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

Midwinter Galley Preview

As usual, attendees at ALA Midwinter (Chicago, January 30–February 3) will mix running to meetings and author presentations with stalking the show floor for goodies. While this year it scallywasn’t feasible for LJ to do a full-scale galley guide, I’ve compiled a list of selected titles I’d recommend seeking out, arranged by publisher’s booth number. See below for big commercial titles, don’t-miss picks in fiction and nonfiction, and lots of key fiction debuts. Meanwhile…

Here are some important book events: 2015’s Best in Debut Authors, sponsored by LibraryReads and the Association of American Publishers, Saturday, January 31, from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. at McCormick Place West, Room W176A; AAP’s Library Family Feud, Sunday, February 1, from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m.; ALA Midwinter BookTalk Breakfast 2015, Monday, February 2, from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m at McCormick Place West, Room W185BC; and United for Libraries’ Gala Author Tea, Monday, February 2, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. at Hilton Chicago. You must RSVP to all but the Family Feud; the gala tea is a ticketed event.

4126 Perseus Books Group

Don’t-miss title: John Palfrey’s BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google, celebrating libraries as a means of righting unequal access to education, jobs, bibliotechand information. Palfrey, now head of school at Phillips Andover Academy, spearheaded efforts to reorganize the Harvard Law School Library and is the founding chair of the Digital Public Library of America.

More nonfiction picks: Akhil Reed Amar’s The Law of the Land: A Grand Tour of Our Constitutional Republic, on regional differences in the interpretation of law and justice, from the Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University; Jim Auchmutey’s The Class of ’65: A Student, a Divided Town, and the Long Road to Forgiveness, whose author was a white high school student vilified for his support of racial integration in the South in 1964; Eugenia Cheng’s How To Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics, a University of Sheffield math professor’s introduction to mathematics through the delights of the kitchen; Zoe Cormier’s Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll: The Science of Hedonism and the Hedonism of Science, a portrait of science as joyous indulgence (great title); PBS and History Channel regular Thomas Fleming’s The Great Divide: The Conflict Between Washington and Jefferson That Defined a Nation; SPN.com contributor Josh Wilker’s Benchwarmer: An Anxious Dad’s Almanac of Fatherhood and Other Failures, whose author hid his anxieties in his work but learned to face them when his son was born; and Irvin D. Yalom’s Creatures of a Day, ten vignettes from the renowned psychiatrist/novelist that illustrate crises faced by his patients—and himself.

Fiction picks: Cecilia Ekbäck’s Wolf Winter, a debut set in early 1700s Lapland, where a new family learns just how cold and scary winter can be (catch the booth signing at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, 1/31); and Paige McKenzie with Alyssa B. Sheinmel’s The Haunting of Sunshine Girl: Book One, based on the smash-hit YouTube series (over 100 million views), starring McKenzie.

4129 Consortium

Famed rock critic Carola Dibbell’s The Only One (Two Dollar Radio), a post-pandemic novel whose heroine volunteers as a test subject; multi-award-winning (and Arabic-speaking) Mathias surfacingÉnard’s Street of Thieves (Open Letter), a Tangier-set novel blending rising Islamic extremism and the Occupy movement; Gregory Hill’s The Lonesome Trials of Johnny Riles (Leapfrog), about a man’s weary quest through the Western landscape, following East of Denver, winner of the 2013 Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction; Alan Hruska’s Pardon the Ravens (Prospect Park), an erudite legal thriller from the cofounder of Soho Press; Irish-born, French-based Cormac James’s North American debut, The Surfacing (Bellevue Literary), about the hunt from Sir John Franklin’s missing Northwest Passage expedition; Mike Madrid’s Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics (Exterminating Angel); and Kate Schatz (text) & Miriam Klein (illus.)’s Stahl’s Rad American Women A–Z (City Lights).

