Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The 2015 Book Report

I may have broken the internet but it can be fixed! (And next time, thanks to an informative repairman, I can probably fix it myself!) And, he fixed my new DVD player, too, which I couldn't hook up right! Now, if only I could fix my broken camera (too many drops on its head). And if only my headache would go away to stay. I can cope with a painful knee but the head issue really cramps my style. (And thank you for all your wonderfully kind comments on the last and most frustrating post!)

But back on blog with the book post! And the answer is:

Yes, I met my goal.

Oh, you didn't know I had one, did you? Well, I did -- and that was to read 52 books this year. The equivalent of one a week, though I knew there would be heavy reading periods and times when I didn't open a book.

And I not only met it -- I topped it, with a total of  60 books covering a broad range of topics.

So, here we go again -- my "picks of the litter" in each category.

Fiction (excluding mystery)

Books in this category ranged from historical topics ("Bring Up the Bodies" and "The Invention of Wings") to contemporary. I'm not a huge fiction fan but when it is cloaked in the history of war or set in Britain, I'm always eager to dig in. My favorites this year were:

"All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr. Set during WWII in France and Germany, this wonderful novel follows the life of a young German boy and a blind French girl whose paths eventually cross. Intriguing, inspiring and beautifully written, it was my top fiction pic of the year.

"The Girl on the Train" by Paula Hawkins could equally fall into the mystery category but if the NYTimes calls it fiction, I'll go there, too. Hawkins weaves a fascinating tale told through the voices of three characters -- an unreliable witness, an adulterous young woman and a worried new wife. Did I figure out the end? I wish. Or maybe I'm glad I was surprised.

"The Pursuit of Love" and "Love In a Cold Climate" by Nancy Mitford. Back to the classics and really, does anyone tell a story with more wit and style than Nancy Mitford? You'll feel as though you are back in the days of the house parties, the country estates, London and Paris.

"Suite Francaise" by Irene Nemirovsky -- This book was part of her unfinished collection of stories set in WWII Paris during the German invasion and occupation. Nemirovsky never finished the series as she was taken to a concentration camp where she died. "Suite Francaise" is a worthy legacy.

"Bring Up the Bodies" by Hilary Mantel. Picking up where "Wolf Hall" left off, "Bodies" follows the saga of Thomas Cromwell as he negotiates the tricky political world of the court of Henry VIII.

More fiction -- "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd, "Reflections" by Richard Simkin; "Chasing Cezanne" by Peter Mayle, "The Girl in Hyacinth Blue" by Susan Vreeland, "Ethan Frome" by Edith Wharton,  and "The List" by Martin Fletcher, which came within a hair of making the top 5 in this category.

Non-Fiction (excluding biography, how-to, travel)

"Wicked Takes the Witness Stand" by Mardi Link. This was one of my favorite books of the year for a couple of reasons. First, it takes place in the town where I spend summers. Second, it is so darned good, so darned scary in its damning true look at a justice system run amok. Link follows the murder of one of the town's residents, the arrest of a suspect (and then several others) and how the trial was rigged to send them all to prison. Only the vigilance and belief of a group of defense attorneys would help reverse wrongful convictions. I couldn't put it down.

"Lost Cat" by Caroline Paul. This was my most delightful book of the year. It is the true story of a couple who decide to track their beloved cat's movements via GPS in New York City. The illustrations for this are worth it alone.

"Dangerous Rhythm: Why Movie Musicals Matter" by Richard Barrios. This is heavy reading and not for the lighthearted movie musical fan. But if you love them as I do, you'll find Barrios' take on this genre fascinating and filled with wonderful tidbits!

Biography and Memoir

I won't count travel in here, though you might say some of the books I read and include here could be travel memoirs.

"Anne Frank: The Biography" by Melissa Mueller. A remarkable feat of research and writing. Mueller looks at life in pre-WWII Germany and occupied Holland through the well documented lives of Anne Frank and her family, along with those who helped them while they were in hiding. Rich in interviews and photographs, the book covers the lives of Anne's parents and the other residents of her Secret Annex, her time in hiding and her last months in Bergen-Belsen. Brilliant.

"The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion. This is not an easy book. Walking with someone through grief never is easy. But when you have done that, you can relate to Didion's year following the death of her husband. Eloquently stated, she recounts a life of love and a year of challenge.

