Our talented literary critics share their top choices of the year.
Tabitha’s Top Picks:
The Next, Stephanie Gangi’s debut novel, combines a page-turning thriller with the deep, complicated relationships typical of women’s fiction. And it’s a ghost story! Joanna DeAngelis is dying of cancer. She’s also angrily cyber-stalking her ex-lover. In fact, she carries her rage straight into the afterlife, where as a ghost, she continues to torment him. While her twenty-something daughters grieve and learn to let go, Joanna, in her alternate realm, must eventually do the same. Sexy, smart, and poignant, The Next earns its place as my favorite of 2017!
Karen McManus’s debut, One of Us Is Lying, makes my list for favorite YA. The novel delivers a compelling modern day Breakfast Club with a dark twist. Five students head to detention, but only four walk out alive. Told from multiple perspectives, One of Us Is Lying is both a compelling mystery and an absorbing coming-of-age story for our time. With their lives on display and their secrets threatened to be revealed through a social media app created by their now-deceased classmate, each student in the room has a motive for murder. But things are not always what they seem! Upon release, One of Us Is Lying shot to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list, and it should be on the top of your list as well!
Caging the Merrow, the third and final book in Heather Rigney’s Merrow trilogy, makes my list for best indie pick. These dark, historical fantasies feature a drunken funeral director, a vicious mermaid, and fascinating tidbits of Rhode Island history. Heather’s writing is at times snarky, laugh out loud funny, and horrifically bloody. Check it out – these are not your mother’s mermaids!
Mary’s Top Picks:
Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give was a publishing juggernaut this year for a reason: it captures the zeitgeist. It’s the story of Starr, a sixteen-year-old who witnesses a childhood friend shot to death by the police. The concept couldn’t be more prescient, yet this isn’t a news story or a sociology piece. It’s a novel. And it’s the narrative prose, not just the concept, that draws a reader in. Starr’s voice is vivid, and we hear it change when she’s in her predominantly African-American home neighborhood versus her private school in a white area. We see it in her struggle to find out where she fits in. Starr’s realness makes this story relatable no matter the reader’s background. This isn’t just a novel you should read, it’s one you’ll not be able to put down. I polished it off in an afternoon. Warning: it’ll stick with you longer than that.
The other novel not to be missed this year is Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West. It’s the story of Nadia and Saeed’s blossoming romance set against a contemporary Middle Eastern city falling into the chaos of war. The crescendo of violence is terrifying, which heightens intimacy. It also complicates the natural rhythm of falling in love and choosing a future. Eventually Nadia and Saeed escape their home city, but find security to be relative. If you’re like me and watched footage of Aleppo and Mosul and countless other places on the news and wondered what life was like for people: this is your book. It gives an inkling about our contemporaries, far away, but whose personal and family lives are not so different from our own.
Kelly’s Top Picks:
In a little over a year, Bianca Bosker transformed from a complete wine amateur to a certified sommelier. Cork Dork documents her journey through wine cellars, Michelin-starred restaurants, blind tastings, Bacchanalian parties, and scientists’ labs. Filled with astute observations and written in a breezy, accessible style, Bosker provides a persuasive answer to the age-old question: why do people spend so much time, and money, on wine? This entertaining bestseller will leave you feeling smarter, and ready to visit the closest winery.
Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto blunt take on contemporary feminism made me laugh out loud, and the distilled writing style is enjoyable to read. Every page has interesting aphorisms that could spark a multitude of conversations. Jessa Crispin’s words are invigorating, and they make you want to get off the couch and actually do something. Though the book lacks a compelling alternative to our current society, it’s worth reading for its powerful criticism, and, given the recent spate of sexual harassment charges against a slew of powerful men, it’s more timely than ever in asking whether we are doing enough to address deep-rooted issues of gender and power in our society.
Amy’s Top Picks:
The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose is a gorgeous masterwork of complex characters, ambitions, dreams, art, and science that questions the line between ugly and beautiful, right and wrong, dreams and nightmares. Rose combines the grand themes of the power of art and the unification of science and the metaphysical with the journey of one girl living a life that is far outside the norm. He succeeds in bringing it all together in a story that is an exciting and fascinating read whether one has ever heard of Marcel Duchamp or Grand Unified Theory. But for the reader for whom art and science, and how it entwines with society, holds deep philosophical interest, it is a real treasure.
In Mars One, Jonathan Maberry concocts a young adult novel about humankind’s first venture to Mars from a blend of fiction and reality, a fusing that is the quintessential trademark of a Maberry creation. The novel brilliantly interlaces a present scientific dream with a love story that tips its hat to the Celtic tragic tale of Tristan and Iseult. Add to the recipe the intelligent, lovable, and humble protagonist Tristan Hart, plenty of interpersonal drama, life-threatening crises and another Maberry winner emerges.
Eighteen months after her award-winning novel Horizon hit the shelves, BCB’s own Tabitha Lord released the newest in her thrilling space opera collection. I offer this recommendation not as her colleague but as a true fan! Throughout 2017, Infinity got stellar – and well deserved – reviews by both fans and new readers alike. The fast-paced, action story follows Horizon’s heroes Caeli and Derek, as they face the darkest struggles they’ve encountered yet. If you’re looking for a story that captures your heart and quenches your thirst for adventure, Infinity is a must read!
Maribel’s Top Picks:
If you are a memoir junky and love stories about resilience, Rebecca Faye Smith Galli’s Rethinking Possible: A Memoir of Resilience is for you. You couldn’t tear me away from her memoir, and when my family members found out more about it, they looked at me like I was a sadist. What they didn’t get is Galli’s story is not just about tallying up tragedy, nor is it a pity party on paper, it’s an incredible story about her belief in family and what it is to love unconditionally. It’s inspiring because it’s heartbreaking. We are first introduced to the author’s life when she is safely ensconced in a pretty idyllic 1960s southern upbringing, complete with the pastor father and a stay-at-home mother. They were a family who valued predictability. They always had a plan. As a reader, you are lulled into a false sense of security and familiarity, until the author’s brother dies at the age of seventeen in a water skiing accident. After this, it’s the slow unraveling of a “perfect” family. And it’s devastating. The beauty of this memoir is how we get to witness the author’s healing and recovery — all in one book. In her memoir, Rebecca Faye Smith Galli asks herself: What makes life worth living? What makes life worth surviving? She is an exquisite writer who reminds us that no matter what we are going through, we know that if this person survived, so will we and reading about the lessons they have learned is a major life hack, a cheat sheet for those of us who need personal growth Cliff Notes on a regular basis.
This is a great book to start the new year with. In Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World, Mitch Prinstein argues that there is more than one type of popularity — and many of us still long for the wrong one. As children, the popular children are the children that are most liked by their peers. In adolescence, there is a shift, and a new form of popularity emerges. We suddenly begin to care about status, power, influence, and notoriety. And what is significant about Prinstein’s research is that this type of popularity hurts us more than we often recognize. In a nutshell, Prinstein examines how our popularity affects our success, our relationships, and our happiness — and why we don’t always want to be the most popular. It’s a must-read.