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

Best Books 2016 | Honorable Mentions

Choosing only five top titles in each category, plus a Top Ten, is a daunting exercise, so LJ’s editors and contributors decided to up the ante. Additional honorable mentions in fiction, romance, e-originals, graphic novels, nonfiction, memoir, and poetry appear below.

Fiction

LJ Editors

Baume, Sara. Spill Summer Falter Wither. Houghton Harcourt. ISBN ISBN 9780544716193.
A chance sighting of a flyer in a shop window leads a socially isolated, middle-aged man to make a deep connection with an abused one-eyed dog at the local pound, perhaps his first and only true friend. Yet this debut novel by an award-winning Irish short story writer is not a treacly tale of redemption but a beautiful and heartbreaking meditation on love, loneliness, and loss. (LJ 1/16)—WW

y648__1480523492_65571Belfer, Lauren. And After the Fire. Harper. ISBN 9780062428516. 
Belfer composes a counterpoint of historical and fictional characters in her treatise on classical music and religious conviction and how one finds faith in the legacy of the past. “A fascinating historical novel and poignant love story that will open the eyes and ears of music lovers and please those who enjoy a graceful, spellbinding tale pondering important questions.” (LJ 5/15/16)—BLF

Chabon, Michael. Moonglow. Harper. ISBN 9780062225559. 
This being the big-hearted, narratively ambitious Chabon, his stupendous reimagining of his grandfather’s memories is a densely and persuasively layered blend of history and personal story. The narrative builds to core revelations, as powerful as they come, of wartime horror and disillusionment and post-Holocaust madness to produce Chabon’s most emotionally honest writing yet. (LJ 9/1/16)—BH

Cline, Emma. The Girls. Random House. ISBN 9780812998603.
Cline’s powerful debut is primarily set during the tumultuous summer of 1969, a present-day adult’s recollections of how she became part of a murderous cult led by the Charles Manson-like Russell. Fourteen-year-old Evie is drawn to the girls of the group, and the seeming freedom they have. It’s a coming-of-age story at heart, with explorations of friendship and the very real teenage desire to belong. As LJ’s review said, “beautifully written and unforgettable.” (LJ, 5/15/16)—AM

Dermansky, Marcy. The Red Car. Liveright: Norton. ISBN 9781631492334.
Aspiring novelist Leah Caplan inherits her late mentor and boss Judy’s red sports car and embarks on a physical and emotional journey of self-discovery, with Judy’s wry voice commenting on her every move. Funny, moving, surprising, and strange in a good way. (LJ 9/1/16)—WW

Hoffman, Alice. Faithful. S. & S. ISBN 9781476799209.
An accident that left best friend Helene in a coma and driver Shelby self-exiled to her parents’ basement is the catalyst for this novel that also expounds on the relationships between parent and child, humans and pets, romantic partners, and one’s reality and one’s expectations. A LibraryReads top pick. (LJ 9/1/16)—BLF

Lippman, Laura. Wilde Lake. Morrow. 9781101874936.
This novel of an upstanding Baltimore family with skeletons in every closet is told in alternating first- and third-person chapters that crisscross through past and present. Luisa Brant, the first woman to be elected state’s attorney of Howard County, MD, is following in her widowed father’s footsteps. But her first murder case causes her to question the family stories and myths she’s believed for so long. Ideal for readers who appreciate gothic-tinged family dramas, multifaceted characters, and the author’s perfectly written Baltimore-area settings. (Xpress Reviews, 5/6/16)—LF

Moore, Alan. Jerusalem. Liveright: Norton. ISBN 9781631491344.
Astounding in scope, Jerusalem is the story of everything, told against the gritty backdrop of The Burrows, a grimy slum in Moore’s hometown of Northampton, England. Containing ruminations on religion, metaphysics, life, and death, this interconnected narrative loosely follows the Vernall/Warren families as the reader spans centuries and dimensions in truly mind-boggling—and typically Moore-ish—fashion. (LJ 7/16)—TH

Rowling, Steven. Lily and the Octopus. S. & S. 9781501126222. 
Rowling’s debut features three main characters: fortysomething Hollywood screenwriter Ted; his 12-year-old dachshund Lily, who talks with him about guys and movies; and the interloper, a tumor Ted dubs the “octopus” that appears on Lily’s head, steals her sight, and threatens her life. Things get worse when the octopus starts talking to Ted and Ted decides to fight the tentacled one for his beloved companion’s life. (LJ 5/15/16)—LF

