Tag Archives: 2015

CBR’s Top 10 Posts of 2015

CBR_Logo2Dozens of book reviews, a bunch of features, previews of local literary events … it’s been another year of all-books-all-the-time here at Chicago Book Review. Earlier this week, we posted CBR’s Best Books 0f 2015, a great complement to another fabulous list we posted this month: Chicago’s Favorite Books of 2015, a collection of a dozen beloved titles as rated by local literati. Both of these lists, and a few others, quickly proved to be among our readers’ favorite posts of the year.NYE books—photo by Patrick Ryan

With that, we’re looking at CBR’s Top Posts of 2015, a mix of book reviews and features highlighting the local lit scene—authors, publishers, and organizations doing what they do to support and promote Chicago’s literary community.

That community is a strong one, and we’re grateful to the many authors, publishers, readers, and other literary types who help keep us going. We’re especially grateful to the reviewers who keep CBR active, reviewing dozens of books every year. Chicago Book Review is a labor of love, and we couldn’t do it without our reviewers—or without all the books we receive from local publishers and authors. Together we’re able to bring to readers reviews of books they might not otherwise discover—because Chicago Book Review reviews Chicago’s books.

ankerwyckeDuring the year, we’ve again been lucky enough to review books from a variety of local and regional publishers, from indie houses and imprints like Ankerwycke, Chicago Review Press, and Dream of Things to large academic houses such as University of Chicago Press, University of Illinois Press, and University of Wisconsin Press. (You can learn more about local and regional houses by exploring the list over there on the left of your screen.) We’ve highlighted organizations such as Chicago Book Expo and Midwestern Gothic. And we’ve reviewed some great books by local authors such as Mary Kubica, Erik Fassnacht, and Robert M. Marovich.

Middle_West_Logo_hiresWe’re grateful to our fans and friends, too, readers from Chicago and the Midwest, as well as across the United States. We also count among our followers readers from around the world—the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, as well as Colombia, France, Germany, India, and Italy, the way to Croatia, Georgia, Micronesia, Réunion, and Tunisia.

2016 promises to be another year full of great books from local and regional authors and publishers, and we plan to review as many as we can for readers near and far. In the meantime, we close 2015 with a look at the most popular posts of the year, a collection of reviews and features that will give you some great ideas for how to spend those bookstore gift cards you received over the holidays.

CBR’s TOP 10 POSTS OF 2015pieces of my mother 9781492615385

  1. CBR’s Best Books of 2015
  2. Chicago Book Review’s Summer 2015 Preview
  3. Brutally Beautiful
  4. Chicago’s Favorite Books of 2015
  5. CBR’s Fall 2015 Preview
  6. You Shall Uphold Him
  7. Preview: Chicago Book Expo—
    ‘Something for Every Literary Taste’
    Remedies cover
  8. Much More Than Half
  9. War Must Ensue
  10. Doorways to the Domestic Scene


nyeHappy New Year!
—and Happy Reading!



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Chicago’s Favorite Books of 2015

CBR_Logo2Chicago’s literary community is full of readers and writers, authors and agents, editors and publishers, publicists and marketers … a bevy of bibliophiles who read plenty of books during the course of any given year. We wanted to see what people have been reading, and so we asked a bunch of them what their favorite books of 2015 were. Some of their favorite books have local twists, others don’t, but they’re all favorites of some of the area’s finest literary forces. What you’ll find here is an interesting mix of titles for children, young adults, and grown-ups from some of the luminaries of Chicago’s lit scene. In addition to our Best Books of 2015 list (which will come out next week), our Summer 2015 Preview, our Fall 2015 Preview, and our 2015 Holiday Reading Guide, this list of a dozen titles proves to be yet another source of good reading.

So here goes: some of Chicago’s Favorite Books of 2015, brought to you by some of the area’s literary faves.


