25 Notable Books of 2015

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We selected books for you from “100 Notable Books of 2015” listed by New York Times book review.

Fiction category

  1. 1. SUBMISSION, by Michel Houellebecq. Translated by Lorin Stein.

Short excerpt: In this morally complex novel, an alienated French professor and a France with out faith or values yeild to an Islamic government.

Long excerpt: It’s 2022. François is bored. He’s a middle-aged lecturer at the New Sorbonne University and an expert on J. K. Huysmans, the famous nineteenth-century Decadent author. But François’s own decadence is considerably smaller in scale. He sleeps with his students, eats microwave dinners, rereads Huysmans, queues up YouPorn.

Meanwhile, it’s election season. And although Francois feels “about as political as a bath towel,” things are getting pretty interesting. In an alliance with the Socialists, France’s new Islamic party sweeps to power. Islamic law comes into force. Women are veiled, polygamy is encouraged, and François is offered an irresistible academic advancement–on the condition that he convert to Islam. 

2. PREPRATION FOR THE NEXT LIFE, by Atticus LIsh

short excerpt: the novel tells a story of the doomed love affair of traumatized doldier and a Muslim immigrant

long excerpt: Zou Lei is an undocumented Muslim immigrant from the Chinese province of Xinjiang, daughter of a Uighur mother and a Han father. Brad Skinner is a Pennsylvania-born veteran of the Iraq war. While struggling to survive in New York’s underground economy, Zou Lei meets Skinner, who is suffering from untreated combat trauma. The intersection of their paths seems inevitable, irrevocable. Their story: tender, violent, terrible, and beautiful.

3. BEAUTY IS A WOUND, by Eka Kurniawan

Short excerpt: a novel about Indonesia’s turbulent 20th century.

Long excerpt: The epic novel Beauty Is a Wound combines history, satire, family tragedy, legend, humor, and romance in a sweeping polyphony. The beautiful Indo prostitute Dewi Ayu and her four daughters are beset by incest, murder, bestiality, rape, insanity, monstrosity, and the often vengeful undead. Kurniawan’s gleefully grotesque hyperbole functions as a scathing critique of his young nation’s troubled past:the rapacious offhand greed of colonialism; the chaotic struggle for independence; the 1965 mass murders of perhaps a million “Communists,” followed by three decades of Suharto’s despotic rule.

4. THE MEURSAULT INVESTIGATION, by Mamel Daoud. Translated by John Cullen.

Short excerpt: An Algerian novel imagines the story of the Arab murdered on the beach on Camus’s “The Stranger.”

Long excerpt: He was the brother of “the Arab” killed by the infamous Meursault, the antihero of Camus’ classic novel. Seventy years after that event, Harun, who has lived since childhood in the shadow of his sibling’s memory, refuses to let him remain anonymous: He gives his brother a story and a name?Musa?and describes the events that led to Musa’s casual murder on a dazzlingly sunny beach. In a bar in Oran, night after night, he ruminates on his solitude, on his broken heart, on his anger with men desperate for a god, and on his disarray when faced with a country that has so disappointed him. A stranger among his own people, he wants to be granted, finally, the right to die.

5. FATES AND FURIES, by Lauren Groff

Short excerpt: a novel about marriage that offers two critically different narratives, first from the husband’s point of view, and second from the wife’s.

Long excerpt: Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed. With stunning revelations and multiple threads, and in prose that is vibrantly alive and original, Groff delivers a deeply satisfying novel about love, art, creativity, and power that is unlike anything that has come before it. Profound, surprising, propulsive, and emotionally riveting, it stirs both the mind and the heart.

 

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Non-Fiction category

 

 

 

 

1. LETTERS TO VERA, by Veladimir Nabakov. Editted and translated by Olga Voronina and Brian Boyd

Short excerpt: for more than half a century, Nabakov wrote to his wife about his books, his meals, and his observations, in exquisite and evocative detail.

