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: Anderson/Peart, Child, Fox, Gayle, Lagercrantz, Quarles, Raybourn, & Williams | Xpress Reviews

Week ending September 4, 2015

starred review starAnderson, Kevin J. & Neil Peart (text) & Nick Robles (illus.). Clockwork Lives. ECW. Sept. 2015. 400p. ISBN 9781770412941. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781770908093. FANTASY
Life has passed Miranda Peake by, but she has never complained. Taking care of her ailing father and keeping to her regimented schedule keeps her occupied. Miranda’s father (former adventurer, alchemist, and clock keeper) is heartbroken at what she is missing. To rectify this, at his death Miranda is only bequeathed an alchemy-treated journal that she must fill with the stories of other lives—lives of adventure, love, pain, joy, and additional elements so lacking in her own. Miranda has no choice but to take the streamliner into the luscious Crown City, where clockwork angels are prophets, gangs roam the airships, the Watchmaker rules from his metal tower, and everyone’s story begins—including Miranda’s.
Verdict Sf author Anderson and Peart (songwriter and Rush drummer) return readers to the steampunk world they introduced in Clockwork Angels. With captivating illustrations by Robles, it is easy to imagine the backdrop of the lives Miranda (and the reader) collects. Fantasy fans will be captivated by this steampunk version of The Canterbury Tales.—Jennifer Funk, McKendree Univ. Lib., Lebanon, IL

starred review starChild, Lee. Make Me: A Jack Reacher Novel. Delacorte. Sept. 2015. 416p. ISBN 9780804178778. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780804178785. F
makeme090415Near midnight, with nothing but the clothes on his back and a toothbrush in his shirt pocket, Jack Reacher steps off the train in Mother’s Rest, OK, looking to discover the origin of the town’s name. Private investigator and former FBI agent Michelle Chang emerges from the shadows at the small depot, mistaking Reacher for her partner Keever, for whom she has been searching. After meeting over breakfast at the town’s diner, Reacher and Chang partner up to find Keever, but they soon discover there is something truly nasty going on in Mother’s Rest. The multilayered plot, involving an investigation of the Deep Web with the help of an LA Times science editor, ultimately places the intrepid duo on a hog farm fighting the bad guys with only a backhoe for transportation. Is there real romance in Reacher’s future? Only the next installment in the series will tell.
Verdict Superbly plotted with a jolt a minute and a touch of Carl Hiaasen–style weirdness, this thriller will delight longtime fans. It also serves as a great introduction for readers new to the series. [A September 2015 LibraryReads pick; Entertainment Weekly reports that Paramount will release the sequel to Jack Reacher, the first film adaptation of Child’s books and starring Tom Cruise, on October 21, 2016.—Ed.]—Vicki Gregory, Sch. of Information, Univ. of South Florida, Tampa

Fox, Lauren. Days of Awe. Knopf. 2015. 256p. ISBN 9780307268129. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385353113. F
Isabel Applebaum Moore is still grieving the death of her closest friend, Josie Abrams, killed in an auto accident. A fellow teacher in their Wisconsin elementary school, Josie was married to Isabel’s longtime friend Mark. Isabel’s husband, Chris, doesn’t understand his wife lately, so he moves into his own apartment. Their tween daughter, Hannah, is no help, as everything her mother does is wrong. Isabel’s mother, Helene, left Europe at the age of four with her parents; most of her family died in the Holocaust. Helene suggests that Isabel attend a support group for Relationships in Transition. How does one cope with a caustic mother, an absent husband, a self-absorbed daughter, and a gaping hole that was once occupied by one’s closest ally? The ten-day period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur is known as the Days of Awe, a time for reflection and consideration of the sins of the previous year, leading to the Day of Atonement. The months following Josie’s death heap change and revelation upon Isabel, who thought she had all the answers.
Verdict Fox (Friends Like Us; Still Life with Husband) reveals the dissolution of our certainties with witty and arresting prose. A touching and impressive story for readers who thrive on the unexpected.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Gayle, Stephanie. Idyll Threats: A Thomas Lynch Novel. Seventh Street: Prometheus. Sept. 2015. 284p. ISBN 9781633880788. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781633880795. MYS
idyllthreats090415It is summer 1997; Thomas Lynch has left his job as a New York City detective to become the police chief of the small tourist town of Idyll, CT. Nothing serious happens here, until the morning a young woman is found dead on the local golf course. The victim looks familiar; Lynch realizes he met her the night before—when he was having a secret tryst with another man. To avoid being outed, the chief searches on his own for clues. With mounting pressure from the mayor and locals for a quick resolution, Lynch deals with the mistrust of his staff, their homophobic chatter, and a usurping state investigator. As he puts the pieces of the puzzle together, Lynch realizes that solving this murder may cost him more than his job.
Verdict Gayle (My Summer of Southern Discomfort) brings to life a small town and a flawed but determined protagonist in this deftly crafted story that layers both the professional and personal pursuits of a man haunted by secrets.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., South Deerfield

