Friday Book Whimsy-Thursday Edition: Favorite Books of 2015

I am often astounded at how many books some book bloggers read each year. Some post a book review almost every day. Of course, their blogs are devoted to book reviews, so it is incumbent upon them to read, read, read. I think that I read a lot, and yet I never seem to break the 100-books-in-a-year mark. This year my total was 93 books.

Oh well, I’m telling myself. I do have a life beyond books. Say, friends and family. Oh, and now crocheting.

I post a book review every Friday, but I read many more books than those for which I post a review. For example, I generally don’t post books (almost always mysteries) that are part of a series unless I found the book particularly compelling or I’m begging you to read the series. And since I’ve already admitted that my reading motto is Life is too short to read a bad book, I start many books that I set aside because I simply didn’t like them. That is why most of my book reviews are positive. So, sue me.

Having said all of the meaningless babble above, here are my five favorite books I read in 2015 for which I posted a review.

5. The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
An unexpectedly upbeat and pleasing read about a quirky family with an unhappy past joined together simply because they love one another. An interesting element of this book is that the mother is a hoarder, which definitely defines the family members and impacts the plot of the book. It isn’t, however, what defines this interesting story. I was surprised at how much I loved this book, which I wouldn’t have picked up if someone hadn’t so highly recommended it to me.

4. Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
Karon’s Mitford stories are like eating dessert first. They are simply delicious and not to be missed. The characters, the setting, the stories — all mix together to make for a wonderful read. Her latest novel involves the marriage of two favorite characters, and allows readers the opportunity to get to know better some who previously were only marginally present. Pour a cup of coffee or tea and settle down for a pleasant experience.

3. The Rent Collector by Camron Wright
Talk about a book I can’t believe I liked so much! This story takes place in Cambodia, which is the only reason I read the book (a daughter-in-law is from Cambodia). Based on a true story, the family — mom, dad, and little boy — lives in a municipal waste dump in Cambodia and they survive on what they make from scavenging the dump each day and selling the wares. That’s the setting, but the story is about friendship and loyalty and what it means to love someone. It was a truly beautiful story that I highly recommend.

2. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
My heart broke year before last when one of my favorite authors — Kent Haruf — passed away. Our Souls at Night was his final gift to those of us who love his writing. The book is once again set in the fictional Colorado town of Holt. Septuagenarian Addie Moore, a widow for many years, marches over to her equally-aged neighbor Louis Waters’ house and suggests they, well, hook up. Sleep together. Just see how it works out. The result is a surprisingly beautiful story about love and friendship. I enjoyed Haruf’s stories for his characters, and while not as good as his first novel Plainsong (nothing could be), it was a wonderful book.

And my favorite book of 2015…..

1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Dang, I hate being predictable. The Girl on the Train is likely to be the favorite read of 2015 of many book reviewers, but it’s for a good reason. I couldn’t put down this book. The author doled out the pieces of the mystery little by little, keeping the readers in constant suspense. The final pages were delicious. The characters were interesting, imperfect, multifaceted, and realistic. I can’t wait for Hawkins’ next effort. This one will be hard to beat.

I’m looking forward to many more good books in 2016. Maybe that will be the year that I finally beat that 100-book challenge.

This post linked to the GRAND Social 


Friday Book Whimsy: The Rent Collector

imagesI was initially interested in reading The Rent Collector, by Camron Wright, because the story takes place in Cambodia. One of my daughters-in-law is Cambodian (born there and moved to the United States with her mother, father, and baby brother when she was a toddler during the latter days of the horrible-beyond-belief Khmer Rouge). I shamefully know very little about this dark time in world history.

The Rent Collector takes place in contemporary times, but as you would imagine, the story of the Khmer Rouge plays an important role. I didn’t quite know what to expect. I have been unable to make myself watch the movie The Killing Fields because it would break my heart. I was fearful The Rent Collector would do the same. What I found, instead, was a beautiful and poignant story about an unforgettable family who, despite what would seem to us to be nearly unbearable living conditions, finds joy in almost everything.

Sang Ly lives with her husband Ki Lim and their baby boy, Nisay in Stung Meanchey, Cambodia’s largest municipal waste dump. Not only is this their home (along with a surprisingly large community of people), but they make their living from “picking,” that is, going through the dump site daily to find things to sell. While they are totally aware of the horror of their living conditions, they are surprisingly happy. Sang Ly and her husband are in love, and Nisay is the most important person in their life together. In fact, much of the book centers on the two trying to find a cure for Nisay’s constant diarrhea and inability to eat.

As the story begins, it seems as though the book’s villain is going to be the rent collector – a woman called Sopeap Sin. Her job is to collect the monthly rent from the people living in Stung Meanchey, and she initially seems mean, cold-hearted, and vindictive. Through a set of circumstances, Sang Ly learns that Sopeap Sin was a teacher in her earlier life and she begs Sopeap Sin to teach her to read. Sopeap Sin reluctantly agrees, and a remarkable friendship is formed.

The ability to read changes Sang Ly’s life in many ways, and witnessing those changes is absolute joy for the reader. Things don’t go smoothly much of the time, but Sang Ly’s and Ki Lim’s optimistic attitude and refusal to give up makes for indescribably satisfying reading. The Rent Collector is a beautiful story, plain and simple, and Camron Wright is an amazing writer. This is a book I will long remember, and Sang Ly, Ki Lim, and Sopeap Sin are characters I will not soon forget.

By the way, though The Rent Collector is a novel, it is based on a true story, and the book actually shows pictures of the real-life Sang Ly and Ki Lim and their most disturbing home.

I strongly, strongly urge book clubs to consider this novel for discussion.

Here is a link to the book.