As part of our Best Books of 2015 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
Patrick deWitt’s second novel, The Sisters Brothers, put an original twist on the classic gunslinger sagas of the West. His anticipated follow-up is a delightfully fractured fairy tale starring a hapless hero who gets in over his head at the castle of a mysterious baron. Whimsical, smart and stylish, this is a charmer of a coming-of-age story.
Watch for our complete list on December 1. Read all our "Best of 2015" coverage on the blog.
Happy Thanksgiving, readers! Need a seasonal sweet to take to a gathering, but not quite up for the challenge of a pie? Try these spiced Molasses Cookies from Maggie Battista's Food Gift Love. They're also easy to handsomely package, so you can make a batch for your upcoming holiday gift exchanges as well!
MAKES: 90 TO 100 COOKIES // PREPARATION TIME: 1 HOUR 15 MINUTES
Molasses Cookies are fall and winter favorites, providing just the sort of comfort and flavors to help us get through tough New England weather. The original recipe was shared by a local chef, but I’ve altered it over the years to suit my need for more molasses and more spice. I like more of everything, and after you taste these cookies, you will too. The cookies are dairy-free, so they are a flavorful option for folks avoiding the stuff.
Keep a kitchen towel handy as this dough is a little slick. If you have any Cinnamon Sugar hiding in your Food Gift Love pantry, then roll the dough in that before baking.
1. Cut two large (18x12-inch) sheets of wax or parchment paper. You’ll wrap the cookie dough in the paper.
2. In a stand mixer, add the eggs, canola oil, molasses and both sugars. Beat at medium-high speed until well blended.
3. Add the remaining ingredients to a large bowl, and whisk to combine. Pour the dry ingredients into the mixer, and blend at low-medium speed until combined.
4. Drop the dough onto one sheet of the wax or parchment paper, using your well-floured hands to press any extra dough bits into the big lump of dough, forming a round disk. Using a well-floured knife or pastry cutter, slice the dough in half. Slide one half of the dough onto the second sheet of wax or parchment paper. Shape both doughs into low round disks, and wrap them up in the paper. Place on a plate or in a plastic bag and let chill in the fridge 2 hours or up to overnight. If you’d like to make these in the future, this is the moment to place the dough in the freezer as is or pre-rolled into dough balls (see step 6). (Defrost the dough disks overnight in the fridge before baking, but feel free to bake pre-rolled dough balls from frozen.)
5. Reheat the oven to 350°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (not wax paper). Pour extra sugar onto a large flat plate.
6. Using a spoon, scoop out 1 tablespoon of dough and form into a ball. Repeat until all the dough is used. Roll the dough balls in the sugar until well coated. Place on a cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake 8 to 10 minutes until the cookies have flattened slightly and cracked a bit but are still soft to the touch. Transfer to a cooling rack or new sheet of parchment paper to cool.
7. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.
Cut a slip of parchment paper to fit the box. Place the cookies in the box vertically. Slide the box cover closed. Cut a long length of string and wrap it around the box several times. Tie a knot and trim any excess string. Slip a hand-written (or stamped) tag under the string.
Zloty Kornblatt is the ringmaster of a horrible circus in the horrible society of Burford, an autocracy that subsists on a steady diet of pickles. Needless to say, Burford is a dismal place. So when Zloty makes his audience laugh by unintentionally impersonating the all-powerful Prime Mother, he draws the ire of the Burford bureaucracy and is hauled off to prison. Now, his talentless but tender-hearted troupe of circus performers is determined to spring him.
Filled with laugh-out-loud lines and reminiscent of the heartbreakingly hilarious dystopias of George Saunders, The Pickle Index is exactly what one would expect from Eli Horowitz, former publisher and managing editor at the home planet of weird and wonderful literature, McSweeney’s. And it's truly a three-ring circus: The book is also available in an illustrated slipcase edition and as an interactive iPhone app.
What are you reading today?
Is there anything more personal than selecting a favorite book? OK, the answer is obviously yes, but for a true book lover, maybe not by much. Releases from seasoned pros as well as exciting new voices made for a competitive, thrilling 2015—and a “best” list that we’re proud of. Look for the full list in our December issue; for now, here's a sneak peek at the back 25 . . .
31. Ghettoside by Jill Leovy
32. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
33. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
34. Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet
35. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
46. Emma and Otto and Russell and James by Etta Hooper
47. The Blondes by Emily Schultz
48. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
49. Russian Tattoo by Elena Gorokhova
50. Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
RELATED CONTENT: Read all our "Best of 2015" coverage on the blog.
This weekend, a couple of members from the BookPage team made the short trip from Nashville to the Booksellers at Laurelwood in Memphis to attend Avon’s 6th KissCon event. The event featured romance rock stars Toni Blake, Cynthia Eden, Lorraine Heath, Sophie Jordan, Cathy Maxwell, Kay Thomas, Lori Wilde and Julia Quinn.
