LJ Best Books 2017

It's time again for 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 and literature, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles.   SEE WHO MADE THE LIST

Best Books 2015: More of the Best

light oft he world_resizedAlexander, Elizabeth. The Light of the World: A Memoir. Grand Central. ISBN 9781455599875. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781455599851. Memoir
A few days after his 50th birthday, Ficre Ghebreyesus, Alexander’s husband of 15 years, collapsed and died while exercising on a treadmill. The poet’s heartfelt memoir is both an eloquent meditation on her grief and loss and a moving love story. (Memoir, 2/19/15; ow.ly/UxzpX)—WW

Beard, Mary. SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. Liveright: Norton. ISBN 9780871404237. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781631491252. Hist
Classicist Beard’s massive tome is no heavy doorstop but wears its scholarly erudition lightly as it traces a thousand years of Roman history from the founding of the city to its transition from republic to empire. Sifting myth and ancient propaganda from the historical record, this work sheds new light not only on familiar figures such as ­Cicero and Hannibal but also on groups absent in previous histories: women, slaves, and the poor. (LJ 11/1/15)—WW

Boyne, John. A History of Loneliness. Farrar. ISBN 9780374171339. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374171339. F
Irish priest Odran Yates had little say in his career; his mother sent him to the seminary after she turned to God upon becoming a widow under terrible circumstances. After years in the priesthood, Odran is content, but a friend he made at seminary, who is pushed from parish to parish while Odran stays in one place, is anything but. Revelations about what his friend has done, and the effect the actions have had on Odran’s family, threaten to undo his ­contentedness.—HV

Daoud, Kamel. The Meursault Investigation. Other. tr. from French by John Cullen. ISBN 9781590517512. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781590517529. f
The French Algerian protagonist of Albert Camus’s classic The Stranger kills an Arab man on the beach, and it’s not until we read Algerian journalist Daoud’s blazing, fiercely conceived debut novel that we realize we know nothing about the victim and have been led not to care. Here, the victim’s younger brother relates the murder’s awful consequences, speaking in second person to an interlocutor at a bar—and thus implicating us all. (LJ 6/1/15)—BH

Evans, Lissa. Crooked Heart. Harper. ISBN 9780062364838. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062364852. F
A ten-year-old orphan refugee from the London Blitz joins forces with a desperate, unscrupulous widow in a shady moneymaking scheme, and two crooked hearts soon are attached. This black comedy easily could have become treacly, but in Evans’s capable hands it retains a refreshingly tart yet tender tone. (LJ 5/15/15)—WW

Genova, Lisa. Inside the O’Briens. Gallery: S. & S.  ISBN 978146717777; ebk. ISBN 9781476717838. f
When Joe O’Brien, a devoted father, husband, and veteran Boston police officer, begins to experience the disorienting symptoms of Huntington’s disease, he isn’t prepared for a diagnosis nor its life-altering impact on each of his four children and their children. This “gut-wrenching and memorable read…of the disintegration and rebuilding of a family in the face of a horrible illness” is another triumph for the talented Genova. (LJ 3/15/15)—AP

Hallberg, Garth Risk. City on Fire. Knopf. ISBN 9780385353779. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780385353786. F
The 900-page heft of Hallberg’s gorgeously written first novel should not intimidate. Set in 1970s New York and encompassing William, his wealthy family, gay black lover Mercer, and former music rival Nicky Chaos, beloved of suburban teens Charlie and Samantha, it’s a propulsive, utterly absorbing book about community. A near-fatal attack and possible insurrection provide suspense, but what really creates an edge is seeing how much we live with contradiction. (LJ 8/15)—BH/AP

Hirshman, Linda. Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World. Harper. ISBN 9780062238467. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062238481. BIOG/LAW
As Justice Ginsburg achieves Internet celebrity as “Notorious RBG,” lawyer and women’s studies scholar Hirshman reminds us of her predecessor, the FWOTSC (first woman on the Supreme Court), Sandra Day O’Connor. This dual biography of two radically different women is a balanced account, as well as a tribute to “sisters in law” who achieved much by working together. (LJ 8/15)—LF

Joyce, Eddie. Small Mercies. Viking. ISBN 9780525427292. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698165366. F
The Amendola family and their Staten Island, NY, neighborhood are at the heart of this potent debut novel that considers how parents move beyond the loss of a grown child and relate to their surviving children and how love can grow again when it was assumed to be buried under the rubble of twin towers. “Joyce writes so clearly, it’s like you’re standing in the Amendolas’ living room with the scent of meatballs and grief wafting around you.” (Xpress Reviews, 3/13/15)—BLF

