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 Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay


Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Hardcover, 304 pgs
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay is an engaging way for young readers (age 10+) to learn about World War I through the touchstones and artifacts left behind by soldiers, their families, and the war itself.  From a writing case to a toy soldier, these stories draw inspiration from these objects, building a world in the past that could be as real today as it was then.  There are stories from Michael Morpurgo and Tracy Chevalier, and like many short story collections some stories shine brighter than others, with “Captain Rosalie” being bitter sweet and “Our Jacko” inspiring.  These stories will evoke deep emotions in readers, as they learn not only about the realities of war and loss, but also the connections we have to objects that come from our ancestors.

“I keep the compass shined up and the safety catch on so the little needle doesn’t swing and break.  When I hold it and let it go and hunt out north, it bobs around like anything, like something on water, and it’s hard to tell where you are or what it’s saying.  That’s because I can’t keep my hands still enough.  But my dad could.  He kept his hands steady all the way, and he found home.” (“Another Kind of Missing,” pg 27)

“For in order for a story to work, it has to have a purpose, a structure, a journey, and a resolution.  And in reality, war has none of these things.  War is simply a near-random sequence of horrors, and so to make a story out of war is to lie.”  (“Don’t Call It Glory,” pg 65)

“But for music, I might have just stayed there,
keeping time with the
swoosh, swoosh, swoosh
of my push broom
for always.

Maybe making something of yourself is about
just keeping time
but doing something of substance,
something risky,
something you couldn’t fathom having the
to do until
do it. (“A Harlem Hellfighter and His Horn,” pg. 153)

Beyond the short stories told in this collection, there is one, long narrative poem, “A Harlem Hellfighter and His Horn,” which mirrored the rhythm and blues played by the main character.  But it also highlights the desire to seize the moment when it comes, rather than wait until its gone to desire it.

“So I won’t waste it:
War can break a man.
Slam him down on his back in the
dark.” (“A Harlem Hellfighter and His Horn,” pg. 166)

Each of these pieces brings forth some of the hidden feelings of those left behind by soldiers and those who are less than eager to fight, but they also illustrate the complexity of war and its allure.  Kay’s illustrations are in black and white and give the collection just the right amount of gruesome horror, but these are accompanied by facts about the war from women entering the workforce and the types of jobs they assumed to the conditions of the trenches.

The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay would be a great addition to any classroom willing and able to go beyond the traditional teachings of just WWII and other wars.  WWI was an important part of history that should not be forgotten, as it illustrates not only the brutality of ambitious people, but also the realities of bravery and cowardice, particularly through the eyes of children who are left behind.





Mailbox Monday #313

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.  Mendeleev’s Mandala by Jessica Goodfellow from the poet for review.

Mendeleev’s Mandala begins in pilgrimage and ends in pilgrimage, but nowhere in-between does it find a home. Logic is the lodestar, as these poems struggle to make sense out of chaos. Jessica Goodfellow reimagines stories from the Old Testament, Greek mythology, and family history by invoking muses as diverse as Wittgenstein, Newton, the Wright Brothers, and an ancient Japanese monk. In the title poem, Mendeleev’s periodic table, sparked by fire and by trains, sees the elements of the world come into focus as a geometric pattern that recalls the ancient mandalas, also blueprints of an expanding universe as a whole.

2.  Bright Dead Things by Asa Limon from Milkweed Editions for review.

After the loss of her stepmother to cancer, Ada Limón chose to quit her job with a major travel magazine in New York, move to the mountains of Kentucky, and disappear. Yet, in the wake of death and massive transition, she found unexpected love, both for a man and for a place, all the while uncovering the core unity between death and beauty that drives our world. “I am beautiful. I am full of love. I am dying,” the author writes. It’s this narrative of transformation and acceptance that suffuses these poems. Unflinching and unafraid, Limón takes her reader on a journey into the most complex and dynamic realms of existence and identity, all while tracing a clear narrative of renewal.

3.  Lives of Crime and Other Stories by L. Shapley Bassen, an unexpected second review copy, which I will pass along to someone else.

These are great noir stories, with a very intelligent self-awareness that makes them existentially perplexing and entertaining at the same time. Kind of a guilty pleasure. Love the wry darkness.” -Susan Smith Nash, author of “The Adventures of Tinguely Querer

4.  The Year My Mother Came Back by Alice Eve Cohen, an unexpected surprise from Algonquin Books.

Thirty years after her death, Alice Eve Cohen’s mother appears to her, seemingly in the flesh, and continues to do so during the hardest year Alice has had to face: the year her youngest daughter needs a harrowing surgery, her eldest daughter decides to reunite with her birth mother, and Alice herself receives a daunting diagnosis. As it turns out, it’s entirely possible for the people we’ve lost to come back to us when we need them the most.

Although letting her mother back into her life is not an easy thing, Alice approaches it with humor, intelligence, and honesty. What she learns is that she must revisit her childhood and allow herself to be a daughter once more in order to take care of her own girls. Understanding and forgiving her mother’s parenting transgressions leads her to accept her own and to realize that she doesn’t have to be perfect to be a good mother.

5.  The Great War: Stories Inspired by Items from the First World War illustrated by Jim Kay from Candlewick Press for review.

A toy soldier. A butter dish. A compass. Mundane objects, perhaps, but to the remarkable authors in this collection, artifacts such as these have inspired stories that go to the heart of the human experience of World War I. Each author was invited to choose an object that had a connection to the war— a writing kit for David Almond, a helmet for Michael Morpurgo—and use it as the inspiration for an original short story. What results is an extraordinary collection, illustrated throughout by award-winning Jim Kay and featuring photographs of the objects with accounts of their history and the authors’ reasons for selecting them. This unique anthology provides young readers with a personal window into the Great War and the people affected by it, and serves as an invaluable resource for families and teachers alike.

6.  Strange Theater by John Amen from the poet for review.

John Amen’s STRANGE THEATER takes the reader on a multifaceted journey, each poem a puzzle piece in a mysterious drama, a view onto a stage where dialogues and narratives shuffle and rotate, where characters improvise insights that blur the boundary between horror and the absurd. Offering a unique vision of contemporary life, Amen is a Virgil of sorts, navigating the unknown, plumbing the conscious and unconscious alike. Replete with compelling imagery and frequently shocking proclamations, STRANGE THEATER imprints itself on the psyche, Amen’s voice continuing to resound long after the final poem is read.

What did you receive this week?