Friday, December 14, 2018

Best Books of 2018

Everyone's got an opinion. I'm sort of over everyone critiquing everything as if they were Pauline Kael. And this year has been full of way too many serials -- a year of Laura Lippman, Alafair Burke, Mo Hayder. But I wanted to add to my body of favorites...for the historical record as it is. Here goes!

For Younger Readers

Monday's Not Coming (Katherine Tegen, 2018) by Tiffany D. Jackson

Totally transporting and a little mind-bending, this slide of D.C. life deserves a lot more love.

I've got my fingers crossed for midwinter.

Ghost Boys (Little Brown, 2018) by Jewell Parker Rhodes

Real racial justice talk for middle grade readers, bonus Emmett Till.

Nate Expectations (Simon & Schuster, 2018) by Tim Federle

After E.T.: The Musical folds, Nate returns to Jenksburg and goes in for production in a big way.

The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the best burger in Los Angeles) (Sky Pony, 2018) by Amy Spalding

The fashionista details, the L.A. locale, the sweet sweet romance are all top-notch.

Mystery and Suspense

Sabrina (Granta, 2018) by Nick Drnaso

The aesthetic and palette are kitschy, but the mystery is well handled, anxiety palpable and the product is ambitious.

Give Me Your Hand (Little Brown, 2018) by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott makes her regular appearance.

This science-y one more than passes the Bechdel test.

Sunburn (Harper Collins, 2018) by Laura Lippman

Top-notch noir in an out-of-season Maryland beach town. I have read it three times already. The nods to James M. Cain are triumphant. It led me into the world of Tess Monaghan, and now I spend as much time thinking about Baltimore as Alabama.

Bluebird, Bluebird (Little Brown, 2017) by Attica Locke

Faulkner-worthy Southern communities with twisty, intergenerational and interracial relationships? Yes, please. I was late to this party, but Locke is stellar. This one is my favorite of hers.

#FashionVictim (Crooked Lane, 2018)  by Amina Akhtar

This book could have been frothy social media satire, but there was just enough Patrick Bateman-y rage and truth in the shifting sands of Anya's relationships to make it stand out.

The Woman at 72 Derry Lane (Harper Collins, 2017) by Carmel Harrington

I read a lot of frothy, soapy women's fiction, but this one has just enough intrigue, with its backdrop of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand and intergenerational support, to stick with me. 

Health, Mental and Physical

My Year of Rest and Relaxation: A Novel (Penguin, 2018) by Ottessa Mohfegh

It's literary fiction, but a primer for everyone who's ever wanted to check out, as our protagonist crawls towards 9/11.

Hey, Kiddo (Scholastic Graphix, 2018) by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

This tale of connection and loss and addiction will leave you teary, and it is all too relatable for too many people.

Heavy: An American Memoir (Bloomsbury, 2018) by Kiese Laymon

One of the modern south's most interesting voices does a sustained memoir. I've heard the audiobook's a treat, too.

Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer (Grand Central, 2018) by Barbara Ehrenreich

I love a good Ehrenreich, and this one's a top-form take-down of the medicalization of older age. National treasure. 

Here's to another year of reading!

Best Books of 2017

Best Books of 2016

Best Books of 2015

Best Books of 2014

Best Books of 2013

Best Books of 2012

Best Books of 2011

Best Books of 2010
Best Books of 2009

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Best Books of 2017

This was a big confidential committee reading year for me, so when I saw down I can uncertain if I'd even have enough books to do this...but of course, I did. And how could I not make a list?

When I think of 2017, it will forever be the year of Angie Thomas's tour de force The Hate U Give. If you haven't heard Bahni Turpin's audio version, get it -before- it takes the Odyssey Award (only my prediction, but...)

Anything by Dorothy Whipple. I'd looked at the Persephone Press editions of Dorothy Whipple for eons, but this was the year I dug in. Whipple provides some of the best analysis on social dynamics in the 20th century and is pretty funny, too. I think my two favorites were Because of the Lockwoods (1949) and They Knew Mr. Knight (1934). The Persephone editions have the same dove gray covers, but gorgeous endpapers.

