My 2015 Favorite Books

A handful of the books I read this year were tagged “2015 Favorite”. Did you read any of these? Click the cover for my review. In the order I read them:

First Frost (1:20:15)

Little Beach Street Bakery (3:31:15)

Inside the O'Briens (Apr7)

happiness for beginners (vine Mar24)

Rebel Queen (Mar3)

a window opens (8:25)

if you only knew (8:25)

our souls at night

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Bittersweet Creek by Sally Kilpatrick

  • bittersweet creek (10:27-Kensington)Title:  Bittersweet Creek
  • Author:  Sally Kilpatrick
  • Genre:  Women’s Fiction
  • Pages:  320
  • Published:  October 2015 – Kensington
  • Source:  Publisher/NetGalley

My take:  When Romy Satterfield comes home driving a silver Porsche with her boyfriend in the passenger seat she runs a red light and runs over her husband, Julian. She’s back in town to get divorce papers signed and to spend a few weeks helping her dad on the family farm. But things don’t go as planned. Past relationships are revisited, secrets are revealed, and new possibilities are considered.

Sally Kilpatrick’s characters are completely believable and well-formed. As a reader it was easy to have an emotional reaction to the central characters. For me, I’ve found that’s not always the case. I think this was because of the alternating first person POV of Romy and Julian. That was perfect for the story.

I’m not sure what I expected when I began reading Bittersweet Creek but what I got was a thoroughly enjoyable novel that was difficult to put down. There are several Shakespeare references throughout and, as in many Shakespeare plays, it is filled with good and evil, comedy and drama, love and conflict. I enjoyed it all and recommend it to fans of Sally Kilpatrick and women’s fiction. I’m so glad I had a chance to read Bittersweet Creek and look forward to reading more from the author.

If You Only Knew by Kristan Higgins

  • if you only knew (8:25)Title:  If You Only Knew
  • Author:  Kristan Higgins
  • Genre:  Women’s Fiction
  • Pages:  416
  • Published:  August 2015 – HQN Books
  • Source:  Publisher; NetGalley

Description:  Letting go of her ex-husband is harder than wedding-dress designer Jenny Tate expected…especially since his new wife wants to be Jenny’s new best friend. Sensing this isn’t exactly helping her achieve closure, Jenny trades the Manhattan skyline for her hometown up the Hudson, where she’ll start her own business and bask in her sister Rachel’s picture-perfect family life…and maybe even find a little romance of her own with Leo, her downstairs neighbor, a guy who’s utterly irresistible and annoyingly distant at the same time. 

Rachel’s idyllic marriage, however, is imploding after she discovers her husband sexting with a colleague. She always thought she’d walk away in this situation, but her triplet daughters have her reconsidering her stance on adultery, much to Jenny’s surprise. Rachel points to their parents’ perfect marriage as a shining example of patience and forgiveness; but to protect her sister, Jenny may have to tarnish that memory—and their relationship­—and reveal a family secret she’s been keeping since childhood. 

Both Rachel and Jenny will have to come to terms with the past and the present and find a way to get what they want most of all.  (publisher)

My take:  Kristan Higgins’ novel about sisters who face challenges and choices will be on my 2015 Favorites list. I loved how real the challenges were that faced Jenny and Rachel and how they met those challenges. Jenny, the strong and outgoing sister, is starting over in her hometown after her husband told her he didn’t want to be married to her anymore. She’s an optimist though and is determined to move forward. Rachel, the introvert who takes pride in her orderly house and life, thought she could keep her family safe and happy by spending every moment trying to keep them insulated from anything bad. I was pulling for them both and was so pleased with how Higgins brought them both through at the end.

The support characters are pretty wonderful too. A few are as well-developed as the primary characters and had a hold on my heart through the entire novel – I’m looking at you Leo and Evander and… well, you get the idea. Even though I wanted to throttle Leo a couple of times everything became clear in the end.

If You Only Knew is a book I’d recommend to book clubs whose members (adults) are of varied ages. I think that would bring a lot to the discussion because of the different perspectives. If you’re like me and aren’t a book club member I’d recommend it to fans of Kristan Higgins and women’s fiction.

Note:  I read most of this book while on the treadmill but I knew when I had about 100 pages left I would need to find a quiet room (and a box of tissues). So that’s my heads-up.

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

  • a window opens (8:25)Title:  A Window Opens
  • Author:  Elisabeth Egan
  • Genre:  Women’s Fiction
  • Pages:  384
  • Published:  August 2015 – Simon & Schuster
  • Source:  Publisher

Description:  From the beloved books editor at Glamour magazine comes a heartfelt and painfully funny debut about what happens when a wife and mother of three leaps at the chance to fulfill her professional destiny—only to learn every opportunity comes at a price.

In A Window Opens, Elisabeth Egan brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age. Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor, and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker, or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers—an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life—seems suddenly within reach.

Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up, and her work takes an unexpected turn. Fans of I Don’t Know How She Does It, Where’d You Go Bernadette, and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she—Alice Pearse—really want?  (publisher)

My take: When Alice Pearce’s husband quits his job after learning he won’t make partner Alice starts searching for a full-time job that will help make ends meet until Nicholas can get his private law practice up and running. She lands a job with a company that, while the income is wonderful, may require the sale of her soul.

