Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Annual List - 2017 Edition

Dear Readers,

The books I read this year challenged me, comforted me, educated me, and filled me with joy. I took part in the Harbor Springs Festival of the Book in September where I introduced sixteen authors and heard many more speak. Reading their books broadened the scope of what I usually read. Jessie Chaffee, the author of Florence in Ecstasy and one of the Festival’s featured authors, further challenged my reading habits. Jessie introduced me to Words without Borders, a site promoting international literature,, where she is an editor. My reading goal for 2018 is to read more international literature and thus to expand my worldview. My first selection based on a review on the Words without Borders site was Sweet Bean Paste, an endearing Japanese novel by Durian Sukegawa. After reading it, I realized that this blog needed a new review category so I added SBP to honor Sweet Bean Paste for inspiring the addition. This category will denote international books and translated books. I hope it inspires you to read more contemporary international literature.
May the following synopses of the books I read this year help you choose titles to entertain, inform, test, edify, and educate you and those you love. If you’d like to print the list for your personal use, a pdf version appears in the pages section to the right or you may email for a printer-friendly word version.

Do yourself a favor this year, form a relationship with the booksellers at your local independent bookstore. Talk with them, tell them the books you’ve loved and those you found lacking. They’re good at what they do and they’ll soon find titles just for you. They might even save you money as you won’t buy books you don’t enjoy.

May your holidays be filled with books,
(The photograph is of a book tree my daughter created with books she found in one of my many bookcases. A Nancy Pearl action figure is the tree topper.)

Hungry for Good Books? Annual Book List for 2017

©Copyright November 29, 2017, by Trina Hayes
Letters after each selection designate the book as CC: Chinese Carryout (page-turners, great for plane rides), D: Desserts (delightful indulgences), DC: Diet Coke and Gummi Bears (books for teens and young adults), G: Gourmet (exquisite writing, requires concentration), GPR: Grandma’s Pot Roast (books that get your attention and stick with you), GS: Grits (evocative of the American south), OC: Over Cooked (good ingredients, but overwritten), PBJ: Peanut Butter and Jelly (children’s books adults will like), PP: Pigeon Pie (historical fiction set at least 50 years ago),  R: Road Food (audio books for road trips and more), S: Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet (satire, irony, black humor, acquired taste), SBP: Sweet Bean Paste (translated and international books), SF: Soul Food (spirituality, theology, books for your soul), SN: Super Nutrition (lots of information, yet tasty as fresh blueberries), and T: Tapas (small bites including short stories, novellas, essays, and poetry). The letters BC denote books for book clubs.  Asterisks (*) depict the most outstanding titles in each designation. The plus sign (+) is for books I recommend with some limitations. The number sign (#) is for books with full reviews on my blog. All books listed were published in 2017 unless noted otherwise.
General Fiction and Poetry