4226 Grove Atlantic

Don’t-miss picks: Lauren Acampora’s The Wonder Garden, a fresh story collection that really does make suburbia look different; James Carlos Blake’s House of Wolfe: A Border Noir, blood on the Tex-Mex divide, following The Rules of Wolfe; Donna Leon’s Falling in Love: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery, circling back to the opera star who featured in Leon’s first Brunetti title; Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk, a terrific memoir about Macdonald’s coping with grief by training a fearsome goshawk; Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The sympthaSympathizer, an eye-opener about a Communist sympathizer working as a double agent in South Vietnam during the war; David Vann’s Aquarium, more distinctive work from a multi-award-winning author, this time featuring a young heroine whose life is upended; and Kent Wascom’s Secessia, set in chaotic New Orleans during the Civil War and the perfect follow-up to his sensational The Blood of Heaven.

4317 Sourcebooks

Melissa Cistaro’s Pieces of My Mother, a wrenching memoir from a bookseller at San Francisco’s Book Passage about being abandoned by her mother as a child; and New York Times best-selling Susanna Kearsley’s A Desperate Fortune, a tale of two women by love, fate, and, especially, time

4326 Workman

Fiction picks: Roland Merullo’s Dinner with Buddha, a follow-up to his best-selling laugh-out-louder; Aline Ohanesian’s Orhan’s Inheritance, featuring a young man who learns an teegeimportant lesson about Turkish-Armenian history and runner-up for the Pen-Bellwether Prize (big LJ staff love for this one); Heidi Pitlor’s The Daylight Marriage, about husband picking up the pieces; and Rafael Yglesias’s The Wisdom of Perversity, about estranged Sixties friends trying to bridge the gap (big LJ staff love for this one, too).

Nonfiction picks: Jim Grimsley’s How I Shed My Skin: Unlearning Racist Lessons of a Southern Childhood, the respected novelist’s reflections on 1960s integration; and Jennifer Teege & Nikola Sellmair’s My Grandfather Would Have Shot Me: A Black Woman Discovers Her Family’s Nazi Past, an authentically shocking memoir by a German-Nigerian woman who learns that her grandfather was the Nazi commandant depicted in Schindler’s List.

And an in-house favorite: Avi’s Catch You Later, Traitor, one of the most entertaining middle-grade books you’ll ever read.

4411 Simon & Schuster

Big-name titles: Karen Kingsbury’s Chasing Sunsets (top-selling Christian fiction), Lori Lansens’s The Mountain Story, Michelle Moran’s Rebel Queen, Robert D. Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, Jan-Philipp Sendker’s Whispering Shadows warof(remember The Art of Hearing Heartbeats?), and Abigail Thomas’s What Comes Next and How To Like It (remember A Three Dog Life?).

Don’t-miss fiction debuts: Francesca Haig’s Fire Sermon, first in the award-winning poet’s trilogy about a postapocalyptic world where every birth yields twins, one perfect and the other deformed and thus branded and ostracized; Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive, whose heroine must face up to a terrible event in her boarding-school past; Jamie Kornegay’s Soil, about an idealistic scientist’s efforts to establish a sustainable farm on some river-bottom land in Mississippi, which end in tragedy; Marian Palaia’s The Given World, about a young woman traveling to Vietnam years after her brother’s death there during the war; and Christopher Robinson & Gavin Kovite’s War of the Encyclopaedists, a much-plumped title whose protagonists keep in touch when one is deployed to Baghdad by updating a Wikipedia article they’ve created about themselves.

4414 Harlequin

Don’t-miss titles: Adi Alsaid’s Never Always Sometimes, featuring best friends (a boy and a girl) creating a list of what they won’t do senior year, following Alsaid’s joyous road-trip novel, Let’s Get Lost (Harlequin Teen); Karma K. Brown’s Come Away with Me, a debut about a couple healing after a devastating accident (the Jar of Spontaneity helps); Mary Kubica’s Pretty Baby, a psychological thriller about the risks of helping a stranger, following Kubica’s big-boom debut, The Good Girl; the New York Times best-selling Susan Mallery’s The Girls of Mischief Bay, opening a new series with the story of three women redefining their love lives; Katie McGarry’s Nowhere but Here, whose teenage heroine learns that her estranged bad-guy motorcycle dad is really a good guy (and, hey, she has a love interest; Harlequin Teen); and Shona Patel’s quadeSong of the Flame Tree, about a crusading young man in late 1800s India who finds himself through love, following Teatime for the Firefly.

