Our 2015 Favorites

As the year comes to a close, our librarians wanted to share their favorite books, movies, television series, and music that either came out in the past year, or that we just discovered in 2015.

All of these titles are available for checkout from the Kansas City Public Library collection, so why not start off 2016 with an awesome new read from this list?

Fiction & Nonfiction
Young Adult Titles
Juvenile Fiction & Picture Books
Movies & Television


A God In Ruins
by Kate Atkinson

Using the slipperiness of time and narrative, Kate Atkinson plays with her reader, and story, like a kitten with a ball of literary yarn. In this novel from the award-winning author of Life After Life, the second half of the 20th century plays out in the rewarding, yet crumbling, lives of Teddy Todd and his beloved family.

Where The Bodies Were Buried
by T.J. English

The fascinating true-life account of the trial and history of notorious Boston crime figure Whitey Bulger. While the reports of Bulger’s violence and illegal activities were terrifying, what was even more shocking were the revelations about the relationship between certain gangland leaders and federal law enforcement during the FBI’s fight against organized crime, particularly in 1970s and 1980s. Author T.J. English had incredible access to some of the figures (both underworld and aboveworld, as it were) whose lives intertwined with this decades-long case.

The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge
by Michael Punke

The Revenant is based on the real-life case of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper and explorer who achieved sort of a folk-hero mythos due to a series of incredible life events. During an 1823 fur trapping excursion, Glass was savagely attacked by a bear. Severely mauled, he was subsequently left for dead by his team, particularly the two men entrusted with tending to his wounds who stole his goods and gear, including his prized rifle. Against all odds he survived the attack and set out on a quest for revenge against these men, battling the harsh arrival of winter, hostile tribes, other trappers, and starvation.

Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People
by Elizabeth A. Fenn

Our understanding of the history and experiences of the indigenous peoples of North America during the era of European colonization is undergoing significant and exciting expansion and reinterpretation. A stellar example of this is Encounters at the Heart of the World, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for History. It's a work that reveals the voices of North American natives that have been missing from standard histories for far too long.

It Can't Happen Here
by Sinclair Lewis, Audiobook Narrated by Chris Hunt

Known more for Main Street and Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis wrote the less remembered novel It Can’t Happen Here in 1935, when the threat of fascism loomed across the globe. The story — in which an aw-shucks, dissembling demagogue skillfully pulls off the 1936 presidential nomination of the Republican Party and then wins the general election — swiftly descends to a tale of the formation of an American totalitarian state. Lewis’s novel, as superbly read in this 2008 audiobook, might not have been so frightening if we weren’t going through a vaguely similar presidential cycle right now.

Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America
by T. J. Stiles

What more can be said about the lucky boy general of the Civil War and the loser of the Battle at the Little Bighorn? When you’re Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer T. J. Stiles apparently a lot, and the result is Custer's Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America. Stiles focuses on Custer as a product of his Gilded Age times, devotes the bulk of his narrative before the fateful year of 1876, and pushes the story of the epic defeat to the epilogue. Having written excellent bios of Jesse James and Cornelius Vanderbilt, Stiles has completed his great trilogy of three nineteenth century icons.

The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?

by Dale Russakoff

A New York Times Bestseller, The Prize is very well written account of the difficult, sometimes misguided, fight to reform our one city's failing urban school district. Russakoff, who spent several years as a journalist with the Washington Post brings her in-depth and objective reporting skills to this hot-button issue.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania
by Erik Larson

From the author of The Devil in the White City and In The Garden of Beasts, this might be the best Erik Larson narrative non-fiction yet. Dead Wake well researched detailed narrative of the sinking of the luxury liner that finally led to the United States' entry into the First World War.

The Lake House
by Kate Morton

Morton’s books fascinate and satisfy. Impeccably plotted with fascinating characters, in The Lake House readers meet Alice as a teen just before Midsummer’s Eve when her baby brother disappears. Years later, we're reintroduced to Alice as a soul-weary police detective attempting to solve that cold case.

The Water Knife
by Paolo Bacigalupi

National Book Award Finalist Paolo Bacigalupi (Ship Breaker) presents a thrilling, prescient novel about the struggle for survival via water rights in a dystopian, drought-stricken United States.

Go Set a Watchman
by Harper Lee

While this "second" novel from the acclaimed author of the American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, probably won’t make many "best of" lists, it is certainly the book that generated the most conversation about books and reading this year. For that alone, it deserves mention.


Extraordinary Means
by Robyn Schneider

One of our staff's favorite Young Adult novels this year was Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider. The premise of an untreatable form of tuberculosis emerging is plausible. And while the YA trope of terminally-ill teen protagonists might seem overdone, Extraordinary Means makes the reader look at the characters and the greater issues of medical ethics in a whole new light. The conversations this story will start make it a terrific pick for any book group.

Carry On
by Rainbow Rowell

Carry On is another entrant in the “Chosen One” genre of fiction, à la Harry Potter. Rowell’s characters are superb and may be the best thing about this very good book. Overall, Rowell has created an affectionate parody that perfectly satirizes this beloved genre, while still creating characters and a story that will probably be a beloved part of the genre canon.

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the
Vietnam War

by Steve Sheinkin

More focused and accessible than Sheinkin's previous works Bomb and The Notorious Benedict Arnold, it tells the story of Daniel Ellsburg, a Harvard graduate, Marine Corp volunteer, and Cold War defender who gradually begins to view the Vietnam War as unwinnable. He leaks the Pentagon Papers: a top secret document that reveals a history of deception by the Executive Branch, a deception designed to save face and win elections.