+Ball, Charlene, Dark Lady: a Novel of Emilia Bassano Lanyer depicts the life and loves of an orphan who became a published poet in 1611. Anglophiles will especially love this novel portraying the “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets and her passionate and troubled relationship with the Bard. Ball evocatively reveals Emilia Bassano Lanyer's time in Queen Elizabeth’s court as the mistress of a nobleman. PP/SN
*#Backman, Fredrik, Beartown is a wondrous tale of family, friendship, love, and hope packed with unique characters. If you love hockey you’ll adore Beartown. If you don’t care a whit about hockey, you’ll still love Beartown.  I loved Backman’s A Man Called Ove, but Beartown is a stronger book. It’s more nuanced, yet it has the heart and humor that was the best of Ove. The tragedy at the heart of the novel is compelling because the novel’s characters take root in the reader’s heart. The setting in an isolated Swedish village adds to the intrigue and the narrator’s aphorisms enhance the tale. It’s my choice for the best book of 2017! GPR/SBP/SF, BC
*Baume, Sara, Spill, Simmer, Falter, Wither is a heartbreaker about an isolated man on Ireland’s coast who begins to open to a seriously injured, one-eyed dog he adopts. Seen through four elegiac seasons, the novel’s language is pure poetry. Here’s a taste: “It’s at low tide that the wading birds come. Oystercatchers with their startled eyes, redshanks scurrying tetchily on strawberry legs, little egrets freshly laundered, whiter than white.” Such sentences account for the novel’s critical acclaim and award nominations. The book’s startling climax fits the unsettling atmosphere of the entire tome. G/SBP (2016)
*Bennett, Brit, The Mothers inhabits the lives of three 17-year-olds in a small, African-American, California community. Nadia is grieving after her mother’s suicide. Best friend Aubrey suffers from abuse and boyfriend Luke’s accident cost him his football career. “The Mothers,” the church ladies of Luke’s father’s church, narrate and shape their stories like an interfering Greek chorus. Exquisite writing. G/SF (2016)
Blume, Judy, In the Unlikely Event places the reader in 1951 and 1952 Elizabeth, NJ where 118 people died in three separate plane crashes near the Newark airport. The book shows the lives of several teenagers at the time and how class, status, religion, and family had an effect on their actions. My book club discussed this and we enjoyed how Blume evoked the period and the pop culture of the time but felt there were too many characters and contrivances for it to be a great novel. OC/SN, BC (2015)
+Boyne, John, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, In 1945 in a small Irish town, a parish priest denounces sixteen-year-old, pregnant Catherine and banishes her. This novel, narrated by Cyril, the son Catherine gave up, who was adopted by a wealthy couple, shows the evolution of Ireland through Cyril and Catherine. Cyril escapes Ireland for decades and lives openly as a gay man without fear of Irish laws. This 580-page odyssey’s humor and passion elevate it. Named a “Great Group Read” by the Women’s National Book Association for 2017, it’s perfect for book clubs. GPR/PP/SBP, BC
*Buntin, Julie, Marlena is a beautifully composed elegy detailing Cat’s bond with Marlena in rural, northern Michigan where alcohol, drugs, and meth wreaked havoc. Still damaged and drinking heavily, Cat looks back as a married New York adult, viewing her year-long, intense friendship with Marlena. The reader falls into Marlena’s downward spiral and worries about Cat. This requiem of desperation is made bearable by Buntin’s exquisite writing. G, BC
*#Butler, Nickolas, The Hearts of Men feels like sitting around a campfire listening to stories with your buddies. It opens in 1962 when Nelson, a thirteen-year-old boy with no friends, welcomes Jonathan, a popular fifteen-year-old, into his life. Adventures at a northern Wisconsin Boy Scout camp over the decades highlight the importance of being brave, truthful, honest, and caring. It’s a wonder. Named a “Great Group Read” by the Women’s National Book Association for 2017, it’s perfect for book clubs. G/GPR, BC
+Chaffee, Jessie, Florence in Ecstasy is an affecting debut novel. Hannah, a 29-year-old woman who’s lost her job and boyfriend in Boston because of an eating disorder, attempts to escape her problems by taking a long trip to Florence, Italy. She joins a rowing club, meets a kind and charming Italian, and learns about saints who achieved religious ecstasy by starving themselves. Always close to the edge, the novel explores the difficulties of changing while remaining true to self. The honesty and beauty of the writing make this a sharp, if sometimes, painful, novel. Chaffee is one to watch. G/SN, BC
*Corthron, Kia, The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter is a magnificent saga of 789 pages taking the reader from 1942 with two white brothers in a small town in Alabama and two black brothers in a small town in Maryland to revisiting their lives in 1959-60, 1983, and 2010. The horror of the Ku Klux Klan is palpable and makes you feel what it might have been like in the rural south. There’s so much here. The prose is pure perfection yet it never interferes with the incredible characters or story. Stick with the unusual language of the first 100 pages as the rest of the novel is more accessible. G/PP, BC (2016)
*Dempsey, Joan, This Is How It Begins, the 2017 Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Award winner is a page turner of buried secrets, free speech, and religious bias focusing on Ludka, an 85-year-old artist whose grandson is one of many gay teachers fired in Massachusetts on a single day for their intolerance toward Christian students. Ludka’s past in WWII Poland, a lost painting, and a caring, conservative radio host are a winning combination. A perfect book club choice for these contentious times! GPR/PP/SN, BC
+Erdrich, Louise, LaRose, In the summer of 1999, Landreaux Iron shoots a deer and inadvertently kills his five-year-old nephew.  Looking to ancient native traditions for guidance, Landreaux convinces his wife to give their own beloved five-year-old son, LaRose, to her half-sister’s family to somewhat settle the score. As always, Erdrich illuminates love, loss, and justice with her own miraculously invented microcosm of the world. A child shall lead us meets native culture in a novel with much to ponder. G/SF/SN, BC (2016)
+Ford, Jamie, Love and Other Consolation Prizes is a heart-warming romance set in 1901 and 1962 in Seattle. Ernest Young or “Young Ernest” was sent by his dying Chinese mother to Seattle as she couldn’t feed him and life for a half white and half Chinese boy would be hard. When he’s auctioned to the highest bidder, he becomes a servant in a high class Seattle brothel where he meets two girls he loves. GPR/PP
+Francis, David, The Great Inland Sea is an elegant, quiet novel. After his mother dies, young Day leaves New South Wales to become the caretaker of a racehorse that he accompanies to the U.S. He falls in love with a gritty American girl who wants to become a jockey and finally returns to New South Wales to reconcile with his past. G/SBP, BC
*Fridlund, Emily, History of Wolves is such an exquisitely honed symphony of sentences that it almost defies belief that it’s a debut novel. Weaving an eerily gothic tale, the book follows teenage Linda who lives with her parents in a rundown former commune on a remote Minnesota lake. When the Gardner family moves in across the lake, Linda is drawn to the mother as she babysits for four-year-old Paul. Watching Linda’s observations is addictive in this character-driven gem. The climax adds a touch of a suspense thriller with its surprising twist. Man Booker Prize finalist G, BC
*Gay, Roxane, Difficult Women is a collection of gut-wrenching short stories. “Florida” tells the story of several people in a gated community. “La Negra Blanca” illustrates racial and sexual power and intimidation. “North Country” features an African-American woman engineering professor who takes a two-year position at Michigan Tech where everyone assumes she’s from Detroit. These raw tales make us uncomfortable so we pay attention as Gay’s prose enthralls us.  Her words made me gasp. “My husband’s family is religious. . . Their God is angry and unkind because they made him in their image.” This profane, raw book of stories contains some of the most astute sentences I’ve ever read. G/S/T, BC
+George, Alex, Setting Free the Kites features two endearing adolescent boys who meet in 1976 when Nathan moves to a small Maine town where Robert’s family owns a run-down amusement park. After tragedy hits both their families, the boys’ friendship saves them. Reminiscent of the quirky characters and setting of A Prayer for Owen Meany, this is a touching coming-of-age novel that soars like a kite. GPR, BC
+Godwin, Gail, Grief Cottage illustrates the unseen impact of hidden grief and fear. After eleven-year-old Marcus’s mother dies in an accident, he moves into a cottage on a South Carolina island with his only relative who he’s never met. His Aunt Charlotte often paints “Grief Cottage,” where a boy and his parents disappeared fifty years previously in a hurricane. Marcus makes a daily pilgrimage to the cottage seeking answers while Charlotte’s memories haunt her. Marcus is a sweet and gripping character. GPR/SF, BC
*Habash, Gabe, Stephen Florida is a small college wrestler who’s wrestling with the death of his parents and of the grandmother who raised him after the accident that took his parents. He’s a strange bird and his sense of justice is frightening as it’s coupled with his arrested development and depression. Reminiscent of Bill Roorbach’s Life Among Giants and Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, this is a testosterone-infused coming-of-age gem for everyone. Fabulous writing and insight. G/SN, BC
+Haigh, Jennifer, Heat & Light focuses on the fracking boom in western Pennsylvania. Rich, a prison guard, leases mineral rights so he can farm, but his water may now be poisoning his daughter and the noise of the trucks disturb the peace. The book examines the fate of drillers, activists, and local organic dairy farmers whose lives change. Good writing keeps this from being preachy. GPR/SN (2016)
