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 2015: Genre Fiction

African American Fiction

By Rollie Welch

mama's boy_resizedBillingsley, ReShonda Tate. Mama’s Boy. Gallery. ISBN 9781476714950. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781476715032. F
Billingsley’s emotionally moving story dramatically captures the fear an African American mother endures when her son gets involved in a racial confrontation with a white cop that goes very wrong. (African American Fiction and More, 5/20/15; ow.ly/TAGcd)

Holmes, Shannon. Caught Up. Infamous: Akashic. ISBN 9781617753756. $23.95; pap. ISBN 9781617753749. $9.95. F
Urban fiction pioneer Holmes’s smooth-flowing narrative mixes crime, sex, and sassy street talk as his characters deal with life-in-the-streets drama. (African American Fiction and More, 2/17/15; ow.ly/TAHcv)

Mello, Deborah Fletcher. Playing for Keeps. Dafina: Kensington. (Sultry Southern Nights). ISBN 9781617737787. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781617737794. F
An uplifting message marks this divorced-man-meets-gorgeous-woman romance, but the author also makes room for action and romantic activities that almost—but not quite—cross over into erotica. (African American Fiction and More, 9/17/15; ow.ly/TAI7E)

Murray, Victoria Christopher. Stand Your Ground. Touchstone. ISBN 9781476792996. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781476793009. F
This timely, tension-packed novel about “a white man, a black teen, a gun, a dead black teen” admirably depicts the grief and anger that follow racial violence. (African American Fiction and More, 4/16/15; ow.ly/TAITV)

Noire. Stone Cold Liar: The Misadventures of Mink LaRue. Dafina: Kensington. ISBN 9781617734953. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781617734960. F
Biting insults, dark humor, and steamy sexcapades make for a wild ride in Noire’s latest tale from a lively series headed by the unforgettable Mink LaRue. (African American Fiction and More, 7/15/15; ow.ly/TALC8)


christian fiction

By Christine Sharbrough

a sparrow in terezin_resizedCambron, Kristy. A Sparrow in Terezin. Thomas Nelson. ISBN 9781401690618. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401690625. CF
Alternating between Kaja Makovsky in 1942 and present-day Sera James, this powerful story of two women’s lives is linked by one of history’s greatest calamities, the Holocaust. With both characters facing destruction of their futures—and perhaps their lives—Kaja and Sera hold on to the one thing that cannot be taken from them by force—their faith. (LJ 2/1/15)

Kanner, Rebecca. Esther. Howard. ISBN 9781501108662. $22.99; ebk. ISBN 9781501108679. CF
Kanner breathes new life into the biblical story of Queen Esther, who saved her people from extermination. Her Jewish heroine is highly intelligent, politically savvy, and determined. (LJ 11/1/15)

Mason, Susan Anne. Irish Meadows. Bethany House. ISBN 9780764217241. pap. $14; ebk. ISBN 9781441228567. CF
This engaging debut about an Irish immigrant clan on New York’s Long Island is part historical romance, part family drama, and all about the power of faith and love to move mountains. (LJ 6/1/15)

St. James, Rebecca & Nancy Rue. One Last Thing. Thomas Nelson. ISBN 9781401689278. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401689261. CF
It was always a given that Tara Faulkner and Seth Grissom, friends since childhood, would marry. Three weeks prior to the big event, Tara walks in on Seth and discovers his secret addiction to pornography. For the first time, Tara’s future is uncertain, but the wedding is definitely off. A bittersweet look at how betrayal and hurt can be transformed into strength and hope. (LJ 2/1/15)

Whitson, Stephanie Grace. Daughter of the Regiment. FaithWords. ISBN 9781455529032. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781455529049. CF
Two women from contrasting backgrounds unite in an inspiring story of courage and friendship set during the Civil War. (LJ 4/1/15)



