Best of 2015: Fiction

Updated: January 8, 2016

The best books of the year, as selected by LAPL staff.  Perfect for holiday gift-giving!

Book cover for Amherst
Nicholson, William,

Alice, a young Englishwoman researching a screenplay, travels to Amherst, Massachusetts, to delve into the 12-year love affair between Emily Dickinson's brother Austin and Mabel Loomis Todd, the much younger woman who edited the first volumes of Emily's poetry after her death.  Alice soon finds herself caught up in a parallel May-September romance with a middle-aged, married Amherst professor.  The story alternates between her present-day experiences and the Austin-Mabel relationship in the 1880s.

Book cover for The Automobile Club of Egypt
The Automobile Club of Egypt
Aswani, ʻAlaʼ, 1957-

Post-World War II Cairo is the setting for murmurings of political change and upheaval.  Alaa Al Aswany writes about a once prosperous landowner whose life has taken a turn for the worse. He finds work as a servant at the Automobile Club, once the private reserve of former colonials. This 1950s political/social/economic setting is a portent of future dissatisfaction and unrest.

Book cover for Beauty is a wound
Beauty is a wound
Kurniawan, Eka, 1975-

A modern Indonesian novel which has epic characteristics in much the same way as One hundred years of solitude. This lyrical and horrific novel is a captivating way for readers to explore the rich literature and history of one part of this nation.

Book cover for The buried giant : a novel
The buried giant : a novel
Ishiguro, Kazuo, 1954-

This is a strange and dreamlike story about a group of characters traveling through a mist shrouded ancient Britain. They, and many of the people they meet, are suffering memory lapses. Can they find the things and people that they seek, or will the fog hide everything from them, even who they truly are? 


Book cover for The complete stories
The complete stories
Lispector, Clarice,

A complete collection, for the first time in English, of Clarice Lispector's short stories. She is one of South America's recently "discovered" major writers.

Book cover for Confession of the lioness
Confession of the lioness
Couto, Mia, 1955-

Mia Couto, Portuguese-speaking white African, writes about the confluence of modern ways and ancient traditions in this allegorical tale of hunters and the hunted.

Book cover for Dietland
Walker, Sarai.

Plum Kettle who works for a girls’ magazine answering emails sent to the editor, Kitty.  Plum is a large woman who has spent her life constantly fighting her weight. Things begin to change when Plum notices that she is being followed.This encounter soon leads to her introduction to a cadre of women who commence changing Plum and her conception of beautiful, as well as her expectations of the world. 

Book cover for The distant marvels
The distant marvels
Acevedo, Chantel,

From today's news and headlines, Acevedo depicts a love story set within the history of Castro's Cuba; about those who dare to leave and those who do not; and Maria Sirena's story about her incredible family of fiercely strong, independent people.

Book cover for The fall of princes : a novel
The fall of princes : a novel
Goolrick, Robert, 1948-

The fallen prince of this beautifully written “fictional memoir” is Rooney, once a Wall Street trading wizard earning “$100,000 every microsecond of every minute,” now a clerk for a chain bookstore in New York City. Rooney’s full-throttle descent from the world of $400 cigars, $5,000 suits, and $300,000 cars is an epic crash and burn, but it could turn out to be a fall into grace, not from it. Because when he finally hits bottom, a most unlikely savior enters his life, and offers him one last shot at redemption.


Book cover for Falling in Love With Hominids
Falling in Love With Hominids
Hopkinson, Nalo

This collection of short stories by celebrated fantasy author Nalo Hopkinson is incredibly original and beguiling. The stories throw you straight into new and fantastic worlds that you will wish to stay in longer.  Whether it be the quirky and adorable world of “Miss Emily Breakfast,” or the chilling coming of age “The Easthound,” this is a collection you will not be able to put down. 


