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Reviewer Picks Reviewers Pick Their Favorite Books of 2015

Recently we asked our reviewers to provide us with a list of some of their favorite books from 2015. Included is a mix of fiction and nonfiction titles, all published this year. Take a moment to read these varied lists of titles and see if you agree with their selections! Please note that due to personal and professional commitments, some reviewers were not able to participate in this feature.


Kate Ayers

  • MY SUNSHINE AWAY by M.O. Walsh
    This author takes a very ugly crime and makes a beautiful story out of it. The young narrator has a huge range of raw emotions --- raw honest ones, even sort of awful ones --- that makes them come across more wonderful because of the ups and downs. Everyone experiences these feelings, the bad along with the good, and somehow Walsh demonstrates this human frailty as a normal part of growing up. This is quite a story, with a heart-rending ending.
    I give this a rave review. When I finished it, my eyes were streaming and my heart was full. I'm not one who likes touchy feely books, but this one is so incredible I couldn't help but love it. In brief, Queenie Hennessy has terminal cancer, living out her remaining days in a hospice in northern England. Her friend Harold Fry, whom she hasn’t seen for over 20 years, tells her to hold on; he’s coming to see her. He begins walking from the opposite end of the country. As she waits, she writes him a letter confessing a terrible guilt that she’s been carrying since she left. It is time to put things right. She needs to be able to leave this world having told Harold Fry the truth. Be sure to read THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY, too. Both will melt your heart.
  • AT THE WATER’S EDGE by Sara Gruen
    Sara Gruen (WATER FOR ELEPHANTS) is, quite simply, an incredible writer. This novel, set in 1945, starts out feeling whimsical, with a trio of young people --- man, wife and best friend --- on New Year's Eve plotting yet again their trip to Loch Ness to prove that the storied monster exists. But this time, they mean it. A few days into 1946, Ellis, Maddie and Hank embark on their adventure. Privileged and seemingly carefree, what they find as they head right into the heart of the War has a sobering and devastating effect on their lives. A powerful book, virtually impossible to put down.
  • ORHAN’S INHERITANCE by Aline Ohanesian
    This is sort of a Romeo & Juliet story, starring a Turk and an Armenian. I had no previous knowledge of the Armenian genocide, but ORHAN’S INHERITANCE deals with it and even makes this horrific subject readable. And that's probably because it's softened by a love story woven into it.The book starts with Orhan arriving at his family home for his grandfather's funeral. The will is read, and, to everyone’s horror, grandfather Kemal left the house to an old woman in Los Angeles none of them have ever heard of. The real story starts when Orhan goes to try to cajole the woman into signing the house back to their family. The secrets she shares and the
    The star rating doesn't fit this book. It is wildly wonderful. Of course, so was TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, but THE MAGIC STRINGS OF FRANKIE PRESTO has so many more dimensions, so many incredible loops and tie-ins, and, well, magical happenings. It’s large, nearly 490 pages, but if you can read it in one sitting (and it is easy to race through), then the rhythm, once begun, never gets interrupted, and the rhythm adds to the richness of the whole experience. The story is at once legend, parable, fable and fairy tale, but not fantastical. Albom’s writing is lyrical and emotional, rolling out an epic story of humanity.
  • THE LAKE HOUSE by Kate Morton
    What makes this novel succeed is the excellent family dynamics. The story revolves around the night of a party at the Edevanes’ lake house when their 11-month-old son went missing. The mystery is slowly laid out, with secrets revealed by the other Edevane children and friends and relatives, and then gathers speed. Midway through, I thought I had it figured out. I didn't. A host more solutions were offered up as to what happened to the child. It seemed inarguable that the baby went missing. But the number of people who had a reason to involve themselves in his disappearance was surprising. While it starts slow, it gathers momentum, and the wait for the denouement is worth it.
    This book tore me apart. It had me in tears --- from the humor, the tragedy, the poignancy...emotions all over the board. I'm a mystery fan, but this is not a mystery in any way, except in the way that all books are: You don't know the ending. I was pretty sure I knew what happened to set the protagonist off. No, I didn't. Then I was sure again that I did. Well, I finally gave up and just read on, and laughed and cried. Quick synopsis: Georgia Ford is getting married in the wine country of Sonoma County in five days when the book starts. What happens in those five days is amazing. They say that conflict is what drives a good story. Well, then, this book is fabulous, rife with conflict. Family strife, lovers' quarrels, secrets that threaten to undermine all sorts of love between good people. I won't give away anything. Just read it. It's worth the little bit of time it will take. It's a speed read!
  • RADIANT ANGEL: A John Corey Novel by Nelson DeMille
    Another John Corey success story. I love this guy. And by "this guy," I mean Nelson DeMille. And Corey. The only nit I have with this book is that it's too short. This time, John is back from a high-octane job in Yemen, and he and his wife seem to be on rocky ground. John has been relegated to working for the Diplomatic Surveillance Group, which means he keeps an eye on the dips and reports any behavior that's outside the bounds of acceptance in the US. That's what happens here when Vasily Petrov goes for a drive in upstate New York and wanders beyond the limits allowed, but he appears to be just attending a party. However, when he leaves the party by boat, that's when things get interesting. Fortunately, John has a good head for figuring out problems. The answer he comes up with, and the fact that the date is September 11th, scares the daylights out of him.
  • THE ENGLISH SPY by Daniel Silva
    Ah, Gabriel Allon, one of my favorite heroes. He's about to retire from the spy/assassin role he's played for a long time and become chief of the Israeli "Office," as well as a father. But he has at least one more operation to attend to, for a British princess has been killed and some old enemies have some answering to do. Gabriel pairs up again with Christopher Keller, the English assassin, who is more than willing to settle an old score. More than willing...



