LJ’s Reviews of RUSA’s Top Genre Fiction | ALA Midwinter 2017

RUSA_Logo_Navy_500x175 (1)At the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta, the Reference & User Services Association’s (RUSA) Reading List Council, made up of 11 expert readers’ advisory and collection development librarians, celebrated its tenth anniversary by announcing the 2017 selections of the annual best-of reading list, comprised of eight different fiction genres for adult readers. A short list of honor titles was also announced. This year marks the awards’ tenth anniversary. Check out below LJ’s full reviews of the winners and look for the complete reviews of the short list titles in BookVerdict.

Adrenaline

Winner
nowhereman120916The Nowhere Man by Gregg Hurwitz. Minotaur: St. Martin’s
Former black ops agent Evan Smoak is determined to help the helpless, but he never expected to be included in that group. In the follow-up to Orphan X, Evan is staying off the grid; his only contacts are from people who need help from the Nowhere Man. But a seemingly simple operation has him knocked out; he awakens to find himself being held in a luxurious prison, his captor a twisted megalomaniac. Now Evan has just a few days to save himself against impossible odds—all while he’s being hunted by his former colleagues who are set upon taking him out of the game permanently. Verdict Though the loner-on-a-quest story line isn’t new to thrillers, Hurwitz excels at writing smart characters and plots. His latest continues his track record. Fans of Jack Reacher will love Evan Smoak, a man who will do anything to aid the innocent (something he never was). (Xpress Reviews, 12/8/16).—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI

Short List
Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (LJ 8/16)
Livia Lone by Barry Eisler. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon.
The One Man by Andrew Gross. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (starred Xpress Review, 7/21/16.)
Security by Gina Wohlsdorf. Algonquin.

Fantasy

Winner
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Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley. Little, Brown
Once enemies, two secret organizations with extraordinary powers are set to join forces. The Checquy, based in Britain, fills its ranks with agents of supernatural power. The Grafters, who call Belgium home, use science to modify their bodies to unnatural degrees. Together they will become a nearly indestructible entity—that is, if they can put aside past grievances. Felicity is a pawn in the Checquy organization. Odette is a direct descendent of the head Grafter. The women have different agendas—one is trying to conceal the existence of a splinter cell that could threaten the alliance, while the other is secretly spying on her counterpart. VERDICT In this sequel to his debut novel, Rook, O’Malley strikes a skillful balance between irreverent humor and adventure. His narratives move back and forth, providing detail but without becoming cumbersome. This X-Men meets X-Files–style adventure will appeal to fans of superhero comics and adventure novels such as Brandon Sanderson’s “The Reckoner” series. (LJ 3/1/16)—Vicki Briner, Westminster, CO

Short List
Borderline by Mishell Baker. Saga: S. & S. (starred review, LJ 2/1/16)
A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin. Saga: S. & S. (starred review, LJ 5/15/16)
Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay. NAL. (starred review, LJ 4/15/16)
Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal. Tor. (LJ 7/16)

Historical Fiction

Winner
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The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore. Random 
Thomas Edison’s billion-dollar patent infringement lawsuit against George Westinghouse is merely one salvo in the late 19th-century “current wars.” In a surprising move, Westinghouse hires novice lawyer Paul Cravath to handle his defense, and Cravath quickly discovers that Edison will go to any lengths to ensure that his direct current (DC) system becomes the standard over the alternating current (AC) promoted by Westinghouse. Caught between the two rivals is eccentric inventor Nikola Tesla, driven by visionary ideas, not money. Assisted by Agnes Huntington, a celebrated actress with a shadowy past, Cravath manages to protect Tesla from external pressures and internal demons. Burglary, arson, corporate espionage, and other unscrupulous political and business deals raise questions about who can be trusted and fuel Cravath’s desire to defeat Edison. But will the personal price be too high? Although technical information about electricity sometimes slows the pace, vivid descriptions and plot twists abound. Moore provides extensive notes about real events and where his plot diverges. The cinematic quality of writing is unsurprising, as the author of The Sherlockian is also the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game.Verdict With Moore’s novel and a 2017 film adaptation starring Eddie Redmayne, Cravath may become as famous as Edison, Tesla, or Westinghouse. Expect heavy demand. (Xpress Reviews, 8/18/16.)—Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Mankato

