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

Cuyahoga County PL’s Librarians’ Favorites of 2013

Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL) ranks as one of the nation’s best and busiest public library systems. And it’s no wonder—the staff at CCPL strives to create an atmosphere where readers can enjoy fantastic collections and services. In keeping with this column’s tradition of asking librarians to discuss the books that meant the most to them each year, and in celebration of CCPL’s 90th anniversary, I invited this dedicated group to share their favorite titles of 2013.

Kate Atkinson makes a radical departure from her Jackson Brodie novels in her most recent work, Life After Life (Little Brown. 2013. ISBN 9780316176484. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316230803). This original, inventive cycle of stories revolves around the many lives of Ursula Todd, a woman born in 1910, amid the horrors of two world wars. Like a master musician playing variations on a theme, Atkinson gives readers subtly different accounts of Ursula’s various lives and deaths. The result is a novel that brilliantly illuminates how even the smallest decisions can change a person’s destiny.

A wryly trenchant first-person narrator tells the story of a Midwest scientist’s inseparable twin girls—one human, one chimp—in Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Penguin. 2013. ISBN 9780399162091. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101595688). When the girls become fatefully separated, a family drama plays out that juxtaposes the tamed and untamed, silence and expression, captivity and freedom. With masterly skill, Fowler reveals the truths behind the family secrets at the heart of her imaginative novel.

In her gorgeously written novel, Americanah (Knopf. 2013. ISBN 9780307271082. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307962126), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gives readers the story of Ifemelu, a native of Nigeria and an Ivy League graduate, who finds fame and fortune as the writer of a popular blog about race in America. Ifemelu struggles to find solace in a country that both rhapsodizes and rejects her dark skin. Despite her success, she longs for home and her soul mate Obinze, the teenage love she left behind. With confident, poetic prose, Adichie shines a light on the beauty and brutality of the human experience.

Rilla Askew’s morally complex novel Kind of Kin (Ecco. 2013. ISBN 9780062198792. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062198815) should be required reading. When an Oklahoma state law that forbids harboring undocumented immigrants tears apart a family, the entire town is caught in a moral dilemma—should they do what’s right or what’s legal? Askew’s portrayal of small-town folk struggling to decide what their humanity demands of them is a riveting exploration of faith with touches of humor and joy. A thoroughly engaging read.

The murder of a photojournalist in post-occupation Haiti sets a labyrinthine narrative in motion in Bob Shacochis’s novel The Woman Who Lost Her Soul (Atlantic Monthly Press. 2013. ISBN 9780802119827. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780802193094). The action centers on human-rights lawyer Tom Harrington, who is brought in to help solve the crime only to realize the victim is his former lover. Subsequent stories in this Russian nesting doll of a novel take the reader to Croatia, Turkey, Sarajevo, and Montana while spanning the second half of the 20th century. Told in lush, evocative prose, this intricate plot defies categorization.

Philipp Meyer focuses on three members of a family whose generations span Texas history in The Son (Ecco. 2013. ISBN 9780062120397. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062120410): Eli, the patron, who was captured by Comanches as a teenager and then rejoins white society; his son, Peter, who is witness to the brutal extermination of rich Mexican families at the hands of Texas Rangers; and Jeanne, the granddaughter who fights to hold on to the family’s wealth as oil replaces cowboys and ranches. This brilliant rendering of U.S., Native American, and Texan history is timeless, stark, and altogether unforgettable.

Daniel Woodrell, who held readers spellbound with Winter’s Bone, is back with a slim yet unforgettable new novel, The Maid’s Version (Little Brown. 2013. ISBN 9780316205856. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780316205863). Set in 1929 in a small, hardscrabble Missouri town, the book centers on the local dance hall, the one place where locals mingle, young love blossoms, and classes and cultures mix. But when an explosion destroys the dance hall, the heart of the town is lost. Who’s responsible? The maid knows, as do several other townsfolk, but it will take a generation or two for the whispered truth to be revealed.

In Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (Hogarth. 2013. ISBN 9780770436407. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780770436414), Sonja is an intelligent, talented doctor running a crowded hospital in a rural village in Chechnya that treats rebels and refugees. With her resources stretched thin, Sonja is forced to obtain much-needed supplies on the black market. When Akhmed, a villager who studied medicine, brings a child to the hospital to shelter her from rebels, Sonja’s fortunes begin to change. Brimming with heart and vibrant prose, this story of survival in a war-torn land teems with fortitude and humor.