"Without Reservations" by Alice Steinbach. Maybe this should fall into travel. Yet Steinbach's memoir is so beautifully written, following her search for greater meaning as she travels to England, Venice and France. Some may compare it to "Eat, Pray, Love" and the comparisons are fair -- but this one is so very much better.

"Tender at the Bone" by Ruth Reichl. What's not to love about a good food memoir? What is amazing is that Ruth Reichl ever became the food critic/writer/editor that she did, given her upbringing, which did not have a heavy focus on the culinary arts! Reichl is a delightful writer and weaves a good story.

"A Chorus Line and the Musicals of Michael Bennett" by Ken Mandelbaum. Again, this is a book for theatre geeks but it is a well written look at this beloved musical and the man who created it, along with the other musicals that shaped Bennett's career.

"The Tenth Muse" by Judith Jones. Judith Jones not only edited Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," but the cookbooks of countless other well known authors. She knows how to weave a good story and when the subject is her life -- an early career in Paris, then many years in the kitchen with some of the best chefs in the world -- well, it's a story she tells well and one worth reading.

Other memoirs/biographies I read included a lovely book on Audrey Hepburn by Barry Paris; "Daybook" by sculptor Anne Pruitt (another search for self which I didn't enjoy at all), "Lady Catherine and the Real Downton Abbey" by Fiona, Countess of Canarvon (fun!) and "Jacqueline Bouvier," a gushy biography written by her cousin John Davis.


This is my favorite category and this year I continued many series as well as meeting up with a couple of new crimesolvers.

Mysteries make me smile!

I recommend starting any series with the first and reading in sequence and many of these are from later within a series, so head's up! My favorites included:

"The Victoria Vanishes" by Christopher Fowler. This wasn't the only one of Fowler's Bryant and May mysteries I read this year (I read four), but I think it was the wittiest and most fun. I love this series with the eccentric 80-something detective team!

The Sarah Caudwell Mysteries -- I read all four mysteries in this author's series, set in the legal world of London. Keep a dictionary at hand and be prepared to be challenged and delighted.

"Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death" by James Runcie. These are the stories upon which the PBS series "Grantchester" was based. Runcie is a fine writer and loving the series, it was fun to read the original stories. I'll definitely be reading more Runcie.

"A Dangerous Place" by Jacqueline Winspear. This is the most recent in the Maisie Dobbs series. Maisie is my favorite detective, this is my favorite series. This one takes her to Gibraltar as the Spanish Civil War is ramping up and does not disappoint.

"A Share in Death" by Deborah Crombie. This was the first of two of Crombie's books with Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James, his detective team. I loved both of them and will be reading more of these London-seet mysteries.

Other mysteries and series: I enjoyed more books by Cara Black and her detective Ă„imee Leduc; "The Prime Minister's Secret Agent," the next Maggie Hope book by Susan Elia Macneal; more by Laurie R. King featuring two detectives -- Mary Robertson (and Sherlock Holmes -- I love these) and Kate Martinelli (contemporary San Francisco -- not so much). I tackled seven mysteries by Patricia Moyes (yes, British, though Henry Tibbett and his wife Emmy travel about) -- all enjoyable and very fast reads. "Hunting Shadows" by Charles Todd had an interesting setting (post WWI England) but I found my interest wandering and Ruth Rendell's "A Sight for Sore Eyes" just distressed me.

How To and Self Help

This is my catch-all category! There was one I loved, one I hated.

"Every Woman's Guide to Foot Pain Relief" by Katy Bowman. If you have crappy feet like I do, read this book. Period.

The book in this category I hated -- to the point of becoming seriously agitated when I speak about it too much -- is Marie Kondo's "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up." You may love it. It may change your life (she says it will). I say it will change my life by making me suicidal if I go her way! Read at your own risk.

My brain after reading Marie Kondo.

I suppose I could put "Victoria's 500 Christmas Ideas"by Kimberly Meisner into this cateogry, too. Not much text but fabulous photos and ideas for the holidays.


As usual, I read a lot of books about Paris in my travel selections. "Without Reservations" (mentioned as one of my favorite memoirs) also falls into this category.

"Paris, Paris" by David Downie is a delightful book about the author's experiences living in Paris. He visits various arrondisments and provides a lovely look from the perspective of an ex-pat living in the City of Light.

One of my favorite sites -- the Seine and the reear-end of Notre Dame.

"Pleasures and Landscapes" by Sybille Bedford. This series of essays visits a number of European cities and country spots including those in France, Austria and the Balkans. Many of the essays I could take or leave; I just wasn't that interested. But that was my issue, not Bedford's, who is a wonderful writer. (As you might expect, her essay on a wine tasting was my favorite piece!)