Long excerpt: No marriage of a major twentieth-century writer is quite as beguiling as that of Vladimir Nabokov’s to Véra Slonim. She shared his delight in life’s trifles and literature’s treasures, and he rated her as having the best and quickest sense of humor of any woman he had met. From their first encounter in 1923, Vladimir’s letters to Véra form a narrative arc that tells a half-century-long love story, one that is playful, romantic, pithy and memorable. At the same time, the letters tell us much about the man and the writer. We see the infectious fascination with which Vladimir observed everything—animals, people, speech, the landscapes and cityscapes he encountered—and learn of the poems, plays, stories, novels, memoirs, screenplays and translations on which he worked ceaselessly. This delicious volume contains twenty-one photographs, as well as facsimiles of the letters themselves and the puzzles and doodles Vladimir often sent to Véra.

2. SPINSTER: MAKING A LIFE OF ONE’S OWN, by Kate Bolick

Short excerpt: how does a woman move through the world alone? Bolick looks for answers in her own life and in that of others.

Long excerpt: “Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence.”

So begins Spinster, a revelatory and slyly erudite look at the pleasures and possibilities of remaining single. Using her own experiences as a starting point, journalist and cultural critic Kate Bolick invites us into her carefully considered, passionately lived life, weaving together the past and present to examine why­ she—along with over 100 million American women, whose ranks keep growing—remains unmarried.

This unprecedented demographic shift, Bolick explains, is the logical outcome of hundreds of years of change that has neither been fully understood, nor appreciated. Spinster introduces a cast of pioneering women from the last century whose genius, tenacity, and flair for drama have emboldened Bolick to fashion her life on her own terms: columnist Neith Boyce, essayist Maeve Brennan, social visionary Charlotte Perkins Gilman, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, and novelist Edith Wharton. By animating their unconventional ideas and choices, Bolick shows us that contemporary debates about settling down, and having it all, are timeless—the crucible upon which all thoughtful women have tried for centuries to forge a good life.

3. STALIN’S DAUGHTER: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva, by Rosemary Sullivan

Short excerpt: A complex story of a tragic figure

Long excerpt: Born in 1926, Svetlana Alliluyeva spent her youth inside the Kremlin as her father’s power soared along with that of the Soviet Union. Eighty-five years later, she died alone and penniless in rural Wisconsin as Lana Peters. Revealed here for the first time, the many lives of Joseph Stalin’s daughter form a riveting portrait of a woman who fled halfway around the world to escape her birthright.

Svetlana was protected from the mass starvation and murder that her father inflicted upon Soviet citizens, but she was not immune to tragedy. She lost almost everyone she loved, including her mother, who committed suicide, and her father’s merciless purges claimed the lives of aunts and uncles, and her lover, who was exiled to Siberia.

After her father’s death, Svetlana discovered the extent of his cruelty. Balking at the control the Kremlin still exerted over her life, she shocked the world by defecting to the United States at the height of the Cold War—leaving behind two children.

4. ORDINARY LIGHT: A Memoir, by Tracy K. Smith

Short excerpt: the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet reflects on race, faith, and mother’s devotion, as well as the literary influences that shaped her.

Long excerpt: The youngest of five children, Tracy K. Smith was raised with limitless affection and a firm belief in God by a stay-at-home mother and an engineer father. But just as Tracy is about to leave home for college, her mother is diagnosed with cancer, a condition she accepts as part of God’s plan. Ordinary Light is the story of a young woman struggling to fashion her own understanding of belief, loss, history, and what it means to be black in America.

In lucid, clear prose, Smith interrogates her childhood in suburban California, her first collision with independence at Harvard, and her Alabama-born parents’ recollections of their own youth in the Civil Rights era. These dizzying juxtapositions—of her family’s past, her own comfortable present, and the promise of her future—will in due course compel Tracy to act on her passions for love and “ecstatic possibility,” and her desire to become a writer.

5. GUANTANAMO DIARY, by Mahmedou Ould Slahi, edited by Larry Siems

Short excerpt: A long time captive has written the most profound and disturbing account yet of what it’s like to be collateral damage in the war against terror.

