My Favorite Books of 2015

I love the end of the year, tidying up loose ends and dreaming about what next year may bring.  And plotting!  Much plotting.  But before that I’m taking a look at the top ten books I’ve read this year.  Linked to reviews and in reverse alpha order by title, as the W’s get oh so little love:

7005652When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka

A poetic look at what life was like in Japanese internment camps during World War II.  It’s a part of American history that gets glossed over too easily and Otsuka brings it to poetic life.  Especially relevant considering the current political situation and fear of those who don’t look like us.

15998346What Doctors Feel by Danielle Ofri

This book guided my first year working as a medical interpreter, especially the times I was scared of messing up so bad that it would end up hurting patient.  “Being a doctor means living with that fear, incorporating it into one’s daily life,” Ofri writes, “…figuring out how to titrate it appropriately is a vital skill for a doctor.”  I’m working on it.

108305Triangle: The Fire that Changed America by David von Drehle

From my “Summer of Fire”, where I read about all kinds of blazes.  This book was my favorite of the bunch because it not only detailed the tragedy itself but also it’s aftereffects, from the trial of the building owners to how it helped shape the labor movement and political reform.

311182These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer

Simply delightful. It’s wonderful to get to know characters by what they say and do without paragraphs of collected details. While it took me some time to get into the story (starting the book while waiting in line didn’t help) once things got going I was entranced. And watching the whole plot unravel at that last soiree? Stunning. I can’t wait to read the rest of her stuff.

23564319Poison Study by Maria V. Synder

How I love plotty fantasy!  It’s all here – lots of action, great world building, rival lands without an obvious good guy or bad guy, and even a little romance.  After blasting through the first two books (second review forthcoming) I’m trying to ration the rest.

18493152Night Calls by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

I have no idea how this book flew under the radar when it was published twenty years ago – it’s Little House in the Big Woods with vampires and werewolves.  Instantly awesome, right?  Add in a young female protagonist, an interesting magic system, wonderful characters and plotplotplot to get an amazing read.  And it’s a series, yea!

2524055Love Marriage by V. V. Ganeshananthan

Review forthcoming – a lyric telling of one family’s Tamil diaspora experience.  It’s one of those novels that is filled with history but never feels fact-y.  I feel like a better person for reading it… but more about that next week.

22253729Hammer Head by Nina MacLaughlin

My hands down favorite non-fiction of the year.  After working at a desk job MacLaughlin quit and became a carpenter’s assistant.  We get to see her learn the job but it goes much deeper than that – what does our profession say about us?  How do we change when our job changes? Ooo, now that I think about it this might be a good pairing with some Studs Turkel… I sense a “Winter of Working” coming on!

24805225Falling Into Bed with a Duke by Lorraine Heath

Everything I love in a Regency romance – banter!  Historical accuracy!  Twisted tropes!  Heath is a master of the form and one of my all time favorite romance authors.  A strong start to a new series.
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The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

I have a review lined up for this one as well, never fear!  Mary Russell literally stumbles over the retired Sherlock Holmes one day and he is impressed with her powers of deduction and observation.  She become his apprentice and they solve harder and harder mysteries until their very lives hang in the balance.  (Dun-dun-DUUUUUN!)

Some honorable mentions because I can: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, In the City by Colette Brooks, and The Circus Fire by Stewart O’Nan.

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A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

Synopsis:

76479Rebecca Solnit has emerged as an inventive and original writer whose mind is daring in the connections it makes. A Field Guide to Getting Lost draws on emblematic moments and relationships in Solnit’s own life to explore the issues of wandering, being lost, and the uses of the unknown. The result is a distinctive, stimulating, and poignant voyage of discovery.

Review:

I was hoping for thematically linked essays or a tight stream of consciousness but A Field Guide to Getting Lost feels more like a brain dump.

Solnit covers many different aspects of getting lost – losing your way, losing knowledge, the loss of species, the loss of people, losing yourself. I particularly liked a couple of sections in the chapter Abandon such as:

Maybe she knew that to be truly alive death had to be part of the picture just as winter must.

