I try to read at least one book a month that was recommended/highlighted on last year’s Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers (2015).
Here are a few I’ve particularly enjoyed so far, including some of the comments from contributing readers.
The Door, by Magda Szabo (F). Larry Makinson wrote: “Story of a cantankerous but unforgettable character in postwar Hungary.” Larry was in DC when he was reading this one and kept raving about it. So it was the first book I read in 2016, and I’m delighted I did.
Largely it’s a character study, two characters actually, and you will long remember one of the two. The Door was a NYTimes ten best in 2015: “In Szabo’s haunting novel, a writer’s intense relationship with her servant — an older woman who veers from aloof indifference to inexplicable generosity to fervent, implacable rage — teaches her more about people and the world than her long days spent alone, in front of her typewriter. Szabo, who died in 2007, first published her novel in 1987, in the last years of Communist rule; this supple translation shows how a story about two women in 20th-century Hungary can resonate in a very different time and place. With a mix of dark humor and an almost uncanny sense of the absurd, she traces the treacherous course of a country’s history, and the tragic course of a life.”
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson (NF). Sal Giambanco wrote, “This may be the the most important book of 2015. With racial injustice and inequality in the headlines, Bryan Stevenson tells the story of Walter McMillan, and he makes the clarion call for compassion in the pursuit of justice in this country”.
And Emily Nichols Grossi was equally enthralled: I haven’t been this moved by a non-fiction, book length work in some time. Written by Bryan Stevenson, co-founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, it is both memoir and fact-based call to action on behalf of the grim, unequal system of “justice” meted out in America. Stevenson grew up poor in Delaware. His great-grandparents were slaves. His grandfather was murdered on the streets of Philadelphia. And yet he forged on, graduating from Eastern University and then Harvard Law School before moving south to represent impoverished clients facing death row. We are taken through Stevenson’s incredible life story through the lens of several of those he represented and tried to free from what were often completely fabricated claims. The systemic racism that pervades the American justice system is undeniable; if you doubted before and are willing to read with an open mind and heart, you will doubt no more once finishing this critically important work. Stevenson is a lovely writer and a hell of a person.”
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League, by Jeff Hobbs (NF) (Recommended by Anita Rechler,Cindy Olmstead, High Riddleberger and Matt Rechler). For those of you who have read this Hobbs’ book, Just Mercy is a fascinating and uplifting companion book. In this case, though the early years of both individuals were difficult, what Stevenson was able to do with his gifts is a story that deserves attention. Stevenson is a true, modern day hero, and what he has done and continues to do is vitally important and deserves to be better known.
The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough (NF). Contributor Lance Brisson wrote, “If you think you know all you need to know about the Wright brothers, think again. Relying primarily on letters, diaries, news articles and other written materials from hundreds of sources in the U.S. and Europe, David McCullough has crafted a fascinating biography of the Wright brothers. He tells the story about how they, first and foremost, and other aviation pioneers literally changed the world. Early on the book reminds the modern reader, who likely takes airplane and space travel for granted, that just a little over a century ago birds were the only creatures that could truly fly in the sense that they could control their speed, altitude and direction. The idea of humans engaging in mechanical flight was derided by many as an impossible dream pursued by cranks. The Wright brothers, designers and makers of bicycles in Dayton, Ohio, had the passion to pursue this dream in the face of countless obstacles, including great personal danger. The details of what they did, how they did it and the people their lives intersected help make this book so interesting. McCullough has a knack for bringing to life historical figures that the reader thinks he or she already knows well. He has done this once again with The Wright Brothers.”
I have added Wilbur and Orville Wright to my list of heroes, not just for what they accomplished but also for who they were and how they conducted their lives. We can learn much from their story. A good and valuable read.
The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah (F). This book was second to All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (F) on readers’ most favorite fiction of 2015. Initially, I thought maybe Hannah’s book was ‘chick lit’ as all those who listed it were female readers. But those readers were all friends whose judgment I trust, and when I saw that Hannah was going to be in DC for a book talk, I read it.
Kate Latts summed it up pretty well, writing, “I am not usually a Kristin Hannah fan, but this was a solid WWII story focused on women fighting in the resistance in France. The two central characters are sisters trying to cope as best as they can during the hardships of war. One takes the more passive route and the other as an active resistance fighter. Moving and engaging story.”
Usually we read about WWII, and other wars, through the eyes of men, whether memoirs, histories, or fiction. Hannah believes there are many untold stories about women’s experiences and actions that need to be told. In The Nightingale, she models one of the two sisters after a woman who indeed played an important role in helping downed Ally pilots get to safety. In addition, the relationship of the two sisters and the role of their father add to what is a good story.
Martin Beck Detective series, by Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall (F). I mentioned these books in my 2015 favorites as did several readers. Whenever I simply want to escape, I pick up one of the ten of these and get lost in the wonderful character development, detail, and mystery that each one offers. They don’t have to be read in the order in which they were written, and if you want to try one, check out Roseanna, The Man on the Balcony, or The Laughing Policeman. Also, try listening to one while you’re exercising, walking, or traveling. It will help you get the Swedish names and places set in your mind. These folks ‘taught’ Erik Larsson and others what good detective writing is all about.
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If you’re looking for book suggestions, you can get to the list of MillesTime readers’ favorites in any of three ways:
MillersTime Readers Favorite Reads of 2015. This post includes a list of the favorites of the favorites as well as individual comments by every reader who contributed to the list.
Favorite Books Listed by TITLE, (non-fiction then fiction), then author, then the MillersTime contributing reader. A quick way to scroll through the list, bypassing what readers’ said about each book. You can easily print out this list.
Favorite Books Listed by the NAMES of the Contributing MillersTime readers, followed by title, (non-fiction then fiction), and then author. A quick way to check out what people whom you may know liked best. You can also easily print out this list.
For those of you who may want to see the lists from previous years, simply click on which year you want to review – 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.
Kate Latts said:
Lilac Girls was one of the best books I have read in a long time. Far exceeded The Nightingale and All the Light you cannot see. I loved it!
It’s already downloaded. It will be my Nantucket ‘read’.
Fruzsina Harsanyi said:
Alan Furst’s new book “A Hero of France” is also a good companion to “The Nightingale.” I’m sure his hero and the Nightingale worked together.
Just finished “Smoke” by Dan Vyleta. It takes place in 19th century London. Part allegory, part science fiction, reminiscent of Aldous Huxley. Not my kind of book, but I couldn’t put it down. Somebody please read it so we can discuss.
Nancy Cedar Wilson said:
So glad you enjoyed Bryan Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy–He is even more amazing in person–if you can catch him–he often speaks in local places of worship–
We need him to b cloned, his work is SO important to hunt down criminal Injustice!