Long excerpt: Since 2002, Mohamedou Slahi has been imprisoned at the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. In all these years, the United States has never charged him with a crime. A federal judge ordered his release in March 2010, but the U.S. government fought that decision, and there is no sign that the United States plans to let him go. Three years into his captivity Slahi began a diary, a recounting his life before he disappeared into U.S. custory, “his endless world of rour” of imprisonment and interrogation, and his daily life as a Quantanamo prisoner.

Children’s Books

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Picture books

 

 

 

1. IS MOMMY? by Victoria Chang. Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Excerpt: Toddler-PreS—A troupe of toddlers cheekily field questions about their mothers. An unseen narrator asks, “Is mommy tall…/or short?” A red-headed imp ponders the query and imagines a tall mommy reaching down for a loving embrace, and then fantasizes about towering over a suddenly diminutive, doll-like mommy. A huge speech bubble, spread across the next two pages, shouts the child’s answer: “Short!” More options are posed to a growing crowd of mischievous tots, such as whether Mommy is boring or fun, young or old, neat or messy. The contrary answers are bellowed out with unabashed glee. The final question, “Do you love your short, ugly, mean, boring, old, messy mommy?” is answered with an unequivocal “YES!” Frazee’s tempera paint illustrations take center stage and star a colorful cast of children who are outfitted in primary color wardrobes and have uniquely fashioned hairdos. VERDICT Toddlers will relish the simple, headstrong text in this quirky book.

2. WAITING, by written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes

Excerpt: Five friends sit happily on a windowsill, waiting for something amazing to happen. The owl is waiting for the moon. The pig is waiting for the rain. The bear is waiting for the wind. The puppy is waiting for the snow. And the rabbit is just looking out the window because he likes to wait! What will happen? Will patience win in the end? Or someday will the friends stop waiting and do something unexpected?

3. ASK ME, by Bernard Waber. Illustrated by Suzy Lee

Excerpt: Ask me what I like?

What do you like?

A father and daughter walk through their neighborhood, brimming with questions as they explore their world. With so many things to enjoy, and so many ways to ask—and talk—about them, it’s a snapshot of an ordinary day in a world that’s anything but.

 4. LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET, by Matt de la Pena. Illustrated by Christian Robinson

Excerpt: Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them.

This energetic ride through a bustling city highlights the wonderful perspective only grandparent and grandchild can share.

 

5. THE MENINO: A Story Based on Real Events, written and illustrated by Isol

Excerpt:  When the new baby arrives, both the baby and the parents are in for a steep learning curve. In this book, born out of personal experience, internationally renowned author/illustrator Isol brings us a dual narrative and guide. For babies, there’s a rich range of images of babies and all their functions to look at. From crying, to nursing, to peeing and pooing, to looking, to hearing, to deciding that this weird new world they’ve entered is worth staying in (because they finally recognize that in every grown-up they see there is a former baby), there are hours of fun and amusement, since babies love nothing better than looking at and talking about themselves.

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Middle Grade

1. CIRCUS MIRANDUS, by Cassei Beasley. Illustrated by Diana Sudyka

Excerpt:

Do you believe in magic?

Micah Tuttle does.

Even though his awful Great-Aunt Gertrudis doesn’t approve, Micah believes in the stories his dying Grandpa Ephraim tells him of the magical Circus Mirandus: the invisible tiger guarding the gates, the beautiful flying birdwoman, and the magician more powerful than any other—the Man Who Bends Light. Finally, Grandpa Ephraim offers proof. The Circus is real. And the Lightbender owes Ephraim a miracle. With his friend Jenny Mendoza in tow, Micah sets out to find the Circus and the man he believes will save his grandfather.

2. ECHO, by Pam Munoz Ryan.

Excerpt: Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.

