Did you get a chance to read our 2015 staff favorites? Turns out there’s more! All this week we’re bringing you the books and music we loved–but had to be cut due to space limitations. To save us time linking (and save you time endlessly clicking) we’ve compiled all of these gems into one giant list for you to pick through. Today we’ll start with fiction and nonfiction for grownups like you & (sometimes) me.
Lucky Alan by Jonathan Lethem
Summary: Major literary fiction figure (Motherless Brooklyn, Fortress of Solitude) Jonathan Lethem returns with a collection of 9 short stories.
Why Alan liked it: Ranging from almost unreadably quirky to painfully awkward and bizarre, Lethem writes with precision and insight about each of these microcosms. Like Raymond Carver, Lethem has an eye for tragedy and an ear to the human in a dehumanizing world.
Green Hell by Ken Bruen
Summary: Another dark novel following Irish anti-hero Jack Taylor. In this one, he befriends a Rhodes scholar who changes his thesis from Beckett to Taylor and begins to help him try and take down a criminal passing as a respected professor.
Why Alan liked it: The dark side of human nature is there; I like to experience it vicariously through art. The winner of many awards, Bruen’s writing is sharp, funny, insightful, and the book is ironic to the tone and subject matter, a heck of a lot of fun to read.
Boo by Neil Smith
Summary: Thirteen year old Oliver Dalrymple, aka “Boo” due to his pasty white complexion and fragile health, dies in front of his school locker under mysterious circumstances, goes to heaven, investigates his own death, and learns the meaning of forgiveness.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Neil Smith’s Heaven is not at all the typical vision of pearly gates and puffy clouds! The residents of “Town” are all 13 and from the U.S., there’s a group called Gommers (Getting Over Murder), and the supplies are second hand. Very original and funny!
The Marauders by Tom Cooper
Summary: In alternating chapters we follow the eventually colliding stories of shrimpers dealing with oil spill tainted waters, an obsessive treasure hunter, community service workers gone awry, and violent brothers growing marijuana in the Louisiana bayou.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I loved this book despite the lack of female protagonists. Funny, sad, suspenseful, and masterful, I really did not want it to end. Each flawed character was an original and had me alternating between cheering them on and wishing for their demise!
Aquarium by David Vann
Summary: Caitlyn visits the Seattle Aquarium every day after school while her mother works long hours. There she meets a friendly older man who seems unusually interested in her life and thoughts. His attention propels Caitlyn’s life into an unexpected direction.
Why Elizabeth liked it: The dreamy, magical aquarium life, protected yet trapped, provide a striking contrast to the sequence of events that unfold and threaten to unravel lives completely. Seattle in the drear of winter adds to the claustrophobic tension.
My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh
Summary: In 1989 a 15 year old girl named Lindy is raped at dusk in a quiet Baton Rouge neighborhood. There are several suspects, including our teen narrator, who idolizes Lindy to the point of obsession. Years pass and the crime remains unsolved.
Why Elizabeth liked it: This is an engrossing and thoughtful book that examines what it means to be young, inexperienced, and in love (or in lust). We are reminded that the mistakes we make while trying to figure out who we are can have lasting consequences.
The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter
Summary: William Avery, a young soldier in the East India Company, is stagnating and in debt when he accepts an assignment to accompany knowledgeable but rebellious Jem Blake in a search to find missing and much maligned author Xavier Mountstuart.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Full of excitement, vivid scenery, lots of fighting, and suspense, this is not my usual fare but I sure enjoyed it. Tigers, thugs, sweltering heat, monsoon rains, and deep dark jungle set the scene. It’s a downright swashbuckling adventure!
Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link
Summary: This collection of short stories all have an element of fantasy, yet are told in such an ordinary way, that the fantastical comes as a total surprise until you get in sync with Link’s wild imagination. Each story is read masterfully by a different actor.
Why Elizabeth liked it: These wonderfully quirky stories have a lasting quality and real depth. My favorite, Secret Identity, is about a teen girl who sneaks off to a NYC hotel to meet her 32-year-old online boyfriend amidst a superhero convention.
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Summary: A companion piece (as Atkinson states in the afterword) to Life After Life (2013), A God in Ruins follows Ursula’s brother Teddy’s story through his various roles as RAF pilot, father, and spouse, and travels through his young adulthood to old age.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I listened to the audiobook and thought Alex Jennings, with his lovely accent, did excellent job capturing Teddy and setting the mood. At 16 hours, this is a lot of listening, but like Life After Life I never tired of Atkinson’s superb storytelling.
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
Summary: Residents of Elizabeth, New Jersey are devastated by a plane crash right in the town, which kills several residents. Little do they know, it is only the beginning. Fifteen year old Miri and her extended family and friends struggle to regain their lives.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Real people, a variety of problems, family love and warmth, tragedy, and a rather unusual series of events made for a really engaging book. The short sections told in alternating voices make this a quick read which you won’t want to end.
