Now that we’ve gotten picture books out of the way, we thought, “What next?” When you start breaking everything down into genres, you could spend your life making top ten lists. Top ten Middle Grade novels. Top ten nonfiction. Top ten memoirs. And on and on and on.
But the impetus for this post was our dissatisfaction regarding the NYT Top Ten Novels of 2015. This strange and uninspired list left us reflecting on what we thought the best novels of 2015 were… and which ones we regretted giving a temporary home on our nightstands. Here, I’ve collected the end of year reflections from our RoscoeBooks community.
Speak by Louisa Hall
I can’t for the life of me understand why more people aren’t talking about how good this book is. Hall’s debut novel bring to life a diverse group of narrators from different time periods, and addresses big questions about the nature of language, understanding and humanity itself in a way that’s incredibly thoughtful and moving.
City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
What an epic project of a book this was…and, in my opinion, deserving of the hype. I thoroughly enjoyed Hallberg’s 900+-page behemoth for a number of reasons: a clever structure, gorgeous and insightful writing, and best of all, a cast of characters that I was sorry to abandon after I finished the book.
Skip: The Half Brother by Holly LeCraw
I may have had unfairly high hopes for LeCraw’s boarding school-set story, but while the writing is self-assured and infused with a real sense of place, the characters and plot twists didn’t quite have the impact I wanted them to have.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
[FULL REVIEW HERE] This novel about four friends making their way in New York City is harrowing, unflinching, and tough to read, but ultimately immensely entertaining. These 700 pages just fly by. I read this in February, and still miss these characters.
The Tsar of Love and Techno, Interconnected stories by Anthony Marra
[FULL REVIEW HERE] – This book reads more like a novel than a short story collection – chronicling the lives of several fascinating characters: Russian gangsters and mercenaries, Chechen art lovers and bureaucrats, and a movie star and beauty queen, among many others. Marra can go from tragedy to comedy, often on the same page. So, so good.
Skip: Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving
It pains me to say this, because I am the biggest Irving fan I know, but this is an unquestionable dud. It’s a novel that tries to be too many things at once, and just forgot to be a good, readable novel.
In Wilderness by Diane Thomas
[FULL REVIEW HERE] Have I talked about this book enough? A great plot, beautifully written, and enough complicated emotional lives to keep me totally enthralled. Thomas’ new novel was a highlight all year, and one that I loved introducing to new fans.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
[FULL REVIEW HERE] Sometimes the best books are the ones that totally surprise you. This was not in my wheelhouse, but it quickly moved in and renovated a new wheelhouse to make room. I don’t know why more people didn’t go gaga over this book. Its themes are eternal, and it left me in a puddle of tears without quite knowing why. Ishiguro is doing something different from anyone out there today, and that’s worth a second look… and certainly a spot on this list.
Skip: The First Bad Man by Miranda July
This one directly goes against the NYT list of notable books. I hated this book. I found the characters cartoonish; the void where their personalities should have been were instead filled with bizarre artistic bravado that seemed totally out of place. I appreciated the magic July conjures through intense unease, but ultimately, this was a flop for me.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
This was the pick of a few staffers, but Wayne recently finished this book, and moved it to the top of his list. It’s new fantasy at its best. If there was ever a fairy tale for adults, this is it. Mystery, romance, horror, and history all collide in this story led by one of my favorite heroines ever: Agnieszka, the messy witch. You do NOT have to read fantasy to fully fall in love with this book, though Wayne might disagree with me.
Ghostly, an Anthology edited by Audrey Niggenegger
Wayne loves a good short story compilation, and the showstopper for him this year was this little gem. He writes, “Looking for a good ghost story? Want it to be creepy? Funny? A classic? It’s all here in this collection. Check out my favorites by master storytellers Neil Gaiman and Kelly Link.”
Skip: Nothing! When I asked Wayne what his hard pass would be, he told me to give him a break, he’s only been working here for a little over a month! Plus, everything he’s read this year was great! Next year, Wayne. Next year.
Lorraine (Not technically a staff member, but a community member extraordinaire!)
Fate and Furies by Lauren Groff
The story of a long-term marriage told from the perspectives of the husband Lotto and his wife Mathilde, this is one wild ride of a read. When I finished this gorgeously written book (in two days, despite its nearly 400 pages, because I could not put in down) I went back to the beginning and reread the first few chapters. Fates and Furies received so much hype in the months before publication, I was prepared to be disappointed. I wasn’t. Every word of praise it has received is deserved. This book is different than anything I’ve read before. Truly breathtaking.
The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza
High fashion meets high tech in this wickedly funny and smart read about a fashion magazine legend-think Vogue’s Anna Wintour-and the young upstart who is determined to turn the iconic magazine into an app. Light-hearted but with an edge, this is a perfect book to take on vacation or to read on a snowy afternoon.
Skip: Somebody I Used to Know by David J. Bell. Billed as a thriller but really a snooze-fest. Unbelievable in plot and character, without the good writing that can sometimes save a book as untenable as this one. On the plus side, it was a quick read. And I really liked the dog.
The YA Corner!
The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough
I read MANY YA books and this is probably one of my favorites I read this year. Through the years, Love and Death play a game – each choosing a human pawn. Death is usually the victor; but Love might persevere in this latest game. A unique concept that is superbly written
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
This was not your typical YA novel. I loved the drawings, notes, and different mediums that the author used to tell Maddy’s story.
Skip: 99 Days by Katie Cotugno – This looked like a light, fluffy YA read that teens would love to read. It followed through on the light and fluffy, but I think there are better “chick lit” reads that I would recommend before this one.
All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
This book was by far my favorite read of the year! Two teens–Violet and Finch–meet on the ledge of a bell tower where Finch talks Violet out of jumping. From there, you watch as Violet learns to deal with her past while Finch can’t seem to outrun his demons. Niven does such an authentic job portraying mental illness while also creating a beautifully heartbreaking story.
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
I have always been a fan of Sarah Dessen and her new book, Saint Anything, does not disappoint. The main character, Sydney, is super relatable to teens and adults alike. You just have to keep reading to find out what happens to her all-star brother who gets in trouble with the law, how her family works through problems, and to see if there is a love story in the works.
Skip: The Game of Lives: Books Three of Mortality Doctrine Series by James Dashner
I am a huge face of James Dashner but was very unimpressed with Book 3 of the Mortality Doctrine Series. I loved every book of the Maze Runner and Books 1 and 2 of this series, but I could not finish Book 3. The plot seemed to keep going for no reason and the details became too confusing to believe or remember. Hopefully Dashner has another catchy series up his sleeve, but this wasn’t it.