Andy Weir

The Top 10 Novels of 2015: Part 1

By Daniel Ford

My mother made me a reader.

Family legend has it that I used to carry my board books (likely The Twiddlebugs’ Dream House or The Monster at the End of This Book) to her (or my father) and start blabbering nonsense. It was my signal that I was ready to read. I’m pretty sure if I brought them every book I read this year they would have told me to invest in a better cable television package!  

At the end of 2014, Stephanie Schaefer asked me how many books I thought I read in a year. I had never really considered keeping track before, but with the amount of Advanced Reader Copies Writer’s Bone received this year, in addition to my personal reading list, it was a good time to start!

To date, I’ve read 83 books. There’s a good mix of fiction and nonfiction, but I’m limiting this list to my top 10 favorite novels of 2015 (look for Part 2 tomorrow). I suspect a nonfiction list isn’t far behind! I’ve included some of my original reviews, as well as new insights. Feel free to share your own favorites in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.

Read on!

10. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Paula Hawkins sold a few copies after she interviewed with us in January. Oh, what’s that you say? She sold more than three million copies! Not bad for a debut thriller (which will also be hitting the silver screen sometime in the future).

The novel, which centers around an alcoholic woman voyeuristically inserting herself into a grim love triangle (more accurately, a pentagon), is much better structured than Gone Girl and provides the reader with an ending infinitely more satisfying than the majority of popular thrillers. It’s the perfect popcorn read that has real depth to it. I was fully invested in all of the characters’ backstories, motives, and suspicions. Read this immediately (and plan on losing a few nights sleep while doing so).  

9. Green on Blue by Elliot Ackerman

Along with Ross Ritchell’s The Knife and Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, Elliot Ackerman’s Green on Blue was one of the most original, and haunting, novels written about the War on Terror.

Here’s what Dave Pezza had to say in his review earlier this year:

Green on Blue, Eliot Ackerman’s debut novel, follows a young Afghan by the name of Aziz. Aziz and his older brother are orphaned by Afghan militants. Soon Ali, Aziz’s brother, is maimed by the same men, and Aziz is recruited by a freedom fighting group funded by the CIA, who offer to pay for his brother’s medical expenses in return for his service. Green on Blue offers a rare perspective of the War in Afghanistan: the perspective of the Afghans who found themselves caught between violent, religious extremists and American sentiments of freedom and self-preservation. The result is a captivating narrative of a young teenage boy who wishes only to do right by his family and honor. Ackerman perfectly balances on the line of critiquing American ideals in a Middle Eastern society and the illuminating the struggle of the honest Afghan men and women who try only to survive in this contested land they call home. As America tries to put behind its recent wars in the Middle East, Green on Blue gives us an understanding of the country and its people that we wish we could have had 14 years ago.

8. The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian debuted in 2014, but I didn’t get around to reading it until this year. In our recent Friday Morning Coffee chat, Gary Almeter named a book to his top five largely based on the experience he had while reading it. I feel the same way about The Martian. Don’t get me wrong, the book is wonderful and made me think about science in a new and exciting way, but interviewing Andy Weir and hearing how thrilled he was that the movie was being made is something that I’ll never forget. He also earned bonus points by telling Sean Tuohy that he had a zero percent chance of surviving on Mars. Revisit our podcast interview before getting to the rest of the list!

7. The Boatmaker by John Benditt

From a "Bruce, Bourbon, and Books" review:

I can’t say enough good things about John Benditt’s The Boatmaker. I’ve been reading at a pretty rapid pace the past few months, but I really sat down and took my time devouring this debut. Benditt does some expert world-building, breathing life into the parable style of storytelling. Most of his characters don’t just live in his world; they weather and survive it. The boatmaker begins as a simple man on Small Island, near death from a fever. He believes he’s given a directive to build a boat and sail to Big Island and the Mainland. His naivety nearly kills him throughout his journey, but his curiosity and determination to make sense of these strange lands don’t allow him to turn back. Readers see the world largely through his eyes so I still don’t have a deeper understanding about the power and cultural dynamics at play in this troubled kingdom. I guess it’s a lesson for all of us that not all countries are completely knowable, even if you’ve inhabited it forever. You might have more questions about the boatmaker’s reality (as well as our own), but, trust me, they will be questions worth asking and debating over a glass of brown liquor.

There's a good chance this book is too low on my list. I really loved it. Benditt is also a good guy and a writer worth following.

6. Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican  

Not only does Anthony Breznican have the best beat in the galaxy (he’s Entertainment Weekly’s “Star Wars” guru), but he published an incredible book with a distinct style and earthly, tortured characters.

Inspired by the author’s adolescence spent in Western Pennsylvania, the novel follows the lives of three freshmen at St. Michael’s, a troubled Catholic school (is there any other kind?) known for “religious zealots fearful of public schools,” “violent delinquents,” a “declining reputation,” and “plunging enrollment.”

