January 1, 2016


Wherein we squawk about our favorite books from 2015

J.S. Colley:

The books I enjoyed this year are, in no particular order:

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper, a story about an 83-year-old woman who sets out to hike 3,232 kilometers across rural Saskatchewan, Canada to the sea. She leaves a note for her husband, Otto, that reads, “I will try to remember to come back,” and a box of recipe cards so he won’t go hungry. Russell is their neighbor who has loved Etta from afar for years, and James is a coyote who befriends Etta on her long journey. It’s a poignant novel covering a myriad of themes, ranging from aging, illness, death, friendship, love and loss.

The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt: A Novel by Tracy Farr. After losing her mother and her father, Lena Gaunt is introduced to the Theremin, a musical instrument that is played without physical contact. (This is a real instrument—who knew?) Sounds are produced by the oscillations of the musician’s arms and hands. But that’s not the only odd thing about this novel. The protagonist is a bisexual, octogenarian junkie. While I thought a few of the plot points were forced—something that has annoyed me with a few works of modern literature—it was, overall, an excellent read.

It’s fascinating what will spark a novelist’s imagination. Tracy Farr read about the Theremin and, from there, created this whole world—this fictional life—of Lena Gaunt. Imagination truly is a gift, for both the reader as well as the writer.

The Moon Casts a Spell: A Novella (The Child of the Erinyes) by Rebecca Lochlann. I wanted to give a shout-out to this companion novella to Lochlann’s larger volumes in The Child of the Erinyes series, which follows the lives of three people through various incarnations. In this installment, fate brings them together on the “windswept isle of Barra, in Scotland's Outer Hebrides.” The atmospheric setting casts a spell over the reader. Will the trio ever discover their link to the ancient past? This novella will help Lochlann’s fans endure the wait until the next full-length novel in her new series is published.

Bill Kirton:

Lisa Hinsley was a very gifted, sensitive young author. I first came across her through her book, My Demon, which I enjoyed very much. Through a friendship on Facebook, I also came to know her as a warm, compassionate person who had lots of time for other people and was perennially positive. This was true of her even as she fought cancer for three and a half years, telling us of her tribulations but with never a sign of the self-pity or ‘Why me?’ which comes so naturally with the condition. When she went into hospital for the last time, she was the focus of an online party which she herself described as, literally, 'a party till you drop’. It was a joyous event which went on for many weeks, filled, on Lisa’s insistence, with laughter and happy, uplifting contributions. If any partygoer let any of the underlying sadness show, it was Lisa who raised their spirits through her astonishing bravery and example. She died on December 9th this year, just 2 days before her birthday, but left an example of how to live for everyone who knew her, even if only online.

So, while it’s always difficult for me to say which of the books I enjoyed is ‘better’ than the others, this year the choice is easy. It’s Stolen, by Lisa. Not because of its deathless prose, its insights and revelations or any particularly literary qualities (although it has plenty), but because it was written by one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever known. I don’t believe in an afterlife but I really wish there were one - just for Lisa.

Pat Black:

For new books, I enjoyed Sarah Lotz's The Three. Part ghost story, part conspiracy thriller, written in a unique style. Extremely unsettling. 

But my choice is Roger Deakin's Waterlog. Classic nature writing, one of the best books I've read in years. 

Marc Nash:

A story that dissects a husband and wife's love so expertly.

A book that tears back the veil of communication and how double-edged it is and how easy to misinterpret meaning.

A science fiction world that wears its inventiveness very lightly, yet somehow manages to authentically conjure up a truly alien sensibility.

A novel about religious faith which I would normally run a million miles from rather than read and enjoy.


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