. 

 Spring & Summer Favorite Books Spring & Summer Favorite BooksLost Canyon by Nina Revoyr stuck in my head like nobody’s business. A book I’d heard nothing about from an indie press I didn’t know, it was a pageturner that I developed a full-on addiction to. I pitch it as a modern Deliverance that adds gender, race, and class into the mix. Not just a study of testosterone under pressure, but a look at how we look at each other and how we push our limits. Gwen, Oscar, and Todd don’t know each other but they all know Tracy, their tough-as-nails trainer who invites them on a grueling hike. Things don’t go as planned. But well before you’re in nailbiting territory, this book gets you in the thick of these people’s lives, their goals, their broken dreams. They should really make this one into a movie, too.

Magical Realism/Fantasy

 Spring & Summer Favorite Books Spring & Summer Favorite BooksHugo & Rose by Bridget Foley is not the first book I read by an author I actually knew. And fortunately, it joins the group of books by someone I know that were really good. The thing is, that when you know the author you read with a sense of anxiety that you won’t like it and you’ll have to pretend you like it or find something nice to say about it when you can’t think of anything. Thankfully Bridget killed it. I’d love to hear this one in a book club, it has so much of the truth of that mother drudgery of life at home with small children. But Rose escapes that life every night when she closes her eyes and dreams of Hugo and the Island they’ve explored together since they were little. And then one day Rose sees someone in her waking life who is Hugo but isn’t and from there it’s a steadily growing twisty-turny plot until a huge climax. Do not be fooled by the sweet cover. There are real stakes in this book, the likes of which you rarely get in a story about a suburban stay-at-home mom. And the magical realism element gives it a fantasy twist. 

 Spring & Summer Favorite Books Spring & Summer Favorite BooksEmber in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. I don’t read a lot of fantasy. I read hardly any capital-F Fantasy, instead sticking closer to magical realism in literary fiction. But I heard enough people say this book was good to give it a try. A Young Adult novel, the first in a series, it actually held my attention instead of putting me to sleep. A dystopia with lots of worldbuilding, an evil empire, a rebel force, a school for soldiers, and a spy servant, there’s a whole lot going on but it works well. It took me a little while to really get into it, but I’m now super curious about where this book is going next. 

 Spring & Summer Favorite BooksSpeak by Louisa Hall is a good one to go to if you got into Alan Turing after The Theory of Everything. Turing is a hot commodity lately and this book is just so intelligent and so fascinating that it’s worthy of having him as one of its main characters. This is one of those multiple narrative books that covers a span of hundreds of years, from the diary of a teenage girl on a ship to America in the 1600’s to the last thoughts of a robot that’s been shipped off to a warehouse where its batteries will slowly deplete, it follows scientists and non-scientists through journeys of communication and human thought. It is about robots and what it means to be human, it’s about how we think and how we communicate and what really matters in our lives. 


 Spring & Summer Favorite Books Spring & Summer Favorite BooksSmaller and Smaller Circles by F. H. Batacan. I love reading international crime novels, and Asian crime novels tend to be my favorite. This book is a huge hit in the Phillippines, and we have only the tiniest bit of Filipino literature in translation here in the US, so I was very excited to read this book. It’s absolutely a knockout, a well-plotted thriller with excellent characters. The unlikely detective is Father Gus Saenz, a priest who also happens to be a forensic anthropologist. Both local and national law enforcement are corrupt and suspect, so when Saenz is brought in to consult on a series of murders of young boys in a massive dump site, he can’t trust anyone in power. Batacan also gives us Payatas in great detail, the 50-acre dump that supports a huge community of impoverished people who pick through it to survive. A serial killer novel with a setting you definitely haven’t seen before, fully-drawn characters, and a worthy plot.

