LJ Best Books 2017

It's time again for 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 and literature, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles.   SEE WHO MADE THE LIST

Best Books 2013: More of the Best

By Mahnaz Dar, Bette-Lee Fox, Liz French, Margaret Heilbrun, Barbara Hoffert, Stephanie Klose, Annalisa Pesek, Henrietta Thornton-Verma, & Wilda Williams

Atkinson, Kate. Life After Life. Reagan Arthur: Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316176484. $27.99. F

Atkinson’s risk taking pays off in a novel that persuasively presents alternate versions of a single life. An English girl born in February 1910 dies immediately but emerges healthy in the next chapter, and throughout the shifting narrative we see that one life can take different avenues—and what a difference that can make. (LJ 3/15/13)—BH

Crace, Jim. Harvest. Nan A. Talese: Doubleday. ISBN 9780385520775. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385536905. F

A master at creating worlds at once familiar and startlingly his own, Crace takes us to a premodern English village where a burning stable is blamed on strangers camping nearby, thus moving the villagers inexorably toward a tragedy they provoke. A quietly breathtaking work about how fate plays with us as we play with fate. (LJ 12/12)—BH

Fowler, Karen Joy. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Marian Wood: Putnam. ISBN 9780399162091. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101626276. F

On the face of it, Fowler’s protagonist—Rosemary, a girl whose family adopted and raised for several years a chimpanzee alongside their human children as a psychological experiment—is what sets this book apart. Yet what really marks this unusual novel is the cryptic voice of Rosemary, a classic unreliable narrator who will challenge and provoke readers as she attempts to piece together the events of her childhood, determine just what part she had in the sudden disappearance of her “sister,” Fern, and make sense of who she is now. Memory and its reconstruction, loss, and guilt are all themes in this complex and compelling title. (LJ 6/1/13)—MD

Gura, Philip F. Truth’s Ragged Edge: The Rise of the American Novel. Farrar. ISBN 9780809094455. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781429951340. LIT

Gura presents an original title on the odyssey of the American novel and recounts its rise from 1789 to 1870, describing the form’s roots in the European tradition and its distinct characteristics. He delves into the religious, racial, and political tensions found in many early novels, noting the recurrence of these issues in literature today. Gura’s work offers a fresh perspective, with nuanced entries that will appeal to students and specialists alike. (LJ 5/15/13)—AP

Hootman, Ramsey. Courting Greta. Gallery. ISBN 9781476711294. F

He is a 34-year-old computer programmer–turned–high school teacher with a congenital birth defect that forces him to use crutches. She is a formidable 46-year-old gym coach who puts the fear of God into men. How this unlikely couple gradually unpack their emotional and physical baggage on the rocky road to love is the focus of Hootman’s charming and unconventional debut novel. Especially refreshing for its rarity in fiction is her sensitive depiction of living with a physical challenge. (LJ 5/1/13)—WW

Hosseini, Khaled. And the Mountains Echoed. Riverhead. ISBN 9781594631764. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101626276. F

Though Hosseini returns once again to Afghanistan—the scene of his breakout title, The Kite Runner—as a primary setting, this ambitious and emotionally stirring work follows myriad characters all across the globe over six decades. At the heart of the narrative is the wrenching separation of two siblings, Pari and Abdul, a loss that haunts both for the rest of their days. From there, the author weaves an intricate web of interconnected tales of regret, longing, love, jealousy, shame, and grief. Hosseini’s gift is his ability to humanize even the most seemingly unlikable characters, and though many of these stories are devastatingly painful, an overarching sense of joy and optimism infuses this rich tapestry. (LJ 4/1/13)—MD

Johnson, Martin P. Writing the Gettysburg Address. Univ. Pr. of Kansas. ISBN 9780700619337. $34.95. HIST

Johnson gives us the human history of a mythic speech, tracing its provenance over the weeks, days, hours, and even minutes before President Lincoln rose, doffed his hat, and spoke those 272 words to a throng assembled and ready for a long oration. Johnson’s meticulous and well-grounded detective work brings new understanding of the speech, its speaker, and our responses to his words—then and over the last 150 years. (LJ 7/13)—MH

Keane, Mary Beth. Fever. Scribner. ISBN 9781451693416; ebk. ISBN 9781451693430. F

The award-winning Keane “mixes literary imagination with historical fact to humanize” the notorious Typhoid Mary. A talented cook in turn-of-the-century New York City, Irish immigrant Mary Mallon also was a healthy carrier of typhoid fever. Although she promised never to cook again after medical authorities held her in isolation for three years, Mary found it difficult to give up a career that gave her independence and respectability. ­Keane succeeds brilliantly in garnering the reader’s sympathy for a difficult, headstrong woman who was a victim of injustice. (LJ 1/13)—WW