Short List

The Risen: A Novel of Spartacus by David Anthony Durham. Doubleday.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Knopf. (starred review, LJ 6/1/16)
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey. Little, Brown. (starred review, Xpress Reviews, 7/21/16; a 2016 LJ Top Ten Best Book)
News of the World by Paulette Jiles. Morrow. (LJ 12/15)

Horror

Winner
81rrbEvEEiL[1]Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. Tor
The Hudson Valley town of Black Spring, NY, has been cursed for hundreds of years. Katherine, burned as a witch in the 17th century, wanders the village with eyes and mouth sewn shut to keep her power controlled. The townspeople have found modern ways to deal with Katherine, using high-tech surveillance and smartphone apps to track her appearances. And if you move to Black Spring, you can’t leave, nor can you talk to outsiders. The teenagers are growing restless with the limits placed on them by the spell, and that frustration leads to actions that could doom the entire community. VERDICT This Dutch horror novel was a huge hit in Europe and does clever things with the intersection of ancient evil and technology. The prose is rough in places, especially as the story gets up to speed, which could be owing to the translation. Yet once the teens start their experiments, the tension levels spike and remain high until the terrifying finish. (LJ 3/15/16)—Megan McArdle, Lib. of Congress, National Lib. Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

Short List

The Suicide Motor Club by Christopher Buehlman. Berkley. (LJ 6/15/16)
My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. Quirk. (LJ 3/15/16)
The Fireman by Joe Hill. Morrow. (starred review, LJ 2/1/16)
The Family Plot by Cherie Priest. Tor. (starred review, LJ 9/15/16)

Mystery

Winner
81YaK2aYQkL[1]Darktown by Thomas Mullen. 37Ink/Atria: S. & S.
Mullen’s latest (following The Revisionists) travels back to pre–civil rights Atlanta in 1948, when the police department is forced to integrate despite violent resistance. The first black cops are not permitted to drive a squad car or make arrests, face overt contempt from their white colleagues, and limit their territory to the area known derisively as Darktown. On patrol one summer night, new officers Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith discover a young black girl fatally shot and discarded like garbage. They had previously seen her in the car of a white man who assaulted her, but Lionel Dunlow, the ranking white officer who responded to their call, released him. Risking their precarious careers, Boggs and Smith try to find justice despite lacking any investigative power. The case soon expands to implicate fellow officers and even a congressman, but the duo may have a tentative ally in rookie white policeman Dennis Rakestraw, who despises his partner Dunlow’s brutal racism but has yet to stand up to it. VERDICT As his previous historical novels have proven, Mullen is skilled at bringing the past to life, both socially and visually (a TV adaptation produced by actor Jamie Foxx is already planned). Some readers may brace against the routine use of epithets, but fans of well-written literary thrillers will want this expert example. (LJ 5/15/16)—Michael Pucci, South Orange P.L., NJ

Short List

IQ by Joe Ide. Mulholland: Little, Brown. (LJ 9/1/16)
Splinter the Silence by Val McDermid. Atlantic Monthly. (Xpress Reviews,12/4/15)
Angels Burning by Tawni O’Dell. Gallery: S.&S. (starred review, LJ 10/1/15)
Revolver by Duane Swierczynski. Mulholland: Little, Brown.

