My favorite fiction of 2015

My favorite fiction of 2015

I love and hate best-of-the-year lists. Love because I can’t resist reading them; hate because I abhor picking a favorite anything.

Please know that though I’m calling these my favorites, I’m holding them loosely. These are the best novels I read in 2015, no matter their publication date, and if this list is anything like those from previous years, I probably forgot at least one title I completely and utterly adored.

Series: Best novels of 2015
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Author:
I’ve heard my mom gush about this book for pretty much my whole life, and finally read it in January for the "a book your mom loves" category in the Reading Challenge. Of course, my only regret was that I’d waited so long: I loved this story from page one's metaphor of the unlikely tree in Brooklyn. No description I ever heard before made me want to read it, so I'll spare you the plot synopsis. I'll just say: read it. Wistful, haunting, satisfying. (I listened to the audio version, which—barring some infrequent random jazz music—was quite good.) More info →
A God in Ruins

A God in Ruins

Author:
In her last novel Life After Life, Ursula Todd lived many versions of her life. This companion shows much of the same story from her brother Teddy’s point of view. It lacks the showiness of its predecessor, yet the structure remains strong, and subtly inventive. While Ursula’s life (lives?) centered on the blitz, Teddy’s one life (albeit with a twist) centers on Britain’s strategic bombing campaign against Germany. As a Halifax pilot, Teddy’s life expectancy was brutally short: the statistics were overwhelmingly against his survival. When the war ends, he has a hard time coming to terms with the future he’s been given, and suffers mightily from survivor’s guilt. This is an awfully good book, nimbly spanning generations, and marvelously told. More info →
Lila

Lila

I love Marilynne Robinson's writing, though I have to be in the mood for it: she writes lyrical, beautifully constructed prose. In her latest novel, Robinson brings her reader back to Iowa, where we revisit characters we've met in Gilead and Home. (Or not—the books don't have to be read in order.) On its surface, this is a quiet novel about quiet people, but Robinson is adept at probing what's really going on beneath the surface. A gorgeous novel. More info →
The Brothers K

The Brothers K

This one spent years on my TBR list, because so many friends with great taste called it THE best book they ever read. I'm so glad I finally read it, although it did take me nearly two months to get through. (It IS 645 pages long, but it wanders a bit.) I don't remember what my expectations were about this book, but whatever they were, they were wrong. Duncan combines the Vietnam War, bush league baseball, Seventh Day Adventism, and family ties into an incredible, heart-wrenching story. The book is truly remarkable for the times when it reveals the deep joy present in a family's lowest moments. Due to some tough themes and a ton of language, this isn't for the faint of heart. More info →
The Lake House

The Lake House

Author:
I have been impatiently waiting for Kate Morton's next novel for years and this one didn't disappoint: I think it's her best yet. In 1933, a young child disappeared without a trace. In 2003, a disgraced young detective stumbles upon the cold case and soon discovers its ties to one of England's oldest and most celebrated mystery writer (think Agatha Christie). I absolutely loved reading a mystery novel about a mystery novelist: the references to the fictional author's writing process and working life were delightfully meta and utterly fascinating. More info →
Americanah

Americanah

This is Nigerian novelist Adichie’s third novel, but the first I've read. The story centers around a smart, strong-willed Nigerian woman named Ifemelu. After university, she travels to America for postgraduate work, where she endures several years of near-destitution, and a horrific event that upends her world. She finds her way, winning a fellowship at Princeton, and gaining acclaim for her blog, called “Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black." A highlight: Adichie seamlessly weaves blog posts—about race, national identity, class, poverty, and hair—into the narrative. The novel grapples with difficult issues without becoming overwrought. I would not have read this based on the flap copy, but I was hooked from page one. Haunting, moving, incredibly well done. Terrific on audio. More info →
Middlemarch

Middlemarch

Author:
For years I've been calling myself a lover of British literature, and yet I'd never read Middlemarch. (I say I love long books, but at 904 pages it was more than a little intimidating.) This year I remedied that unfortunate situation. Eliot’s hefty masterpiece combines her “study of provincial life” with a close look at several young couples who fall (or think they fall) in love. Who will find lasting happiness, and who won’t, and why? By focusing on the narrow disappointments and particular joys of this small community, Eliot cuts to the heart of human nature. A novel about love, happiness, and second chances. More info →
A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Mysteries, No. 7)

A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Mysteries, No. 7)

Author:
This year I inhaled all 11 books in Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series. I thoroughly enjoyed the series as a whole, but this seventh installment was my favorite individual title. (The books don't have to be read in order, but I recommend it.) Inspector Gamache returns to Three Pines to solve a murder that's intimately tied to the world of fine art. The story is built around the concept of chiaroscuro—the contrast between dark and light that's significant in some artists' works, and in all our natures. I couldn't put this down. More info →
Ready Player One

