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  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2017/12/14 Permalink
    Tags: best of 2017, best thrillers,   

    The Best Thrillers of 2017 

    It seems like every year turns out to be a Golden Age of Thrillers, and 2017 was no exception. In fact, we saw so many edge-of-your-seat thrillers with so many compelling characters, surprising twists, and heart-pounding action scenes it was tough to narrow it down to just 25. But we’re professionals. The 25 books on this list are all guaranteed to get the blood pumping and the palms sweating—and they’re just the tip of the thriller iceberg.

    The Dark Lake, by Sarah Bailey
    Rosalind Ryan’s transcendent beauty made her a legend in her small rural town, but many years later, it also made her a target. As an adult Rosalind returned to Smithson High School to teach drama, and when she turns up in a local lake, dead of strangulation, it falls to lead homicide investigator Gemma Woodstock to solve the mystery of her murder. Except Gemma is a former classmate of Rosalind’s, and unraveling the puzzle of Rosalind’s strange and lonely existence stirs up Gemma’s own murky, questionable past.

    End Game, by David Baldacci
    Baldacci’s fifth Will Robie novel flips the script a bit on his competent, deadly characters. When Will Robie and Jessica Reel’s legendary handler, Blue Man, goes missing after taking a rare vacation to go fly-fishing in a rural area of Colorado, the two deadly assassins are dispatched to investigate. They find themselves in the town of Grand, a festering place of economic decline, crime, drug wars—and a growing population of militia-style groups. They also find an inadequate police force unable to cope. They quickly realize there’s more going on in Grand than meets the eye, and by the time they realize that even they, two of the most dangerous people in the world, are out-gunned and surrounded it might be too late.

    Vicious Circle, by C.J. Box
    The 17th Joe Pickett novel starts off in high gear and never lets up, opening with Picket in a plane using infrared technology to track Dave Farkus, hunter and disability scam artist. Joe catches up with Farkus just in time to see the man shot to death. It doesn’t take long for Joe to identify the key suspect—Dallas Cates, sometime rodeo star who just got done doing 18 months in prison thanks to Farkus’ testimony. Cates makes little effort to hide the fact that he’s seeking the ultimate revenge against Farkus—and has assembled a team of meth heads, sociopaths, and other scary folks to do so. Joe finds both himself and his family included in Cates’ plans, and Cates proves to be smarter and more evil than Joe could possibly have suspected.

    Origin, by Dan Brown
    Brown returns to his most successful character with an all-new Robert Langdon adventure, this time centered in Spain and focusing on more modern art. Langdon starts off the book as the guest of former student-turned-billionaire Edmond Kirsch, who is staging a provocative presentation at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and hinting at the answers to two of the fundamental questions of human existence. Naturally, things go very, very wrong, and Langdon soon finds himself fleeing to Barcelona with museum director Ambra Vidal and working desperately to discover a password Kirsch left behind that will unlock all of the billionaire’s secrets. Their opponent, however, seems to be all-knowing, and firmly rooted in the Spanish royal palace—but there’s no one on Earth more equipped to deal with codes and symbols than Robert Langdon.

    Watch Me Disappear, by Janelle Brown
    In some ways a darker version of Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Disappear centers on the sudden absence of a notoriously unreliable woman, Billie Flanagan, during a hiking trip on the Pacific Crest Trail. With no body left behind, and very few clues to go on, her whereabouts are a chilling mystery. Billie’s teenage daughter, Olive, begins hallucinating that her mother is alive and needs her help, while Billie’s husband, Jonathan, has a different response to the disappearance, having recently discovered she may have been unfaithful. A perfect book for fans of Liane Moriarty, A.J. Banner, Gillian Flynn, and A.S.A. Harrison, this marital suspense story also stands on its own feet.

    The Stolen Marriage, by Diane Chamberlain
    Bestseller Chamberlain’s latest concerns an aspiring nurse trapped in a marriage-of-convenience in a small North Carolina town where she is disliked and mistrusted. It’s 1943, and Tess’s life just took a hard left: Impregnated by a man not her fiancée, she casts off her dream of a medical career alongside her true love and moves away with Henry, the baby’s father, who is uninterested in Tess’s potential. It soon becomes clear Henry is hiding things from Tess. With the polio epidemic in full swing, Tess gets a chance to use her nursing skills at last, but the home front remains as unsettling and mysterious as ever in this suspense-filled, World War II-era tale.

    The Midnight Line, by Lee Child
    Jack Reacher is once again stepping off a bus in a small town in the middle of nowhere, this time in Wisconsin. Stretching his legs, Reacher sees a West Point ring in a pawn shop window and is moved to find out what would make someone sell something so difficult to earn. His quest for the ring owner’s identity leads Reacher to cross several state lines as he assembles a story of service in Afghanistan, opioid addiction, and a huge criminal organization that Reacher, once he’s aware of it, has no choice but to take on. He manages to acquire an ally, however, in the form of the cadet’s brother, a former FBI agent-turned private detective, who’s one of those rare people Reacher feels he can count on, if only for a while. Along the way Reacher traces corporate complicity in the opioid crisis and the desperation that drives people to make bad decisions—all while dishing out violence the way only Jack Reacher can manage.

    Don’t Let Go, by Harlan Coben
    15 years ago, Napoleon “Nap” Dumas lost his twin brother Leo when he and his girlfriend, Diana, were hit by a train. This is terrible enough—but in a puzzling twist, Nap’s then-girlfriend Maura also disappeared at the same time. When evidence surfaces linking Maura to a murdered police officer, Nap begins to suspect that his brother’s death wasn’t an accident. His investigation leads him to look up the other members of a high school group called the Conspiracy Club—and he soon realizes that someone else is also tracking down the club’s members as well…and killing them.

    Two Kinds of Truth, by Michael Connelly
    Connelly returns to the world of Harry Bosch with a pair of mysteries. Three decades ago, Bosch was convinced a man named Preston Borders was guilty of raping and murdering three young women, but the district attorney only pursued one case, convicting Borders of the murder of Danielle Skyler. Borders has been on death row ever since, but suddenly new DNA evidence seems to exonerate him, so he files a habeas corpus petition and seems determined to sue everyone involved. Bosch has nine days before the hearing to figure out what went sideways, but his efforts are complicated by the current murder he’s investigating, that of a pharmacist and his son, which has set off a chain reaction of revelations involving faked prescriptions. As Bosch prepares to go undercover as an addict for the first time in his life, even he might not be able to keep all of the clues straight.

    The Cuban Affair , by Nelson DeMille
    Set in 2015, just as relations between the United States and Cuba were beginning to warm up, DeMille’s latest digs into the side of the story that often gets overlooked: the Cuban expats living in the U.S. who hate the Castro regime and who abandoned their property, wealth, and standing when they fled. Daniel “Mac” MacCormick is a veteran of Afghanistan trying to make his way out from under a mountain of debt with his charter boat business in Key West—and failing. When he’s offered a lot of money to assist in the recovery of money and documents from a remote cave in Cuba, he agrees out of desperation, ferrying a beautiful woman to Havana. When things go wrong, Mac finds himself depending on her—without knowing if he can trust her one bit.