Book cover for The first bad man : a novel
The first bad man : a novel
July, Miranda, 1974-

Cheryl is a nervous, bland office drone whose bosses prevail upon her to take in their selfish, vapid daughter, Clee. The relationship that forms between the unlikely roommates is disturbing, violent, and ultimately something altogether unexpected and heart-wrenching. Miranda July fills a book with unlovable people and dares you not to fall in love with it.


Book cover for The fold
The fold
Clines, Peter, 1969-
Call Number: SF

Peter Clines combines elements of a golden age science fiction tale with a classic whodunit mystery and a dash of police procedural as he tells the story of a government research project that has gone horribly, horribly wrong. The Fold is an enduring SF idea given a classic treatment and is a captivating read.


Book cover for Foxglove summer
Foxglove summer
Aaronovitch, Ben, 1964-
Call Number: M

In this volume Peter Grant is called to the countryside when two girls go missing. Things are, of course, not what they seem, and soon he’s mired in questions of changelings, mythical beasts, stroppy bees, and more. Part of the excellent Rivers of London series

Book cover for Futuristic violence and fancy suits
Futuristic violence and fancy suits
Wong, David, 1975 January 10-

Because of her estranged father’s death, Zoey Ashe has just become one of the richest people in Tablu Ra$a: a city without any laws, or taste. To survive the parade of hitmen after her, and her father’s business associates, Zooey will need to use all of her creativity, humor, and talent. She is, after all, a very skilled barista. 


Book cover for Girl on the Train: A Novel
Girl on the Train: A Novel
Hawkins, Paula

Rachel, a young divorced woman, takes the train to work and back, each time passing the house where she once happily lived with her now ex-husband. From the train window, she often sees another couple a few doors down on their patio, and she imagines the wonderful marriage they must have. Through a series on surprising twists, Rachel learns the truth about the young couple, as well as about the marriage she once cherished. Reminiscent of Gone Girl, this novel (and film) will twist what you thought you knew.

Book cover for Harraga
Sansal, Boualem,

Algerian writer Boualem Sansal presents a story of two Algerian women (Lamia, a doctor and Chéfia, a pregnant teenager) whose personal lives, cultures, religions, and politics intersect. 

Book cover for The invasion of the Tearling : a novel
The invasion of the Tearling : a novel
Johansen, Erika,

The new Queen of the Tearling, Kelsea Glynn, is already fighting a battle against a more powerful and vicious kingdom. To have any hope of success she must contend with threats from outside, threats from within, and the dangers of her unreliable magic. At the same time, she finds herself slipping into visions of another woman’s life, long ago and far away, on Earth.

Book cover for The kind worth killing : a novel
The kind worth killing : a novel
Swanson, Peter, 1968-

This elegantly evil thriller opens when a wealthy businessman, Ted Severson, discovers that his wife is having an affair. Leaving a London business trip for a return flight home to Boston, a distraught and drunken Ted meets an alluring stranger, the oddly beautiful Lily Kinter. When Ted becomes flirtatious, Lily makes it clear she has no interest in sleeping with him. But when he mentions that he’d love to kill his cheating spouse, she coolly replies, “I’d like to help.” So begins a pitch dark tale of psychopathy, betrayal, and death, filled with unexpected twists and turns all the way to bitter end. 


Book cover for The Library at Mount Char
The Library at Mount Char
Hawkins, Scott.

Adopted at the age of nine by the imposing man who answers only to “Father,” Carolyn and her fellow Librarians have spent decades studying cryptic and dense fields that they are forbidden to discuss. Now, with Father missing, these otherworldly scholars must figure out how to use their studies to stop the end of the world. But are all of the Librarians working towards the same cause?

Book cover for A little life : a novel
A little life : a novel
Yanagihara, Hanya,

A Little Life follows Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm from the beginnings of their friendship in college on into their adulthood. In their own separate ways, the four blossom in their respective fields, but secrets from Jude's past have consequences for them all. Devastating and beautiful, it is no wonder that A Little Life was a finalist for both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award.


Book cover for The love song of Miss Queenie Hennessy : a novel
The love song of Miss Queenie Hennessy : a novel
Joyce, Rachel,

Queenie is the letter writer who sends Harold Fry (The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry) on his amazing journey. The secrets they share are at the heart of both novels.