 Spring & Summer Favorite Books Spring & Summer Favorite BooksThe Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon finishes up the list. McMahon is one of those authors whose books I kept reading over and over again even though they never quite did it for me. She’s a master of page-turning but I almost always found the climax unworthy of the buildup. Until recently. Something changed with her previous novel, The Winter People. She’s shifted to supernatural and horror instead of the straight thriller or crime novel and it’s a change that suits her talent well. The Night Sister is really, really creepy and lets McMahon do what she does best: take you on a serious ride. Set in an abandoned motel, Amy has just brutally killed her family. Piper and Margot, her childhood friends, know secrets about the motel they promised they would keep, but if they’re going to stay alive they may have to break their promise. *insert creepy music* 


Favorites from Spring/Summer that you’d like to share? 

Questions and Answers on Go Set a Watchman

GSAW Instagram 300x300 Questions and Answers on Go Set a WatchmanOn Tuesday, I posted on Instagram that I was starting Go Set a Watchman on audio. The comments included this one from Kristina, “I’m so nervous to read it. I can’t wait to hear what you think.”

Everyone was nervous. In the book world, the build up to GSAW’s publication day was ridiculous. I wasn’t nervous, actually. I did not fret. I paid only cursory attention. I wasn’t even going to read it. But the day it came out I was able to follow along in real time as people read and reacted and I just got too curious not to. It was the readers who got me interested, not the author or the book. So when Harper Collins said they’d send over the audiobook for review I knew I just needed to dive in and see it for myself. (Links are to Amazon & Audible, if you purchase I make a small commission.)

So here’s some of the questions out there about Go Set a Watchman Questions and Answers on Go Set a Watchman and what you need to know.

Is it terrible?

No. Honestly, the first half of the book was so lovely that I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been edited and felt like it really was a worthy companion to Mockingbird. The second half is different, partly because the last third is made up almost entirely of long conversations and could definitely use some editing, and partly because the subject matter suddenly becomes very difficult and hard to read. 

Because Atticus is a racist, right? I heard about that.

Yes, that’s the short version. It’s much more complex than that. But that’s the general gist. As you can imagine, it’s a bitter pill to swallow for us and for Scout.

Oh, Scout. I love her. Is she still awesome?

Yes. Yes, she is. One of the gifts of Watchman is the chance to see Scout go to her first dance, get her first period, and glimpse other childhood flashbacks. As a grown-up she wears pants when she feels like it and lives in New York City. So yeah, she’s still awesome.

 Questions and Answers on Go Set a Watchman
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What about Jem? And Dill? And Calpurnia? 

Too many spoilers. Can’t say.

Is it just a bunch of stuff we already know from To Kill a Mockingbird?

No, there’s some overlapping text but not nearly enough to even be noticeable.

Is it a good audiobook Questions and Answers on Go Set a Watchman?

Well, since there’s difficult material it makes the audiobook difficult sometimes. As a reader, I tend to skim when I’m uncomfortable to try to get the bad things to go away. But as a listener? No such luxury.

But if you’re definitely going to read this book and you like audiobooks, it’s a good choice. Reese Witherspoon is the reader. I was highly skeptical. But she is fantastic. One of the best readers of any audiobook I’ve read this year. She just felt RIGHT. They must hire her to read To Kill a Mockingbird immediately.

I feel like you’re not really giving me that much information.

I know. I’m sorry. It’s hard because half of this book is just what you want it to be and the other half is just HARD. And it gave me a lot of very complicated feelings. And I’m not sure everyone is ready to jump into those. I have a feeling there will be a lot of book clubs that get heated over this book. Many of its characters are actively, outwardly racist but believe they are doing good. This is a real thing. These people still exist and they’re all around you. And there may be people in your book club who are convinced by their arguments that they really are good people. If your book club is usually a gentle place for chit chat and dessert, it may suddenly become very awkward or angry or who knows what. It is hard to talk about race and racism with your friends and family. I believe it should be done, but that doesn’t make it easy. 

I am torn between telling everyone that their book club should read this immediately so that we can move forward on the difficult work that is talking about race, and telling people to maybe be careful about reading it in book clubs. I know those conversations can go to bad places and lead to bad things and it’s hard enough to follow along with Jean Louise as she discovers that the people she loves are not who she thought they were, doing it in real life is much harder. Then again, if your book club read GSAW and then completely ignores race all together in your discussion, that is troubling as well.