*Hamid, Mohsin, Exit West, Wow, Hamid, the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, one of my all-time favorites, creates a world with doors instead of borders, a world that makes the reader ponder so many “what-ifs.” Nadia and Saeed fall in love in the midst of their country’s civil war and learn to enter new worlds that challenge everything they’ve ever believed. As they are transported to other countries, we see what could be but still is not. “We are all migrants through time.” This novel shows how we each live as migrants even when we choose to stay in our safe places where we ignore what’s around us. It was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and the Kirkus Prize. G, BC
*Hartnett, Annie, Rabbit Cake, Elvis, a precocious ten-year-old girl whose mother drowned while sleepwalking, tries to cope with her grief while her father turns to a parrot for solace and her fifteen-year-old sister’s problems mount as she bakes rabbit-shaped cakes. Man Booker Prize longlist GPR/D, BC
Hepworth, Sally, The Things We Keep is a surface portrait of two tough subjects. At 38, Anna has Alzheimer’s and has moved into an assisted-living home where she meets Luke, a man near her age who has a dementia that affects his speech. Will loving Luke dispel her desire to die? Eve, a young widow whose former husband’s shenanigans leave her and daughter Clementine penniless, works at the home and tries to help Anne and Luke. Clementine is a bright spot in this less-than-fulfilling novel without clearly defined characters. My book club discussed it with mixed reactions. OC (2016)
*Honeyman, Gail, Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine could be titled “a British Woman Called Ove.” Elinor is damaged and avoids human connection until she can’t resist it. She’s 30 but acts like she’s 90 and is prudish, clueless, cantankerous, and pig-headed AND you’ll love her. No spoilers, just read it. D/GPR/SBP, BC
+Hood, Ann, The Book That Matters Most is an ode to the healing power of books. After her 25-year marriage falls apart, Ava joins a book club where each member is to tell about the book that matters most to them, but Ava’s choice doesn’t seem to exist. Her quest to find the book and reexamine the secrets in her past while connecting with the other book club members is charming. It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s a book many women and their book clubs will adore. GPR/SN, BC
*Hubbard, Ladee, The Talented Ribkins, Johnny Ribkins has five days to pay off a debt or he’s in deep trouble. A masterful, imaginative mapmaker, Johnny has buried money throughout Florida so he sets off with a niece he didn’t know existed and catches up with people from his civil rights activist past. A very wry take on race relations with a touch of magical realism in an extraordinarily imaginative novel! It won the 2017 Ernest J. Gaines Award. S/SN, BC
*Jackson, Joshilyn, Almost Sisters is the perfect escape read in that it quickly captures the reader then offers a touch of romance along with great dialogue and a story that makes you think. Leia is a well-known graphic artist and her Violence and Violet tales are quite popular. Her concerns have to take a back seat when her ninety-year-old grandmother needs her and her family seems to be imploding. You may think this novel is fluff until the issues grab you. GPR/GS, BC
Jenoff, Pam, The Orphan’s Tale depicts a World War II traveling circus. Noa saves a Jewish baby from a train on its way to the camps and Astrid is forced to leave her Nazi husband. Astrid teaches Noa to soar on the flying trapeze. The writing is second rate and the story, while well-paced, isn’t satisfying. PP
Kline, Christina Baker, A Piece of the World presents the story behind Christina, the woman in Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting Christina’s World. Wyeth aficionados may be disappointed in the lack of details about him as the focus is on the imagined Christina’s inner world as a spinster whose infirmities limit her exposure beyond farm and family. Kline’s empathy for Christina resonates, but the plot is thin. PP/SN, BC
*Ko, Lisa, The Leavers, a debut novel, won the 2016 Pen/Bellwether Prize for Fiction addressing issues of social justice and is a National Book Award finalist. It shows how a young Chinese boy, whose mother disappeared, leaves New York City and adjusts to adoption by a naive, caring white couple upstate. The heartbreaking portrait of a Texas detention center for allegedly illegal immigrants illuminates the plight of US immigrants. Deming, renamed Daniel, is a masterful character in a great novel. GPR/SN, BC
*Loory, Ben, Tales of Falling and Flying feels like a combination of Dr. Seuss and The Twilight Zone. The forty short, short stories are part parable, part metaphor and 100% imagination and wry humor. Yes, they’re strange; that’s why they grab our attention and focus us on things we’ve never noticed. The dodo who tried to be a chicken instead of himself, the squid who fell in love with the sun and shared everything he had, and the woman who could fly made me ponder, chuckle, and wonder at Lorry’s talent. Months after reading these stories, I’m still thinking about that dodo. S/SF, BC
*Machado, Carmen Maria, Her Body and Other Parties is a debut offering AND a National Book Award finalist. It features a dash of magical realism, a heavy portion of sexuality, and more imagination and invention than can be fathomed until you read it. The writing is magnificent. It’s as if Machado invented a new genre. “The Husband Stitch,” the collection’s first story, dazzles and unsettles the reader. Her twist on Law & Order SVU will change how you watch it. G/S, BC
+Mahajan, Karan, The Association of Small Bombs was a National Book Award finalist and the writing is crisp and searing. Two brothers are killed by a small bomb in a Delhi marketplace in 1996. Their 12-year-old Muslim friend, Mansoor, escapes with minor injuries. Mansoor starts college in the US but returns and becomes entwined with activist Ayub. Seeing events from the point of view of victims and their families and from the perpetrators forces the reader to live in the darkness. A tough, emotional ride. G, BC (2016)
*#McBride, Laura, ‘Round Midnight ‘s Las Vegas setting focuses on four women of different ages, ethnic backgrounds, and socio-economic status who sacrifice and make decisions based on love and fear. Masterful pacing, a tension-filled climax, and a credible ending make it a sure-fire winner. GPR, BC
*#McClain, Bren, One Good Mama Bone, When Sarah’s neighbor and best friend kills herself just after giving birth to a son, Sarah raises the child as her own. Not knowing how to be a mother, she learns from Mama Red, a cow raising a baby calf. When Sarah’s husband dies, she comes up with an ingenious scheme to save their farm. This 1950s era Southern gem is simply a fine story with heft. It touched me with its grownup similarities to Charlotte’s Web. Named a “Great Group Read” by the Women’s National Book Association for 2017, it’s perfect for book clubs. GS/GPR/PP, BC
*Ng, Celeste, Little Fires Everywhere, Two very different mothers, Mia, a wandering, free-spirited artist, and Elena who’s tied to her hometown and the privilege it offers if you just follow the rules, offer a portrait of 1990s suburbia. Their teenage children become inseparable until a battle involving Elena’s childhood friend’s quest to adopt a Chinese-American baby divides them. You’ll want to read this in one sitting then ponder its message for days. Tight plotting, conversational tone, and superb characters make this a winner. Choose it for your book club as you’ll want to discuss it the minute you finish it. It’s as good as her acclaimed debut Everything I Never Told You. G/GPR, BC
*#Omotoso, Yewande, The Woman Next Door explores the rivalry between two South African women. Hortensia, an 85-year-old, successful black designer originally from Barbados whose husband is dying, detests Marion. Marion, an 81-year-old, successful white architect left penniless after her husband’s recent death, has never liked Hortensia. “It was known that the two women shared hedge and hatred and they pruned both with a vim that belied their ages.” Will a catastrophe that throws them together break down the barriers between them? This novel is enlightening, entertaining, hopeful, honest and wry. Reading it embeds you in Cape Town as you watch two acerbic women recall their lives. Named a “Great Group Read” by the Women’s National Book Association for 2017, it’s perfect for book clubs. Mine loved it. GPR/SBP/SN, BC
*#Patrick, Phaedra, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a sentimental novel that will charm you, make you laugh, and brighten your worst day. This quintessentially British tale explores a father’s relationship with his children after their mother’s death when he examines their mother’s life before she met him through the charms he finds on a bracelet he didn’t know his wife owned. Listen to this on audio as the very British reader is an absolute delight. D/GPR/RT/SBP (2016)
*Perry, Sarah, The Essex Serpent, a Costa Award finalist, is set in 19th century England where Cora, a young widow, takes her 11-year-old son to the seaside and learns that a mythical sea serpent has returned to the town. Cora uses her knowledge of science and natural history to investigate and meets the local vicar whose concern about moral panic and the beliefs of his flock are at odds with her more scientific views. Yet, the two are drawn to each other. The evocation of the landscape is gorgeous in this tale that channels Dickens and novels like The Woman in White, Pride and Prejudice, and Wuthering Heights. GPR/PP/SBP, BC
+Picoult, Jodi, Small Great Things is based on the true story of white supremacist parents in Flint, MI who refused to let an African-American nurse touch their newborn baby. In Picoult’s page-turner, the baby dies and the nurse is charged with murder. Picoult narrates the story from three points of view, that of the nurse, of the racist father, and of the nurse’s white lawyer, a woman struggling with her own response to racism. Picoult used Debby Irving’s Waking Up White (see Nonfiction) for much of her information. The story is provocative and engaging, but the contrived ending is unnecessary. CC/SN, BC (2016)