Layout 1Atlas of an Anxious Man
by Christoph Ransmayr
University of Chicago Press

1094Imagine if W. G. Sebald went on a trip around the world and you’d pretty much have this book. Atlas of an Anxious Man is a memoir, history, travelogue, and seemingly everything else imaginable, written in near-perfect prose and struggling with what it means to be human,
no matter the geography.
Noah Cruickshank, marketing manager, Open Books


before I go

Before I Go
by Colleen Oakley
Gallery Books

Mary Kubica-9

Before I Go tells the story of a young woman trying to find a new wife for her husband before she dies of cancer. Equal parts heartbreaking and humorous, I cherished Oakley’s endearing and true-to-life characters and truly admired the way she was able to bring joy to such a dark theme; she’s a gifted storyteller. An uplifting tearjerker that drew me in from the very first page.
Mary Kubica, bestselling author of The Good Girl and Pretty Baby


Binary Starbinary star
by Sarah Gerard
Two Dollar Radio


I read and reviewed nearly a hundred books in 2015 for our blog, but Sarah Gerard’s Binary Star easily stands out as one of the most memorable. Published by our neighbors in Ohio, the rapidly ascending indie press Two Dollar Radio, this semi-autobiographical tale recounts the sometimes darkly humorous horrors that come with twenty-something hipsters trying to grow up, in this case woven around a coast-to-coast road trip by a dysfunctional couple while our female narrator also struggles with an eating disorder. Poetic in its prose and like a trainwreck in its plot, this is a great example of all the daring things an indie publisher can get away with that mainstream presses can no longer afford to take a chance on.
Jason Pettus, owner, Chicago Center for Literature and Photography


bone-gapBone Gap
by Laura Ruby
Balzar + Bray
dana-kaye-headshot-croppedBone Gap is a beautiful work of magical realism, set in a rural town, about a girl who is kidnapped and the boy who witnessed the crime, but can’t seem to identify the kidnapper. Ruby has a unique and poignant voice, telling a story that’s both quiet and deceivingly high-concept.
Dana Kaye, founder of Kaye Publicity, Inc.


cover_girl_waits_with_gun_amy_stewartGirl Waits With Gun
by Amy Stewart
Houghton Mifflin

Kate Hannigan Head Shot small

This is historical fiction at its finest. Girl Waits With Gun tells the story of the real-life Kopp sisters, who in 1914 find their quiet world upended after their buggy collides with the automobile driven by a bullying local factory owner. After the sisters—sturdy Constance, pigeon-obsessed Norma, and the theatrical Fleurette—demand he set things right, the local bully begins a campaign of intimidation to scare the sisters off. But instead of backing down, the Kopps gloriously fight back. Stewart’s sly humor hooked me from the first pages, and I adored the unconventional charms and strengths of Constance and her sisters. An absorbing, fun read.
Kate Hannigan, author of the middle-grade historical detective novel The Detective’s Assistant (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2015)


Daoud_MeursaultInvestigation-260x390The Meursault Investigation
Kamel Daoud
Other Press
_DSC0374 - Version 2The protagonist of this novel is Harun, the brother of ‘the Arab. Musa (with no name in The Stranger) is killed by Meursault, Albert Camus’s anti-hero in The Stranger. The opening line of The Stranger is “Mother died today.” Kamel’s The Meursault Investigation opens with “Mama is still alive today.” It is Daoud’s homage to Camus and a wonderful retelling of the story from the Arab’s perspective.
Syed Afzal Haider, senior editor, Chicago Quarterly Review, and author, To Be With Her