Book cover for Made to kill
Made to kill
Christopher, Adam, 1978-

A robot detective named Raymond Electromatic, along with his partner Ada (picture a racier super-computer Effie Perine and you’ve got her!), open the Electromatic Detective Agency.  Adam Christopher seamlessly blends the trappings of both Sci-Fi and Mystery pulps into a page turning robotic-noir story.


Book cover for Make your home among strangers
Make your home among strangers
Crucet, Jennine Capo.

In this award-winning debut novel, tough life-altering decisions face Lizet, daughter of Cuban immigrants, who is about to enter college, and leave her immediate family.  A hard-won opportunity for advancement in a new country is not necessarily the answer to all of life's questions.

Book cover for A manual for cleaning women : selected stories
A manual for cleaning women : selected stories
Berlin, Lucia,

In her short story, "Silence," Berlin writes, “I don’t mind telling people awful things if I can make them funny.” The characters in Berlin's stories are poverty-stricken, alone, unloved, addicted - sometimes all at once - but she makes their stories sing with gallows humor and elegantly mordant turns of phrase. Buckle in for this posthumous fiction collection by a writer who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Raymond Carver and Tom Waits. 


Book cover for The mechanical : the alchemy wars, book one
The mechanical : the alchemy wars, book one
Tregillis, Ian.

In an alternate, steampunk reality where automatons were developed and then used by their dutch inventors as an army to conquer and colonize the world, one Mechanical has suffered a malfunction that allows him to disobey orders. Will he be able to free his people? Will he even be able to stay free himself? 


Book cover for The Meursault Investigation
The Meursault Investigation
Daoud, Kamel.

In Albert Camus' novel, The stranger, Meursault is the French Algerian who kills the anonymous man, aka the Arab. Seventy-three years after the novel's publication, Algerian writer Kamel Daoud, satirically responds to implicit political/sociological/racial asumptions in the original novel. The unknown man, Musa's story is presented by his brother, Harun.  For those who have not read The stranger, it is suggested that it be read first.  The two books would make for a highly charged book club discussion.


Book cover for My grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry : a novel
My grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry : a novel
Backman, Fredrik, 1981-

In this book, we find Elsa, her parents and their partners, the other dwellers in her apartment building, her grandmother, and a wurse (which is a dog).  Her grandmother was a woman ahead of her time, and Elsa is “different” so the grandmother, upon her death, sets Elsa up with a quest.  Backman once again treats us to a domestic story featuring flawed, eccentric, yet understandable characters. 


Book cover for Numero zero
Numero zero
Eco, Umberto,

A satire set in the 1990s of modern Italy: a newspaper with less than sterling approaches to the news; corrupt politicians; terrorists; international secret police agencies; and gently toss with some unstable love/romance stories and another compelling read is served forth by scholar and novelist, Umberto Eco (Foucault's pendulum; The name of the rose; The Prague cemetery).


Book cover for One step too far.
One step too far.
Seskis, Tina.
Call Number: Ed.a

A compelling novel of an English woman who has run away and left her husband and baby son. Full of stunning twists and allusions to secrets that are gradually revealed, this is a well-paced story about the emotional cost of the secrets we keep.

Book cover for Our souls at night
Our souls at night
Haruf, Kent.

Addie Moore asks Louis Waters, "I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me. ... And talk?" She then adds, "I am talking about getting through the night." Both of these senior citizens, who are neighbors in Holt Colorado, have lost their spouses. Kent Haruf's last novel elegantly speaks to the loneliness both people feel, and how they overcome it despite the mean-spirited disapproval of friends and relatives.

Book cover for Purity : a novel
Purity : a novel
Franzen, Jonathan.

Franzen captures the zeitgeist in this novel about the devotion of a young California woman, Purity “Pip” Tyler, to a Julian Assange-like character, Andreas Wolf. The novel’s most moving passages are set in communist East Germany, where people had to undertake extreme measures to survive a totalitarian regime, during the 1980s. 

