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Some people use the term "nonsense" but I prefer to use the phrase "uncommonly sensed" because it's more reflective of creative types.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

My 15 Best Books of 2015

For those looking for something new to read or who want to discover something new, I’ve compiled this list of my top-rated books from 2015. Most of these were released in 2015, but several are older books that finally got off my TBR list. There were a lot of good books released or read in 2015, but these are my picks (in the order that I read them).

Title: Circling the Sun
Author: Paula McLain
Genre: Historical Fiction

Brilliant writing and great storytelling have come together to produce a very rich historical fiction novel. Beryl Markham is a strong female character during a time when being a strong woman could get you killed for asserting yourself or for attempting to maintain an identity apart from being property.

Title: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage
Author:Ann Patchett
Genre: Nonfiction
If you want an example of how to write great nonfiction this is the book to read. This is a collection of essays Overall, this is a great read should certainly be on the TBR list of anyone who wants a career as a writer.

Title: Get in Trouble
Author: Kelly Link
Genre: Fiction (experimental)
A wonderful collection of short stories that transcend traditional genres. The writing is experimental and yet accessible. Some of the characters are bizarre, yet still relate-able (not a real word, but now that I've spoken it into existence it will hopefully show up in the dictionary soon). If you like unusual and innovative writing this book is for you.

Title: Shadow Scale (Seraphina #2)
Author:Rachel Hartman
Genre: YA Fantasy
This may be one of the best books I've read in the past year. It's about a girl on a diplomatic mission to bring the half-dragons together, but she's also struggling to come into her own as the world appears to be falling apart. Cleverly and imaginatively written with strong female characters on the sides of both good and evil, this book kept me reading and turning pages.

An exciting read with interesting (as well as likable) characters and a strong, well-developed plot. Highly recommended for individuals who enjoy fantasy books.

Title: The Cloister Walk
Author:Kathleen Norris
Genre: Nonfiction
This is a book that I thought I could read straight though and move on to the next novel on my TBR list, but it wasn't that simple. Norris has the poet's eye for insight and the material written here includes some beautifully written prose with keen observations on life and humanity.
If you're a fan of authors such as Thomas Merton I recommend giving this book a slow and thoughtful read.

Title: Thirteen Ways of Looking
Author:Colum McCann
Genre: Fiction
This was one of the most well-written books I've read this past year. It consists of a novella and several short stories: each one unique and addressing a different topic. My favorite is the first (and longest) about an elderly widower that chronicles his last days on earth. The stories in this volume are beautifully constructed and the prose is outstanding.

Title: Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People
Author:Nadia Bolz-Weber
Genre: Nonfiction

Nadia Boltz-Weber's writing is raw and honest. She asks a lot of questions, and sometimes those questions don't have answers. There's no formula on how to live a perfect life or list of rules to follow in order to gain sainthood in this book. However, what the author does show us how to do is recognize the beauty in other people, even when it takes unconventional forms. I got to interview the author about this book (Englewood Review of Books, print edition).

Title: We Never Asked for Wings
Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Genre: Fiction

Diffenbaugh writes about individuals on the edge of society and makes them accessible to the mainstream. It's difficult not to become engaged with the characters the way that she writes them. Even when they make bad decisions, instead of judging these characters I felt myself cringing while filling with empathy for the heartaches that resulted. Well constructed and emotionally rich. If you loved The Language of Flowers you should definitely read this one. Be prepared for another bumpy ride that you will be glad you took.

Title: Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
Author: Madeline L’Engle
Genre: Nonfiction

This book is one of the best I've read for artists who also happen to have a strong religious faith. L'Engle approaches creativity as a natural response to being created in the image of The Creator. In fact, she explains that most children start out creative, but wander (or are trained) away from these activities. What I respected most was her assertion that art designed to evangelize tends to be come across as forced, and is often lower quality because of this.

Title: The God of Small Things
Author: Arundhati Roy
Genre: Fiction

The book is set in India and follows the lives of twins (a boy and a girl) through the early events that shaped them. It's a tale of childhood, innocence lost, and forbidden love The prose is sometimes filled with passages that convey both the bitterness and romance of childhood. Be forewarned: there is no shortage of loss in this book (it's a tragedy), but the writing is poetic.

Title: The Girl Who Could Not Dream
Author:Sarah Beth Durst
Genre: Children’s Fiction

A highly imaginative look at dreams, the importance of childhood friends, and learning to deal with fear. Although Sophie in unable to dream on her own, when she ingests the dreams of others the things in the dream become real. This is a great way to explore the line between reality and dreams and the importance of each. Durst write some great characters, including a lovable monster, a vain Unicorn/ Pegasus, and a sinister villain called "Mr. Nightmare." The story moves at a good pace and takes the reader on a few unexpected twists and turns.

Title: Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing
Author:Jamie Holmes
Genre: Nonfiction

This book brings together several different cognitive theories to help understand how different individuals deal with ambiguous information. While some individuals have a high need for context, others are more comfortable when new information doesn't neatly fit into their current understanding of the world. This is a great book for learning how to understand different points of view and how some individuals choose to interpret events differently from others.

Title: Little Man, What Now?
Author:Hans Fallada
Genre: Fiction
An interesting read that gives insight into what it was like to be a white collar worker in Berlin just prior to WWII. This is a fictional account of two newlyweds, but it should be noted that the author did extensive research on the subject and managed to portray an accurate picture of the struggles at the time. What makes the book so engaging is the humorous aspect that pervades the story - some critics have compared the main character to Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp. A series of unfortunate events are consistently cushioned by the humor in the characters and plot line.

Title: Seeker
Author: Arwen Elys Dayton
Genre: Children’s Fiction
The best way to describe this book is as a modern tale of knighthood, with the added twist of vying for power and position. Seekers are a special group of individuals who are supposed to work for the good of humanity, but Quin quickly learns that not all the protectors of the truth are actually protecting it and some are out for personal gain.

Title: My Name Is Lucy Barton
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Genre: Fiction

The story centers on a woman who is hospitalized for an illness, which is the point in time from which she begins to make sense of all the imperfect forms of love she's experienced in her life. Central to this insight is her relationship with her mother who comes to stay with her during those few days when the doctor is trying to figure out the cause of the illness. The writing is solid and the book does a great job of exploring the basic need for love, even in it's most broken forms.

If you see something that interests you, check out a few other reviews on Amazon or Goodreads to get a slightly different perspective and see if one of these could be the treasure from 2015 that you missed. Please don’t forget to come back and leave me a comment on how you liked the book!

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