    The Child Finder, by Rene Denfeld
    Naomi Cottle was kidnapped as a child—although her memories only begin with a flight through a dark strawberry field. Raised in foster homes, she is still broken by things she can’t remember, and has dedicated her life to being a “child finder,” called in by devastated families to find missing children when the trail has grown cold. Naomi never gives up, sometimes finding the children dead, sometimes alive. When she’s called in to search for Madison Culver, who disappeared three years before and is presumed to have frozen to death, the family is still holding out hope. And rightly so—as Naomi struggles to stay connected to her foster family and her sense of self, Madison begins narrating her terrifying imprisonment with a man she calls “B.”

    Hardcore Twenty-Four, by Janet Evanovich
    As her many fans are aware, to know Stephanie Plum is to love her. Evanovich’s long-running series following the madcap exploits of Jersey’s most illustrious bounty hunter takes a spooky turn when headless bodies begin turning up left and right. Although initially they’re corpses from the morgue, when a homeless man is found murdered and decapitated, someone has clearly upped their creepy game, Stephanie is compelled to take the case. In the meantime, she’s bunking with professional grave robber Simon Diggery and his pet python, and concerned about Grandma Mazur’s online dating escapades. Tall blonde and handsome Diesel is also back in town, which is stirring things up for Stephanie and her perennial paramours, sexy cop Joe Morelli and the enigmatic Ranger. Treat yourself to the latest mystery in the Plum series!

    Y is for Yesterday, by Sue Grafton
    Grafton’s famous Kinsey Millhone series is reaching the end of the alphabet, to the despair of legions of fans. Y is For Yesterday travels back to 1979, when four private school boys brutally assaulted a classmate—and the attack was filmed. The ensuing investigation resulted in the conviction of two of the perpetrators, although the main instigator behind the attack disappeared. Nearly twenty years later, one of the attackers is released from prison. Fritz McCabe is in pretty terrible shape, and he’s now being held a virtual prisoner by his parents. When he receives a copy of the video of the attack along with a demand for ransom, McCabe’s parents swing into action and consult with Kinsey Millhone, who is soon drawn into their convoluted family drama. In the meantime she’s also got a sociopath with a deep grudge to contend with. Fans know it’s just another day in the life of one of the best investigators in the genre.

    The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham
    Grisham proves he’s still got his finger on the pulse in his newest, telling the story of idealistic but broke law students Mark, Todd, and Zola, who mortgage their future in the form of student loans to attend a third-tier law school. In their third year, the trio realizes they’ve been victims of the Great Law School Scam: the graduates of their school rarely pass the bar and almost never get jobs—and the school’s owner also owns the bank that wrote the paper on their loans. Naturally, smart nearly-lawyers go for the only option they have available: revenge. It’s going to take planning and risks (like dropping out before earning your degree) but it’s the only option if you want a little justice—and the result is an Ocean’s 11 for the LSAT crowd.

    Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz
    The diabolically clever Magpie Murders opens with the text of a classic whodunit set in sleepy English village; the latest novel in fictional author Alan Conway’s popular Atticus Pünd detective series. That mystery itself is absorbing enough, but things take a turn for the weird when editor Susan Ryeland must use the clues woven throughout it to solve a chilling real-life murder. Horowitz’s prose is elegant, his characters multifaceted and deeply human, and the ingenious construction of this brilliant puzzler (which pays homage to the classic whodunnit while taking it apart and reassembling it into something completely new) will leave you reeling. In his bestselling novels Moriarty and Trigger Mortis, Horowitz proved his knack for writing spellbinding stories, but Magpie Murders is a tour de force mystery-within-a-mystery that takes things to an astonishing new level.

    Mississippi Blood, by Greg Iles
    Iles’ concluding novel in the Natchez Burning trilogy starts off at a tense boil…and then somehow increases the tension. Penn Cage, now mayor of Natchez, Mississippi, finds himself—and his family—targeted by the Double Eagles, a splinter KKK group led by the loathsome and deadly Snake Knox. Penn’s father, Tom, heads to trial for the killing of his nurse and lover, Viola Turner, and Penn turns to author Serenity Turner for assistance chasing down witnesses. As the racial violence escalates, everyone’s commitment to their ideals is tested, and Iles brings all of the plot threads together in well-constructed trail scenes that offer plenty of surprises.

    The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye, by David Lagercrantz
    Even from solitary confinement in prison, Lisbeth Salander is an unstoppable force in Lagercrantz’s second book continuing Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series. The prison she’s held in is poorly run, with the inmates more in charge than the guards, but her hacking skills and sharp intelligence mean she’s as effective inside as she was out. Her old ally Mikael Blomkvist visits once a week, and she passes him a lead related to her still-mysterious childhood: a respected stockbroker named Leo Mannheimer she believes is connected to the psychiatric unit where she was confined against her will as a child. As Blomkvist does what he does best, Salander turns her attentions to the injustices in her new home, as intolerable to her in prison as they would be in the free world.

    A Legacy of Spies, by John Le Carré
    John le Carré is not only back, he’s bringing George Smiley with him—or at least Smiley’s assistant, Peter Guillam, called upon to fill in the blanks on an old operation called Windfall, now that the British government is being sued over some of the unintended casualties of the Cold War. Guillam begins piecing together the truth behind Windfall, digging through old files, listening to interrogations, and supplementing these discoveries with his own reliable memories. As usual in a le Carré novel, the combination of meticulous detail, skillful spycraft, and moral blankness makes for a slow-boil thriller that slowly increases the tension to unendurable levels. The intelligence and (above all) patience of the men and women working in intelligence becomes as thrilling as any gunplay.

    Since We Fell, by Dennis Lehane
    Lehane’s newest thriller focuses on Rachel Child, a successful television journalist raised by a manipulative mother who doesn’t realize just how damaged she is until an on-air nervous breakdown ends her career. In freefall, Rachel locks herself up in her house and never leaves. With time to think, she wonders about her father, whose identity her mother hid from her, and contacts a private detective to try to identify him. That detective, Brian Delacroix, becomes more than a hire for Rachel—he becomes, she thinks, her lover and salvation. When she begins to suspect he might not be everything he seems, the story really kicks into high gear, an Rachel proves to be a surprisingly dynamic character despite her isolated status.

    Earthly Remains, by Donna Leon
    When the usually careful and meticulous Commissario Guido Brunetti finds himself coming precariously close to losing his cool during an interrogation of a particularly prickly suspect, he is given a leave of absence from work. His wife Paolo convinces to take a breather at a relative’s villa on the quiet island of Sant’Erasmo, and there Brunetti befriends Davide, the house’s caretaker and a quiet man with a passion for beekeeping. But trouble follows, as it often does, and before long Brunetti finds himself investigating Davide’s disappearance. [Hint: Davide took a permanent leave of absence.] In the satisfying twenty-sixth installment of her beloved Guido Brunetti series, author Leon, known for immersing readers in the lush settings of her novels [typically the bustling city of Venice]—gives Brunetti time and space to ruminate on man’s place in the natural world.

