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

Book Buzz | ALA Midwinter 2017

Lisa See’s The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane (Scribner), Anita Shreve’s The Stars Are Fire (Knopf), and Elizabeth Strout’s Anything Is Possible (Random). Dennis Lehane’s Since We stroutFell (Ecco) and Greg Iles’s Mississippi Blood (Morrow). Lizzie Velasquez’s Dare To Be Kind (Hachette) and Ziggy Marley’s Ziggy Marley and Family Cookbook (Akashic). And three eye-catchers from Norton: Neil Degrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Chris Hayes’s A Colony in a Nation, and Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, which the publisher smartly paired with Carolyne Larrington’s The Norse Myths from distributed house Thames & Hudson.

Big-name authors got plenty of attention on the Midwinter show floor; indeed, visitors to Norton’s booth typically asked, “Is that the Chris Hayes?” But the wide range of titles librarians grabbed off galley stacks or discussed with library marketing reps reveal a refreshing “what’s next?” sensibility. Not surprisingly, many titles reflected the current turmoil on the political horizon.

Hot-button issues

In fiction, works in demand included Vaddey Ratner’s Music of the Ghosts, the taut story of aSINDU refugee’s return to Cambodia, focusing on questions of forgiveness after horror; Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, a PEN/Bellwether Prize winner about a child’s fate when his Chinese immigrant mother vanishes; Omar El Akkad’s American War, featuring a child whose family is packed into a displaced persons camp when a second American civil war breaks out; and SJ Sindu’s debut novel, Marriage of a Thousand Lies, about two Sri Lankan–Americans using their marriage to hide their sexuality from their conservative families.

Nonfiction titles catching the zeitgeist include Double Bind: Women on Ambition, edited by Robin Romm, and Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted, edited by Laura Caldwell and Leslie Klinger (both from Liveright: Norton); Kate Parker’s Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves (Workman), a photo essay that had an author signing on the day of the Women’s March; and a trio of activist Rebecca Solnit titles parkerkatetfrom Haymarket: Men Explain Things to Me, Hope in the Dark, and The Mother of All Questions. Trumping them all: Gene Stone’s The Trump Survival Guide: Everything You Need To Know About Living Through What You Hoped Would Never Happen (Dey Street: HarperCollins).

Mystery

Not surprisingly, pop fiction dominated the book hunt. Mystery lovers tracked down Tom Bouman’s Fateful Mornings (Norton), successor to Dry Bones in the Valley, an Edgar Award boumanwinner and LibraryReads pick; Elly Griffiths’s The Chalk Pit (Houghton Harcourt), ninth in the entertaining Norfolk, England–set series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway; Fred Van Lente’s Ten Dead Comedians (Quirk), a debut harking back to the golden age of mystery while skewering contemporary show business; Mandy Morton’s No. 2 Feline Detective Agency: A Hettie Bagshot Mystery (Minotaur: St. Martin’s), whose whiskered protagonist investigates body snatching at a home for aging kitties; and Zoe Sharp’s Fox Hunter (Pegasus), next in the series starring ex-special forces soldier Charlotte “Charlie” Fox.

Thrillers

For thrills, attendees hustled away with the BAFTA-winning Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders (Harper), featuring an editor who finds evidence of real murder in the latest manuscript from her star crime writer (the author himself famously wrote Moriarty); Brad Parks’s Say Nothing (Dutton), the Shamus Award winner’s story about the kidnapping of a judge’s wife; and K.J. Howe’s The Freedom Broker (Quercus), launching a new series about kidnap-and-rescue negotiator Thea Paris, from the executive director of ThrillerFest.

 SF/fantasy

Fans of out-of-this-world landscapes homed in on Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 (Orbit), which has Gotham semi-submerged but finding a way to survive; Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland’s borneThe Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. (Morrow), a time-traveling book with the military really believing in magic; Robert Repino’s Dar’c (Soho), continuing the animals-on-top story started with Mort(e); Vic James’s Gilded Cage (Del Rey), billed as a darkly fantastical Downton Abbey, with the lower classes forced to serve the magically gifted upper-class rulers; Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne (Sean McDonald: Farrar), featuring a scavenger in a deeply dystopic future opting to protect an indeterminate defenseless creature; and Sarah Beth Durst’s The Reluctant Queen (Harper Voyager), second in the unsettling “Queens of Renthia” epic fantasy trilogy, set in a land possessed by malevolent spirits that can be contained only by the queen.