This column was contributed by staff at Cuyahoga County Public Library, Parma, OH. Selections and annotations are in the order given: Sari Feldman, Laurie Kincer, Pam DeFino, Bill Kelly, Wendy Bartlett, and Elayne Jackson.

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ‘s online feature Wyatt’s World and is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers’ advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader’s Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net

Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net


  1. Cuyahoga County Public Library says they can’t afford $5 million to fix up a building on the National Register of Historic Places but can afford to spend $12.6–almost 3 times as much to build a new building the community does not want. They spent $23,400 on ebook versions of Fifty Shades of Grey ($78 apiece) and $28,730 for Dan Brown’s The Inferno–$85.00 a copy. The CCPL director has become the Shock Jock of the Library World and she wants to be the new ALA President–what a role model.

  2. karen buck says:

    i love to read, i will probably read all the books mentioned in this article – but not in ANY library run by CCPL . i will go to the coventry library, or the hts. library on lee rd. but i will never step foot in a ccpl library and am cutting-up my library card because they have turned their back on the public that supported them. they refuse to listen when south euclid says NO NEW LIBRARY – SAVE THE TELLING MANSION LIBRARY.

  3. Donna McClelland says:

    Cuyahoga County Librarians ARE the best! It is too bad they get overshadowed by the bad behavior of the Board that manages them. The Cuyahoga County Public Library is so focused on being #1, that they are spending taxpayer dollars like water. They are constructing new libraries like they have money to burn. Oh wait, I guess they DO! After ignoring community outcry against spending $$ on building new, bigger libraries instead of renovating existing buildings, they issued $75m in notes to fund it as they knew a levy would never pass. This library board will do ANYTHING and PAY anything to stay #1 at OUR expense. They should be made accountable for this behavior, but there is no oversight.

  4. Rosemarie Feighan DeJohn says:

    It’s disappointing to read vitriolic comments @ CCPL by people who purport to love the library but hate the actions of the directoe and/or the board. Directors and boards run the risk of alienating the public they serve by virtue of their jobs; you can’t please everyone. I know I don’t live in So Euclid but I can still have an opinion. I haven’t even been in the So Euclid branch since I was a student at NDC. Saving the beautiful mansion would be wonderful but does it have to be the library system to do it? Technology growth over the last 40 years demand more tech savvy buildings to provide the excellent services we have come to appreciate and now expect from CCPL system. Sari Feldman has been a fantastic director & assembled a hard-working, dilligent & capable staff to support her vvision which is to provide this county with an amazing library system. In that she has succeeded & I, for one, stand in awe of the myriad things she has accomplished with her staff and dedicated volunteer board members. Why spite yourself by not using the library just to ‘show’ Ms Feldman? You merely punish yourself. Save the charming manse or parts of it. if possible. but allow this tech growth to happen without vitriol.

    • Ruth Eisenberg says:

      Rosemarie Feighan De John,

      We have no vitriol. Only the facts. What technology cannot be put into Telling Mansion Library? Please tell us what that technology would be.
      The Telling Mansion is in very good condition–as attested to by the Cleveland Restoration Society.
      Sari’s facilities master plan is in direct opposition to the American Library Association’s initiative for Community Engagement and she is running for ALA president. Sari says Telling Mansion is too old to be a 21st century library. Sari is 60 and is too old to be the ALA President-we need a 21st Century Librarian!

      VOTE for Maggie Farrell for ALA President !http://maggiefarrellforalapresident.com/

    • karen buck says:

      whos money are you spending?

  5. karen buck says:

    some of the most beautiful and well-used buildings in the world are more than 100 years old and have been successfully modernized for any of todays usage – both physical (elevators, heating and plumbing, etc) and tech (wi-fi, electric ) There is absolutely NO reason that the Telling mansion cant continue to serve the public in its present capacity (as a library) and for less $ than a new building. new construction is very often utilizes cheap materials. in 30 years it will not be holding-up as well as the Telling mansion has. i say lets work with what we have and enjoy the Telling Mansion Library in all its glory.