Columns > Published on December 8th, 2015

LitReactor Staff Picks: The Best Books of 2015 part II

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 1 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.

Joshua Chaplinsky - Managing Editor

I didn't come close to reading everything I wanted to this year. Especially from my favorite indies. That being said...

'A Head Full of Ghosts' by Paul Tremblay

Let's just get this out of the way. Yes, I loved this book as much as everyone else. It would be a lie to leave it off my list for the sake of highlighting something with less accolades. I know my opinion doesn't have the weight of Stephen King's, but this is a must-read for horror fans. [Review]

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'Slade House' by David Mitchell

Mitchell returns with what might be his tightest, most accessible novel. It is an assured piece of writing, proving once again that genre IS literature. An expansion of the already massive universe introduced in The Bone Clocks. As Twisty as the titular house and a pure joy to read. [Review]

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'Bird Box' by Josh Malerman

I didn't get to this one in time for last year's list, but I made sure to remedy that in 2015. Bird Box contains what might be one of THE scariest scenes I've ever read in a horror novel. You know the one I'm talking about. Where the old man is telling them to take their blindfolds off? A masterclass in how to grab the reader by the throat and/or balls. Proof positive that the scariest thing on this planet or any other is still the unknown.

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'Bats of the New Republic' by Zachary Thomas Dodson

I'm a sucker for a beautiful book full of ephemera that subverts the form of the novel. Blame Mark Z. Danielewski, whose The Familiar Volume 1 and Volume 2 could have easily taken this spot. But where The Familiar is an open-ended story just beginning, Bats of the New Republic is a (comparatively) concise circular narrative that requires less of a commitment on the part of the reader. Its conceit of two parallel pieces of possibly historical writing that reference each other as fiction (or something like that) is quite ingenious. It is also a magnificent physical product. [Review]

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'Hyperion' by Dan Simmons

Remember when I said genre IS literature? Hyperion is a prime example. After years of it languishing on my To Read pile, I finally got around to reading this sci-fi classic, and all I can say is—wow. It's The Canterbury Tales in space. Some might argue the whole thing is just backstory, a setup for the sequel where the story really takes off, but these six tales are each so expertly crafted they could exist on their own. I didn't like the sequel nearly as much. [Review]

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Ed Sikov - Columnist

'New Yorked' by Rob Hart

A spectacular debut novel by LitReactor’s own Rob Hart, this noir whodunit gets right to the soul of what makes New York City equally attractive and repulsive. Hart’s protagonist, Ashley McKenna, is brilliantly fucked up. His sidekicks are just as messy. A truly great book.

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'Thieves Fall Out by' Gore Vidal (writing as Cameron Kay)

Muscular Pete Wells gets rolled in a filthy Cairo brothel and agrees to earn some money by acting as courier for a gang of friendly, deadly antiquities thieves. He meets a French femme fatale, an alcoholic Brit, and the sexy daughter of the late commandant at Dachau. (If you want to get your protagonist laid, you may as well go for broke as far as the gal's background is concerned.) Riots in Cairo, a mysterious hunchback, a priceless ruby, and tubby King Farouk, who, as Vidal puts it, looks like a dentist…. A hell of a lot of fun. [Review]

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'Fifteen Dogs' by Andre Alexis

Fifteen Dogs is the best written, cleverest, and most involving book I’ve read in a long time. The conceit – that dogs could be given human intelligence – allows Alexis to explore what it means to be human in a fresh and exciting way. Fifteen Dogs has special resonance for writers: one dog becomes a poet, and his struggles ring true to anyone who has ever attempted serious wordsmithing. I cried at the end. [Review]

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'Silver Screen Fiend' by Patton Oswalt

A great read, especially for those of us who have spent a lot of days and nights in dark, dank movie theaters gazing up at… it doesn’t matter what, only that it fills the screen and takes over our minds and souls. Oswalt starts off with a killer double bill – Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard and Ace in the Hole. They don’t get much better than these two, as his subsequent descents into turkeyland attest. [Review]

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'Madeline Kahn: Being the Music' by William V. Madison

A detailed and sympathetic look at one of the 20th century’s most adept comedians, this biography is surprising – Kahn had a trained operatic voice – and shocking – her vocal coach was her mother, who charged her for the lessons.

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Leah Dearborn - Columnist

'Haints Stay' by Colin Winnette

A dusty Western with a wicked sense of weird, black humor. Read it and be confounded by human nature. [Review]

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'Nimona' by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona sells itself: “Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism!” Stevenson's fantastical graphic novel also has the most lovable villains I've ever seen.

