We asked our regular book reviewers to send us their top five reads of 2015. The books do not have to have been published in 2015, although most of them were.
There were favourites. Some books were mentioned by more than one of our reviewers. They are: The Miniaturist (3), We Never Asked For Wings (2), Pretty Girls (2), Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda (2), Things A Little Bird Told Me (3), Vanishing Girls (2), Me Before You (2), and The Accident Season (2).
We hope you find some ideas for holiday reads from these 16 reviewers' choices. Please tell us which book was your favourite in the comment section below.
- We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (Mantle). Letty, a 33-year-old mother, who has never had to act like a parent, is terrified because her own mother has left her alone with her two children. She has to find a way to make a life for herself and her little little family. This beautifully written story is filled with unforgettable characters, magical feathers and beautiful words.
- Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver (Hodder & Stoughton). Oliver's brilliant plotting turns a family tragedy into a nail-biting thriller. Teenagers, Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but a devastating accident causes an icy rift between the two sisters. Read the book to find out how they find their way back.
- Time and Time Again by Ben Elton (Bantam Press). It is 2024. Hugh Stanton, ex-army survivalist, is given the opportunity to go back in time to 1914 and change the course of history. But what happens when you change the past? I loved the moral dilemmas and the believable characters. The plot twists are completely unexpected. I could not put the book down.
- The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (Picador) Nella Oortman, a young country girl, is married off to a rich merchant trader, Johannes Brandt. The story, set in Amsterdam in 1686 over a period of four months, had so much pace and tension that I felt as if I had lived through a lifetime by the end of a book.
- Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter (Century) Three beautiful sisters' lives are destroyed when one of them goes missing. The two that remain watch their loving parents’ marriage disintegrate, their mother stricken with grief, their father taking his life, their family ripped apart. 20 years later, we find out the truth about the missing girl. Don’t read this book if you’re scared of the dark.
- We Never Asked For Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (Mantle). The wait was worth it. I didn’t think she’d be able to do it again, just because Language of Flowers was so awesome, but wow. She did it.
- There Is A Robot In My Garden by Deborah Install (Doubleday) A refreshing book, that charmed me. I want a Tang.
- The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (Picador) Alluring, intoxicating and all consuming, and it is set in my favourite city.
- Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood (Picador) Learn from her. It’s like a "How to skip the back story guide”. Her characters are distinct and their voices unique and it’s a bloody good read.
- Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (Umuzi). When I grow up I am going to write a book like this. I hope.
- The Santangelos by Jackie Collins (Simon & Schuster) Jackie may have left us for the big Hollywood sign in the sky — but she left us a rich trashy literary heritage of sex, drugs, and move-making. The Santangelos is a great swan song from a superstar author.
- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jessie Andrews (Allen & Unwin) Teenage angst has never been funnier or more poignant — here’s a book that will make you laugh, cry, and remember all those awkward high school moments.
- Our Story by Reg and Ron Kray with Fred Dinenage (Pan). I’d been fascinated by the dangerous gangster twins since I saw the 1990 biopic The Krays starring the pop star twins, the Kemp brothers. This books offers a fascinating glimpse into their life of violence, power, and glamour in the 60s.
- Murder D.C. by Neely Tucker (Century). The investigative reporter, Sully Carter, is a quiet but welcome new voice in the world of crime fiction. I liked how Tucker took his time to build the suspense and the characters.
- The Eye of the Wolf by Daniel Pennac (Walker Books). This slim little novel, aimed at middle grade readers, tells of an orphan wolf and his unlikely friendship with a young boy who has his own history of loss. A beautifully written children’s book that isn’t afraid to tackle sadness.
- A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman (Tinder Press) is my favourite book of the year. Marvellous Ways, has been waiting for something, but she isn’t sure for what. She will know when she sees it. Is it the young soldier who washes up in her creek? This enchanting book about loss, grief, healing and love stayed with me for a long time.
- My Grandmother sends her Regards & Apologies by Frederik Backman (Sceptre). This is another feel-good book by the Swedish blogger. It’s about an adventurous grandmother who teaches her granddaughter Elsa a secret language and sends her on a treasure hunt. The intentions of the grandmother will gradually make sense. I loved this book. It’s funny and sad.
- The Utopia Experiment by Dylan Evans (Picador). Thought-provoking and riveting. This book is about the author’s experiment to discover what happens in a fictional scenario of total disaster. How will people survive and cope? Poignant, philosophical and readable.