Alexis Burling





Tom Callahan

    It is now official. Lawrence Block is one of the greatest American writers who ever lived, the master of mysteries and noir. This original novel from the invaluable Hard Case Crime is the hard-boiled noir that James M. Cain could never write. And Block makes it read effortlessly and fun. As a matter of fact, you will want to read it twice.
  • SAVAGE LANE by Jason Starr
    Jason Starr single-handedly helped save noir when he came on the scene. In this dark domestic thriller, Starr shows that he is a great writer who is only getting better. This is the American Dream of material success that leads to the American nightmare of violence and madness. Starr had a busy, important year, also writing the prose novel of ANT-MAN that coincided with the movie released last summer.
  • THE CARTEL by Don Winslow
    In this book and his previous, THE POWER OF THE DOG, Don Winslow has told the truth in devastating literary form about the failed and bloody American War of Drugs. This is literature as journalism as history. A terrific read, but more importantly, every American should read it. Winslow is one of our greatest writers.
  • WOMEN CRIME WRITERS: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s and 50s: A Library of America Boxed Set, edited by Sarah Weinman
    I love and write noir, but I know it was never an exclusively male genre. Incredible writers like Vera Caspary, Dorothy B. Hughes and Charlotte Armstrong never got the credit they deserved. The Library of America, as usual, does it right, and this is a gift that all mystery lovers should receive under their tree.
  • THE DEVIL’S CHESSBOARD: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government, by David Talbot
    This might be the scariest book of the year because it’s real. Allen Dulles was the longest serving CIA director. In the 1950s, he set up a virtual shadow government that overthrew and killed foreign leaders, collaborated with ex-Nazis and perhaps had a role in the murder of an American president. This was the moment the American Republic started to die and be replaced by the American Empire. And it resonates down to our problems in the world today.
  • CANARY by Duane Swierczynski
    Nobody plots and writes modern noir like Duane Swierczynski, one of my favorite writers. People get trapped by their choices in life. Any year when he delivers a new book is a good year. And this is one of his best.
  • HASH#TAG: A Crime Story by Eryk Pruitt
    This was my major discovery of 2015. Eryk Pruitt may not be well known. Yet. But if you liked Elmore Leonard and Jim Thompson, you will like this noir crime story about the South. We will be hearing more from Pruitt, a writer of scripts, novels and short stories.



