Aya’s Favorite Novels of 2015

audiobook-1As anyone who knows me knows, I get all of my literature in audio format since becoming a working/artist/mom. The downside is that there are amazing paper books that are sitting in my house with dusty bookmarks in the second and third chapters. The good news is that my dish washing, kid lunch-making, commuting, falling asleep, and occasional solo walks are populated with fabulous books. Self-published and small press authors please note: I’m thrilled to report that larger outlets for audiobooks, including audible.com, will distribute independently recorded audiobooks, as long as they are professionally produced to their specifications.

So here’s my list of books I loved reading (or really listening to) in 2015. The first two are debuts:

Remedy for a Broken Angel: Serena is a Bermudian jazz singer whose demons lead her to abandon her daughter Artie. Artie’s anger eventually drives her to Serena’s younger lover, Jamie L’Heureux, a jazz superstar. The spirit of Charles Mingus thrums throughout the story as these two women tangle in a syncopated mother-daughter relationship.

Author Toni Ann Johnson will be the first guest blogger on the Debutante Ball in January 2016. Her book came out in 2014, but the audio version came out this year. Which is great, because I have loved her work since we met in our MFA program at Antioch. I’ve been a cheerleader for Remedy for a Broken Angel since it was being rejected because one of its main characters was considered unlikable. This is a classic symptom of sexism in the literary industry, as likability doesn’t seem to be important for male protagonists. In spite of these naysayers, I’ve been delightedly watching as the book got an indie publisher, and then cheering from the sidelines as it was nominated for and won various literary awards.

Star Side of Bird Hill: Sixteen-year-old Dionne Braithwaite and her 10-year-old sister, Phaedra, are sent from Brooklyn to the tiny town of St. John, Barbados, to stay with their grandmother while their mother, Avril, recovers from a long depression.

Even before I read the book, I knew I wanted debut author Naomi Jackson as a guest blogger. Her interview was posted earlier this year. Her book was just what I was longing for. Having been rather grounded since becoming a mom in 2009 I’m reverse homesick for New York and also miss traveling to the Caribbean. I loved getting to travel through literature.

Gods of Tango: February 1913: seventeen-year-old Leda, carrying only a small trunk and her father’s cherished violin, leaves her Italian village for a new home in Argentina. In Buenos Aires, she finds herself stranded and alone, yet seduced by the music that underscores life in the city: tango, born from lower-class immigrant voices, now the illicit, scandalous dance of brothels and cabarets. To survive, Leda cuts off her hair, binds her breasts, and becomes “Dante,” a young man who joins a troupe of tango musicians bent on conquering the salons of high society. Gradually, the lines between Leda and Dante begin to blur, and the queer erotic desires she’s long suppressed reveal themselves, jeopardizing not only her musical career, but also her life.

So if literature is good for physical travel, it’s even better for time and space travel. Carolina De Robertis was the first guest on this year’s Debutante Ball. I love this novel’s reclaiming of queer and transgender people throughout the world and throughout history.

Emmy & Oliver: Emmy’s best friend, Oliver, reappears after being kidnapped by his father ten years ago. Emmy hopes to pick up their relationship right where it left off. Are they destined to be together? Or has fate irreparably driven them apart?

Nobody writes a teen suspense love story like Robin Benway. I have been a fan of her YA teen girl professional spy books for some time, so I wasn’t sure what to expect with a suspense story among teens not working for some international espionage organization. This book did not disappoint, however, with her winning combination of suspense, humor, and teen angst.


Unfortunately, I have missed many good novels in the past few years because I can’t manage to read any paper books. I guess my explanation is that I have prioritized writing with every scrap of time when I have my hands free. Thank goodness for technology, so I can still “read” via audio during many of the times when I have my hands full.

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Aya de Leon directs the Poetry for the People program in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley. Her work has appeared in Essence Magazine, xojane, Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Mutha Magazine, Movement Strategy Center, My Brown Baby, KQED Pop, Bitch Magazine, Racialicious, Fusion, and she has been a guest on HuffPostLive. She is the author of the children's picture book PUFFY: PEOPLE WHOSE HAIR DEFIES GRAVITY. Kensington Books will be publishing her debut feminist heist novel, UPTOWN THIEF, in 2016. For more info, go to ayadeleon.wordpress.com.

This article has 4 Comments

  1. I’m intrigued because I’ve never listened to audiobooks, but it’s on my list for the 2016 Book Riot Read Harder challenge. I’ve always been a print or, have to admit, e-reader person. I have, though, just discovered the joys of the podcast, so I look forward to trying out an audiobook in 2016. I’ll stick these on my list!

  2. Some people are snooty about audio books, as some people are snooty about e-books. To me, the point is the books, the stories, however you get them. People’s lives are different — everybody has to find the form(s) that work for them.

    I don’t listen to a lot of audio books (though I listen to a lot of audio drama), but when I was reading/studying/obsessed with Inherent Vice I listened to the audio version many times and even sent a fan email to the reader, Ron McLarty.

    “I have been a fan of her YA teen girl professional spy books for some time…”

    Sounds interesting. Which would be a good one to start with? (I think it was last year when I belatedly discovered Violet Strange, the first-ever teenage girl detective, from 1915.)

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