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'The Suicide of Claire Bishop' by Carmiel Banasky

The Suicide of Claire Bishop is a strange, meandering sort of book. This poetic analysis of art and insanity is still lingering in my mind months after I put it down. [Review]

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'Rumrunners' by Eric Beetner

I was asked to review Rumrunners for the Crime Factory's upcoming issue. It was my first taste of Beetner's gritty, breakneck writing, and I'll definitely be back for more.

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'Sex With Kings' by Eleanor Herman

An enjoyable, sensational account pulled from centuries of royal bedchamber antics. Truth really is stranger than fiction, folks.

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Brian McGackin - Columnist

'How to Be Drawn' by Terrance Hayes

This was hands down the best poetry collection I read this year, and I was shocked it didn't win the National Book Award (although I haven't read Voyage of the Sable Venus yet). All of the poems are solid, and the collection as a whole is a rational-yet-passionate critique of the world. Hayes plays around with visual styles, but in a way that doesn't detract from each poem's content.

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'Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth' by Chris Ware

I had never heard of this graphic novel before I read it, and I'm not sure when it came out, but it's phenomenally depressing. Parallel sob stories of a modern-day adult and a 19th-century ancestor are told in a unique and mesmerizing format that dragged me deep into these characters' lives.

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'Safe Area Gorazde' by Joe Sacco

It's basically Maus, but for the Bosnian genocide. I was in elementary school at the time, so I really never knew much about that conflict or how terrible things were. I'm not sure when this graphic novel came out, either, but I'm surprised that I hadn't heard more about it before. It takes a horrific event and makes it intensely personal and humanizing, while retaining the humor and humility of the author.

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'Between the World and Me' by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I mean, everyone is going to pick this, right? This book is fantastic. You should read it. I don't know you—I don't know who you are—but you should read it.

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'Showa: 1926-1939'; 'Showa: 1939-1944'; and 'Showa: 1944-1953' by Shigeru Mizuki

I thought I knew a lot about World War II from all of the movies, books, TV shows, history classes, and snarky Twitter takes I've consumed in my life, but I didn't realize how little I knew about Japan, its culture, and its history in the years leading up to World War II. The Showa series of graphic novels is part memoir, part history book, all gorgeous. I've never seen the graphic form be utilized for nonfiction in such an incredibly effective way. All of the scenes involving the author and detailing his personal experiences use highly stylized, cartoonish illustrations, while all of the more objective portions are close to photorealistic. The author is very critical of the political and social choices that were made in Japan before and during the war, and he's just as clear eyed regarding the consequences, but he never seems overly biased. The fourth and final installment, Showa: 1953-1989, came out this fall, and I can't wait to pick it up with my post-holidays gift cards.

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Chris Shultz - Columnist

'Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe' by Thomas Ligotti

These two story collections by the "Pynchon of Horror" were first published decades ago, but they were released in one package by Penguin Classics back in October, and they pack just as much of a wallop today as they did back in the day. Ligotti purveys in nightmare logic better than any other writer I've encountered; reading his work is akin to entering a fever dream, conversely draped in sumptuous aesthetics and marred by jagged, slavering hallucinations sprung from the hellish bowels of the subconscious. [Review]

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'A Head Full of Ghosts' by Paul Tremblay

The antithesis of every exorcism narrative, this slick (both polished and slippery) novel takes the traditionally conservative story of a young girl possessed by an evil spirit and transports it into a more progressive, 21st century landscape. Beautifully-written and demanding of a reread (or two, or three) this is a must-read not just for horror fans, as instantaneously classic as The Exorcist or Rosemary's Baby. [Review]

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'The Subterranean Season' by Dale Bailey

Another novel that perfectly captures present day woes while maintaining a sense of timelessness. Bailey nails the conundrum of higher education by drawing parallels between college athletics and bottomless evil, a situation that leaves the pursuit of knowledge undervalued and ignored. Just like A Head Full of Ghosts, there is enough of the universal here to ensure The Subterranean Season will be enjoyed by audiences decades down the line.

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'When We Were Animals' by Joshua Gaylord

A strange and wonderful book, both engrossing on a narrative level and dazzling in its prose. Gaylord nails the beauty and the horror of adolescence and maturation, coupled with the difficulty of simultaneously living among civilization and staying true to one's more primal instincts. This is a much quieter novel than Tremblay's and Bailey's works, but it is no less impactful. [Review]

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'Bird Box' by Josh Malerman

This debut novel came out in 2014. I've included it on this best of 2015 list not because there weren't other worthy candidates published this year, but because this along with the entries above left the most significant impact on me as a writer. If you've read Bird Box, you know exactly what I'm talking about. And if you haven't read it—READ IT. It is a refreshingly original concept, brilliantly plotted, expertly told. Hands down, it is one of the best horror novels of this decade.

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

About the author

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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