Megan Elliott



Harvey Freedenberg



Maya Gittelman

  • BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    Toni Morrison's cover review says it best: timeless and all too timely, this is required reading.
  • WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    Beyoncé was inspired by this textualized TED Talk, and so was I!
  • UNDER THE UDALA TREES by Chinelo Okparanta
    Reading this felt like truly breathing for the first time. Queer nonwhite --- especially non-American --- fiction is so hard to come by, especially that written by actual queer nonwhite authors, who understand and neither cheapen nor capitalize on the complexities of that identity. UNDER THE UDALA TREES is absolutely necessary. I want more.
  • YEAR OF YES: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
    I will carry Shonda Rhimes’ candid and beautiful lessons of YES into 2016 and beyond --- and I will watch her shows in 2016 feeling just a little bit closer to one of the most important figures of television.
  • NEGROLAND: A Memoir, by Margo Jefferson
    At once memoir and contemporary history, this little book has some big points to make, and Margo Jefferson writes expertly, candidly and engagingly.



Maggie Harding

  • IT'S GOOD TO BE QUEEN: Becoming as Bold, Gracious, and Wise as the Queen of Sheba by Liz Curtis Higgs
    An amazing little book about the Queen of Sheba and her visit to King Solomon. Way different from the Hollywood version!
  • BOTTLED: A Mom's Guide to Early Recovery, by Dana Bowman
    "Humorist Dana Bowman chronicles her struggle with alcoholism --- and subsequent recovery --- through the prism of early motherhood, offering empathy, comic relief, and encouragement for moms everywhere." You will laugh out loud as Bowman takes you along on her journey to sobriety.
  • THE PROMISE: An Elvis Cole and Joe Pike Novel by Robert Crais
    Robert Crais never lets his fans down; I just wish he would write faster. Characters from SUSPECT, including Maggie the wonder K-9, return in an exciting new story that incorporates Elvis Cole and Joe Pike.
  • RADIANT ANGEL: A John Corey Novel by Nelson DeMille
    Nelson DeMille continues to come up with gripping stories as his characters grow more interesting.
  • NYPD RED 3 by James Patterson and Marshall Karp
    Never a dull moment with the elite team of police officers tasked with protecting the rich and famous.



Joe Hartlaub

  • HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN by James Lee Burke
    James Lee Burke, with a stunning use of language and imagination, incorporates the historical west near the turn of the 20th century with elements of mystery, romance and suspense (with a touch of the supernatural thrown in for good measure) to create the best book of this, and possibly any, year. It may well spoil you for reading anything else.
  • THE HOT COUNTRIES: A Poke Rafferty Thriller by Timothy Hallinan
    Timothy Hallinan meets and surpasses the expectations created by his prior work in this latest installment of the Poke Rafferty series, where a past act comes back to haunt the American expatriate and his Thai family in ways he couldn’t anticipate.
  • SERPENTS IN THE COLD by Thomas O’Malley and Douglas Graham Purdy
    A seamless collaboration produces a darkly ironic historical crime novel set in post-World War II, full of losers and damaged characters who are heroes in spite of themselves.
    This contemporary mystery, which has ties to a murder a quarter-century in the past (and is based on real-world events), was published near the beginning of the year but has been bouncing around in my head ever since. Beautifully crafted and written, like all of Berney’s work, squared.
  • AMERICAN BLOOD by Ben Sanders
    A New Zealand author gets New Mexico just right in this dark story of a former undercover cop in witness protection who slips his tether to investigate a woman’s disappearance, even as a hit man draws ever closer to him. I want to read a sequel yesterday.
  • THE MURDERER’S DAUGHTER by Jonathan Kellerman
    At a point in his career when he could be phoning his books in and doing just fine, Jonathan Kellerman gives us an outstanding stand-alone work set in the Delaware/Sturgis world about a dedicated psychologist whose haunted past suddenly intrudes upon her present.
  • SAVAGE LANE by Jason Starr
    It’s so nice to have Jason Starr back as he switches locales from New York to the suburbs, where he finds grist for another unforgettable and unpredictable noir story involving people you know, and may even be. Great storytelling and characterization from an author who never disappoints.
  • THE GOLEM OF PARIS by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman
    The Kellerman father and son collaboration gives us a second volume in the world-trotting Golem series that is even better than the first installment. Equal parts thriller, supernatural and mystery, it’s a book that will make you re-read the first in the series and hope for a third.
  • NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT by Hallie Ephron
    I thought I wouldn’t like this historical mystery set in Hollywood, but instead not only loved every word but also wished it had been twice as long. A dramatic departure for Hallie Ephron in substance and style gives her the best of her list to date.
  • SIGNAL: A Sam Dryden Novel by Patrick Lee
    Patrick Lee gives his readers the most intriguing and confounding opening chapters of any book this year in this story about a kidnapping and the hunt for a mysterious machine with world-changing capabilities. Especially recommended for fans of Philip K. Dick.



