My Favorite Books of 2015

2015 best books mamawolfe

 “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero

I am a book lover. I love being surrounded by stacks and stacks of books, both read and unread. I adore walking into someone’s home and scanning their bookshelves, and get giddy when I see familiar titles. I carry at least one – if not two (just in case, you know) – books with me everywhere I go. I typically read at least two titles at once – a novel, an inspirational morning book, and some sort of writing guide. I collect books like some people collect records (wait – does anyone DO that anymore?) and update my Goodreads profile like a pro. My Amazon wish list is full of…books. That’s about it. And I LOVE to gift books – in fact, this year my mom’s present was a HUGE bag of books that made her as excited to receive as it felt to give. She reads more than I do!

In 2015 I set my reading challenge too high, and missed it by about 13 titles. I did manage to complete at least 27 full-length novels, which I consider pretty satisfactory considering I have over 100 English students in class this year (think – 100 papers per assignment, at least 5-10 minutes to read/grade each, totaling 500 minutes which is OVER 8 HOURS minimum!). This year I’m sharing my favorite books, only because I want to share just the very best. I’ve added links to make it easy to read more about these titles on Amazon; I’d love to know if you agree with me – and if you’ve read something you think I should add to my list, be sure to comment. I’m always on the look out for great stories.

Here are my 2015 favorite books, in no particular order…

The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy

I read more historical fiction than any other genre, and this was one of my favorites. The main character, Sarah Brown, is the daughter of abolitionist John Brown, and embraces the cause of the Underground Railroad all on her own. The author weaves a parallel story set in current time about a woman struggling with infertility who finds a mysterious porcelain doll head in her root cellar. I loved the mingling of past with present, and the ideas that women throughout history have challenged themselves to create the life they really desire. I tried to write my own bit of family history after reading this book – you can get the story of my great, great grandfather in my blog post, “Sheep Shearer’s Children In Lake Tahoe”.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Pulitzer Prize winner. Besides that, this story is a glorious, delicate and beautiful tale about a blind French girl and a German boy who are trying to survive World War 2 in France. It’s a long read (530 pages), but I guarantee you will be captivated by the author’s ability to weave together two characters who should never have met, all the while sharing the idea that despite our circumstances, people really do try to be good to each other.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

Another historical fiction story set in parallel structure, The House Girl tells the stories of Josephine Bell, a seventeen-year-old slave living in Virginia, 1852, and Lina Sparrow, a young lawyer living in New York City, 2004, who is tasked with research into a class-action lawsuit surrounding a mysterious Civil War era artist. I loved the interplay of art and history and secrets, and the idea about what does justice really look like.

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

This book was deliciously creepy, telling the story of a young boy named Will who had never been allowed to go outside. So what does he do? He defies his mother, sneaks out (wearing a protective helmet, just in case) and finds a kid who shows him the joy of skateboarding. There’s a mystery that happens, too – but this story showed me the extremes that parents will go to to protect their children, and the dark side of not allowing kids to experience life on their own. You can read my blog post, “Living In Between Love and Fear”,  inspired by this book.

All Together In One Place by Jane Kirkpatrick


After reading this first book in a series, I am now completely hooked on Jane Kirkpatrick. All Together In One Place shares the story of life during the westward movement in the U.S., a time when women were forced to pick up, move, and follow their husband to someplace they had never seen. What made this one of my favorite books was the multitude of strong female characters – women so strong they outlasted most of the men and managed to create their own destiny along the way.

My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

I loved discovering this writer – another woman tackling the issues of feminism as told through the story of Mary Sutter, a Civil War era midwife who battles prejudice and discrimination against women. This was one of my favorite books because while the depictions of medical treatments of the time could be a bit hard to stomach, the courage and fortitude of Mary captivated me. I couldn’t put this one down.

Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi W. Durrow


To my surprise, I wound up meeting this author during a conference at BlogHer this summer in NYC, and she was as lovely and delightful as her novel. While this wasn’t historical fiction ( the story is set in current day Chicago), her themes and story line most definitely have been repeated throughout our country’s history. Her story of Rachel, a biracial girl who survives a family tragedy, made me really stop and think about racism in our country, and how we all contribute to the ideas of social justice, and the power beauty and race hold in our world.

I Am Here: The Untold Stories of Everyday People 

OK- true confession – I’m sharing this title as one of my favorite books of 2015 because this collection of short stories is where I first became a published author in print. My story, “The Ride of a Lifetime”, was selected to be published by Story Shelter in their first ever print edition. To say I was over the moon is an understatement; after decades of seeing other author’s names on the title page, I did do a happy dance to see my very own there in black and white. I Am Here is an interesting collection of real life stories of regular people who have had extraordinary experiences – and my tale of our first trip to Nicaragua fit right into their theme.