"Parisian Cats" is a gorgeous mostly-photo book and it is really more of a cat book than a Paris book. But the photos are lovely and so are the cats! (And I don't have another category to put this one in!)

Less loved was Bryce Corbett's "A Town Like Paris" (Australian ex-pat moves to Paris. Younger readers might enjoy it more than I did. I should hardly count Joel Porter's "Greetings in Paris" because it was mostly photos. But I will anyway!

Short Stories and Essays

"Life In General" by Becca Rowan. I am not giving this my top nod because Becca is a fellow blogger and friend. It's just a lovely book. And yes, you may have already "read it" without knowing it if you follow Becca's blog. The book is a series of (occasionally revised or edited) blog posts about -- as the title indicates -- life in general. Aging parents, raising children, writing, observing the joys of everyday life, being an only child (and having one). All these topics are deftly combined to form a wonderful look at the life of a middle-aged woman.

"The Day I Ate Everything I Wanted" by Elizabeth Berg. I love this funny, witty author. Berg's short stories fly by like magic and they are always fun! I'm not a short story fan but I bought another of her books right away. It's on the pile!

COMING UP -- Right now I am greatly enjoying "The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto" by Mitch Albom. I didn't finish it in 2015 but it may well be at the top of the heap in 2016!


Janet said...

Yay for the repairman coming to the rescue! And yay to you for meeting and surpassing your goal. I'm reading "All the Light We Cannot See" right now and thoroughly enjoying it. I also read a few of the others on your list. Did you see that there's a new Maisie Dobbs coming out in March? She's one of my favorite characters.

Joyful said...

Good for you for exceeding your goal. Every year I set reading goals too low and surpass them (without trying). Last year I set them a little higher (less than yours) and didn't make it. I went long periods without reading which is unusual for me. It might happen again this year so am setting my goal a bit lower again. Out of all your book selections posted I only read one "Suite Francaise". I can't remember much but I do remember I liked it. I also have the one from Ms. Kondo on hold. It's funny to read your review. I'll be interested in seeing how I react to what she says. It will be awhile yet before I get it from the library.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

What a lovely collection of books --some I have read and liked, too, some of which I now want to read after your recommendations! I'm fascinated that you hated the book on cleaning. I've avoided it...now maybe I'll sneak a peak via the library to see if maybe I'll hate it, too, and for the same reasons! Hope you feel better soon. A lingering headache is no fun.

Barb said...

I always love other people's book lists! I've read many on your list, some of them years ago. I'm not quite finished listing my 2015 books on my book review page. I finally came to the realization that I couldn't review them all, so I'm only reviewing my favorites. Hope your headache soon dissipates. Do you know what causes it? Feel better soon!

Mae Travels said...

Your goal was pretty ambitious, and it's great that you accomplished what you set out to do and more! I've read some of the books that you mention, and I agree with you about doing mystery series in order, though sometimes the authors don't consistently live up to early promise. So I stop. I suggest the Peter Diamond series by Peter Lovesey for some nice English mysteries set in the present time. Though surprisingly violent at times, I also like the adult mystery series by J.K.Rowling. And I'm now doing a modest Agatha Christie binge. In other words: I'm with you all the way!

best from mae at maefood.blogspot.com

Laura said...

Congratulations on surpassing your goal!!!!! That is wonderful! Two of my all time favorite books are Without Reservations and Tender at the Bone!!!!!! My Mom's favorite series is the Maisie Dobbs series. I want to read the Anne Frank biography now and the story about the Michigan crime. Have you ever read The #1 Ladies Detective Agency series?? I am sure you have, but wanted to mention it as a great one. Hope 2016 brings you tons of great books!!!

Sheila said...

I love books and I love to read mysteries as well.
My 2015 books are on a list beneath my blog banner.
May I suggest mystery writers Louise Penny and Ann Cleeves for you to try?
I hope your headache goes away sooner rather than later...xx

Sheila said...

PS...I meant to say I also read and enjoyed The Victoria Vanishes by Christopher Fowler..x

Victoria Zigler said...

That's great news about the internet being fixable. Shame the camera isn't, but dropping things a lot does tend to break them eventually... Take it from someone who's terrible for dropping things.

Hope your headache goes away soon.

