Here it is then, culled down from over 500 – my six favourite books across genres from the west in 2015.
Fantasy: Uprooted, Naomi Novik
It's startling that the book headlining my list this year is one I read as recently as last week, and that too in a genre I don't normally turn to. I only picked up Uprooted because the description looked good: there's a village and the village has like its feudal lord, a man they call the Dragon who takes away one girl every ten years and keeps her in his castle. I thought it would be a complicated-ish story, sort of like Beauty And The Beast, but it turned out to be so much more than that: magic and evil and bravery. Like all the best fantasy, it's an enormously addictive book, and even wins my popular category as after I posted it as a “now reading” photo to my Facebook, at least three people commented to say how much they loved it too.
Historical Fiction: A God In Ruins, Kate Atkinson
If I call this a WWII book, will you be completely prejudiced against it as I was inclined to be? Don't. A God In Ruins follows the Todd family, whom you might remember from Life After Life, which was also a fantastic book. But in this case, it's a standalone novel, so you can read it even if you haven't the first. Teddy Todd is a RAF pilot and the book stretches time so you're looking at him backwards and forwards, with his grandchildren and then zooming in to him as a little boy in the fields near his house and then you're up in the air flying with him, and it's all so good, so beautiful and so painfully sad in bits that you'll have to almost force yourself to stop reading so you can reflect on what's just happened.
Young Adult: Carry On, Rainbow Rowell
True story: I feel so strongly about Rainbow Rowell that recently when I was at a bookstore and two friends were looking at one of her books and wondering whether or not to buy it, I was almost that person who leaned over and said with a strange fervour, “Do. It.” Regardless, I did not have the highest expectations from Carry On, a book stemming from her book about a book in Fangirl. It looked and smelled like a take on Harry Potter without actually calling the characters Harry Potter. But here's where Carry On won the day for me: despite being about “the Chosen One” wizard Simon Snow, it's about regular sixteen-year-old stuff against the backdrop of great fantasy tropes like strange magic and fighting evil and what not. There's even an incredible twist in the end, and the whole thing is LGBT-friendly, so really, what's not to love?
Lit Fic: A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
I wrote a whole article on how much I loved A Little Life so there's not much more to add, except that people have actually thanked me for recommending it, so there's a ringing endorsement. I’ll just leave you with the opening sentences instead:
The eleventh apartment had only one closet, but it did have a sliding glass door that opened onto a small balcony, from which he could see a man sitting across the way, outdoors in only a T-shirt and shorts even though it was October, smoking. Willem held up a hand in greeting to him, but the man didn’t wave back.
In the bedroom, Jude was accordioning the closet door, opening and shutting it, when Willem came in. “There’s only one closet,” he said.
“That’s okay,” Willem said. “I have nothing to put in it anyway.”
Horror: Slade House, David Mitchell
This book was interesting not so much for the horror of it (because Stephen King can write scary rings around Mitchell) but at the way it examined the form and tore it to pieces. Which is not to say it isn't scary. I read it in a brightly lit room in a hotel and still jumped about three feet when I heard a door open in the landing. Fans of Cloud Atlas will recognise the way he builds stories – sort of interlocking them into each other like Lego and yet with separate pieces to be picked up and examined. Slade House is a haunted house story which also talks about the haunted house story. Very meta. And the first bit actually began as a Twitter story the author worked on. You'll find yourself thinking about classic horror tales and how they all work – all the while totally petrified.
Commercial Fiction: The Royal We, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
There's so much new commercial fiction out there, why did I pick this one? Well, because it's loosely (extremely loosely) based on Kate Middleton and Prince William's love life and I'm such a sucker for stories about royalty. For another, while I generally mistrust books written by two authors, these two have practice as they've been running the extremely popular and snarktastic fashion blog Go Fug Yourself for years now. The Royal We is girl-meets-boy, except girl is an American exchange student and boy is the Crown Prince of England. It's extremely readable and with a very likeable lead character. I was very disappointed when it ended because I wanted more – and I think that's always a sign of a great book.
Happy New Year – and may 2016 be full of good reading!
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of five books, most recently Split, a novel for young adults, and Before, And Then After, a collection of short stories.