After a bit of wine, cupcakes and mingling with fellow fans and authors at the VIP reception, we gathered together for some good old-fashioned romance trivia. (Did you know that the original cover for Christina Dodd's Castles in the Sky featured a three-armed woman? Neither did we. But we did know that Cynthia Eden likes to go spelunking in her free time, which won us a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon!) Then came round two: a quick-fire Q&A session hosted by publicist Jessie Edwards that covered everything from writing practices to personal interests to pop culture. Then the floor was ours for an open Q&A. Here are some of our favorite takeaways from the event:
Favorite part of the male physique?
Lori Wilde: Their smile.
Man buns—creepy or cool?
Sophie Jordan: So hot! I can’t look at my daughter’s soccer coach.
What’s your favorite euphemism?
Cathy Maxwell: Oh, I love euphemisms! I think of them all the time. Hot rod? Tunnel of love?
Hurricane’s coming. What hero would you hunker down with?
Julia Quinn: My husband, because he’s an infectious disease doctor. I know that’s cheesy, but at one point he had control of all of the Tamiflu in the city, so you know. The hero of The Martian? That’s my husband.
Favorite cure for writer’s block?
Lorraine Heath: Massage.
Benedict Cumberbatch—creepy or cool?
Cynthia Eden: Cool and a little bit creepy. There’s nothing wrong with that!
Current favorite soap opera?
Sophie Jordan: Mad Men.
Marry Bang Kill: Nick Lachey, Justin Timberlake, Nick Jonas.
Julia Quinn: Everything good would be with J.T. And I’d just kill the other two.
Fun facts about the authors:
Avon's next KissCon is scheduled for March 13, 2016 in Phoenix, AZ. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for updates on attending authors and ticketing information.
Most Americans will be pulling up a chair to a heavily laden table this Thursday in celebration of Thanksgiving. If your own family drama isn't enough for you, check out one of these tension-laden reads set during the holiday season—they'll make the relationship between the pilgrims and the Native Americans seem downright functional.
May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes
George Silver, a widely loathed television executive, flies off the handle after a deadly car accident. Harry Silver, a Nixon scholar with less money and success than his brother, finds himself not only embroiled in the drama, but also entwined emotionally and sexually with George’s gorgeous wife, Jane—that is, until George comes home and bludgeons her to death with a table lamp.
And that’s when things really get crazy.
Strangers at the Feast by Jennifer Vanderbes
The richly drawn characters and vivid storytelling make Strangers at the Feast a must-read study of the lengths to which families will go in the face of unimaginable threats.
The Ghost at the Table by Suzanne Berne
A thoroughly engrossing story of a woman's search for family and self, vaguely reminiscent of an Anne Tyler tale, The Ghost at the Table plays out over the course of a holiday weekend.
The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford
Apart from the humor and pathos revealed in these sometimes bizarre and inexplicable incidents, what makes this such a compelling read is Ford's skillful channeling of the voice of the narrator he's shaped over the course of three books and 20 years.
Anyone have a favorite novel with a Thanksgiving setting?
What an exceptional year for mysteries and thrillers! We've selected our 10 favorites, but we'd love to hear yours. Browse all our Mystery and Suspense coverage here, and share your 2015 favorite in the comments below.
"The premise of Dean Koontz’s mesmerizing new psychological thriller, Ashley Bell, is compelling but not complex: When doctors inform 22-year-old Southern California surfer girl and budding novelist Bibi Blair that inoperable brain cancer will shorten her life to a matter of months, she replies, “We’ll see.”"
Read more of our interview with Koontz.
"I made the erroneous assumption that Vietnam-born Vu Tran’s debut novel, Dragonfish, would be set in an exotic Southeast Asian locale, and I was a tiny bit disappointed to find that the exotic locales would be Oakland, California, and Las Vegas. But I quickly forgot my disappointment after discovering that Tran’s characters are a motley crew equal to anything ever dreamed up by Elmore Leonard or James Crumley."
Read more of our review of Dragonfish.
"In the chilling opening of Stephen King’s Finders Keepers, a sequel to his 2014 bestseller Mr. Mercedes, three words jolt elderly literary lion John Rothstein from a sound sleep, alerting him to the fact that he’s become the victim of a home invasion: “Wake up, genius.”"
Read more of our review of Finders Keepers.
"With The Girl on the Train, British author Paula Hawkins has written one of those books with a plot so delicious, you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. Rachel Watson takes a commuter train from her slightly grubby suburb into London every day. It used to be to get to work. After she gets fired for drinking on the job, Rachel still takes the train so her roommate won’t know just how far she has fallen."
"The English-language debut of best-selling Korean author J.M. Lee, The Investigation, is the first-person tale of Watanabe Yuichi, who reluctantly served as a prison guard in Japan during WWII: “The war ended on 15 August 1945. The prisoners were freed, but I’m still here.” Incarcerated by the Allies for low-level war crimes, Watanabe now has time to reflect on his wartime investigation of the murder of a fellow guard."