- The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin (Mantle). Do children sometimes have memories of past lives? This book is about a mother who works with a psychiatrist to see how she can help her troubled unhappy four-year-old, who says he wants to go home even though he is at home. A fascinating and skilfully crafted novel. Interesting. Worth reading.
- The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (Picador). This book is set in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century. Young Nella Oortman receives a dollhouse as a wedding gift from her wealthy merchant husband, but marriage does not bring Nella what she expected. The characters come to life and their actions are reflected in the doll’s house. Secrets unfold. History told in an animated way. Highly recommended.
- The Seed Thief by Jacquie L'Ange (Umuzi). This was my favourite book of 2015 by far. Maddy Bellani is a botanist in Cape Town, but she was born in Brazil. She is sent back to Brazil to find and bring back a rare plant seed that may cure cancer. Will she manage to navigate the pharmaceutical companies also in search of the seed? A really interesting and well-written novel.
- Lucia's Web by Sue Searles (Clean Reads). Alison is a young woman living on her own who needs two housemates to assist with the rent. She gets one amazing tenant, Sam, who becomes her best friend, and another really weird gothic chick Lucia who freaks her out so much that she thinks she is a stalker. But everything is not as it seems. A story that starts out going in one direction and then has a twist that throws it in another really interesting direction. Great read.
- The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward (Blackfriars). Two women. Two vastly different childhoods. Yet destiny has plans for them to achieve their wildest dreams...together...A story of survival and triumph. Really worthwhile.
- What If by Rebecca Donovan (Penguin). Cal Logan was upset that his two female childhood friends stopped speaking to him when he went to college. Then one of the girls reappears on his college campus but has a different name and does not know who he is... I was apprehensive about this book at first as it came across like a typical college novel. However, the plot changed into something deeper and more intense in each chapter. It was a gripping read.
- The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes (Michael Joseph). Stella Sweeney is a middle-aged divorcee with two children. She then gets a rare disease that leaves her temporarily paralysed. When she recovers her life changes in ways she could never predict. I was so excited to read another Marian Keyes novel, and although this one is not on my top three list of her books, it is really good too. A different topic altogether but a good read.
- The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle (Corgi Childrens). The accident season arrives at the same time each year, breaking bones, ripping skin, and tearing Cara’s already fraying family apart. But this time, the accident season holds promises even more deadly than before, because Cara is beginning to ask questions, and won’t give in until the shadows of the past are brought into the light. Hauntingly beautiful with ethereal yet powerful characters, this novel was definitely my favourite read of the year.
- Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry (Ecco). Reading Leslie Parry’s debut novel was like looking through a kaleidoscope at turn-of-the-century New York City - vivid, breathtaking and utterly enchanting. With exquisite plotting and luminous prose, Parry leads her readers through the whirlwind lives of three strangers whose stories become increasingly intertwined as more of their secrets are revealed.
- Uprooted by Naomi Novik (Macmillan). Reminiscent of Grimm’s fairy tales, Uprooted weaves a bold new world out of old legends and folk tales. I loved Novik’s unlikely heroine, Agnieszka, and her struggle to come to terms with her own greatness.
- Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver (HarperCollins). Sisters Dara and Nick face estrangement and frightening revelations after a terrible accident. Oliver’s writing was thrilling and addictive, resulting in an edgy novel that left me reeling.
- Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Penguin). I couldn’t help but fall in love with this candid, witty and heart-warming novel about love and sexual identity. Simon Spier prefers to keep all his issues and identity crises in the proverbial closet and save his drama for the school musical, until his biggest secret is discovered by the wrong person and he finds himself being blackmailed into playing wingman for the class clown.
- The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer (Bantam Press) is a tense, gripping thriller. A missing child, a psychic, a detective and distraught parents, you may forget to breathe while you read this.
- The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle (Corgi Childrens Paperback) is whimsical, vivid and completely enthralling. October is the month when danger lurks for young Cara, her sister Alice, Sam and Bea, and this is a magical tale, beautifully told.
- The Lake House by Kate Morton (MacMillan) is an afternoon in an English country garden. The story of a Detective Constable who messes up, and then finds herself embroiled in a historical unsolved mystery. A beautiful story of family, love and loss – this was completely absorbing and an indulgent read.
- Big Little Lies by Sharon Bolton (Bantam Press) is about a child who goes missing in the eerie atmosphere of the Falkland Islands, and is told from three different points of view. The plot had twists and turns and surprises around every corner, and was a high on emotion and drama.
- Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter (Century) confronts the grim topic of the abduction of young girls. The characters are larger than life, the action is intense, and I was racing through this, and not wanting it to stop at the same time.