Do you see anything you’d like to read in 2016? Do you share my love for any of these titles or authors? I’d love to hear your thoughts – please comment and let’s create another amazing year full of books!


P.S. – Too late for making my list, but I’m about to finish A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan. This title came to me via a friend’s blog A Design So Vast – Lindsey’s post about “Best Books of the Half-Year” is full of interesting titles. It’s fun to stray away from my usual genre to dump myself inside the life of another modern woman determined to balance motherhood, career and marriage.

If you’re interested in my past year-end book posts, you can find my 2013 recommendations here, and my 2014 favorites here. I’ve also written a “Books I Love” post here.

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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Living In Between Love and Fear

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“…the Outside had taught him that there wasn’t much difference between loving someone and being afraid of them. Loving a person meant needing them to stay: alive, around. But the shadow that love can’t help but cast is fear: fear they won’t stay alive or around–fear they’ll be reckless, or doomed, or just walk away and not consider you ever again. With love, you’re scared it will disappear. With fear, you’re scared it never will. The trick…was getting used to both of them at the same time. It was living in between.”

~Michael Christie, from If I Die, If I Fall

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Please, Don’t Go Outside

“…the border between the Inside and the Outside wasn’t as impermeable as she liked to believe,

and he knew that sooner or later, the Outside would want in.”

~from If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

Today I planted tulips and pansies Outside, yanking out the weeds and cutting back debris I’d left since August. It was wet and grey and the grass came out in clumps, snuff-colored soil and worms clinging to the roots. This is optimistic, I think, planning for the spring. Thinking someday it will be pink and purple and white and alive. It’s green and lush right now, but nothing is really growing. It’s a ruse, a fake, it’s just a cover crop.

Sirens pierce through the bird song. I quickly inventory, wondering if you’re Outside. Are they screaming in your direction? They cannot be, they will not be, they are NOT coming for you.

Do you know I check on you every morning, first thing as the coffee brews? Usually your shoulders need covering, and sometimes as I pull the striped duvet over your shoulder, you smile. In that moment, in that smile I see the real you, the child I know will be ready for Outside soon. I pick up a damp towel and a dirty juice glass and click the door shut behind me. Exhale.  You’re Inside, it’s quiet, and we’re safe.

I walk in her room, too. I’m not sure why I do – she’s never there. It’s cold and white and full of a starkness that only happens when someone doesn’t live there anymore. I pull the shades open, sigh and run my hand along her dresser, my fingertips making faint lines in the dust. She’s Outside now, out of my control, where I want her to be and where I want her to leave. But the years are minutes, I scream to the silence.

boy with skateboard

You tell me you want more independence, you want me to trust you. You want to go Outside until after dark. You want to pick up your skateboard and throw your house key in your pocket and skate away with the homemade wax you made in my best stainless steel pan…and I’m supposed to be OK with that. I’m supposed to say yes, go meet your new friends and your new girl and just be careful, I whisper to you as you leave. Be careful, Outside.

This won’t last forever, I remind myself, these moments when life pushes along and I sometimes chase after it. These years that are really moments, these moments that hold my breath and make me pause midway through and wonder if this is the last time…

It’s getting late and I need to think of something to teach tomorrow – Steinbeck, The Pearl, and Kino who thinks all his dreams will come true now that he’s found the Pearl of the World and then the baby dies. He thought he had it all – for a moment. Yes, years are minutes, Kino. Stay Inside.

She calls to tell me she loves her Avalanche class, mentions she’ll be skiing out of bounds this weekend. But don’t worry, Mom, she says. I’m with my group. She’ll click on her skis just like Bryce and Ronnie and please don’t go Outside, I silently scream, please don’t slide down, buried with a smile on your face like they did…

I shower and  slip into my new fleece jammies, soft and fresh from the dryer, and walk down the stairs. You laugh when you see me and tell me that’s a whole lot of leopard. That you read somewhere that women my age shouldn’t be seen Outside in leopard – certainly not head to toe.

But I’m Inside, I reply. I’m safe. No one can see me Inside here.

I hear your key in the door. It’s dusk now, and you’re Inside. Your cheeks are glowing and your eyes sparkle as you explain all about your new tricks, how you’re learning and persistent and you’re better than you were before you broke your leg, better than that August morning I texted you to be safe Outside and you said you would.

But you weren’t.

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This post was inspired by the novel If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie,about a boy who’s never been outside, thanks to his mother’s agoraphobia, but ventures outside in order to solve a mystery. Join From Left to Write on January 22nd as we discuss If I Fall, If I Die. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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