Christine M. Irvin

I’ve read a lot of good books this year, several of which were autobiographies, some historical fiction and others psychological and/or crime thrillers. Here are my three favorite books from 2015:

  • BUT ENOUGH ABOUT ME: A Memoir by Burt Reynolds and Jon Winokur
    Burt Reynolds tells his life story by introducing us to those who have touched his life throughout the years. It was an interesting way to write an autobiography.
  • IT’S A LONG STORY: My Life by Willie Nelson with David Ritz
    Willie Nelson uses a more standard format for his autobiography, going chronologically from before his birth (with a short history of his family) to the present. He tells a lot of great stories about who he is and how he got to be where he is today. He also includes lyrics from many of the songs he wrote.
  • A MEMORY OF VIOLETS: A Novel of London’s Flower Sellers by Hazel Gaynor
    This historical fiction work brings to life the terrible conditions that young girls had to endure in London. I was familiar with the existence of the flower girls in Victorian London, and I had read some other stories about them, but this is the best book I have read that really illustrates the miserable existence of these street urchins.



Jamie Layton

  • 100 DAYS OF HAPPINESS by Fausto Brizzi
    Without a doubt, my favorite book of the summer. It captivated me immediately, and I couldn't put it down. What would YOU do with 100 days to live?
    When you lose everyone important to you, is anything left of importance? Poignant and moving.
  • HEMINGWAY IN LOVE: His Own Story by A. E. Hotchner
    I think I finally understand more about what made Hemingway who he was than ever before. A sweet, sad, pretty little book.
  • DEAD WAKE: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
    I always devour anything by Erik Larson, and this one is no exception. The reader is left with the biggest question: Did the Lusitania tragedy have to happen?
  • DINNER WITH BUDDHA by Roland Merullo
    Yay! Otto and Volya ride again! The latest book in one of my favorite series from one of my favorite authors.
    A worthy conclusion to The Prayer Box trilogy. Lisa Wingate is a masterful storyteller --- and, of course, I love her Manteo, NC setting!
  • THE ROCKS by Peter Nichols
    The island of Mallorca makes for an intriguing backdrop, and the backwards movement of the novel makes for an even more interesting read.
  • BETTER THAN BEFORE: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin
    Ok, I just want to be Gretchen Rubin. And I love the way she always teaches me something about myself.
    Fascinating plot weaving and a definite fiction fix for foodies. There’s nothing I like better than cooking vicariously through other people!
  • ABOVE US ONLY SKY by Michele Young-Stone
    The story of a magical, mystical, dysfunctional, estranged family that you really want to be a part of.



Michael Magras

- Click here to read Michael’s blog post about his favorite books of 2015.