Needneed 20550148
 Joelle Charbonneau
Houghton Mifflin
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High School students join a new social networking site that grants them what they most Need, but as they soon learn, that gift comes with a hefty price. I found the story compelling—it reminds me of Lois Duncan’s thrillers for teenagers. So I recommended it to my twelve-year-old son, Alex, and he’s halfway through it already. I asked him what he thought and said, “I really just want to know what comes next!”
Susanna Calkins, author of The Masque of a Murderer (Lucy Campion mysteries/Minotaur-St. Martins)


nightingale 9780312577223The Nightingale
by Kristin Hannah
St. Martin’s Press
Libby Hellmann
I couldn’t put it down. So sad. And brave. And surprising. In books about World War 2, we tend to overlook the fact that people in the occupied countries suffered as well. This was a gentle but
poignant reminder.
Libby Fischer Hellmann, author of The Incidental Spy,
a WW2 Novella


On the WayCyn+Vargas+-+On+The+Way
by Cyn Vargas
Curbside Splendor
McNair Headshot HiRes
In this compelling collection of contemporary short stories, Cyn Vargas plumbs the depths of loss, need, family, desire, and otherness, in situations great and small. Here is the man who works at the DMV and longs for the new driver behind the wheel; here is the daughter whose mother disappears while they are on a family trip to Guatemala; here is the young woman who comes face-to-face with her first abusive, then absent father at her grandmother’s funeral. There is no sugar coating on these stories, and that is part of what I love most about them. That, and the beautiful, straightforward voice and sense of story, the way Cyn lures me in with the ease of her storytelling, the way she holds me in the pages, reading, reading, reading, satisfied, but still (like her characters) wanting more.
Patricia Ann McNair, author of The Temple of Air


pretend-i-m-deadPretend I’m Dead
by Jen Beagin
Northwestern University Press
mare049 copy2Meet Mona, a twenty-four-year-old house cleaner. She falls in love with a heroin addict, she moves away, she meets odd characters, such as the hippies next door who build their own instruments and make their own “music.” I simply couldn’t put this book down; Beagin creates characters and situations so vividly, you can see them. Like the hippies—I could hear their awful music. Through Mona’s journey, she uncovers some deep-buried secrets. You’re crying for her and laughing through this book.
Mare Swallow, Executive Director, Chicago Writers Conference


Searching for Sundaysearching for sunday
by Rachel Held Evans
Thomas Nelson
Author photo 2-M
Fatigued by the culture wars, hypocrisy, and scandals, Rachel Held Evans lost interest in attending church but could never fully let go. In this timely, beautifully written book, Evans echoes the cry of her millennial peers as she wrestles with her uprooted faith and searches for a spiritual home. It’s difficult to leave the evangelical world because it is uniquely gifted at forging committed, generous community; but when that generosity does not extend to friends who are LGBTQ, feminists, immigrants, and from other disenfranchised corners of society, it’s difficult to reconcile the divide. I loved reading this book because, as a former evangelical, I could identify with the tension Evans describes.
Deborah Lee, author of Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women and Queer Christians Are Reclaiming Evangelicalism (Beacon Press, 2015)


And, although a writer shouldn’t necessarily insert herself into her own feature, one of my own favorites of 2015 …

fractureFracture: Life & Culture in the West, 1918–1928
by Philipp Blom
Basic Books
kelli-christiansenThe period between the wars (i.e., WWI and WWII) fascinates me, that strange mix of peace and optimism with war mongering and unfinished business. Philipp Blom divides this period into two spans: postwar and prewar, focusing on everything from music to technology to politics, noting that “progress and innovation were everywhere met with increasing racism and xenophobia.” Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. A great read for history buffs—and for anyone who wants to understand both the times we’ve lived through and the times we’re living in.
—Kelli Christiansen, founder bibliobibuli, Chicago Book Review, and Chicago Publishing Network


So, what’s your favorite? Chime in with your favorite book of 2015. The 25th person to comment noting their favorite book of this year will win a $25 bookstore gift card to start 2016 off with a good book!

Happy Holidays—and Happy Reading!