9780374122805__1480523587_43692Sem-Sandberg, Steve. The Chosen Ones. Farrar. ISBN 9780374122805.
Masquerading as a hospital during World War II, Am Spiegelgrund in Vienna claimed thousands of children’s lives as part of the Nazis’ euthanasia program. The story is told through the eyes of Adrian Ziegler, a “Gypsy-looking” child inmate who simply can’t understand what is happening to him as he is subjected to physical, mental, and sexual abuse, and Sister Nurse Anna Katschenka, who shuts herself off from the horrors she and her colleagues commit every day to keep from going insane. Gorgeous prose and stark imagery, along with Sem-Sandberg’s penchant for the absurd and surreal, provide an unsettling and vivid glimpse into one of the darkest chapters of human history. (LJ 5/15/16)—TH

Swift, Graham. Mothering Sunday: A Romance. Knopf. ISBN 9781101947524.
This exquisite short novel by a Booker Prize winner, set on a single day in 1924 and focusing on an affair between a servant girl and a young upper-class man, will remind readers in mood and tone of Ian McEwan’s Atonement. But this is much more than a Downton Abbey knockoff; at its heart is the extraordinary story of one writer’s beginnings. (Editors’ Spring Picks 2016, LJ 2/15/16)—WW

Woodson, Jacqueline. Another Brooklyn. Amistad: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780062359988.
Woodson’s long-awaited adult novel is written as a series of spare, poetic vignettes narrated by August, shortly after her dad’s funeral and a chance encounter with an old friend. Through August’s memories, characters seamlessly transition from childhood to adulthood as August looks back on the events that led her to eventually flee Brooklyn and the memories of her former friends. An evocative portrayal of friendship, love, and loss that will resonate with anyone creating their own identity. (LJ 6/15/16)—KP

E-Originals

Marlene Harris, Reading Reality, Atlanta

o_mad_lizard_mambo__1480523659_75978Ford, Rhys. Mad Lizard Mambo. DSP Pubns. (Kai Gracen, Bk. 2). ebk. ISBN 9781634777445. URBAN FANTASY
Kai is an elf and a licensed bounty hunter in the very dystopian future that results when the secret worlds of the fae and the sidhe crashed into 21st-century Earth. Kai, an outcast who is not part of either the fae world he was born to or the human world, but he has also spent his life as a pawn on both sides of the divide, and he finds himself forced on a dangerous quest to protect his friends and perhaps find out a bit more about who he really is. The danger is deadly and the worldbuilding here is utterly absorbing.

Jayne, Sinclair. Seducing the Bachelor. Montana Born: Tule. (Bachelor Auction Returns, Bk. 3). ebk. ISBN 9781944925413. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
This contemporary Western romance features a hero who has come home at the end of his second deployment under orders to deal with his emotional baggage before he even thinks of signing up for a third hitch. Although there’s some mention of post-traumatic stress disorder, most of what Colt Ewing is carrying around in his emotional duffle bag goes back to his childhood with his abusive, alcoholic uncle. He finally learns he isn’t defined by his past and that he has a future if he’s willing to reach for it, along with the woman and her son who make him see that he deserves his own happily ever after. (Xpress Reviews, 5/13/16)

Kennedy, Jeffe. Lonen’s War. (Sorcerous Moons, Bk. 1).
Kennedy, Jeffe. Oria’s Gambit. (Sorcerous Moons, Bk. 2).
Kennedy, Jeffe. The Tides of Bara. (Sorcerous Moons, Bk. 3).
ea. vol: Brightlynx. FANTASY ROMANCE
The first three books of this projected four-book series wrap an epic fantasy around a romance that feels like it will be one for the ages. Lonen and Oria first meet across a bloody battlefield, as Lonen has just conquered Oria’s kingdom. But Oria is merely a princess, and as soon as Lonen leaves her country, the powers that be overturn the peace that Oria brokered. Lonen returns to avenge the betrayal, only to discover that Oria is not the author of it but is the hope of salvation for his people.

