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It’s a common complaint among avid readers and always an unfortunate truth for me as we are wrapping up our annual Best of the Year lists. Especially when so many of 2015’s notable titles are sooooooo long. For those who thought Fates and Furies—at 400 pages—was long, what about Atkinson’s A God in Ruins (480), Franzen’s Purity (563), Yanagihara’s A Little Life (720), or Hallberg’s City on Fire (927)? Honestly, I am still working my way through City on Fire and have yet to get my hands on A Little Life (though I am finally next in line for BCPL’s e-book!). But I digress. For all those (maybe) wonderful 2015 titles I haven’t yet read, our 2015 Adult Fiction committee has read numerous noteworthy titles that we just didn’t love quite enough to give them a Best of the Year title. Other books greatly enjoyed by committee members (and other library staff) this year include the aforementioned A God in Ruins and Purity, twisty thrillers like In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Luckiest Girl Alive, and the latest books by reliably great authors like Toni Morrison and Harlan Coben. As for those 2015 gems we haven’t yet discovered? We’ll add them in later. For now, here is our current list of our favorite books of 2015:
The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki In this compelling biographical fiction, Pataki brings to life the 19th Austro-Hungarian empire and the scandalous love story of Emperor Franz Joseph and “Sisi,” the daughter of a Bavarian Duke and younger sister of the Emperor’s fianceé.
All the Old Knives by Olen Steinhauer Nine years ago, terrorists hijacked a plane in Vienna. Somehow, a rescue attempt staged from the inside went terribly wrong and everyone on board was killed. Members of the CIA stationed in Vienna during that time were witness to this terrible tragedy, gathering intel from their sources during those tense hours, assimilating facts from the ground with a series of texts coming from one of their agents inside the plane. So when it all went wrong, the question had to be asked: Had their agent been compromised, and how? Two of those agents, Henry Pelham and Celia Harrison, were lovers at the time, and in fact that was the last night they spent together. Until now. That night Celia decided she’d had enough; she left the agency, married and had children, and is living an ordinary life in the suburbs. Henry is still an analyst, and has traveled to California to see her one more time, to relive the past, maybe, or to put it behind him once and for all. But neither of them can forget that long-ago question: Had their agent been compromised, and how? And each of them also wonders what role tonight’s dinner companion might have played in the way things unfolded. All the Old Knives is Olen Steinhauer’s most intimate, most cerebral, and most shocking novel to date from the New York Times bestselling author deemed by many to be John le Carrâe’s heir apparent. –Provided by publisher
American Meteor by Norman Lock A scrappy Brooklyn orphan-turned-assassin comes of age, befriends Walt Whitman, apprentices under William Henry Jackson, and stalks General George Custer as railroad construction advances the nation’s expansionist goals.
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams: Stories by Stephen King From a master of the short story, a collection that includes stories never before in print, never published in America, never collected and brand new- with the magnificent bones of interstitial autobiographical comments on when, why and how Stephen King came to write each story. –Provided by publisher
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain I couldn’t stop reading this fascinating portrayal of Beryl Markham, a complex and strong-willed woman who fought to make her way in the world on her terms. McLain paints a captivating portrait of Africa in the 1920s and the life of expats making their home there. Highly, highly recommended. — Halle Eisenman for LibraryReads.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff Fates and Furies is a modern portrait of marriage. Lotto Satterwhite is the center, the hub around which all the characters revolve in the first half of the book. In the second half of the book, the lens turns to Lotto’s wife Mathilde, and her side of the lopsided partnership gives us a totally different view. Groff is a master of language. It’s not a gentle read. But it’s magnificent. –Kelly Currie for LibraryReads.
Fortune Smiles: Stories by Adam Johnson This short story collection by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Adam Johnson features only six items, but they’re full-fledged doozies that demand careful reading. Despite differences in plot and setting (like Silicon Valley and North Korea), what they all have in common are realistic characters enduring tragic events and challenges. Taken together, they give the impression that these stories could very well be about real people (one, “Interesting Facts,” has some similarities to Johnson’s own life). –Description by Shauna Griffin
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins Rachel is a washed-up thirty-something who creates a fantasy about the seemingly perfect couple she sees during her daily train ride into London. When the woman goes missing, Rachel manages to insert herself into the investigation of the woman’s disappearance. In the vein of Gone Girl, this dark psychological thriller is fast-paced and features some very unreliable narrators. –Andrea Larson for LibraryReads.
Green on Blue by Elliot Ackerman An Afghani orphan loses everything when his village is attacked by militants and must join a U.S.-funded militia to try to save his injured brother, who fell victim to a marketplace bomb.
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah Reunited when the elder’s husband is sent to fight in World War II, French sisters Vianne and Isabelle find their bond as well as their respective beliefs tested by a world that changes in horrific ways.
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf Beautiful, elegant and poignant, this novel is a distilled experience of Haruf’s writing. The story of how two elders attempt to poke at the loneliness and isolation that surrounds them will stick with me for a long time to come. I’m amazed at how Haruf says so much with such spare prose. He will be missed. — Alison Kastner for LibraryReads
Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen Discovering an old and strikingly unusual musical composition that causes her to black out and has a violently transformative effect on her daughter, Julia Ansdell travels to Venice to find the man behind the music and uncovers a dark secret dating back to the Holocaust.
Pretty Ugly by Kirker Butler After eight-and-a-half years and three hundred twenty-three pageants, Miranda Miller has become the ultimate stage mother. Her mission in life is to see that her nine-year-old daughter, Bailey, continues to be one of the most successful child pageant contestants in the southern United States. But lately, that mission has become increasingly difficult. Bailey wants to retire and has been secretly binge eating to make herself “unpageantable;” and the reality show Miranda has spent years trying to set up just went to their biggest rival. But Miranda has a plan. She’s seven months pregnant with her fourth child, a girl (thank God), and she is going to make damn sure this one is even more successful than Bailey, even if the new girl is a little different.
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante Follows the continuing story of the friendship between fiery Lina and bookish Elena, now grown with children and successful in their chosen careers, and both again living in Naples, the city of their birth.
Those Girls by Chevy Stevens Those Girls follows the lives of the Campbell sisters. After running away from their alcoholic father, they find themselves caught in a worse situation when they are kidnapped. As events spiral out of control, they manage to escape and create new lives. This is a tale that will captivate readers and show just how strong the bond between family members can be. — Annice Sevett for LibraryReads.
The Turner House by Angela Flournoy Learning after a half-century of family life that their house on Detroit’s East Side is worth only a fraction of its mortgage, the members of the Turner family gather to reckon with their pasts and decide the house’s fate.