Book cover for Saga. Brian Vaughan, writer; Fiona Staples, artist. Vol. 5
Saga. Brian Vaughan, writer; Fiona Staples, artist. Vol. 5
Vaughan, Brian K,
Call Number: 740.9999 S1295 v.5

This is the 5th volume of a story about love, politics, and trying to be the person you want to be in the midst of war and catastrophe. There is a riot of characters from strange alien races in this ground breaking sci-fi series, all of them with different goals and beliefs, and all of them hunting one small, fractured family across the universe. 


Book cover for The scribe : a novel
The scribe : a novel
Guinn, Matthew.
Call Number: M
A dark story of murder and race relations with black magic overtones, set in Atlanta in 1881.  Disgraced police officer Thomas Canby, partnered with the department's only black patrolman, tries to resurrect his career by solving a serial murder case in which the killer sends a cryptic message through letters carved on the foreheads of his victims.

Book cover for The sculptor
The sculptor
McCloud, Scott, 1960-
Call Number: 741.5 M127-3

Why do we make art? What does art cost us to create? David Smith is a struggling sculptor. When he makes a deal for the chance to make ground-breaking art instead of living a normal life, what is he really giving up? Scott McCloud tells a heartbreaking story about creation, love, and loss with beautiful line drawings and haunting style.


Book cover for Second life : a novel
Second life : a novel
Watson, S. J. (Steven J.),

The dark and suspenseful story of a married woman who starts an affair with a man met online explores the question of how well you can really know another person. When Julia learns that her sister has been murdered, she embarks on a quest to find out who killed her, throwing caution to the wind and putting her family in danger. Her online relationship turns dangerous and the resulting tension is woven throughout the enitre book until secrets are revealed in a stunning denouement. 


Book cover for Seveneves
Stephenson, Neal
Call Number: SF

This book grabs you from its opening line of “The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason." The first and second parts of the book explore the consequences of that event (extremely catastrophic), and the race to save something of Earth’s biosphere. In the third section, we jump ahead 5,000 years to see the results of this struggle. Ultimately this book celebrates survival and provides the reader with an epoch spanning adventure.

Book cover for The story of my teeth
The story of my teeth
Luiselli, Valeria, 1983-

One of Mexico's exceptional new writers (Faces in the crowd) Luiselli has created a humorous and challenging novel which combines literary references with the story of Highway, a combination of fabulist and soothsayer, who claims to possess the teeth of various famous people.


Book cover for The story of the lost child
The story of the lost child
Ferrante, Elena,

Elena Ferrante's four-part Neapolitan epic of a lifelong friendship between two women comes to a satisfying conclusion here as Lila and Lenu's relationship is tested by time and tragedy.


Book cover for A strangeness in my mind : being the adventures and dreams of Mevlut Karatas, a seller of boza, and of his friends, and also a portrait of life in Istanbul between 1969 and 2012 from many different po
A strangeness in my mind : being the adventures and dreams of Mevlut Karatas, a seller of boza, and of his friends, and also a portrait of life in Istanbul between 1969 and 2012 from many different po
Pamuk, Orhan, 1952-

Orhan Pamuk, 2006 laureate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, has created a picaresque tale of old Istanbul and Turkey versus the changing world of the modern city and country.  Boza, a fermented drink, was once ubiquitous, but is rare and sold by few sellers. Mevlut Karataş is one of the few who still walks the streets selling the drink. A rather ordinary man from Central Anatolia, he thinks back upon his entire life and wonders what or who brought him his greatest joy and love.

Book cover for Submission
Houellebecq, Michel,

Political speculative fiction proposes a near-future where the Muslim Brotherhood gains majority seats in the French Parliament, as observed by a dissipated philosophy professor specializing in J.K. Huysmans.  Party alliances are established, compromises made, and France is soon transformed into an Islamic state. The English translation was available in the U.S. three weeks before the Paris bombings, making for stunning synchronicity. 

