Toronto Star

Revealed! The Star’s top 10 books of 2015



The Toronto Star’s book reviewers read hundreds of books for our pages each year. So when it comes to choosing our top five books, we turn to them first. There was a really wide range of books suggested this year — but here are the ones that garnered the most votes each.


Anakana Schofield has hit the publishing world like a storm. This book was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize despite being about an uncomforta­ble subject: inside the mind of a sexual deviant. Still, our reviewers picked this as one of the top five of the year with comments such as: “Formally audacious and incisive writing that’s also got plenty of heart and quirk;” “admiring the stylistic and thematic risks Schofield has taken with it;” “a novel that mirrors its protagonis­t’s obsessive and deviant behaviour in its elastic prose;” “a case study in mother-son drama where mental illness and an overbearin­g parent collide . . . A dark, comic and moving portrait of the guilt, pain and suffering of the mentally ill.”


It’s not often a first-time novelist dominates the top of the bestseller lists for a year. But that’s exactly what Hawkins has accomplish­ed with The Girl on The

Train. Our reviewers agree: “In this fresh, femalefocu­sed psychologi­cal chiller, a young woman is drawn into a mystery involving people she observes during her daily London commute. Paula Hawkins’s bestsellin­g debut novel is an addictive page-turner with intoxicati­ng characters, unflagging suspense and sharp insights into women’s lives and relationsh­ips;” “this year’s escapist reading sensation. Gone Girl for 2015. As it should be. It is a page-turning suspender with a satisfying resolution. And we all love an unreliable narrator.”


Writing about real life has informed some of the biggest books in the past few years. If Karl Ove Knausgaard has written a semi-autobiogra­phical memoir from the male perspectiv­e, Elena Ferrante’s (this is a pen name — nobody knows who the real author is) four-volume saga has redefined what it means to write about female friendship. As one reviewer notes: “The final volume of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels is a stunning achievemen­t, a seemingly effortless accounting of the lives of two women that maintains an often shocking intimacy and emotional candour while also serving as a sweeping document of social, political, religious and cultural upheaval.”


A protagonis­t nobody likes is the dark star of this latest novel by the Canadian author of Lives of the

Saints, and many of our reviewers thought it was a real dark horse this year. “Sleep was unaccounta­bly overlooked this literary prize season, despite being Ricci’s best work yet. Perhaps the unlikeable protagonis­t — the sleep-deprived, pill-popping, skirt-chasing, guntoting David Pace — alienated jurors. As a nightmaris­h chronicle of mid-life male failure, however, the novel packs quite a punch;” “Ricci’s work has gotten better as it’s gotten darker. This one is pretty close to pitch black;” “If endemic narcissism is one of the central pathologie­s of contempora­ry culture, then Ricci has crafted with Sleep one of its holy texts.”


Short stories aren’t the likely choice for a top fiction title. But writer and editor Kelly (most famous, perhaps, for Magic for Beginners) had critics across the continent — including ours — speaking raptures about the volume of nine stories: “Kelly Link is a true original. A short-form story writer who deals in fairy tales for adults;” “For those who like their fiction pulsing and prickling with unpredicta­bility, the stories in Get in Trouble positively throb with surprise. It’s not that Link redefines the form, but that the stories allow the reader to rediscover how to see.”



Published in North America this year (it debuted in the U.K. in 2014), Helen MacDonald’s unusual memoir captured the hearts and imaginatio­ns of reviewers all over the continent. Ours called it: “An astonishin­g memoir of grief and love, of loss and connection, H Is For Hawk is nature writing for the new century, resonant and accessible, wise and fragile. Like the goshawk upon which it centres, it is a thing of beauty, of blood, of violence, of joy;” “a memoir about dealing with grief (the death of her father) . . . it is seldom that such a thoughtful accomplish­ed book touches a nerve with ordinary readers;” “this award-winning book is soaringly original and gorgeously written.”


This is not your average food book. Mark Schatzker uses science to shed light on the connection between nutrition and flavour — showing how our taste buds no longer lead us to the most nutritious food, but to foods that are leading us into obesity and diabetes. Here’s what our reviewers had to say: “fabulous research into why food has no taste and why we need to demand more;” “The best part? The solution he lays out involves a lot of good eating: top-quality, fresh, local, seasonal produce that restores our taste buds’ primary function. A game changer!”


In a year when violence and racism against black people by the police made headlines in America and Canada both, The Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates struck a chord with this slim (it’s only 152 pages) but powerful volume which uses the frame of a father’s letter to his son. “Coates is being called the spokesman for black America. Toni Morrison has expressed relief that finally a black writer has come along to fill the space left by James Baldwin.” “Coates . . . recognizes his son’s world is both incredibly different from his own yet also eerily similar — definitely an important book of the year, especially in considerin­g the impact of #BlackLives­Matter.”


The memoir can be a tricky thing to write and rock legend Patti Smith has had a couple of goes at it; but this latest has struck a chord among music fans and prose: “Ah, to age like Patti Smith. While

M Train lacks the emotional immediacy of Just Kids, her earlier memoir, it is a deliberate choice, leading to a deeper, more thoughtful volume, an accounting of love and loss, of wonder and fear, of cups of coffee and episodes of beloved television series. Perhaps the most lively meditation on the act — and art — of living one is likely to find this year”; “very poetic and original, almost like a prose version of one of her songs.”


Neurologis­t Oliver Sacks was a storytelle­r — his expertise was science, but he made it accessible, educating us through telling stories of his patients in Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Before his death in August, he was still enlighteni­ng us with stories and his memoir On The Move, touched readers everywhere, including our reviewers: “Sacks’ thoughtful and conscienti­ous approach to his own death served as a reminder of the writer and neurologis­t’s deep engagement with the very nature of life. His memoir . . . brims with life even in the shadow of death"; “It isn’t an exaggerati­on to say that Sacks was ‘beloved’ for the freshness of his intellect, his enthusiasm, his fascinatio­n with the workings of human beings. And the publicatio­n of this autobiogra­phy in the final months of his life was a brilliant cap to an admirable life.”

 ??  ?? Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
 ??  ?? Martin John by Anakana Schofield.
Martin John by Anakana Schofield.
 ??  ?? M Train by Patti Smith.
M Train by Patti Smith.
 ??  ?? The Dorito Effect, by Mark Schatzker.
The Dorito Effect, by Mark Schatzker.
 ??  ?? Get in Trouble by Kelly Link.
Get in Trouble by Kelly Link.
 ??  ?? On The Move by Oliver Sacks.
On The Move by Oliver Sacks.
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 ??  ?? Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, whose identity remains a big secret.
Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, whose identity remains a big secret.
 ??  ?? The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.
 ??  ?? H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.
 ??  ?? Sleep by Nino Ricci.
Sleep by Nino Ricci.

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