    The Breakdown, by B.A. Paris
    Paris’ clever thriller pivots on a chillingly familiar premise: a woman named Cass sees a driver on the side of the road, trying to flag down help near a broken-down car. She drives past without stopping, then later learns the motorist was brutally murdered. She begins to receive phone calls during which no one speaks, and her fear she has inherited her mother’s early-onset dementia are brought to the fore as her grip on details—and her own memories—slips. She comes to rely more and more on her husband and her best friend, who never liked each other, but this is one of those books in which no one is above suspicion.

    Glass Houses, by Louise Penny
    A mysterious figure has appeared in the idyllic village of Three Pines, standing alone and stock still in the freezing November sleet. As the villagers, including Chief Superintendent Armand Gamache, grow increasingly perturbed and even frightened, the figure remains. Soon after it finally disappears, a body turns up, which is very probably not a coincidence, and it falls to Gamache to discover whether the killing is in fact a terrible retribution. Later that summer, the accused stands trial, but Gamache is forced to face the consequences of the actions he took during those fateful days in November. The 13th novel in Penny’s incomparable series ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable degree.

    Deep Freeze, by John Sandford
    Sandford’s tenth Virgil Flowers story finds the Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent’s life complicated by another small town murder in Trippton, and the arrival of an agent of chaos. The murder victim is Gina Hemmings, who inherited her parents’ bank—and plenty of the potential suspects’ debts. Making things more complicated is the arrival of Margaret Griffin, a Los Angeles investigator who lands in town with the governor’s request that Virgil assist in finding Jesse McGovern, who is supposedly manufacturing sex dolls in Trippton—though no one seems to have ever met her. Virgil’s path to solving each mystery is as enjoyably bumpy as ever, but it’s Sandford’s grasp of small town culture that makes this entry sing.

    Good Daughter, by Karin Slaughter
    If you haven’t read Karin Slaughter yet, The Good Daughter is the perfect novel to jump onboard with…and if you’re a fan of fast-paced, gripping, and impossible to forget thrillers (see: the incredible Coptown), you should definitely be reading Karin Slaughter. In her latest standalone novel, Charlotte Quinn fought back against a harrowing childhood trauma by following in her father’s footsteps and becoming an attorney. But when another attack occurs nearly three decades later, Charlie is powerless to stop a flood of terrible memories from that tragic incident, which destroyed her happy family and left her mother dead. You won’t know where this one is going, but one thing is for sure: you’ll follow this author anywhere.

    Heather, the Totality, by Matthew Weiner
    Weiner, creator and showrunner of Mad Men, has crafted a sharp, character-driven debut novel that examines class and parenting with equal power. Heather, smart and beautiful, has been doted on by her mother since birth, causing a rift between her parents. Heather is also increasingly aware of the gulf between her family, the owners of an upscale apartment building in Manhattan, and the people who work for them—including a construction worker, Bobby, whose appearance isolates him. Heather sees Bobby as a way to bridge the gap, but her father sees a threat in how Bobby looks at his daughter, and tensions rise in complicated ways.

    The post The Best Thrillers of 2017 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2017/12/11 Permalink
    Tags: best of 2017, , , , non-fiction   

    The Best Non-Fiction of 2017 

    2017 was a tough year for reality, in the sense that many of us spent the year trying as hard as possible to avoid it. But the only way 2018 is going to be a better year is if we learn a few things, and there’s no better way to improve your understanding of the world than via high-quality non-fiction books. It doesn’t get better than the 25 on this list, which represent some of the best writing of the year, and all of it based on reality—or at least someone’s perception of it.

    You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir, by Sherman Alexie
    As well as a beloved author, Alexie has been a poet, filmmaker, and screenwriter. He’s won praise and generated controversy for his outspokenness, especially when Arizona recently banned his works from schools as part of a cull of Mexican-American studies programs. His first memoir tackles the complex and difficult relationship he had with his mother. Her death Forced Alexie to confront his bond with the intelligent but often abusive woman he left behind.

    Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, by Joe Biden
    Joe Biden, former vice president and possible future presidential candidate, lost his son Beau to brain cancer after a momentous struggle. When Beau was in the midst of his fight against the disease, he made his father promise that he would be all right. Over the next year, Joe Biden served his country while his son slowly lost his battle. In this remarkable memoir, Biden opens up about that period of his life, discussing with disarming intimacy the personal and political struggles he endured while working to make the world a safer place and trying to decide if he would run for president in 2016. Biden’s wisdom and advice for anyone who has lost someone close to them is powerful, and his insights into life’s problems come from someone who has dealt with some of the most difficult challenges in modern times on the world stage.

    Grant, by Ron Chernow
    Pulitzer-winning author Chernow tackles one of our most perplexing presidents with another sharply-written, deeply-researched book. Chernow sets out to prove that Grant, the brilliant general, was a far better president than he’s usually given credit for. Chernow paints a detailed picture of Grant as a man of action who withered in inactivity, a man whose alcoholism followed a unique cycle of binging followed by lengthy periods of sobriety, a man often mistaken for homeless prior to the Civil War who brought a willingness to engage the Confederate armies head on to his tactics that proved to be the key to winning the war. As he did with Alexander Hamilton, Chernow takes a familiar but opaque figure of American history and fleshes him out, revealing the human being under the engravings.

    Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West, by Tom Clavin
    Bringing a level of factual rigor to the legend of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson in Dodge City isn’t an easy task; the story of those pioneering lawmen, and the famed gunfight at the OK Corral is slathered with mythic overtones. In this revealing work, Clavin strips away the unnecessary flourishes to focuses on the facets of the story he can verify—and that unadorned tale turns out to be just as fascinating, especially his telling of the lesser-known Dodge City War, a bloodless affair that saw Earp and Masterson return to the area years later to firmly establish the rule of law, once and for all. You might think you know the story of Dodge City’s most famous gunslingers, but like as not, you only know the Hollywood version. Here’s your chance to fix that.

    We Were Eight Years in Power, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
    This collection of essays are drawn from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writing for The Atlantic during the years 2008 to 2016, roughly paralleling the Obama administration and ending on the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. These are the essays that made Coates a figure no serious person could ignore; they trace the evolution of his thought from the optimism of Obama’s first election to the somewhat darker mood of the later years. Coates adds a wealth of background material, including introductions in which he reflects on the essays, notes and background taken from his journals, and even personal stories that expand on and illuminate his themes. Coates is one of our best and most important living writers, and this collection is a must-read for any thoughtful American.

