Best of 2017
Sarah's Top 5 of 2017:
Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout -- A companion to “My Name is Lucy Barton,” I loved this book for its portrait of small town relationships. What does it feel like to go back to the place you have outgrown to visit those who stayed behind?
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward -- Drawing on the literary traditions of the south, this NBA award winning book is replete with ghosts, a road trip, and redemption. Poetic and profound, Ward is every bit the genius the Macarthur foundation deems her to be.
Exit West by Moshin Hamid -- Exit West is an intoxicating epic of slender build. The writing is spare and sometimes reads like gospel. By the end of this brilliant book about assimilation and the permanence and impermanence of our lives, I was in tears and had to sit still for a bit to reflect
Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin -- This is on the list for its timeliness and the fact that every day when I read and watch the news, I’m reminded of the beguiling character of Jane Young and her fate. Every woman and man who wants to know how to navigate the workplace would do well to add this book to their reading list.
Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott -- Just read the first paragraph to understand how some writers can capture a whole life in a few sentences. Then stay around for a provocative multigenerational novel dealing with mortality, memory, and faith.
Rebekah's Top 5 of 2017:
Exit West by Moshin Hamid
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
Men Without Women: Stories by Haruki Murakami
Anna's Top 5 of 2017:
Walking to Listen by Andrew Forsethofel -- Andrew graduates from college and decided to walk across America Pennsylvania to California and record peoples stories. A look at the every day people who make up our country. Great insight is shared by all he meets
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent -- Gabriel Tallent is one of the most incredible writers this year. His story told through the eyes of a young girl Turtle of her life of abuse and torture by her father and her determination to rise above it is so well written that it is impossible to put down once you have started.
Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyn -- John Boyne takes us on a lifetime journey from Ireland to America during the times when gay men were not accepted with the life of Cyril as he grows into a man who accepts his gay life and leads it well.
The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs -- Nina Riggs is pregnant with her first child and has cancer. This is her beautifully written memoir of her journey and gift she leaves her daughter. It’s a story of hope,pain and one woman’s fight to last until her child is born
Beartown by Fredrik Backman -- Fredrik Backman only gets better which each novel. He expands his character development to include an entire town who had the main focus a maintaining a winning hockey team and what that will cost all involved. A book you laugh with and cry and one that stays with you.
Melissa's Top 5 of 2017:
All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater -- If there's a new Maggie Stiefvater book out, it will (most likely) be on my best-of list. She's just that good. And this one is a great entry into her writing (if you've never read her books!) and the way she weaves a story. It really is storytelling at its finest.
Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin -- With the #metoo campaign this fall, this book is incredibly relevant. It's also a deeply felt look at mothers and daughters and the way society perceives women. Excellent.
Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend -- Descriptive words come to mind: fun, whimsical, clever, intriguing, and delightful. Great for kids of all ages.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas -- Yes, it got a lot of hype. But it completely lives up to it. Not just a great "issue" book, but a compelling and well-told story as well.
Real Friends by Shannon Hale/LeUyen Pham -- This one is for my sixth-grade self, who needed to read this book if only to realize that being part of the "in" crowd isn't really what it was cracked up to be. So very good.
Todd's Top 5 of 2017:
Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne -- British and American ex-pats behaving badly in the Greek Islands--Osborne is on a roll. This hybrid of Graham Greene and The Talented Mr. Ripley sneaks up on you in the manner of Osborne's other works. If you told me that Alfred Hitchcock needed something to read in retirement, I'd sell him this.
IQ by Joe Ide -- The rightly acclaimed first of a series featuring detective Isaiah Quintabe, an unlikely Sherlock Holmes of the here and now. Great mystery, entertaining, original characters, spot-on dialogue, and scenes that stay in your head. I loved following Isaiah (IQ) around as he tried to figure out who put a hit on an LA rap musician.
The Burning Girl by Claire Messud -- This novel was the November Books & Bites book club pick. I dove in hoping I'd be able to get interested in this coming-of-age story about a friendship between adolescent girls, along with the class and familial issues that complicate their lives. Messud, as it turns out, is a master of subtle storytelling, and I'm glad I read the book.