- Villa America by Liza Klaussmann (Picador): A meticulously researched historical novel based on real people who inspired F. Scott Gerald’s Tender is the Night. It immersed me in the zeitgeist of the 1920s/30s. It masterfully combined history and fiction into beautiful, persuasive story-telling.
- Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (Penguin): This book is a masterpiece because I cared so much about Lou Clark and Will Traynor. I so wanted them to make the right decision. Heart-breaking and beautifully written. Lou and Will stayed with me for weeks afterwards.
- Rebound by Aga Lesiewicz (Macmillan): The plot is ingenious and the writing pacey. Anna is a strong character grappling with the miracle and murk that 21st century dating presents for many 30-something single women. I could relate. The unfortunate incidence of murder amidst her illicit racy trysts made this a page-turner.
- The Sense of An Elephant by Marco Missiroli (Picador). I loved this little book. It is a testament to fatherhood and piety in extraordinary circumstances. It is beautifully written and there are lines that, even translated, warrant re-reading.
- What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures by Malcolm Gladwell (Penguin): This collection of articles from The New Yorker demonstrates Gladwell’s prowess as a narrative journalist able to distil complex research and interviews on topics as diverse as dog-training, psychology, and recruitment, into accessible, fascinating journalism.
- Disclaimer by Renee Knight. (Transworld) When truth is withheld it opens a path to manipulation and destruction. Found the concept intriguing
- The Defence by Steve Cavanagh (Orion) This was a chess game on steroids! Could not put it down.
- You Are Dead by Peter James (Macmillan). This engaging story has a rather creepy beginning. It then grips you throughout the investigation.
- Alibaba's World by Porter Erisman (Macmillan) This is the story about the birth of the Chinese company Alibaba. It is told in a heart-warming and inspiring way.
- Bully Proof by Gail Core (Struik Lifestyle) She gives insightful, practical advice on how to manage bullying in school. Useful for parents, teachers and children.
- The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango (Simon and Schuster Ltd) – This book with its dark humour, offers a very different view on the life of a very bad man. Once you meet Henry Hayden, you won’t soon forget him. This book draws you in until your own lines of good and bad, right and wrong begin to blur. Truly powerful
- Icarus by Deon Meyer (Hodder & Stoughton General Division) - This was my first Deon Meyer book, and all I can say is that this was magnificent. A murder, an enigmatic victim, a long forgotten deception, this story has it all. With memorable characters like Captain Benny Griessel and Vaughn Cupido, this was nail bitingly good.
- Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling (Ebury Publishing) – This is a very honest witty view of the modern day celebrity. Told with Mindy’s sharp observations, it lays bare all the ridiculousness and demands behind the glamourous lives we see. I loved it.
- Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (Cornerstone) -This was not an easy read for me as Scout was a beloved character, and having to see her all grown up was difficult, as were some of the character motivations. However, Ms. Lee's writing has a truly remarkable way of getting under your skin. So put preconceived ideas aside and read this book.
- The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan (Hodder & Stoughton General Division) - This is a refreshing escapist crime caper. Set within a bustling Mumbai, it’s filled with characters you can't help but fall in love and a crime story that is incredibly tangible and very relevant in today’s world. Well worth the read.
- World Gone By by Dennis Lehane (Little, Brown) Dennis Lehane is so good, it's unsettling. Joe Coughlin, the goose that lays the golden egg for the Mafia, learns that someone in the Family has taken out a contract on his life. Will he escape, or will his son be made an orphan? The plot is masterful, the characters credible, and the loss the reader feels achingly real.
- Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum (Mantle) This literary novel is an awful kind of brilliant. The story of Anna, a foreigner in Switzerland, is structured like a labyrinthian spiral that allows one to both witness the devolution of Anna's life, and learn progressively how she got there. Despite the pace being slow, the suspense was palpable and Essbaum kept me guessing until the last line.
- Middle School: My Brother Is a Big, Fat Liar by James Patterson and Lisa Papademetriou (Young Arrow) I just loved how entertaining and creative this book was. The underdog-wins-the-day storyline is exactly what would appeal to young readers, and it felt like Patterson and Papademetriou hit the sweet spot with each plot beat.
- Time of Death: by Mark Billingham (Little, Brown) This is the thirteenth book in Billingham's DI Tome Thorne series, and it doesn't disappoint. The realistic interaction between characters, well-crafted red herrings, and Thorne's interesting character make for an enjoyable read.
