It’s hard to believe 2015 is almost over! One of the things we encourage here at DIY MFA is reading with purpose. Every reader may not be a writer but I think it’s safe to say every writer is a reader. We asked five members of the DIY MFA team to tell us what their favorite book was this year, and why. Check them out, and let us know what your favorite was, too!
Of all the books I’ve read in 2015, my favorite has been The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, published in 2014. This story is about two Irish orphans who go to work for a family in an old, Victorian house in the woods. But things are not as they seem there—there is a curse at work among those who live in the house, and the children must escape if they wish to live. I don’t even like scary stories―at all―but this one was captivating. This creepy story is very much a psychological thriller without gore, an Edgar Allen Poe story for youth–dark and deep. The writing is gorgeous, providing fantastic descriptions while also somehow being crisp and clean, and the story is gripping.
Amid all the exciting action, the children also ponder the difference between telling a story and telling a lie. One of my favorite lines is: “A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens ‘em. And a lie does the opposite. It helps you hide.” As an author—a storyteller—the story spinning of the big sister really resonated with me. I’d call this upper middle grade because the main character is 14, and the level of creepiness is such that if I had read this as a 10 year old, I wouldn’t have slept for a month. However, if you’ve got a kid or a teen who loves being scared, this is the book to hand him/her. Or if you like a good, creepy tale with heart and a thoughtful message…get ready to enjoy one.
I’ve always been fond of offbeat characters, and A.J. enthralled me. He’s a walking contradiction, his thoughts often miles away from his actions. He is imperfect in many ways, but somehow, I couldn’t help but cheer him on, page after page. This isn’t a spoiler, so I don’t mind sharing that his wife died, his bookstore is struggling, and his prized possession was stolen from right under his nose. The bright spot was bound to come, but no one could have guessed how it would be packaged.
This novel is about change, growth, and the love of books as much as it is about home and family. It’s the right mix of mystery and romance, and begs to be on every book club’s list. It gives readers a lot to talk about, and even more to think about.
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is much like 2015. They both reminded me to expect the expected. They celebrate diversity, optimism, and community. I painstakingly wrote about the book without really writing about it because it’s far too much of a treat to give away. There’s still time to read it in 2015, but if you must, add it to your list for 2016.
I think this is the fourth David McCullough book I’ve read, and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. His books are such accessible nonfiction, and read like stories. He started out as a portrait painter, and that’s essentially what he does in his books: writes portraits of fascinating people. Most of his books are biographies, but The Greater Journey is a little different. It’s about Americans who lived in Paris in the nineteenth century. Artists, sculptors, doctors and scholars. Some essentially lived abroad their whole lives. Some went to Paris were interested in learning from the old world in order to help build the new. And others brought the old world back with them. It’s a fascinating look at a particular city and a particular time in American history, when the country was still quite young, and some dedicated and talented young men and women who made the journey back to Europe.
David McCullough had a new book release in 2015 — a biography of the Wright brothers. You can guess what I’ll be reading next!
I love original characters in real life scenarios. Give me something unlike anything I’ve read before, which in the romance genre can be hard to find.
A novel I read this year that succeeded was Sweet Filthy Boy by writing duo Christina Lauren. They employ something that’s often left out of fiction, especially romance: awkwardness. It’s a tool I’ve tried out in my own heroine in Racing to You.
In Sweet Filthy Boy, Christina Lauren creates a love story of a young couple plagued in the beginning by awkwardness. The couple travels to Paris and for an entire week the heroine is sick in bed with the flu. There’s even an awkward sex scene. In a genre often defined by too-perfect love scenes, it was refreshing to see Christina Lauren use awkward moments to create empathy for the characters and find exemplary opportunities for character growth and plot development. Here’s hoping I can manage to do that as well.
The most influential book I read this year was Gretchen Rubin’s new release, Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits of Our Everyday Lives. Rubin combines the latest research on habit-forming with her personal research on character, identity and personality type. She believes that in order to fix our habits and thereby improve our lives, we must first know ourselves better; it’s better to work within the parameters of our own characters than to force ourselves into situations that don’t work for us.
To that end, much of the book is dedicated to figuring out how you best operate in certain situations. For example, are you a lark (early bird) or an owl (late-night lover)? Are you an underbuyer or an overbuyer? A marathoner or a sprinter? A finisher or an opener? Figuring out how you react within these contexts helps you set realistic expectations for yourself. (For the record, I’m a lark, underbuyer, marathoner, and finisher.)
I love how this book has practical tips for creating realistic lifelong habits. It also encourages the reader to get some perspective on what she really wants to accomplish, and provides strategies for making it happen without hassle. Rubin combines her research on habits with her expertise on happiness (from The Happiness Project) and gives us all the benefits of self-knowledge and increased productivity in work and home.