Closing the final page on the very best books leaves you with a single urge: to share it. We’re talking about the kind of books that make you want to follow strangers down the road, tugging at their elbow and saying “seriously, you’ve got to read this”.
Here then, is our equivalent of doing that. These are the books published in 2015 that our writers felt compelled to share. If there’s one that you feel similarly enthused about, please do recommend away in the comments section…
The Rest Of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness
Yet more sharp, involving stuff from Patrick Ness whose Chaos Walking trilogy is comfortably one of the best sci-fi series of recent years. (While we’re on the subject, Ness’ A Monster Calls, More Than This and The Crane Wife are all well worth any reader’s time, be they young, adult or any combination thereof.)
The Rest Of Us Just Live Here has a premise so brilliantly simple that you feel it must have been done before. If it has, then it probably wasn’t done as engagingly as this. As its title suggests, Ness’ latest novel is about the supporting players, the kids who, while the chosen ones are wearing magical amulets, falling in love with vampires and saving the world, are just trying to get through high school. They’re the extras in the cafeteria queues and graduation ceremonies about whom there are no ancient prophesies. As Ness shows though, their emotional lives are every bit as gripping as a showdown with the season arc big bad.
It’s also a very enjoyable satire of trends in YA, one that pushes the Slayers and Bellas and kids “dying beautifully of cancer” to the sidelines, and places the hugely likeable and damaged lead and his family and friends to the front. A clever take on high school-set fiction that’s a must-read for any Buffy fan.
By Louisa Mellor
In A Dark, Dark Wood – Ruth Ware
Domestic noir has become big business in publishing with agents clamouring to find the next Gone Girl or Girl On The Train. Ruth Ware’s 2015 debut is a title that is not only deserving of such a claim, it surpasses it.
There’s a wonderful sense of familiarity for mystery fans within the novel as Ware channels the genre tropes of Agatha Christie, and combines them with the themes of Bridesmaids, to produce a story that is gripping, absorbing and insatiably devourable.
It’s been ten years since Nora last saw her school friend Claire, but curiosity leads to her attending Claire’s hen do at a remote country house in Northumbria. Why has Nora been invited after all this time? The answer is revealed in a drip-fed web of lies that unfolds over the course of a harrowing weekend.
Ware is a master at positioning her characters so everybody’s a suspect and slowly turning up the tension until it reaches boiling point. A sequence just over half way through the book easily wins the prize for the most nail-biting prose I’ve read this year.
In a Dark, Dark Wood, which has been picked up by Reese Witherspoon’s production company for big screen adaptation, is a cracking debut, and puts Ware on the map as one the UK’s leading mystery writers.
By James Stansfield
ZeroZeroZero – Robert Saviano
With the seminal book Gomorrah, detailing the inner workings of the Neapolitan mafia, Roberto Saviano gained fame, a global reputation for meticulous investigative work, and a critically adored film adaptation. He also gained a lot of enemies. Dangerous ones. Now living his life under constant armed guard, his enforced isolation has led him to this – a work of both genius and madness, riveting prose and tedious description, methodical detail and wild tales.
ZeroZeroZero is about the global cocaine trade. All of it. Saviano charts the almost limitless scope and prevalence of the trade around the world, taking in Escobar, the new Mexican cartels, the money laundering in London and New York, and the dizzying amount of jobs you can find for yourself when embarking upon a career in cocaine. He makes audacious claims such as the fact that during the global financial crisis, cocaine was the main commodity keeping the world economy going. He sketches stories about notorious criminals, and you’re not sure what to believe. He reflects upon his life, his exile from his home, and his new obsession. It’s a truly monumental work, which in its ambitious scale sometimes fails to consistently enthral in individual chapters, but as a whole it’s impossible to ignore.
By Nick Horton
Filmish – Edward Ross
A graphic novel by Edward Ross, Filmish is a fascinating and highly entertaining journey through the history of film. Even if the author didn’t say so in his introduction it would be obvious that he is a total, unabashed movie geek – his enthusiasm and love for his subject positively bleeds from the pages. This enthusiasm, coupled with the fact that he clearly knows his way around the theoretical side of things too, makes the book a real pleasure to read.
Ross’s black and white art is clean and very appealing, striking an effective balance between cartoonish simplicity and and careful detail. His quirky recreations of the many, many films that he cites are charming, and the book is full of fun little riffs and Easter eggs for eagle-eyed film buffs to pick out.
Combining short, informative blocks of text with varied panel layouts containing a wealth of excellent illustrations, Ross has created a highly accessible book suitable for budding and established film fans alike, whether you’re dipping your toe in the waters, in need of a primer before starting a course, or simply looking to refresh your memory. Or, y’know, if you’re just after a fun read.