Romance

Winner
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Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins. Avon
Rescued by handsome businessman Rhine Fontaine after being cruelly stranded in the Nevada desert on her way west, Eddy Carmichael soon finds a position as a boarding house cook among the welcoming colored community in Virginia City. As one of the few black women in the rough mining town, Eddy attracts her share of admirers. Still, when the chemistry sparks between her and Rhine, she tries to resist, believing that nothing can come of it. VERDICT Empathetic characters, a compelling romance, and gripping Old West history, including the rampant racial prejudice and injustice following the Civil War, combine in this first in a riveting new series from award-winning writer Jenkins (Destiny’s Captive). Issues of interracial romance, “passing,” and life-changing choices feature well in this captivating story. Jenkins lives in Michigan. (LJ 2/15/16)—Kristin Ramsdell, Librarian Emerita, California State Univ., East Bay

Short List

A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet. Sourcebooks Casablanca.
Hold Me by Courtney Milan. Courtney Milan.
Out of Nowhere by Roan Parrish. Dreamspinner.
The Soldier’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian. Avon Impulse. (Xpress Reviews, 9/30/16)

Science Fiction

Winner
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Arkwright by Allen Steele. Tor
At the funeral of famous sf author Nathan Arkwright, his estranged granddaughter Kate meets three of the novelist’s closest friends. They ask her to serve on the board of a foundation that Nathan had established in an effort to get humanity to live among the stars. As the story jumps forward generations, readers follow the efforts of the Arkwright foundation to build and launch the starship Galactique toward a distant planet deemed the best hope for a habitable new world. VERDICT While the plot of Steele’s (“Coyote Chronicles” series; Angel of Europa) latest is not new to the genre, the author adds lovely touches of his own, including an homage to sf’s golden age and a compelling take on what the human race might look like if it had to adapt to a completely new environment. One important message is the capacity for sf to inspire scientific advancement. (LJ 2/15/16)—Megan McArdle, Lib. of Congress, National Lib. Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

Short List

The Medusa Chronicles by Stephen Baxter & Alastair Reynolds. Saga: S.&S.
Time and Time Again by Ben Elton. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. (LJ 12/15)
Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers. Orbit: Hachette. (starred review, LJ 8/16)
Crosstalk by Connie Willis. Del Rey. (starred review, LJ 8/16)

Women’s Fiction

Winner
51MIjabK1EL[1]I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan. Crown
Fiftyish Georgia Louise Young lives alone in San Francisco, has two ex-husbands who fathered Georgia’s two now adult daughters, and wonders if anyone would care if she didn’t shave her legs. Depressed and lonely, she watches television, pining away for sexy actors. “I hate to admit it, but if I had the energy, I’d kill to have sex with the first one who walked into my bedroom tonight.” Recalling the five men she had once loved, Georgia finds her former lovers with the help of Facebook but ends up disappointed in their 30-years-later versions. Discouraged, she reigns in her sexuality and comes across as more of a friend with whom you could chat about men, love, caring for elderly parents, worrying about grown children (and their mistakes) while wondering if she’s still sexy. VERDICT Making her Crown debut, McMillan (Waiting To Exhale; How Stella Got Her Groove Back; Getting to Happy) has written an engaging novel with an appealing cast of women who dish about guys while pushing Georgia to end her self-imposed celibacy. Georgia’s angst about entering the middle-aged dating scene will have readers nodding and muttering “Uh huh, I know that’s right.” This near-perfect choice for women’s book club discussions will prompt arguments of what makes a guy too good to be true. Stock up with multiple copies. (African American Fiction (and More), 3/17/16.)—Rollie Welch, Lee Cty. P.L., Lehigh Acres, FL

Short List

The Mothers by Brit Bennett. Riverhead. (starred review, LJ 9/1/16)
The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson. Morrow.  (starred review, LJ 1/16)
The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller. Viking. (LJ 8/16)
The Assistants by Camille Perri. Putnam. (LJ 4/1/16)

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Wilda Williams About Wilda Williams

Wilda "Willy" Williams (wwilliams@mediasourceinc.com) is LJ's Fiction Editor. She specializes in popular fiction and edits the Mystery, Science Fiction, Christian Fiction, and Word on Street Lit columns.

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