Exit West by Moshin Hamid -- This philosophical novel about two characters--Nadia and Saeed--caught in a terror-stricken country memorably challenges storytelling conventions while keeping you interested in the fates of Nadia and Saeed. The author gets off some nice poetic riffs of the long sentence variety.
Prussian Blue by Philip Kerr -- This must be the fourth year in a row that Kerr's Bernie Gunther series makes my list. Those who follow the series know what I'm talking about--Gunther is still good even when he might not be as good as he was in that other one. This one probably lands somewhere in the upper middle: great storytelling about a depressed yet mirthful detective in a morass of World War II Nazi double-dealing.
Sue's Top 5 of 2017:
Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin -- Helprin's prose is exceptionally touching and beautiful. This is the story of Jules Lacour, a 74-year-old maitre at the Sorbonne, caught up in intrigues of the past and present.
The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan -- This is the true story of the collaboration of George Vanderbilt, landscape architect Frederick Olmsted, and architect Richard Morris Hunt, to create the astounding 175,000 square foot chateau and North Carolina Estate which, unlike other Gilded Age treasures, has endured into the 21st century. And how it has had to change and adapt to preserve George's legacy and to become a financially viable enterprise.
The Novel of the Century, the Extraordinary Adventure of Les Miserables by David Bellos -- Bellos tells us how Hugo amazingly succeeded in writing Les Miserables "despite a revolution, a coup d'etat, and political exile". The title says it all.
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz -- A fascinatingly clever book within-a-book, a la Agatha Christie.
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson -- Isaacson examines not just artworks, but voluminous notebooks and drawings to reveal more than an artist, but also an inventor, medical examiner, engineer, and innovator. His genius lay in combining curiosity, art, and engineering.
Lindsey's Top 5 of 2017:
Homesick for Another World by Otessa Moshfegh
The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard
The Platagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones
What the Dinosaurs Did Last Night: A very messy adventure by Refe Tuma, Susan Tuma -- My three year old nephew LOVES these books. I had to buy both again because he read them and carried them around until they disentegrated.
Kris's Top 5 of 2017:
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon -- This is the book you get when The Handmaid's Tale and Toni Morrison have coffee together. Just read it; any other description will fall short of how fantastic it is.
An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard -- A fun take on magic, backstabbing alliances and a hidden world, strong female characters, and a deadly tournament. What's not to love?
There's Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins -- Like the old 90's horror movies? This one is for you.
Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero -- Scooby Doo meets Cthulhu. A great fix for both your 70's nostalgia and your ancient, world-ending monster needs.
Himself by Jess Kidd -- "It is a truth universally unacknowledged that when the dead are trying to remember something, the living are trying harder to forget it." An Irish orphan returns to the town he was born in, to try and discover what really happened to his mother and himself when he was born. Fun, quirky, irreverent.
Shirley's Top 5 of 2017:
The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott -- When a troubled Irish immigrant commits suicide, his young widow and unborn daughter are taken under the wings of the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor who serve their Irish-American community in early 20th century Brooklyn. Through the elegant simplicity of her prose, McDermott demonstrates how the lives of ordinary characters living their everyday lives can prove extraordinary. Lovely and lyrical, Alice McDermott's writing is--as always—exquisite. If you're looking for an action-packed plot, look elsewhere. But if, instead, you want to be transported to another time and place, McDermott's subtle, quiet storytelling will take you there.
Shadow of the Lions by Christopher Swann -- I like supporting new authors, and this literary thriller makes that easy to do. Set in an elite boarding school in Virginia, Shadow of the Lions is reminiscent of John Knowles' A Separate Peace, especially in its exploration of friendship, betrayal, guilt, and redemption. When struggling writer Matthias Glass is hired to teach English at his alma mater, he has the perfect opportunity to solve the mystery behind his former roommate's disappearance a decade ago and to lay to rest the secrets of the past so that he can move on with his life. Filled with surprise twists and turns, this one will keep you guessing!
