Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Best of 2015: Nonfiction

Welcome to Day Four of My Best of 2015 Reading Round up! As always, my Best of the Year lists cover what I read in 2015, which includes books published in any year. Today, I'm sharing my favorite nonfiction. Yesterday, I shared my favorite mysteries. Tuesday I shared my favorite comics. Monday I shared Hawthorne's favorite board books. (Want to look at past year's lists. They're all linked here.)

10. Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin (my review)
Wednesday Martin is an anthropologist, originally from Michigan, who moves from the West Village of New York City to the Upper East Side and turns her anthropological training on Upper East Side mommies. Primates of Park Avenue is entertaining, at times alarming, and informative. I was surprised not only by how much I enjoyed Primates of Park Avenue but also by how much I learned from it. I was entertained and enlightened, and I enjoyed the audiobook in particular, as Maby's audio performance made me feel like I was gossiping with an old friend over wine.

9. My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl (my review)
My Kitchen Year is unlike any cookbook I've read. I loved the recipes, and I read each one because Reichl writes them in such ways that I learned so much about the whys of cooking. I loved the candor Reichl uses to talk about a difficult professional situation. Those passages read like a memoir. I loved the pictures in the book, both of the recipes and nature. And I even loved the tweets placed in the same chronological timeline as the recipes. My Kitchen Year might be a cookbook, but it reads like a food magazine.

8. Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming (my review)
Not My Father's Son is actor Alan Cumming's memoir of his childhood and his experience learning about his family's history on the genealogy reality television show Who Do You Think You Are? It's a fascinating exploration of how our family impacts who we are. It also offers a glimpse into the life of a famous actor. Cumming's searing honesty and reflection that elevate this memoir far above a celebrity memoir. Cumming's performance on the audiobook is exceptional, and it definitely increased my enjoyment of this memoir.

7. The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel (my review)
The Astronaut Wives Club offers extraordinary access into the actions, thoughts and feelings of the wives of the Mercury Seven, the Gemini missions, and the Apollo missions. It's a look at what life was really like for these women. Through these women, Koppel also tells the story of the space program and the world at that time. I thoroughly enjoyed Orlagh Cassidy's narration. She read this book as though she were talking, and often gossiping, with a friend. As I listened, I felt as though we were having a series of "did you hear about so-and-so?" conversations, and I quite enjoyed it.
It straddles the ordinary and the extraordinary beautifully, and I remain enchanted with these women, who are interesting in their own rights, but against the backdrop of the space race, their lives become a compelling chapter in American history.

6. Working Stiff by Judy Melenik and T.J. Mitchell (my review)
After completing a residency in pathology, Dr. Judy Melinek began a two-year rotation as a forensic pathologist in New York City in July 2001. The timing of Dr. Melinek's story certainly piqued my curiosity in a macabre way, but this book is about so much more. Working Stiff is the story of those two years, and also the story of Judy's life and work. Overall, it's a fascinating, illuminating, and haunting look at what kills people. It's also an insightful glimpse into Melinek's life and work. As a book, it reads like a collection of mysteries, but it also packs an emotional and intelligent punch.

5. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari (my review)
Modern Romance is a hilarious and informative book about modern romance. It's part comedy, part sociology and part memoir that discovers what and how we love, date, have sex, and marry today. It was as funny as I expected a book by Ansari to be, but it's layered with deep thinking and fascinating sociological data I didn't expect. This unusual combination helps make it impulsively readable. It's entertaining, hilarious, and informative.

4. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (my review)
Written in the form of a letter to his teenage son, Between the World and Me attempts to answer these questions: "What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?" I agree with Toni Morrison's blurb on the cover: this book is required reading. I will hand it to Hawthorne one day and talk about it with him. It won't be the beginning or the end of the conversation, but I hope it will be part of his journey. It's a very different than Coates's son faces, but these journeys are part of what it means to live in this country.

3. Missoula by Jon Krakauer (my review)
In Missoula, Krakaeur takes the reader deep into the investigation of how the University of Montana and Missoula police are handling the epidemic of sexual assault and acquaintance rape. This epidemic isn't unique to Missoula. Perhaps even more than Between the World and Me, this book has kept me thinking and the information made me change my way of thinking about sexual assault. This book is difficult to read, but it's powerful and incredibly important. It should also be required reading for everyone who lives in the United States.