Matthew Mastricova



Bronwyn Miller



L. Dean Murphy

  • NIGHT TREMORS by Matt Coyle
    Following YESTERDAY’S ECHO, nightmares from killing a man two years ago still haunt Rick Cahill’s sleep, and the memory of his murdered wife plagues him during waking hours. When an old nemesis asks for his help to free someone from prison, a man he thinks is wrongly convicted of murder, Rick grabs at the chance to turn his life around. With the police on one side and a vicious biker gang on the other, all trying to stop him from freeing this individual, Rick risks his life to uncover the truth that only the real killer knows --- what happened one bloody night eight years earlier.

- Click here to read’s exclusive interview with Matt Coyle.

  • AGAINST ALL ENEMIES by John Gilstrap
    Jonathan Grave finds it hard to believe that a fellow combat vet has gone rogue, killing American agents and leaking sensitive intel to hostile foreign interests. With black ops assassins on the trail of his old friend, Grave sets out to get to him first. He finds far more than he bargained for --- not only the wily operative, but evidence of a conspiracy so dangerous and far-reaching that an unthinkable tragedy is in motion. Grave’s elite team of specialists must expose a deadly high-level secret --- and do it in time to avert a catastrophe of historic proportions.

- Click here to read’s exclusive interview with John Gilstrap.

  • CHASING JUSTICE by H. Terrell Griffin
    Matt Royal agrees to defend his friend and wife of Longboat Key’s police chief, Abby Lester, who has been charged with the murder of shady Nate Bannister. Matt cannot refuse Abby’s pleas for help, despite having retired from law practice. Police, politicians, academics, real estate moguls and other powerful forces simmer in a cauldron of issues that Matt must stir to skim the truth. Can he rekindle his legal skills and outwit the prosecution pitted against him? Matt knows he must, as the life of his friend hangs in the balance.
  • THE SECOND SISTER by Marie Bostwick
    Any Marie Bostwick book is like reading a 300-page Hallmark card. You’ll be inspired, laugh and perhaps shed a tear --- and tuck it away to read again or share with a friend. In THE SECOND SISTER, protagonist Lucy Toomey manages the 2016 presidential campaign to success. She can do anything…except mend the relationship with her estranged sister. But can Lucy go home again and start over?

- Click here to read’s exclusive interview with Marie Bostwick.

  • GO SET A WATCHMAN by Harper Lee
    Originally written in the mid-1950s, GO SET A WATCHMAN was the novel Harper Lee first submitted to her publishers before TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Assumed to have been lost, the manuscript was discovered in late 2014. GO SET A WATCHMAN features many of the characters from TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD some 20 years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch (Scout) struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society and the small Alabama town that shaped her.
  • GUMSHOE by Rob Leininger
    For nine days, a mayor and district attorney have gone missing. Enter Mortimer Angel, Reno’s newest gumshoe, a private-eye-in-training at his nephew’s detective agency. Just hours into his new career, Mort finds the mayor --- make that, the mayor’s head --- in the trunk of Mort’s ex-wife’s Mercedes. As events spin out of control, Mort realizes that things have been out of control since the night before he started his new career, when he found an unknown naked blonde in his bed....
  • THE RIGHT WRONG THING by Ellen Kirschman
    After joining the police force, Officer Randy Spelling mistakenly shoots and kills a pregnant teenager. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, she’s desperate to apologize to the girl’s family, a catastrophic attempt. Police psychologist Dr. Dot Meyerhoff plunges herself into the investigation, despite orders from the police chief to back off. Her refusal to obey jeopardizes not only her career but her life as well, as she enlists unlikely allies and unconventional undercover work to expose the tangled net of Officer Spelling’s disastrous course.



Ray Palen



Melanie Reynolds



Roz Shea



Stuart Shiffman

2015 was another great year of reading. In addition to my reviews for and Illinois Times, a weekly paper in central Illinois, I serve on two book award committees --- which means a lot of reading time. Below are some wonderful books that I enjoyed this past year and would like to share with you. I have included links where available.

