Paula Hawkins

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: January 2015

By Daniel Ford

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 Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

I’ve spent a significant amount of time on trains throughout my life. Your mind wanders to some pretty strange places if you don’t have a traveling companion or you run out of reading material. After reading Paula Hawkins’ debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, I kicked myself for not writing down more of those train musings.

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. Don’t wait for the beach weather, read this immediately (and plan on losing a few nights sleep while doing so).   

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

I had never heard of M.O. Walsh or his novel, My Sunshine Away, before the book showed up at Writer's Bone HQ. After reading the dust cover and public relations material, Stephanie Schaefer said something that made me chuckle, “This sounds like something you would write.” Coming of age story that revolves around a despicable crime? That doesn’t sound like me at all…

Walsh’s crisp style and thought-provoking prose combines both literary fiction and a pulse-quickening thriller. Set in Baton Rouge, La., the novel explores the nature of “violent crime, unraveling families, and consuming adolescent love.” Fair warning, if you pick up this book in the store and read the first chapter, you’re going to end up buying it and throwing out the rest of your reading queue immediately.

While I didn’t know who Walsh was before My Sunshine Away made its way to my desk, I can safely say I’m not going to forget him going forward. My Sunshine Away goes on sale Feb. 10, 2014.   

Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican

I know you can’t judge a book by its cover, but, holy shit, this cover is all kinds of awesome. Better yet, there’s a well-crafted story inside! 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.” Sign me up!    

To pull a LeVar Burton, don’t take my word for it. Stephen King called the novel “funny and terrifying” and “a ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ for the 21st Century.”

Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer

If last month’s recommendation of A Midwife’s Tale was too obscure for you history readers out there, perhaps you’d be more interested in David Hackett Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride? While Fischer is better known for his excellent account of George Washington’s crossing the Delaware during the Revolutionary War, which is aptly titled Washington’s Crossing, his research into an often overlooked or sensationalized event refreshes one of the most critical times of our country’s existence. Revere, whose house is just a few blocks away from where I’m sitting, wasn’t just a simple silversmith or messenger. He was a complete badass! More importantly, the events leading up to the shots fired at Lexington and Concord were much more complex than they appear in most standard history textbooks. Fischer’s research and style gives both Revere’s midnight ride and the revolutionary movement relevancy at a time when the United States is struggling to adhere to its core democratic values in the face of domestic and international extremism. It should be required reading for members of Congress and every news commentator so that the next time they invoke the words “patriotism” and “forefathers” they know what the fuck they’re talking about.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Last month, I read the Hemingway Library Edition of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and loved everything about the volume. I received A Farewell to Arms, which the Hemingway Library released last year, as a birthday gift and hung my head after reading Hemingway wrote this when he was 30 years old (Seriously, dude, you’re killing the rest of us). After crying into my bourbon, I discovered I may enjoy this edition even more than The Sun Also Rises. From the gorgeous blue cover to the appendices that include a plethora of alternate endings (again, man, putting us simple writers to shame), this tome proves beyond a reasonable doubt that it deserves a prominent spot in every Hemingway fan’s bookshelf. Note of caution: When you re-read the story, keep in mind you’re reading a superior edition that doesn’t deserve  a fate like that of Bradley Cooper's copy in “Silver Linings Playbook.”  

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