Labor, Earle. Jack London: An American Life. Farrar. ISBN 9780374178482. $30. LIT

American author Jack London’s best story may have been the life he lived (1876–1916). Though there have been more than 20 other biographies written about London (The Call of the Wild), this rich, well-researched treatise by the writer’s official biographer tells of his subject’s disciplined rise from paperboy to “oyster pirate” to celebrated author; a fascinating tale of success. (LJ 8/13)—AP

Ledgard, J.M. Submergence. Coffee House. ISBN 9780062112244. pap. $15.95. F

Captured by jihadists after being directed by the Secret Intelligence Service to assess al- Qaeda activities in Somalia, a Nairobi-based Englishman recalls his affair with a coolly independent woman mathematician preparing to use her skills on a deep-sea dive. The result is a laceratingly beautiful novel of ideas that highlights Africa’s central role in politics today. (LJ 3/15/13)—BH

Leonhardt, Jürgen. Latin: Story of a World Language. Harvard Univ. tr. by Kenneth Kronenberg. ISBN 9780674058071. $29.95. LIT

Latin hasn’t seen a revival since the ninth century under western Europe’s first emperor, Charlemagne, in the wake of the Carolingian literary renaissance of the late eighth century. Time for it to be great again. Leonhardt chronicles the language from its origins in the classical period to its official end in 1806. He asserts that in losing competence in reading Latin text, we are losing conversations about the world’s greatest literature by influential thinkers. An important book newly translated; for lovers of language.—AP

Linklater, Andro. Owning the Earth: The Transforming History of Land Ownership. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781620402894. $30. HIST

Many aspire to land ownership, taking the concept—that individuals may obtain a sliver of our planet as their own—for granted. Linklater’s global study looks at land ownership—feudal, private, communal—through the lens of history and politics, rather than as merely a matter for economic study. The results are enlightening for our understanding not only of the past but of our future. (LJ 12/13)—MH

Lovett, Charlie. The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession. Viking. ISBN 9780670026470. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101622803. F

Peter is so unmoored by his wife’s death that he relies on written instructions from his therapist reminding him to eat and sleep regularly. Restarting his life as a rare books dealer is important, too, and it’s during this pursuit that he finds a painting of his wife tucked into a book. The volume and the painting, though, are 150 years old. Unraveling the mystery involves Da Vinci Code–like sleuthing into the works of Shakespeare and sliding back to the bard’s time. (LJ 4/15/13)—HT-V

Mason, Jamie. Three Graves Full. Gallery: S. & S. ISBN 9781451685039. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781451685053. F

That guy you murdered is buried out back. At first, you sweat over it night and day, but, later, even scheduling work around the house seems safe enough. That’s Jason’s life. Imagine his shock when a shaken worker breaks the news about the body…in the front yard. Mason’s debut novel never stops delivering thrilling twists, and its evocative language brings to life a varied and troubled cast of characters (one of them canine). (LJ 2/15/13)—HT-V

Meyer, Philipp. The Son. Ecco: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780062120397. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062120410. F

This novel is almost a companion piece to Glenn Frankel’s The Searchers and covers a lot of the same (Texas) ground. It also shares qualities with family sagas such as Edna Ferber’s Giant (the book and the movie) and Dallas (the 1980s TV show and its recent revamp). But Meyer’s epic tale of the McCullough clan’s rise to power and wealth exposes the bloodshed and racism behind the ascent. His characters, particularly patriarch Eli and great-great-granddaughter Jeannie, are complex and utterly believable, yet still larger than life. (LJ 4/1/13)—LF

Picoult, Jodi. The Storyteller. Emily Bestler: Atria. ISBN 9781439102763. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781439149706. F

Linking the stories of baker Sage Singer, retired German teacher Josef Weber, Sage’s grandmother Minka, and of a mythological beast, ­Picoult’s page-turner challenges its readers to face the horrors and rare moments of compassion that defined the Holocaust. Picoult “braids the quartet of intersecting tales into a powerful allegory of loss, forgiveness, and the ultimate humanity of us all [with] compulsive readability, impeccable research, and a gut-wrenching Aha! of an ending.” [LJ Xpress Reviews, 2/1/13]—BLF



  1. Shirley Ross says:

    “The Storyteller” is the best book I have read this year. My father’s youngest brother is the only survivor in our family from the town of Ostrovtse, in Poland. He witnessed many horrible things as an inmate of the infamous Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp. It took me 2 days to read this book.

    • Henrietta Verma Henrietta Thornton-Verma says:

      I so agree, Shirley. I read it almost nonstop too, and it has really made me evaluate my life choices. All the best to your family.