4416 Norton

Fiction picks: Carnegie Medal and Man Booker Prize winner Anne Enright’s The Green Road, about an Irish family diverging and reconverging; Eli Gottlieb’s Best Boy, an in-house favorite about a suddenly beleaguered autistic man; Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes, from the award-winning novel Someone Knows My Name and the basis of big BET Network miniseries (limited quantities of hardcovers); Kirstin Valdez Quade’s Night at the Fiestas, a piercingly perfect story collection from a National Book Award 5 under 35er; and Whiting Award winner Vu Tran’s Dragonfish, suspenseful reading about the Vietnamese underworld in Las Vegas (catch the signing).

Nonfiction picks: Philip Glass’s Words Without Music: A Memoir, which should have you humming along with the estimable composer; and Mary Norris’s Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, a stylish and witty memoir from the maven of The New Yorker’s copy department (catch the signing).

4526 HarperCollins

Big-name fiction: T.C. Boyle’s The Harder They Come, Meg Donohue’s Dog Crazy, James Grippando’s Cash Landing, Sophie Hannah’s Woman with a Secret, Elizabeth quickmHaynes’s Behind Closed Doors, Erika Johansen’s Invasion of the Tearling, Dennis Lehane’s World Gone By, Laura Lippman’s Hush Hush, Matthew Quick’s Love May Fail, and Jacqueline Winspear’s A Dangerous Place.

Fiction picks: Holly Brown’s A Necessary End, psychological suspense (from a practicing therapist) about a desire for motherhood gone wrong; Jenny Colgan’s Little Beach Street Bakery, an international best seller about a woman rebuilding her life; Ariana Franklin & Samantha Norman’s The Siege Winter, the late award-winning Franklin’s return to dangerous 12th-century England with the help of her daughter; Patricia Harman’s The Reluctant Midwife, follow-up to the breakout The Midwife of Hope River; former Stegner Fellow Skip Horack’s The Other Joseph, whose struggling protagonist seeks to connect with his lost brother’s daughter; Bryan Reardon’s Finding Jake, a chill-your-bones novel about a son gone missing after a school shooting; Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts, unsettling reading about a family’s reality show as the daughter succumbs to madness; and Nell Zink’s Mislaid, a quirky up-and-comer’s darkly funny tale of a misconceived student-professor marriage.

Fiction debut picks: Top-selling humorist Michael Perry’s The Jesus Cow, whose title character bears a striking image on its hide, turning a farm into an international spiritual theme park and upending its unassuming owner; Lucy Sanna’s The Cherry Harvest, which plumbs tensions created by a POW camp in World War II Wisconsin; and Cynthia Swanson’s Sixties-set The Bookseller, whose heroine enters an alternate reality in her dreams.

Nonfiction pick: Bruce Henderson’s Rescue at Los Baños: The Most Daring Prison Camp Raid of World War II, the best-selling author’s reconstruction of the February 1945 rescue of more than 2,000 predominantly American prisoners from the Los Baños prison camp in the Philippines during World War II.

4613 Macmillan

Big-name fiction: Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale (advance listening copies) and Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt’s The Whites.

Fiction picks: Camille DeAngelis’s Bones & All, not your standard coming-of-age quest, since the outsider heroine has an unusual taste in (um, for?) humans; and Sharma Shields’s The susquaSasquatch Hunter’s Almanac, more offbeat doings about a man forever shaped by his mother’s abandoning him for (it seems) a sasquatch—librarians have Twitter lit up on this one.

