Tuesday, June 30, 2015

TOP TEN TUESDAY :: Best of 2015 Thus Far

This week's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the gang over at The Broke and the Bookish, is one I wanted to participate in (asshole). Old family joke, I don't really think you're an asshole. Funnily enough, that joke is IN one of the titles below, so you'll just have to read all of them to understand it.

The topic for this week is Top Ten Books Read So Far in 2015. It's not an easy post, but if it gives me another chance to spread the word about some fantastic titles, I'll struggle through. I'm going to start with my favorite non-fiction. These are four titles that blew my doors off - two while I was grinning like a schoolkid, two while I was wondering what the hell humankind is coming to. I think you can surmise which are which:

Animal Weapons and The Soul of an Octopus were nature writing at its finest. Both are full of scientific principles and fascinating facts, but remain very engaging reads. Animal Weapons discusses the impact of environment, mating, and other factors on the weapons grown (and un-grown) by various species. It will be on my best of the year list without a doubt. The Soul of an Octopus is a heart-warming tale of the author's relationship with several octopuses (not octopi) at the Boston Aquarium. It made me fall in love with the octopus. You can see my full reviews of each book here and here.

What to say about Citizen and Ghettoside. As fun as the first two were, these were emotionally devastating. Both deal with race in America, one from a very personal perspective and the other from a law enforcement/crime/why are all these black men dying? perspective. Gritty and horrifying, they're both must-reads. I've not yet written anything about Ghettoside, but you can see my thoughts on Citizen here.

As much as I hate categorizing books, I'm going to do so simply for the purpose of breaking this post into sections. The next three titles I would put into the crime fiction category; but please, if you think to yourself "I don't read crime fiction," don't skip this part. These titles are all genre benders in their own right and each could be considered general fiction as easily as crime fiction (and for reals, if you're saying to yourself "I don't read crime fiction" you're missing out on some of the finest writing going on today):

Lou Berney's The Long and Faraway Gone is a masterful piece of fiction. Beautifully written, story arcs never skipping a beat or hitting a false note. This is as close to perfect as you can get. It's a gut-wrenching look at surviving childhood tragedy, but so much more. It has heart and humor. It has it all. You can read my full review here.

Monday's Lie is Jamie Mason's second book and she already takes up waaaay more than her fair share of space in my word nerd book passages notebooks. She can turn a phrase like nobody's business and is fast becoming one of my go-to authors. Monday's Lie is also a bit of a psychological thriller if that's your preferred label; a story of some curious things happening in a marriage coming unraveled. Full review here.

Soil is a little crime fiction, a little Southern Gothic, a little black comedy, a lot disturbingly paranoid. Jamie Kornegay knocked down every boundary there is and knocked my socks off to boot. Talk about beautiful passages, Soil has them in spades. (That, my friends, is a great pun and I didn't even know it was coming until I typed it.) Please go read my thoughts on Soil here, there's no way I can describe it in a paragraph.

The next two books go together because they both should have been disasters, but instead are examples of mastering the craft. They're general fiction with a crime fiction bent to them (which can be said about so many books these days, really, as much as some may want to avoid the label for some silly reason):

Liza Lutz has written a masterpiece about friendship over time, with a dizzying timeline that would have put a normal person in a padded cell. It's genius when it should have been looney tunes. Three women and their decades-long friendship told from multiple perspectives and multiple locations over multiple time periods. Love, loss, betrayal, every emotion and event you can cram in a life, along with a tragic event that shapes them all. My thoughts on How to Start a Fire are here. Don't miss out.

Paul Lynch makes me want to buy stock in anti-depressants and then hand people his books. They are about life, down and dirty, belly-dragging-in-the-mud tragic, fraught with bad luck, betrayal and misunderstanding. But damn, the man can string words together like nobody's business. He may describe scenery better than just about anybody (Jamie Kornegay and Nikolas Butler are making a run at that crown as well) and the writing has an Irish sensibility that makes it all the more unique. My review of The Black Snow hasn't run yet, but this one is a beauty.

Next and finally, a set of short stories. This is big time. I usually don't get along well with short stories (my shortcoming, not theirs), so for a set to make my top ten, even just through July, should tell you something about the quality of this work:

I loved Nikolas Butler's Shotgun Lovesongs and, for the reason mentioned above, was a bit bummed when I learned his new book was a series of shorts. I learned my lesson. These stories are stunning. You can read about them in more detail here.

It's interesting to note that the cover of each of these books would certainly be in my top 25 of the year. Coincidence? I may have to go try and find a book I loved with a cover I disliked. I'm so cover-influenced I'm not sure that happens very often. Though Mo Hayder's Poppet leaps to mind. That one was creeptastic. It's also a good thing I read the hardback edition of The Sisters Brothers, which was one of the top covers of the year it was published. The paperback? I wouldn't have even picked it up off the shelf.

I've obviously gone off on a tangent here and that's a discussion for another day. But as you think about your Top Ten, consider their covers as well. I hope you'll pick up a few of these books and enjoy them as much as I did. If you don't, I still won't think you're an asshole (maybe).


Shannon @ River City Reading said...

I'm determined to get to my copy of Ghettoside soon, soon, soon!


I've got Ghettoside sitting on the shelf next to me, just waiting for me to find the time (and emotional wherewithal) to read it. I've heard great things. I did read Citizen this year, and my feelings were so mixed I haven't even been able to write a review yet. I think it's definitely important, there were parts of it that gut-punched me, but others that went over my head. Which was down to me, not the writing, I think I just lack some of the cultural knowledge to fully engage. But even with the misses, the hits made it a powerful book. I thought about including it in my top ten, but real estate in that list was at a premium and I felt like because I only really got half of it, it didn't quite make it for me.

I've read the beginning of How To Start A Fire and am definitely intrigued by the characters - it's great to hear that it lives up to my expectations! I haven't read any Nickolas Butler yet, but I nearly bought that book just based on the cover alone! Totally influenced by covers too, not even sorry. Amazing list, and loved reading your brief descriptions of each book! Definitely adding to my TBR.


I had discussed doing a buddy read of this with Shaina from Shaina Reads ages ago, not sure if she's read it yet, but if you want to get in on that I'd love to read it with someone (or two)! I feel like it's one that will provide a lot of fodder for discussion.

Katie McD @ Bookish Tendencies said...

Ohh, a few newbies (to me) to look into! Citizen is definitely on my fave list as well... although it's an unofficial list, since I just couldn't muster the wherewithall to do this week's TTT topic.

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

I hear you, it can be a hard one to muster for. Part of me just wanted to do a straight light, but I can't keep my gob shut when it comes to books I loved, gotta spout a little bit about them. I hope you found some newbies that you might enjoy, that's the best part about looking at everyone's lists. Citizen was fantastic. Not easy, but fantastic.

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

Well, I'm glad we now have a Ghettoside readalong/skimalong going, I'm very excited. I had exactly the same experience with Citizen as you did. I didn't get it all, there were some pieces that went right over my head. I have a hard time with poetic prose and am just starting to dabble, so this was a good exercise.

Aren't those Butler covers fantastic? If you prefer novels to shorts, Shotgun Lovesongs was also fantastic. I'm not sorry about my cover obsession, either, I've found many a treasure that way. Let me know what you think about Fire when you finish!

Malcolm Avenue Review said...

A little late to this comment now that the buddy read is all set, but I'm excited for it!

About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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