2. Blackout by Sarah Hepola (my review)
Blackout chronicles Sarah Hepola's complicated relationship with alcohol from childhood to the present, when she is happily sober. Sarah Hepola is one of those writers who makes me say fangirl things like "I would read anything she writes." But I would. I'll also re-read this one, as much for the prose and insight as her ability to share so much with such poignant vulnerability. I highlighted almost half of this book because her prose is so sharp, smart and beautiful.

1. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs (my review)
As the title indicates, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is the story of Robert DeShaun Peace's life, as written by his college roommate Jeff Hobbs, a novelist who relies on the memories of Rob's friends and family members to construct this biography of sorts. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is storytelling at its very best. Hobbs is a wonderful writer and manages to tell both Rob's story as well as a story much bigger than Robert Peace himself. It's also partially Jeff's story, particularly at the times their lives intersect. So, too, is it the story of Rob's friends and family members. It offers a haunting glimpse into Newark and wrestles with the big issues of race, poverty, privilege, education, success, and home. It's a beautiful meditation on life and humanity. It's ostensibly the story of one man, but this book, much like its subject, is so much more complicated, intellectually and emotionally, than anything as simple as a biography can capture. This book haunts me.

Thanks for tuning in to read about nonfiction! Best of 2015 continues tomorrow with fiction.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Best of 2015: Mysteries

Welcome to Day Three of My Best of 2015 Reading Round up! As always, my Best of the Year lists cover what I read in 2015, which includes books published in any year. Today, I'm sharing my favorite mysteries. Yesterday, I shared my favorite comics. Monday I shared Hawthorne's favorite board books. (Want to look at past year's lists. They're all linked here.)

10. All Dressed in White by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke (my review)
This book, the second in Clark and Burke's Under Suspicion series, was a delightful page turner. I thoroughly enjoyed the wide cast of characters, the exploration of Amanda, a fascinating character, and the setting. If you're looking for a fun, escapist pageturner, All Dressed in White is a great choice.

9. The Governor's Wife by Michael Harvey (my review)
The Governor's Wife, the fifth in Michael Harvey's Chicago P.I. Michael Kelly series, is a compelling page-turner. I loved the reading experience, including its social and political commentary and its twists and turns. I read this novel in a single sitting, and I could not put it down.

8. A Good Killing by Allison Leotta (my review)
A Good Killing is the fourth in Allison Leotta's D.C. prosecutor Anna Curtis series. In this installment, Anna visits her hometown of Detroit, and I loved seeing Detroit through Anna's eyes, and I enjoyed seeing her work as a defense attorney. The mystery wasn't as surprising as I might have hoped, but Leotta's skillful incorporation of so many relevant sub-plots more than made up for it. A Good Killing will keep me thinking about many of the social issues it addresses.

7. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (my review)
The Girl on the Train is a satisfying page turner. It is both a suspenseful, engaging read and a thoughtful exploration of the dark periods of life. Its flawed characters are as fascinating as their actions are at times confounding and heartbreaking. I particularly enjoyed the audio production, which featured three narrators, including Clare Corbett, who made unreliable alcoholic Rachel almost likeable.

6. A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan (my review)
Mr. Heming is real estate broker in a small village outside London. His past is somewhat mysterious, and he intentionally blends into every day life to help hide his secrets. The biggest: he keeps a key to every house he's ever sold, and he frequently uses them to visit the homes months and years later.A Pleasure and a Calling is a delightfully creepy thriller. It's thrills aren't cheap, as Mr. Heming is a character as charming as he is bizarre. Both the character and the book are enchanting and unsettling.

5. Devil's Bridge by Linda Fairstein (my review)
Devil's Bridge, the seventeenth in Fairstein's Manhattan SVU ADA Alexandra Cooper series, is an adventurous thriller and a unique entry in this long-running and well loved series. In many ways, it stands on its own and would be a nice place for new readers to enter this series. The mystery is superb, even if there wasn't as much time spent advancing the story of Cooper's personal life as I would have liked.

4. Murder, D.C. by Neely Tucker (my review)
With Murder, D.C,.the second in Neely Tucker's D.C. journalist Sully Carter series, cements Tucker as a not only a damn good mystery writer but also one concerned with social justice and history. Like The Ways of the Dead, Murder, D.C. is a compelling mystery with complicated themes. Thankfully, it works on both levels. It's riveting, informative, and it will leave you thinking.