Ready Player One

Author:
I had to be talked into reading this one, because this book wasn't exactly calling my name. I couldn't care less about video games or John Hughes movies, but this exceptional book hooked me from page one. It’s 2044 and the world is in shambles, so who can blame Wade Watts if he’d rather live in a virtual reality than the real one? Like many of his peers, Wade spends his waking hours by himself, logged into a virtual reality game, racing through a computerized scavenger hunt in which his success depends on his knowledge of obscure ‘80s pop culture references. Dystopian novels abound, but they’re not usually this fun. (I loved the audio version narrated by Wil Wheaton.) More info →

Runners-up: The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress, These Is My Words, Fates and FuriesThe Knockoff.

P.S. My favorite books of 2014, and 2013, and 2012.

2015 was a great year for novels. Here are some of my favorite fiction books of 2015.

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail this to someonePrint this page

88 comments

  1. Kathy says:

    Middlemarch is on my ‘Books I Want to Read in 2016’ list! I’ve been skirting around George Eliot for years but I can’t avoid the pull of this book anymore! I think I’m ready for it!

  2. Liza Lee Grace says:

    I haven’t read any of these, but I’ve heard of all of them. Most best-of lists contain books I haven’t even heard of.

    Some of the best books I read this year are middle grade/ya. (I read books for the middle school librarian and report back on them.)
    The two that come to mind are Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire and Echo by Pamela Munoz Ryan.

    I also loved Code Name Verity.

  3. Margie says:

    Interesting to see Middlemarch on here. I read the Road to Character this year (by David Brooks) and you might find his section on George Eliot/Mary Ann Evans and her relationship George Lewes really interesting. Parts of that book were really dry and some were really fascinating.

  4. Tim says:

    I tried Middlemarch, Anne, I really did. I had to put it down after about 3 chapters. I didn’t care one whit for any of the characters and cared even less about what was going to happen to them next. I think that makes me a literary heretic.

    A book I loved re-reading this year is Josephine Tey’s “Miss Pym Disposes”, along with the rest of her mystery canon. Speaking of literary, these are the most literary mysteries I’ve ever read. There’s no formula, no stock characterizations. Just elegant writing and page turning story telling.

    • Jess says:

      So glad to read what you wrote. I read Middlemarch this year too, and I thought what you did- I don’t care about these people and their lives at all!

    • Anne says:

      I still need to read some Tey. 🙂

      I think I had an unfair advantage with Middlemarch. Or several of them. First, I read Marisa de los Santos’s The Precious One, and Middlemarch was a big element in that plot. Then I read the memoir My Life in Middlemarch, and then I listened to Middlemarch on audio (at 1.5 speed—-this is crucial!) and the narrator was terrific. With all those little boosts I really enjoyed it. 🙂

      • Tim says:

        Perhaps I need to build up to it too then. You inspire me, Anne! (But I’m not planning on checking MIddlemarch out of the library any time soon. Like I said: build up to it.)

    • Katie says:

      So fun to see someone else mention Josephine Tey. I just read my first by her this year (“The Daughter of Time”). She deserves to be more well-known than she is!

      • Tim says:

        I’ re-reading Daughter of Time right now, Katie. Did you know that (according to Wikipedia) “In 1990, The Daughter of Time was selected by the British Crime Writers’ Association as the greatest mystery novel of all time”? Quite an accolade.

    • Tory says:

      I had a hard time with Middlemarch for the first 1/3 or so. It felt like a really boring version of Jane Austen (and despite being a faithful reader of this blog, I’m not a huge Austen fan!) Eventually it grew on me and I enjoyed the rest of the novel, I was glad I didn’t bail. (Like Anne, I listened on Audible 1.5 or 2x speed, and took several breaks to listen to other things for a bit before returning to it!) I’ve since seen Middlemarch refernces in a bunch of other places and was pleased to know what they were talking about, I guess these things were just flying over my head before.

  5. Carolyn says:

    Anne, I want to tell you a story about ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’. A fascinating book I read this year, ‘When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II’, highlighted Betty Smith’s book. The U.S. sent books to soldiers in the war, they developed a small paperback book that was small enough to put in a pocket, but sturdy enough to be passed on a few times. There were about 25 different books sent out each month, an amazing variety of books, biographies, mysteries, Westerns, technical books (like how electricity works), short stories, essays, classics, many fiction books. ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ was a favorite for the soldiers, perhaps because it was a taste of home. The soldiers made it a best selling book. Another book that became a best seller because of the soldiers was ‘The Great Gatsby’. If it had been written in a different time period, it might have remained in obscurity. I loved the book about an unusual aspect of the War. There were many men that were not readers, that became readers, as the waiting, the loneliness, and boredom that are part of war, drove the men to the little books. They were more beloved that the boxes of cigarettes and candy bars. There were millions of books sent out. It changed our nation, as many of the men came home more confident about reading and learning, and they wanted to go to college or other forms of training. Fascinating book. Thanks for your time with my long comment.