Lansens, Lori. The Mountain Story. Gallery. ISBN 9781476786506. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781476786629. F
On his 18th birthday, “Wolf” Truly heads to the mountain to jump to his death. His plans are foiled when he meets the Devines—Nola, Vonn, and Bridget—strangers with whom he spends five days lost in the wilderness. Yet, getting lost on the mountain is only half the story. Lansens’s lushly visual story­telling is not to be missed. (LJ 2/1/15)—AP

Norris, Mary. Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Norton. ISBN 9780393240184. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393246605. Soc SCI
Norris, a longtime New Yorker copy editor, presents her own “Elements of Style” in a part-memoir, part-reference that LJ reviewer Gricel Dominguez called “engaging and entertaining” as well as a “handy guide” for writers and a great addition to libraries that support writing groups. It’s also a fun book for those who have totally dog-eared Lynn Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves. (LJ 2/15/15)—LF

Obioma, Chigozie. The Fishermen. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316338370. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316338363. F
In an elegantly near-mythic tale that’s at once deeply personal and reflective of Africa’s larger social and political tensions, four brothers sneak out to fish and encounter a madman who predicts that one brother will kill another. What follows is a downward spiral of fear, violence, and revenge that nearly destroys the family yet ends on a note of some hope. (LJ 3/15/15)—BH

Park, Patricia. Re Jane. Pamela Dorman: Viking. 352p. ISBN 9780525427407. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698170780. F
Retelling Jane Eyre through the Korean American experience, Park has her modern-day Jane nanny for a dysfunctional family in an affluent Brooklyn neighborhood. The various spins on Charlotte Brontë’s classic are brilliant, touching on feminism, the struggle for cultural identity, and a sense of purpose with sharp wit and keen observation. (LJ 6/1/15)—KD

Quade, Kirsten Valdez. Night at the Fiestas. Norton. ISBN 9780393242980. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393242980. F
A narrator recalls a high-handed older cousin whose tragic story emerges later, a mousy teenage girl in town for the big fiesta exacts revenge after a disturbing encounter, and a loser seeks redemption by reenacting the passion of Christ in a shockingly realistic penitential drama. That’s quintessential Quade, offering fluid, forthright, and powerfully piercing stories that manage, astonishingly, to surprise us every time. (LJ 3/15/15)—BH

Soldatov, Andrei & Irina Borogan. The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries. Public Affairs. ISBN 9781610395731. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781610395748. pol sci
Moscow journalists Soldatov and Borogan examine the Russian surveillance state and its attempts, successful and not, to stem the flow of information; its use of SORM technology to monitor communications; and the impact of such actions. “We wondered what the Americans knew about SORM that we didn’t,” the authors write, referring to a U.S. State Department warning that American travelers should not, among other things, use Wi-Fi at the Sochi Olympics. (LJ 9/15/15)—AM

Tolan, Sandy. Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781608198139. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781608198177. POL SCI
Tolan’s narrative focuses on one person living in the middle of the Israel and Palestine conflict. Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan, a Palestinian, grew up in a refugee camp, received lessons on the viola, and, as an adult, realized his dream of creating a music school for Palestinian children. Not only about music’s ability to change an individual’s life, this moving book also shows how it can serve to bridge the gap between two sides that remain at odds. (LJ 4/15/15)—AM

Tweedy, Damon. Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine. Picador. ISBN 9781250044631. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781250044648. med
It started when Tweedy was a student at Duke Medical School—a professor complained to Tweedy that he had called maintenance several times to have the classroom lights fixed, and when Tweedy explained that he wasn’t there to fix the lights, the professor demanded to know why, then, he was in the classroom. The slights and outright racism continue even as Tweedy becomes a successful doctor, and the disillusionment continues, too, as he sees the gap between the haves at Duke’s hospitals and the have-nots at the free clinics where he works. A thoughtful exploration of race and medicine and how the two interact. (LJ 7/15)—HV

Tyler, Anne. A Spool of Blue Thread. Knopf. ISBN 9781101874271. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101874288. f
Four generations of Whitshanks have lived in the family’s Baltimore home built by patriarch Junior in the 1920s. Abby, the wife of Junior’s son, Red, does her best to hold the clan together amid the waves created by problem child Denny, which only complicate the lives of siblings Jeannie, Amanda, and Stem, each building a family of their own. Resplendent with clarity, ­Tyler’s stories “continue to dazzle.” (LJ 2/1/15)—AP

Zinovieff, Sofka. The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother, and Me: An Aristocratic Family, a High-Society Scandal, and an Extraordinary Legacy. Harper. ISBN 9780062338945. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780062338945. biog
Zinovieff sets out to uncover her history after finding a photo of her mother and grand­parents—and her grandfather’s longtime and much older boyfriend, Lord Berners. The result is an addicting and scandalous account of her family and the many famous faces of the 1930s and 1940s that signed Faringdon’s guestbook, each bringing a new bit of gossip to savor.
(LJ 2/15/15)—KD

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