O’Connor, L.G. Caught Up in Raine. Collins-Young. (Caught Up in Love, Bk. 1). ebk. ISBN 9780990738152. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Jillian Grant is a 42-year-old widow and romance novelist. She deals with grief and the guilt of her past by fictionalizing it in her writing. When she first meets 24-year-old Raine MacDonald, she is struck by his strong resemblance to the hero of her work in progress, who is himself a stand-in for her first love. Their age difference keeps Jillian from believing that Raine could possibly be interested in her, but tragedy in his past has made him grow up beyond his years. For readers who enjoy older woman/younger man romances, this is one of the few that deals realistically with the joys and the issues that arise. (Xpress Reviews, 5/6/16)

lgcover-9781460397435__1480523727_73796Smith, Lauren D.M. The Emperor’s Arrow. Carina: Harlequin. ebk. ISBN 9781460397435. FANTASY ROMANCE
The Emperor holds a contest that seems to be not dissimilar to the reality TV show The Bachelor, in which every noble family is expected to send a daughter to compete to become Empress. They are basically hostages to ensure their families’ good behavior. Evony of Aureline, whose people are considered barely civilized, is looking for a man to sire a child, as all the women in her tribe have done. The Emperor discovers that Evony is the only one standing between him and certain death. Smith won the Grand Prize in Harlequin’s 2015 So You Think You Can Write Contest.

Webb, Heather & others. A Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War. Morrow Paperbacks. ebk. ISBN 9780062418548. HISTORICAL FICTION
This beautiful and heartbreaking collection of stories is set on November 11, 1918, Armistice Day, recognized as the official end of World War I. The tales focus on that singular moment as the survivors face the wreckage left behind and figure out how to pick up the pieces, or even what pieces to pick up. All of the stories here are available individually as ebooks so readers can choose to purchase their favorite authors without having to buy, or feel obliged to read, the entire anthology. The authors include Webb, Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, Lauren Willig, and Marci Jefferson.

ROMANCE

Kristin Ramsdell, Libn. Emerita, California State Univ.–East Bay

9781250076076__1480523781_26789Byrne, Kerrigan. The Highlander. St. Martin’s Paperbacks. (Victorian Rebels, Bk. 3). ISBN 9781250076076. pap. Historical ROMANCE
A fierce Scottish laird who needs a governess for his two teenagers and an Englishwoman in need of protection find each other in the Highlands in a gritty, realistic, and colorful romance that focuses on issues of trust and honesty. (LJ 8/16)

Carr, Robyn. What We Find. Mira: Harlequin. ISBN 9780778318859. Contemporary ROMANCE
An emotionally drained and burned-out neurosurgeon takes a well-needed break and heads to the Rockies and her dad’s general store and family camp ground. She finds healing, reconnection, and romance. An insightful and vividly described tale that tugs at the heartstrings. (LJ 4/15/16)

Dodd, Christina. Because I’m Watching. St. Martin’s. (Virtue Falls, Bk. 3). ISBN 9781250028457. Romantic Suspense
A guilt-ridden war hero and a heroine who survived a dorm massacre gradually fall in love as they learn to forgive themselves for being alive in this hard-hitting, well-crafted, and complex romance with a strong Gaslight component. (LJ 8/16)

27067875__1480523828_21031MacLean, Sarah. A Scot in the Dark. Avon. (Scandal & Scoundrel, Bk. 2). ISBN 9780062379429. pap. Historical ROMANCE
Annoyed when he unexpectedly inherits a dukedom as well as a ward who is about to become the scandal of the year, a Scottish distiller heads to London to solve the problem: to get her wed. A witty and compelling story. (LJ 8/16)

Phillips, Susan Elizabeth. First Star I See Tonight. Morrow. (Chicago Stars, Bk. 8). ISBN 9780062405616. Contemporary ROMANCE
A plucky PI determined to make her agency a success ends up falling for the newly retired football star/nightclub owner she’s been hired to investigate. A danger-touched romp graced with humor and a whole lot of sass. (LJ 8/16)

Graphic Novels

Tom Batten (TB), Grafton, VA, & Martha Cornog (MC), Philadelphia

27163019__1480523876_17780King, Tom (text) & Gabriel Hernandez Walta (illus.). Vision. Vol. 1: Little Worse Than a Man. Marvel. ISBN 9780785196570. SF
That the android member of the Avengers could build himself a robotic family and a life in the suburbs of northern Virginia might seem quaint, in execution this tale proves to be equal parts horror and tragedy, as these fantastically developed and endearing characters struggle to fit in and cope with a society that fears, distrusts, and rejects them.—TB

Shiga, Jason. Demon. Vol. 1. First Second. ISBN 9781626724525. pap. FANTASY
Jimmy Yee tries to commit suicide over and over but just can’t die. He figures out why—and so does the clever Agent Hunter who wants Jimmy to work for him. For Jimmy, that means a fate worse than death, so he fights back with murder, mayhem, and impromptu weaponry. Shiga’s childlike style offers both charm and chills in this mysteries-within-mysteries puzzler running for three more volumes. (LJ 9/15/16)—MC