By Mara Bandy

the fair fight_resizedFreeman, Anna. The Fair Fight. Riverhead. ISBN 9781594633294. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698167971. F
Ruth, born in a brothel, intends literally to fight her way to a
brighter future. Charlotte, the beleaguered sister of an aristocrat, witnesses one of Ruth’s bare-knuckled bouts and starts imagining new possibilities for herself. Come for the female pugilists, stay for a boisterous and warmhearted exploration of class, gender, and female friendship in 18th-century England. (LJ 1/15)

Hannah, Kristin. The Nightingale. St. Martin’s. ISBN 9780312577223. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466850606. F
Two sisters taking very different paths in Nazi-occupied France provide the heart of this emotionally moving crowd-pleaser. As the idealistic Isabelle joins the French Resistance and the more practical Vianne encounters challenges at home, Hannah creates a touching examination of the strain placed on the bonds of sisterhood by wartime’s impossible choices. (LJ 1/15)

Lansdale, Joe R. Paradise Sky. Mulholland: Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316329378. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316329354. F
Lansdale’s fast-paced and energetic Western, inspired by old-school dime novels and (loosely) the life of African American cowboy Nat Love, takes readers on a memorable trip out West, filled with colorful characters and high-stakes dilemmas. Though Nat experiences his share of sadness and some of the book’s humor is quite dark, readers will delight in this entertaining narrative and its likable protagonist. (LJ 3/1/15)

Russell, Mary Doria. Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral. Ecco: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780062198761. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062198785. F
Russell continues the story of the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday from her 2011 novel Doc, relating the full story of the infamous shoot-out at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, AZ. Using sensitive, literary prose to describe even the most violent of events, Russell pays particular attention to Wyatt Earp and his controversial legacy and creates an unforgettable portrait of an American legend. (LJ 1/15)

Sansom, C.J. Lamentation. Mulholland: Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316254960. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781608091348. F
King Henry VIII’s aggressive religious policies and declining health make life even more dangerous than usual for lawyer Matthew Shardlake as he becomes reluctantly embroiled in a mystery at the behest of Henry’s queen. This sixth entry in Sansom’s acclaimed series introduces major changes in Shardlake’s world while maintaining the books’ consistently high standard of historically accurate and emotionally compelling storytelling.



By Viccy Kemp

hot counries_resizedHallinan, Tim. The Hot Countries: A Poke Rafferty Novel. Soho Crime. ISBN 9781616954468. $26.95. ebk. ISBN 9781616954475. M
Poke Rafferty went to Bangkok to write a book and ended up falling in love with Thailand; his wife, Rose; and their adopted daughter, now known as Mia. But when a stranger shows up looking for money Poke doesn’t have and a child Poke is unwilling to surrender, things get very dark, very quickly. Another stellar book in the long-running series. (LJ 10/1/15)

Levy, Lawrence. Second Street Station: A Mary Handley Mystery. Broadway. ISBN 9780553418927. pap. $14; ebk. ISBN 9780553418934. M
A strong feminist appeal makes this debut historical even more fascinating. Drawing on the life of Mary Handley, who became Brooklyn’s first female police detective in 1876, this well-written mystery has much to say about the position of women in society during that time. It also offers a thought-provoking glimpse of Thomas Edison, who was not quite as nice as one would expect. (LJ 5/1/15)

Mack, Janey. Time’s Up: A Maisie McGrane Mystery. Kensington. ISBN 9781617736902. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781617736919. M
When Maisie McGrane flunks out of the police academy, her next career option is to become Chicago’s best meter maid. The discovery of a dead city hall employee in a no-parking zone gets Maisie involved in nefarious goings-on in the Windy City. Fans of comic mysteries by Janet Evanovich and Tim Dorsey will delight in getting to know the irrepressible Maisie. An outstanding debut. (LJ 6/1/15)