Congratulations on reading more books than your goal for the year! Also, thanks for sharing some of your favourites from the year.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Oh my goodness, my TBR list is going to grow and grow after this post! I love how you broke it up by categories - I may need to do the same next year. It really shows how you read a wide variety of genres which is neat. I am glad that you liked Without Reservations as that is a book that I often recommend and have gifted to others.

I didn't read Kondo's book and I don't think I will. it just seems to 'out there' for me. I know some have loved it but I just don't think that approach to possessions works for me because there are things you need to keep around that don't necessarily bring you 'joy' (it's my understanding that that is what she uses to determine whether to keep or donate/toss something).

I started off 2016 by reading The Goldfinch. I am glad I read it so I could understand the polarized views of that book. It was engaging and intriguing and the writer is definitely very talented but I was kind of glad to see it come to an end as it was just too dark for me. I still gave it 4 stars, though, because it was very well-written, but it won't make my 'best of' list for 2016.

The French Hutch said...

Jeannie, I dropped my camera last year in France just as we were beginning our trip. Thankfully only the viewing screen was broken and didn't affect my photos. I'm still using it! Good you learned tips from the repairman for the dreaded "next time," and won't need him hopefully. What a great achievement with your reading goal last year. I'm making a list from your review. Thanks for sharing this.

Tammie Lee said...

I am sorry to hear about your knee and headache. I hope you are feeling better now. That is an impressive accomplishment, all those books. I might look into the mysteries you mention for my mom. thanks for that.

Jenny Woolf said...

What an interesting reading list. ! I love reading and always have, but I do it in bursts. I read less than I used to years ago, as well, and think it might be that my eyesight isn't as good, or something. Talking of which I was getting awful headaches too - intolerable - and it turned out to be caused by the need for an eye test. I was straining the muscles around my eyes to focus better, and I didn't realise. Like RSI for the eyes ! I guess you might have thought of that, but in any case, I most certainly sympathise and hope you will be better soon.
I'm so glad your internet is fixable, and soooooo impressed that you would consider tackling it yourself!
Happy 2016, Jeanie!

Roses, Lace and Brocante said...

Dearest Jeanie
I look forward to this post each year so I was thrilled to see it pop up again!
I have my little notebook and pen at the ready to make copious notes before I visit the book shops!
Not far from me is a wonderful second hand bookshop that I haunt from time to time!
Unfortunately I'm a slow reader and seem to nod off as soon as I turn a page, so I will not be challenging myself to a book a week like you - could I manage one a month - we'll see!
I appreciate the effort you put into this marvellous post, I'm very grateful.
I loved Suite Francaise and loved all her books. Most of the others I haven't read though so there's plenty of inspiration thank you dear Jeanie - you're a real star!
Shane x

Sally Wessely said...

Thank you for this great book list. I have read some of them and agree with you that they should make a list of top five. Others, I've not read, but wish to now. I admire those that keep track of what they read. i do that in spurts. I wish I were more disciplined to record a book when I finish it.

I love that adorable photo of you!

As far as the Kondo book goes - I know myself well enough to know I would not like her book. I've read enough about it to know that it would also make me crazy. I like my stuff. I'm not getting rid of it, and that is that.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

I am now convinced that not until I am retired (and during summer break) that I can even do this.....and I hope my eyesight lasts in order to get this accomplished! Oh the joy of reading, Jeanie! HAVE FUN!

Arti said...

Congrats on your reading achievement for 2015, Jeanie! That's a lot of books, 60, and I'm sure you can beat that again in 2016. Just FYI, All the Light We Cannot See is now a movie in development. Here's the link. Filmmakers today are all looking for the short cut to just turn a good book into screenplay instead of starting from scratch.

~*~Patty S said...

I do not know HOW you do all you do AND read so much too!
Hats off to you dear Jeanie.

vicki (skiourophile) said...

Happy New Year! Isn't Sarah Caudwell a wonderful writer? -- I don't think I know any other writer she resembles in tone.

Arabella said...

Love some of the titles on your list. I also really liked Without Reservations, I read it a while ago, and I love Christopher Fowler. Will be checking out some of the other titles on your list. May the new year bring you many more great reading adventures!

JillO said...

You may want to try The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. It is a very good fiction book and the author will be coming to Kalamazoo at the beginning of March.

Marilyn Miller said...

I need to make a list from your list.

Paulette Adams said...

I've bookmarked this page for future reading, your "picks of the litter" in each category is such a gift with all the descriptions you give each one, thank you for sharing!

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