Fiction picks from 2015

This also inspired me to update my blog more, which I haven’t done in over a year. But it’s hard to blog when you’re Facebooking, Tweeting and Livejournalling and Instagramming too. I do have more plans for this space though. 🙂

And now for the books:

I read 152 books this year, which is down from previous years. I also read less fiction than I’ve read in previous years. I started a lot of books that I didn’t finish and I actually had a hard time reading fiction because I was depressed. My fiction reading always goes down when I’m depressed. I also read less YA this year.

Here are my top picks for fiction, in no real order:

1. Everything I never told you by Celeste Ng- This is one of my top picks for fiction. It’s about a mixed race family living in middle America in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s a story about families, prejudice and expectations. There’s a death and grieving and from the beginning, it is established that the oldest daughter has died. The real questions are why and how. I found this book moving and have been recommending it to many. The author is also great on Twitter. @pronounced_ing

2. How to build a girl by Caitlin Moran- Based on Moran’s adventures as a teenage rock critic, this book tells the story of a teenage girl who becomes a rock critic. It’s geared to women who grew up in the 1990s. Even though this was British, there was so much that I could relate to in here. And it’s funny in a painful sort of way.

3. The Mountain can wait by Sarah Leipciger- I reviewed this book for Quill and Quire and loved it. I thought it was going to become a break out book, but it didn’t. The book is set inside the interior of British Columbia and flips back and forth between present day and the past. I loved the characters, the writing style and the gritty nature of the story. I wish this book had gotten more attention.

4. Who by Fire by Fred Stenson- The writer Margaret Macpherson told me to read this when I told her I was working on a novel set in in Alberta. Fred’s book takes place in two time periods. The earlier section of the book focusses on a family who has a sour gas plant open near their farm. The later section of the book focusses on Bill, the now grown child of the family. Bill is now working in the oil patch. There are themes about oil, environmental destruction, family and community. Why didn’t people pay more attention to this book? It’s really great.

5. The Devil you know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi- De Mariaffi’s book takes place in Toronto during the time of Paul Bernardo. A young reporter is covering the Bernardo trials, while thinking about a friend of hers who vanished years ago. This book was creepy and had wonderful pacing. There is one scene that scared the pants off of me. This book captures women’s fears, as well as the mood and time of the late 1980s and early 1990s. I had to go back and re-read pieces about Bernardo while reading it.

6. The Humans by Matt Haig- Matt Haig makes both my best of fiction and non-fiction list. In this book, an alien transforms into a human and infiltrates a human life. This book is actually not a simple invasion story, but a story about humanity, the simple joys in life and what it means to be human. And it made me cry. The author is on Twitter- @matthaig

7. Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese- In my mind, this is Wagamese’s best book to date. A man, abandoned as a child, takes his father out into the bush to die. The two men reminisce and learn about each others’ pasts. It’s beautiful and it has the feel of a western.

8. Speaking of beautiful, let’s talk about Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis. I found this book so incredibly moving. It’s both profound and simple at the same time. I adored it. The only reason I didn’t cry was because I was reading it in public. So glad it won the Giller. If you’re a dog lover, you need to love this one. It’s a story about humans, dogs and the bonds between the two of them.

9. Loving Day by Mat Johnson- This book felt so fresh and new! I’d never read anything like it before. Mat Johnson is mixed black and white, and so is the main character of this book. The main character meets his daughter, who is quarter black and has been raised to think she is white. Together, they start exploring blackness. The book is a satire. There are appearances from the Loving couple (a real-life mixed race couple who challenged miscegenation), a school where people categorize themselves by their blackness, a utopian mixed race cult and many discussions about race. This is a story about fathers, and daughters, and race. I loved it and it was both funny and bold. Mat Johnson is also great on Twitter. @mat_johnson

10. Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper- People in my book club had mixed feelings about this book, but I loved it because it played with so many prairie tropes and magical realism. The structure of the book was very different and I appreciated that. Etta is a prairie woman in her 80s who decides to go see the ocean and takes off on a walk across the country. The novel, which is written in short sections, takes places in the present and the past and follows multiple characters. It’s really a different sort of book.

11. The Troop by Nick Cutter- This book was disturbing and scary, but I loved it and couldn’t stop reading it. It’s a horror novel about a bunch of boy scouts who get marooned on an island. Something horrific threatens them. This book is really gross and if you hate body horror, you might not enjoy it. I’ll just tell you that my day job as an agriculture writer has desensitized me a lot.

12. Boo by Neil Smith- A thirteen year old boy is killed and ends up in a weird sort of purgatory/heaven. While he is there, he discovers the identity of this killer. The book flip flops back and forth as he discovers more and more about how he died. I liked the whimsical nature of this book.

13. The Nest- a horror by Kenneth Oppel about a group of wasps that live outside a boy’s house. I don’t want to tell you much more about this book other than it is written for middle graders and it is really frigging scary. Illustrated by Jon Klassen.

14. Other notables- One list that I enjoyed a lot was The Amazon First Novel award. Etta, Otto, Russell and James, appeared on that list. The inventive “New Tab” by Guillaume Morrissette was another book on that list, as was “Pedal” by Chelsea Rooney, which features a bike trip and a sympathetic portrayal of a pedophile. That book was daring and inventive and I’ve never read anything like it. I’d also like to give a nod to “Chinkstar” by Jon Chan Simpson. While the plot of “Chinkstar” didn’t wow me as much as I wanted, I loved the language in the book. “Chinkstar” tells the story of a half Chinese guy living in a fictional Red Deer. This Red Deer is populated by Asian gangs, and the main character has to find his brother. There was a lot of hip hop and some of the most inventive language I’ve ever read in a long time. I actually lost the plot because I got so caught up in Chan Simpson’s word play. (This happens to me every once in a while. I blame it on my poetic tendencies)

Non-fiction picks up in the next while…

3 thoughts on “Fiction picks from 2015

  1. I’m taking at least three of your recc’s! I’m doing that “85” books thing this year, and will be constantly looking for recc’s–thank you Alexis!

  2. I’m glad you’re going to blog more!

    I started Who By Fire when I was reading the Alberta Reader’s Choice awards, but I was just reading too many books at the time and it fell by the wayside. I could see the potential there, though.

    I liked Etta and Otto more than I thought I would too.

    Never heard of The Mountain Can Wait but I added it to the ol’ TBR.

    I will never ever read The Nest because I’m terrified of wasps. *shudder*

  3. I am intrigued by “Nest” being a horror written for middle-graders?? Interesting and bizarre. I will have to check it out.

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