Life as Alice knew it quickly changes. On top of the new job learning curve, Alice’s father is quite ill, Nicholas seems to be drinking more than she’s ever known him to, and their three kids need her more than ever before. Alice has to bring home a paycheck so she keeps trying to hold things together.

For as anxious as all that may make a reader feel I found Egan’s writing engaging to the point where I didn’t want to stop reading. My kids are raised and yet I find myself in the “sandwich generation” in that I help out by watching my grandchildren and have elderly parents who are dealing with health issues.

I enjoyed all the characters in the novel but most of all Alice. I could relate to her on a few levels. My heart went out to her because I understood her unenviable position. I loved that, from time to time, Alice remembered quotations from people such as Frost and Churchill. And I loved Alice’s relationship with her dad. Their scenes and exchanges made me tear up a few times.

A Window Opens is a wonderful debut and I look forward to Elisabeth Egan’s next book.

Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

  • Rebel Queen (Mar3)Title:  Rebel Queen: A Novel
  • Author:  Michelle Moran
  • Genre:  Historical Fiction
  • Published:  March 2015 – Touchstone
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the mid-nineteenth century, it expects a quick and easy conquest. India is fractured and divided into kingdoms, each independent and wary of one another, seemingly no match for the might of the English. But when they arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, the British army is met with a surprising challenge.

Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male and one female—and rides into battle, determined to protect her country and her people. Although her soldiers may not appear at first to be formidable against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi refuses to back down from the empire determined to take away the land she loves. (from the publisher’s synopsis)

My take:  From the first page I was completely captivated by Michelle Moran’s story. Rani Lakshmi is a heroine with honor, compassion, morals and backbone. She wants to lead her people and keep them safe as well. Rebel Queen is told from the perspective of Sita, one of the rani’s Royal Guard – the Durga Dal – comprised of women responsible for protecting the rani. Sita’s story was so interesting and fleshed out or enhanced the factual story of the rani.

Rebel Queen is the third Moran book I’ve read and, as usual, I learned a lot. I remember in high  school history learning a bit about Great Britain and it’s quest to take India. It saddened me to see the rani and her people lose their country. The British underestimated the determination of the rani and the people of Jhansi who refused to give up without a fight. The immediate results were heartbreaking and horrifying. That said, I couldn’t put the book down. It’s a real page-turner.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction I think you’ll enjoy this book. There’s a helpful glossary as well as an author’s note concerning the factual and fictional aspects of Rebel Queen. I can’t wait to see who Michelle Moran writes about next!

Highly recommended.

Inside the O’Briens: A Novel by Lisa Genova

  • Inside the O'Briens (Apr7)Title:  Inside the O’Briens: A Novel
  • Author:  Lisa Genova
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  April 2015 – Gallery Books
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis: Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.  (from the publisher’s synopsis)

My take:   Inside the O’Briens is the third of Lisa Genova’s four novels I’ve read. Each has a medical condition as its focus. With Inside the O’Briens she addresses Huntington’s Disease, an inherited neurological condition that has no cure.

The O’Briens are an Irish Catholic family who all live in a triple-decker in Charlestown, MA. Joe and his wife Rosie are parents to 4 adult children in their twenties (2 boys and 2 girls) and a daughter-in-law. Joe begins exhibiting symptoms that soon result in a diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease (HD). When he and Rosie break the news to the kids they have to explain that each of them has a 50/50 chance of being gene positive, meaning, if positive, they will get HD in ten to twenty years.

Genova’s excellent story-telling skills shine as she takes the reader inside the minds of the main characters. There were times I had to stop reading because the emotions I was feeling were so intense. And then I’d spend a lot of time just thinking about what I would do in their situation. I learned a lot about HD, the genetics involved in a diagnosis, and much more regarding therapy and other treatments for symptoms of the disease.

I would recommend Inside the O’Briens to fans of the author and contemporary fiction with a medical focus. It would be a great selection for book groups.

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

  • Little Beach Street Bakery (3:31:15)Title:  Little Beach Street Bakery
  • Author:  Jenny Colgan
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  March 2015 – William Morrow
  • Source:  Publisher

My take:  When 30-something Polly’s life leads her to the day where the men from the bank take over her (and her boyfriend’s) house, and their business is dissolved, she is forced to start over – without the boyfriend. She finds herself living in a wreck of a flat over a vacant bakery in a tiny seaside village an hour from where her old life went wrong. There’s nowhere to go but up. Polly survives on her optimism and willingness to change. She’s a character you can’t help but cheer on as she takes her hobby of baking bread to the next level and eventually has more takers for her bread than she ever dreamed.

It’s not all easy street for Polly though. Gillian, the woman who used to be the only bakery owner on the tidal island is not pleased with her competition. She uses intimidation on Polly but to no avail. Can the two co-exist? And what about the intriguing fisherman, Tarnie. Polly is surprised by her attraction as he’s so different from her last boyfriend. Can she even look at him in that way? But there’s more – Huckle, the American beekeeper is a bit of a mystery that she would like to solve. Huckle’s friend Reuben and Kerensa, Polly’s best friend, add an over-the-top and highly entertaining aspect to the plot.

I don’t want to spoil by telling more but suffice to say that Little Beach Street Bakery could end up on my 2015 Favorite Books list. It’s the first of Jenny Colgan’s books I’ve read and I can’t wait to read another.