Hall, Jill G. The Black Velvet Coat. She Writes. Oct. 2015. 350p. ISBN 9781631520099. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631520105. F
[DEBUT] Anne left her rural Michigan home for the thriving art scene in San Francisco, but making a living as an artist is difficult, and she’s barely managing. Finding a velvet coat with a silver snowflake pin in a favorite vintage shop, Anne is unable to resist. When Anne spots her new outfit on heiress Sylvia Van Dam in an old copy of Life magazine, a string of unexpected connections begin to appear binding these two women. Using personal objects as a link between the past and present may feel familiar, but the author cleverly chooses accessories that reflect a personal aspect of two main characters. The elegant San Francisco setting could have had a stronger presence, while it may be just as well the less flattering portrayal of rural Michigan is brief. Anne and Sylvia are completely developed characters but are difficult to engage with emotionally. There are few surprises in either time line; the conclusion is sweet but predictable.
Verdict Readers looking for a simple story will find charming elements in this blend of mystery and historical fiction.—Stacey Hayman, Rocky River P.L., OH

starred review starLagercrantz, David. The Girl in the Spider’s Web. Knopf. Sept. 2015. 416p. tr. from Swedish by George Goulding. ISBN 9780385354288. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385354295. F
In 2013, journalist/biographer Lagercrantz (I Am Zlatan Ibrahimović) took on the unenviable task of continuing the story of the abrasive yet beloved Lisbeth Salander, created by the late Stieg Larsson. Shrouded in secret and controversy, this title had been anticipated and feared by fans of the original “Millennium” trilogy, but they need not be alarmed. Lagercrantz was meticulous in his attention to the characters and details laid out in Larsson’s books (e.g., The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), and his dedication shows throughout this thrill ride of a fourth installment. Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist have gone their separate ways only to find themselves drawn back together by Frans Balder, an artificial intelligence developer who finds himself in over his head. Central to the complexly woven plot involving the National Security Agency (NSA), Swedish police, and the return of several familiar figures from the past is Balder’s young autistic son, August, who shines an interesting light on Salander as a character, as well as her passion for justice.
Verdict Full of all the hacking, attitude, and reckless action (including one exceptionally epic car chase) one expects from a Salander thriller, Lagercrantz’s novel leaves the door open for further installments. Fans who have missed Larsson’s iconic protagonists will delight in getting reacquainted. This whirlwind of nonstop action and intrigue is compulsively readable to the electrifying end. [See Prepub Alert, 4/15/15.]—Katie Lawrence, Grand Rapids, MI

starred review starQuarles, Angela. Must Love Chainmail: A Time Travel Romance. Unsealed Room. 2015. 277p. ISBN 9780990540052. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780990540021. PARANORMAL ROMANCE
chainmail090415Katy Tolson, a control freak from America, is spending a week in Wales with her best friends before she gets married to a mild-mannered guy who fits in with her life plan essentials. Katy touches a small metal talisman and is suddenly thrust back to medieval Wales. There, a knight rescues her from outside a castle that is under siege. Sir Robert Beucol, half-Norman and half-Welsh, is a painful dichotomy. The pair embark on a series of dangerous adventures that end with Robert sentenced to death. Along the way, there are plenty of highly charged, erotic scenes between our two very appealing main characters. Quarles (Must Love Breeches) offers a real sense of life in medieval Wales. She also includes practical things that most time travel stories don’t deliver: the difficulty of different forms of language, dissimilar values, and the complex issue of honor.
Verdict There are many time travel novels, but this one stands out for its very authentic approach to the perils and experiences of traveling through time to another culture. An unexpected twist at the end will please readers. Highly recommended for historical and paranormal romance fans.—B. Allison Gray, Goleta P.L., CA

starred review starRaybourn, Deanna. A Curious Beginning: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery. NAL. Sept. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780451476012. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698198203. MYS
After the death of her aunt in June 1887, Miss Veronica Speedwell believes herself to be free to begin foreign travels in search of exotic butterflies, but a cottage break-in and a kind old gentleman to the rescue persuade her otherwise. Not long after, she is nominally placed under the protection of fellow explorer Revelstoke (“Stoker”) Templeton-Vane—it’s hard to tell who’s looking after whom—and their adventures begin. Creating strong character pairings, placing the action in unexpectedly unusual but actual historical settings, and folding it all into a clever mystery are hallmarks of this author’s magical, signature style. Veronica engages in boldly inappropriate activities for women of the Victorian era but remains genuinely likable, adding a pleasant zest. Stoker’s backstory allows his upbringing and past experiences to aid Veronica’s investigations without becoming the primary focus. Readers will discover just enough about these two and hints of curiously reticent secondary characters to make the next in this (one hopes) long series eagerly anticipated.
Verdict For longtime fans of Raybourn’s “Lady Julia Grey” series or readers who like out-of-the-ordinary historical mysteries that are completely satisfying, this new series starts off with a bang.—Stacey Hayman, Rocky River P.L., OH

Williams, Joy. The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories. Knopf. Sept. 2015. 512p. ISBN 9781101874899. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781101874905. SHORT STORIES
Williams (The Quick and the Dead) is a writer’s writer, acclaimed by Rick Moody, Ann Beattie, and Karen Russell, among many others, and compared to Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Connor. However, O’Connor’s stories are direct, while Williams takes a more oblique approach. This new collection includes 33 of the author’s older pieces and 13 new ones. These mordant, ambiguous, and disturbing tales share a sensibility with the films of David Lynch, and although some are both highly detailed and disarmingly vague, Williams delivers a powerful jolt, as in the recent “Brass,” about an Arizona family facing tragedy. Throughout, her characters seem familiar yet unknowable, and she’s brilliantly original, whether depicting strange hospital visits, a teenager with a dying mother, or the death of a German shepherd.
Verdict Williams’s award-winning fiction isn’t for everyone. Yet this collection may attract new readers to the select group of devoted fans who appreciate her fierce and unsparing way of viewing the human condition.—Leslie Patterson, Rehoboth, MA

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