LitReactor Staff Picks: The Best Books of 2015

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Another year has come and gone. You know what that means, don't you? Time for a bunch of strangers to tell you what was good! And why should you care what the LitReactor writers think are the best books of the year? Trick question! You shouldn't. But what they have to say might interest you nonetheless, because they are good-looking and knowledgeable and they read like the wind. So for those who care, we submit for your approval/derision some of LitReactor's favorite reads of 2015. [Read part II HERE]

* Not all of these books were published this year. We figured if someone read a book for the first time in 2015, they deserved the opportunity to crow about it.

Rob Hart - Class Director

'The Small Backs of Children' by Lidia Yuknavitch

This is the only book that made the list before I read it. Then I read it, and yeah, of course it had to go at the top. It’s fucking Lidia. This book made me feel emotions I didn't know I had.

'Wake of Vultures' by Lila Bowen

This is going on the shelf of books I want my daughter to have access to when she’s a little older. It's something special. Phenomenally imaginative Old West fantasy with a heroine who is genderfliud, biracial, bisexual—and supremely badass. [Interview]

'A Head Full of Ghosts' by Paul Tremblay

I was raised Catholic, and had a traumatic experience watching The Exorcist as a child, so I figured this book was going to fuck with me a little. Turns out it was horrifying on levels I never would have imagined, but in the best way possible. [Review]

'The Killing Kind' by Chris Holm

This book is about a hitman who hits hitters, and the psychopath tasked by the mob to take him down. If that’s not enough to get you to read it, then I am sorry, you are a boring, lifeless person. Unlike this book, which is the opposite of that.

'Bull Mountain' by Brian Panowich

A barnstormer of a first novel that weaves through multiple characters and multiple timelines without ever losing the heart of the story: What family means, or can mean, or should mean.

Also awesome: Small Mercies by Eddie Joyce, Jigsaw Youth by Tiffany Scandal, All This Life by Joshua Mohr, Fake Fruit Factory by Patrick Wensink, Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

Richard Thomas - Instructor/Columnist

'A Head Full of Ghosts' by Paul Tremblay

A subtle horror story that sneaks up on you, this tale of possession is told in a unique way, the framework for the story part of what adds to the discomfort. Another book with an ending that keeps layering on shock and awe, the ambiguous truths something we've all been fighting about. Loved it. [Review]

'Gutshot: Stories' by Amelia Gray

Amelia Gray is doing some really unique things with short fiction. She blends the surreal with the literary, the quiet with the unnerving. A woman creeps through the ductwork of a quiet home. A medical procedure reveals an object of worship. A carnivorous reptile divides and cauterizes a town. Always surprising, I've been a fan of hers for a long time.

'The Dead Lands' by Benjamin Percy

A reimagining of the Lewis and Clark expedition, this book is a combination of The Stand by Stephen King and Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon. The weirdness we see on the trails, out in the desert, and across this great land of ours, it just keeps coming, unspooling, as we root for this rag-tag group of misfits to succeed. Percy is amazing.

'Best Horror of the Year, Seven' edited by Ellen Datlow

If you want to know what's happening in the world of horror, then be sure to pick up this series every year it comes out. Ellen Datlow is the Queen of Horror, and the stand out stories in this anthology were by Stephen Graham Jones, Genevieve Valentine, Rio Youers, Garth Nix, Dale Bailey, Brian Evenson, and Livia Llewellyn.

'Scrapper' by Matt Bell

Matt Bell has great range, so it's no surprise we fall into this dystopian psychological thriller, grabbing horror and kindness in equal handfuls. A powerful story of survival and redemption, told in a surreal, dreamlike manner, truth and lies battling for domination, his protagonist flawed and yet still demanding our support. Great book.

Cath Murphy - Review Editor/Podcast Editor

'The First Bad Man' by Miranda July

Sweet, silly and deeply twisted, The First Bad Man is a book about love. Broken, weird love, but love all the same, and like all love stories, this one is about how caring for someone often means letting them go. [Review]

'Number 11' by Jonathan Coe

Wickedly funny satire from the master of restrained yet biting humour. Coe takes potshots at a very British brand of villain, the cold eyed types who believe Margaret Thatcher was the best thing to happen to the mining industry and that Syrian refugees take to leaky boats because they want better dental treatment.

'Aquarium' by David Vann

Have you ever visited an aquarium and wondered what it’s like to be on the other side of the glass? David Vann’s outstanding novel explores how we can become trapped by circumstances, yet still find a way to free ourselves from the past. [Review]

'Dietland' by Sarai Walker

If Dietland were a cake, it would be a huge chocolate cake covered in luscious sour cream chocolate icing, and hidden deep in the centre of this cake would be a ticking bomb. [Review]

'Benchere in Wonderland' by Steven Gillis

You can’t read this and not fall in love with Benchere, part-bear, part-world renowned artist, who travels to Africa to create art in the desert and ends up embroiled in civil war. [Review]