All American Boys
by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Sure to be a discussion starter, the two authors of All American Boys tell the story of two teens, one black and one white, who find themselves at the center of exploding racial tensions, all because one wanted to buy a bag of chips.

Finding Audrey
by Sophie Kinsella

Because sometimes all it takes is one person to make a real difference in someone’s life, Finding Audrey demonstrates that better than any book we've read lately. A very uplifting and inspiring tale.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future
by A. S. King

The titular character of A. S. King's new novel is struggling with some real life issues, including that she has no plan after graduating high school. Then she begins to have visions of a horrible future, one that she has power to divert.


The Marvels
by Brian Selznick

Following up The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, this new book by Brian Selznick is even more amazing. This time the first 400 pages of the book are a wordless visual narrative, followed by 250 pages of text. The two seemingly-unrelated halves of the book create an intricate story of family and theater and secrets, appropriate for middle grades (or all ages, really.)

Rufus the Writer
by Elizabeth Bram, Illustrated by Chuck Groenink

In this picture book by Elizabeth Bram, illustrated by Chuck Groenink, the creativity and imagination Rufus uses to write stories for his friends is inspiring.

Imaginary Fred
by Eoin Colfer, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

In this story by Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers, the imaginary friend doesn’t have to go away after his friend doesn’t need him anymore. He gets a life!

Red: A Crayon's Story
by Michael Hall

Red is a picture book that embraces being oneself, instead of trying to be something else, without being heavy-handed or didactic. It's a charming tale that kids and grown-ups will enjoy reading together. The message of empowerment is an added bonus.

Last Stop on Market Street
by Matt de la Peña, Illustrations by Christian Robinson

In this vibrant illustrated finalist for the E.B. White Read-aloud Book Award, CJ’s grandmother gives perfect answers to CJ’s questions as they ride across town on the bus.

The Thing about Jellyfish
by Ali Benjamin

This is a achingly beautiful book about Suzy Swanson, a 7th grader who falls somewhere on the autism scale. She responds to the accidental drowning of a friend through silence and the study of the Irukandji Jellyfish - a creature whose venom is among the most dangerous in the world and has caused numerous drowning deaths. Informational text and the difficulties of middle school are brilliantly balanced in this novel.


Mad Max: Fury Road

The latest entry into George Miller's post-apocalyptic francise, Mad Max: Fury Road is a taut ballet of non-stop action, insane physical stunt work, and gonzo visual storytelling. Charlize Theron's Furiosa completely steals the spotlight from Tom Hardy's Max. It's not just a kick-ass road violence story with strong heroines; it’s somehow a story of respect and caring.

The Martian

Different mediums require different methods to tell a story effectively, and adapting a book into a movie is a difficult art. The film version of The Martian is not only one of the best book-to-movie adaptation ever made, it’s one of the best science fiction movies of the past couple decades. It’s smart, funny, stunningly gorgeous, scientifically rigorous, and deeply human. It’s a fully worthy partner to the novel, and should be available for checkout sometime in January. Place a hold now to get an early spot in line.

Ex Machina

Multiple staff members put Ex Machina on their 2015 lists. The film is a hard science fiction thriller written and directed by Alex Garland, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac (both in Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) in powerhouse performances. The film, which plays out as if Stanley Kubrick was directing an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, relies heavy on ideas surrounding the implications of artificial intelligence. Ex Machina is perhaps, the smartest film of the year.

Wayward Pines

A little bit Twin Peaks mixed with a bit of LOST, Wayward Pines is based on a series of novels chronicling the strange situation of Secret Service agent Ethan Burke (Matt Dillon), who finds himself in a bucolic Idaho town following a mysterious car crash while investigating the disappearance of two other agents. It gets points for sheer audacity with how increasingly ludicrous certain plotlines get, but that’s half the fun.


A tantalizing mix of family, hip-hop, and intrigue, Empire, created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, is a cutthroat, prime-time drama with all the wonderfully addictive hallmarks of a soap opera. Actress Taraji P. Henson is a revelation in this series.


by Adele

Adele returns with one of the most anticipated albums of the decade. If we thought our ears were on fire when she was 19, what will happen when she turns 30? This album is also available digitally to Library users on Freegal Music.

Original Broadway Cast Recording

Hamilton, available digitally on hoopla, is a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton’s life. There is absolutely nothing like this Broadway show—it’s diverse, it’s fascinating, and it’s catchy. As one of our staffers said, it was the "best thing that happened to my ears in 2015."

by Taylor Swift

To quote our Media Relations Coordinator, "I might be slightly embarrassed to admit that the album 1989 made me a Taylor Swift fan. It’s the most perfect pop album I’ve heard in about 20 years. The fact that Ryan Adams covered 1989 and every song holds up and takes on a more somber, but wiser tone without actually being 'better' is a testament to how solid T. Swift’s songs are."

And many thanks to our library staff who helped contribute to this list and descriptions, including: Crystal, Rachel, Anna, Ron, and Clare in Youth & Family Engagement; Eli in Special Collections; Kaite in Readers' Services; Andy and Courtney in Public Affairs; Heather in Executive Services, John in the Digital Branch; Jill and Ryan in Customer Services; Joel in Branch Administration; and Susan at the Waldo Branch.