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CBR’s Best Books of 2015

CBR_Logo2It seems we always have more books in hand than we have reviewers and time—a happy problem, to be sure—but, even so, here at Chicago Book Review we reviewed dozens of books again this year in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Our favorites—the books we loved and those we really liked—are listed here, in CBR’s Best Books of 2015.

Some of these fine books were written by local authors. Some were published by local houses, large, small, or indie. Some cover local subject matter. A few even hit all three—a local triad, as it were. Our Best Books of 2015 includes local authors like David Berner, Rebecca Makkai, Frances McNamara, and Patricia Skalka, as well as local publishers including Ankerwycke, Northern Illinois University Press, Sourcebooks, Triquarterly Books, and Twelve Winters Press. Some of these fabulous books cover local history or are set in Chicago or the Midwest—books like Blood Runs Green, A City Called Heaven, Living Black, and Midwest Maize.

All of these are in keeping with our mission of highlighting the books coming from Chicago and the Midwest, because Chicago Book Review reviews Chicago’s books—and we’ve read a lot of great books this year (and since we launched in 2013). We hope that the reviews and features here have helped you discover some new authors and publishers that you might not otherwise have heard of—great books that deserve to be read and recognized.

As you explore these titles, we hope you #ReadLocal and #ShopLocal by visiting your favorite local bookstore and picking up copies of some of the Best Books of 2015 from local authors and publishers. Chicago’s literary community is a rich one, full of clever authors and creative publishers. Check out some of these books and discover the good work that is coming out of Chicago and the Midwest.

Happy Reading!

 

CBR’s BEST BOOKS OF 2015: FICTION

Four-Star Review

Alchemy’s Daughter: A Novel
alchemy's daughterby Mary A. Osborne

Death at Chinatown: An Emily Cabot Mystery
by Frances McNamara

Death at Gills Rock: A Dave Cubiak Door County Mystery
by Patricia Skalka

A Desperate Fortune: A Novel
by Susanna Kearsleyskalka death gills rock

Gideon’s Confession: A Novel
by Joseph G. Peterson

Haymaker: A Novel
by Adam Schuitema

The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath: A Novel
by Kimberly Knutsenmeet me halfway

Meet Me Halfway: Milwaukee Stories
by Jennifer Morales

Music for Wartime: Stories
by Rebecca Makkai

The Orphan Sky: A Novel
by Ella Leyaprinciples of navigation

Principles of Navigation: A Novel
by Lynn Sloan

Remedies for Hunger: Stories
by Anara Guard

Twilight of the Idiots
by Joseph G. Petersontwilightcover1200

The Waxen Poor
by J. D. Schraffenberger

A Winsome Murder
by James Devita

 

Three-Star Review

A Big Enough Lie: A Novela-big-enough-lie
by Eric Bennett

Extinguished & Extinct: An Anthology of Things That No Longer Exist
by John McCarthy (Ed.)

A Good Family: A Novel
by Erik Fassnacht

Hearsay AnkneyHearsay
by Christopher Ankney

If You’re Not the One: A Novel
by Jemma Forte

State of Horror: Illinois
Jerry E. Benns, Editor

Weeping With an Ancient God: A Novellawhiskey charlie 9781492607861
by Ted Morrissey

Whiskey & Charlie: A Novel
by Annabel Smith

 

CBR’s BEST BOOKS OF 2015: NONFICTION

Four-Star Reviewcity heaven 9780252080692

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

Pieces of My Mother: A Memoirtriumph genius
by Melissa Cistaro

A Triumph of Genius: Edwin Land, Polaroid, and the Kodak Patent War
by Ronald K. Fierstein

Weeds of North America
by Richard Dickinson and France Royer

Three-Star Review

Blood Runs Green: The Murder That Transfixed Gilded-Age Chicagoblood runs green 9780226248950
by Gillian O’Brien

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

Living Black: Social Life in an African American Neighborhood
by Mark S. Fleisher

Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartlandliving black
by Cynthia Clampitt

There’s a Hamster in the Dashboard: A Life in Pets
by David W. Berner

 

Here’s wishing that 2016 is a year full of great books from great authors and great publishers! 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

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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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