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann -- I've spent more time talking about his book than any other this year...and for good reason. This National Book Award finalist reads like a literary mystery instead of the well-researched non-fiction story it is. Plus, it has regional appeal as it all takes place just south of us on the Osage Reservation in Oklahoma. After oil is discovered on their land in the 1920s, the Osage were some of the richest people per capita in the world. When they mysteriously began to die, the newly-formed FBI undertook its first major homicide case with former Texas Ranger Tom White taking the lead. The greed, corruption, and cruelty White uncovered is both astonishing and depressing, and Grann's riveting account of this appalling conspiracy will leave you shaking your head in disbelief.
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel -- After surviving a harsh existence in a makeshift shelter in the northern Maine woods for 27 years and repeatedly burglarizing the local summer cabins for supplies, Christopher Knight was arrested. What prompted this 22-year-old's extreme experiment in survivalism? Knight wanted to be alone. This non-fiction book is based on Finkel's interviews with Knight in jail; he also deftly explores a history of hermits and the psychology of solitude. Definitely an illustration of how truth can be stranger than fiction!
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders -- Saunders' experimental approach makes this like no other book I've ever read...and I actually listened to it AS I read the words on the page (a method I highly recommend). Based on the death of Abraham and Mary Lincoln's eleven-year-old son Willie and the President's grieving nighttime return to his son's crypt, Lincoln in the Bardo is filled with love and loss, regrets and recriminations among the living and the dead. But it is ultimately an uplifting testament to what matters most in this life and in the afterlife. Saunders' novel can at times be both bawdy and heartbreaking, filled with historical facts and historical fiction. And with its large cast of characters, Lincoln in the Bardo is somewhat challenging, but it's well worth the effort!
Andrew's Top 5 of 2017:
The Fire This Time by Jesmyn Ward -- "It's an ode to James Baldwin's 1963 staple The Fire Next Time. This book comments on what it's like to be a black person in a time where racism has grown into something more than segregation and blatant discrimination.
Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman -- "A coming-of-age novel that explores the inimate relationship between young Italian boy and his father's American student."
Nature as Measure by Wes Jackson -- "I learned about Wes Jackson when I visited the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas— a non-profit research organization that works to create a sustainable agricultural system that utilizes perennial crops as opposed to annual crops. This book embraces an ecological ethic that I think we all can benefit from."
Letters to a Young Farmer by Martha Hodgkins -- "Now more than ever we are seeing a decline in the number of farmers in the United States. This book is a collection of essays that inspire young minds to emgage in the processes that keep all of us fed and functioning."
The Worm and the Bird by Coralie Bickford-Smith -- "An existential look at what it means to want things in a world that seems so against you."
Robin's Top 5 of 2017:
The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs -- Mother, daughter, wife, and oh yeah... dying from breast cancer. Nina Riggs manages to write about family and loss and saying goodbye with beautiful, life affirming candor. And joy.
The Five Invitations by Frank Ostaseski -- "To imagine that at the time of our dying we will have the physical strength, the emotional stability, and mental clarity to do the work of a lifetime is a ridiculous gamble. This is an invitation to sit down with death, to have a cup of tea with her, to let her guide you toward living a more meaningful and loving life.”
Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes on My Dementia by Gerda Saunders -- With rich language and intense imagery, Gerda allows us to witness her impending loss of words and memory as she descends into the rabbit hole called Alzheimer’s. This journal is important.
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finley -- At 20 years old, Christopher Knight decided ON A WHIM to disappear and live in the deep forests of Maine. Alone. With no supplies or shelter. How he survived physically and emotionally is fascinating.
Gorilla and the Bird: A Memoir of Madness and a Mother’s Love by Zack McDermott -- Zach is a local hero; he grew up in Wichita and became a Public Defender in NY. When he experienced a psychotic break with reality, he learned exactly how the system deals with mental illness. And how his mother was his strongest defense and champion.
Anastasia's Top 5 of 2017:
What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah -- Ranging from realistic to speculative, Lesley Nneka Arimah’s brilliantly empathetic short stories explore the complexity of familial relationships, often full of love, hurt, and disappointment.
The Power by Naomi Alderman -- A power long-dormant in women everywhere begins to wake up, instantly flipping the balance of power. Alderman’s complex treatment of gender politics is reminiscent of Margaret Atwood and earned her the 2017 Baileys Prize.
