The Best New Fiction of 2015

Best Books of 2015

2015 was a banner year for fiction fans, marking the release of Go Set a Watchman, the To Kill a Mockingbird companion novel we never dared wish for; The Girl on the Train, the first book to keep pace with Gone Girl for unreliable thriller fans; and City on Fire, the most buzzed-about debut since…ever. Whether your giftee likes to lose herself in family dramas, sprawling literary fiction, or a good suspense story, you’ll find her dream read on this list.

Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee
The release of a follow-up to American classic To Kill a Mockingbird was the book event not just of the year, but of the 21st century so far. In this sequel of sorts—set 20 years after but actually written before Harper Lee’s debut—we meet an adult Scout Finch, whose visit to her hometown and to father Atticus Finch, literature’s most beloved lawyer, takes place against the shifting backdrop of 1950s America. Lee’s second published work stands on its own for its depiction of Scout’s struggle to reconcile the Maycomb she loved as a child with the Maycomb she sees through the fresh eyes of an outsider, and for its vivid flashbacks to her childhood with Dill, Jem, and Calpurnia.

Rogue Lawyer, by John Grisham
Sebastian Rudd is a rogue in every way: sarcastic, brilliant, and single-minded in his pursuit of justice for his clients, who tend to be the sort that everyone else has given up on, who won’t get justice without his help. Rudd’s tendency to stick his nose where’s it’s not wanted requires him to have a full-time bodyguard, and he never sleeps in the same place twice. His current cases, including the defense of a mentally-challenged young man accused of killing two small girls, aren’t going to make him any more popular. This is can’t-miss read from one of the best writers in the genre.

The Girl on the Trainby Paula Hawkins
Rachel is the definition of an unreliable narrator: an alcoholic still reeling from the end of her marriage, she’s prone to blackouts and rages, and has a dangerous obsession with her ex-husband, Tom, and his new wife, Anna. Unemployed, Rachel gives shape to her days by taking a commuter train into London—and every day she watches out the window for “Jason and Jess,” attractive strangers whose lives she likes to fantasize about. Meanwhile, “Jess,” whose real name is Megan, is less happy than she seems, treating her suburban ennui with a secret life outside of her marriage. Megan’s sudden disappearance gives Rachel an opportunity to lie her way into Megan’s life, and the women’s voices, along with Anna’s, entwine in a time-jumping narrative that will leave you breathless.

Armada, by Ernest Cline
Über-geek Cline’s followup to smash hit Ready Player One is the story of Zack Lightman, whose expertise in the titular video game turns out to be the product of a decades-long campaign by secretive world powers to train the human race for a coming alien invasion. Zack starts to learn the truth while investigating the seemingly crazy conspiracy theories of his long-dead father—but when he arrives on a secret moon base for his training with the Earth Defense Alliance (EDA), he discovers he wasn’t told all there is to know about his dad.

After Alice, by Gregory Maguire
Maguire is a master of flipping the script, famous for his inventive, subversive, and effortlessly entertaining reimagining of fantasy worlds in bestselling books like Wicked and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. His new novel, After Alice, takes on the classic Lewis Carroll story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland from a fresh perspective—that of Ada, Alice’s friend, briefly mentioned in the original story. Maguire follows her into Wonderland as she pursues Alice. The book also explores what’s going on at home while the girls have their adventures, populating these sections with real historical figures.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, by Stephen King
This latest collection from master storyteller Stephen King comes with an epic bonus for fans of his indispensable craft manual On Writing: each story is prefaced by King’s note on its writing and inspiration. Stories, some of them published here for the first time, include slow-creeper “Under the Weather,” in which a devoted husband reflects on his marriage to an often sickly wife, and “Blockade Billy,” in which a retired MLB base coach recalls the terrifying events of a 1950s season with the New Jersey Titans.

City on Fire, by Garth Risk Hallberg
The It Book of the fall, City on Fire is a dense story set in 1977 New York, a year marked by the infamous blackout that plunged the City That Never Sleeps into chaos for a few hours one sweltering July evening. Featuring a cast of characters from all walks of life, tied together by a mystery surrounding a violent crime, Hallberg’s raucous novel is filled with energy and creative visuals, including letters, emails, photos, and diary entries. Propelled by sharp writing that captures a moment in time and the inner voices of characters who offer unique views of life, the arrival of this novel heralds a major new talent in American literature.

Come Rain or Come Shine (Mitford Series #11), by Jan Karon
In the 11th in Karon’s beloved series, set in the small town of Mitford, Dooley Kavanagh takes center stage. The adopted son of Father Tim Kavanagh has grown into a veterinarian with his own newly opened practice, planning a simple wedding with lifelong love Lace Harper. With friends pitching in and money tight, the event won’t be fancy, but it’ll be heartfelt. Longtime readers, prepare to spend an evening celebrating a marriage that was a long time coming, in the company of old fictional friends.

Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff
Groff’s third novel is the story of a marriage, opening with the newlyweds in their prime and spanning more than two decades of their life together. Lotto and Mathilde are tempestuous, impossibly glamorous, and wildly in love. Groff banks their story with heaps of words, wrapping the reader in a heady stew of myth-inflected language as she follows the two through their starving artist days, to the years of heady success, to the betrayal and rage that lie beyond. The story is told in two parts, with Fates being narrated by Lotto, and Furies by an avenging Mathilde.

The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George
Monsieur Perdu is the proprietor of a book lover’s dream: a floating bookshop on the Seine River, in which each book is dispensed like a prescription, to heal broken hearts, bruised souls, and other ailments. But while Perdu uses his intuition to matchmake readers and books, he hasn’t recovered from his own doomed love affair with a woman who left him nothing but heartbreak and an unopened letter. Then one day he finally reads his letter, and is inspired to take his bookshop on a journey in search of closure.

Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll
The “mean girl” trope has long been a shorthand for a certain kind of plastic pretty girl who’s as compelling as she is cruel. But few books explore what makes Mean Girls so mean in the first place, and even fewer wonder what happens to them after high school. Luckiest Girl Alive does both, and performs a remarkable trick by presenting a difficult-to-like protagonist, then slowly humanizing her as her twisty and surprising story unfolds.

Make Me (B&N Exclusive Edition), by Lee Child
In Jack Reacher, Lee Child has created such a unique and deeply drawn character, every new book feels as fresh and urgent as if it were the first. In this 20th installment, Reacher drifts into the small town of Mother’s Rest. He’s just passing through…until he catches the place’s distinctly paranoid, malevolent vibe, and meets a woman who mistakes him for a missing private investigator she’d hired for a “small” job that has gotten much bigger—and more dangerous—than expected. Longtime fans know Reacher can’t ignore a good mystery or a good person in danger, and his decision to help leads him around the country and into the darkest corners of the Dark Web, before returning to Mother’s Rest for a typically tense Reacher climax.

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
Historical fiction fans will love this story of the Nazi occupation of France told through the eyes of two estranged sisters: Vianne, left behind with her daughter while her husband fights at the front, and Isabelle, a headstrong 18-year-old whose first heartbreak sends her into the arms of the French Resistance. The two women fight very different battles in the hopes of not only surviving the war, but coming out its other side as people they can bear to be, marked by courage rather than cowardice.

Purity, by Jonathan Franzen
Saddled with student loans, self-doubt, and a hypochondriac single mother, Purity “Pip” Tyler takes a sketchy job with the Sunlight Project, a cultish WikiLeaks-inspired entity working out of Bolivia. There she falls under the sway of project head Andreas Wolf, before returning to the U.S. to serve as his embedded operative. The story expands over six decades and an expansive web of characters, plots, and digressions, on emotional failings, the end of youth, and the possibility of redemption. Read this one, or risk being kicked out of your book club.

See Me, by Nicholas Sparks
Sparks is at the top of his game in this deeply human story of starting over. Colin Hancock’s past is filled with violence and bad decisions, but he’s committed to turning over a new leaf, pursuing a teaching degree, and living a quiet existence. When he meets Maria Sanchez—a successful lawyer with her own dark past—love springs up despite their mutual hesitation. Their affection is challenged by past secrets, even as ominous events in the present push them to the breaking point. This deeply emotional book once again proves that Sparks understands human nature and relationships as well as anyone writing today.

A Spool of Blue Thread, by Anne Tyler
An everyday family story becomes, in Tyler’s hands, a luminous exploration of love in all its trying beauty. Tyler’s 20th—and reportedly final—novel explores the origins of the Whitshank family and their Baltimore homestead, where grandparents Red and Abby Whitshank are enjoying their final years of independent living. Health issues mean they’re living at home on borrowed time, and all the mess and fractures of family life are thrown into relief by the resulting crisis.

The Survivor, by Vince Flynn and Kyle Mills
The Survivor picks up where 2012’s The Last Man left off, diving right in to a taut, suspenseful story of a traitor in the CIA who steals a wealth of sensitive documents. Mitch Rapp quickly tracks down the culprit and dispatches him—but the stolen data is out there, and when it starts turning up all over the world, the U.S. faces the security biggest threat in its history. Fast-paced, intelligent, and doing justice to the late Flynn’s legacy, The Survivor is the perfect book for thriller fans everywhere.

X Is For…, by Sue Grafton
In the 24th installment of Grafton’s perennially bestselling Kinsey Millhone series, named for the trickiest letter in the alphabet, private investigator Millhone goes head to head with a serial killer. This isn’t a whodunit, but rather a nail-biting race against time, as Millhone tries to build a case that will get him locked away…and keep her out of his clutches.

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