Thursday, June 18, 2015

Our Favorite Books of 2015 So Far

We've reached the mid-point of the year—yowsa!—and we've had some good, solid months of reading behind us. Your Fresh Press editor polled the team for the books published in 2015 that they'd most enjoyed reading. We're happy to present our opinions on some of the books we've read and enjoyed.


The Wright Brothers by David McCollough
ISBN 9781476728742
List Price: $30.00

A remarkable storyteller makes history come alive once again.

The Quartet by Joseph Ellis
ISBN 9780385353403
List Price: $27.95

The story of four great men post-American Revolution and how and why we became a nation.

Time’s Up by Janey Mack
ISBN 9781617736902
List Price: $15.00

My wife knows I have the attention span of a gnat when it comes to less-than-compelling/engaging fiction, so she's selective with what she passes my way. This was better than Janet Evanovich. Good fun.


A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
ISBN 9780385539258
List Price: $30.00

If you want to be ahead of the curve come literary awards season, make sure you’ve read A Little Life. After my fourth book-selling and -loving friend told me how stunning, disturbing, yet ultimately gorgeous this novel is, I finally gave in and picked up a copy at my local indie. I have not been disappointed: I am immersed in the world of four college friends living in New York, and especially anxious about Jude St. Francis, orphan, litigator, and tortured soul. My favorite book of the year (so far).


Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
ISBN 9781476755670
List Price: $26.00

The first book I read in 2015 was this one, and it was such a perfect way to begin a new year. In it, Etta, an 80-something woman from Saskatchewan, sets out on foot to see the ocean for the first time. The story of her quest is interspersed with her memories and letters, as well as those of her husband Otto and their old friend Russell. James is a character I'd be a spoilsport not to allow you to discover yourself. The book is funny and heartrending and hopeful and wise. I've told every kindred spirit I know about this one – and I even accosted a perfect stranger in a book shop last week, because she looked like she'd be a kindred spirit, to put this book in her hands.

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley
ISBN 9780525428435
List Price: $17.99

I'm thankful that Baker & Taylor's kids' book buyer put this one in my hands. In the book, a boy grows up hearing tales from his grandfather of a circus that only true believers can see and experience. The boy is convinced that reaching that circus and finding its magic is the key to keeping his grandfather alive. Author Cassie Beasley spoke to the desire of every dreamer for a place where the fusty and unimaginative can't go and can't quash the improbable. I can hardly wait to read this book aloud with my daughters.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
ISBN 9781101875896
List Price: $24.00

I've only allowed myself a very short time to feel embarrassed about never having read Kent Haruf before because I'm just so glad that I discovered him now. He uses unadorned language that packs in such Truth. He challenges convention and small-mindedness in this story of a lonely widow and widower who come together in a way that's shocking because of its honesty and vulnerability. I gave this book to my mom, who also loved it, and we've had many conversations together, weeks after reading it, about the lessons we've learned from these characters and how our own thinking has changed. That's what powerful fiction can do.

Safekeeping by Jessamyn Hope
ISBN 9781941493069
List Price: $15.95

I selected this book as a notable debut novel for the spring, even before I had read it. I just had a feeling. The author actually sought me out at BEA to introduce herself. She gave me a finished copy of the book and we were both too flummoxed and unpracticed (I'm not used to authors seeking me out and she's not used to having novels published) to remember to have her sign it. I read it last week. Friends, this is an excellent story made up with all the things that make novels so special: a good plot, even better characters, and redemption. I eagerly await what Ms. Hope writes next.


The Harder They Come by T.C. Boyle
ISBN 9780062349378
List Price: $27.99

T.C. Boyle is one of my favorite authors, and his books usually provide a chance to build my vocabulary through his use of interesting, obscure words. The novel starts with a frightening scene during an onshore sight-seeing tour during a Caribbean cruise (and it made me thankful that I only had to fight boredom on my one and only cruise vacation). Then it shifts back home in Northern California and addresses Mexican drug cartels farming marijuana in the woods, illegal immigrants in suburban neighborhoods, and the American right-wing ultra-libertarian movement that doesn’t recognize any government authority. Its focus is the son of a Vietnam vet who has embraced not only the anti-government viewpoint, but is hiding out in the woods and becomes involved in petty crimes, and then murder, who is aided by a clueless woman who makes poor choices in her life. Boyle is adept at writing internal dialogue from multiple characters’ viewpoints—20-something men, middle-aged women, and retired middle-class men and women.

Dead Wake by Erik Larson
ISBN 9780307408860
List Price: $28.00

He’s a master of the nonfiction narrative that reads like a novel, and the telling of the cat-and-mouse stalking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat makes for suspenseful reading. It’s a tribute to his writing that even though we know the final outcome of this fateful cruise, we read on, absorbed in the details and background information, and Larson’s character sketches, with high interest.

The Whites by Harry Brandt
ISBN 9780805093995
List Price: $28.00

This novel was not loved by most of my B&T colleagues (it was a B&T Indie Retail book club pick.) Certainly, the numerous events involving police in the news gives a reason to avoid a police-centric novel. Maybe I related better to it because I grew up in Queens and worked a blue collar job in Manhattan for six summers during high school and college, and the gritty descriptions of life and death in New York City resonated with me. I found it a bit difficult at first to keep track of all the characters (the criminals, and also the police working the overnight shift investigating brutal murders to hand off to the day shift.) But as the stories unfold, Price presents very realistic tone and dialogue. The title refers to each cop’s White Whale—an unclosed case and a bad guy who eluded capture, but whom they continued to obsess over after the fact. While reading this, I listened to an NPR Fresh Air interview with Steve Osborne, a retired NYC cop who wrote The Job, a nonfiction counterpart to The Whites. His stories reinforced the unpleasant realities of police work, and the dysfunctional lives of many cops.


101 Secrets to a Happy Marriage by Harry Harrison
ISBN 9780718030483
List Price: $9.99

I picked this book up at a trade show in anticipation of my boyfriend proposing to me at some future point. I figured it would be good to get some tips and reminders about being married again. This is a great, short read for those planning to get engaged, who are engaged and who have been married 1 month or 50+ years.  It has great little tidbits of both godly advice and advice from real couples on how to be the best spouse that God intended you to be.


The Whites by Harry Brandt
ISBN 9780805093995
List Price: $28.00

The Whites is laden with quick and witty dialogue. It's a very detailed and in-depth gritty look into the life of a group of NYPD officers.  If you’re a fan of Richard Price then you know his strong writing style and will appreciate this new release from him.

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