By Stefan Mohamed
Slade House – David Mitchell
2015 saw the paperback release of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, and Slade House is a brief companion piece that gives the reader a haunted house to remember. Comprising of short stories that are linked by a house that can swallow you whole, this is one of those books where action is so much better than words. The characters squirm on the tortures that the deeply scary inhabitants of the house devise for them, and there are no guarantees that anyone will ever emerge from its strange rooms.
Mitchell also handles time so well; we move through the decades and are placed in each year with deft description and a few choice words and phrases. It all slows down once we reach the long conversations that try to make sense of it all, but in terms of pacing and structure – and in creating a spooky place that will stay in the memory forever more – this is a great read.
By Aliya Whiteley
The Invisible Library – Genevieve Cogman
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman is one of those rare fantasies that seems to arrive fully formed within the first few pages of the book. It follows Irene, a spy for an institution known as The Library, a world of books that exists between alternate realities, each one fighting its own little battle between the opposing forces of Order (represented by supreme overbeings, the incredibly powerful Dragons) and Chaos (represented by the Fae, powerful folk with magical capabilities). The alternate realities themselves are each unique, but with recognisably realistic and fictional traits that set them apart; the bulk of Irene’s mission here takes place in a steampunk, fantasy urban London, complete with zeppelins, werewolves and the odd vampire or two.
Irene herself is a fantastic central character, a capable, intelligent female lead who seems to have one of the best, if dangerous, jobs in fiction as a book collector who just happens to have some spectacular adventures along the way. Bibliophiles will delight in Cogman’s creations; there’s literature in there that we recognise (each alternate reality has its own Shakespeare, for example) and those that are entirely of Cogman’s invention, but in keeping with the styles and conventions of the authors in question. The book at the heart of Irene’s adventure is a version of the Brothers Grimm fairytales, containing one unique story. Most of all though, The Invisible Library is a huge amount of fun, complemented well by its follow-up, The Masked City, which was released earlier this month. Cogman’s world is one in which you can’t help but immerse yourself, full to the brim with ideas. At times, it feels like it could get a little crowded, but Cogman proves to be an assured hand. Now, if only The Library were hiring…
By Becky Lea
The Nonsense Show – Eric Carle
It’s not often that a children’s picture book is dedicated to a Belgian Surrealist, but in Eric Carle’s utterly charming The Nonsense Show, a hat-tip to Réné Magritte is entirely fitting.
Writer and illustrator Eric Carle, best known for his enormously successful The Very Hungry Caterpillar, welcomes you to a Nonsense Show in his 2015 picture book. Ducks grow out of bananas, birds fly underwater, a horse and his jockey swap heads…
It’s a beautifully, imaginatively illustrated delight with simple, surprising text that’s a great antidote to the plodding rhymes of some younger children’s stories. Carle’s collages are full of so much absurdity, surprises and laughs that you can practically hear children giggling with the turn of every page. Highly recommended.
By Louisa Mellor
Pro-Wrestling Through The Power Slam Years – Findlay Martin
It was a sad day when Power Slam magazine breathed its last in summer 2014. For twenty years the magazine had been a shining beacon in wrestling journalism, thanks in no small part to the well written and thoughtful analysis of the industry provided by its editor, Fin Martin.
This year Martin returned with his e-book chronicling the ups, downs and changes in the wrestling business throughout his magazine’s life span, combined with the journey the magazine took during that time.
Anyone who has ever read an issue of Power Slam will know that Martin is second to none when it comes to writing about wrestling and his love, and at times despair, of the genre comes through in this lengthy but always informative history class. Lapsed wrestling fans will find it a joy to read and be reminded of the angles, characters, matches and pay-per-views that wrestling has provided its fans with over the last two decades.
It’s not always easy going. The darker side of the industry and the numerous death related to it are discussed, and it’s with some dismay that whilst reading about the downfall of WCW from 1999 onwards, you could so easily be reading about WWE in 2015, but for anyone with a passing interest in wrestling history, Martin’s book is a must read.
By James Stansfield
Spectacles – Sue Perkins
You would have had to be living under a rock this summer to miss the mania that surrounded The Great British Bake Off – the perfect show with a mix of laughs, talent and above all, cake. As with all good recipes, one of the key ingredients to making the show a success is the presenting duo of Mel and Sue, and it’s Sue who takes us on a journey through her life thus far in the funny and touching Spectacles.
I love a good autobiography and Sue Perkins really delivers with her first book. Taking us through her childhood in South London through to her time at Cambridge and initial meeting with Mel to their success on the circuit through to Light Lunch and of course Bake Off, each professional milestone is told in a funny and honest way and interjected between the things you may already know are some deeply personal, touching and revealing revelations from a woman who has become a household favourite for being all of the above. It will make you laugh and in the case of one certain chapter you will more than likely shed a tear, the perfect gift to enjoy with your mince pies and sherry this Christmas.