—Kelli Christiansen


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CBR’s 2015 Holiday Reading Guide

CBR_Logo2This year has gone by so quicky. Here we are coming up on Thanksgiving weekend, and then it’s Chanukah, and in just a month it will be Christmas, and then Kwanzaa, and then New Year’s …


Between now and then, a lot of people will be doing a lot of shopping, and we hope that a lot of that shopping means a lot of book buying. Whether that means you take advantage of this weekend’s Small Business Saturday, during which a number of local bookstores will be hosting special events, or whether you’ll be buying books from big-box bookstores, or whether you’ll be doing your shopping online, there is no shortage of new books to explore for everyone on your list (and, of course, to add to yART-Books-copyour own wishlist!). Indeed, by some measures, more than 300,000 new titles will be published before the end of 2015 in the United States. That’s a lot of books.

Among those hundreds of thousands of new books are titles written by local authors, titles published by local publishers, and titles that tackle local subject matter. Here at Chicago Book Review, we focus on those very titles, shining a light on some titles that might otherwise go undiscovered. We’ve reviewed a bunch of them so far this year, some we’ve loved, some we’ve … well … not loved. We’ve also shared info about forthcoming titles in our Summer 2015 Preview and our Fall 2015 Preview.

Any (or even all) of these books could well make for great reading for the bibliophiles on your list. And, so, to that end, we offer our third annual Holiday Reading Guide, a collection of fiction and nonfiction titles that will help you ReadLocal deep into winter.

So, have fun shopping. Enjoy your holidays. And enjoy a good book. Share one with someone you love. Because we kind of need some extra love these days considering all that’s going on in Chicago and around the world.

Happy Holidays!


winsome murder     knutsen_promo_jkt         alchemy's daughter

A Big Enough Lie by Eric Bennett
Chicago, The Windigo City by Mark Everett Stone
A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft
Gideon’s Confession by Joseph G. Peterson
Haymaker by Adam Schuitema
If You’re Not the One by Jemma Forte
The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath by Kimberly Knutsen
The Orphan Sky by Ella Leya
Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica
Principles of Navigation by Lynn Sloan
An Untimely Frost (or, The Authoress) by Ted Morrissey
Weeping With an Ancient God by Ted Morrissey
Whiskey & Charlie by Annabel Smith

Death at Chinatown: An Emily Cabot Mystery
by Frances McNamara
Death at Gills Rock: A Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery by Patricia Skalka
Honor Above All by J. Bard-Collins
Scroll Back: Travel in Time … to Seek Eternal Life by Jay Stamatis and Steven P. Stamatis
State of Horror: Illinois Jerry E. Benns, Editor
A Winsome Murder by James Devita

Music for Wartime
by Rebecca Makkai
Remedies for Hunger by Anara Guard
Twilight of the Idiots by Joseph G. Peterson

Young Adult
Alchemy’s Daughter
by Mary A. Osborne
Panther in the Hive by Olivia A. Cole


extinguished cover
Extinguished & Extinct:
An Anthology of Things That No Longer Exist John McCarthy, Editor
Hearsay by Christopher Ankney
The Waxen Poor by J. D. Schraffenberger


weeds north america ucp 9780226076447     blood runs green 9780226248950     hamster dashboard
Weeds of North America
by Richard Dickinson and France Royer

Midwest Maize:
How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland by Cynthia Clampitt
Women of Steel and Stone: 22 Inspirational Architects, Engineers, and Landscape Designers by Anna M. Lewis
A Triumph of Genius: Edwin Land, Polaroid, and the Kodak Patent War by Ronald K. Fierstein
Blood Runs Green: The Murder That Transfixed Gilded-Age Chicago by Gillian O’Brien
The Neighborhood Outfit: Organized Crime in Chicago Heights by Louis Corsino

There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard:
A Life in Pets by David W. Berner
Pieces of My Mother: A Memoir by Melissa Cistaro

Music History
A City Called Heaven:
Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music by Robert M. Marovich

The Creative Activist
: Make the World Better, One Person, One Action at a Time by Rae Luskin

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