Best books of 2015 – The San Diego Union-Tribune
As we do each year at this time, we turned to the experts at San Diego-area independent bookstores to provide a “best of” list. Here are their favorite books of 2015:
“The Truth and Other Lies” by Sascha Arango (Atria Books; $24.99)
I love all types of mystery and crime novels, and this book will keep you riveted to your seat. This is the first novel for the German author Sascha Arengo, and he has written an ingenious story with dark humor and plenty of intrigue. The writing is excellent; it moves along so easily and yet the author is able to build tension within the story. The main character, Henry Hayden, is a very successful best-selling author and seems to have an ordinary life in every way. He appears to be a modest man and a loving and devoted husband; except he has a mistress and she is part of his dark secrets. Only Henry and his wife know she is the actual writer of his runaway best-sellers, which have made him very rich and able to keep his mistress in style. However the mistress reveals that she is pregnant. What to do? The question launches the plot of the story into intricate twists and turns. You will keep turning the pages faster with all the author’s wry humor brought in. I think this is the best crime novel I have read this year, and I hope Arango is at work on another thriller.
“A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding” by Jackie Copleton (Penguin; $16, paperback)
Not far into this novel the reader knows the destination Copleton is aiming for, but the journey to that destination makes this debut piece of work a treasure. Each chapter begins with a Japanese word and its definition; that word then becomes important in the story. Japanese culture, family life and love are all a part of the theme Copleton explores. We journey with the Takahashi family through the bombing of Nagasaki and their eventual move to the United States. Amaterasu and her husband are hoping to start a new life, but their old life is such a daily presence that when the door bell rings the old life, the hurts, the lies, the love, all walk through the door. Who is this scarred man? Does he hold a Pandora’s box of old letters?
“Stone Cold Dead” by James Ziskin (Seventh Street Books; $15.95, paperback)
Ziskin’s Ellie Stone investigative reporter series just keeps getting better and better with each book. The third title, “Stone Cold Dead,” once again showcases Ziskin’s mastery of language. Ellie is my kind of gal — she’s witty and relentless and doesn’t apologize for throwing back a whiskey after a rough day. But underneath that tough exterior is a young lady who’s haunted by her past and still aches for her late father’s acceptance. This shared vulnerability and sense of loss is what connects Ellie to Darleen Hicks, a local 15-year-old girl who turns up missing. Ellie’s investigation takes her on an emotional roller-coaster ride of her own as she peels back the layers of a teenage girl’s tragic journey. This smart, eloquent thriller, with its nostalgic 1960s upstate New York setting, will make every reader an Ellie Stone fan if they’re not already.
“Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo (Henry Holt & Co.; $18.99)
The first volume in Leigh’s Dregs duology, set in the Grishaverse, is a heart-wrenching combination of caper novel and character studies. Think “Leverage” meets “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but in an alternate magical Russia. “Six of Crows” has one of the best opening sentences ever, kicking off a grand magical heist adventure with characters readers will be thrilled to cheer for. This book is so much fun.
UC San Diego Bookstore
“These Shallow Graves” by Jennifer Donnelly (Delacorte Press; $19.99)
Josephine (Jo) Montfort is the epitome of a high-society 19th-century New York young lady: beautiful, poised and demure. Yet from her sheltered and privileged world she dreams of becoming the next Nellie Bly. But when her beloved father dies under suspicious circumstances, she starts down a path that may just reveal how costly the truth can be. You’ll cheer Jo on as she uses her wit and tenacity to plunge into a world that Upton Sinclair himself would tell her not to. And like Jo you won’t be able stop until she discovers what secrets have been buried in the past. Excellent for ages 12 and older.
“Dear Committee Members” by Julie Schumacher (Knopf Doubleday; $22.95)
A hilarious novel skewering the state of higher education today. No really, it is very funny. This novel is a written as a collection of letters that our “hero,” a literature professor at a small liberal arts college, sends to professional and personal contacts. Some letters are recommendations for students he can’t really remember. Some letters are to the dean about the lack of resources his department faces while the economics department is getting sparkling new digs. This is a laugh-out-loud book, smart, sarcastic and real.
Course materials buyer & bookseller
“Fishbowl” by Bradley Somer (St. Martin’s Press; $24.99)
If you think about it, we are all connected by six degrees of separation. That is the basis for this book by Bradley Somer. The spiritual link in our story is a goldfish named Ian who is plummeting to his death off the balcony of a high-rise apartment while he reflects on the relationships of all the residents living in the building. All of the characters are interwoven into a narration of hilarity and emotional storytelling. Just like people living in their own fishbowl, it’s time for everyone to come out from the safety of their comfort zone and explore. A masterfully unique debut novel.
Gerard Villagas & Julie Slavinsky
Bookseller/director of events
“A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman (Atria; $25.99)
In this debut novel from a gifted Swedish author, Ove is a curmudgeon who reflects all our universal frustrations about what is wrong with our modern world. You will laugh, you will cry, as his heartbreaking story unfolds through the diverse cast of characters that enter his life, all uninvited. A scruffy, determined cat, an annoying young family that moves in next door, the resident’s association, and other misfits all serve to upend his orderly existence. Ove must respond to help set things right, profoundly affecting others and ultimately defining the truth of belonging. You will never look at the grumpy people who come into your life in quite the same way. A very memorable read.