This book gives you lots of feels, and many of them are profoundly difficult. It has been less than 24 hours since I read it and I’ve written over 2000 words about it now because I just have to do something and process it and I still don’t really know how. (No, this post is not 2,000 words long. I wrote a couple others, including this one for Book Riot.)

Usually I am all for taking a book knowing as little about it as possible. But with this book, I think you need to be ready. I knew from watching people read it that it took a hairpin turn. And I spent much of it thinking, “I don’t see how this book can make me turn against it,” only to realize later, “Oh, that’s how.” 

Over a million copies of Go Set a Watchman have sold, it’s a huge event in the book world, and yet I can’t help but think that no one will be standing around the water cooler or the playground saying, “Did you read it? Me, too! What did you think?” Instead I have a feeling we won’t be talking about it much at all because of all the hard things there are to talk about.

So that’s your info. Do with it what you will. And if you have read the book, consider the comments a safe space to get your feels out. Because I know I’m not the only one who needed to word-dump them somewhere.

All Kinds of Audiobooks

Iaffiliate links pic All Kinds of Audiobooks love audiobooks and always have. I’ve had a lot of long-distance driving in my life and audiobooks have been the only way I cope. Even when I take public transit it helps me detach from the mass of humanity and go to somewhere else in my head. I’m back to long commutes now that I’m at a new job, but I’m  not really sad because I get 45 minutes or so of uninterrupted listening time each way in the stillness and solitude of my car. It’s a beautiful thing.

I see people asking for audiobook recommendations a lot so I thought I’d share the best of my listens for the last year or so.

Where to Get Audiobooks

1. The Library. Libraries usually have a pretty fantastic selection of audiobooks, especially if you have several local libraries that can send audiobooks from one location to another if you put it on hold. This should usually be your first stop. If it’s a new release you’ll have a decent waiting period. But on the bright side, only really popular and really new releases have enough holds that the audio has a long wait. The audio almost always has less holds than the book, though there are also less copies so keep that in mind.

2. Audible. I restarted my Audible subscription last year even though money was really tight. It made me happy enough that it was a total deal. You can do 1 audiobook a month for $14.95 or 2 for $22.95, and those prices are enough of a markdown from the audiobook price that you should get a subscription even if you aren’t sure you want more than one or two. With this link you can try Audible and get two free audiobooks All Kinds of Audiobooks. The thing is, once you start an Audible subscription, it’s really easy to get more audiobooks cheap. Audible has a Daily Deal every day (I check the emails every morning) where a popular book is marked down to usually less than $5. They also run sales every few weeks where a whole bunch of audiobooks will be on sale for cheap. The selection at Audible is incredibly good, you really can’t beat it. And if you get an audiobook you don’t like, you can return it and trade it for another book. Bonus: the recently updated phone app is a huge gamechanger. It works well (if you used the phone app before, it’s SO much better) and now I listen to more books on my phone than anything else.

3. Scribd. My pals at Book Riot got me on board with Scribd. It’s also a subscription model and most people use it for access to e-books. But they also have a decent audiobook library. I started my free trial last month when I read the first of a series on Audible but was out of credits even though I immediately needed to read the second and third. Enter Scribd, who kept me from spending too much money or waiting so long that I’d go nuts. The selection is smaller, but the price is great: $8.99 a month. You get e-books, too, with a lot of new titles mixed in. On the downside, as a subscription service you don’t get to keep anything. And their app needs tweaking, the audio quality isn’t as good and I’ve had a few hiccups. Not enough hiccups to get me to stop using it, though.

Now that you’ve got sources for your audiobooks, here’s some of my favorites in a few genres.


Way back in the day when I had my first Audible subscription, I listened to Tana French’s first novel In the Woods on audio and it is still one of my favorite listening experiences. Mysteries can be hard since you have to pay close attention, but if you’ve got time on your hands any of French’s books make great listening, especially if you like long books (I do!!).