    • Judy says:

      This is very interesting and something I had never heard before. I love that the soldiers who had never been readers before, became readers because of this. Who knows how this may have changed their lives and helped them, not only during the war, but afterwards? Thanks for sharing!!

  6. Danielle says:

    I enjoyed your recent podcast appearance on Sorta Awesome!

    Of your list I’ve read “The Lake House” and “Middlemarch” and I’m on book 3 of Louise Penny’s series. Love all three!

    “Lila” and “A God in Ruins” have been added to the list for next year! “All the Light We Cannot See” was probably my favorite novel from the last year along with “Destiny of the Republic” for non-fiction. If you like Erik Larson, you’ll love Destiny!

  7. Erin in CA says:

    The library called me yesterday to tell me Trick of the Light is waiting for me! I’ve been reading the series in order — now I really can’t wait for this one.

    And my twelve-year-old son and I both read Ready Player One this fall. I wondered if all the 80s references would be relatable for him. He LOVED it. And just watched War Games for the first time this past weekend.

    Always love your book posts — thanks!

  8. Jessica says:

    A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite books. PLEASE tell me you’ve read Betty Smith’s Joy In The The Morning. If not, remedy this before 2016!! ( or make it your #1 new year’s resolution.)

    My favorite book of the year: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats.

  9. Susan says:

    One of my favorites is a middle-grade novel called “Counting by 7s” by Holly Sloan! I haven’t read anything by Marilynne Robinson – which one should I start with?

    • Anne says:

      I would say start with Gilead because it’s my favorite. I keep hearing wonderful things about Counting by 7s but I haven’t read it yet. Thanks for the nudge. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Hmmm. I’m not sure what you have in mind but I’ll give it a shot. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Ready Player One are the easiest. Brooklyn is a standby in junior high curricula (although content-wise that seems a wee bit young to me) and RP1 could be read by middle schoolers (although heads up, there might be some language).

      The rest are for late high school or college age and up. Some of the writing is pretty challenging.

    • Crystal says:

      Thank you for your Reply. I am interested in reading very challenging books that are at least college level with well developed characters. It is my life’s greatest pleasure. 🙂

    • Eileen Lis says:

      What was interesting with Lake House is that I’ve read all of her other books, and when I first started this one, I thought, Oh, no! How predictable!” By the time I reached the end, I realized that I just saw one conclusion, not the one that she chose. Wonderful, wonderful book.

  10. Laura says:

    All the Light, The Woman in White, Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson was a surprise favorite (really, so good I’m going to look for his others), Station Eleven, Orphan Train, The Secret Keeper, Life after Life. Texts from Jane Eyre was hilarious.

  11. So glad you enjoyed A Tree Grows in Brooklyn! It’s so good. I also loved The Lake House.

    I read Middlemarch this year too, but I did not love it. And I think I need to give the Inspector Gamache series another try.

    • Anne says:

      I’m sorry to hear that about Middlemarch. Do you at least feel like you got English lit gold stars for reading it, or are you bitter you could have spent your 906 pages elsewhere?

      The Inspector Gamache series does seem like it would be to your taste. 🙂

  12. Anne says:

    I checked out A Tree Grows in Brooklyn this year, and I had to give it back. It’s on my TBR! Ready Player One is on my list, too. So many of these sound good. 🙂 Fun to hear your thoughts.

  13. My favorite book of all-time is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I have been dreaming of a vintage copy of that one for my bookshelves. Loved Ready Player One and Americanah too! I have Kate Morton’s in my virtual stack on my Kindle app- I need to get moving on that! I always love your lists!

  14. donna says:

    Great list, Anne! I’m adding a Tree Grows in Brooklyn to my extremely long TBR list.😊
    I started on my 56th book of 2015 last night! I surpassed my reading goal and I want to say thank you sooo much for the reading challenge. I’ve never done a reading challenge before and found it
    really beneficial!
    I read a ton of good fiction this year. My favourites:
    Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
    All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
    Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
    The Summer of Good Intentions by Wendy Francis
    Small Mercies by Eddie Joyce
    Benediction by Kent Haruf
    Me before You by Jojo Moyes (finally)
    The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
    thanks again😊

  15. Jeannie says:

    I always enjoy reading your favourites lists. The Kate Morton book is slowly inching its way up my library-holds queue, but I know I’ll love it when I read it. I’ve read Adichie’s other 2 books and they were really good, so I’m eager to read Americanah too.