Amatka by Karin Tidbeck -- Karin Tidbeck’s short novel is a meditation on truth and the profound power of words to shape reality, set in an authoritarian state that is in constant danger of dissolution.
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon -- In the wake of an Earth finally rendered completely inhospitable to life, “An Unkindness of Ghosts” finds the last vestige of humanity returned to a divinely-ordained system of slavery aboard a generation ship. One intrepid misfit’s explorations in the bowels of the ship may hold revelations about the path it has been on for centuries.
Baking With Kafka by Tom Gauld -- And for a lighter pick, Tom Gauld’s latest collection of comics (written for The Guardian) is full of spoofs of classic literature and other jokes perfect for readers.
Lauren's Top 3 of 2017:
Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh -- Homesick for Another World is what I imagine a female Charles Bukowski would write. Lying somewhere just out of Miranda July and Jenny Zhang's reach, Ottessa Moshfegh has managed to take what are usually external morbid fascinations with others to a private viewing of the discomfiting internal world that these characters inhabit.
Ritz & Escoffier: The Hotelier, The Chef, and the Rise of the Leisure Class by Luke Barr -- I had always assumed that luxury hotels were somehow a natural transition from aristocratic values to achievable travel standards. In a way, this was Cesar Ritz's personal avowal to make life in his luxury hotels so comfortable that you barely even noticed that you weren't at home, and the work that went into that is absolutely fascinating. This is the man inspired the word "ritzy," as nothing else could quite capture that level of decadence and attention to detail. The other half of this ultimate business power duo, Auguste Escoffier, is the man credited for designing the modern kitchen arrangement and the division of duties that made delivering massive amounts of haute cuisine possible. He also kept meticulous notes on the reactions that important or regular guests had to the items that he served, and tailored every forthcoming trip to his restaurant to their preferences. UNBEKNOWNST TO THEM.
Spinning by Tillie Walden -- I have a huge thing for graphic novel memoirs, and Tillie Walden has filled that slot for me this year. First of all ,she's NINETEEN. And this is her 3rd or 4th book?! The composition of her narrative is hushed, concentrated, and introspective. It's exactly what I was looking for.
Anne's Top 5 of 2017:
Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh
Girl Walks out of a Bar by Lisa Smith
Pieces of Happiness by Anne Ostby
Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein
Traveling with Ghosts by Shannon Leone Fowler
Kate's Top 5 of 2017:
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas -- Everyone needs to read this book. It is incredibly powerful and important in today's society.
Beartown by Fredrik Backman -- My favorite of Backman's books so far, the story will keep you hooked from beginning to end. I couldn't stop talking about it for days.
They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera -- Yes this book will make you cry, but it is so wonderfully written it is totally worth the sobbing.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone -- Similar to The Hate U Give, I think everyone should read this book. It only took me about three hours and I was so moved by the entire thing I texted a few people immediately after and told them to pick it up.
No Good Deed by Goldy Moldavsky -- This book is absolutely hysterical. I laughed from page 1. After all the heavy reads throughout the year, this was exactly the light-hearted fun I needed.
Shelly's Top 5 of 2017:
Touch by Courtney Maum -- Touch is a prescient portrayal of what's lacking in a society obsessed with the next best thing for technology. Maybe it's a bed that monitors if we're sleeping alone, or perhaps a sleek, second-skin suit that monitors our every movement.
A Conjuring of Light by VE Schwab -- Through masterful and well-placed flashbacks, Schwab manages to imbue these other characters with motivation that is believable and compelling. The enemies of the Maresh throne must work together to defeat an embodiment of the purest, most elemental magic, an osoch.
The Assistants by Camille Perri -- Think 9 to 5 meets Smokey and the Bandit - and for those who miss the 1980s movie references, think Andy from The Devil Wears Prada meets the grit and gumption of Hannah from Girls. You *need* this book in your bag.
October by China Mieville -- On the centennial of the 1917 Red Revolution, Mieville's book is a compact retelling of the months leading up to October. It's a great, historical refresher course through events that changed the course of politics around the world.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman -- Eleanor is like many heroines of literature: she has a dark past and must overcome it to find her own happiness. The struggles she endures - and they're dark indeed - help her realize that she can be loved and can love others (even a cat named Glen) unconditionally.