Book cover for The Sympathizer
The Sympathizer
Nguyen, Viet Thanh

As the Vietnam War, and U.S. involvement, comes to an inconclusive end in 1975, Viet Thanh Nguyen skillfully portrays the conflicts which existed within the Vietnamese people. There were those who supported the United States and those who supported the North Vietnamese, but how they did this was not always clearly evident.

Book cover for Time salvager
Time salvager
Chu, Wesley.
Call Number: SF

Wesley Chu, author of The Lives of Tao trilogy, and 2015 winner of the John W. Campbell Best New Writer Award, takes readers on a time travel thrill ride that is as enjoyable as it is thought provoking. A time travel adventure which holds the present accountable for the future that may come.


Book cover for Touch
North, Claire,

What if you could move from body to body? You could live other people’s lives; be a movie star, a politician, an athlete. But that life would never really belong to you. The narrator of this book has existed like that for centuries. So when he (or she, depending on the body) has to flee across the world, from a group of secret soldiers, the only person he can rely on is the soldier who killed his last host.     


Book cover for A touch of stardust
A touch of stardust
Alcott, Kate.

Very enjoyable backstage yarn set in 1930s Hollywood. Small-town writer Julie Crawford moves to Tinseltown and gets a job working as the personal assistant to movie star Carole Lombard, whose paramour Clark Gable is filming Gone with the Wind. This backdrop allows for a fun mash-up of historical fiction and fact, with lots of salty asides from Lombard, whom one suspects author Kate Alcott is a very big fan of, indeed. Recommended for readers who can’t get enough of Hollywood’s Golden Age.  


Book cover for The traitor Baru Cormorant
The traitor Baru Cormorant
Dickinson, Seth.

Baru Cormorant is going to obtain power, no matter what she has to do to get it. Her first step? Make sure that the imperial taxes are paid in full in the conquered country of Aurdwynn, where noble dukes are poised to rebel and the last two people to hold her post died, mysteriously

Book cover for Twain's end
Twain's end
Cullen, Lynn.

A year before his death in 1910, Mark Twain abruptly fired his secretary, Isabel Lyon, and his business manager, Ralph Ashcroft, who had recently married each other, and wrote a 400-page document accusing the pair of a multitude of crimes and offenses against him.  This novel uses Isabel Lyon's diary and other sources to reconstruct what might have happened to destroy the relationship between America's most beloved author and the woman who more or less ran his life for nearly seven years.

Book cover for The way things were : a novel
The way things were : a novel
Taseer, Aatish, 1980-

A big, complex book that deconstructs the dissolution of a marriage and alienation of a family, amidst and inevitably linked to the multifaceted social and political upheavals of India from the 1970s to the present. The book centers on a father and son, Toby and Skanda, both Sanskritists, and their difficult relationship with Uma, Toby’s estranged wife and Skanda’s mother, and with India. Taseer weaves a considerable amount of history and Sanskrit into this novel, but never at the expense of his characters who feel absolutely alive and credible and absorbing.


Book cover for Welcome to Night Vale
Welcome to Night Vale
Fink, Joseph

Night Vale is a surreal town where time doesn’t make sense and the everyday struggles of growing up and of raising a child become catastrophic and weird. Your son might constantly change his shape, looking for the right one. Or your daughter might stay 19 years old for decades. Nothing in Night Vale is certain, except the haunting words of the host of “Welcome to Night Vale” coming from your radio, even when it’s turned off.

Book cover for West of sunset
West of sunset
O'Nan, Stewart, 1961-

Fictionalized account of the last three years in the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was then living in Hollywood, in failing health, and working sporadically on his final novel The Last Tycoon.  Scrambling to support his teenaged daughter Scottie, a student at Vassar, and wife Zelda, who was institutionalized, he was also involved in a relationship with gossip columnist Sheilah Graham. The book successfully conveys Scott’s conflicted loyalties and sense of impending doom, and is worth a read for Fitzgerald devotees.