3. The Crossing by Michael Connelly (my review)
The Crossing is the 20th mystery in Michael Connelly's LAPD detective Harry Bosch series. The Crossing is classic Connelly. It's a brilliant police procedural filled with clues. It's a fascinating exploration of Bosch and his continued struggles with life, work, and fatherhood. As much as I loved the mystery, I was proud to figure out the last piece of the puzzle before Bosch. I also appreciated the camaraderie and struggles, professionally and personally, with Bosch and Haller. They're a fascinating pair, and I love seeing them together, even if I'm always glad when Bosch is the primary character.

2. City of Echoes by Robert Ellis (my review)
City of Echoes is the first in a new series featuring LAPD detective Matt Jones, who catches a big case on his first night as a homicide detective. It's a stunningly good police procedural. Jones is a dynamic character, but the mystery and frequent shocking twists take center stage here. If you want a compelling mystery that will keep you guessing, be nearly impossible to put down, and have you eagerly awaiting the next book after the last page has turned, then pick up City of Echoes.

1. Speak of the Devil by Allison Leotta (my review)
Speak of the Devil is the third in Leotta's Anna Curtis series. Once again, Anna is a character to root for, and Leotta moves her personal story ahead at a satisfying pace. What sets Speak of the Devil apart from her prior books is that this time, the mystery is the best part. This book is a smart, thrilling page turner, and it features one of my favorite twists ever...across literature, film, and television. It's brilliant, satisfying, completely surprising and a game changer. To fully appreciate it, you have to start at book one, Law of Attraction.

Thanks for tuning in to read about mysteries! Best of 2015 continues tomorrow with nonfiction and fiction on Friday.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Best of 2015: Comics

Welcome to Day Two of My Best of 2015 Reading Round up! As always, my Best of the Year lists cover what I read in 2015, which includes books published in any year. Today, I'm sharing my favorite comics. Yesterday, I shared Hawthorne's favorite board books. (Want to look at past year's lists. They're all linked here.)

5. Last Night's Reading by Kate Gavino

Artist Kate Gavino lives in New York City and goes to a lot of book readings, festivals, and author events. While there, she draws the author and adds a memorable quote from the event. Because I live in Des Moines, not New York City, this book also made be incredibly envious of anyone with the ability to go to a literary event EVERY NIGHT. I adore this book, which is filled with such bits of wisdom and whispers of a memoir. This book is one to keep on your shelf, seek inspiration about new authors to read, give as a gift, and generally make yourself wish you lived in New York City.

Rating: 4.5 out og 5

4. Snowden by Ted Rall

Snowden is a graphic biography of Edward Snowden. Rall traces his life from birth to both understand why he chose to become a whistle blower and to shed light on what our government knows about us and how. Snowden is both informative and thought provoking. It offers keen insights into Snowden, both personally and professionally. It's also raises powerful ideas about what government should look like. This book will entertain you and make you think, which is a perfect combination.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

3. Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich

Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel is a graphic novel that feel like a memoir. Finkle is a richly drawn, beautifully flawed and raw character. Ulinich's art is stunning, but it's her writing that sets this graphic novel apart. I found myself lingering over sentences frequently as I read. Ulinich plays with the format of the page and size of drawings in really interesting ways. Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel made me laugh and made me think.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2. Displacement by Lucy Knisley

I've read and enjoyed all of Knisley's graphic memoirs, and she's my favorite graphic writer, but Displacement is her most ambitious memoir yet. It's part travelogue, which is familiar, but Knisley layers depth about her cruise vacation with her grandparents by interspersing her grandfather's war journal in the narrative. The interplay of her grandfather's journals with his present self is a sobering portrait of aging. Knisley's reflections are particularly poignant in this memoir, and I loved her combination of whimsy and wisdom.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

1. Here by Richard McGuire

The first comic I read in 2015 remained my favorite all year long. I keep thinking about this graphic novel and recommending it to others. Spanning hundreds of thousands of years, Here is the non-linear story of one piece of land (and its inhabitants) over time. I've always been fascinated by the ways in which places shape us and how places and people change over time. Since having Hawthorne, I'm perhaps even more interested in these themes, so Here offers the perfect entry point for those themes, but it takes them so far into the past and future, I'm still haunted (in the best way.) Here manages to be a riveting page turner, a thoughtful exploration of time and place, a meditation on the roles and lives of humans, and a beautiful piece of art. It's astonishingly good.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Thanks for tuning in to read about comics. Best of 2015 continues tomorrow with Mysteries, followed by nonfiction on Thursday and fiction on Friday.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Best of 2015: Hawthorne's Picks

Welcome to Day One of My Best of 2015 Reading Round up! As always, my Best of the Year lists cover what I read in 2015, which includes books published in any year. Today, I'm sharing Hawthorne's favorite board books. (Want to look at past year's lists. They're all linked here.)