Nickson, Chris. Two Bronze Pennies. Severn House. ISBN 9780727884916. $28.95;
ebk. ISBN 9781780106595. M
It’s Christmas 1890, and DI Tom Harper is called to Leeds’s Jewish Quarter to investigate the stabbing death of a young man whose eyes are covered with two bronze pennies. A refreshing change from typical London-based Victorian mysteries, Nickson’s historical offers a richly detailed and authentic portrait of life for the poor and immigrants in a northern English industrial city. (LJ 7/15)

Qiu Xiaolong. Shanghai Redemption: An Inspector Chen Cao Novel. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. ISBN 9781250065278. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781466871847. M
Inspector Chen Cao loses his prestigious job in Shanghai during a political shake-up and keeps his head down by going off to do his ancestral duty in Suzhou by rebuilding his father’s grave. This series presents an excellent introduction to the intricacies of Communist Chinese politics as well as lessons in Chinese philosophy and a travelog. (LJ 9/1/15)



By Kristin Ramsdell

only a kiss_resizedBalogh, Mary. Only a Kiss. Signet. (Survivors’ Club, Bk. 6). ISBN 9780451469687. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698156104. Historical
A war widow’s quiet life is turned upside down when her late father-in-law’s heir arrives from London to visit the estate—and then stays on—in a marvelous tale that is as funny and witty as it is emotionally wrenching and satisfying.
(LJ 8/15)

Byrne, Kerrigan. The Highwayman. St. Martin’s Paperbacks. ISBN 9781250076052. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466887404. Historical
The dark, violent side of the Victorian era blazes to life as a caring, competent heroine living under the radar is abducted by a notorious crime lord with wonderfully gratifying results in this exceptional and compelling vengeance-driven romantic adventure. (LJ 8/15)

Dodd, Christina. Obsession Falls. St. Martin’s. (Virtue Falls, Bk. 2). ISBN 9781250028471. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250028464. Romantic Suspense
A chance encounter and heroic action send a resourceful heroine into hiding until a pair of relentless men run her to ground, and she is drawn into a deadly game that only one man can win. Intense, chilling, and totally mesmerizing. (LJ 8/15)

Krentz, Jayne Ann. Secret Sisters. Berkley. ISBN 9780399174483. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698193666. Romantic Suspense
Long-buried secrets resurface with deadly results when a successful hotel chain owner is called back to her San Juan Island childhood home. This intricate, richly plotted romantic mystery doles out clues with clever precision and keeps the tension high, the romance simmering, and the revelations coming until the very end. (LJ 12/15)

Novak, Brenda. This Heart of Mine. Mira: Harlequin. (Whiskey Creek, Bk. 8). ISBN 9780778316725. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781460380536. Contemporary
A woman who served 17 years for a crime she didn’t commit returns home to help her mother and reconnect with the son she was forced to give up. Now she must deal with vicious hostility as she fights for the truth—and the man she has never stopped loving. (LJ 4/15/15)



By Megan M. McArdle & Jessica E. Moyer

the water knife_resizedBacigalupi, Paolo. The Water Knife. Knopf. ISBN 9780385352871. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385352895. SF
In the near future, the water shortages in the Western United States have become critical, and certain parties have specialized staff dedicated to protecting their water rights. Angel is one such Water Knife, looking after the interests of Las Vegas and chasing a document that could change the shape of the West. This gripping novel looks just a few years into our future of water scarcity for an exciting sf ecothriller. (LJ 2/15/15)—MMM

Bear, Elizabeth. Karen Memory. Tor. ISBN 9780765375247. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466846340. SF
In a steampunk-tinged Old West setting, working girl Karen Memory and the other prostitutes of Madame Damnable’s establishment stand against Peter Bantle, who has built a machine that allows him to gain control of the will of others. Exciting action, a picturesque setting, and the bell-like clarity of the voice of folksy but strong-willed Karen add up to a winning weird west tale.
(LJ 12/14)—MMM