More pop fiction

The pop fiction parade continues with Laura McBride’s ‘Round Midnight (Touchstone), the story of four women with ethnically diverse backgrounds associated over six decades with onehoneyman ritzy casino nightclub in Las Vegas; Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine (Pamela Dorman: Viking), short-listed for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, a debut about a socially maladroit young woman who bonds with the bumbling but bighearted office IT guy; Daniel Handler’s All the Dirty Parts (Bloomsbury USA), a tale of obsessive teenage desire from Lemony Snicket in adult guise; Sarah Dunn’s The Arrangement (Little, Brown), opening up a marriage in country-charming Hudson Valley, NY; and Kate Eberlen’s Miss You (Harper), a debut about two young people repeatedly crossing paths after meeting in Florence, slated for publication in 24 countries.

Literary fiction

Readers of upmarket fiction made strong choice with Pushcart/Sue Kaufman prize winner Don Lee’s Lonesome Lies Before Us (Norton), a meditation on art, love, and failed dreams tintistarring gifted but thwarted alt-country musician Yadin Park; Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley (Dial), the story of a father trying to go straight, from the author who won the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize for The Good Thief; Daryl Gregory’s Spoonbenders (Knopf), already optioned for television, the story of a family of talk-show favorites with superhuman powers; and Jessica Shattuck’s The Women in the Castle (Morrow), which gathers several family members of German resisters at a near-ruined castle after World War II.

Other felicitous finds include Sarah Shoemaker’s Mr. Rochester (Grand Central), a former university librarian’s reimagining of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre from Mr. Rochester’s perspective; Gina Sorell’s Mothers and Other Strangers (Prospect Park), whose heroine travels to her family’s South African homestead to understand the beautiful but caustic mother she’s just lost; and Melissa Scholes Young’s Flood (Center Street: Hachette), a debut floodfeaturing a young woman anxiously returning to her hometown, Hannibal, MO, where Mark Twain was a boy.

Finally, readers favoring the big, broad world grabbed Danish literary star Jens Christian Grøndahl’s Often I Am Happy (Twelve: Hachette), about marriage and friendship, and Czech American Jaraoslav Kalfar’s imaginative debut, Spaceman of Bohemia (Little, Brown), featuring Czech scientist–turned–astronaut Jakub Procházka, who seeks to atone for his father’s Communist past by undertaking a dangerous solo mission to Venus.

Nonfiction

Nonfiction that roared began with David Baron’s American Eclipse: A Nation’s Epic Race To Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World (Norton), about a Gilded Age solar eclipse and its consequences for American science, in particular three scientists that included a woman. Other U.S. history titles of interest included Michael Wallis’s The Best Landmoorekate Under Heaven: The Donner Party in the Age of Manifest Destiny (Liveright: Norton), newly researched and somewhat revisionist; and Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women (Sourcebook), about the young American women who were hired to paint glowing dials in the early 1900s and eventually fell prey to terrible illness.

Another serious but ultimately uplifting title: Liza Jessie Peterson’s  All Day: A Year of Love and Survival Teaching Incarcerated Kids at Rikers Island (Center Street: Hachette), whose author started teaching incarcerated teenagers to earn some extra money, then wholeheartedly embraced the job. Albert “Prodigy” Johnson & Kathy Iandoli’s The Commissary Kitchen: My Infamous Prison Cookbook (Vodka and Milk) looks at incarceration from another angle.

Holly Tucker’s City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris (Norton) investigates sensational crime in the late 1600s City of Light. And showing that yogawe are still serious about having fun, attendees walked off with Stella Parks’s BraveTart: Iconic American Deserts (Norton), from an award-winning pastry chef; Jessamyn Stanley’s Every Body Yoga:Let Go of Fear. Get On the Mat. Love Your Body (Workman), a good workout for all body types, and libraries are loving yoga programming; and Paula Poundstone’s The Totally Unscientific Study of the Search for Human Happiness (Algonquin), wherein the comedian tries all manner of techniques, from swing dancing to volunteering, to see what really makes her happy. What works for you?

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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.

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