It’s a good story well told and I look forward to see what Breznican produces in the future (a “Star Wars” novel, perhaps?).

Read Part 2

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5 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: March 2015

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Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books we've read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us @WritersBone.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Sean Tuohy: Oh. My. Goodness. The Martian is amazing. An astronaut is left behind on Mars after a mission goes wrong. Now, completely alone on an alien planet, he has to figure out how to survive. If that doesn't get you going, then something is wrong with you. The pacing in this book is fantastic; one moment you’re on the edge of your seat and in the next, you are bent over laughing non-stop. Great read.

One of my favorite quotes:

“Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be ‘in command’ if I were the only remaining person. What do you know? I’m in command.”

The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James

Daniel Ford: I sat down with Tania James’ The Tusk That Did the Damage expecting only to read a couple of chapters to get a feel for her style. Well, I finally put the book down completed two nights later after devouring every perfectly crafted sentence. James utilizes three narrators—including an elephant named The Gravedigger!—and weaves a tragic story while providing a deep back story for each one. When you’re not rooting for the resilient, emotionally broken elephant, you’ll be ensorcelled by a young man whose loyalty to his poacher brother knows no bounds, or troubled by the passive-aggressive filmmaking shooting a documentary on an elephant rehabilitation clinic. The reviews for The Tusk That Did All the Damage have been overwhelmingly positive, including a glowing review in The New York Times Book Review, so I have no doubt James is an author whose best is yet to come.

Learn more about James and her work by reading my recent interview with her.

If We Lived Here by Lindsey Palmer

Stephanie Schaefer: Do you find yourself inundated with social media posts highlighting your peers’ engagements, promotions, new homes, and pregnancy announcements all while wondering when the pieces of your life will fall into place? Then you’ll certainly relate to Lindsey Palmer’s If We Lived Here. The novel follows a couple in their early 30s as they search for the perfect Brooklyn apartment while dealing with judgmental landlords, gold-digging best friends, and the everyday struggles of young adulthood in today’s world. Take a break from social media and pick up Palmer’s second novel when it debuts on March 31.

You can learn more about the witty book by checking out my recent interview with the author.

The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard

Dave Pezza: Jim Shepard's latest novel, The Book of Aron (due out in May 2015), is told from the first person perspective of a Jewish boy named Aron who lives with his family in Warsaw, Poland during World War II.

The force of this book lies not in the broad strokes of Jewish suffering in the Warsaw ghetto, nor in the survival drama played out in stories like Elie Wiesel's Night. The Book of Aron stands out as a work of powerful fiction because hell is viewed from the perspective of a prepubescent boy.

Let's not be coy; the book's ending is evident from the onset. This boy's fate, and the fate of everyone he knows, is signed, sealed, and delivered within the first few pages. Aron has a dream in the first chapter that sets the book's dark stage, "...I dreamed that a raven was sitting on my shoulder in the wind and a black cloak was streaming out behind me." It is the slow, stark unfolding of Aron's story that makes Shepard's work so crushing and so necessary. From the suburbs, to the city, to the ghetto, and finally an orphanage, Shepard relates the destruction of innocence through a boy's unfathomable suffering. Aron is forced him to live with choices and realities that you wouldn't' wish on your worst enemy.

The Book of Aron is a must read, and I'm certain it will become a new mainstay in the pantheon of Holocaust literature. Be warned, this is a tough, tough book to get through. Tough not only for the reason’s I’ve described, but also because of such soul crushing lines as, "...I hated myself for making me feel the way I did and hated myself even more for not just being dead somewhere." But it's an important story, loosely based on the story of Janusz Korczak and the Warsaw ghetto orphanage he supported and operated, to remember what hate and ignorance can do to one life's most beautiful experiences.

The Painter By Peter Heller

Daniel: I’m an unabashed fan of Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, so I couldn’t wait to read his most recent novel, The Painter. Boy, it doesn’t get much better than an author who has supreme confidence in his ability. The Painter begins with the main character, Jim Stenger, shooting someone in a bar after a man makes lewd comments about Jim’s daughter. Stenger does his time (the man he shoots survives) and then becomes a well-renowned artist (and avid fly fisherman), but can’t quite shake his dark, angry impulses. The tale Heller orchestrates through Jim’s perspective is brutal, but not devoid of all hope. You’re squarely in Jim’s corner despite the horrible acts he continues to commit. Heller’s supporting cast is equally as colorful and deep. Every sentence and line of dialogue in this novel is a masterful brush stroke of literary talent. In our interview last July, Heller said that his writing process for The Painter was to follow “the music of the language.” We should all be so lucky to hear language such as this. 

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