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 Bear, Beverly-Whittemore, Buchman, Farrow, Tanner, Wilde, & Winter | Xpress Reviews

Week ending April 22, 2016

starred review starBear, Greg. Just Over the Horizon: The Complete Short Fiction of Greg Bear. Vol. 1. Open Road. Apr. 2016. 361p. ISBN 9781504021456. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781504021418. SF
gregbear042216Speculative fiction and sf, in particular, may be thought of in two groups—works that simply use common tropes of the genre and those that truly push the boundaries. Bear falls squarely in the second realm, and this collection of 13 tales, the first of three volumes by the multiple Nebula and Hugo Award–winning author (Legacy) displays his versatility and talent. Gems such as “Blood Music,” upon which the novel of the same title is based, take science in new and unexpected directions, while others defy strict genre classification. Stories like “Dead Run” and “Richie by the Sea” are closest to horror, while “Sleepside Story” and “The White Horse Child” could be compared to the best fairy tale work of Neil Gaiman, albeit predating Gaiman’s work by a significant margin. Each of these stories, newly revised by Bear, is built around excellent characterizations, and his musings can pack a powerful emotional punch as in “Sisters,” a tale of human genetic manipulation and its perils. Others, such as “Silicon Times E-Book Review” and “Tangents” evoke a sense of whimsy.
Verdict All libraries would do well to add this title and the companion volumes, Far Thoughts and Pale Gods and Beyond the Farthest Suns, which are being released simultaneously. The three together showcase the short fiction oeuvre of an sf genius.—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Lib., Wisconsin Rapids

Beverly-Whittemore, Miranda. June. Crown. May 2016. 400p. ISBN 9780553447682. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780553447699. F
Twenty-five-year-old Cassie Danvers has retreated to her recently deceased grandmother’s neglected mansion in St Jude, OH. Now orphaned, she is feeling lost and sinking into depression, spending her time within her vivid dreams. Then the doorbell rings. It appears she has been left a large legacy by screen idol Jack Montgomery. But how is he connected to her and to her prim grandmother June? The book begins to shift between its contemporary setting, as Jack’s Hollywood daughters arrive to contest Cassie’s claim, and 1955 St Jude, when Hollywood first came to town and June met Jack. The settings are both handled well, with the house itself becoming a character binding the two generations. The author’s fourth novel follows in the vein of Bittersweet in its look at the secrets families hold. The past is not all glossy nostalgia; Beverly-Whittemore illuminates the conflicts roiling under a smooth, socially acceptable surface.
Verdict The steamy romance, violence, and secrets-keeping in this packed novel edge close to melodrama, but the characters and fast-moving plot will engage readers. Fans of Hollywood, then and now, will find this dramatic story line appealing. [See Prepub Alert, 1/4/16.]—Melanie Kindrachuk, Stratford P.L., Ont.

Buchman, M.L. Flash of Fire. Sourcebooks Casablanca. (Firehawks, Bk. 14). May 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781492619192. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492619208. MILITARY ROMANCE
This is the 14th title in the “Firehawks” series, and it shows, as the author introduces myriad characters (many of whom have clearly had their own stories) who work for Mount Hood Aviation. MHA is an elite firefighting agency that sometimes takes on secret missions for the CIA. Former National Guard reservist Robin Harrow is a newly hired pilot who is heading out on her first firefighting mission for MHA. Facing the same fire and flying his own helicopter is Mickey Hamilton. The two have an instant attraction but will have to figure out how to navigate their deepening feelings amid the difficult and dangerous work they do. In addition to the introduction of the cast, the author also spends a fair amount of time on info-dump about firefighting with helicopters in the first third of the book. Once this somewhat slow, and wordy, chunk is done, the story and the romance pick up and become more engaging.
Verdict Fans of the Buchman’s series (Hot Point; Wildfire on the Skagit) will enjoy all the cameo appearances, but newbies might want to look for the earlier books.—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI

Farrow, John. Seven Days Dead. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (Storm Murders Trilogy, Bk. 2). May 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781250057693. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250086594. F
After narrowly escaping the clutches of a killer in The Storm Murders, retired Montreal cop Émile Cinq-Mars and his wife, Sandra, are taking a well-deserved vacation on the island of Grand Manan, located off the coast of Maine. Their idyllic days, however, are interrupted when the local police ask for assistance with the slaying of Rev. Simon Lescavage, who was found eviscerated and tied to a tree. Émile refuses but is drawn in when another recent death is determined to be homicide. The elderly and very wealthy Alfred Orrock, who owned most of the industry on the island, was presumed dead of natural causes, but an autopsy points to suffocation and makes Maddy Orrock a prime suspect in her father’s death. Maddy appeals to Émile for help, and he agrees to investigate. The more he gets to know the island locals, the more secrets he begins to unearth, and it soon becomes clear that the past has had a deadly impact on the present.
Verdict With less compelling characters and a disappointing mystery, Farrow’s sophomore effort doesn’t live up to the promising start of the trilogy.—Melissa DeWild, BookOps, NYPL

