December 10, 2015 7:06 AM EST

The 10 Best Fiction Books

1 THE STORY OF THE LOST CHILD

Elena Ferrante

Ferrante’s wrenching novel, the final volume of her Neapolitan quartet, plays out against a backdrop of political tumult and social upheaval but sticks brilliantly to its focus: the bond between two women, Lila and Elena, whose ambition and charisma at times unite them and at times bitterly divide them.

2 A GOD IN RUINS

Kate Atkinson

This companion volume to the 2013 novel Life After Life concerns Teddy, an RAF pilot whose traumatic combat is the engine of this book. His life is otherwise almost comically uneventful, but Atkinson finds in it fathomless depths of human experience and pathos.

3 FATES AND FURIES

Lauren Groff

Groff’s he said/she said account of the marriage of golden couple Lotto and Mathilde simultaneously explodes and reinforces the notion of soul mates; their story is a searing exploration of how far a person will go for love, loyalty and revenge.

4 GET IN TROUBLE

Kelly Link

Link’s slow but perfect stories tend to be about teenage girls on the tipping point: from childhood into adulthood but also from a mundane world into somewhere far stranger and more magical.

5 WELCOME TO BRAGGSVILLE

T. Geronimo Johnson

Where is more weirdness likely to transpire: Berkeley, Calif., or Braggsville, Ga.? The latter, of course, especially if you’re coming from Berkeley, like Johnson’s band of college kids in this sharp, comic and welcome new Southern novel.

6 THE MEURSAULT INVESTIGATION

Kamel Daoud

Daoud’s novel picks up half a century after Albert Camus’s The Stranger with the story of the grieving brother of Camus’s unnamed, gunned-down Arab. It succeeds through its emotion, its lyricism and, tragically, its timeliness.

7 SEVENEVES

Neal Stephenson

(See above)

8 UNDERMAJORDOMO MINOR

Patrick deWitt

In Undermajordomo Minor–possibly the greatest Wes Anderson movie never made–our hero is the callow but strangely appealing Lucien Minor, who takes the position of undermajordomo at the vast Castle von Aux. There, amid a pageant of oddity, he transforms.

9 THE MARK AND THE VOID

Paul Murray

The global financial crisis has not inspired much comedy, but Murray finds nihilistic humor in a band of bankers capitalizing on the chaos. His humanist touch turns The Mark and the Void into a moving paean to personal relations amid spreadsheets and speculation.

10 THE DUST THAT FALLS FROM DREAMS

Louis de Bernières

This poignant novel follows three families through World War I, providing a view from the trenches, the hospitals and the English countryside. But even better than de Bernières’ prismatic coverage of war is his depiction of ensuing peace and his characters’ hard-won freedom to start anew.

BEST FICTION BOOKS

Seveneves

‘The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.’ So begins Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson (right), a novel cum thought experiment conducted on a massive scale in both space and time.

The 10 Best Nonfiction Books

1 H IS FOR HAWK

Helen Macdonald

Macdonald, a scholar at Cambridge University, went to pieces after her father died, and in her mourning she purchased a goshawk. Macdonald describes her avian healer in language so breathtaking and immediate, you’d swear one was sitting on your shoulder.

2 BARBARIAN DAYS

William Finnegan

How many ways can you describe a wave? You’ll never get tired of Finnegan doing it. A staff writer at the New Yorker, he leads a counterlife as an obsessive surfer, traveling the world, throwing his body into waves in search of transient moments of grace.

3 NEGROLAND

Margo Jefferson

Jefferson’s upbringing in 1950s Chicago was almost idyllic. But the tensions of the time were inescapable, and with them came personal pressures that sank her into depression. She tells a story of despair and triumph, as compelling for the reader as it seems cathartic for her.

4 THE BROTHERS

Masha Gessen

The Tsarnaev brothers created one kind of chaos in bombing the Boston Marathon, but they came from another. Descended from Chechens, their family emigrated to the U.S. in 1994 and settled in Cambridge, Mass., where the young immigrants tried and failed to find a foothold. The Brothers doesn’t offer easy answers, but it gives context to a grotesque act of violence.

5 BEING NIXON

Evan Thomas

Thomas covers Richard Nixon’s painful childhood, his wilderness years and his presidency in a book that is a new and vital entry in the workup on one of history’s most psychoanalyzed figures.

6 BLACK MAN IN A WHITE COAT

Damon Tweedy

This clear-eyed memoir doesn’t just deal with Tweedy’s experience at the intersection of race and medicine–like the time his professor at Duke Medical School mistook him for a janitor–but takes on the backgrounds of his patients too.

7 DESTINY AND POWER

Jon Meacham

George H.W. Bush may appear to be one of the U.S.’s less memorable Presidents, sandwiched between the glamorous Reagan and the charismatic Clinton and overshadowed by his son. But in this telling, Bush’s lack of verve is his greatest asset. Through one man’s journey, we see America’s changing attitudes toward power and duty.

8 THE GIVENNESS OF THINGS

Marilynne Robinson

Readers have long admired how characters in Robinson’s novels (Home, Gilead) are animated by a faith that is deeply considered yet never overbearing. In her new collection of essays, Robinson lifts the curtain on her own theological thinking while grappling with questions about the state of Christianity in America.

9 BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

Ta-Nehisi Coates

In any other year, Coates’ letter to his son about being black in America–a nod to Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time–would have been a compelling piece of commentary. This year, it has been an urgent, essential phenomenon as the nation has struggled with police brutality, racial unrest and manifest inequity.

10 THE WITCHES

Stacy Schiff

Best-selling biographer Schiff (Cleopatra, the Pulitzer-winning Vera) aims her keen research skills at the Salem witch trials, conjuring an eerily detailed vision of the 17th century.

This appears in the December 21, 2015 issue of TIME.

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