Hawthorne is sixteen months old and loves to read. He reads by himself a lot, but he also delivers books to your lap and wants to hop up and be read to a lot. Rarely do we make it through a book in the correct order while reading every words. Hawthorne likes to turn the pages himself, and he turns them in either direction, skips pages at will, finished early, and likes to start over at will. We call this remixing. Given this reading style, it's no surprise he prefers books that don't necessarily have a storyline. There are the ones we spend the most time reading.

We have several titles from the BabyLit series, but Pride and Prejudice is his favorite book for someone to read to him. It also delights any adult reader who sees it. It's a counting primer, and I love the way elements of the novel are incorporated in clever ways (1 English village, 2 rich gentleman, 3 houses, 4 marriage proposals, 5 sisters, etc.) He also enjoys Sense and Sensibility (about opposites), Sherlock Holmes (sounds), and Moby Dick (ocean.) The library has very few of these, so I'll be buying a few more in 2016 to build his collection. I discovered this series before I was even pregnant, and it keeps growing. My go to baby shower gift has been a BabyLit and an Indestructible book, which Hawthorne has sadly already outgrown.

I first picked up Global Babies at the library, and Hawthorne loved it so much I bought our own copy. It is Hawthorne's favorite book to read to himself. I still read it to him a lot too. It features pictures of babies from countries around the world. It's text is a single, poetic sentence, so the emphasis here is the pictures, which are lovely and expose him to babies of different colors and customs. We also recently discovered Global Babies Bedtime, which features global babies napping, sleeping and getting read for bed. It's perhaps even more adorable, and we'll be buying that one soon.

I picked up Baby Giraffe from the San Diego Zoo Animal Library at a consignment sale when I was pregnant. It's really informative (I've learned a lot) and oddly hilarious, as it outlines how giraffes enter the world and are cared for as babies. Some things are quite similar and others are not, which was especially amusing in the early months of sleep-deprived parenting. I keep meaning to buy the entire series, but I haven't yet. I think it's the only book we have with pictures of actual animals rather than drawings, so perhaps that is part of the appeal.

Andy Warhol's Colors is one of my favorite books, and thankfully Hawthorne likes it too. It combines many of Warhol's colorful paintings with poetic language about them. It's fun to read, and I even sometimes sing it, and it also exposes him to modern art, which I adore. This book always appears on hipster board book lists (that's where I found it!), and it totally is, but I feel like it's a book he will look back on when he's older and still think it's cool. Hawthorne's Aunt Alison, an artist, gave it to him.

Eating the Alphabet is not as popular at it once was with Hawthorne, but it remains one of my favorites. We have a few food related alphabet books (including My Foodie ABC, which is hipster-tastic), but I love that this one is all fruits and vegetables. We subscribe to a local organic CSA, and it's been fun to work our way seasonally through so many different fruits and vegetables. The artwork is beautiful, and I like that Ehlert doesn't limit herself to only one fruit or vegetable for each letter (P has four pages!) Thus, it covers most fruits and vegetables you're likely to eat (and probably some you're not likely to eat, unless you are a foodie.) I wish I remembered who gave us this book.

The past few weeks, I've been reading Wemberly's Ice Cream Star a lot more, which gives me hope we might read books with storylines more regularly in 2016. This book was a gift, and I love it It's funny, short, and is moralistic without being obnoxiously so. I need to get the other Wemberly books, as it is a little odd to read a book set on a hot summer day in the middle of winter. This book was a gift too, and I don't remember from whom.

Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb is apparently a quite popular classic, as we receievd three copies as gifts. I'm not sure if Hawthorne loves it or if there's just always a copy around to pick up, but we read it a lot. Except never all the way through. Or in order. It's fine. I like it, but I find it a bit odd. I have spent far too much time thinking it inspired Planet of the Apes because it should be scary to suddenly have millions of monkeys in one place playing drums, right? Or doing anything? Millions of monkeys is TOO MANY. It's baby's first dystopia.

Thanks for tuning in to read about board books. Best of 2015 continues tomorrow with Comics, followed by Mysteries on Wednesday, nonfiction on Thursday and fiction on Friday. 

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!