The Line of Beauty (2004) by Alan Hollinghurst. I liked this quiet novel because it had the right feel for a Brideshead-update for Thatcher-era Britain.

The Awkward Age (2017) by Francesca Segal This one is about step-families and aging and dogs dying and all sorts of other hard things.  You WILL cry.

Poor Cow (1967) by Nell Dunn. When I saw the Drabble blurb, I had to buy it, and it introduced me to a fascinating women and a really interesting body of sociologically derived work.

The Cows (2017) by Dawn O'Porter An expansive domestic fiction that deals with just about every aspect of modern life and womanhood. This one made me gasp out loud.

The Leavers (2017) by Lisa Ko. I think the immigrant story everyone was reading was Behold the Dreamers, which I also enjoyed, but this one was haunting, most especially the ending.

The Dead of Summer (2008) by Camilla Way. I listened to Watching Edie, but this quiet, dark book was strangely compelling in the way it captures summer idleness and the potential for violence.

Different Class (2017) by Joanne Harris This book seemed to take forever to read, but it was back to Notes on a Scandal caliber for Harris's take on inside-school politics.

Holly Brown was an exciting discovery, and her This is Not Over (2017) is about the sharing economy gone bezerk. No AirBNB for me.

Lower Ed: The Tooubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy (2017) by Tressie Milliam Cottom By really dissecting the motives behind our knee-jerk faith in education as a social good, this book changed my thinking about education forever.

Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic (2015) by Sam Quinones really gets into a new model of drug trafficking. I liked it so much I read his other book about Mexico just after.

Respectable: Crossing the Class Divide (2017) by Lynsey Hanley A really interesting memoir about a hard-working girl determined to make good.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (2017) by Roxane Gay A memoir like no other -- brave and fierce and candid in a glorious way.

How to Murder Your Life: A Memoir (2017) by Cat Marnell I was a huge fan of Marnell's XOJane work, and frequently wear a lipstick she recommended. Her story of addiction and struggle went beyond the usual misery memoirs to really get at modern young womanhood and what it means to claim control.

More nonfiction than usual, I think...and perhaps more 2017 titles.

Best Books of 2016

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Five months!

Did you read the New Yorker piece, "The Personal-Essay Boom is Over"? It pretty much summed up how I've been feeling about so much online content -- writing blogs, reading blogs, tweeting links to blogs -- I weeded my feed reader aggressively a few months back, have pretty much only been reading posts from former Sassy staffers, The Pool, and a handful of libraryland sites.

So I haven't posted here since some best books lists in December, and I also noticed I hadn't composed a tweet, only RTed since our state library association conference last month. And now there are those new, Facebook-esque targeting and tracking strategies, yuck.)

A machine intelligence might intuit I'm depressed, which with all of the family drama and the horrific and divisive political landscape, that isn't off base...I can't help but notice that my web-based reticence pretty much maps to the presidential administration. Obviously, the daily social media proclamations from the White House have brought a whole new level of scrutiny to online microinteractions.

As much as I believe in transparency, it just seems any candid statement can come back to bite you in completely unanticipated ways. And, after some very bad repercussions from what I thought of as sheer observation, I'm downright reluctant to share anything that isn't 110 percent cheerleader-y because you never know who's watching or who will scroll back absolute years in your accounts like every horrible and alarmist "digital footprint" lesson warns.

Anyway, I used to find the interwebs stimulating, now I just find them tiring. Thanks for reading, though.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Best (Audio-)books of 2016

It was The Archers that hooked me, the Odyssey Award kept me listening for production errors, now I can't get in the car without "something good to listen to..." I wanted to share some of the audiobooks I particularly enjoyed this year.

Author, Author

Toni Morrison is not the only one to light up her own audiobooks. This year, I was particularly besotted with Tim Federle's The Great American Whatever, as warm and funny as you would expect, and M.T. Anderson's Symphony for City of the Dead. All that Russian! And fun, if a different sort of fun... the author definitely gets some latitude.