By Carley Tauchert-Hutchins
The End – Charlie Higson
When any much loved series comes to a finish there’s always the worry that it’ll go out not with a bang, but a whimper. Charlie Higson put to bed such fears this year with the final instalment of his YA series The Enemy by giving it the epic ‘adults vs kids’ conclusion that it richly deserved.
The labyrinthine plot, which has never taken any prisoners in terms of shock deaths and brutal hardships in its post-apocalyptic Britain setting, is wound tightly up by Higson as he plays out the ultimate fates of the characters we’ve got to know over seven novels. As always, some live and some die, possibly your favourites, and if the final paragraph doesn’t bring a tear to your eye then you’re of a stonier heart than I am.
By James Stansfield
Asking For It – Louise O’Neill
Louise O’Neill’s Asking for It arrived in September already earmarked as a book to watch out for. O’Neill’s debut, Only Ever Yours earned her a legion of fans and a slew of awards so there were already sky-high expectations for its follow-up. Did it deliver? Yes, and more than anyone could have predicted.
One night in her uncomfortably close-knit Irish town, Emma O’Donovan undergoes a truly horrific experience. That is Asking For It in a nutshell; there’s no twist to the novel or dystopian slant to cushion the awfulness of the subject, and the writing is deliberately minimalist. It’s as stomach-churning as you would expect but O’Neill goes one step more, really getting under the skin of Emma and exploring the fallout and reaction to her assault. O’Neill delivers her book with brutal truth about rape culture that will stay with you for long after reading. Emma’s story is not a rarity and Asking For It constantly reminds us of this.
The disgust and upset I felt after reading Asking For It will never go away. It’s a hard book, naturally, but an essential one for not just teenagers. You won’t be able to stop thinking about the warning Asking For It comes with.
By Patrick Sproull
Macaque Attack! – Gareth L Powell
Macaque Attack is the final book in Gareth L Powell’s Macaque Trilogy and, while its existential dimension-hopping may confuse new readers, it’s a fittingly explosive end for those already immersed in its weird, wild world. I remember seeing the first book – Ack Ack Macaque – in bookstores and being tempted by that irresistible title, but I worried that a story about a one-eyed cigar-chomping monkey WWII pilot who fights Nazis might be a little too… well… silly? Eventually I gave in and found myself blazing through the entire trilogy in a few days. It’s that addictive.
Powell has created a vast, thoroughly original world that is so imaginative, emotionally engaging and frighteningly real that you don’t want to leave it. His characters – human, simian and, uh, other! – are beautifully crafted and written with a depth and sincerity that gives them life. This grounding keeps the story tight even when Powell plays fast and very loose with reality. Although Macaque Attack! focuses more on shock twists and action sequences than its predecessors, the setup has been handled so carefully that you’ll be primed for this gloriously entertaining pay-off. These books have brightened my year.
By CJ Lines
Bitter Sixteen – Stefan Mohamed
Just when you find yourself hoping that the cultural onslaught of the superhero would disappear a book comes along that makes you change your mind. Bitter Sixteen is for all those who wish for superpowers and suspect that, deep down, getting them wouldn’t immediately solve all the world’s problems. Welsh teenager Stanly has developed telekinesis and the ability to fly (and he also happens to own a talking Beagle called Daryl) but that doesn’t mean his life is suddenly plain sailing.
What really appeals is the fact that Stanly’s super-life doesn’t happen in a vacuum. He knows all about geek culture and how superheroism usually pans out. Is he up to the task of being a Bruce Wayne or a Clark Kent? Even when he comes across a supervillain to fight he’s still just Stanly underneath it all – reading the books and watching the films are no preparation for the real thing. That’s what breathes new life into the format, and makes Bitter Sixteen huge amounts of fun for the reader.
By Aliya Whiteley
Discworld: The Shepherd’s Crown – Terry Pratchett
2015 saw the sad loss of Sir Terry Pratchett, followed a few months later by our last journey into the glorious, rich world he created in the final Discworld novel, The Shepherd’s Crown. It is, appropriately, a book about death and about change, about new beginnings and moving on. It’s a book about saying goodbye and carrying those we’ve lost with us into a new world. Also witches, fairies and the Disc’s own Dad’s Army. It’s as funny as all the Discworld books, but it’s also a painfully moving farewell to a world many of us have lived in for 32 years.
This book sits as the culmination of all those changes over the years, the ripple effects of every Discworld book from the beginning. Some beloved elements of the world we’ve come to know over the last thirty-two years come to a close, while others are left to walk on into a world we won’t get to see. And yet there is a feeling that they will carry on, somewhere, and the world will move on without us and keep growing and changing and developing, somewhere in the flow of narrativium, even if we can no longer follow it.
By Juliette Harrisson