A Year In Books (2015) Part 2

pile of booksOkay… here’s the next whack of books from last year’s reading.  (You can see the first 25 by clicking here.)

26.  THE PARIS REVIEW BOOK OF PEOPLE WITH PROBLEMS — Wonderful addition to any library. Denis Johnson’s story is BRILLIANT. Masterclass for writers.

27. AWAY by Amy Bloom. – As big, complicated, beautiful, awful, funny, despairing and messy as life itself. Wonderful use of 3rd person omniscient POV. Recommended.

28. PROOF OF HEAVEN, A NEUROSURGEON’S JOURNEY INTO THE AFTERLIFE by Eben Alexander, M.D.  — This book was recommended by an emergency room trauma surgeon friend of mine, after a long lunch spent discussing all sort of interesting things, including life after death. Although it surprises me to say this, well, the book surprised me. Intriguing, especially the descriptions of the after-life. Worth a read.

29. THE STORYTELLING ANIMAL, HOW STORIES MAKE US HUMAN by Johnathan Gottschall.  I recommend this book to anyone who is engaged in writing, or who is curious about how stories work and how we use them.  Not as mind-blowing as Thomas King’s THE TRUTH ABOUT STORIES, but still a fine book.

30. ACCUSATION by Catherine Bush. Bush is a beautiful, intellectual writer whose attention to craft just shines off every page. Big questions of ethics, morality and justice. Particularly topical after the Ghomeshi/Cosby allegations, as well as so many others, and a number in the writing community, this year. RECOMMENDED!

31. BLUE ANGEL by Francine Prose. Funny, subversive, if a bit predictable. Takes a kick at writing programs, academia and political correctness. Wonderful depiction of characters’ inner lives. From the author of HOW TO READ LIKE A WRITER.

32. THE CELLIST OF SARAJEVO by Steven Galloway. A splendid examination of what happens the human spirit in the midst of dehumanizing horror. The novel is wonderfully constructed. The writing is subtle and invites the reader to question his or her ideas of justice and compassion and mercy. RECOMMENDED!

33. TRICKSTER MAKES THE WORLD: MISCHIEF, MYTH AND ART by Lewis Hyde. One of the joys of Hyde’s work is that he shows us how critical the trickster archetype is to the world, and how stuck in bad patterns we all might be without him.

34. NORTH AMERICAN LAKE MONSTERS by Nathan Ballingrud. A superb collection of gothic/horror short stories. Nathan Ballingrud won the inaugural Shirley Jackson Award “The Monsters of Heaven” which is contained in this book along with eight others.

35. FEVER by Megan Abbot. From the queen of female-centered noir, this book focuses on the swampy, Gothic murk of teenage girls. She knows how to keep the tension mounting, the pages turning.

36. FILE UNDER: 13 SUSPICIOUS INCIDENTS by Lemony Snicket. The writing is witty, as always, and I imagine it would be a great deal of fun reading this with a young person, especially the young Sherlock Holmes types. Seth’s illustrations are wonderful (and, since I have met Seth and his delightful partner Tania on a few occasions and like them immensely, is really why I bought the book!)

37 BURIAL RITES by Hannah Kent. Although the POV shouldn’t work, it does. Captures not only big moral questions, but also the magical saga-like quality of Iceland itself. Utterly engrossing. RECOMMENDED.

38. A LOST LADY by Willa Cather. Cather’s perfect novel. Not only a portrait of a disturbing, complicated woman, but also a vivid, haunting evocation of a disappearing vision and way of life.

39. THE GOOD LORD BIRD by James McBride. Loved his THE COLOR OF WATER. Perhaps I expected too much. Episodic, with an odd voice and little emotional connection. Sigh.

40. EXPERIENCING SPIRITUALITY: FINDING MEANING THROUGH STORYTELLING by Ernest Kunst and Katherine Ketchem. Not bad, but not as good as their brilliant THE SPIRITUALITY OF IMPERFECTION. Seemed like a rehash, frankly with a couple of really tasteless jokes that put me right off.

41. IN THE HEART OF THE HEART OF THE COUNTRY by William Gass. Rough, unsentimental works, full of strange and estranged stream-of-consciousness, but always emotionally evocative. Not, perhaps for the casual reader, but worth it for the serious one.

42. OUTSIDE THE DOG MUSEUM by Johnathan Carroll. Intriguing and well paced. Recommended for anyone who likes para-normal/metaphysical thrillers

43. MOTHER, MOTHER by Koren Zailckes. Yikes! Stayed up late reading this one. As someone who knows mad mothers, trust me, Zailckas gets it right (if a bit over the top in a few spots). Recommended

44. THE BLACK VELVET GOWN by Catherine Cookson. I always thought Cookson was a sort of light-weight romance writer. Wrong. This is a multi-layered social commentary full of wonderful characters and the North England setting is perfect. Recommended.


45. THE SUMMER HOUSE: a trilogy by Alice Thomas Ellis. 3 books, 3 women, 1 event. Witty and smart and beautifully structured with an impressive control of point of view. Each woman has her own clear and defining voice as well as her own history and her own conflicts. Although each book stands alone, the combination is delightfully harmonic, adding depth and tone to the work.

46. THEY CALLED ME NUMBER ONE: SECRETS AND SURVIVAL AT A RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL by Bev Sellars. About time Canadians took a look at the history of First Nations experience. Not the best book from a literary point of view, perhaps, but an important one that deserves a wide readership.

47. THE EXECUTION OF NOA P. SINGLETON by Elizabeth Silver. “He had eyelids like meat patties, slight flaps of creamy skin folded over his lids like a blanket tucking his pupils in.” Draw your own conclusions. Snort.

48. STILL LIFE by Louise Penny. A nice cozy mystery set in Quebec. Significant POV problems with the author popping into multiple minds, which is jarring and confusing for the reader, but told with charm and wit in spite of that.


49. TIGERS IN RED WEATHER by Liza Klaussman. The cover looks like chick-lit, but the story’s a 1st-rate psychological drama. Brilliant complex characterization, entwined in an equally complex & completely successful, multi-person pov. Bravo! (I must add that the two men in the book club LOATHED this book, one going so far as to call it “utter trash, nothing but garbage.”  So, clearly not for everyone. Snort.)

50. ALL THE STORY OF MURIEL SPARK. Some stories are brilliant (including Portobello Road), some less so, but they’re all Muriel Spark, so the acid wit and lovely prose shine through.

That’s the bunch for now… the final 21 to come soon.  Happy reading.

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