Best novels of 2015

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.
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Dystopian novels abound, but they’re not usually this fun. 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. Sounds like geek heaven, right? But here’s the thing: I couldn’t care less about video games or John Hughes movies, but this exceptional book hooked me from page one. The audio version (read by Wil Wheaton) is fantastic. Suspenseful, funny, and insightful.
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Penny's mysteries are alternately centered in the cozy village of Three Pines and the wider world. For this excellent follow-up to the game-changing Bury Your Dead, 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. It may sound obtuse, but Penny probes with a light hand. It works.
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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.
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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. 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.
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The much-anticipated prequel to Robinson's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead. You'll hang on to every word of this gorgeous novel—and you'll want to read everything else Robinson ever wrote when you're finished. Stunning. (Note: you can read these in any order.)
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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 pages are filled with fascinating references to the fictional author's writing process and working life.
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