The Year of the Thriller

Thrillers demand particular skills from narrators. The talented Imogen Church reads both of Ruth Ware's novels, The Woman in Cabin 10 and In a Dark, Dark Wood, doing an excellent job with a diverse cast of characters, in addition to the mounting suspense.

Georgia Maguire builds the tension minute-by-minute in Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris...

There's a full cast for The Widow by Fiona Barton.

Penelope Rawlins and Dugaid Bruce-Lockhart alternate in two nail-biters by Gilly Macmillan, What She Knew and The Perfect Girl.

And in nonfiction, but it seems to apply: Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker, read by Sean Pratt. Interesting and sympathetic take on Craig's list escort disappearances.

Simon Vance

Did you read his Audiofie interview with Alan Moore? The man's a treasure! The first Simon Vance I ever listened to was People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman by Richard Lloyd Parry, but I got completely into it, enough to listen through twice, even picked up a  few Japanese phrases. I liked Vance enough to tackle The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction and Houdini in the Spirit World by David Jaher and the much-better The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: The Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale. I loved his version of The Little Stranger by Sarah Watters, and missed his tones almost, but not quite enough to listen to some of the Ian Fleming in our public library's Overdrive account.

I bought the 47 hours of his complete Sherlock Holmes...stay tuned.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Best Books of 2016

I read so many things NOT on this list this year, some rather hush-hush. Let's just say, I am particularly proud of our Amelia E. Walden Award Winner, All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. What a tour de force! But I decided to just leave out all other YA for that reason.

Some of my other favorites...

Politically Incorrect

The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver (2016)

I read this just before the election. Like Glory O'Brien, it's looking strangely prophetic. Say what you will about Shriver's indictment of identity politics, but I class her with Philip Roth or Alan Warner for pure virtuoso talent. She nailed the "pull-the-ladders-up-after-ourselves" ethos informing my own generation.

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang (2016)

Another economic novel, this one about the over-confidence of an immigrant Chinese cosmetics tycoon fallen on hard times and his children and the navigate life on the skids.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty (2016)

It made me gasp and laugh and tear up, in quick succession, its irreverence a delight, and Beatty's unchecked ping-ponging between esoteric associations is a joy to behold.

Not that I didn't enjoy the Joanna Trollope and Curtis Sittenfeld (Eligible) efforts, but Charlotte Bronte is relatively unmined, and the Korean-American take it irresistible. This one was an Alex title.


If there is one genre I know inside and out, it's women's fiction. And I love, love, love the decidedly creepy tone of the minute. While 2016 will forever be The Year I Discovered Sophie Hannah, and not from those Agatha Christie sequels of late, there are quite a few good thrillers in the wake of Gone Girl and Girl on a Train. I myself can't wait for a revival of the gothic. See also Ruth Ware.

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood (2014)

A thriller set in the worst sort of rooming house, where streetwise three women nonetheless come together and form their own sort of family. I've read all the Marwood this year, but this is my favorite.

Girl in the Dark by Marion Pauw (2016)

Translated from the Dutch. Our protagonist discovers she has an older brother she has never met. Her mother is one of the most original and chillingly drawn character I've ever encountered.

What the Nanny Saw by Fiona Neill (2012)

Neill may be best known for her satire, Yummy Mummy, but this bird's-eye view of the 2008 banking crisis rivals Capital.


American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Life of Teenage Girls by Nancy Jo Sales (2016)

Ethnography about the wild west that is social media.

Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret and Extraordinary Lives by Helen O'Neill (2006)

The jaw-dropping story of a flamboyant Australian textile designer whose life and murder proved stranger than fiction.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West (2016)

If you're a Lindy West fan, you don't need particulars.

Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea by Sungju Lee (2016)

A gripping first-person narrative about life in one of the world's most fascinating places.

Because I'm not writing about YA this time, and leaving out my Alabama authors, this year's one has more titles written specifically for adults than past years (below), if it matters. And I am scraping together another list, Best (Audio-)books of 2016, to follow soon.