Nonfiction

LJ Editors 

bakewell_attheexistentialistcafe_final__1480523922_80245Bakewell, Sarah. At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails with Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Others. Other. ISBN 9781590514887. PHIL
“What is existentialism anyway?” asks Bakewell in this tremendous work, and her answer is a probing, lucid, deeply accessible discussion of a force that significantly shaped 20th-century thought. While Bakewell talks with clarifying rigor about existentialism as project, sensibility, and evolution from the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, she also personalizes the text with refreshing reaction and context that make this book a journey for the reader as well as the writer. (LJ 2/15/16)—BH

Hodgkinson, Mark. Fedegraphica: A Graphic Biography of the Genius of Roger Federer. Aurum: Quarto. ISBN 9781781315293. sports
Tennis journalist Hodgkinson’s graphic biography of Roger Federer is a winner. It traces the athlete’s development from a promising kid in Switzerland to worldwide domination of the sport and continued innovation into his 30s. High-quality photos and clever graphs showing how his stats compare to those of his rivals and other tennis greats abound. Though some stats have since changed, the book, current to the end of the 2015 season, is a lively, thoroughly enjoyable read.—AM

Isenberg, Nancy. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. Viking. ISBN 9780670785971. HIST
In the age of Donald Trump, this is a superb and important social history of America. Isenberg, a Louisiana State University history professor, surveys the treatment of poor white Americans over four centuries since the founding of the Jamestown colony. (LJ 5/15/16)—WW

Jahren, Hope. Lab Girl. Knopf. 9781101874936. MEMOIR
In a distinctive, quirky voice, paleobiologist Jahren connects her impressive scientific knowledge to her life stories and conveys her passion for and dedication to her chosen field. Plus, she has the best sidekick since Sancho Panza teamed up with Don Quixote. Required for all budding scientists, especially young women, but nonscientists will savor Jahren’s stories and reflections too. (LJ 2/15/16)—LF

King, Ross. Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies. Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 9781632860125. FINE ARTS
In early 1914, it seemed French painter Claude Monet’s career was over, with his best work behind him. King’s authoritative history reveals how the 73-year-old artist, despite cataracts that threatened his sight, launched his most ambitious and greatest project yet: the painting of the water lilies in his garden at Giverny. (LJ 5/15/16)—WW

Scurr, Ruth. John Aubrey: My Own Life. NYRB. ISBN 9781681370422. LIT
Seventeenth-century English antiquarian John Aubrey’s Brief Lives is considered the first work of modern biography. Historian Scurr turns the tables on her subject, writing a most unconventional biography by arranging  Aubrey’s own words, modernized and supplemented with her own where necessary to provide context, into a year-by-year diary. (LJ 9/1/16)—WW

51kugs0rril-_sx332_bo1204203200___1480523982_16910Shetterly, Margot Lee. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. Morrow. ISBN 9780062363596. HIST
Shetterly gives the black women of aeronautics their overdue place in history, telling the stories—both professional and personal—of the brilliant minds responsible for space travel. More than three decades of scientific innovation, social obstacles, and admirable careers are detailed here.—KD

Stern, Jeffrey E. The Last Thousand: One School’s Promise in a Nation at War. St. Martin’s. ISBN 9781250049933. poli sci
Journalist Stern explores the impact of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan through the lens of the progressive Marefat School, which serves the Hazara minority in the outskirts of Kabul. He employs a countdown model to the withdrawal in his framing of the narrative, upping the tension as he writes about people including the school’s founder, Aziz, and a mother who, not allowed access to education as a child, takes adult-education classes. It’s accessible and entirely engaging. (LJ 12/15)—AM

Memoir

Rachael Dreyer (RD), Pennsylvania State Univ. Dept. of Libs., & Derek Sanderson (DS),  Mount Saint Mary Coll. Lib., Newburgh, NY

Batalion, Judy. White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess in Between. NAL: Penguin. ISBN 9780451473110. pap. 
Batalion details her difficult relationship with her mother, a hoarder. She reinvents herself as she embarks on her own adventures in motherhood, and tracks back through her family history, back to her grandparents, who survived the Holocaust. (Memoir, 12/14/15)—RD

Offutt, Chris. My Father, the Pornographer. Atria: S. & S. ISBN 9781501112461. 
Offutt explores his father’s secret life as an author of pornographic novels and is disturbed by what he finds. Though the author covers a lot of territory, the focus is on fathers and sons and the chasms that can divide them. This remarkable title will enthrall from page one. (Memoir, 11/16/15)—DS