  • YOUNG ORSON: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane by Patrick McGilligan is an outstanding biography of the formative years of Orson Welles. Marking the 100th anniversary of Welles’ birth and the 75th anniversary of the release of Citizen Kane, McGilligan captures the life of an entertainment icon as well as those who influenced and worked with him during a period when Welles was truly an American genius.
  • DEAD WAKE: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson is another historical recreation that reads like a novel. Even knowing the tragic fate of the steamship bound for England, Larson writes so vividly and with great attention to detail, making DEAD WAKEread like a fictional thriller. He weaves together multiple stories of passengers, crew and political figures whose lives were permanently altered by German torpedoes.
  • OUR SOULS AT NIGHT is Kent Haruf’s final novel. Before his death in late 2014, Haruf wrote several novels set in small-town Colorado focusing on the lives of ordinary people experiencing life and its travails. OUR SOULS AT NIGHT is the story of people growing old, confronting loneliness, love and life. Haruf’s passing makes the story more poignant; his insights as a novelist will be missed.
  • THE VERDICT by Nick Stone and THE CROSSING: A Bosch Novel by Michael Connelly are two outstanding legal-themed mysteries that appeared late in 2015. THE VERDICT is set in London and involves the murder trial of a prominent London financial giant. It moves quickly from arrest to investigation to trial. The differences between the American and British legal systems are interesting for readers on this side of the Atlantic. THE CROSSING reunites two of Connelly’s favorite characters: detective Harry Bosch and attorney Mickey Haller. Bosch has been retired from the LAPD, and Haller needs an investigator for a case he is preparing for trial. Be careful when you start this book. It is a page-turner that may keep you up into the early morning hours.
  • Finally, a book I did not review for Bookreporter but wanted to mention for fellow baseball fans. BEFORE THE IVY: The Cubs' Golden Age in Pre-Wrigley Chicago,by Laurent Pernot --- the story of Chicago Cubs baseball before the Cubs moved into Wrigley Field --- is a baseball fan’s delight, describing a long-bygone era of the game when the Cubs were a baseball powerhouse. It is not just for Cubs fans, though. I know because the White Sox are my team, but I enjoyed this book very much.



Carly Silver



Amie Taylor



Miriam Tuliao

  • HAPPINESS: A Philosopher's Guide, by Frederic Lenoir
  • PATIENCE AND FORTITUDE: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library, by Scott Sherman
  • VISIONS AND REVISIONS: Coming of Age in the Age of AIDS, by Dale Peck
  • THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD: A Memoir by Elizabeth Alexander
  • ENCOUNTER: My Life in Publishing, by George Braziller



Carole Turner



Kathy Weissman

  • A GOD IN RUINS by Kate Atkinson
    I've always adored Kate Atkinson, and her latest is also her masterpiece, a novel of war and family that left me shattered.
  • THE HEART GOES LAST by Margaret Atwood
    Beginning with SURFACING, Margaret Atwood’s novels have been nourishing me for decades; this dystopian tour de force --- as inventive as always, but more distilled than her recent work in this genre --- is particularly fine.
  • H IS FOR HAWK by Helen Macdonald
    A much-lauded memoir that is as beautiful and pitiless as nature itself.
    Not a cliché in sight in this masterful novel of divorce by an astonishing young writer.
  • EVERLAND by Rebecca Hunt
    If you like novels of Arctic and Antarctic exploration (I do, for some reason, though I hate the cold), grab this splendidly suspenseful book (wear mittens).
  • CROOKED HEART by Lissa Evans
    A smart and enormously touching black comedy about a con woman and a lost boy, set on the home front in World War II England.
  • THE ODD WOMAN AND THE CITY by Vivian Gornick
    Impossible to capture the acerbic force of these essays by one of our best nonfiction writers. Just read it.
  • UPROOTED by Naomi Novik
    The author of an excellent historical-cum-fantasy series about dragons has branched out. This adult fairy tale is based on her own Eastern European heritage. It’s dark and gorgeous (see my review on Bookreporter).