Fiction debut picks: Stephanie Clifford’s Everybody Rise, a young woman’s scaling the social ladder, sleek writing by an award-winning New York Times reporter; John Donoghue’s The Death’s Head Chess Club, unsettling us with the story of the Auschwitz obersturmführer who builds an uneasy relationship with the Jewish chess master he compels to play against the best Nazi officers; Erika Swyler’s The Book of Speculation, a magical tale of a young librarian, a cryptic book, and disturbing family predictions; and Gwendolyn Womack’s The Memory Painter, fun and clever reading about an artist who paints dreams from remembered lives and the woman who sees herself in his work.

Nonfiction picks: Ander Monson’s Letter to a Future Lover, from an NYPL Young Lions Award and National Book Critics Circle finalist who writes fiction, poetry, and criticism: a study of the physical relationship between book and reader, tapping the marginalia and highlighting, fingerprints and paper slips left behind in books found in a wide range of libraries.

4711 Hachette Book Group

Hot commercial picks: Gail Carriger’s Prudence, Brian Freeman’s The Season of Fear, Kate Mulgrew’s Born with Teeth, Benjamin Percy’s The Dead Lands, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, Michael Robotham’s Life or Death, Kimberla Lawson Roby’s The Ultimate Betrayal, and S.K. Tremayne’s The Ice Twins, a thriller from a pseudonymous best-selling author.

More don’t-miss titles: Elizabeth Alexander’s The Light of the World, the inaugural poet and Pulitzer Prize finalist’s meditation on coping after her husband’s sudden death (expect fishermenbeautiful writing); Jamie Attenberg’s Saint Mazie, based on a real-life figure in Manhattan’s Lower East Side during the Depression; Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen, a 1990s Nigerian–set story of two brothers persuaded by the local madman that one will kill the other (big foreign rights); Julianna Baggott’s Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders, about a reclusive author whose final book may reveal some important family truths, from the author of the fabulously inventive “Pure” trilogy: Joshua Gaylord’s When We Were Animals, about a small town where youngsters reaching puberty turn wild (literally, horror-story wild) for a year and one teen who resists; and James Hannaham’s Delicious Foods, about a troubled young widow and her son, held captive on a mysterious farm; Hannaham’s God Says No was an ALA Stonewall Book Awards.

4721 Random House

Big-name titles: Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife, Elizabeth Berg’s The Dream Lover, Cara Black’s Murder on the Champ de Mars, Sara Gruen’s At the Water’s Edge, Michael Harvey’s The Governor’s Wife, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, Erik Larson’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma: A Modern Retelling, Jane Smiley’s Early Warning, and Irvine Welsh’s The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins.

Don’t-miss fiction debuts: Hermione Eyre’s Viper Wine, intensely beautiful reading set at the court of Charles I, with magic realism touches; Kirsty Logan’s The Gracekeepers, fantasy drawing on Scottish myths; Jax Miller’s Freedom’s Child, whose protagonist tracks down the daughter she put up for adoption after killing her bad-cop husband;  Brendan Duffy’s House of Echoes, a thriller about a family looking for a fresh start in upstate New York but steilfinding trouble; Jill Alexander Essbaum’s Hausfrau, about a discontented American wife in Zurich who launches a string of affairs; Charlotte Silver’s Bennington Girls Are Easy, with two recent Bennington grads taking on New York; Jennifer Steil’s The Ambassador’s Wife, based on the author’s experiences as a diplomat’s wife in the Middle East, where she was kidnapped; and Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza’s The Knockoff, about a veteran editor in chief who takes back her fashion magazine from an uppity former assistant.

Nonfiction picks: Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, a memoir from Atlantic contributing editor Bolick, with historical context; Marc Goodman’s Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It, scary revelations from an expert about how current and future technologies could be used to commit crimes; and Anna Lyndsey’s Girl in the Dark: A Memoir, a pseudonymous memoir (and London Book Fair hit) whose author developed such a sensitivity to light that she has had to spend months in a blacked-out room with audiobooks her only companions. 