 All Kinds of Audiobooks All Kinds of AudiobooksIf you like it on the gritty side, go for The Whites, a book whose praises I’ve been singing all year. By Richard Price, one of my absolute favorite authors, writing as Harry Brandt (long story), the reader here is one of the best I’ve ever had. He nails both sides of the story, and he turns on the New-York-cop-talk and the New-York-criminal-talk very well. All kinds of accents and backgrounds fly through this story and it feels 100% real the whole way. It’s a long one but moves, moves, moves.

 All Kinds of Audiobooks All Kinds of AudiobooksI read a lot in translation, especially crime, and a recent favorite is The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. Never has a modern mystery reminded me so much of Agatha Christie, which is a huge compliment. A woman murders her ex-husband and her strange neighbor helps cover it up and at first this seems like your typical will-they-get-away-with-it book as the police investigate. But it’s meticulously done and has an ending that will make you fall out of your chair. I can’t praise it enough. The reader gives the book’s often-gentle Japanese style just the right tone.

Young Adult

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a book by two YA powerhouses (John Green and David Levithan) that goes back and forth between two narrators. It’s great for audio since you get two readers. I like to break up serious books with YA and this book was a delight. Plenty of real stakes for the two teenage boys with the exact same name at its center, but also plenty of lighthearted whimsy, including my favorite character, Tiny, the not-at-all-tiny gay best friend who writes a musical based on his own life. 

 All Kinds of AudiobooksI just finished listening to More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera, a new release. If I miss a book before it comes out and hear great things, it’s not at all unusual for me to hit up Audible and get it. The reader is not my favorite (the main character is a kid from the projects and the narrator’s voice just doesn’t hit that note) but I’m making up for it a little bit by listening to it on 1.25x speed which makes the too-long pauses not so long, another audio bonus. This book hits so many of the Contemporary YA notes, but is about a poor, brown kid instead of a well-off white kid, so if you’re tired of hearing about how tough kids in the suburbs have it, get on board. It also has an Eternal-Sunshine-esque twist of magical realism. There’s a slowly rising undercurrent of LGBT issues that go in directions you don’t expect. This is a novel that you have to really work not to spoil, so let me just say that I hit an unexpected plot twist as I pulled into the parking lot for work one day and was seriously devastated that I had to stop right then.

 All Kinds of Audiobooks All Kinds of AudiobooksI don’t think Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein belongs in YA. The protagonists happen to be teenage girls, but if they were teenage boys fighting in a war that would be an adult novel. The fact that these “soldiers” are girls shouldn’t change anything, and bonus points they’re spies!! But anyway. This book is another that had two readers for the two protagonists and they were both spectacular, with the right kind of accents (one working-class British, the other Scottish) that really bring their characters to life. Having much of the novel written in letter form, also makes it perfect for reading. This is really high-adventure, one of the most thrilling and heart-pounding books I’ve read. A great pick for a group listen.

Literary Fiction

 All Kinds of Audiobooks All Kinds of AudiobooksBilly Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk was a book from a few years ago that I always meant to read and never did. This is exactly the kind of book I tend to seek out on audio and I’m so glad I read it that way because it had a spectacular reader and I think the novel was well served by being read aloud. This book is set in the early 2000’s and it’s about one day in the lives of Bravo Squad, who are briefly back in the US for a press tour that interrupts their tour in Iraq. This is a satire that captures the US in a specific place at a specific time. But the reason this book is so good (one of my favorites I’ve read this year, for sure) isn’t the satire but the big beating heart that is Billy Lynn and the bonds he feels with his family and his squad. The narrative that walks you slowly through the day building up to… you don’t know exactly what is also surprisingly suspenseful. Oh, and the reader is stellar, switching back and forth to the different and diverse voices of Bravo Squad like it’s nothing at all.

 All Kinds of Audiobooks All Kinds of AudiobooksWhen I found out that Toni Morrison has recorded several of her audiobooks I immediately had to get one. I listened to Sula, which was a perfect choice. It’s not one of her denser books (listening to Beloved strikes me as much too hard) and it’s not too long. You will see lots of readers complain about Morrison’s voice, so you may want to try a sample. I adored it. She doesn’t read like an actor, she reads like a poet. There is something so soothing about her voice, it moves like a river that flows right through your head down to your heart. She does voices well, which surprised me, and I was very sad when the book ended. I would like her to read so many things to me. 