God Help the Child by Toni Morrison
Summary: Bride, whose very dark skin made her mother unable to truly love her, reinvents herself into a striking beauty with a prestigious career. Things start to go wrong for her when a woman she helped convict is released from prison.
Why Elizabeth liked it: The story is intense, original, and engrossing but even if it weren’t, Toni Morrison’s wondrous voice could carry it along. No one could have read it better. Without being overly dramatic she can express such feeling, depth, and truth.
The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
Summary: Half-sisters Taisy and Willow have had no contact due to a long ago falling out between the first and second families. When their father becomes ill, they finally meet. Neither understands the other’s past or current struggles.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I loved listening to this book. Two readers do an excellent job portraying the two sisters in alternating chapters. I especially enjoyed Taisy’s voice. Funny, heartfelt, and very entertaining, it made me want to read more by the author.
The Tuner House by Angela Flournoy
Summary: The Turner family lived on Yarrow Street in Detroit long enough for 13 children plus multiple grandchildren to grow up. Now the sad old empty house is worth much less than is owed, and the adult children must decide what to do with it.
Why Elizabeth liked it: Through the varied experienced of the Turner children, I learned about devastated Detroit, gambling addiction, and even southern ”haints”, but what stayed with me was the story of a family pulling together despite decades of hardship.
Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb
Summary: Todd is autistic and now in his 50s. At the Payton Living Center where he’s been living for the past 40 years, he’s a respected citizen and comfortable, but when a sinister new aide starts working at Payton, painful memories start to invade Todd’s life.
Why Elizabeth liked it: I have read several books about autism but never fiction told from the viewpoint of an autistic person. Gottlieb really seems to grasp the complexities of being autistic, and Todd is completely believable. Simply written but hard to put down!
Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos
Summary: Charles teaches English at a prestigious, private, Seattle school. His wife and he have divorced, after difficulties raising their autistic son, Cody.
Why Sarah liked it: Charles’s life is focused on language and prose, and yet he can’t communicate with his son. A dramatic plot twist at the end cements the story, and unites the characters together.
Simple Sabotage: a Modern Field Manual for Detecting and Rooting Out Everyday Behaviors that Undermine Your Workplace by Robert M. Galford, Bob Frisch, and Cary Greene
Summary: Inspired by the Simple Sabotage Field Manual released by the Office of Strategic Services in 1944 to train European resistors, this is the essential handbook to help stamp out unintentional sabotage in any working group.
Why Carol liked it: Don’t let the quirk fool you; there are some serious communication tips in here to help you work better. I’m already applying what I’ve learned!
The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today by The Gang (writers and cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia)
Summary: The Gang from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia attempts its most ill-conceived, get-rich-quick scheme yet: publishing a self-help book to hilarious, sometimes dangerous, and often revolting, results.
Why Carol liked it: Ever since I stumbled upon this raunchy and hilarious TV show I have been obsessed with The Gang. There’s a good variety of formats (open letters, a therapy session, guidebook, etc.) to keep you interested–in case the raunch wasn’t enough on its own!
Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld and the Truth Beyond Blackfish by John Hargrove
Summary: A firsthand account of the lives of captive killer whales by one of SeaWorld’s most experienced orca trainers.
Why Leslie liked it: This is an interesting memoir about a controversial subject.
Dead Wake: the Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
Summary: This book presents a chronicle of the sinking of the Lusitania and discusses the factors that led to the tragedy.
Why Leslie liked it: Larson is one of the few authors who can make history positively come alive.
The Oregon Trail: a New American Journey by Rinker Buck
Summary: Buck tells the story of making a modern-day 2,500 mile trip with a mule driven covered wagon along the path of the Oregon Trail. He relates: the history of the Oregon Trail, Mormons in the West, and of mules. Fascinating!
Why Leslie liked it: This is currently my favorite book! This book is hilarious while being thoughtful and packed full of history.
Editor’s note: Leslie wrote a full blog post about this earlier in the year. Check it out!
My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that Saved My Life by Ruth Reichl
Summary: Good News! Ruth Reichl has a new memoir chock full of recipes. It chronicles her difficult time after Gourmet magazine folded and she found herself again through cooking.
Why Leslie liked it: This is a beautiful cookbook with ideas to change the way you cook and celebrate.
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Summary: Krakauer examined years of mishandling of rape cases at the University of Montana. The university is home to a beloved football team, and when some of its players were accused of rape, the community was split.
Why Sarah liked it: Krakauer does an excellent job looking at the root causes of what went wrong, and sheds light on the victim’s predictaments, as their cases are dismissed.
Stay tuned for more all week long!