4823 Penguin

Signings: Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train, a Hitchcockian debut; Ross Ritchell’s The Knife, tough, spare war fiction from a veteran; Renée Rosen’s What the Lady Wants: A Novel of Marshall Field and the Gilded Age, from the author of Dollface: A Novel of the hawkinsRoaring Twenties; Brighton Walsh, Caged in Winter, a boiling-over New Adult debut; Lori Nelson Spielman’s Sweet Forgiveness, a novel of making amends from the author of The Life List; and Michelle Tea’s How To Grow Up: A Memoir, about how this edgy writer did it.

Mysteries: Monica Ferris’s Darned If You Do, P.L. Gaus’s Whiskers of the Lion: An Amish-Country Mystery, C.S. Harris’s Who Buries the Dead: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery, Sarah Hilary’s No Other Darkness: A Detective Inspector Marnie Rome Mystery, Susan Hill’s The Soul of Discretion: A Chief Superintendent Simon Serrailler Mystery, Miranda James’s Arsenic and Old Books, Keith McCafferty’s Crazy Mountain Kiss: A Sean Stranahan Mystery, and Simone St. James’s The Other Side of Midnight.

Big commercial picks: Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Alphabet House, Jennifer Chiaverini’s Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule, Nicci French’s Thursday’s Children: A Frieda Klein Mystery, Sophie Hannah’s The Carrier, Owen Laukkanen’s The Stolen Ones, Matthew Pearl’s The Last Bookaneer, Ann B. Ross’s Miss Julia Lays Down the Law, Lori Roy’s roylLet Me Die in His Footsteps, Stewart O’Nan’s West of Sunset, and Franck Thilliez’s Bred To Kill: A Thriller.

Fiction picks: Brian DeLeeuw’s The Dismantling, upscale chills; Margaret Dilloway’s Sisters of Heart and Snow, sisters bonding over the story of a real-life female samurai; Reif Larsen’s I am Radar, edgy stuff about a young man revisiting 20th-century violence; Colby Marshall’s Color Blind, a thriller involving synesthesia; Deborah Moggach’s Heartbreak Hotel, from the author of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel; Nuala O’Connor’s Miss Emily, an award-winning Irish writer’s U.S. debut, featuring Emily Dickinson; Erika Robuck’s The House of Hawthorne, more authorial fiction after the best-selling Hemingway’s Girl; Elif Shafak’s The Architect’s Apprentice, the daring Turkish author’s 1500s-set thrown gauntlet to fundamentalism; and David Treuer’s Prudence, called a Native American Atonement by the publisher.

Fiction debut picks: Fatima Bhutto’s Shadow of the Crescent Moon, family conflict that really matters in a small Pakistani town; Anna Freeman’s The Fair Fight, a knockout historical about women pugilists; David Joy’s Where all Light Tends To Go, which the author calls Appalachian noir; Eddie Joyce’s Small Mercies, about an Italian Irish American family remaking itself; Claire Kells’s Girl Underwater, with a young swimmer as plane crash survivor; Andrew Marr’s Head of State, by a British journalist skewering 10 Downing Street; Patricia Park’s Re: Jane, about a half-Korean, half-American orphan, in Flushing, Queens; Thomas Pierce’s Hall of Small Mammals: Stories, a fresh, bright, NPR-endorsed collection; Rebecca fullerScherm, The Unbecoming, about a small-town American girl turned international art thief; and Andi Teran’s Ana of California, inspired by Anne of Green Gables.

Nonfiction picks: Amy Butcher’s Visiting Hours: A Memoir of Friendship and Murder, pondering a friend who has killed; Cyrus Copeland’s Off the Radar: A Father’s Secret, a Mother’s Heroism, and a Son’s Quest, asking whether a father was really an Iran hostage–era spy; Alexandra Fuller’s Leaving Before the Rains Come, with Fuller confronting her crashed marriage while considering her family in Africa, first seen in Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight; and Linda Tirado’s Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, with sobering truths.

 

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.