Read more of our review of The Investigation.
"Italian-born author Elsa Hart lived in China for a time, absorbing knowledge of its history, customs and manners, and in her exceptional debut mystery, Jade Dragon Mountain, she evokes its essence for readers in often dreamlike, mesmerizing prose. Scholar Li Du is in exile, wandering the geographic borders of 18th-century China, far from the imperial capital and his former role of librarian in the Forbidden City."
Read more of our review of Jade Dragon Mountain.
"For nine months The Girl on the Train has been lauded as the best thriller of 2015, but it has some real competition with the arrival of The Killing Lessons, a dark, violent novel from British author Glen Duncan (The Last Werewolf) writing under the pseudonym Saul Black. Set in San Francisco and Colorado, it’s a cross-country race to catch two serial killers that channels the atmosphere of Scandinavia’s celebrated TV noirs with female heroes like “The Killing” (Forbrydelsen) and “The Bridge” (Broen)."
Read more of our review of The Killing Lessons.
"A handful of contemporary espionage writers can be counted on to deliver complex and unerringly atmospheric historical suspense novels each time they put pen to paper. Philip Kerr, David Downing and Alan Furst jump to mind, but no such list would be complete without Joseph Kanon, whose Leaving Berlin weaves together a pair of seemingly unconnected but pivotal events of the early post-WWII era: the Berlin airlift of 1948-1949 and the Communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era."
Read more of our review of Leaving Berlin.
"Woe be unto the free-range American reader who casually picks up any of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache mysteries, set in the French-Canadian village of Three Pines, expecting a “Murder, She Wrote”-style cozy. The author erupts at the mere suggestion. “To call them cozies is to completely misread!” she protests by phone from her home in Sutton, a French-speaking village in Québec, east of Montreal."
"Dennis Lehane, author of such best-selling thrillers as Gone, Baby, Gone and Mystic River, continues his epic portrait of the Coughlin family with the riveting WWII crime novel World Gone By. In 1942, Tampa ganster Joe Coughlin appears to have left his criminal past behind, but the mob isn't through with him yet."
Read our Meet the Author Q&A with Lehane.
Readers, what was your favorite mystery or thriller from 2015?
The best-selling author of Water for Elephants has just sold three more books to her publisher, Spiegel & Grau. First up is another historical novel, tentatively titled Dear Henry, which is set on Black Tuesday—aka October 24, 1929, the day the US stock market began to plummet. The characters receive the news while aboard the Orient Express, which offers another intriguing setting for Gruen to explore. The publisher describes this as "a novel of love and intrigue."
No publication date has been announced, but watch this space for updates!
In The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro, a pioneering abstract painter in the 1940s disappears without a trace. Seventy years later, her great-niece begins looking for answers, peeking behind the scenes of the Abstract Expressionism movement.
Our reviewer writes, "As was the case with her previous book, the bestseller The Art Forger, Shapiro’s understanding of art is clear. Also like that 2012 tale, The Muralist is a compelling mystery. But even though The Art Forger was a smashing success, readers should be prepared for something different here: The Muralist elevates Shapiro to an even higher plane and is sure to be a crowning touch in an already celebrated career." (Read the review.)
We asked Shapiro to tell us about three books she's been reading lately.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Secret History was one of my favorite books, and I was looking forward to Tartt’s latest novel even before I knew what it was about. When I discovered it was about art and forgery and antiques and friendship—and so many other things—I immediately preordered it. I was completely taken from page one and slowed down for the last 100 pages because I didn’t want it to end. After I finished, I was jealous of people who were still reading it. Her writing is exquisite and the story compelling, but for me it was the characters—so complex and distinctive, yet completely believable in their uniqueness—that made it such a fantastic read.
One of the reasons I love to read is because a good book can transport me to worlds I would never experience otherwise. To be inside the head of a poverty-stricken boy trying to survive in the slums of Mumbai, India, is a perfect example of this. And Boo, with her keen journalist’s eye and a novelist’s sense of story and character, did exactly that for me. It is heartbreaking but also strangely uplifting and reads like fiction but is completely fact based—not an easy feat.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
I hardly ever read post-apocalyptic novels and only read this one because it was highly recommended by friends whose literary opinions I respect. Even then I baulked. But I’m so glad I overcame my biases, for this book isn’t just about a virus that kills most of the world, it’s about the strength of the human spirit and the power of art, music and theater to heal. It was also fascinating to be thrown back into a pre-technological era and experience the awe and disbelief alongside the children born “after” at the fact that images were once beamed through the air and that multi-ton objects could fly. It made me appreciate anew the brilliance of the human animal and the fragility of our lives.
See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
(Author photo by Lynn Wayne)