Bowen, Lila. Wake of Vultures. Orbit: Hachette. (Shadow, Bk. 1). ISBN 9780316264310. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780316264303. FANTASY
Nettie is a mixed-race young woman who prefers to dress and live as a man and work with horses. When she kills a strange creature on the ranch, her eyes are suddenly opened to all types of supernatural creatures mixing in with the human population. The genderqueer heroine, Western setting, and incorporation of Native American mythology make this title a standout among the urban fantasy debuts of 2015. (LJ 8/15)—JEM

Cho, Zen. Sorcerer to the Crown. Ace: Berkley. (Sorcerer Royal, Bk. 1). ISBN 9780425283370. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698409439. FANTASY
Zacharias Wythe is having a hard time holding on to his position as Sorcerer Royal, not only because he is a former slave but also because the magic of England appears to be waning. As Zacharias investigates the border between England and fairy, he picks up an apprentice of sorts in Prunella, a young woman with a dangerous amount of natural ability. Fans of the Regency period and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell will love this fantasy. (LJ 9/15/15)—MMM

Jemisin, N.K. The Fifth Season. Orbit: Hachette. (Broken Earth, Bk. 1). ISBN 9780316229296. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780316229302. FANTASY
In a world accustomed to apocalyptic events, life is ruled by strict adherence to the laws of the tablets, and order is maintained by magic users from the capital. When the city is subsumed by a rift so massive that it spans the entire continent of Stillness, no one is prepared for the true level of cataclysm about to occur. The multiple points of view gradually interweave in a powerful story of hatred, fear, love, and death. (LJ 6/15/15)—JEM

McClellan, Brian. The Autumn Republic. Orbit: Hachette. (Powder Mage Trilogy, Bk. 3). ISBN 9780316219129. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316402774. FANTASY
Few conclusions to a series are as satisfying and solidly constructed as this finale, which should come as no surprise after the strength of McClellan’s debut, Promise of Blood. Flintlock fantasy is a rising trend, and this volume is one of the best, with an engaging mix of magic and gunpowder, religion and politics. (LJ 12/14)—JEM

Novik, Naomi. Uprooted. Del Rey: Ballantine. ISBN 9780804179034. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780804179041. FANTASY
Agnieszka has no ambitions beyond her simple village life, but the malevolent Woods looms over everything, and the people are protected only by the wizard known as the Dragon. And she has been chosen to be his servant for the next ten years. The author of the “Temeraire” dragon fantasies creates a fantastic, original world with Eastern European and fairy-tale influences that is bound to gain her a completely new fandom. (LJ 4/15/15)—JEM

Saintcrow, Lilith. Trailer Park Fae. Orbit: Hachette. (Gallow & Ragged, Bk. 1). ISBN 9780316277853. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780316277839. FANTASY
Jeremiah Gallow just wants to live as a simple construction worker, but he can’t escape his former life as a half-sidhe knight of the Summer Court, especially after a pureblood plague attacks Faery. Along with Robin Ragged, who looks just like his beloved dead (and human) wife, Gallow must reclaim his heritage to save both the human and Faery worlds. A strong start to a dark urban fantasy series. (LJ 6/15/15)—JEM

Schwab, V.E. A Darker Shade of Magic. Tor. ISBN 9780765376459. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466851375. FANTASY
As a rare Traveler, Kell is the emissary of the Red Court who journeys between the other Londons, including Grey London, our world in the reign of George III and the only realm with no magic. It does have winsome thief Lila, who tangles with Kell and steals an object he was carrying from forbidden Black London. The fascinating worldbuilding here never slows the pace of high adventure. (LJ 12/14)—MMM

Tripp, Ben. The Fifth House of the Heart. Gallery. ISBN 9781476782638. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781476782645. HORROR
The antiques appraisal business has provided a pretty good life for 70-year-old Asmodeus Saxon-Tang. What not many people know is that Sax’s biggest successes were made through the risky acquisition of the hoarded belongings of vampires. Now a vampire is hunting Sax, and Sax can’t resist going after one more big score. Combining the adrenaline of a heist plot with genuine chills, Tripp makes vampires scary again. (LJ 8/15)—MMM