*Redel, Victoria, Before Everything celebrates women’s friendships with exquisite prose and beauty. Five “Old Friends” recall and celebrate their lives as Anna’s lymphoma has returned and she’s under hospice care. As these funny, fearless, magnificent women celebrate each other, Redell embeds the reader into their lives. The writing dazzles in a novel that reminds us of friendship’s power and mortality’s boundaries. This is a book for women who cherish long-time friendships. What could be better? G/SF, BC
*Rekulak. Jason, The Impossible Fortress is pure escape, a delightful trip back to the 1980s where a group of fourteen-year-olds’ antics will make you smile. Will is a geek, a kid who loves writing code. He and his buddies plan to break into a stationery store, take copies of the Playboy issue featuring Vanna White, leave payment, and then sell color copies of Vanna to their friends who, like them, can’t buy the magazine because they’re too young. When Will cases the store, he meets Mary, the owner’s daughter, who knows more about programming than he does. Together they create a computer game for a contest, but everything goes awry. If you recall BASIC and 80s tunes, this is a must. D/GPR
*#Rooney, Kathleen, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk  is an elegantly penned ode to the power of walking in helping us make connections with ourselves, others, and our surroundings. Inspired by the life of poet and ad writer, Margaret Fishback, the highest paid female copywriter in the world in the 1930s, it offers a view of the world seen by professional women in the twentieth century. An evocative tale that’s worth reading if just for prose like this. “Among the many unsurprising facts of life that, when taken in aggregate, ultimately spell out the doom of our species, is this: People who command respect are never as widely known as people who command attention.” Rooney’s prose earns our respect. GPR/SN, BC
+Rose, Augustus, The Readymade Thief explores an underworld populated by the frightening “Station Master” and a cast of characters in search of a lost Marcel Duchamp artifact. Lee, a teen who escaped juvenile detention and a psych ward, works to survive and overcome her problems. This intriguing debut will make you think. The author, a Professor at the University of Chicago, is one to watch. S, BC
Ryan, Jennifer, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir, A notice pinned to the Chilbury (England) Village Hall on March 24, 1940, stated: “As all our male voices have gone to war, the village choir is to close following Cmdr. Edmund Winthrop’s funeral next Thursday. – The Vicar.”  Thus begins a flawed, yet charmingly romantic tale told in letters and diary entries written by a village of women coming together in the face of hardship to form a ladies’ choir. Venetia is a beautiful flirt. Her 13-year-old sister Kitty has the voice of an angel but her jealousy of Venetia causes major problems. Mrs. Tilling centers the village with her wise counsel, medical skills, and collegiality. The novel covers too many issues to handle them all well, yet it’s a tasty escape that anglophiles may enjoy. D/PP/SBP
+Shattuck, Jessica, The Women in the Castle explores the lives of three widows at the end of World War II. Marianne, whose husband was killed after trying to assassinate Hitler, returns to the family’s run-down Bavarian castle. She invites two other widows of the resistance and their children to live with her and the women work to survive. The novel evokes the lives of everyday survivors beautifully. GPR/PP/SN, BC
#Simsion, Graeme, The Best of Adam Sharp is not the best of Graeme Simsion. A playlist of songs for a romance in two parts begins with Adam meeting Angelina while playing piano in a pub when he’s working as an IT consultant in Australia. Fast forward 22 years as the two reconnect across continents and the story lags. Missing the charm and humor that made The Rosie Project sing, this novel is a slog. OC/SBP
+Sloan, Robin, Sourdough is an intriguing novel that explores the meaning of happiness via a young computer programmer who begins baking bread after receiving a unique sourdough starter. S
+Smith Dominic, The Last Painting of Sara De Vos offers a glimpse of the life of a Dutch female painter in the 1600s. She’s a composite of several master painters of the era and her tale intersects with that of Ellie, an art historian in 2000, who’s mounting an exhibit of Dutch women painters and in 1957 when Ellie forges one of the painter’s work. The last chapter of this uneven novel is exquisite. PP/SN, BC (2016)
*Sukegawa, Durian, Sweet Bean Paste is a philosophical gem featuring Tokue, an elderly disabled woman, who stops at Sentaro’s confectionary shop. Sentaro, an ex-con, leads a lonely existence making dorayaki, pancakes filled with sweet bean paste. Tokue’s bean paste is so delicious it’s almost a magical confection and as she teaches Sentaro how to make it, their friendship blossoms like the cherry trees outside the shop’s windows. The revelation of Tokue’s secret exposes her then leads Sentaro to an understanding of why we all exist. I found this Japanese delight on Words Without Borders,, a site all readers must follow. This is a poignant tale that magically avoids the sentimental. I named a new category after it. GPR/SBP/SF, BC (Published in Japan in 2013, English translation, 2017)
*#Summie, Caitlin Hamilton, To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts is a collection of ten spare, eloquent, grace-filled stories that offer readers a mirror into their souls. It reminds me of Kent Haruf’s writing in showing the beauty of ordinary people, in the quiet, composed manner of writing about loss and grieving, in the evocation of the landscape, and in the way that both authors leave me wanting more. Even if you think you don’t like short stories, you’ll enjoy these. G/T, BC
+Sykes, Plum, Party Girls Die in Pearls, See Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers for a treat.
*Tallent, Gabriel, My Absolute Darling features one of the most evil men in literature and one of the most resourceful girls as well. Turtle Alveston is fourteen and she cleans her Sig Sauer, her AR-15, and other guns daily. Her father also has an arsenal of weapons and instilling fear in everyone is his most valuable. Since Turtle’s mother’s death, she’s relied on her father for everything and is his “absolute darling.” There’s something amiss and when Turtle meets Jacob, she begins yearning for the life of a caring family and friends that she’s never had. The language is brilliant, the suspense captivating, the setting evocative, and the plot ingenious in this wonder of a debut novel. I could not put it down. G/GPR, BC
+Tinti, Hannah, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a suspense-filled saga that embeds the reader into the lives of Samuel, a reformed thief, and his daughter Loo. The opening sentences allow the reader a glimpse of Samuel and Loo’s lives. “When Loo was twelve years old her father taught her how to shoot a gun. He had a case full of them in his room, others hidden in boxes around the house.” The title refers to the twelve bullet holes Samuel carries in his body and how he got them. The novel is an adventure tale and a love story showing the ways we protect the people we love. GPR, BC
*Umrigar, Thrity, Everybody’s Son depicts the life of Anton, an African-American boy who enters foster care expecting his mother to return. David, his wealthy, white foster father, uses his power to keep Anton to compensate for his grief after the loss of his own son. When Anton becomes an adult and learns his true story, his identity and beliefs are challenged. A beautifully told look at racism and fear. GPR, BC
*Van Booy, Simon, Father’s Day distills the transformative power of love. Your book club must choose this one. After her parents die, six-year-old Harvey’s magnificent social worker and Harvey magically transform her angry, one-legged, ex-con uncle into what may be the perfect father. G/GPR/SF, BC (2016)
*Van Booy, Simon, The Illusion of Separateness tells tales of growing old, being disfigured by war, serving others, and atoning for past sins. The stories are woven remarkably into a stunning tapestry of a novel featuring foreshadowed connections and brilliant writing. Each character is remarkable. G, BC (2013)
*Ward, Jesmyn, Sing, Unburied Sing shows Ward’s amazing talent in Salvage the Bones wasn’t a one-hit wonder. The savage effect of slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration is made human in the lives of Jojo, Leonie, Mam, Pap, and their family as they suffer the pain of desperation. This is not a happy book, because Ward reflects reality. It won the National Book Award as did Salvage. Mississippi’s tortured history has given us a second Faulker and her name is Jesmyn Ward. Jojo is a perfect character who forces the reader to care about his world. G/SN, BC
+Weiss, Leah, If the Creek Don’t Rise, In 1970s Appalachia, pregnant teen Sadie’s husband beats her and her family won’t help her. Three kind women with different skills come to her aid while the preacher’s sister and her husband exhibit pure evil. The strong characters keep it from being melodramatic. GS
+Whittall, Zoe, The Best Kind of People, Everyone loves George Woodbury. He always wins teacher-of-the-year honors at the prep school where he teaches science and he’s beloved for disarming a man who brought a rifle into the school. Now charged with sexual misconduct with minors, his life and the lives of his nurse wife, 17-year-old daughter, and lawyer son are in ruins. The page-turner shows the effect a sexual crime charge has on a family and town. Masterful characterizations elevate this. GPR, BC
+Yarbrough, Steve, The Realm of Lost Chances Kristin and Cal Stevens, a couple in their fifties, relocate from California to Massachusetts after she loses her big university job and starts over at a small college outside Boston. Cal works on their new home and practices his music. Kristin is soon attracted to her brilliant young neighbor whose sense of failure and isolation matches hers. Loneliness and temptation lead to moral dilemmas in this boldly suspenseful tale with fully fleshed characters. GPR, BC (2013)

Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers
+Castillo, Linda, Among the Wicked is the eighth in the Kate Burkholder series featuring the police chief of an Ohio town who grew up Amish. In this entry, Burkholder goes undercover using her Amish roots to determine why a young girl died in a cult-like New York Amish sect. Interesting twists keep the reader turning the pages. CC (2016)
*Dionne, Karen, The Marsh King’s Daughter is a masterful, scintillating, psychological thriller. As Helena tells the story of growing up in the northern Michigan woods where her kidnapped mother and she were held in captivity, she also weaves the tale of her current life as a wife, mother, and happy maker and seller of jams and jellies. As a child, Helena only knew two other humans, her mother and father. She thought her life was normal and she loved hunting, fishing, and tracking. What she knew of the world came from old National Geographic magazines. This gripping mystery is exceptional. I guarantee it! GPR/CC, BC
*Drew, Alan, Shadow Man features Ben, a former LA cop now working homicide in his changing hometown when a serial killer strikes women who don’t lock their doors in this seemingly bucolic area. Ben’s troubled past make this much more than a simple police procedural. Ben’s relationships with his ex-wife, his daughter, and Vanessa, the medical examiner who sees what’s behind his defenses, are superbly drawn. Writing and voice set this apart from most mysteries. GPR, BC
+Flint, Emma, Little Deaths combines a noir murder mystery with an atmospheric literary novel set in Queens in 1965. Ruth, a “loose” woman who drinks too much, wakes up in her apartment to find that her young children are missing. When both are found dead, a conniving detective strives to prove that Ruth killed them while cub reporter Pete looks beyond the obvious. Inspired by a real case, the author portrays Ruth with skill. The opening is strong, the middle lags somewhat, but sticking with it will offer the reward of gripping trial scenes. Strong social issues make it one for book clubs. CC, BC
#Grisham, John, Camino Island starts off with a bang and ends in a fizzle. Don’t bother with this one. CC
*Highsmith, Patricia, The Talented Mt. Ripley is a classic mystery. It introduces the disturbingly amoral Tom Ripley who’s sent to Italy to convince an acquaintance to return to the US. While there, Ripley begins acting as if he were his friend and will let nothing interfere with his sinister goals. CC/PP (1955)
+Iles, Greg, The Bone Tree, the second installment in the Natchez Burning trilogy, brings back Mayor Penn Cage and his fiancé Caitlin Masters in a series of unlikely and tantalizing events. Tying together the Kennedy assassination and a planned State Police coup after Hurricane Katrina, this 800-pager stretched credulity beyond the edge but was still entertaining if you loved Natchez Burning. CC/SN (2015)
+Iles, Greg, Mississippi Blood completes Iles’ trilogy with a rip-roaring finish via Penn Cage’s father’s trial for the murder of his former nurse. Sharp characters abound including the notoriously evil, “worse-than-the-Klan” Double Eagle crew who continue to commit atrocities only Iles can make come alive. CC/SN 
+Johnson, Craig, Death Without Company begins with Mari Baroja’s death in a nursing home then moves 50 years into her past in the tight-knit Basque community where Sheriff Longmire finds connections to a fortune in coal-bed methane and strange family ties. The second in a smart, literary, compelling series set in Wyoming doesn’t disappoint and will keep fans of the TV series happy. CC (2006)
Krueger, William Kent, Sulfur Springs is the sixteenth in the Cork O’Connor series. Cork and his new wife Rainy race to Arizona in search of her son who’s disappeared. The drug war along the border and activists trying to help illegal immigrants create an atmosphere of distrust. Only for series fans. CC
+Masterman, Becky, Fear the Darkness, number two in the Brigid Quinn series, begins with Brigid’s 17-year-old niece moving in with Brigid and Carlo. Soon after Gemma-Kate’s arrival, Brigid’s dog is poisoned as are several parishioners during a church coffee hour. When a church visitor is found conveniently dead in the outdoor columbarium and Brigid begins suffering neurological symptoms, she wonders if all are tied to Gemma-Kate and to the earlier death of a teen. Even Carlo can’t seem to help Brigid. CC/SN (2014)
+Masterman, Becky, Rage Against the Dying is the first in the Brigid Quinn series and was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel and the CWA Dagger for Best Crime Novel of 2013. Brigid, a sixty-year-old former FBI agent left the bureau after she accidentally killed a man. A serial killer is on the loose near her desert home and she may know too much to be safe. Will her secrets hurt her? CC (2013)
+McCafferty, Keith, Crazy Mountain Kiss is the fourth in the fly fisherman, artist, detective series set in Montana. The cave pictographs in this one were an intriguing clue. CC/SN (2015)
*McCafferty, Keith, Buffalo Jump Blues, the fifth tale in the Sean Stranahan series, is more than a mystery; it’s an education. While entertaining the reader with the investigation of the ghastly death of a young Native American amidst the carnage left by a herd of buffalo tumbling to their demise, it informs the reader about the incongruous plight of the buffalo. With around 1000 wild Yellowstone bison being legally killed to reduce their numbers in the park, this tale pitting bison protectors against others rings true. McCafferty’s smooth prose and gripping story soar. “By the time Sean glimpsed the house on the hill, the sun had drawn its highlighter across the horizon. Long lines of birds were backlit in the telephone wires. Above them, to the east, the striated peaks of Glacier Park brooded above a gauze of fog.” GPR/SN, BC (2016)
*Miranda, Megan, All the Missing Girls deconstructs a story Nicolette Farrell thought she’d abandoned when she left her small town ten years previously when her best friend disappeared. Now engaged to the perfect man, Nic returns to help with her father and 23-year-old Annaleise disappears. Miranda backtracks in telling the tale with each chapter focusing on the previous day allowing readers to fall into Nic’s story. The eerie landscape is similar to that used by Tana French to mirror the plot. Megan Miranda’s “girls” are better than Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.  CC, BC (2016)
+Miranda, Megan, The Perfect Stranger, Leah Stevens follows her former roommate Emmy to a small Pennsylvania town after the implosion of her journalism career. Shortly after Leah begins teaching at the local high school, a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to Leah is found severely beaten and left for dead near Leah’s home -- then Emmy disappears. When Leah reports Emmy’s disappearance, there’s no evidence that Emmy exists and the plot turns. Gillian Flynn fans and lovers of unreliable narrators will devour this page-turner. CC, BC
*Penny, Louis, Glass Houses is the thirteenth tale in the magnificent saga of Superintendent Gamache and crime in Quebec. This time Gamache is testifying in a murder trial and things smell fishy. Once again, Penny elevates homicide to a moral and psychological dilemma and allows the light to shine. GPR, BC
+Roy, Lori, Let Me Die in His Footsteps is based on the last legal hanging in the US and told from the viewpoint of two generations of Kentucky women in 1936 and 1952 when a dead body is found and secrets revealed. The characters are strong and unique. CC/PP (2015)
+Silvis, Randall, Two Days Gone is a literary mystery with complex twists. When critically acclaimed, best-selling author Thomas Huston’s wife and three young children are found brutally murdered and he’s missing, nothing makes sense. No one including State Police Sgt. Ryan DeMarco, who has advised Huston on procedure for his novels, thinks that the author and beloved college professor could have committed murder, but why is he hiding and why do clues point to him? Telling the tale from both DeMarco and Huston’s viewpoints highlights their similarities and sorrows. GPR
+Sykes, Plum, Party Girls Die in Pearls Fashion journalist Sykes skewers the posh party girls and boys of 1980s Oxford as her heroine solves a whodunit. Fashion fun makes this a frothy treat. CC/D
*Tallent, Gabriel, My Absolute Darling, see Fiction for a description of a magnificent, suspense-filled, character-driven thriller of a debut novel with a truly evil father and his gritty, resourceful daughter. G/GPR, BC
*Ward. Jesmyn, Sing Unburied Sing deservedly won this year’s National Book Award for fiction. That this young woman has now won two fiction NBAs is rare, yet this and her previous novel Salvage the Bones are that exceptional.
+Ziskin, James W. No Stone Unturned. Ellie Stone, a 24-year-old reporter on a small-town newspaper in 1960, gets no respect until she begins investigating the murder of the beautiful daughter of a local judge in a seedy motel. The book makes the reader feel the discrimination working to stop Ellie and her grit and determination in overcoming it to find the killer. GPR/PP (2014)