- Before the Fire by Sarah Butler (Picador) This is a coming of age tale gone wrong and details how the characters grapple with the aftermath of loss. What makes this story interesting is that it is Butler's 'narrativisation' of the Manchester riots of 2011, which makes her characters clever personifications in her exploration of people's relationship to place.
- The Duff by Kody Keplinger (Hodder Children’s Books). This hilarious story involves everything going through a teenage girl’s mind; especially the common concept of feeling like a Designated Ugly Fat Friend.
- Girl Online by Zoe Sugg (Penguin) This is an exciting tale about a young blogger’s crazy adventures in New York. It is in my top 5 as it is relatable and it involves any girl’s biggest dreams coming true at the same time.
- Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (Penguin) is a nail-biting story from the perspective of a teenage boy struggling to come out in his judgemental community. This is so diverse and witty that it absolutely needed a space in my top 5.
- Writing in the Sand by Helen Brandon (Usborne Publishing) is a breath-takingly mysterious story about an unexplained abandoned baby and the confusing life that his mother now has.
- The Apple Tart of Hope by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald (Orion Children’s Books) involves the story of Oscar Dunleavy, who is missing, presumed dead. His best friend, Meg, will stop at nothing to find him.
- Me Before You by Jojo Moyes This book still haunts me. Lingering thoughts of Lou and Will Traynor’s unconventional love story leaves me breathless. Beautifully written and capturing the honest pain of the heart.
- On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft by Stephen King. After a lifetime of imagining the life of one of the most prolific writers, he offers us a window to his soul. His peculiar charm and honesty on every page reveals his hidden monsters. Most fascinating book of 2015
- Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. This is a book of gentle tips and honest conversation about unleashing the magic in your life. Brilliant for all ages to play with the concept of unlocking fear. Her question “Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you? Your answers will astound you.
- The Day The Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt. Magical and entertaining even for an oldie like me. What a fun and energetic book. Clever and easy to read for all young readers.
- Byleveld: Dossier Of A Serial Sleuth by Hanlie Retief. Wow! Set in South Africa, it definitely hit home hard with our most famous detective, Piet Byleveld. Intensely written and hard to close. The horrific stories and murders are written with absolute truth and genius, never once insulting the reader. Read it, I dare you!
- Black Brain, White Brain-Is intelligence skin deep? by Gavin Evans (Jonathan Ball). A compelling argument backed by a plethora of fascinating scientific and social research. This is a book that should have been written years ago, should be prescribed in every school and should be canonised as a must-read so that people can finally understand where racism stems from.
- Dust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Granta). For its rich and descriptive use of the English language and for the author's ability to bear her soul.
- The Angel and the Cad: Love, Loss and Scandal in Regency England by Geraldine Roberts (Macmillan) I admire the research that was done to uncover the story of Catherine Tylney Long and the author's careful polishing of the characters to make them shine as a story together.
- Day Four by Sarah Lotz (Hodder & Stoughton) A cruise ship veers off course and the events will have you guessing what will happen next. The storyline is so tightly wound that I found myself unable to put this book down.
- How South Africa Works by Jeffrey Herbst & Greg Mills (Macmillan). The authors make claims about the lack of economic progress in South Africa, backed by data that at times make the future seem like a looming apocalypse.
- Things a Little Bird Told Me: Creative Secrets from the Co-Founder of Twitter by Biz Stone (Macmillan). Biz Stone writes a fascinating account about how he ended up as one of the founders of a multi-billion dollar business. The key message: creativity is important. An inspirational book for start-ups.
- Find me by Laura van den Berg (Del Rey). This is a debut novel with so much power in the writing. The New York Times called it "pleasingly strange” which describes it perfectly. It’s weirdly unsettling, a little bizarre and achingly sad. It’s a coming-of-age journey in a dystopian futuristic setting with exquisite writing, dark humour and hope. It’s a book that stays with you long after you turn the final page.
- Things a little bird told me – secrets of success from the co-founder of twitter by Biz Stone (Pan Macmillan). He is one of TIME magazines “most influential people in the world” - but he didn’t start out that way. Biz Stone tells his story with a charming honesty and sense of humour. I loved the behind the scenes history of the birth of twitter, but more than that the way his creative idealism changed his approach to business. Great fun to read and so full of inspiration.
- All the Light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr (Fourth Estate). The lives of a blind French girl and an orphaned German boy are connected by the quirks of fate and circumstance at the end of WW2 in this moving and beautifully told tale of things hidden and revealed. I was transported by the atmosphere and all the characters. Storytelling at its best.
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