By Jeff Ayers

her final breath_resizedDugoni, Robert. Her Final Breath. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon. ISBN 9781503945029. pap. $15.95. F
In Dugoni’s sequel to My Sister’s Grave, Seattle homicide detective Tracy Crosswhite tries to apprehend a killer who might be stalking her. The solution might lie in a decade-old cold case that her superiors would like to remain unsolved. Tracy is a compelling protagonist, and Dugoni’s authentic depiction of a city under siege and how the police respond makes for a breathtaking thrill ride. (Xpress Reviews, 8/28/15)

Lee, Patrick. Signal. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. ISBN 9781250030788. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250030771. F
Sam Dryden thought he left his old ops world behind, but when a former colleague asks for help, he can’t refuse. Now he finds himself confronting an enemy armed with a technology that can foresee Sam’s plans before he even conceives them. Fast-paced action mixed with a baffling puzzle makes for a truly entertaining read. (LJ 4/15/15)

Pintoff, Stefanie. Hostage Taker. Bantam. ISBN 9780345531407. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780804179935. F
A shooting outside Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral devolves into a hostage crisis, and burned-out FBI negotiator Eve Rossi becomes responsible for the lives both inside the iconic church and in the surrounding area. Rossi and her team of ex-convicts have no idea what they are truly facing in this stellar page-turner. (LJ 7/15)

Ryan, Hank Phillippi. What You See. Forge. ISBN 9780765374950. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765374981. F
A stabbing in Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall marketplace has plenty of witnesses, but things are not always what they seem. Reporter Jane Ryland finds herself battling family matters while trying to work the case, and Det. Jake Brogan is torn between his career and his feelings for Jane. A great mystery and wonderful characters; it is no wonder Ryan has won numerous awards for this series. (LJ 9/1/15)

Schofield, Douglas. Time of Departure. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. ISBN 9781250072757. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466884618. F
Claire Talbot has made a lot of enemies in her role as a Florida state prosecutor, but her life is upended when she reopens a case that occurred before she was even born. The twists are intricate and shocking, and readers will want to reread to see how everything fits in this amazing thriller. (LJ 12/15)


By Karen M. Core

royal we_resizedCocks, Heather & Jessica Morgan. The Royal We. Grand Central. ISBN 9781455557103. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781455557127. F
In this Cinderella-esque tale, an American student at Oxford (who’s a lot like Kate ­Middleton) meets a fellow student who happens to be a prince (and is a lot like Prince William). As their relationship blossoms, Bex must decide if the love of her life is worth the trouble of becoming a royal. (LJ 3/15/15)

Freeman, Kimberley. Evergreen Falls. Touchstone. ISBN 9781476799902. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781476799933. F
Laura, a young woman working as a waitress in a resort area of Australia, happens upon hidden love letters sent by Violet, a maid at the resort during its heyday nearly 90 years prior. Laura becomes engrossed in the mysteries of the past even as romance blossoms in her present. (LJ 7/15)

Higgins, Kristan. If You Only Knew. HQN: Harlequin. ISBN 9780373784974. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781460382233. F
Jenny, a divorced wedding dress designer, moves from Manhattan to her small hometown to get away from her ex-husband. When her sister’s marriage also falters, the siblings must pick up the pieces of their happily-ever-afters. (LJ 8/15)

Liftin, Hilary. Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper. Viking. ISBN 9780670016419. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698137691. F
Lizzie Pepper is an up-and-coming starlet when she meets and falls for charming megastar Rob Mars, whom she eventually marries. Her story is told in this faux memoir inspired by tabloids and written by a celebrity ghostwriter. (LJ 5/1/15)

Weiner, Jennifer. Who Do You Love. Atria. ISBN 9781451617818. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781451617832. F
Andy and Rachel, two preteens from opposite sides of the tracks, form a bond in a hospital emergency room, then move in and out of each other’s lives for years. All the while the possibility that their love will overcome their differences becomes more and more uncertain. (Xpress Reviews, 8/7/15)