 All Kinds of Audiobooks All Kinds of AudiobooksIf you follow me on Twitter you may know that I am addicted to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. I listened to the first 3 (the 4th comes out this fall) on audio in a frenzy. These books are more than just coming of age novels or books about a difficult friendship. They’re about what it means to be a woman and a person and, well, pretty much everything. You can start with My Brilliant Friend and if you find yourself unable to stop listening to it (I like audio for these, since I can hear what the Italian names and words are supposed to sound like) you can find all 3 on Scribd and binge them just like I did. My Brilliant Friend was one of those audiobooks that made me gasp out loud on the subway. Good stuff.

Celebrity Authors

I love celebrities reading their own writing, especially if it’s a comedian who writes well. Amy Poehler’s Yes Please is my top pick in this category. Poehler plays around with her audiobook, bringing in guest readers, and going off script plenty of times. She saves all kinds of special surprises just for the listener and it’s a delight. Her book is pretty fantastic as well, it got me teary-eyed on multiple occasions, so fair warning.

 All Kinds of Audiobooks All Kinds of AudiobooksIf you are single and frustrated or not single and just want to live vicariously, Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari is a good pick for listening. Ansari apologizes early on that you don’t get to see any graphs (I honestly didn’t really notice or care) but it’s a great pick for audio, especially if you’re only able to listen a little bit at a time. This book is seriously fascinating, a detailed look at all the ways dating and romance have changed in the last 50 years, and if you never had to worry about texting someone you’re going out with let’s just say you lived in a simpler time and I envy you. As someone who’s out there, this book felt really accurate (skewed a little younger than me, but still accurate) and helped me feel like I really wasn’t a crazy person. It’s basically required reading if you’re back in the field for the first time in a while. And it’s a fun book full of fascinating tidbits so if you like trivia, you should really get on board.


 All Kinds of Audiobooks All Kinds of AudiobooksSometimes I get a book just because of the reader. And that was a lot of the case with Redshirts by John Scalzi. I’ve been meaning to read Scalzi for ages but seeing that this book, about the kind of low-level characters on a Star-Trek-esque starship who keep getting killed off, was read by Wil Wheaton, who was one of my first crushes playing Wesley Crusher, I was 100% in. Wheaton’s a good reader and it’s a great audiobook, especially for a crowd on a long drive. It’s fun and interesting and not too long, a crowdpleaser for sure.

 All Kinds of Audiobooks All Kinds of AudiobooksFor more serious sci-fi you can try The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, another book I’d always meant to get to. This book is pretty harrowing at times and full of joy and love at others, definitely a book that covers a wide emotional spectrum. It’s also one of the few examples out there of a book about space exploration that also explores questions of humanity, morality, and religion in complex ways. Doing this book on audio helps a lot, since a lot of the book is made of dialogue between the central characters and hearing them actually have these conversations helped you feel more like you were there. 


 All Kinds of Audiobooks All Kinds of AudiobooksOne of my favorite books from last year, Bird Box by Josh Malerman, is one of my all-time favorite listens. Something about listening to horror makes you feel even more powerless and held-captive than you do with a physical book. You can’t skip your eyes ahead to the next paragraph to see what happens. You have to wait and feel like this is all happening too slow and it really rachets up the suspense. Listening to this book only made it more creepy and it remains one of the scariest books I have ever read. Sometimes I listened at home and would yell at the protagonist. I really wanted to do this on the subway, too, but I also didn’t want to be the crazy person on the subway yelling, “The birds, Malorie!!! The birds!!!!!”

A little bit of Stephen King backlist is a palate cleanser I go to every so often. I think I got pretty lucky with the selection of Christine. Yes, it’s the one about the car. But honestly I found it to be one of his stronger efforts from his not-so-strong years. It had a good reader who really brought the characters to life, and with a book that long you really start to get in a groove with it where it almost starts to feel like something you do every day.

I’d love to get some of your favorite audio picks in the comments. What have you listened to lately that’s been totally amazing??