3. FIRST BORN, by Tor Seidler

Excerpt: Wolves. Predators of the wild. Stalkers of the forests. Born into rankings and expected to live up to their roles. Blue Boy, the alpha male of his pack, is the largest wolf many have ever seen, and his dream is to have a firstborn son who will take after him in every way. But Lamar is not turning out the way his father hoped. Lamar likes to watch butterflies. He worries if his younger siblings fall behind in the hunt. He has little interest in peacocking in front of other clans. Blue Boy grows increasingly dismayed at Lamar’s lack of wolf instincts, and then Lamar does the intolerable: he becomes attracted to a coyote. While the other infractions can be begrudgingly tolerated, this one cannot, and the unity of the pack is in jeopardy. Lamar wants to make his family happy, but is doing what is expected of him worth losing the only true friend he’s ever had?

4. GOODBYE STRANGER, by Rebecca Stead

Excerpt: This brilliant novel by Newbery Medal winner Rebecca Stead explores multiple perspectives on the bonds and limits of friendship.

  Bridge is an accident survivor who’s wondering why she’s still alive. Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture. Tabitha sees through everybody’s games—or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade?

  This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl—as a friend?

  On Valentine’s Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight?

  Each memorable character navigates the challenges of love and change in this captivating novel.

5. LISTEN SLOWLY, by Thanhha Lai

Excerpt: A California girl born and raised, Mai can’t wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai’s parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn’t know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds.

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Young Adult

1. THE HIRED GIRL, by Laura Amy Schlitz

Excerpt: Ever since the untimely death of her mother, 14-year-old Joan Skraggs has been desperately unhappy. Under the thumb of her cruel father and three sullen brothers, Joan lives like a servant on their farm just outside of Lancaster, forever cooking, cleaning, and attending to the many demands of the home. But she has little freedom and less support from her family for her love of reading and blossoming interest in education. But when her father tells Joan she can’t go to school anymore, it sets off a journey that will see her become first a runaway, then a hired girl on $6 a week, and finally her very own young woman.

Set in America during the optimistic years before the First World War, and told through a series of journal entries, The Hired Girl is the story of a young girl in search of real life and true love. It takes in feminism and housework; money, religion, and social class; literature and education, romanticism and realism, first love and sexual yearnings, cats, hats, and bunions. And it’s a comedy.

2. SHADOWSHAPER, by Daniel Jose Older

Excerpt: Sierra Santiago planned an easy summer of  making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears… Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.

With the help of a fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one — and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family’s past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for generations to come.

3. SYMPHONY FOR THE CITY OF DEAD, by Dmitri Shostakovich and the siege of Leningrad

Exceprt: In September 1941, Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht surrounded Leningrad in what was to become one of the longest and most destructive sieges in Western history—almost three years of bombardment and starvation that culminated in the harsh winter of 1943–1944. More than a million citizens perished. Survivors recall corpses littering the frozen streets, their relatives having neither the means nor the strength to bury them. Residents burned books, furniture, and floorboards to keep warm; they ate family pets and—eventually—one another to stay alive. Trapped between the Nazi invading force and the Soviet government itself was composer Dmitri Shostakovich, who would write a symphony that roused, rallied, eulogized, and commemorated his fellow citizens—the Leningrad Symphony, which came to occupy a surprising place of prominence in the eventual Allied victory.

4. SIX OF CROWS, by Leigh Bardugo

Excerpt: Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction?if they don’t kill each other first.

5. BECOMING MARIA, Love and Chaos in the South Bronx, by Sonia Manzano

Excerpt: Set in the 1950s in the Bronx, this is the story of a girl with a dream. Emmy award-winning actress and writer Sonia Manzano plunges us into the daily lives of a Latino family that is loving–and troubled. This is Sonia’s own story rendered with an unforgettable narrative power. When readers meet young Sonia, she is a child living amidst the squalor of a boisterous home that is filled with noisy relatives and nosy neighbors. Each day she is glued to the TV screen that blots out the painful realities of her existence and also illuminates the possibilities that lie ahead. But–click!–when the TV goes off, Sonia is taken back to real-life–the cramped, colorful world of her neighborhood and an alcoholic father. But it is Sonia’s dream of becoming an actress that keeps her afloat among the turbulence of her life and times. Spiced with culture, heartache, and humor, this memoir paints a lasting portrait of a girl’s resilience as she grows up to become an inspiration to millions.