Happy 2016 everyone! I wish you all a healthy and prosperous new year.
First, a note. 2015 was a year of changes and more changes in my personal life. It was a tough year that began with the dark hole that comes from grief and ended with the light of loving acceptance. Despite all my personal struggles, it was also a productive year. I set up a list of small personal goals to keep me looking forward, and am proud to say that by end of year they had all been achieved. It would be a lie to say that I am at 100% at this moment, but I can breath. That's a good a thing.
As always, reading was an important part of my life during 2015. I read "for pleasure" and did not review most the books read since early during the year my decision was to take it slow in order to avoid unnecessary self-imposed pressures. It worked. I can't tell you how many books I read in 2015 because I did not keep a faithful account, but it was a good year. Many of the books I read were either from my "to be read" pile, or books (series) from my wish list. So, don't be surprised that my list of 2015 favorite books is a combination of old and new. In no particular order, and not separated into categories, here is my list: (Click on title links to read reviews)*
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (Contemporary Fiction)
From my original review: This is a beautiful book for book lovers. But this is the thing, Zevin takes all of that and integrates it into a story about life itself with all the messy "disappointments and exhilarating moments that make life beautiful now and again." Highly recommended.
The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood by Richard Blanco (Creative Non-Fiction)
From my original review: From a personal perspective, I found myself relating strongly to quite a few of the circumstances Blanco portrays in this book. Looking at The Prince of Los Cocuyos from a bit of a distance, I found his storytelling to be touching, insightful, and hysterically funny at times with a bit too much emphasis placed on the nostalgia factor. The book as a whole comes across as genuine, heartfelt, and extremely intimate, depicting strengths and weaknesses in his family, himself, as well as in his community.
The Devil in America by Kai Ashante Wilson (SFF Novelette)
From my original mini: This excellent novelette is short, to the point, and packs a punch.
Fair Game (Alpha & Omega #3) by Patricia Briggs (Urban Fantasy)
From my original overview: Fair Game is a well-rounded urban fantasy installment with the romance taking a step forward, as Anna takes the lead when Charles falters -- that is a lovely turn of events. And, it has a fantastic finish! Dramatic, unexpected, and just. . . yes, I loved this book.
Glitterwolf: A Letter to My 16 Year Old Self ed. Matt Cresswell (LGBT Non-Fiction)
From my original review: Ultimately, the strength of this excellent collection lies in the intimacy with which the contributing writers, as individuals, share pivotal moments while in their journey to embracing identity -- going from the uncertain questioning of the 16 year old, to the knowing, accepting, “Me.” Highly recommended.
The Warrior's Apprentice (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold (SF)
From my original mini: I love Miles, the humor, adventurous plot, political games, and fantastic secondary characters. Everything. Overall, a fabulous creation by Bujold. A 5 star recommendation.
Texas Destiny (Book #1) by Lorraine Heath (Historical Romance)
From my original mini: This is a post American Civil war romance with a tortured hero, fantastic sexual tension and chemistry between the protagonists, and a brave, kind, admirable heroine. This is the type of western historical romance I love. A sigh-worthy read!
Dreamer's Pool & Tower of Thorns (Blackthorn & Grim #1 & #2) by Juliet Marillier (Fantasy)
From my original overview: Although I enjoyed Tower of Thorns a bit more than Dreamer's Pool due to its complex plotting and characterization, both books in this series are highly recommended.
Him by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy (MM Romance)
From my original mini: How do I say this? I could just say I loved, loved this book, but know more must be said. Him is fun, cute, sexy, and romantic. It is one of my favorite reads of the year.
Daydreamers: Stories by Jonathan Harper (LGBT Fiction, Single Author Collection)
Jonathan Harper's writing skills deserve a 5 star rating in his debut short story collection Daydreamers: Stories. This is a gritty compilation of short stories with no easy resolutions (or no resolutions at all) for young men, troubled daydreamers, who for the most part come from a middle class background. Read it, yearn, search for inspiration, and dream with his characters.
From the Ashes & Bloodlines (Boystown 6 & 7) by Marshall Thornton (LGBT, Gay Mystery)
I put off reading From the Ashes. The beginning is grim after the events that occurred in Murder Book (Book #5), but as I have come to expect from Mr. Thornton, this is another excellent addition to the Boystown series. The slow development of Nick's "rebirth" was perfection, as were the mystery and contributions by secondary characters. A 5 star read. In Bloodlines the tone is lighter. Nick is moving on and has found peace. Yet, the specter that was AIDS in the 1980's still haunts the reader. The two mysteries are interesting and involved, however, for me, the interpersonal relationships make this book a winner. Actually, Thornton's Boystown series is an all-around winner and a must read!
Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Fantasy)
A dark fairytale, an excellent fairytale, a fantastic standalone fantasy novel. Uprooted by Naomi Novik took me by surprise. This December read is definitely a favorite. It contains much of what I love in a fantasy: marvelous world-building, strong female characters, romance, strong and distinguishable magical elements, loyal, memorable friendships, action, danger, a great ending, and hmm… a different sort of dragon. Don't miss it!
Ru by Kim Thúy (Literary Fiction)
Accessible literary fiction that reads like a memoir. Written in short, connected chapters that move backwards and forward in time. The beauty of language and its fluidity are key to this story about a Vietnamese immigrant recalling her childhood journey from Vietnam to Quebec, Canada, and going on to relate life as an adult. This novel won the Canadian 2010 Governor General's Literary Award and, in my opinion, deservedly so.
Only Enchanting (The Survivors' Club #4) by Mary Balogh (Historical Romance)
I read this book during my summer vacation and loved Balogh's subtle characterization of Agnes, the heroine in this romance. She is not exciting, beautiful, or outstanding in any way. She's an almost spinster who has never been in love. Yet, I found the subtle, quiet relationship that builds between the almost nondescript Agnes and the beautiful but troubled Flavian to be quite romantic and believable. I still remember letting out a quiet sigh at the end of this book.
The Highwayman (Victorian Rebels #1) by Kerrigan Byrne (Historical Romance)
Ah well. . . this historical romance has its troubles, but in 2015, it was one of the most enjoyable reads in this category. First, the protagonists meet when they are children, developing a strong bond and falling in love. Second, the male character is not from the aristocracy (isn't that refreshing?), and is a seriously scarred, angst-ridden hero. The female protagonist is loyal, loving, and strong minded. Win-win. And, Byrne's bedroom scenes, as well as the sexual tension, sizzle. I did not review this book in my blog, but I still recommended it to friends!
Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata (Japanese Literary Fiction)
This is a passionate story. Yet, it is written in a deceivingly delicate, simple style. Kawabata uses imagery throughout this story; a kerchief with a thousand crane motif held by a young woman, the precious objects utilized during a tea ceremony, rainstorms, an ugly birthmark marring a breast. The story takes on a complex flavor as objects and events become a suggestion, an insinuation, symbols for life and death, for eroticism, passion, for shame and / or resentment, for corruption and / or purity. A magnificent read.
*Note: Due to a partial hiatus in 2015, not all titles on my list were reviewed. I have added quick impressions of those books in this post. Additionally, most of the books reviewed were not graded. However, the above mentioned titles received either 5 stars (Grade A) or 4.5 stars (A-) at Goodreads.
2016 is a new year, and I am ready to resume blogging at a regular pace. I have already accepted a few ARCs for the months of March and April from selected publishers.
A special thanks to all my blogger friends (you know who you are), who consistently and without missing a beat supported and checked on me during 2015! I swear, at least one of you is psychic. . .