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?

LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair by Beth Kephart

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 176 pgs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair by Beth Kephart (this has a gorgeous cover) is a collection of essays, many of which were published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, that read not like essays but mini-memoirs. It has been a pleasure to read about Philadelphia — a city I was fortunate to visit briefly and not spend enough time in — through the eyes of someone who loves it dearly. All of its nooks and crannies, its alleys, its rivers, its art, its history — it is all laid bare with Kephart’s fondest memories and recollections. The city comes alive in her hands — it breathes.

The graffiti, the artisans, the food markets, and the University of Pennsylvania are moving through these pages like the Schuylkill River, leaving its gleaming beauty behind in its wake.  She says in the preface, “Love: A Philadelphia Affair is about the intersection of memory and place.  It’s about how I’ve seen and what I’ve hoped for, what ‘home’ has come to mean to me.  It’s about train rides, rough stones, brave birds, rule breakers, resurrectionists, unguided and mostly solo meanderings.  It is experiential, not encyclopedic.  Reflective, not comprehensive.” (pg. x)  In this way, Kephart has enabled readers to ruminate on their own memories, which may or may not be of Philadelphia and only tangentially related to her own.  I’ve remembered train journeys to NYC, ice cream I loved as a kid made in a small Massachusetts town, and a journey to Valley Forge that was at once solemn and beautiful.

“There’s something about standing on the platform watching the curve for the Silverliner.  Something about feeling the rumble in the sole’s of one’s feet.  Something about the rituals of travel.  Leaving and returning — that’s where I’ve lived.  I’m sympathetic to the crossties of the tracks.” (pg. 7-8; “Time In, Time Out”)

Kephart establishes the tone for these essays in these lines, telling her readers that she will straddle the past and present, the before and the after, and the moment and the remembering of the moment.  Many of us do this as our minds wander between where we are and where we have been, noting the connections that are only apparent to us until we voice them aloud.  And in “Psychylustro,” we, like the train, become museums — a collection of our own artifacts, memories, and temporal importance.

One minor thing readers may notice, there are only a few photos at the start of each essay, and more photos would have been a lovely addition.  However, LOVE: A Philadelphia Affair by Beth Kephart is a love story involving a city, but it’s also a testament to the love we hold and can freely give through art and action — so long as we can check our ego and greed at the door.  We all want recognition and love, but we need to also realize that these do not come without our own generosity.  It is not just the generosity that we show toward others, but also to ourselves and the world around us.

About the author:

Following the publication of five memoirs and FLOW, the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, I’ve had the great pleasure of turning my attention to young adult fiction. UNDERCOVER and HOUSE OF DANCE were both named a best of the year by Kirkus and Bank Street. NOTHING BUT GHOSTS, A HEART IS NOT A SIZE, and DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS were critically acclaimed. In October YOU ARE MY ONLY will be released by Egmont USA. Next summer, Philomel will release SMALL DAMAGES. I am at work on a prequel to DANGEROUS NEIGHBORS, a novel for adults, and a memoir about teaching.

Mailbox Monday #339

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. The Witch’s Market by Mingmei Yip for review from the author.

Chinese-American assistant professor Eileen Chen specializes in folk religion at her San Francisco college. Though her grandmother made her living as a shamaness, Eileen publicly dismisses witchcraft as mere superstition. Yet privately, the subject intrigues her.

When a research project takes her to the Canary Islands—long rumored to be home to real witches—Eileen is struck by the lush beauty of Tenerife and its blend of Spanish and Moroccan culture. A stranger invites her to a local market where women sell amulets, charms, and love spells. Gradually Eileen immerses herself in her exotic surroundings, finding romance with a handsome young furniture maker. But as she learns more about the lives of these self-proclaimed witches, Eileen must choose how much trust to place in this new and seductive world, where love, greed, and vengeance can be as powerful, or as destructive, as any magic.

2. LOVE by Beth Kephart, which I purchased.

This volume of personal essays and photographs celebrates the intersection of memory and place. Kephart writes lovingly, reflectively about what Philadelphia means to her. She muses about meandering on SEPTA trains, spending hours among the armor in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and taking shelter at Independence Mall during a downpour.

In Love, Kephart shares her loveof Reading Terminal Market at Thanksgiving: “This abundant, bristling market is, in November, the most unlonesome place around.” She waxes poetic about the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, the mustard in a Salumeria sandwich, and the “coins slipped between the lips of Philbert the pig.”

3. The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris for review from the author.

On a cold night in October 1937, searchlights cut through the darkness around Alcatraz. A prison guard’s only daughter—one of the youngest civilians who lives on the island—has gone missing. Tending the warden’s greenhouse, convicted bank robber Tommy Capello waits anxiously. Only he knows the truth about the little girl’s whereabouts, and that both of their lives depend on the search’s outcome.

Almost two decades earlier and thousands of miles away, a young boy named Shanley Keagan ekes out a living as an aspiring vaudevillian in Dublin pubs. Talented and shrewd, Shan dreams of shedding his dingy existence and finding his real father in America. The chance finally comes to cross the Atlantic, but when tragedy strikes, Shan must summon all his ingenuity to forge a new life in a volatile and foreign world.

What did you receive?