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Dec 14, 2015 — Our “Best Of 2015” series will be a bit different than most. Rather than having the staff write about things released this year, we’ve elected to allow anything they’ve listened to/played/read/watched this year that they’ve enjoyed. Our first installment comes to us from Christina Clary, a Kentucky Room clerk and historical fiction aficionado.
It’s December, which means everything from this past year must be put into lists. This is not optional, people. Rank everything that you read ate, watched, listened to, casually noticed on your way to work. In this spirit, I’d like to share with my “Top 5 Books of 2015 That You Might Have Missed.” These are the books that didn’t have the same publicity as say, Harper Lee’s new book My Caretaker is Taking Advantage of My Writing, or The Girl on the Train, which I did not like at all. I will not apologize for that either. So here’s my list in no particular order. I hope you check out some of these titles from your local public library.
• The Anchoress, by Robyn Cadwallader – A beautiful, quiet, and moving tale of grieving seventeen year old Sarah, who chooses to spend the rest of her life in a tiny cell as a religious figure for her community. Despite Sarah’s intentions to lock out the world, she forms a bond with the two women who serve as her caretakers, and the priests who give her spiritual advice. Also, the ending isn’t quite what one expects. I loved this book so much. I cannot recommend it enough.
• The Train to Crystal City: FDR’s Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America’s Only Family Internment Camp During World War II, by Jan Jarboe Russell – By now, most people are familiar with the Japanese internment camps during WWII. German-Americans and Latin Americans, however, were also forced into camps simply because of their heritage. This book follows the only camp that was for these families at Crystal City, Texas. Russell poignantly shares what life was like for these innocent families as they struggled to maintain a normal life in an extraordinary situation. This should serve as a cautionary tale for modern day, as we face a very similar situation that I can’t go into because it’s not polite to discuss politics on a public blog.
• Saint Maizie, by Jami Attenberg – Do you like sassy women and the Jazz Age? (For the record I don’t really like calling women sassy, it seems deeming to me, but sometimes it is only way to describe someone.) Great, meet Maizie, a bottle blonde broad with a love of life and everyone in it. An amusing and occasionally heart breaking story of a real woman who offered help and shelters to homeless men during the Great Depression. Written as Maizie’s diary, we get to see the world through her compassionate and cheeky eyes. While it has its sad moments, this book is also a lot of fun.
• Madam Ambassador: Three Years of Diplomacy, Dinner Parties, and Democracy in Budapest, by Eleni Kounalakis – This book starts out with a boar hunt in the forests of Hungary in the name of feminism. That is an awesome sentence. Following Kounalakis’ time in Hungary, the book reveals what exactly it takes to become an ambassador (being massively wealthy and BFF’s with Hillary Clinton), and what the duties entail, which consists mostly of being frustrated that no one will listen you when you’re right. If you’ve ever wondered why Hungary is so belligerent in keeping out refugees, this book will explain that. Hint: it’s because of Neo-Nazis!
• The Distant Marvels, by Chantel Acevedo – Look, I really like historical fiction, okay? This one takes place in Cuba 1963, where a group of elderly women are corralled together to ride out the devastating Hurricane Flora. In order to pass the time, Marie Sirena tells the tragic story of her life, starting as a young child of the bloody Cuban revolutionaries in the 1890s, and ending with an absolutely heartbreaking revelation. Chances are very high that you will cry a little while reading this book. It’s worth it though.
• The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton – What’s that you say, this was published in 2014, not 2015? Too bad. I read this in January of 2015, and it is my favorite book of the year, so those who are stickler for the rules can just stop reading. Amsterdam, 1686. A young girl named Nella arrives to start a new life as the wife of a rich trader. Familial intrigue ensues the moment she walks into her new home and meets her sister-in-law. As her new life slowly spins out of control, she finds that nothing is as it seems, and everyone has their own secrets. Amidst this, a miniaturist who was commissioned to build a house as a wedding gift sends new additions that eerily reveal the truth about the people in Nella’s life. Plus, the conservative Puritans are out making sure that no one is having any sort of fun and condemning them all. I love the depiction of life in Puritan Amsterdam, the multilayered and complex characters, all of the twists and reveals, the creepiness of the miniaturist, the cover. Read it. You won’t regret it.