My annual end of the year column from the Citizen:
This is the time of year when many publications create their "Best Books of 2015" lists.
Each year I compile my annual list of "The Most Compelling Books I Read This Year." These are books that I read this year, though not necessarily published in 2015. They are books that made me think of them long after I finished reading them, books that deeply affected me in some way or another.
Lauren Groff’s “Fates and Furies” has made many best-of lists this year and deservedly so. She tells the story of a marriage between Lotto, a golden boy, successful playwright and his enigmatic wife, Mathilde. We see their story first from Lotto’s point of view, and then from Mathilde’s, which is dramatically different.
Wendy Francis’ “The Summer of Good Intentions” is a fantastic family story, with the relationship among the three sisters particularly strong and relatable. They face a family crisis with their aging father and it is a heartrending novel. (My full review here.)
Sara Gruen’s “At The Water’s Edge” takes us to World War II Scotland as three people go in search of the Loch Ness monster. The woman of the group struggles to comprehend her husband’s increasingly abusive behavior and learns to find her voice as this intense story builds. (My full review here.)
Victoria Hislop’s “The Sunrise” has a real sense of time and place as this story of a young couple in Cyprus in 1972 who see their dreams of owning an upscale hotel fall apart during the Turkish-Greek war. This wonderful novel resonates today with the refugee crisis and war in Syria taking center stage in the world. (My full review here.)
Richard Flanagan’s “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” is the story of an Australian doctor in a Japanese POW camp during WWII. It is harrowing and gut-wrenching and not for the faint of heart, but this is the most powerful book I read this year. It also won the Man Booker Prize in 2014. (My full review here.)
Anne Tyler says that “A Spool of Blue Thread” may be her last novel, and if that is true, she is going out on a high note. She is a master of family stories, and this is no exception. We see a family in Baltimore struggle with aging parents, a prodigal son returning home, and a tragedy halfway through the story that changes everything. (My full review here.)
On a lighter note, Patricia Park’s “Re Jane” is a spin on “Jane Eyre” telling the story of a young Korean/American woman who longs to leave her uncle’s home in Queens and escapes by becoming a nanny for a Brooklyn family. When she falls in love with the husband, she runs away to her mother’s family in South Korea. Park immerses us in these disparate cultures to great affect. (My full review here.)
Moving on to non-fiction, Kate Mulgrew’s memoir “Born With Teeth” made many best-of lists as well. Mulgrew is an actress best known for her roles on the soap opera “Ryan’s Hope” in the 1970s, as a Starfleet commander in “Star Trek: Voyager” in the 1990s and now as prison inmate Red in “Orange is the New Black.” Her memoir is nothing like the usual star-turn, but an honest look at what it meant to be an actress and the sacrifices she made to get there. (My full review here.)
Comedian Jen Kirkman’s “I Know What I’m Doing — and Other Lies I Tell Myself” is not a laugh-a-minute book, but rather a candid look at her life as she nears 40 and finds that she wants out of her less-than-two-year marriage. I didn’t know much about Kirkman, but I really appreciated her honesty about where she is in life.
“The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace” tells of Jeff Hobbs’ quest to learn what happened to his friend from college. Peace was a young black man who grew up in Newark, New Jersey, the son of hard-working blue-collar worker who sacrificed so her son could go to a good private school and on to college and a drug-dealer who was convicted of murder. Peace was torn between these two worlds and this is an eye-opening book, a must-read for everyone. (My full review here.)
Mary Pflum Peterson’s “White Dresses” relates the story of her mother, a woman who became a hoarder. Peterson shows us with great compassion how a devout young Catholic woman who left the convent after nearly dying and married a closeted gay man with whom she had two children, descended into this mental illness of hoarding. (My full review here.)