    The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, by Masha Gessen
    Gessen takes a personal approach to tracing Russia’s transformation from collapsed empire into “mafia state,” following four principle figures (herself, Boris Nemtsov’s daughter, Seryozha, scion of a political reformist, and Lyosha, a homosexual in what is rapidly becoming the most homophobic nation in the world). This intimate focus grants a frightening immediacy to the story of a country that was once perceived as a triumph of democracy over totalitarianism but now seems to have reverted back to its fascist roots. Along the way are plenty of insights into the current political situation around the world, making this as much an important work of history as it is a memoir.

    Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann
    Considering how important they were in shaping the modern age, the Osage Indian murders of the 1920s are remarkably little-known today. When the Nation became incredibly wealthy after oil was discovered on their land, more than 20 of its members of were murdered between 1921 and 1926. As public outrage grew, the federal government was pressured into putting the obscure Bureau of Investigation, led by a young Herbert Hoover, in charge of the case. Hoover used the notoriety of these awful crimes to establish what would soon be known as the FBI as the nation’s preeminent investigative body, and himself as its all-powerful chief. Grann, of The Lost City of Z fame, does a marvelous job catching you up on vital history that’s been nearly forgotten.

    Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari
    History normally looks back and attempts to say, with certainty, what did or didn’t happen. Harari takes a different approach: looking forward. While admitting that no one can accurately predict the future, he attempts to take all the information on hand and make bold predictions as to the most likely course of future human history—and his conclusions aren’t very reassuring. While he sees plenty of achievements in store for us, his theory is that humanity’s progress is inevitably making us insignificant, resulting in a future where we won’t be in control of our existence—if we’re even still around (the “post-human future” is certainly in the tea leaves.) It’s up to you to decide if Harari makes his case—but whether you agree or not, the time spent with this book is worthwhile.

    Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson
    Isaacson begins with the presumption that Leonardo da Vinci was perhaps the most creative genius in human history and proceeds from there, digesting more than 7,000 pages of notes da Vinci left behind to produce this biography, and the result is unlike anything else you’ve ever read about the most famous artist of the 15th and 16th centuries. Isaacson paints a portrait of a restless mind that exhibited unusual curiosity and made magical connections between disciplines that had never been made before. At the same time, he shows da Vinci as a man whose always-churning mind could leave many projects unfinished as he dashed from idea to idea. When one of our best modern writers tackles one of the most famous minds in history, it’s time to pay attention.

    Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery, by Scott Kelly
    Unless you’ve spent a year in space being studied, you have nothing on Scott Kelly, who holds the current American record for consecutive days off-planet. As a result, Kelly’s thoughts on our space program—including its necessity and utility—are worth reading, as is his description of the challenges that face anyone intending to spend a long time in orbit. In other words, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s really to head into space, Kelly’s book offers the most up-to-date and informative account ever written.

    Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, by Chris Matthews
    For younger generations, the Kennedy name may no longer be magic, but Chris Mathews does great work to remind everyone just how special the family was at one time. Although JFK gets most of the attention, the Hardball anchorargues Bobby Kennedy was almost as important, and came very close to being president himself—and may well have done so if he hadn’t been cut down in the prime of life, just like his brother. Matthews doesn’t sugarcoat the ruthlessness that made plenty of enemies for Bobby Kennedy, but he also captures the younger Kennedy’s keen intellect and growing empathy for people who were not as fortunate, traits that may have made him a great president.

    The American Spirit: Who We Are & What We Stand For, by David McCullough
    McCullough is one of the most celebrated historians ever. He has written absorbing accounts of the Wright Brothers, John Adams, and the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge—winning two Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Awards along the way. A thinker like that naturally makes a lot of speeches, and he compiles here some of his best—speeches made before Congress, before academic audiences, before groups of fellow historians. This is stirring stuff, the sort of of clear-eyed, patriotic rhetoric we need more of in these divisive and confusing times. McCullough brings a calm authority to his words, equal parts comforting and energizing. It is an ideal book to read if your faith in our institutions is fading.

    Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, by Eric Metaxas
    If you ever doubt that one person can alter the course of history, look no further than Martin Luther, a young monk who sought only to spark debate when he posted his 95 Theses to a church door. Instead, Luther’s startling moment of protest launched what came to be known as the Protestant Revolution and remade the Christian faith. Metaxas offers up a fresh perspective on a man so famous he’s more myth than reality these days, finding the humanity underneath the history.

    The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, by Kate Moore
    Any time someone questions the need for laws protecting workers from the deprivations of profit-seeking companies, this story should serve as a lesson. In the early 20th century, more than a dozen women were employed to paint watches with luminous paint made from the radioactive material radium. These women were fine artists, able to manipulate their brushes expertly, often using their mouths to twist them to a fine point in order to do the detail work. Soon after, many began suffering terrible medical problems, including lost teeth and disease jawbones, sparking a decades-long legal and medical battle that redefined worker’s rights and workplace safety.

    Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, by Liza Mundy
    Stories of World War II often focus on the heroic deeds of soldiers, but newly declassified documents reveal a shadow army of women who also did their part—the codebreakers. Recruited from colleges and secretarial pools for their math skills, these women were set to the task of breaking enemy codes, but their efforts and achievements were top secret, and their stories largely unknown—until now. Battling the expected sexism and hostile attitudes of their male counterparts and supervisors, tens of thousands of women helped to end the war much more quickly than it would have otherwise, and Mundy rescues their stories from obscurity and gives them the credit they deserve. In fact, she makes a solid case that without these women, we might not have won World War II at all.

    Everything All at Once: How to Unleash Your Inner Nerd, Tap into Radical Curiosity and Solve Any Problem, by Bill Nye
    Nye is something of a modern-day polymath, and in this inspiring book (a combination memoir and textbook) he encourages science- and math-minded folks to use their powers for good. Using his own stories as a starting point, Nye tells the tale of a curious, engaged kid who sopped up information about everything, and argues that if you’re like him, you should spend less energy on comic book trivia and more on solving the world’s problems. It’s also crammed full of interesting information and threaded with an infectious optimism and enthusiasm for knowledge.

    Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom, by Condoleezza Rice
    We find ourselves at an unexpected point in history, as several events that seemed unlikely—or impossible—have come to pass within our own democracy. Which is why it’s welcome to see a book from someone as accomplished and experienced as Dr. Rice—an academic and former secretary of state—seeking to analyze the history of democracy around the world, and offer an analysis of its present state. Few people can discuss geopolitical events with the gravitas and authority that Dr. Rice can muster, making this an essential book for getting ready for the year to come.

    Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, by Thomas E. Ricks
    Context is everything. Although they lived at the same time, were born in the same country, and fought many of the same enemies, Winston Churchill and George Orwell never met, and there’s no evidence they ever even read each other’s work. Ricks places these two remarkable men side-by-side, however, and finds common ground in their shared philosophies and hatred of tyranny. A study of the lives of two men who never interacted might seem like a strange approach to history, but the result is a deeper look at the larger picture of culture and society that shaped their views, and the impact each had on the world around them.

    Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
    Despite the fact that grief and loss are experiences we all share, there is remarkably little structure around our processes for dealing with tragedy. Even for a highly successful person such as Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, the sudden, unexpected death of her husband left her wondering how people deal with such events, leading directly to her collaboration with Adam Grant, professor at Wharton and author in his own right. Option B explores the theory and practical application of techniques to help you not only weather grief and survive life’s swerves, but to move on from it and continue to have a meaningful and fulfilling life despite the void left by those we’ve lost. The combination of Sandberg’s raw, personal experience and Grant’s more academic contributions make this a book many will find incredibly fresh and incredibly helpful.

    Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, by Robert M. Sapolsky
    Anyone who’s been around for a while knows that the one rule of human behavior is that it’s often unpredictable and nonsensical—we have plenty of seemingly primitive and instinctive reactions to the world around us. The question of how much free will is a factor in our actions as opposed to how much is ‛programmed’ into us is a fascinating one. Dr. Sapolsky, a professor of biology at Stanford University, explores various scientific disciplines as he tries to answer some of the questions about what rules the often contradictory impulses that rule our behavior. Leavened with humor and written in a clear, easily-digested style, this is a science book that offers plenty of insight into what makes us all tick without numbing you with dense concepts and obscure jargon.

    Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977 – 2002, by David Sedaris
    Any new David Sedaris book is a reason to celebrate. He’s one of our great observers, finding deep meaning and, more importantly, reasons to laugh, in even the most mundane events. For decades now, he’s been celebrating the weirdo in all of us, but he’s doing something different with his latest: presenting excerpts of his own diaries from 1977 to 2002. Fortunately, his past self is every bit as funny and trenchant as his present-day incarnation.

    Basketball (and Other Things): A Collection of Questions Asked, Answered, Illustrated, by Shea Serrano
    Serrano, with an awesome assist from Arturo Torres’ illustrations, offers up a deep-dive love letter to the sport of basketball that every fan should have on hand. Exploring the history and minutiae of the sport, Serrano seemingly discusses every possible aspect, from the sort of debates that fans spend hours chewing on (like how many years Kobe Bryant was the best player in the league) to the arguments that never seem to be settled adequately (like what the precise rules of a pickup game should be). Backed by an obvious (and pure) love of the sport, this often hilarious and always gorgeous book is both a source of hours of reading pleasure and a beautiful work of art to have on display in the house.

    Where the Past Begins, by Amy Tan
    Bestselling novelist Tan’s unconventional memoir finds her on a journey through her own past via spontaneous storytelling: using fluid writing to search through her own memories to reveal the inspirations and traumas that have shaped her works. In the process, Tan reveals difficult truths about her childhood, and makes connections and uncovers memories that she herself was shocked by.

    Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson
    Tyson is not just one of the smartest men in the world, he’s one of the most personable and charismatic. His book is, therefore, fun. He doesn’t use a lot of scientific terms, but instead explores space, time, and the known universe in simpler ways that even folks who have never had any scientific training will find incredibly easy to understand. It’s like having a conversation with your really smart, really funny uncle.

    We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True, by Gabrielle Union
    Actress Union tells her story with wit and sensitivity, a story that includes her struggles as one of a few black students in a predominantly white high school, the devastating rape at gunpoint that almost broke her, and her recovery and pursuit of a high-octane Hollywood career. Union addresses topics including parenting, raising black kids in a culture often perceived as steeped in racism, and teen sexuality—always with disarming humor and perceptive insights that mark this as much more than a typical Hollywood vanity memoir. Without much of a filter, Union comes across as a nuanced survivor who has managed to keep both her sense of humor and her ability to love despite her experiences.

    The post The Best Non-Fiction of 2017 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 7:00 pm on 2017/12/06 Permalink
    Tags: best of 2017, , , ,   

    The Best History Books, Biographies, and Memoirs of 2017 

    2017 was a monumental year for the world, and just as great a one for books that look back on how we got to here. These 25 books encompass a wide range of subjects, writing styles, and personalities, but they all have one thing in common—by shedding light on the past (even if only the life and experiences of a single person), they all broaden our understanding of what it means to be living in the world today.

    You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir, by Sherman Alexie
    As well as a beloved author, Alexie has been a poet, filmmaker, and screenwriter. He’s won praise and generated controversy for his outspokenness, especially when Arizona recently banned his works from schools as part of a cull of Mexican-American studies programs. His first memoir tackles the complex and difficult relationship he had with his mother. Her death Forced Alexie to confront his bond with the intelligent but often abusive woman he left behind.

    Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, by Joe Biden
    Joe Biden, former Vice President and possible future presidential candidate, lost his son Beau to brain cancer after a momentous struggle. When Beau was in the midst of his fight against the disease, he made his father promise that he would be all right. Over the next year, Joe Biden served his country as Vice President while his son slowly lost his battle. In this remarkable memoir, Biden opens up about that period of his life, discussing with disarming intimacy the personal and political struggles he endured while working to make the world a safer place and trying to decide if he would run for president in 2016. Biden’s wisdom and advice for anyone who has lost someone close to them is powerful, and his insights into life’s problems come from someone who has dealt with some of the most difficult challenges in modern times on the world stage.

    Hue 1968: A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam, by Mark Bowden
    The 1968 Tet Offensive changed the course of the Vietnam War, and its startling, shocking success more or less made American defeat there inevitable. The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese surprise attack during the New Year holiday was not only a military success, but a success of propaganda as their forces were instructed to “behave like winners” as they fought. Bowden digs in to how, exactly, the surprise was pulled off and traces the many threads of consequences that followed, resulting in one of the best books on Vietnam ever written. Bowden expertly walks the reader through the single but momentous action, using several set-pieces to illustrate what the fighting was like on both sides.

    Grant, by Ron Chernow
    Pulitzer-winning author Chernow tackles one of our most disappointing—and perplexing—presidents with another sharply-written, deeply-researched book. Chernow sets out to prove that Grant, the brilliant general, was a far better president than he’s usually given credit for. Chernow has his work cut out for him, but he paints a detailed picture of Grant as a man of action who withered in inactivity, a man whose alcoholism followed a unique cycle of binging followed by lengthy periods of sobriety, a man often mistaken for homeless prior to the Civil War who brought a willingness to engage the Confederate armies head on to his tactics that proved to be the key to winning the war. As he did with Alexander Hamilton, Chernow takes a familiar but opaque figure of American history and fleshes him out, revealing the human being under the engravings—for better or worse.

    Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West, by Tom Clavin
    Bringing a level of factual rigor to the legend of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson in Dodge City isn’t an easy task; the story of those pioneering lawmen, and the famed gunfight at the OK Corral, is slathered with mythic overtones. In this revealing work, Clavin strips away the unnecessary flourishes to focuses on the facets of the story he can verify—and that unadorned tale turns out to be just as fascinating, especially his telling of the lesser-known Dodge City War, a bloodless affair that saw Earp and Masterson return to the area years later to firmly establish the rule of law, once and for all. You might think you know the story of Dodge City’s most famous gunslingers, but like as not, you only know the Hollywood version. Here’s your chance to fix that.