But for every interesting insight there are tens of pages that float by unremarkably. We visit her dreams, turtles, and the desert again and again but have little to show for it.

I was hoping for something more solid, a more outward-looking view on what it means to get and be lost. Not bad, per ce, but way too much navel gazing for me.

In Bed with the Devil by Lorraine Heath (Scoundrels of St. James #1)

Synopsis:

2634570They call him the Devil Earl—a scoundrel and accused murderer who grew up on the violent London streets. A proper young lady risks more than her reputation when consorting with the roguishly handsome Lucian Langdon, but Lady Catherine Mabry believes she has no choice. To protect those she loves, she would do anything—even strike a bargain with the devil himself.

Lucian desires respectability and a wife above all else, but the woman of his choosing lacks the social graces to be accepted by the aristocracy. Catherine can help Lucian gain everything he wants. But what she asks for in exchange will put their very lives in jeopardy. When danger closes in, Catherine discovers a man of immense passion and he discovers a woman of immeasurable courage. As secrets from his dark past are revealed, Lucian begins to question everything he knows to be true, including the yearnings of his own heart.

Review:

I love Heath but this book is not one of my favorites. She is so good at rocking internal conflict but there’s a lot of external angst here – carriages being attacked! Abusive husband that must be stopped! The hero takes a loooong time to realize that he loves the heroine, and while it’s realistic (his friends see it before he does, he has a good reason to be stuck on someone else) it grates a little. “You’re perfect for each other, get to it already!”

As the first book in a series the set up is wonderful – Catherine has a novel reason to be as independent as she is and there’s a brother, best friend, and several scoundrels to marry off. With such different personalities it’s going to be interesting!

So while not her best I’m still glad I read this Heath book and look forward to the scoundrels to come. Bwahaha.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Synopsis:

18401393Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Review:

The movie is coming to Japan in February, four months after it opened in the US. Living on the other side of the world can suck sometimes, but at least it gave me time to read the book.

And it’s a good book! Weir manages all kinds of geekery – good for getting astronaut Mark Watney home but tedious to read at times. When my particular freak flag was flying high I loved it (NASA history, woo!) but when it came down to reducing liquid for the hydrogen I checked out.

While most everything is explained to this mad level of detail I still had questions. The biggest – what the heck was he doing about dust? The Apollo astronauts tracked tons of it into the LEM and it turned out to be nasty stuff to accidentally inhale. And here’s Mark, traipsing around in his EVA suit, taking it into the Hab and the rover and back again without so much as shaking it out. Mars has dust storms, it must be a problem. I could be missing something obvious but man, it bothered me.

Anywho, good book! Everyone who wrote that before me was right on. ~nodnod~

What Doctors Feel by Danielle Ofri

Synopsis:

15998346Physicians are assumed to be objective, rational beings, easily able to detach as they guide patients and families through some of life’s most challenging moments. But doctors’ emotional responses to the life-and-death dramas of everyday practice have a profound impact on medical care. And while much has been written about the minds and methods of the medical professionals who save our lives, precious little has been said about their emotions. In What Doctors Feel, Dr. Danielle Ofri has taken on the task of dissecting the hidden emotional responses of doctors, and how these directly influence patients.

How do the stresses of medical life—from paperwork to grueling hours to lawsuits to facing death—affect the medical care that doctors can offer their patients? Digging deep into the lives of doctors, Ofri examines the daunting range of emotions—shame, anger, empathy, frustration, hope, pride, occasionally despair, and sometimes even love—that permeate the contemporary doctor-patient connection. Drawing on scientific studies, including some surprising research, Dr. Danielle Ofri offers up an unflinching look at the impact of emotions on health care.

Review:

A wonderful book for doctors, doctor wannabes, and anyone else involved in medicine. Continue reading “What Doctors Feel by Danielle Ofri”

Taint by S.L. Jennings (Sexual Education #1)

Synopsis:

18366077You’re here, ladies, because you can’t f*ck.

Oh, stop it. Don’t cringe. No one under the age of 80 clutches their pearls.
You might as well get used to it, because for the next six weeks, you’re going to hear that word a lot. And you’re going to say it a lot.
Go ahead, try it out on your tongue.
F*ck. F***ck.