  16. donna says:

    Thanks to you I read Still Life over the summer and it hooked me! I immediately ran out and bought Penny’s box set. I’ll be reading Dead Cold, the second in the series this winter.

  17. Mimi says:

    My five favorite fiction books read in 2015 were Station 11, The Stand, North and South, Kristin Lavransdatter and The Light Between Oceans. I also enjoyed A God in Ruins and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has always been one of my favorite books. Thank you for so many great recommendations throughout the year.

  18. Amy says:

    I have never read a book you’ve recommended that I didn’t enjoy (you introduced me to Outlander!). Where do you get your TBR ideas from? Are there other “book blogs” you go to for suggestions? My favorite read of 2015 was the Outlander series (read them all). My favorite book on CD was The Count of Monte Cristo

  19. Veronica says:

    My favorites as of right now
    The Wright brothers
    The Girl you Left Behind
    Big Little Lies
    A God in Ruins
    Coming Home
    Hannah Coulter
    The Secret Wisdom of the Earth
    Maybe next year I’ll get to Middlemarch. And I never thought I would give the Outlander series a try, but I’m loving it so far.

  20. Katie says:

    Oh man, I really, really wanted to love the Inspector Gamache series but I was so underwhelmed by the first novel. I just could not get into her writing style. Does the series improve as it goes on?

    Some of my fiction faves from this year were:
    Crossing to Safety (Stegner)
    Hannah Coulter (Berry)
    Nine Coaches Waiting (Stewart)
    The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Bronte)
    and something that does not fit in with the rest of my list at all, the YA novel To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han.

    • Veronica says:

      Penny’s books definitely get better. It is worth it to stick with the series. As I wasn’t crazy about the first book either, I actually suggest starting with book 3 or 4 and then go back. If I had started with the first one I’m not sure I would have kept reading Penny’s books.

    • Anne says:

      Ha! I love it when a book doesn’t fit a list. I enjoyed that Jenny Han novel, too. 🙂

      Here’s my take on Louise Penny:
      Book 1 is a little slow.
      Book 2-3: the plots are a little creepy for my taste. They’re *good* books but not “favorite” material.
      Book 4: she hits her stride.

  21. Stefanie says:

    My favorite book this year and all-time top 10 was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. (I know, I’m really late reading it!) I couldn’t stop telling people about it.

    Another favorite this year was Room by Emma Donoghue. This led me to a couple of non-fiction books about neglected children, Dani’s Story and The Girl with No Name.

    I also really liked The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I haven’t read many of her books, thought they were kind of “romancy”, but this was a great historical novel.

    Also just finished and enjoyed Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini. A big portion of the book was based on the life and poetry of Longfellow. I’m not normally a poetry reader, but I’ve added his collection of poems to my TBR list.

  22. Marci says:

    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Oh my. I read it about once a year. Ahhh….Francie Nolan!!!! Love, love, love that book so much and my first copy was a tattered paperback in my teens that I still own.

  23. Eileen Lis says:

    I’m so excited to have found this link through a good friend of mine!
    And, you have two authors that I’ve read everything they’ve written. Kate Morton and Louise Penny.
    Thanks for sharing your favorite books.

  24. Marina says:

    I love that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is first on your list. I read this book for the first time this year too. My Mom passed away in 2011 and it was her copy. <3

  25. Jocelyn says:

    So is there going to be a Reading Challenge for 2016? I totally flunked out on the 2015 challenge but I am eager to try again. ^_^

  26. Susan says:

    The only one I’d read was Trick of the Light…I, too, inhaled this series when I discovered it this year. Lots of late nights, house was a mess, kids slightly unkempt because I wanted to finish this series! The only one I have left now is the newest one. I was near 149th on the hold list at the library. I’m always somewhat hesitant to read the last of a series because I don’t want it to end. I can’t wait to try some of the others you’ve mentioned. Thank you!!

  27. Emily Rice says:

    I’ve heard people rave about Ready Player One on booktube but I have yet to read it. I, too, was thinking I wouldn’t like it just because it’s not something I’d normally pick up. I think it’s time to see what all the hype is about!

  28. Nicki says:

    I’ve been wanting to read The Brothers K for a decade, but I’m sensitive to content (not so much to language). You say it “isn’t for the faint of heart”. Think I should give it a try or pass?

    • Anne says:

      Of course it depends on what kind of content you’re sensitive to, but there’s a good chance the answer is “pass.” The Vietnam War (and the atrocities therein) drives the plot, and there’s a major thread of sexual abuse running through the book.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.