Thursday, December 10, 2015

best of 2015: fiction

And now it's time for my favorite novels of 2015!  Just a few notes before I begin:

  • Not all of these were first published in 2015, but that's when I read them.
  • Aside from the first four titles listed, which were definitely my four favorite novels of the year, these aren't in any particular order.
  • G-Vo, don't read the descriptions for 1, 6, and 7.
  • And, as ever, your mileage may vary.

1. Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll:  When she was a teenager at an elite prep school, something very bad happened to TifAni FaNelli (yes, that's how it's spelled).  She reinvents herself as Ani and lands herself a terrific job and a gorgeous fiance, but the past keeps threatening to destroy everything.  It's so good (there's one chapter where I basically forgot to breathe, and I'm not exaggerating; I don't remember the last time a book made me that tense) that I'm naming it my favorite book of the year even though the ending was confusing and a bit unsatisfying.  Still, if you're looking for a compelling read that you'll probably tear through in record time, look no further.

Side note: when we were in New Mexico for Thanksgiving, we stopped at the library and I noticed this book on the shelf, so I recommended it to G-Vo's sister.  She checked it out, and when we stopped in a store to look around, she sat down and began reading it.  When G-Vo and I returned to her, she looked up and said, "You evil, evil woman."  She finished it after we'd gone back to California and texted me to say how much she loved it.  I'm telling you, once you start, be prepared to put just about everything else in your life on hold until you finish!

2. Dietland by Sarai Walker:  Plum Kettle is an overweight woman who spends her days answering mail for a teen girls' magazine and dreaming of the day she can finally afford weight loss surgery.  Then she receives an unusual proposal: the heiress to a weight loss empire, who feels guilty about how she got her fortune, offers her $20,000 to undergo a series of challenges.  Meanwhile, a secret group is taking out people they consider dangerous to women, and Plum starts to wonder if the two things are connected.  Sharp, subversive satire that's so assured it's hard to believe it's a debut novel.  I thought the diet drug called Dabsitaf (read it backwards) was a bit too forced, and I still don't know why the porn star had to get murdered when the reasons she was IN porn to begin with were pretty well explained (this is not a spoiler; the first time you ever hear about her in the book is when she gets killed), but if you've ever wanted to read a feminist version of Chuck Palahniuk, look no further.  It's fucking great.

3. Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter:   Rich trophy wife Claire and her sister Lydia have been estranged for over twenty years.  When Claire's husband Paul is killed during a robbery gone wrong, the sisters reconnect and try to come to grips with their past, but there are some very nasty skeletons lurking in the closet.  I don't want to say more lest I spoil this book, but goddamn is it a CORKER.  Good luck getting anything else done once you start reading this.  Warning, though: even by Karin Slaughter's standards, Pretty Girls is extremely disturbing, so caveat reader.

4. In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware:  Nora is a writer who's a loner and likes it that way.  When she receives an invitation to an old friend's "hen do" (bachelorette party to non-Brits), she really doesn't want to go, but she feels obligated.  It's being held at a creepy glass house set deep in the woods, and tensions among the group build to the point that Nora begins making plans to leave, but...well, I don't want to spoil it.  It's the kind of clever, excruciatingly suspenseful book that makes you want to call in sick just so you can read it in one sitting.  Clear your schedule before you start.

5. Delicious Foods by James Hannaham: After her husband is murdered, Darlene falls into a deep depression that she alleviates with crack. One night, she is lured into a bus with promises of a better life working on a farm called Delicious Foods. But it's not remotely what it seems, and when she fails to come home, her young son Eddie goes looking for her. I wasn't sure what to expect from this novel, because I thought (and still do) the title sucked and the fact that crack cocaine narrates some of the chapters was goofy, but I gave it a try because of the reviews, and I'm glad I did. It's brutal but beautifully written, my heart never stopped breaking for Darlene and Eddie, and the chapters narrated by crack are actually some of the best in the book.

6. The Three by Sarah Lotz:  On a day that comes to be known as Black Thursday, four planes crash simultaneously.  Only four people survive: three children and one woman who dies shortly afterwards, leaving behind an ominous phone message.  Some people think the children are miracles, but others think they're signs of an impending apocalypse.  One thing's for sure, though: there's something wrong with them.  Utterly fascinating; I had a very hard time putting it down.

7. Day Four by Sarah Lotz:  People are enjoying their cruise aboard the Beautiful Dreamer until things go completely to hell on (yup) the fourth day.  A woman's body is discovered in her room, norovirus rages through the passengers, the communications system goes down and the engine dies, and the medium who was hired as the feature entertainment might not be the sham everybody thought.  It's like The Shining on a cruise ship, and it's absolutely gripping.  I'm just glad I didn't read it before my cruise last year, or I probably would have canceled!  (Note:  this is a sequel of sorts to The Three, which I didn't realize until I was halfway through this one.  You could read them out of order as this stands on its own very well, but I wouldn't recommend it as I think some foreknowledge of The Three would have added immensely to my enjoyment and understanding of Day Four.)

8. The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig: Four hundred years after a nuclear apocalypse, children are only born in pairs. One twin, the Alpha, is always perfect; the "Omega" twin always has a deformity. Omegas are branded when young and sent away to refuges or orphanages. The Alphas want to get rid of the Omegas, but there's a catch: when one twin dies, the other immediately follows. It's the first in a trilogy (but it's not YA, believe it or not), which is good because I want more.

9. Oh! You Pretty Things by Shanna Mahin:  Bored barista Jess jumps at the chance to work for an Oscar winning composer.  She thinks she's got it made, but the job isn't as cushy as it initially seems, so she quits to work for an actress instead.  Things are looking pretty good until her estranged mother decides to pay an extended visit.  Sharply drawn and very funny.

10. All the Rage by Courtney Summers:  Romy was sexually assaulted by the son of the town sheriff, and nobody believed her.  She drags herself through life in a daze, but when a classmate goes missing, she thinks it may be connected to her assailant, and she has to decide whether she can continue to keep silent.  A really powerful, beautifully written, searing indictment of rape culture.