Leah’s top reads of 2015 (part two!)

Wow oh wow, 2015 went by fast. It seems like I was just compiling part one of my top reads of the year list! Since then I’ve read some pretty amazing books…as well as some not so amazing ones. Let’s ignore the duds and take a look back on my favorites of July – December!
The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon
With three novels under my belt, I’m more than comfortable waxing poetic about McMahon and hailing her as a favorite author. She has such an immense talent for making the tiniest of details come alive and seem truly horrific – I’ve learned my lesson by now and only read her books in the middle of the afternoon (but even then I jump at every sound!) The Night Sister relies on folklore and curses and monsters and just was so good.

The Secrets of Lake Road by Karen Katchur
It’s a shame this novel seems to have remained under the radar. I only heard about this novel because one of my favorite publicists asked me if I would be interested in a local author..or, rather, a Pennsylvania author (we’re on opposite sides of the state.) Of course I said yes and ended up with way more than I bargained for. A tiny community mourns the loss of a teenager and sixteen years later another child goes missing…and the bones discovered could bring some very unwanted answers. Practically every character was unlikable, but oh so well done that they came alive and I got them. With a magnificent first paragraph that immediately roped me in and a twist that had me gasping, The Secrets of Lake Road is definitely worth a read!

The Sea Keeper’s Daughters by Lisa Wingate
This one is actually the third in a series (I tend to do this a lot) but each book works as a standalone. An inherited Gilded Age hotel reveals long-forgotten family heirlooms and journals that send Whitney on a wild ride into the past: through the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Federal Writers Project, the Great Depression, encounters with the Ku Klux Klan, and even Roanoke! Aspects of this novel are the focus of the previous two books and I’m very excited to read them!

Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain
Diane Chamberlain has apparently made it her life’s mission to completely crush my heart and she’s clearly succeeded. I’m a total sucker for a father/daughter story and by the time I was finished with this one I was uncontrollably sobbing, puffy-eyed, runny-nosed, the whole works. Chamberlain has an phenomenal ability of taking multiple decades and storylines and characters and weaving them together with an end result that’s so perfect and so beautiful that I was honestly at a loss for words. She’s one of my favorites for a reason!

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams
Another book in a series that stands on its own – each novel here deals with a sister and Pepper Schuyler who’s the focus in this one. An affair with a Washington bigwig results in an unplanned pregnancy. A vintage car beautifully and painstaking restored. A Nazi husband and a Jewish lover. Although I was certainly intrigued by Pepper’s story in the ’60s, it was Annabelle’s life in WWII that really shined. Since finishing this one I’ve been kicking myself for waiting so long to (finally) read her work – especially since a good friend had been singing Williams’s praises for months!

Avelynn by Marissa Campbell
Outlander-meets-Vikings. Yep. Sold. As much as I love Historical Fiction, I know very little about Historical Romance, but this was one of those novels that fells into my hands at the right time and place and I’m positive that heightened my enjoyment. Campbell did some seriously in-depth research here, from the tension between the Saxons and Vikings to religion and I was extremely impressed! There’s also a great deal of character growth – something I (ignorantly?) hadn’t expected from a romance novel!

The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows
I never reviewed this one, but man oh man I was hooked. What was originally a random library pick became an obsession and the moments I wasn’t reading I was counting down the seconds until I could go back to reading! An overthrown kingdom, an underground resistance, a masked vigilante, and a wicked cliffhanger ending definitely made this one a standout read!

The Assassination of the Archduke by Greg King
2015 was the year I got back into non-fiction and I’m SO glad I did. I’m a huge fan of nonfic, history in particular, but the First World War (and events leading up to it) is something I’m ashamed to admit I know very little about. Enter The Assassination of the Archduke. It’s actually less of a political book and more of a look into the marriage of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. They threw caution (and tradition) to the wind by marrying for love (she was considered far below his rank) and they paid greatly. Numerous times I was shocked and appalled and outraged by the torment this couple – and, later, their children – went through. They had to relinquish titles and inheritances, were exiled from their own country, were completely ostracized by the Hapsburg family, and in WWII the boys were sent off to concentration camps. A heartbreaking, but beautifully researched read.

Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough
I’ve got a thing for Teddy, I’m not ashamed to admit it. Throw in David McCullough and audio narration by Edward Herrmann and you’ve got one hell of a trifecta! This one looks into a life before the Washington and the White House, back to when Teddy was a little boy and carried on through early adulthood. The love he had for his family and especially his children had me grinning ear-to-ear and I simply couldn’t get enough. (Also, his sister Bamie? My goodness, what a fascinating and remarkable woman!)

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Technically the softcover came out in 2015, but it was originally published in 2014, so there. Another novel I put of and put off and, when I ended up reading it, of course I fell madly in love. The opening lines (“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”) is just the beginning of an emotional roller coaster. What made this novel a top read however, was that it wasn’t about Lydia’s death. Yes, you find out what happened and how it happened, but that’s not the focus. Instead, this book looks at sibling dynamics, especially when one child is clearly the favorite. For such a small book, it certainly packs a huge gut-punch of an ending and I’m eagerly awaiting Ng’s next novel!

Harry Potter reread!
I really don’t need to introduce these books, do I? After years of not touching these books (my last reread was when Deathly Hallows came out!) I caved and decided to reread the series in a feature I’ve called Operation Return to Hogwarts. Year One, Year Two, Year Three. I’m currently working my way through Goblet of Fire, so expect a Year Four recap soon!

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
I remember the very first time I read this book and, while I won’t say how many years it’s been since then, I will say it’s been a while. There’s been talk of a movie in the works and that piqued my interest in revisiting a childhood favorite – always something I’m hesitant to do. This novel, however, more than holds up and I was surprised by just how funny it was!


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