The Seattle Times list of the best books we reviewed and read in 2015 includes 16 works of fiction and 16 nonfiction.

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Our Seattle Times picks for the best books we reviewed and read in 2015 includes 16 works of fiction, 16 nonfiction, 32 in all. There’s a breathtaking range here, from Don Winslow’s “The Cartel,” a novel of the Mexican drug wars, to Neal Stephenson’s “Seveneves,” a highly imaginative story of how humanity grapples with an impending doomsday. Nonfiction? Take your pick, from the story of seeds to the story of Detroit.

I compiled this list with the aid of my dedicated Seattle Times reviewers. Thanks to them, and thanks to you, our readers, for your enduring enthusiasm for books. I can’t think of a better town to be a book editor in.


“A God in Ruins” by Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown). Not so much a sequel (to her brilliant “Life After Life”) as a dazzling overlay, Atkinson’s novel is the story of a man whose life spans the 20th century, told in time-bending bursts of lyrical prose. — Moira Macdonald

“Sorcerer to the Crown” by Zen Cho (Ace). Like the best-selling “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell,” Zen Cho’s novel sparkles with Jane Austen-ish wit and thrilling clashes between feuding magicians. But she adds a biracial governess, a Malaysian witch and a British noble’s emancipated African ward to the mix, which ups this debut novel’s fun quotient as well as its diversity. — Nisi Shawl

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“Last Bus to Wisdom” by Ivan Doig (Riverhead). The late Seattle storyteller Ivan Doig’s final novel, “Last Bus to Wisdom,” is a tender coming-of-age tale recounted by a precocious 11-year-old. It ranges boisterously across the American West while deftly exploring the vastness and vulnerability of the human heart. — Tim McNulty

“The Gilded Hour” by Sara Donati (Berkley). The Bellingham author brings her vast historical-novel experience to bear in a riveting saga of two women doctors in an 1890s New York City teeming with immigrants, orphans, vast wealth, oppression, romance and optimism — and there’s even an autobiographical twist. — Melinda Bargreen

“Purity” by Jonathan Franzen(Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Franzen’s fifth novel finds parallels between Internet invasiveness and totalitarianism as it takes on toxic marriages, WikiLeaks-style whistle-blowing and more. Result: an antsy, globe-hopping existential screwball comedy. — Michael Upchurch

“Fates and Furies” by Lauren Groff (Riverhead). This absorbing, intimate account of a modern marriage moves back and forth in time and perspective, as it explores the coupling of two complex, seemingly charmed people. — Misha Berson

“Funny Girl” by Nick Hornby(Riverhead). Smart, beautiful, strong young woman hits the big city, triumphs and falters, and finally, gratefully accepts the good in life; Hornby, a ridiculously gifted British novelist, uses his trademark unpretentious style to mold this familiar plot into a fresh, flavorful, moving, and hilarious love letter to early ’60s popular entertainment, London style. — Adam Woog

“Black River” by S.M. Hulse(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). This Montana-based story, about a prison guard who returns to his hometown after decades away, is an intricate work that layers faith with broken promises, broken bones, and broken hearts. This is a story of people shaped irrevocably by place and circumstance. — Barbara Lloyd McMichael

“Finders Keepers” by Stephen King (Scribner). The second novel in King’s proposed “Bill Hodges” trilogy is a fast-paced detective story involving the unpublished works of a respected, famous (and dead) author and a duffel bag full of cash. It closes with a single word that leaves readers clamoring for the finale. — Doug Knoop

“Thirteen Ways of Looking” by Colum McCann(Random House). Violence hangs over McCann’s collection of short stories, each eloquent and haunting. The title story (taking up more than half the book), about an old man’s final day, echoes Joyce, but finds its own wondrously meandering stream of consciousness. — Moira Macdonald

“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press). In this audacious debut novel, the unnamed narrator is a double agent for the fallen South Vietnamese regime and the communist victors, and his depiction of the Vietnam War and its aftermath in America reads like a frenzied, feverish dream. — David Takami

“Grant Park” by Leonard Pitts Jr. This fast-paced novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist delivers as much rich plot development as it does a thought-provoking meditation on race and history that is pertinent to understanding today’s brand of discrimination and hate crimes. — Blanca Torres

“Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral” by Mary Doria Russell(Ecco). This novel tells the story of Wyatt and Sadie Earp from beginning to end, not stopping at the famous gunfight and its aftermath but following the couple to the end of their lives, inevitably shaped by that 1881 blaze of gunfire in Tombstone, Arizona Territory. — John B. Saul.

“Seveneves” by Neal Stephenson(Morrow).This novel by Stephenson, a Seattle-based speculative fiction author, had me thinking hard for weeks. The premise — something makes the moon blow up, creating an asteroid rain that will eventually kill everyone on Earth. Earth’s leaders have two years to figure out how to preserve the human race. Stephenson has thought out every angle — psychological, political, environmental, and has an expert’s grasp of the science involved. — Mary Ann Gwinn

“Landfalls” by Naomi J. Williams(Farrar, Straus & Giroux). A fictional account of a real 18th-century French maritime expedition exploring the Pacific Ocean before meeting its doom. Sly writing and startlingly different points of view make this a shape-shifting revelation of a book. — Michael Upchurch

