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 Fierro, Hunt, Paretsky, Sykes, and Newcomer Torjussen | Xpress Reviews

Week ending March 17, 2017

Fierro, Julia. The Gypsy Moth Summer. St. Martin’s. Jun. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781250087515. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250087539. F
The summer of 1992 brings a series of changes and awakenings to Avalon Island, just as the gypsy moths hatch to wreak havoc on the landscape. Various cancers and illnesses are being whispered about, and the islanders are beginning to wonder if they are caused by the island’s largest employer, Grudder Aviation. As the gossip gets louder, Colonel Pencott, the president of Grudder, and his wife, Veronica, return to the island after a two-year stay in Florida, adding to the tensions. Into this mix, young love blossoms as their granddaughter Maddie falls in love with Brooks Marshall, the biracial son of Leslie and Jules. Leslie has recently inherited the family home, and Jules isn’t sure he or his children fit in Avalon.
Verdict This family melodrama is, well, melodramatic. Fierro (Cutting Teeth) crams too much into this story: racial tensions, the class divide, corporate contamination, small-town gossip, and plotting matriarchs. The characters are as busy chewing the scenery as the moths are chewing leaves. Some readers will enjoy, but the appeal is limited.—Jennifer Mills, Shorewood-Troy Lib., IL

Hunt, Laird. The Evening Road. Little, Brown. Feb. 2017. 272p. ISBN 9780316391283. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316268325. F
Imagine you’re all fired up about going from your small Indiana town in summer 1920 to witness a lynching in the nearby town of Marvel. There’s plenty of liquor on hand, and everyone you meet on the way is as excited as you are about this upcoming spectacle. Hunt (Neverhome) relates here the attempt of Ottie Lee Henshaw; her husband, Dale; and her lecherous boss Bud to make their way to the lynching. Bud’s car breaks down early on, and the hapless trio are forced to rely on passersby to get them to their destination. Not everyone is going to the lynching, however. In a parallel story, teenage Calla Destry, a resourceful African American who has been orphaned and is trying to escape from Marvel to start a new life. William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying—with its mix of the tragic and the comic—comes to mind as one follows Hunt’s characters on the paths he’s laid out for them.
Verdict A strength of this novel is that Hunt doesn’t moralize but leaves readers to draw their own conclusions. Another plus is his vivid, pungent prose and racy dialog. Advisory: it gets pretty raw. Well recommended where fine writing is prized.—Edward Cone, New York

Paretsky, Sara. Fallout: A V.I. Warshawski Novel. Morrow. Apr. 2017. 448p. ISBN 9780062435842. $27.99; pap. ISBN 9780062663184. $18.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062435835. F
In the latest addition to the V.I. Warshawski canon (after Brush Back), the Chicago sleuth hits the road after Bernie, her cousin’s goddaughter, pleads with her to take a case. Bernie’s friend, budding filmmaker August, has gone missing, and a break-in at the gym where he works has alarmed her. As V.I. soon discovers, August isn’t the only one missing. On an odd trail, she packs up her dog Peppy and sets off on a journey to Kansas to find the hometown of former film star Emerald Ferring, hoping her fanboy filmmaker is with her. Taking V.I. on tangents from her original quest, her Kansas trip spawns inquiries she never anticipated, leading her into the realm of one town’s deeply buried family secrets, racial division, murders old and new, corporate land grabs, and a little bioterrorism to shake things up for good measure. True to V.I. form, she follows her investigation to wherever it leads, no matter how bumpy or dangerous.
Verdict Paretsky’s novels are never dull, but this one, marking the author’s debut with a new publisher, is particularly involved and multifaceted. Mystery/detective/crime novel fans will relish this satisfyingly hefty tale. [See Prepub Alert, 10/17/16.]—Julie Kane, Washington & Lee Lib., Lexington, VA

Sykes, Plum. Party Girls Die in Pearls: An Oxford Girl Mystery. Harper. May 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780062429025. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062429049. MYS
It’s October 1985, and Ursula Flowerbutton is a “fresher,” an 18-year-old first-term student at Christminster College, Oxford. She wants to be a reporter for the student newspaper but knows that freshers are seldom selected. Yet she gets her scoop when she discovers the body of Lady India Brattenbury, this year’s It girl, the day after a raucous party. With the help of American exchange student Nancy Feingold, Ursula asks questions of posh students, attends soirees, and even investigates her tutor. Before long, everyone, including the killer, knows she is trying to find the culprit. Incorporating footnotes that explain Oxford University life and 1980s fashion and culture, Sykes (Bergdorf Blondes) takes readers into an elite educational environment where the students are pretentious, fond of parties and clothes, and, in most cases, only concerned with themselves. Ursula is the only appealing, down-to-earth character.
Verdict This series launch is recommended for new adults and those who enjoy Nancy Martin’s mysteries involving fashion and parties. [See Prepub Alert, 11/14/16.]—Lesa Holstine, Evansville Vanderburgh P.L. Syst., Evansville, IN

starred review starTorjussen, Mary. Gone Without a Trace. Berkley. Apr. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780399585012. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780399585029. F
gonewithout031717[DEBUT] Hannah’s on the fast track to success. She’s about to be named director of the accounting firm where she works, and she can’t wait to tell her boyfriend Matt. But when Hannah gets home, Matt isn’t there and doesn’t return that night. In fact, he seems to have vanished into thin air, and all traces of their life together have disappeared as well. Empty spots where photos used to hang on the wall, deleted text messages, scrubbed voice mails, and even his social media accounts have been erased. With her own hopes and dreams on the line, Hannah fights to make sense of her new reality even as the awful truth begins to unravel.
Verdict Torjussen’s debut novel combines tightly wound suspense with an unfolding surprise ending, making for a gripping page-turner from start to finish. Fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Alafair Burke’s If You Were Here will love this.—Cynthia Price, Francis Marion Univ. Lib., Florence, SC

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