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

Key Literary Titles from Duchovny, Hellenga, Jane Hamilton, & More | Fiction Previews, Apr. 2016, Pt. 1

Duchovny, David. Bucky F*cking Dent. Farrar. Apr. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9780374110420. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374714765. CD: Macmillan Audio. LITERARY
A quirky but heartfelt fable like his New York Times best-selling Holy Cow, this new work by duchovnyGolden Globe Award–winning actor Duchovny features Carter administration–era Ivy Leaguer Ted Fullilove, who sells peanuts at Yankee Stadium while churning out multiple drafts of (he wishes) the Great American Novel. But when estranged dad Marty announces that he is dying of cancer, Ted returns home and seeks to raise Marty’s spirits by creating the illusion that his beloved but foundering Red Sox are on a winning streak. Good writing? Let’s remember that Duchovny nearly got his doctorate in English from Yale.

Gonzales, Manuel. The Regional Office is Under Attack! Riverhead. Apr. 2016. 416p. ISBN 9781594632419. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698139367. Downloadable: Penguin Audio. LITERARY/SF
In a dark and dangerous world, it’s good to have the Regional Office around, fielding its team of crack female assassins to keep everyone safe. But now the august Office is under fierce attack, with newbie assassin Rose, recruited by an Office malcontent, in the avant-garde; loyal Sarah is spearheading the defense. Sounds like standard sf fare, but rising star Gonzales’s debut story collection, The Miniature Wife, won the American Academy of Arts and Letters Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction, so you can expect literary tone and intent within the sf framework.

Hamilton, Jane. The Excellent Lombards. Grand Central. Apr. 2016. 288p. ISBN 9781455564224. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781455564217. lib. ebk. ISBN 9781455594092. hamiltonjaneDownloadable: Hachette Audio. LITERARY/FAMILY LIFE
Hamilton’s The Book of Ruth (1988) and A Map of the World (1994) were both PEN Faulkner Award winners and Oprah’s Book Club picks, and both were adapted for the screen, small and large, respectively. Here Hamilton revisits the Midwest farm setting that her fans know and love, introducing teenage Mary Frances “Frankie” Lombard. Frankie adores her family’s sunlit apple orchard and her criss-crossed family itself. But she knows that good things cannot last—not everyone in the family has stayed on the land—and the novel shows her facing facts and growing up. With a 40,000-copy first printing.

Hellenga, Robert. The Truth About Death: And Other Stories. Bloomsbury USA. Apr. 2016. 256p. ISBN 9781455564224. $26. SHORT STORIES
Hellenga is a real reader’s writer, winning committed fans with intelligent and emotionally grounded novels ranging from The Sixteen Pleasures to The Confessions of Frances Godwin; as the LJ review of Confessions says, “he deserves to be more widely known.” This collection of short fiction ranges widely, with the title novella summing up the mood: undertaker Simon embalms his father, contemplating his own death; his mother says good-bye to her husband in the basement cooler; and the dog, Maya, a sensitive greeter at the funeral home, communicates some important truths to Simon’s wife. Suggesting the light twisting of a dark subject, a plate of spaghetti cacio e pepe, which Simon eats while dining with an undertaker in Rome, figures in the plot.

Lynch, Jim. Before the Wind. Knopf. Apr. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9780307958983. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307958990. LITERARY
Lynch has won some nice honors—e.g., the Indies Choice Honor Book Award and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award—plus appreciative reviews in venues like the New York Times lynchand the Daily Beast; Border Songs, a tender, incisive look at the divisions among us, is a personal favorite. Now it’s breakout time. The Johannssens are a great sailing family famed for designing, building, and racing sailboats. But while 31-year-old Josh devotes himself to sailboat repair, siblings Ruby and Bernard have made some very big waves by moving far away from the family’s Puget Sound base. All the Johannssens reunite, however, to sail an historic, family-built vessel in a key race, and, not surprisingly, some salty, stinging revelations come out. Lots of promotion and an East Coast–West Coast tour.

Smith, Dominic. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos. Sarah Crichton: Farrar. Apr. 2016. 304p. ISBN 9780374106683. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374714048. CD/downloadable: Macmillan Audio. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
A Pushcart Prize nominee and the winner of several fellowships both here and in his native Australia (he now lives in Austin, TX), Smith crafts a novel about three individuals connected over centuries by a single painting. In 1631, Sara de Vos is the first woman to be admitted as a master painter to the Guild of St. Luke’s in Holland. Now, her only surviving painting belongs to a wealthy descendant of the original owner, though it was forged by celebrated art historian vestalEllie Shipley in her desperate youth, when she needed to pay the rent. That’s a problem, because she’s currently curated a show on Dutch women painters. Luscious-sounding, and I’m hearing good things.

Vestal, Shawn. Daredevils. Penguin Pr. Apr. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781101979891. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101979914. LITERARY
As winner of 2014’s PEN Robert W. Bingham Prize for his story collection, Godforsaken Idaho, Vestal can be expected to bring sharp literary skills to a plot reflecting current events, though it is set in the 1970s. When 15-year-old Loretta is caught sneaking from her bedroom to meet a lad who’s not Mormon, her righteously indignant parents marry her off to Dean Harder, a far-from-gentle fundamentalist who already has a wife and children. Then Loretta catches the eye of Harder’s teenage nephew Jason, and the two dare to escape from their closed-in world, which makes for a real pins-and-needles road-trip novel. Like Idaho, but in a bigger way, this book contemplates issues of faith, the meaning of masculinity, and the myths of the American West.


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.