Keith Rawson - Columnist

'Get In Trouble' by Kelly Link

As a writer who’s spent the last 10 years of his life pretty much doing nothing but writing short stories, there are a few authors who I  worship as absolute masters of the craft: George Saunders, Karen Russell, Laird Barron, Charles Yu, etc. Oh, and Kelly Link. In fact, Link ranks right at the tippy-fucking-top right alongside Saunders as America’s finest short story writer in my opinion, and her latest collection, Get In Trouble, is easily her best and most mature collection to date. [Review]

'The Cartel' by Don Winslow

Was there ever any doubt that The Cartel wasn’t going be on my list of top 5 reads of 2015? Winslow’s character rich, truthful, and insanely violent follow up to The Power Of The Dog turned me inside out, and absolutely cemented Winslow’s status as America’s BEST crime novelist. By the way, if you haven’t read Winslow (and yes, that even goes for you non-crime fiction fans out there), you’re missing out on one of the most versatile prose stylists currently publishing. [Review]

'Gutshot: Stories" by Amelia Gray

'Here's the thing though,' he said. 'Your folks are dead. And I have a warrant out for my arrest. And you're forty years old. And I am addicted to getting tattoos. And our air conditioner's broke. And you are drunk every day. And all I ever want to do is fight and go swimming. And I am addicted to keno. And you are just covered in hair. And I've never done a load of laundry in my life. And you are still technically married to my dealer. And I refuse to eat vegetables. And you can't sleep unless you're sleeping on the floor. And I am addicted to heroin. And honest to God, you got big tits but you make a shitty muse. And we are in Beaumont.’

Yeah, that paragraph alone made me fall in love with this collection of surreal vignettes, and the rest of the book is just as quotable.

'The New and Improved Romie Futch' by Julia Elliott

I absolutely loved this novel, and if Elliott continues along the literary path she’s currently taking, there’s a better chance than not that we may very well have the next Kurt Vonnegut on our hands. Yeah, you heard me right, deal with it. [Review]

'A Head Full Of Ghosts' by Paul Tremblay

All I have to say about A Head Full Of Ghosts is this: It scared the absolute living shit out of me. Horror novels, movies, TV shows, etc., do not do that to me. Ever. But yet, Tremblay’s atmospheric and satiric novel turned my body and brain into a trembling bowl of Jell-o on more than a few times while reading. By the way, if you haven’t read it yet, what the fuck are you waiting for already? [Review]

Max Booth III - Columnist

'Bull Mountain' by Brian Panowich

...because it filled the hole Justified left in my soul.

'A Head Full of Ghosts' by Paul Tremblay

...because it fucking terrified me. [Review]

'Paradise Sky' by Joe R. Lansdale

...because Lansdale is king and his newest is no exception. [Review]

'The Girl on the Train' by Paula Hawkins

...because it kept me up at night.

'So You've Been Publicly Shamed' by Jon Ronson

...because it made me feel terrible about the human race.

Peter Derk - Columnist

'Howard the Duck: What the Duck? Vol 0' by Chip Zdarsky

It was a close race for funniest Marvel comic this year with Squirrel Girl, Spider-Man and the X-Men in the running. But in the end, our feathered friend won out. Howard creates an ad campaign based on Quaxploitation and seeks the stones that go in, not the Infinity Gauntlet, but the lesser, crappier Abundance Glove. Too good.

'Step Aside Pops: A Hark! a Vagrant Collection' by Kate Beaton

Just skip to the page with Rambling Boy. This is less proof that the book is hilarious, more of a friendship test for me. Pure gold.

'The One-Hour MFA (in fiction)' by Michael Kimball

I'm not big on how-to-write books, but Michael Kimball is pretty great, and I wish this book had been around when I was in school. Think how much pain would have been saved with this piece of advice:
"There are lots of things writing teachers tell their writing students not to write. The list is huge, but here's a short version: getting drunk, smoking cigarettes, backpacking in Europe, dreams, porn, car chases, car accidents, your band, how much you hate your ex-wife, ex-boyfriend, etc. Of course, there are probably exceptions to each of those (except backpacking in Europe)"

'New Yorked' by Rob Hart

My god would we be better off with more books like this. It's a little like a Richard Stark character got portal-ed into modern times, and he's still trying to fix the world with punches in an era where that's not such a great tactic.

'Agent Cold Beer On Assignment' (Live it up, Mr. Beer Book 2) by Charles Hinton

Not published in 2015, but most of us probably missed it. If you want to read something bizarre and insane, this is it. You want The Room of books, the Birdemic of books? Agent Cold Beer is your man.

Read any of these? Add your Best Of lists to the comments!

Joshua Chaplinsky

Column by Joshua Chaplinsky

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor. He is the author of The Paradox Twins (CLASH Books), the story collection Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape, and the parody Kanye West—Reanimator. His short fiction has been published by Vice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Broken River Books, and more. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @jaceycockrobin. More info at and

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Kimber's picture
Kimber from Atlanta is reading The Every by Dave Eggers December 4, 2015 - 1:39pm

Wow, what a consensus; I clearly need to read "A Head Full of Ghosts," stat.