Ok, good. Now where were we?

If you enrolled yourself in this program then you are wholly aware that you’re a lousy lay. Good for you. Admitting it is half the battle.

For those of you that have been sent here by your husband or significant other, dry your tears and get over it. You’ve been given a gift, ladies. The gift of mind-blowing, wall-climbing, multiple-orgasm-inducing sex. You have the opportunity to f*ck like a porn star. And I guarantee, you will when I’m done with you.

Review:

From the synopsis I thought, “Hey, a book about teaching women how to enjoy sex! Maybe some tips on how to spice things up in the bedroom, hands on lessons with our hero and heroine… it’s gonna be a fun romp!”

No. Nononono.
Continue reading “Taint by S.L. Jennings (Sexual Education #1)”

Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder (Study #1)

Synopsis:

23564319Murder, mayhem and magic…

Locked in a coffin-like darkness, there is nothing to distract me from my memories of killing Reyad. He deserved to die—but according to the law, so do I. Here in Ixia, the punishment for murder is death. And now I wait for the hangman’s noose.

But the same law that condemns me may also save me. Ixia’s food taster—chosen to ensure that the Commander’s food is not poisoned—has died. And by law, the next prisoner who is scheduled to be executed—me—must be offered the position.

Review:

Plot, how I love thee! Poison Study has it in spades, backed up by well-drawn characters, interesting political systems, and even a little romance. I have found a new series to binge on!

The good:

  • The world building is detailed and free of info dumps. Things start very small (the cell Yelena is being held in) and slowly expand as she moves from prisoner to poison taster and beyond.
  • While there are two main areas and political systems there is no good guy and bad guy. In Ixia there’s a strong welfare state to help those in need but they execute anyone who doesn’t follow their crazy strict rules. In the South they don’t kill magicians on sight but beggars are left to starve in the streets. It’s complex and I love it.
  • The Commander’s secret is amazing and interesting and ties the books into current issues in a concrete way.

The not-so-good:

  • While everyone is shelving this as young adult I would actually characterize it as a new adult fantasy. It’s all here – 20-ish protagonist with a trauma-filled past making her way in the world. I could have done without a flashback or two, but Yelena took care of things.
  • …that it ended! Usually I space out books in a series but I’m going to jump into the next book head first. Here goes!

Small Space Organizing by Kathryn Bechen

Synopsis:

12594832While we may admire the spacious rooms in large homes we see in magazines or on TV, let’s face it: most of us don’t live in rambling estates. Instead, we live in homes, apartments, or condos with small rooms and even smaller closets. But you can enjoy an organized, beauty-filled life no matter what the size of your space. In this practical book, readers will learn how to
– perform a room-by-room audit of their space to see if it’s functioning at its best
– make the most of existing storage space and find clever ways to add more
– find creative ways to arrange furnishings and accessories that maximize space and bring harmony and style to the home
Whether empty nesters who are downsizing, newlyweds who are setting up their first nest, or anyone who needs creative new ideas, readers will love these strategies, tips, and solutions to maximize their space and enhance their quality of life.

Review:

My husband and I live in small apartment – two small bedrooms, a tiny bath and toilet, kitchen, and living room all in 650 square feet. This book was not written for people like me. Continue reading “Small Space Organizing by Kathryn Bechen”

Island Fantasy by Kayla Perrin

Synopsis:

6938319Shayna Kenyon “knows” heartbreak. After she catches her fiance cheating on her the night of their wedding, a reality break in Jamaica is just the pick-me-up this romance author needs. Especially when Shayna arrives at the exclusive resort…and notices the seriously sexy brother checking her out.In the Caribbean for a wedding, Donovan Deval isn’t thinking about making a love connection. But it’s time to move on with his life–and that means pursuing Shayna, the exotic beauty who’s making his libido leap off the charts! Shayna wants to take it slow, but Donovan’s ready to turn up the heat. As passion ignites, he vows to turn their sizzling island paradise into the real thing.

Review:

Conflicting feelings all around.

Continue reading “Island Fantasy by Kayla Perrin”