“The Cartel” by Don Winslow (Knopf). This moving story about the havoc wrought by the War on Drugs in the country of Mexico is brutal, bloody and horrifying, as well as inspirational in its story of people who resist the cartels’ takeover. By the end of it you will get Winslow’s point — America is complicit in the carnage. — Mary Ann Gwinn


“The Oregon Trail: an American Journey” by Rinker Buck (Simon & Schuster). Although it feels a bit like an overstuffed mattress, this first-person account retracing the route of the pioneers via covered wagon is so exuberant that you forgive the lumps and enjoy the ride. — Ellen Emry Heltzel

“Leaving Before the Rains Come” by Alexandra Fuller(Penguin Press). In her third memoir, Fuller’s prose is as lyrical and electric as ever. Telling the story of the making and undoing of her 19-year marriage, the book also reaches back into the history of Fuller’s eccentric, half-mad and fully maddening family. It is a charming, anxious and touching work. — Brian Thomas Gallagher

“Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence” by Bryan Burrough (Penguin Press). Burrough provides a fascinating look at an almost forgotten era of homegrown terrorism, when “revolutionary violence” was waged by left-wing radicals in a wildly naive effort to lead the “oppressed” American working class to revolt. — Kevin J. Hamilton

“Going Into The City” by Robert Christgau(Dey Street). Christgau is the self-described dean of American rock critics, and his memoir is a love letter both to a basically lost profession, and a lost era when rock ’n’ roll truly shifted culture. — Charles R. Cross

“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates(Spiegel & Grau). This slim book by journalist Coates, winner of this year’s National Book Award for nonfiction, is an autobiographical letter from an anguished father to his teen son about what it means for them to be African American in the “Black Lives Matter” era. Coates has crafted a furious yet poetic call to action, imploring all of us to speak more honestly about the roots of racism and the concept of race itself. — Tyrone Beason

“Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her Daughter Mary Shelley ” by Charlotte Gordon(Random House). This dual biography tells the extraordinary story of Mary Wollstonecraft, English pioneer for women’s rights, and that of her daughter Mary Shelley, who ran away with the married poet Percy Shelley, was shunned by English society and then wrote “Frankenstein.” Gordon interweaves the story of two extraordinary women with skill and sympathy. — Mary Ann Gwinn

“Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition” by Nisid Hajari(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Dramatic and suspenseful, this political nonfiction work, which deals with the 1947 partition of British India, delves deeply into the political and ideological rivalry between the leaders of the Hindu and Muslim factions, thereby providing a basis for understanding the subcontinental schism. — Bharti Kirchner

“The Triumph of Seeds” by Thor Hanson(Basic Books). San Juan Island conservation biologist Hanson explores the easily-overlooked but fascinating key to much of life on Earth, from coffee beans and the nut in Almond Joys to ancient grasses and sticky burdock seeds, which inspired Velcro. — Irene Wanner

“H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald(Grove Press). In her stunning, award-winning memoir, British writer Macdonald recounts how she emerged from a deep grief-based depression by acquiring and training a goshawk: the writing sings on every page and the twining of narrative strands (natural history, heavy emotional weather, love for a wild animal) is masterfully done. — David Laskin

“Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story” by David Maraniss (Simon & Schuster). Maraniss’ well-written and researched book well remembers the city of Detroit in the early 1960s as a place where factories hummed, Motown rocked and the present gave little warning that Detroit would become a “city of decay.” – John B. Saul

“Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back” by Janice P. Nimura, (W.W. Norton). Nimura has written a superb and riveting history, the true story of three Japanese girls who were sent to America in the 1870s to be educated. She includes the fascinating context of their samurai origins, their journey by steamboat from nearly feudal Japan to San Francisco and beyond, their immersion in the Gilded Age and Christian life in America — and then their return to Japan, a shift in culture that is impossible to overdramatize. — Wingate Packard

“Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic” by Sam Quinones(Bloomsbury Press). This masterpiece of nonfiction narrative reporting tells two stories. The first chronicles the epidemic of addiction to OxyContin and other prescription opiates in Americans. The second — how a Mexican drug distribution network turned those same addicts into heroin users. Nary a word is wasted in Quinones’ telling, and the cumulative effect is devastating — Mary Ann Gwinn

“A List of Things That Didn’t Kill Me” by Jason Schmidt(Farrar, Straus and Giroux). This unusual coming-of-age memoir treads the line between social commentary and Young Adult literature through the pleasantly mordant voice of a youth being raised in 1980s Seattle by his drug-dealing single dad, who develops AIDS. — Claudia Rowe

“M Train” by Patti Smith (Knopf). This book, masquerading as a travel memoir by a famous rock star, is really a fluid, dreamlike meditation on loss, art, mortality and the sacred by a poet with a very sharp pen. — Paul de Barros

“Lafayette in the Somewhat United States” by Sarah Vowell (Riverhead). The author’s retracing of the Marquis de Lafayette’s long-forgotten devotion and aid to the colonists of our country-to-be brings its readers to guffaws in some places and “awwwws” in others. — Melissa Davis

“Island on Fire: The Extraordinary Story of a Forgotten Volcano” by Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe(Pegasus Books). Not as spectacular as recent eruptions in Iceland but with far greater repercussions, Laki is the most devastating eruption you’ve never heard of. Husband and wife team Witze and Kanipe use primary source documents and on-the-ground reporting to tell an amazing story about this world changing volcano explosion in 1783. — David B. Williams