+Bergner, Daniel, Sing for Your Life: A Story of Race, Music, and Family details Ryan Speedo Green’s rise from life as a kid in solitary confinement at age 12 to transcending his horrific environment to become a singer at the Metropolitan Opera. His success exemplifies Mr. Rogers’ adage about remembering “the helpers.” Teachers who fought for and encouraged Green made the difference between his ability to make it and what sadly might have been. SN/SF, BC (2016)
*#Bui, Thi, The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir shows what it’s like to be an immigrant in the U.S. while evoking the Viet Nam War’s legacy. It also illustrates the way love and parenthood change our view of our parents and ourselves. This magnificent graphic memoir offers hope over fear. GPR/SN, BC
*Ford, Richard, Between Them: Remembering My Parents is a two-part reminiscence of author Richard Ford’s parents. He paints concise portraits of each parent and of their being a unit that he, an only child, invaded. His remembrances express his keen eye for details and his deep love for his parents. G/T, BC
*Gay, Roxane, Hunger is a searing remembrance of a horrific assault and how it influenced Gay’s life. When she was 12, Gay was gang-raped by boys her age. She hid the attack and buried her guilt feelings toward herself which led to her hunger and then to her weight gain. Gay offers a mesmerizing, yet frightening tale. I read it straight through and almost forgot to breathe. It’s both sad and riveting. G/SN, BC
+Good, Phyllis, Stock the Crock: 100 Must-Have Slow-Cooker Recipes is a useful, basic cookbook that would make a great gift for a new cook or someone learning to use a slow cooker. SN
*Grann, David, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, a finalist for the National Book Award, tells the “truth is stranger than fiction” tale of the murders of wealthy Osage Indians in the 1920s when they were among the wealthiest people in the U.S. due to oil on their land. As their death toll rose, the newly formed FBI took over the corrupt investigation. Couldn’t put it down! G/SN, BC
*Haedrich, Ken, The Harvest Baker: 150 Sweet & Savory Recipes Celebrating the Fresh-Picked Flavors of Fruits, Herbs & Vegetables is a gorgeous book filled with tempting and useful recipes for everyday and special events. Haedrich, the “Dean of the Pie Academy” is the king of crusts. A delectable winner! SN
*#Irving, Debby, Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race is a book every American must read. Learning about race and privilege through Irving’s story will inform your own view. My church spent four weeks discussing it and over sixty participants found it exceptional. I also was part of a discussion of it in northern Michigan where fifty women found it informative and important. SN, BC (2014)
+Kaling, Mindy, Why Not Me? is a perfect audio as Kaling narrates her own tale of rising fame, friendship, and the dedication and humor needed to succeed in show business. RT/S(2015)
+King, Carole, A Natural Woman chronicles King’s life from her start as a kid in New York to her rise to becoming one of the greatest composers and musical artists of all time. Her personal life took twists that inform much of her music but that stifled her creativity at times. RT/SN (2012)
*Markham, Beryl, West with the Night is a classic for a reason. I reread it for a book club and found that Markham’s incredible life story as a pilot and horse trainer still dazzles. SBP/SN (1942, Intro 2013)
*#Nutt, Amy Ellis, Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family chronicles an American family’s life as one of their identical twin toddler boys begins insisting that he’s a girl. Their stories of love and acceptance are exquisitely told. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author transforms their tale into a page-turner that educates as it captures the reader. When an endocrinologist asks his transgender patient to teach him, the patient says, “Sexual orientation is who you go to bed with . . . Gender identity is who you go to bed as.” Combining biology, research, and compelling stories, this soars. We had thirty people at a recent discussion of this at my church and all felt it to be excellent. G/GPR/SN, BC (2015)
+Pavlovitz, John, A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community explores the disconnect between many of today’s churches that profess love yet practice exclusion. Pushing for radical hospitality, authenticity, diversity, and an agenda-free community, Pavlovitz asks Christians to build a loving redemptive community that welcomes the LGBTQ community. This book is an excellent vehicle for sparking discussions in a church or elsewhere.  SF, BC
+Philp, Drew, A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City shows one young man’s quest to build community and overcome racism in a crime-ridden, neglected area of Detroit that the gentrification efforts have ignored. Philp’s story is maddening and inspirational. SN, BC
+Schwalbe, Will, Books for Living is a tribute to books that enter our lives when we need them. Readers of Schwalbe’s spectacular The End of Your Life Book Club will appreciate his suggestions of titles that address our desire to live full and meaningful lives. His enthusiasm for Lin Yutang’s The Importance of Living is contagious. I delighted in learning of several relatively unknown books he introduces and I concur with his take on most of the books we’ve both read. GPR/SN
+Stanton, Tom, Terror in the City of Champions: Murder, Baseball, and the Secret Society that Shocked Depression-Era Detroit combines crime, sports, and the 1930s history of Detroit in a fast-moving package. The baseball sections are the most compelling, but current and former Detroit residents will want to read the historical documentation of the Black Legion that threatened Detroit in the 1930s. SN, BC (2016)
 *Steinbeck, John, Travels with Charley is a book I read about ten years ago with a book club. When another book club chose to discuss it this year, I listened to the audio version. Gary Sinise’s straight-forward narration made me feel that I was riding along with Mr. Steinbeck and his bleu poodle Charley across America in 1960. The country isn’t the same so some language wouldn’t be acceptable if written today, but this is a journey everyone should take to see the country we were. RT/SN, BC (1963)
*Ward, Jesmyn, The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race is a mesmerizing anthology of essays and poems inspired by James Baldwin’s The Fire This Time that speaks to the power of words to address the horrors of living in a country where the killings in Charleston and the brutality suffered by African-Americans for simply walking down the street aren’t recognized. Listen to this! G/SN/RT (2016)