41branoka_l__1480524039_26242Spiegelman, Nadja. I’m Supposed To Protect You from All This. Riverhead. ISBN 9781594631924. 
Spiegelman’s multigenerational memoir of her mother Françoise Mouly, and her grandmother, Josée, is a close look at the painful fractures that exist between mothers and daughters. Spiegelman examines how family patterns repeat, how the same stories differ when told by different people, and how memories veer into the territory of “interpretation” rather than “undeniable truth.”—RD

Selgin, Peter. The Inventors. Hawthorne Bks. & Literary Arts. 9780989360470. pap.
During the process of uncovering the true stories about the two men—the author’s father and his eighth-grade English teacher—who had the most impact on his life, Selgin explores the very nature of the veracity of the stories we tell about our lives.  A remarkable model of the art of the memoir. (Memoir, 3/15/16)—DS

Yang, Kao Kalia. The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father. Metropolitan: Holt. 9781627794947.
Yang tells the story of her father, Bee, who grew up in the Laotian mountains during the years when the country was immersed in brutal conflict. Bee is a song poet, and his talents are greatly revered among the Laotian community in Minnesota, but he struggles with refugee resettlement in mainstream America. (Memoir, 2/17/16)—RD

Poetry

Barbara Hoffert

41rnsdwnb0l-_sx331_bo1204203200___1480524133_89126Girmay, Aracelis. The Black Maria. BOA. 104p. ISBN 9781942683025. pap. 
Using bold, sharply lyric language, Girmay recalls the larger African diaspora as she commemorates the more than 20,000 people who have died sailing from North Africa to Europe in a bid for a better life: “our passages/ above which, again,/ we are the shipped.” As the title poem clarifies, being thus “mis-seen” defines life for people of color. Beautiful, brilliant, and palpably angry. (LJ 4/1/16)

harris, francine j. play dead. Alice James. ISBN 9781938584251. pap. 
Cave Canem fellow harris risks all with a collection that’s raw and punchy as a street fight. Portrayed in searing, relentless language, the world she inhabits is an edgy and dangerous place, where families are splintered, sex and violence grind against each other, and nothing and no one is safe. Poems referencing Horace and Velázquez are as dark, but the lyric immediacy is inescapable. (LJ 4/1/16)

McLane, Maureen N. Mz N: the serial: A Poem-in-Episodes. Farrar. ISBN 9780374218874. 
McLane, who manages to combine sure craft with a gift for in-the-world storytelling, never writes the same collection twice. Using often deadpan, witty language, her propulsive new work ups the energy with notably reined-in lines as it portrays the questing Mz N, who moves from mocked childhood to college-age intellectual crisis to meditations on mature love and sexuality itself. You’ll identify. (LJ 4/1/16)

9780807094440__1480524177_75633Range, Melissa. Scriptorium. Beacon. ISBN 9780807094440. pap. 
In Range’s second book, a National Poetry series winner, probing, baroquely beautiful language shows medieval monks illuminating precious manuscripts, with some poems celebrating the very colors being used, from the “toxic and earthly green” of verdigris to the “king’s yellow” of orpiment. Alternately, Range illuminates her family heritage and upbringing in verse with its own richly distinctive language. (LJ 8/16)

Sharif, Solmaz. Look. Graywolf. ISBN 9781555977443. pap.
Language can be so drained of emotional content that we’re safely distanced from the reality behind it. But in these raw, unsparing poems, Sharif closes the gap, making language itself the issue as she investigates the consequences—particularly for herself and her family—of America’s invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq (“My life in the American/ Dream is a DOWNGRADE”). Original and scarily effective. (LJ 6/15/16)

Mahnaz Dar (MD) is Assistant Managing Editor, LJS; Kate DiGirolomo (KD) is SELF-e Community Coordinator; Bette-Lee Fox (BLF) is Managing Editor, LJ; Liz French (LF) is Senior Editor, LJ Reviews; Tyler Hixson (TH) is Editorial Assistant, SLJ Reviews; Barbara Hoffert (BH) is Prepub Alert Editor, LJ Reviews; Stephanie Klose (SK) is Media Editor, LJ Reviews; Amanda Mastrull (AM) is Assistant Editor, LJ Reviews; Kiera Parrott (KP) is Reviews Director, LJS; Annalisa Pesek (AP) is Assistant Managing Editor, LJ Reviews; Stephanie Sendaula (SS) is Associate Editor, LJ Reviews; Wilda Williams (WW) is Fiction Editor, LJ Reviews.

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Comments

  1. bdtomlin says:

    “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race”
    I do not agree. Read: https://www.daysoftheyear.com/days/2016/10/

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