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Best Books of 2015: Alternating Current Staff Picks

My “To Be Read” list is usually a few years behind, so I still have several 2015 books that I’m looking forward to reading, but these six stood out as my favorite releases of the year:

I have to go with a fellow Iowan writer for my first pick of the year. Descent, by Tim Johnston, is an exhilarating literary suspense novel about a family on vacation in Colorado, where their teenaged daughter is kidnapped while jogging with her younger brother. The novel covers the impact on all four members of the family and unwinds the mystery into an unpredictable, but perfectly logical, ending.

Find Me, by Laura van den Berg, was on my list of anticipated books for the year, and it more than lived up to my expectation. The book magically pulls off a first-person, present-tense point of view relating the story of Joy, a young woman fortunate to be immune to a spreading illness that causes memory loss and, eventually, death. The world is deconstructing around her while she goes on a personal journey to reconstruct her past and present identity. With her intense emotion and commanding prose, van den Berg has become one of my favorite writers. Her story, “Volcano House,” in the fall issue of American Short Fiction was one of the best short stories I read in 2015, as well.

Another of my new favorite writers is Jared Yates Sexton. His Hook and the Haymaker was one of the best short story collections of 2015, and his alter ego, Rowdy Yates, followed that up in 2015 with a pulp classic, Bring Me the Head of Yorkie Goodman. This relatively short latter novel is a literary tribute to classic hitman movies like Pulp Fiction, Seven Psychopaths, or No Country for Old Men. It’s the story of Wallace and Carp, two thugs assigned by Boss to exact an ultimate revenge scheme on Yorkie Goodman. Wallace eventually gets stuck in the middle of two worlds, and must choose which one deserves his loyalty.

Not on Fire, Only Dying was the 2015 debut for Susan Rukeyser. These characters are still here with me today. Lola and Marko are one of a kind. Only Lola could have possibly left a newborn baby outside a bar. Only Marko could stay devoted to her and do whatever it takes to help her find answers. Only Susan Rukeyser could bring the reader close to their story and make sure they are not forgotten.

The last one on my list is a December release by Steve Karas, a short-story collection titled, Kinda Sorta American Dream: Collected Stories. This collection had me hooked from the first few sentences: “I’m sitting at the kitchen table over a bowl of soggy oats, hives crawling up my neck, eyes watery and itchy. It’s the cats: I’m deathly allergic. My mom brought home three last night.” The collection of fourteen stories captures a cohesive theme about American life while also exploring a wide range of perspectives and characters. This is definitely one I will often revisit.

Al Kratz is our Fiction Reviewer for The Volt. He is a writer from Des Moines, Iowa, an Assistant Fiction Editor at Pithead Chapel, and is currently working on a novel and a short story collection. He has had work featured in Red Savina Review, Wyvern Lit, Flash Flood, Daily Palette, Apeiron Review, Ardor Flash Fiction, 1000words, Gravel, Literary Orphans, and elsewhere, and he is the winner of the 2013 British Fantasy Society Flash Fiction Competition.

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Tim Johnston said...

Highly honored, fellow Iowan Al Kratz! Good luck with your writing & your New Year!! Tim Johnston

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