starred review starPrentiss, Molly. Tuesday Nights in 1980. Scout: Gallery. Apr. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781501121043. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501121067. F
tuesdaynights042216[DEBUT]In this first novel, a large cast of characters converge in New York on the cusp of a major societal shift. The darkness of the city in the 1970s will give way to big money and gentrification in the 1980s, but the fledgling artists of SoHo revel in the thrill of creating a new cutting edge. Raul is an artist who has fled from persecution in Argentina; James is an art critic whose synesthesia translates his sensory input into colors and images; Lucy is a naïf who has just moved from Idaho, boldly diving into the middle of the swirling eddy. Hovering around these three is a vast array of people and events, and SoHo, too, serves as a force, moving the plot forward at a dizzying pace. Tragedies come and go, changes within the city begin to take shape, and emotions fly like loose papers on the street.
Verdict Capturing the zeitgeist of a pivotal time and place, this novel is brash and ambitious, with a dash of magical realism thrown in: think Andy Warhol’s legendary parties when they were still underground. Prentiss has created a remarkable debut.—Susanne Wells, Indianapolis P.L.

Tanner, Ron. Missile Paradise. Ig. Apr. 2016. 372p. ISBN 9781632460097. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781632460127. F
Novelist, short story writer, and political activist Tanner has had a long personal engagement with the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, and his excellent new novel tells the history of these islands since World War II through the eyes of a diverse set of colorful and convincing characters. The novel is set in 2004 and, tellingly, follows the same narrative arc as Robinson Crusoe. Cooper, the novel’s protagonist, is a young American programmer living in Palo Alto, CA, who has just been hired by a defense contractor located in the Marshall Islands. He will be designing software for America’s missile defense system. A new romantic relationship in tatters, Cooper recklessly decides to sail solo across the Pacific in his small boat. He washes up on a small island in the Marshalls—lucky to be alive though seriously injured. The bulk of the novel is devoted to Cooper’s—and the reader’s—gradual introduction to indigenous culture and the Marshallese people, who have been systematically impoverished and essentially enslaved on their own land, sweeping the streets and cleaning the houses for American military personnel.
Verdict A fascinating read; recommended for readers interested in political fiction and social justice.—Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT

Wilde, Lori. Love of the Game. Avon. (Stardust, Texas, Bk. 3). May 2016. 364p. ISBN 9780062311436. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062311443. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Physical therapist Kasha Carlyle should have kept her mouth shut about alternatives to surgery for Gunslingers pitcher Axel Richmond’s injured shoulder. But Axel asked, and she couldn’t deny him the information. Now she’s got one week to improve Axel’s range of motion or her probationary job with the Dallas baseball team will be over. One of the four adopted Carlyle daughters, Kasha has just discovered the existence of half-sister Emma, and having a blood relation means so much to her, despite the complications of Emma’s Down syndrome. Axel is driven by his own demons to want to get his game and career back together, but he also can’t keep his mind off of his sexy physical therapist. Ethically speaking, though, from Kasha’s view, it’s a no-go. And the Sphinx, as he likes to call her, isn’t budging.
Verdict This latest series entry from Wilde (Back in the Game; Rules of the Game) is shy on game action but long on issues that will keep readers anxious about how all will be resolved. Wilde maneuvers these protagonists through their ups and downs to a very satisfying happy ending. For all romance collections.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Winter, Ariel S. Barren Cove. Emily Bestler: Atria. Apr. 2016. 211p. ISBN 9781476797854. $23; ebk. ISBN 9781476797878. F
Set in a future where robots rule (worldwide, one assumes) and humans are dying out, this latest from Winter (The Twenty-Year Death) hits some marks and misses others. Sapien, an old-style, human-engineered robot, rents a cabana at a remote seaside manor, inhabited by a sickly human, Beachstone, and some robots. There’s supercilious Kent, later reengineered; compassionate Mary; psychopathic Clark; and the ancient gardener Kapec. Some gaming occurs throughout: Clark is the “son” of Kent, which could make his full name Clark Kent—and, yes, Superman is referenced. Sapien wonders, as he tries to untangle the relationships among these characters, what his own purpose is and whether he should “de-activate.” All of the characters save perhaps Mary seem existentially challenged. The novel is atmospheric and the robot intelligence remarkably human, unlike that of the robot rulers, which is largely superhuman. At the end, elderly Beachstone is gone and the odd family unit shattered, with no secrets revealed to Sapien. The sum of the parts here exceeds the whole, which isn’t always a bad thing.
Verdict Literary sf not designed for typical sf readers, this title is more for those who want to read a sort of robotic Wuthering Heights. [See Prepub Alert, 10/26/15.]—Robert E. Brown, Oswego, NY

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