The Best Novels I Read in 2015

Before we get to The Best of, if you’re really curious, here’s a list of every book I read in 2015.

This list was harder to put together than last year’s — you think this’d be easy, look at the 5-star ratings, pick 10. But while I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½ books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

Last year, I did a Runners-Up list, too. There are too many to bother with this year. Which is a good thing — a lotta good books last year. I also did a worst of 2014, which I didn’t do to be mean last year — but for some reason feels mean this year, so I’ll skip that, too.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Thank You, GoodnightThank You, Goodnight

by Andy Abramowitz

My Review
Rock ‘n Roll, Love, Inevitable Maturing, and that certain feeling you get while doing something with your friends.
4 1/2 Stars

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's SorryMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch
My Review
Part tribute to J. K. Rowling, part coming-of-age (even if that age is early teen), part love letter to the Ideal of Grandmothers. This’ll get ya in the cockles of the heart.
4 Stars

Long Black CurlLong Black Curl

by Alex Bledsoe
My Review
Bledsoe took his perfect little world, and shined a spotlight on its dark underbelly, somehow making the community even more appealing. Stronger, although more fragile than before.
5 Stars

The Aeronaut’s WindlassThe Aeronaut’s Windlass

by Jim Butcher
My Review
Assuming the next volumes are as good, if not better, this is the beginning of Butcher’s best series to date. It could also be the a promise that he can’t deliver on. I’m betting on the former.
4 1/2 Stars

A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark

by Harry Connolly
My Review
One of the few really unique Urban Fantasies out there. Every other new UF can sort-of be compared to another/several others — but not this one.
4 1/2 Stars

The Way Into DarknessThe Way Into Darkness

by Harry Connolly
I set this one (and the two earlier novels in the trilogy) aside to give myself time to think about them before blogging about them. I never got back to it. A working title for this series was “Epic Fantasy with No Dull Parts” (or something like that) — he pulled it off, staying true to the conventions of the genre while turning them on their head. A great conclusion to a great trilogy.
5 Stars

The DrafterThe Drafter

by Kim Harrison
My Review
Harrison did everything she needed to do here after bringing her 13 novel series to a close. She wrote something that should appeal to her long time fans, but didn’t try to reduplicate her success. A brand-new hero, a brand-new world, with brand-new powers (and problems!). This one rattled me, kept me guessing, and kept me on the edge of my seat.
5 Stars

Last WordsLast Words

by Michael Koryta
My Review
Thoughtful, suspenseful, claustrophobic. A great introduction to a character I hope to see featured in several novels in the future.
4 1/2 Stars

A Red-Rose ChainA Red-Rose Chain

by Seanan McGuire
My Review
McGuire — much like Toby Daye — doesn’t rest on her laurels, but keeps pushing the series forward in directions no one would’ve guessed.
4 1/2 Stars

UprootedUprooted

by Naomi Novik
My Review
This take on a traditional tale just blew my mind — the perfect bit of storytelling.
5 Stars

Long Black Curl by Alex Bledsoe

Long Black CurlLong Black Curl

by Alex Bledsoe
Series: Tufa, #3

Hardcover, 377 pg.

Tor Books, 2015

Read: June 11 – 13, 2015

5 Stars
This book was practically un-put-downable. Not because I was driven to find out what happens next — like a Finder, or Child etc. This is one of those kind of books you don’t want to put down because you don’t want to leave that world, not for a minute, to step back into this one, as nice as it is — filled with your stuff, and your great wife and frequently tolerable children. But this book’s little corner of Appalachia that touches another world (in more ways than one) is a place you just want to exist in. Granted, I’d rather be in one of the earlier books than this one (not a reflection of the quality of the book, just the events portrayed).

Not all that long ago, especially by Tufa standards, Bo-Kate Wisby and her beau, Jefferson Powell wreaked all sorts of havoc. They were so terrible that they were banished from the community, unable to return — or, worst of all, make music. WHen you think of some of the despicable things that have happened or have been described in the previous two novels by citizens in good standing, you get an idea just how bad this was. Both have spent decades yearning to return, to play music — but have had to settle for incredibly successful careers in the music business. Which would be a special kind of torture and pleasure — being that close but not able to partake, still being able to appreciate it though. Somehow, however, this curse was lifted without anyone realizing it.

Well, anyone but Bo-Kate. She returns to get revenge and bow the Tufa to her will, destroying their heritage, their way of life and instituting her own. Her approach is not subtle, she clearly learned a little bit from the “Shock and Awe” tactics of a recent war. My jaw almost dropped when i saw the first step that was taken by Bo-Kate. I — like most of the Tufa — didn’t think that was possible, or at least likely. Although there was something to appreciate about that action, there wasn’t in the rest of what she did to the community — I can’t think of any fictional character I’ve had such a visceral reaction to (especially this quickly) this side of Joffrey Lannister Baratheon, first of his name.

It should go without saying with this world, the way the rest of the Tufa respond and defend themselves isn’t how you’d expect. Which goes double for how things play out.

Thankfully, I did really enjoy the rest of the Wisbys — especially Bo-Kate’s sister. I hope to spend more time with them. Actually, I liked getting to know all the new characters — including Bo-Kate’s allies (or those characters who weren’t new, but we hadn’t really spent time with). The characters in this community are so well drawn, so real that you almost don’t need a plot to enjoy a book about them.

As always, I’m jealous of the relationship between these people and music. I don’t have it — a couple of my kids do, at least. I think the way the two banished Tufa react to their returning musical ability tells you almost everything you need to know about them. These are books that need to come with their own score, their own soundtrack. Sadly, I don’t think humans are capable of putting out anything worthy of the books. As good as some of the music inspired by this series has been, it’s not good enough to live up to Tufa standards.

Two things that detracted from the book for me. First is the sex. Not that Bledsoe’s a model of Victorian attitudes toward sex before this, but Long Black Curl is pretty sexually explicit — moreso and more often than before (I’m reasonably sure, but am not interested enough to go back and check). I don’t think it was necessary, but don’t think it hurt things. It was just one of those things that seemed to stick out to me.

Secondly, this is absolutely the most straight-forward of the series, which is both a strength and a weakness. It’s more accessible. There’s almost no doubt whatsoever whats going on. The previous two books haven’t been exactly subtle about the magic and how it works out in the lives of the Tufa — but (and I’m struggling to express this the way I want to) they mostly just let us see what happened and say “hey, that’s magic.” There’s some winking and nudging, but primarily the reader has to do the heavy lifting. To switch metaphors, Bledsoe gave us all the numbers and equations, but we had solve for x on our own. But here? It’s all spelled out. It’s somewhat refreshing, but a little disappointing, too.

But that’s just a little tarnish to the series. It’s still one of the best out there. This book changes the world, but not so much that you won’t recognize it — this is all about growth, development. It does my heart good to know that Bledoe is writing #5 at the moment, so we’ve got at least a few hundred more pages of this world to come.

You can absolutely start here, but I think you’d be better off starting with the first, The Hum and the Shiver to you can catch all the nuance and atmosphere and all that. What it means that character X shows up and does Y. That kind of thing. Either way, dive into this world.

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4 1/2 Stars