Thursday, December 31, 2015

What I've Been Reading: 2015 wrap-up

You may have noticed that there wasn't a November What I've Been Reading post, and that's because honestly, I wasn't reading much. A couple of audiobooks and a non-note-worthy novel, and that was about the sum of it. But December has seen a noticeable uptick, both in quality and quantity, so I thought I'd share everything together in one big year-end post. I'll be back to my normal posting schedule starting after the first of the new year, too!


The Friday Night Knitting Club, by Kate Jacobs. I may have mentioned recently that I've been knitting. As a result, I've picked up a few books about knitting, both fiction and non-fiction. This one, a novel about an eclectic group of women in New York City who get together in a yarn shop once a week to share their stories as well as their love of knitting, found its way home with me. I thought that given the holiday season, it would be an appropriately light, fast read. It was fine, entertaining, with some interesting characters. But it felt hollow. Some of that, in my opinion, came from Jacobs's style, which relies heavily on telling, and not so much on showing. I love books where I feel deeply immersed in the setting, but this wasn't the case here--I felt instructed more than immersed. Or a description was given, and then clarified, when I prefer an author to trust readers to pick it up without repetition. Overall, a disappointment, and one I cannot recommend.

The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, by Joanne Fluke. I was still on the hunt for a light diversion on the reading front, and so I picked up the first in Fluke's Hannah Swensen mystery series, which features an amateur sleuth and cookie-shop owner protagonist. The series is currently 18 books long, and Fluke is pretty dependably putting out at least one new title every year, so it's not a small undertaking to get caught up. Here, readers are introduced to Hannah, who splits her time between running popular small-town bakery The Cookie Jar and dodging her mother's efforts to marry her off. That is, until a deliveryman is killed in the alley behind her shop and Hannah is on the hunt to catch a killer. Cute, with some good laughs, and some great recipes.

The Witches: Salem, 1692, by Stacy Schiff. I tend not to read a lot of non-fiction, but I make exceptions for books like this, with a strong narrative style that unfolds a historical event in a very readable, compelling way. For those familiar, or not, for that matter, with the sequence of events starting during a raw Massachusetts winter in the small village of Salem, culminating in a panic which ultimately cost 19 men and women their lives, this is a beautifully compiled account of the story. Exceptional.


Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. First in this duo's FBI Agent Pendergast series, Relic is a taught psychological thriller that begins just days before a new exhibit is slated to debut at the New York Museum of Natural History, as visitors begin disappearing, only to be found horribly mutilated. The method of the killings makes it plain to investigators that the killer cannot possibly be human, yet the debut celebration continues as scheduled, with disastrous results. I am so taken with the series that in the last month I have also read book two, Reliquary, which follows several of the characters from the first book into the vast underbelly of New York City, the miles and miles of tunnels and passageways that weave below the city streets, in search of a killer with disturbing similarities to that in the first book. And I'm just finishing book three, The Cabinet of Curiosities, which finds Agent Pendergast, with the help of new allies from both NYPD and the Museum, tracing the origins of a charnel house found below a construction site. When a string of murders occur, seeming to be copycat crimes, Pendergast suspects something even more sinister is at play. Really, this series is fascinating, and I am helpless to stop reading!

The Lake House, by Kate Morton. I have enjoyed some of Morton's earlier novels, having read The Forgotten Garden, The House at Riverton, and The Secret Keeper over the last few years. So understandably I was excited to read a new novel by the same author. The story here is that during a family's annual Midsummer gala, the youngest of the children, a boy of eleven months, disappears without a trace. The tragedy drives the remaining family members apart. Decades later, a detective on holiday stumbles upon the old estate, long-abandoned and derelict, and immediately begins to research the estate's past, ultimately happening upon the old case and becoming obsessed with solving it. Somehow, this particular novel was a slow read for me. Sometimes that's just timing, so I may come back and try this again another time--I got halfway through it before it was due back at the library, and I decided to let it go. I'll update if I try it again.

Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline. I read this back when it came out in 2013, but I needed to reread it for my book club. You can read my original review here.

Lucky Us, by Amy Bloom. Another book club read here, and a particularly good one, I thought. Disappointed by their parents, half-sisters Iris (the star) and Eva (the sidekick) travel from their boring lives in the midwest to the golden era of Hollywood, and later to share a different kind of life in post-war Long Island. It's hard to believe that such a relatively small volume houses such a rich, vast story as the one shared by Iris and Eva over a span of decades, both in and out of the limelights. Richly detailed and evocative, this is one of those stories that haunt a reader, lingering long after the last page is turned.

Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson. Popular blogger Lawson's second book, after Let's Pretend This Never Happened, has the added title of "a funny book about horrible things", and that's just what it is. In this series of autobiographical essays and excerpts, Lawson talks with refreshing honesty and candor about her experiences living with mental illness, and yes, it's funny. Uproariously, outrageously, laugh-until-your-sides-ache funny. And poignantly touching, and though-provoking. She invites people to embrace everything that makes them who they are, even the weird, funny, scary, flawed parts. This isn't for everyone, but it should be.

The Marriage of Opposites, by Alice Hoffman. See, I told you I found my reading juju again in December! This latest offering from the always luminous Hoffman actually came out back in August and I've only just gotten around to it now. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though, as I've been listening to it to and from work, and as the weather has started to finally get cold, I am transported to St. Thomas in the 1800s, a melting-pot of European, Creole, and African cultures where Rachel Pomie grows up, the daughter of French Jews, and marries to help her father's failing shipping business, only to be widowed and finally, in her 30s, marry for love, only to scandalize the island with her choice of husband. Yet one of her children with her second husband would grow up to become the famed Impressionist painter, Camille Pissarro. Truly a fascinating novel, and one of Hoffman's finest.

And that, fellow readers, makes for 72 books read in 2015. Here's to a very happy, healthy, and book-filled 2016. Thank you for reading along with me, and I will see you next year.

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