LJ Best Books 2016

A jury of our peers discussed, debated, disagreed, and finally declared LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles. VISIT THE WEBSITE

Fiction from Cameron, Fournier, Jones, Littlefield, Twelve Hawks, & Zeltserman | Xpress Reviews

Week ending October 3, 2014

Cameron, W. Bruce. The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man. Forge. Oct. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780765377487. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466855908. MYS
repoman100314Ruddy McCann, former college football star and current repo man, thinks he’s losing his mind. He’s started hearing voices—well, one voice actually, and it introduces itself as Alan Lottner, real estate agent. What Ruddy soon discovers is that Alan isn’t a figment of his imagination, a serious mental health problem, or even the onset of the dreaded Repo Madness, a condition caused by the constant stress of repossessing cars from angry and often violent owners. Alan was murdered eight years earlier, and Ruddy has become the unwilling host of his spirit. What’s worse is that Alan insists that Ruddy find out who killed him, but without adding Alan’s problems to the mix, Ruddy has enough of his own: trying to help his sister keep the family’s bar from going under and smoothing out the troubles and inane schemes of the bar’s regulars. When Ruddy discovers that the girl he met recently and is very interested in is Alan’s daughter, he’s certain that things couldn’t possibly get worse. Oh, how wrong he is.
Verdict Cameron (A Dog’s Purpose; A Dog’s Journey) has delivered a highly engaging and funny novel that is reminiscent of the early works of Carl Hiaasen (Skin Tight) and Christopher Moore (Practical Demonkeeping). It’s so easy to get wrapped up in Ruddy’s misadventures that readers may well finish the novel and only then realize that they’ve read it in one sitting.—Elisabeth Clark, West Florida P.L., Pensacola

Fournier, Michael T. Swing State. Three Rooms. Oct. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781941110089. pap. $15.95. F
Fournier’s (Hidden Wheel) second novel focuses on three young people making do in the brutal economic wasteland of New Hampshire’s North Country. The brutality starts at home for Dixon Dove and Zachariah Tietz, both still in high school. Dixon is the sister of the school football star, which couldn’t interest her less. She ducks her heavy-drinking stepfather to practice petty theft, set off firecrackers, and bully other kids. Zachariah was doing okay even though his alcoholic millworker dad beat him regularly. But after a humiliating injury during a pick-up soccer game, he is shunned and taunted and becomes overweight. Afghanistan veteran Roy Eggleton has come home with a traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and a bum leg; now he plays pool for money and limps around town looking for work. As the novel progresses, the characters paths become more intertwined, ultimately with calamitous results.
Verdict Fournier conjures three vivid voices for this bleak tale in which things go from bad to worse. His excellent writing should appeal to readers of contemporary fiction who like the view to be unflinching.—Nancy H. Fontaine, Norwich P.L., VT

Jones, Sherry. The Sharp Hook of Love. Gallery. Oct. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781451684797. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781451684803. F
The passionate story of star-crossed lovers Heloise and Abelard is well known, but Jones (The Jewel of the Medina; Four Sisters, All Queens) makes the classic tragic tale all too human in her new novel, which deftly explores the complexity of love between two brilliant and strong-willed people caught up in the pursuit of fame and independence as well as passion. Readers will recognize the familiar conflicts between what constitutes love and sacrifice for a man and what it means to a woman, and they will be struck anew by the dichotomy of mutual passion that both draws men and women together and tears them apart. All the while, in the background courtiers, scholars, canons, and bishops jockey for power, prestige, and a place in history, ready to destroy anyone who gets in their way.
Verdict A colorful, compelling tale that will appeal to any reader, though one wishes the unique character of the brilliant Heloise had been more fleshed out before the introduction of the spellbinding Abelard.—Cynthia Johnson, Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, MA

Littlefield, Sophie. The Missing Place. Gallery. Oct. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781476757827. pap. $16; ebk ISBN 9781476757841. F
Colleen Mitchell travels to Lawton, ND, in search of her missing son. Paul had been working the oil rigs for Hunter-Cole Energy but suddenly stopped showing up for work. While her husband and Hunter-Cole want to label Paul’s disappearance as youthful hijinks, Colleen feels that there is another piece to the story. She becomes even more convinced when she learns that Paul is not the only young employee to go missing. Colleen teams up with Shay, the mother of the other missing young man, to find their children. Because of their difference in wealth and class, Colleen and Shay clash right away. They struggle not only with each other but with the brutal weather and the stonewall they get from the locals and from Hunter-Cole representatives.
Verdict While Littlefield is an Anthony Award–winning crime fiction author (A Bad Day for Sorry), the mystery aspect is the novel’s weakest part. Red herrings abound, and the eventual resolution is disappointing, given the strong buildup. This story succeeds when it focuses on the character of Shay; readers will wish to have more of her perspective. Those looking for a family drama with an unusual setting would enjoy this book. [See Prepub Alert, 4/6/14.]—Lynnanne Pearson, Skokie P.L., IL

starred review starTwelve Hawks, John. Spark. Doubleday. Oct. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780385538671. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385538688. F
spark100314Twelve Hawks (“Fourth Realm Trilogy”) creates an alternative world made oppressive by the ubiquitous tracking of citizens in this story of Jacob Underwood, a contract employee (i.e., hired assassin) for a multinational corporation. A severe brain injury has left Jacob with Cotard’s Syndrome, a rare disorder in which the sufferer is certain that he has died. Jacob feels his soul has departed and that he no longer has emotions or morals. His employer, DBG, finds this condition useful in its employment of him as a reliable, highly effective hit man until, for the first time, he questions an assignment he has been given by his immediate supervisor. The protagonist, despite his job as a hit man and his autistic mannerisms (the only nourishment he takes is a liquid protein drink), is a compelling and sympathetic antihero. Jacob doggedly pursues his goals while trying to figure out what is intercepting his usual thought processes and behaviors.
Verdict Fans of Twelve Hawks, dystopian literature, and those who delight in original protagonists will thoroughly enjoy this new character and fascinating premise. The novel was optioned for a movie by DreamWorks last year, so expect strong interest.—Deb West, Gannon Univ. Lib., Erie, PA

Zeltserman, Dave. The Boy Who Killed Demons. Overlook. Oct. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781468309607. $24.95. HORROR
If when you were 13 years old you discovered that you had suddenly acquired the unsettling ability to see evil people as hideous demons, what would you do? Author Zeltserman (The Caretaker of Lorne Field) introduces Henry Dudlow, now 15, and well along the path he has chosen for himself as a result of being endowed with this particular sixth sense. Fearing that his parents will decide that he is suffering from mental illness—a possibility he has already explored—and insist that he be institutionalized, Henry has chosen to keep his trait a secret from everyone. But he feels a duty to use his peculiar faculty for the good of mankind by hunting and eventually slaying the demons in our midst. To this end he studies self-defense, teaches himself to read ancient texts on demonology, and avoids opportunities to interact with his peers, worrying they will discover his secret.
Verdict Despite the ever-heightening suspense as Henry pursues and conquers his first quarry, the sense of this teen’s isolation often overrides the heroics of his quest. Heroes need allies as well as adversaries. Still, Henry’s fortitude and single-mindedness will stir the hearts of adult and YA action fantasy fans.—Nancy McNicol, Hamden P.L., CT

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