Laura’s 12 Favorite Novels from 2015

I’m a firm believer in balancing a heavy workload with activities that relax and rejuvenate. This past year, I’ve focused on eating healthier and exercising an hour a day – I love to swim laps, rollerblade, and ride my bike (on a flat, paved, automobile-free trail where I’m less likely to fall off and skin my knees).

But my favorite leisure-time activity is reading novels. For the past five years, I’ve read 70-100 novels per year; in 2015, I read 80.

I rate each book from 1-5 stars. Because so many of my clients are authors, I keep my star ratings private and rarely publish reviews on Amazon or Goodreads.

I’ll admit that I’m a tough critic; I rarely give a book more than three stars, and my opinions about the books I read are often polar opposite to many of the reviews I see on Amazon. But I’m okay with that. Because I realize that my perspective is simply my perspective.

So, from my perspective, here are my favorite reads from 2015. My preferred genres are historical fiction and psychological whodunits, and my ratings reflect my love affair with those genres.

Top 2:

I awarded two novels 5 stars:

  1. The Whistling Season by Ivan DoigThe Whistling Season, by Ivan Doig
  2. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

I had never heard of Ivan Doig until this summer, which is strange, considering he lived in Seattle (where I live). But when my sister-in-law recommended him, I decided to give The Whistling Season a try. Am I ever glad I did!

In this wonderful book, the setting of the Montana prairie is as integral to the story as the characters are. Doig passed away during 2015; sadly, there won’t be any new books by him to look forward to. But my goal for 2016 is to read all 16 of his other books.

The Nightingale has received a ton of accolades, and for good reason. This story of two sisters living in France during World War II is riveting, fresh, and surprising.

Runners Up

Big LIttle Lies, by Liane MoriartyThe Housemaid’s Daughter, by Barbara Mutch – a moving story about Apartheid, motherhood, friendship, and forgiveness.

Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty – Four well-done points of view (difficult to achieve in a novel), witty dialog, a strong sub-plot and an intriguing whodunit, all wrapped into one fun-to-read book.

The Last Midwife, by Sandra Dallas – I just finished this one, and was pleasantly surprised. Set in 1880 Colorado, the protagonist in this quiet, understated story hooked me and reeled me in.

Honorable Mention

I rated each of these books 4 stars:

The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Café (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency), by Alexander McCall Smith – I have read every book in this series; I find them laugh-out-loud entertaining. This one, in which Mme Makutsi decides to open her own café, is as delightful as all the others. Can’t wait to get my hands on book #16 in the series, The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine.

Secrets of a Charmed Life, by Susan Meissner – A 15-year-old who wants to become a wedding dress designer gets separated from her sister during World War II. I was pre-disposed to like this book since Susan and I are friends and I love her writing. But still, I subjected it to my “take no prisoners” rating system, and it made the cut. Susan’s new release, Stars Over Sunset Boulevard, is the first novel I will read in 2016. Starting tonight!

The Perilous Sea (The Elemental Trilogy, Book 2), by Sherry Thomas – I’m not a huge fantasy fan, particularly YA fantasy, but somehow this book came to my attention and I really enjoyed it. Lots of action!

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Lauren Hillenbrand – I first read this biographical story of Louis Zamperini, Olympic runner and World War II POW, in 2011. When the movie came out, I decided to re-read it. I liked it just as much the second time around.

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr – The ending to this 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was abrupt (and thus, disappointing). But overall, the story about a blind girl and a Hitler youth living in World War II occupied France was compelling and beautifully written.

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins – Two stories all wrapped up in a murder. In England! What could be more thrilling?

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good, by Jan Karon – Rounding out my top dozen is the latest Mitford book. I can’t believe I forgot to add this book to my ratings list, even though the Mitford series is my all-time favorite (even more favorite than The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series). Partway through this book, I purposefully set it down for a couple of days, so I could savor the characters, whom I’ve grown to know and love.

Next up in the Mitford series: Come Rain or Come Shine – only one person is ahead of me on the library’s “hold” list!

What novels would you recommend?

I’m gearing up for 2016 pleasure reading. Can you recommend a “must-read” novel?

  • Katherine Jones

    I recommend both of the two I read over the holidays (both of them purely for pleasure, not for review): Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund, and The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. Both historical fiction, btw. Happy to see your list, Laura!

  • Katherine, You are my novel-reading inspiration! I saw your recommendations on your blog yesterday and both those books sound awesome. Adding them to my “must read in 2016” list!