Peanut Butter and Jelly - Board Books
*Brown, Margaret Wise, Bond, Felicia, illustrator, Big Red Barn is perfect for toddler bedtime with its calm cadence and beautiful illustrations. This Nana loves it. PBJ Ages 1 – 4 (1956, board book 1989)
*Campbell, Rod, Dear Zoo: A Pop-up Book with sturdy flaps that animal-loving toddlers enjoy flipping. PBJ, Ages 1 - 4 (1982, pop-up edition 2007)
*Clanton, Ben, Rex Wrecks It!  features clever language, alliteration, and a compelling tale of cooperation even with those we find annoying. My grandson adores this one. PBJ Ages 1 – 5 (2014, board book 2017)
+Daywalt, Drew, Jeffers, Oliver, illustrator, The Crayons’ Book of Colors is based on The Day the Crayons Quit and is a clever concept book teaching color for toddlers and preschoolers. PBJ, Ages 2 – 5 (2016)
+Fox, Mem, Horacek, Judy, illustrator, Where is the Green Sheep? As toddlers look for the green sheep, they’ll learn concepts and colors. Available in a bilingual English/Spanish edition. PBJ, Ages 2 – 4 (2009)
*Haughton, Chris, Oh No, George!  George, the dog, wants to be good but cats and flowers are irresistible in this vibrant, color-filled, very funny tale. PBJ, Ages 2 - 5 (2012)
*Hill, Eric, Where’s Spot: A lift-the-flap book makes my grandson very happy. PBJ, Ages 1 – 3 (2003)
*Hills, Tad, Duck & Goose find a polka-dotted ball they assume is an egg then try to help hatch in a humorous story of friendship that thankfully has several sequels. PBJ Ages 2 - 6 (2006, board book 2017)
*Naberhaus, Sarvinder, Beck, Melinda, illustrator, Lines is a STEM book that starts with a simple line and ends with the entire universe while demonstrating via spare, lovely words just how lines, circles, squares, and the universe work. Toddlers will enjoy this as they learn effortlessly. I love this book. PBJ/SN, Ages 1-4
*Sherry, Kevin, I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean brags a giant squid until he’s swallowed by a whale and becomes the biggest thing inside that whale. Exuberant color and pure fun. PBJ Ages 1 - 3 (2010)
+Van Fleet, Matthew, Tails offers fun things to touch that are furry, slippery, and stinky. This is more of a toy than a book, but toddlers will love the tactile sensations. PBJ Ages 1 – 3 (2003)
*Yoon, Salina, Do Cows Meow? My grandson adores this book so much that I almost hate to suggest it as I confess, I’m sick to death of reading it although I secretly love it. When he was 9 month’s old, I would read it then attempt to read another book and he’d grab it and refuse to let go till I read it again, and again . . . It’s the perfect choice for a new baby if not for parents or grandparents. PBJ Ages 9 months – 4 (2012)

