The Best Books of 2015


I hope everyone’s 2015 ended with some great reading, family, friends, and fantastic food.

Of those I read in the year 2015 — those published in 2015 and before — these are the best in these categories:

Best Series:

Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle (The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily, Lily Blue)

Best Children’s Book: (TIE)

Best Memoir:

Displacement by Lucy Knisley

Best Nonfiction:

LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair by Beth Kephart

Best Short Story Collection:

The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War 

Best Young Adult Fiction:

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Best Reference:

How to Entertain, Distract, and Unplug Your Kids by Matthew Jervis

Best Women’s Fiction:

French Coast by Anita Hughes

Best Historical Fiction: (TIE)

Best Fiction:

Best Poetry: (TIE)

Here is the list of BEST BOOKS PUBLISHED in 2015:

  1. Wet Silence by Sweta Vikram
  2. The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton
  3. Vessel by Parneshia Jones
  4. LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair by Beth Kephart
  5. The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck
  6. The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy
  7. Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor
  8. One Thing Stolen by Beth Kephart
  9. The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson
  10. The Sound of Glass by Karen White
  11. Mistaking Her Character by Maria Grace
  12. Earth Joy Writing by Cassie Premo Steele, PhD

What were your favorites in 2015?

The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson

Source: Penguin Random House
Paperback, 416 pgs
I’m an Amazon Affiliate

The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson is a phenomenal look at the racial prejudices that continue to hold tight in Mississippi, Alabama, and elsewhere, even after then end of WWII when black soldiers fought bravely against the Nazis.  Joe Howard Wilson is returning home as a decorated hero after losing not only men in his unit, but one of his good friends, L.C.  He’s musing on his visit with his father, Willie Willie, who taught him so much and worked with their white employer, Judge Calhoun, to ensure he was educated enough to get out and make something of himself.


Joe Howard Wilson jerked and his hands went straight to his face, and then to his body, for his gun.  Groping. Feeling. Saying his prayers.  Checking to make sure that he was awake and what had happened in that forest in Italy, all the killing was over.  Checking to make sure it wasn’t happening now.”  (page 1)

Joe is a young man still coping with the loss of friends, only to find that the prejudices he dealt with growing up are still present and an additional pressure he has little patience for after serving for his country overseas.  When Regina Robichard, a young attorney still waiting to hear if she passed the New York bar, is called down to investigate the death of a WWII veteran a year later, she finds that the south is not as black and white as she expects it to be.  She’s sent south with a mission from Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP to investigate the matter.  Regina, the daughter of a relatively famous black female activist, is idealistic and tentative in her approach to those she encounters, particularly M.P. Calhoun, who wrote her favorite book — The Secret of Magic.

“The air in the depot smelled just like everything Southern he remembered.  Even inside, no matter where you were, there was always a hint of the earth and the things that died on it.  You could not get away from the scent of things, from the richness of them, if you had lived, like he had lived, so near to the ground.”  (page 8)

Through a neatly woven narrative, Johnson creates a tapestry of the south that depicts not only the racial prejudices present in the south that are held onto tightly even after WWII, but also the deep connections between the whites and blacks within the small community of Revere, Mississippi.  Like all relationships, at first blush racial prejudice is hatred of the other, but looking deeper Johnson demonstrates that there is a love underneath the comments of “mine” and “our” used by whites in reference to blacks in the community.  Revere is a town that is in transition whether it likes it or not, and in many ways, the change is too quick for some and not quick enough for others — especially those like Peach Mottley who see Regina as the catalyst they need.

The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson is gorgeously told, and it is riveting from the first page.  Readers will develop an instant connection with not only Joe Howard Wilson and Regina Robichard, but with the other major and minor characters as they continue to navigate the social constructs that are the same and yet changing.  The fairy tales that peek around the realities of the South provide hope of a new world, but they also are endangered by those who wish to halt change in its tracks.

I haven’t been this blown away by a book in a long while, and this one is a must read and a definite contender for the Best of 2015 list.

About the Author:

Deborah Johnson was born below the Mason-Dixon Line, in Missouri, but grew up in Omaha, Nebraska.  After college, she lived in San Francisco and then for many years in Rome, Italy where she worked as a translator and editor of doctoral theses and at Vatican Radio.  Deborah Johnson is the author of The Air Between Us, which received the Mississippi Library Association Award for fiction.  She now lives in Columbus, Mississippi, and is working on her next novel.  Check out her Website.






Mailbox Monday #301

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Island Fog by John Vanderslice for a TLC Book Tour.

The eleven stories of Island Fog are connected by both geography and theme. Every story is set on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, and together they span a period of Nantucket history from 1795 to 2005, with four different centuries represented. Some of the characters the reader meets along the way include an 18th century wigmaker accused of a notorious bank robbery, a 19th century “whaling widow” who has newly awakened to important aspects of her sexual nature, a former whale ship captain who once had to resort to cannibalism to survive an extended period at sea, a 20th century plumber whose wife jumped off the Hyannis to Nantucket ferry with her infant child in her arms, and a 21st century ghost tour leader who is being metaphorically haunted by a former lover.

2. The Antigone Poems by Marie Slaight, illustrated by Terrence Tasker from Altaire Productions & Publications for review.

Passionate, brutal, and infused with extraordinary lyricism, The Antigone Poems provides a special expedition into the depths of the ancient Sophocles tragedy. The work’s obsessive, ritualistic and ultimately mysterious force brings into sharp focus the heroic, tragic figure at the center of the primordial compact between gods and humans.

3.  Pictograph: Poems by Melissa Kwasny from Milkweed Editions for review.

The poems in this collection emerge from these visits and capture the natural world she encounters around the sacred art, filling it with new, personal meaning: brief glimpses of starlight through the trees become a reminder of the impermanence of life, the controlled burn of a forest a sign of the changes associated with aging. Unlike traditional nature poets, however, Kwasny acknowledges the active spirit of each place, agreeing that, “we make a sign and we receive.” Not only do we give meaning to nature, Kwasny suggests, but nature gives meaning to us. As the collection closes, the poems begin to coalesce into a singular pictograph, creating “a fading language that might be a bridge to our existence here.”

4.  The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson for review.

Regina Robichard works for Thurgood Marshall, who receives an unusual letter asking the NAACP to investigate the murder of a returning black war hero. It is signed by M. P. Calhoun, the most reclusive author in the country.  As a child, Regina was captivated by Calhoun’s The Secret of Magic, a novel in which white and black children played together in a magical forest.  Once down in Mississippi, Regina finds that nothing in the South is as it seems. She must navigate the muddy waters of racism, relationships, and her own tragic past. The Secret of Magic brilliantly explores the power of stories and those who tell them.

What did you receive?