New Year, New List

For the last three years I've been keeping track of every book I read. It's been a daunting task, particularly last year when I read over 100. This year, I stayed in my sweet spot of slightly over 80, 84 to be exact. You can see each book I read in 2014 by clicking here.
This has been a strange year for books, now that I look over what I read. I would have read many more books this year, but found myself dissatisfied by some of the "big hits" of the year. Since my motto is that life is too short to read bad books, that kept my number a bit lower this year than it might have been.
It was also a year of dystopia, WWII, and women. Sounds like a country song. The dystopia theme was one of the reasons that I was frustrated with the selection of books this year - it was just too prevalent and too many of them weren't well-written.
WWII was another favorite theme this year, but there were many, many expertly written selections there, so you'll see at least four books with that theme on my list.
And then the women - I read one or two editorials this year that lamented the fact that there were so few female writers among the book award nominations this year, and I agree. Because, as you'll see by my list, I was able to find great female authors, and great books written about women.
So enjoy my selections for the top tomes I read this year - and here's to a 2015 filled with amazing new books for us all!

Top 5 in Biographies

Morrissey, by Morrissey, of course. This man provided the soundtrack to much of my angsty teen years with his angry poetic lyrics. This lyrical autobiography proves he hasn't lost his touch, or his edge.
A Spy Among Friends, by Ben MacIntyre. Kim Philby rose up the ranks in Britain's secret spy network, almost to the very top rung, all while spying for Russia. This engrossing story describes how the old-boy club helped promote and conceal him for so long.
Factory Man, by Beth Macy. This fantastic book hits close to home, written about my family's home ground, the industry I've worked in so long, and a bullheaded man determined to save his family's heritage and company.
The Romanov Sisters, by Helen Rappaport. It must be difficult to find new ground to cover when writing about such well-known history, but by focusing on the beautiful daughters of the doomed Czar Nicholas, Rappaport does just that.
Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. I resisted this one for a while, mainly because I've been burned too many times by a heavily touted book that turned out to be a dud. But I should have know that in Hillenbrand's deft hands I would find a lyrical and uplifting story of grit and determination.

Top 5 in Fiction

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. This is a book so well written that I found myself putting it down in fear that I would read it too quickly. WWII is almost a backdrop to the story of a young blind girl in Paris and a boy in Germany and that one moment when their lives intersected.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan. This is not an easy book to read, and it is definitely not an easy book to forget. It's the story of Australian POWs forced to build a road in Burma, and yes, it may remind of you Unbroken. But it is deeper and more visceral, juxtaposed with a love story on the sunny beaches of Australia. Incredible.
The Bees, by Laline Paull. This may rank as my favorite book of the year. It's an inside look at a working hive, and a bee who doesn't want to conform. It touches on themes of religion, community, and adventure - and is spellbinding.
The Aftermath, by Rhidian Brook. Yes, this is the third book in this segment alone that focuses on WWII, but it really examines Germany immediately after the war ends, as a British colonel and his family move in with a German widower and his daughter.
The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd. Hetty Grimke, a slave in Charleston, is nicknamed Handful for a reason, and when she is given to Sarah as an 11th birthday present, she lives up to her name as she and Sarah both struggle for a kind of freedom over 35 years.

Top 5 in Non-Fiction

Tinseltown, by William J. Mann. Murder, mayhem, and drugs in Hollywood - not in modern times, but in the 1920s, when the movie business was in its infancy. Racy themes and scandals behind the scenes threatened to either derail the fledgling business, or to allow censorship to have free rein.
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, by Karen Abbott. Four women, two from each side of the conflict, do their part in the Civil War, each in her own way. The soldier of the title is one of the best stories, but all four will fascinate you.
What If? by Randall Munroe. Formerly a roboticist for NASA, Munroe now writes the webcomic xkcd, a stick-figure comic that covers all things science. Here he wittily answers some of the questions you never knew needed answers.
Humans of New York, by Brandon Stanton. If you have not ever seen his website, go there now. I'll wait. ( This compilation of some of Stanton's best work is touching, sweet, honest, and real.
The Girls of Atomic City, by Denise Kiernan. Near Oak Ridge, Tenn., during WWII (note the theme), a town grew up almost overnight, full of buildings and workers. It wasn't on any map, despite using more electricity than the city of New York. This is the story of the women who played an unwitting role in the atomic age.

Top 5 in Mysteries

The Ploughmen, by Kim Zupan. Valentine Millimaki is always looking for someone. It's his specialty as a sheriff's deputy in the cold Montana country. So when he's assigned to the night shift to watch over a killer who is waiting for his trial, Millimaki begins to look for the humanity in the murderer John Gload.
Red Road, by Denise Mina. Scotland isn't all kilts and haggis, as Detective Alex Morrow knows all too well. In the latest book of a terrific series, Morrow is dealing with twins, her criminal brother, and an international arms dealer. Just another day at work.
Silkworm, by - oh let's cut the crap, it's by JK Rowling. Detective Cormoran Strike has to find a missing writer, but no one else seems to want him found. And just as in the Potter books, Rowling pulls you in with descriptive writing and indelible characters.
Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent. Based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir, an accused murderer in early 1800s Iceland, this is an icy cold tale of guilt, passion, and secrets, perfect for a dark winter's night.
Bellweather Rhapsody, by Kate Racculia. Fifteen years after a murder took place in room 712, the Bellweather hotel is host to hundreds of high school musicians, a witness to that previous murder, and perhaps another dead body.

Top 5 in Popcorn Books

Note: I define "popcorn books" as those that are fast and not-so-filling reads. They must feature good writing, and they must be FUN.
Pennyroyal Academy, by MA Larson. Technically a Young Adult book, this is the first in a series. It may remind you of Harry Potter, but in a good way rather than in a rip-off way. The titular school trains young princesses and knights to fight for their kingdoms - but the story knocks fairytales on their ear with princesses who rescue themselves, witches who hide secrets, and dragons that may not deserve to be slain.
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, by Genevieve Valentine. This is another retelling of a fairytale, this time inspired by the Brothers Grimm story of the 12 dancing sisters. In a twist, the terrific tale is set in the heady speakeasies of the 1920s.
Longbourne, by Jo Baker. I was disappointed in the PD James mystery inspired by Pride & Prejudice, so that kept me from picking this up for a while. But the story of the servants behind the scenes at the Bennett house was well worth the wait.
We Were Liars, by E Lockhart. When she summers with her family on their island, something happens to Cadence Sinclair. She can't remember the details, but it appears that one of her family members tried to kill her. Who? And how? Watch out for a big twist.
One Plus One, by Jo Jo Moyes. A fun and frothy story of a math prodigy and her dysfunctional family on their way to a mathletics competition with an out-of-touch businessman in tow.

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