Peanut Butter and Jelly - Preschool Favorites

Cordell, Matthew, Wish is a glimpse into the joy that comes to those who have had difficulty having children. This is almost more of a book for parents, yet it’s also perfect for a child learning his own story. PBJ/SF, Ages 3 – 5
*Litwin, Eric, Lichtenheld, Tom, illustrator, Groovy Joe: Ice Cream & Dinosaurs is by the author of the Pete the Cat series. Groovy Joe loves his doggy ice cream but along comes a BIG dinosaur who takes out a spoon, puts on a bib, and pulls up a chair. “What did Joe say? It’s awesome to share! And everyone sang . . . Love my doggy ice cream.” This book will appeal to children and the adults reading to them as it’s funny without being annoying. PBJ Ages 1 - 7 (2016)
*Naberhaus, Sarvinder, Nelson, Kadir, illustrator, Blue Sky, White Stars is a joy-filled ode to the flag and to patriotism for all. The illustrations are exquisite. Grandparents will enjoy sharing this. PBJ/SN, Ages 4-8
*Willems, Mo, Nannette’s Baguette, When a little frog named Nannette goes to a French village bakery to buy a baguette by herself, she’s almost “beset with regret” and finds herself “wet with no baguette.” Rhymes, color, and happiness exude in this gem that helps kids understand that making mistakes is part of life. PBJ Ages 3 - 6

Peanut Butter and Jelly – Chapter Books

*Clary, Julian, The Bolds is more fun than a pack of hyenas especially when those hyenas masquerade as humans who move to England, obtain jobs, and raise a family. It’s difficult to find appropriate chapter books that are simply fun to read. Many are too emotionally difficult for children who read well. The Bolds will appeal to avid and reluctant readers. A Shelf Awareness “Best Book of 2016” PBJ/SPB Ages 8 – 11 (2016)
*Kelley, Erin Entrada, The Land of Forgotten Girls is just the book for the neglected 10 – 12-year-old market. Sol and her sister move from the Philippines to Louisiana then their father skips town leaving them with their evil stepmother. They learn who and how to trust in this charmer. PBJ, Ages 9–12. (2016)
*Spinelli, Jerry, The Warden’s Daughter see Diet Coke and Gummi Bears, Ages 10 -14

Diet Coke and Gummi Bears (Young Adult)

*#Bates, Laura, Girl Up is brilliant, bold, profane, sarcastic, and just what teenage girls and young women deserve to have in their corner. If you’re a parent, teacher, counselor, or just someone who cares about the future of girls, read this book. The “f” word, slang words for genitalia, and some statements and drawings may bother some adults but it isn’t for them; it’s for teens. DC/SN/S Ages 13 and up
*#Bui, Thi, The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir, (see Nonfiction) is an adult novel but teens should read it to learn about the Viet Nam War and about immigrant assimilation. This magnificent graphic memoir offers hope that annihilates fear. GPR/SN, BC Ages 14 and up
*Green, John, Turtles All the Way Down explores teen anxiety like nothing I’ve ever read. Thankfully, John Green has written a novel that teens will read just because he wrote it and that many teens, parents, teachers, and mental health professionals will find to be a lifesaver. Aza has thoughts that she can’t control. She knows that thoughts are not actions, but that doesn’t help on bad days. Aza’s friend Daisy loves Aza and her spirit. When a billionaire disappears, Aza and Daisy decide to seek the reward using Aza’s connection to the missing man’s son. Read this book! G/DC/SN, BC
*Reynolds, Jason, Long Way Down begins when fifteen-year-old Will‘s brother Shawn is killed and Will feels like “the ground opened up and ate him.” Most of the book takes place in the sixty-seven seconds after Will finds Shawn’s gun then rides the elevator downstairs while deciding whether to murder Shawn’s killer as he encounters ghosts from his life on each floor. Told in dazzling, staccato free verse, this book will help you comprehend teen gun violence. Listen to the author read it for even more of an impact. I listened to it and read it and gained from both experiences.
*Roe, Robin, A List of Cages is a gripping debut that will have you holding your breath as you fly through the pages. Adam is one of the most popular kids in school. Julian isn’t. But Adam, a senior, has a connection to weird freshman Julian. Julian lived with Adam and his mother in a foster care situation after Julian’s parents died, then Julian’s uncle showed up and took him away. What’s happening at Julian’s house? Why does he miss so much school? What’s happening with Adam’s friends? DC, Ages 13 and up
*Sepetys, Ruta, Salt to the Sea, Inspired by the true tragedy of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff,  the greatest maritime disaster in history, Sepetys shares four teens’ secrets and stories during the evacuation at the end of World War II. Exquisitely written, this will appeal to all readers.  “War had bled color from everything, leaving nothing but a storm of gray.” DC/GPR/SN, BC, Ages 13 and up (2016)
+Silvera, Adam, More Happy Than Not, Aaron Soto is sixteen. His father committed suicide and Adam failed in his attempt to do the same. His worries about being gay and a beating to set him “straight” lead to searing revelations. The futuristic possibility of a memory-erasing operation will appeal to teens. Silvera’s strong characters and action contribute to the emotional pull of the story. DC, Ages 14 and up (2015)
*Spinelli, Jerry, The Warden’s Daughter is a spirited ode to grief as suffered by a twelve-year-old “tough” girl who lives in a large jail and who wishes Eloda, the trustee who cares for her, her father, and their apartment, could be her mother. It’s set in 1959 in Two Mills, PA, the setting of Spinelli’s Maniac Magee. Spinelli continues to capture the way kids act and thus he grabs and holds their attention. The twist at the end of this marvel is poignant and powerful. DC/PP Ages 10–14
*Thomas, Angie, The Hate U Give is a riveting glimpse at today’s world where young African-Americans lose their lives in senseless police shootings. Sixteen-year-old Starr watches as a policeman shoots her friend. She can’t figure out how to survive in two separate worlds – the impoverished area where she lives and the elite suburban prep school she attends. If you want to understand the Black Lives Matter movement, read this. The novel’s title comes from a Tupac acronym for “thug life” meaning “The Hate U Give Little Infants, F---s Everybody.” This would be the perfect companion to All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely.  DC/SN, BC Ages 13 and up


  1. This is a great list, thank you for putting it together, we read many of the same books this year and seem to agree on most of them. This was a good reading year. Might I suggest two books that I think you would enjoy? The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish -
    Historical Fiction and Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land - mystery thriller

    1. Thank you! Yes, we do seem to like many of the same books. I will add these titles to my never ending TBR list.

  2. Trina, I'm honored to have THIS IS HOW IT BEGINS as a starred choice on your list! Thanks ever so much for reading and including my novel—I'm glad you enjoyed it. And what good company on this list ... making notes! :) Cheers, Joan

    1. Thank you for such a thought-provoking book. I'm still hoping to be able to write a full review of it.

    2. That would be wonderful, of course, if you're able to do that! Thanks for considering it, Trina. :)

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