    It’s Not Yet Dark: A Memoir, by Simon Fitzmaurice
    A doctor gave filmmaker Fitzmaurice four years to live following an ALS diagnosis in 2008. By 2010, he was at death’s door, and given little hope, but nevertheless chose to take extraordinary measures to stay alive. In the years since, he’s fathered twins and continued to work as a documentarian. Fitzmaurice talks candidly about his daily struggles, but also about the family that sustains him in a life that’s radically different from the one he’d planned for.

    The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, by Masha Gessen
    Gessen takes a personal approach to tracing Russia’s transformation from collapsed empire into “mafia state,” following four principle figures (herself, Boris Nemtsov’s daughter, Seryozha, scion of a political reformist, and Lyosha, a homosexual in what is rapidly becoming the most homophobic nation in the world. This intimate focus grants a frightening immediacy to the story of a country that was once perceived as a triumph of democracy over totalitarianism but now seems to have reverted back to its fascist roots almost entirely. Along the way are plenty of insights into the current political situation around the world, making this as much an important work of history as it is a memoir.

    Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann
    Considering how important they were in shaping the modern age, the Osage Indian murders of the 1920s are remarkably little-known today. When the Nation became incredibly wealthy after oil was discovered on their land, more than 20 of its members of were murdered between 1921 and 1926. As public outrage grew, the federal government was pressured into putting the obscure Bureau of Investigation, led by a young Herbert Hoover, in charge of the case. Hoover used the notoriety of these awful crimes to establish what would soon be known as the FBI as the nation’s preeminent investigative body, and himself as its all-powerful chief. Grann, of The Lost City of Z fame, does a marvelous job catching you up on vital history that’s been nearly forgotten.

    Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari
    History normally looks back and attempts to say, with certainty, what did or didn’t happen. Harari takes a different approach: looking forward. While admitting that no one can accurately predict the future, he attempts to take all the information on hand and make bold predictions as to the most likely course of future human history—and his conclusions aren’t very reassuring. While he sees plenty of achievements in store for us, his theory is that humanity’s progress is inevitably making us insignificant, resulting in a future where we won’t be in control of our existence—if we’re even still around (the “post-human future” is certainly in the tea leaves.) It’s up to you to decide if Harari makes his case—but whether you agree or not, the time spent with this book is worthwhile.

    Leonardo da Vinci, by Walter Isaacson
    Isaacson begins with the presumption that Leonardo da Vinci was perhaps the most creative genius in human history and proceeds from there, digesting more than 7,000 pages of notes da Vinci left behind and producing this biography. Unlike anything else you’ve ever read about the most famous artist of the 15th and 16th centuries, Isaacson paints a portrait of a restless mind that exhibited unusual curiosity and made magical connections between disciplines that had never been made before. At the same time, he shows da Vinci as a man whose always-churning mind could leave many projects unfinished as he dashed from idea to idea. When one of our best modern writers tackles one of the most famous minds in history, it’s time to pay attention.

    The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors, by Dan Jones
    The Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple, known today as the Templars, began existence as a group of impoverished knights who protected pilgrims to the Holy Land in exchange for charity. From these humble beginnings sprang one of the most powerful and influential knightly orders in history. Gaining patronage, property, and political power, the Templars grew so great they were eventually demonized and destroyed by rival powers in Europe. Jones tells the story of the Templars in brisk writing that makes their rise and fall viscerally exciting, informative, and fascinating.

    The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home, by Denise Kiernan
    As the conversation about income inequality ramps up, this book is the ideal historical complement. In the late 19th century, George Washington Vanderbilt II was the world’s richest bachelor, and he chose to put his immense resources into building the largest private home ever constructed, a 175,000 square foot mansion sitting on 125,000 acres of land. Uninterested in romance, Vanderbilt nonetheless married the well-bred but impoverished Edith Dresser, who suddenly found herself queen of a city-sized estate. A spice of schadenfreude comes into play as Vanderbilt’s fortunes decline and the family is thrust into the sort of economic downturn that most people would recognize, even if on a vastly different scale, and Edith emerges as a heroine of sorts as she struggles to save her family and her huge, lavish home.

    The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir, by Ariel Levy
    Celebrated writer Levy tells her life story with verve and gusto, exploring as a central theme the way the universe laughs at our plans. As a young child Levy was taught she could do anything, but also warned not to depend on a man for support. As her star rose as a writer for New York Magazine and elsewhere in the 1990s her life began taking unscheduled detours: she married an older woman with substance abuse problems, she conceived a child using a sperm donor but suffered a miscarriage, and she never lost a burning desire to seek adventure and new experiences. The end result is a compelling and compulsively readable memoir.

    Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, by Chris Matthews
    For younger generations, the Kennedy name may no longer be magic, but Chris Mathews does great work to remind everyone just how special the Kennedy family was at one time. Although JFK gets most of the attention, Hardball anchor Chris Matthews knows that Bobby Kennedy was almost as important, and came very close to being president himself—and may well have been if he hadn’t been cut down in the prime of life just like his brother. Matthews doesn’t sugarcoat the ruthlessness that made plenty of enemies for Bobby Kennedy, but he also captures the younger Kennedy’s keen intellect and growing empathy for people who were not as fortunate as him, traits that would have made him a great president, had he lived.

    The American Spirit: Who We Are & What We Stand For, by David McCullough
    McCullough is one of the most celebrated historians in American history. He has written absorbing accounts of the Wright Brothers, John Adams, and the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge—winning two Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Awards along the way. A thinker like that naturally makes a lot of speeches in front of a lot of audiences, and he compiles here some of his best—speeches made before Congress, before academic audiences, before groups of fellow historians. This is stirring stuff, the sort of of clear-eyed, patriotic, smart rhetoric we need more of in these divisive and confusing times. McCullough brings a calm authority to his words, equal parts comforting and energizing. It is an ideal book to read if your faith in our institutions is fading.

    Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, by Eric Metaxas
    If you ever doubt that one person can alter the course of history, look no further than Martin Luther, a young monk who sought only to spark debate when he posted his 95 Theses to a church door. Instead, Luther’s startling moment of protest launched what came to be known as the Protestant Revolution and remade the Christian faith. Metaxas offers up a fresh perspective on a man so famous he’s more myth than reality these days, finding the humanity underneath the history.

    The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, by Kate Moore
    Whenever someone questions the need for laws protecting workers and everyone else from the deprivations of profit-seeking companies, this story should serve as educational. In the early 20th century, more than a dozen women were employed to paint watches with luminous paint based on the radioactive material radium. These women were fine artists who were able to manipulate their brushes expertly, often using their mouths to twist the brushes to a fine point in order to do the detail work. Soon after, many began suffering terrible medical problems, including lost teeth and disease jawbones, sparking a decades-long legal and medical battle that redefined worker’s rights and workplace safety.

    Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II, by Liza Mundy
    Stories of World War II often focus on the heroic deeds of male soldiers, but newly declassified documents reveal a shadow army of women who also did their part—the codebreakers. Recruited from colleges and secretarial pools for their math skills, these women were set to the task of breaking enemy codes, but their efforts and achievements were top secret, and their stories largely unknown—until now. Battling the expected sexism and hostile attitudes of their male counterparts and supervisors, tens of thousands of women helped to end the war much more quickly than it would have otherwise, and Mundy rescues their stories from obscurity and gives them the credit they deserve. In fact, she makes a solid case that without these women, we might not have won World War II at all.

    Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War, by Lynne Olson
    When Hitler and the Nazis overran much of Europe, Great Britain was flooded with refugees from all nations and walks of life—including people who had implored the British to help them, to no avail, as the German army crashed over their borders. Olson chronicles story after story of heroism, betrayal, heartbreak, and triumph, from the Polish codebreakers who helped Bletchley Park decipher the Nazi codes, to the governments in exile that formed. The experiences and contributions of these dislocated people had a direct impact on the outcome of the war, and many of their stories will be inspirational, even seven decades later.

    The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story, by Douglas Preston
    Preston, also known as one half of the team writing the Agent Pendergrast series of thrillers, details his involvement with a team seeking to prove the existence of a lost city in the Honduran wilderness. Legends tell of a city destroyed by a series of natural cataclysms, abandoned as cursed, and forbidden for centuries. Using a combination of cutting-edge technology and boots on the ground, Preston and his team locate two large sites and a wealth of archaeological treasures to prove that a lost civilization once existed in an area of the world where no human being has set foot in centuries. Preston’s skill as a novelist makes the deep-dive into the past at once entertaining, gripping, and informative.

    Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge, by Helen Rappaport

    History can sometimes seem a bit like looking at a diorama behind glass, leaving you to wonder what it was like to actually be there. Rappaport solves this problem with this fascinating new look at the Russian Revolution, focusing on foreigners from Western nations who were in Petrograd as the powder keg of revolution exploded. Glimpse the beginnings of a violent uprising that transformed an empire (and the world) from the perspective of the confused, scared people who were on hand to witness it. From barricaded offices to views of riots, Rappaport’s lively writing offers a “you are there” approach to history that is sobering in its immediacy.

    Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom by, by Thomas E. Ricks
    Context is everything. Although they lived at the same time, were born in the same country, and fought many of the same enemies, Winston Churchill and George Orwell never met, and there’s no evidence they ever even read each other’s work. Ricks places these two remarkable men side-by-side, however, and finds common ground in their shared philosophies and hatred of tyranny. A study of the lives of two men who never interacted might seem like a strange approach to history, but the result is a deeper look at the larger picture of culture and society that shaped their views, and the impact each had on the world around them.

    The Odyssey of Echo Company: The 1968 Tet Offensive and the Epic Battle to Survive the Vietnam War, by Doug Stanton
    One of the most effective techniques in a history book is to focus on a single event, exploring every facet in order to illuminate a larger related tapestry. Stanton does just this with his exploration of the Tet Offensive, the chaotic attack North Vietnam launched on January 31st, 1968 in an effort to destabilize the south and push American forces out of the country. The forty men of Echo Company of the 101st Airborne Division (an army reconnaissance platoon) had just arrived in country, and found themselves enduring a grueling, seemingly endless battle against a desperate, implacable enemy. The gripping descriptions of endless fighting combined with testimonials about the less-than warm welcome the soldiers received when they returned home help to explain the Vietnam era in terms anyone will understand.

    Where the Past Begins, by Amy Tan
    Bestselling novelist Tan’s unconventional memoir finds her on a journey through her own past via spontaneous storytelling: using fluid writing to search through her own memories to reveal the inspirations and traumas that have shaped her works. In the process, Tan reveals difficult truths about her childhood, and makes connections and uncovers memories that she herself was shocked by.

    We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True, by Gabrielle Union
    Actress Union tells her story with wit and sensitivity, a story that includes her struggles as one of a few black students in a predominantly white high school, the devastating rape at gunpoint that almost broke her, and her recovery and pursuit of a high-octane Hollywood career. Union addresses topics including parenting, raising black kids in a culture often perceived as steeped in racism, and teen sexuality—always with disarming humor and perceptive insights that mark this as much more than a typical Hollywood vanity memoir. Without much of a filter, Union comes across as a nuanced survivor who has managed to keep both her sense of humor and her ability to love despite her experiences.

    The post The Best History Books, Biographies, and Memoirs of 2017 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2017/12/04 Permalink
    Tags: best of 2017, , ,   

    Best Fiction of 2017 

    Each year, Barnes & Noble steps up to help it’s customers with their holiday shopping and travel plans by compiling a list of the best books of the year. Whether you’re looking for gifts for loved ones who love to read or stocking up on entertainment to get you through the winter, this list of the best fiction published in 2017 has you covered.

    In the Midst of Winter, by Isabel Allende
    Richard and Lucia, two NYU professors in their early 60s who live in the same building (Richard is the landlord), agree to help Evelyn, a Guatemalan nanny and refugee who shows up on Richard’s doorstep, desperate for help. Thrown together on a winter night in Brooklyn, with an unrelenting snowstorm outside, the trio opens up to one another about their troubled pasts, Lucia’s in Chile during the coup, and Evelyn’s as a victim of gang violence. Allende is known for her powerful characters, intimate prose, and magical realism. Winter highlights a new element in her oeuvre, that of a suspenseful crime thriller.

    Origin, by Dan Brown
    Brown returns to his most successful character with an all-new Robert Langdon adventure, this time centered in Spain and focusing on more modern art. Langdon starts off the book as the guest of former student-turned-billionaire Edmond Kirsch, who is staging a provocative presentation at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and hinting at the answers to two of the fundamental questions of human existence. Naturally, things go very, very wrong, and Langdon soon finds himself fleeing to Barcelona with museum director Ambra Vidal and working desperately to discover a password Kirsch left behind that will unlock all of the billionaire’s secrets. Their opponent, however, seems to be all-knowing, and firmly rooted in the Spanish royal palace—but there’s no one on Earth more equipped to deal with codes and symbols than Robert Langdon.

    The Late Show, by Michael Connelly
    Detective Renée Ballard was an up-and-comer in the LAPD, until she filed sexual harassment charges against her boss and her career went sideways. She landed on the night shift in Hollywood, which means she never finishes an investigation, always handing them off to the day shift. Until she catches two cases she can’t let go of: a prostitute beaten into unconsciousness, who claims she was assaulted in the “upside-down house” before passing out, and a young woman killed in a nightclub shooting. Ballard works the cases during the day and continues to take her regular shift in the evening, dodging her former boss (who’s officially working the nightclub shooting) and her own demons—demons which begin to haunt her as she begins losing sleep and delving deeper into the twin mysteries.

    Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
    After winning the Pulitzer Prize for A Visit From the Good Squad (2010), Egan’s highly anticipated follow-up appears to be less experimental than her previous works, but just as moving. Set in New York City during the Depression and World War II, Manhattan Beach follows the struggles of Anna Kerrigan, first as an adolescent accompanying her father on a desperate job-seeking mission, and later at 19, after her father has disappeared and Anna is charged with supporting her sister and mother by working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard as its sole female diver. A chance encounter with her father’s mobster boss begins to shed light on the truth about Anna’s dad. You may want to have tissues on hand for this detail-rich, feminist historical, which has already been long-listed for the National Book Award.

    Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich
    The countless fans of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and its recent Hulu adaptation, will want to grab Erdrich’s latest, set in a dystopian world in which pregnant women are criminalized, hunted, and oppressed because the babies they’re carrying appear to be victims of reverse evolution. In fact, time itself seems to be running backwards, and Cedar Hawk Songmaker, born to an Ojibwe mother and raised by progressive adopted parents in Minneapolis, is caught in the middle of extreme circumstances. Bestseller Erdrich, who is half-Ojibwe herself, continues her tradition of writing thoughtful portrayals of Native-American life.

    A Column of Fire, by Ken Follett
    The third installment of Follett’s excellent Kingsbridge series of historical fiction finds Kingsbridge Cathedral looming over a blood-soaked, divided England in the 16th century. Queen Mary is persecuting and executing Protestants, including the noble family of Ned Willard, who are accused of being sympathetic to the heretics. When the Willards lose their business to the family of Ned’s love Margery, Ned loses Margery as well—but only physically, as their love for each other transcends politics and business. Ned is inspired by this injustice to join the secret service of the future queen Elizabeth, a Protestant herself and a princess always in danger of being beheaded by her bloody and paranoid half-sister. Follett once again combines well-researched historical accuracy with an exciting thriller plot centered on espionage, continuing what is shaping up to be one of the most epic stories of all time.

    Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman
    Working from the original Norse legends, Gaiman applies his novelist talents to craft the old myths into a cohesive narrative in which the gods emerge as characters with motivations and flaws, telling us the story of Odin, father of the gods, and his sons Thor and Loki from the beginning, but not quite like we’ve experienced it before, from how Asgard was built to how Thor came into possession of his famous hammer. Gaiman is true to the apocalyptic tone of the old myths, stories that cast the world as a place of struggle and violence, where dying in battle was probably your best option. If you’ve read American Gods, you know Gaiman has a gift for making old stories not just new, but unmistakably his own.

    The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham
    Grisham proves he’s still got his finger on the pulse in his newest, telling the story of idealistic but broke law students Mark, Todd, and Zola, who mortgage their future in the form of student loans to attend a third-tier law school. In their third year, the trio realizes they’ve been victims of the Great Law School Scam: the graduates of their school rarely pass the bar and almost never get jobs—and the school’s owner also owns the bank that wrote the paper on their loans. Naturally, smart nearly-lawyers go for the only option they have available: revenge. It’s going to take planning and risks (like dropping out before earning your degree) but it’s the only option if you want a little justice—and the result is an Ocean’s 11 for the LSAT crowd.

    Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid
    It’s hard to predict what books will endure, but this understated, elemental novel, blending stark realism with a dash of magic, has the feel of an instant classic. Hamid tells the story of Saeed and Nadia, a young man and woman who meet each other in a classroom “in a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war.” Nadia wears a full black robe, not because she’s religious—she isn’t—but because she wants to move independently through this unnamed Muslim city, where she has made the unusual choice for an unmarried woman of moving into an apartment by herself. Saeed is enchanted. By the time violence starts to demolish their city, they are in love. They make the risky choice to migrate when they hear of a magical door that will transport them to other places. As they join a mob of international refugees moving through these doors into various stable countries in the West and trying to eke out a new existence, can their love survive?

    Uncommon Type, by Tom Hanks
    Actor Hanks has several Oscars and remains one of the most popular thespians of the modern age, so you might be forgiven for thinking this collection of 17 short stories is just a vanity project. But Hanks has a deft style and an active imagination; all of the stories are linked by the recurring image of typewriters (Hanks is a collector), those long-obsolete typing machines that now represent a simpler time. Sometimes the typewriter is just a passing image in the background, sometimes it’s the whole point, but Hanks tells a range of surprising stories using the typewriter as his starting point, including a rapid-fire trip through a hilariously doomed romance, a holiday dinner that comes to represent something darker and deeper than mere family drama, and even a sci-fi story involving time travel. After enjoying Hanks the actor, surprise yourself with how much you enjoy Hanks the author.

    Strange Weather, by Joe Hill
    Over the past two decades, Joe Hill has established himself as a dark fiction powerhouse, a versatile master of the unusual capable of writing everything from a disturbing horror story entirely in tweets to a massive post-apocalyptic epic. Strange Weather, his new collection of short novels, expands his reach even further, with four “lean, mean” tales of human emotions and twisted nature. Strange events (“Loaded” depicts a mass shooting in Florida during a wildfire; “Nails” centers on apocalyptic hailstorms of crystal nails that gruesomely murder anyone unlucky enough to be caught outside), the tense atmosphere created by unusual natural phenomena, and the vivid visuals and weird beauty Hill brings to his work—it’s another must-read from a increasingly impressive storyteller.

    The Rules of Magic, by Alice Hoffman
    In this illuminating, entertaining prequel to Hoffman’s bestselling Practical Magic (also a 1998 film starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock), readers will learn what it was like for witchy sisters Franny and Bridget (Jet) Owens to grow up in 1950s/1960s New York City with a frustratingly strict mother (understandable, given the family curse: any man who falls in love with an Owens woman will meet a gruesome end). In Rules, we meet a charming younger brother, Vincent, who also grows up ignoring Mom’s warnings, with far-reaching consequences. Will any of the rules-averse siblings figure out a way to outwit their fates? If you loved the adolescent longings and heartaches of Hoffman’s poignant, private school-set River King, you’ll especially appreciate this coming-of-age tale.

    Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz
    The diabolically clever Magpie Murders opens with the text of a classic whodunit set in sleepy English village; the latest novel in fictional author Alan Conway’s popular Atticus Pünd detective series. That mystery itself is absorbing enough, but things take a turn for the weird when editor Susan Ryeland must use the clues woven throughout it to solve a chilling real-life murder. Horowitz’s prose is elegant, his characters multifaceted and deeply human, and the ingenious construction of this brilliant puzzler (which pays homage to the classic whodunnit while taking it apart and reassembling it into something completely new) will leave you reeling. In his bestselling novels Moriarty and Trigger Mortis, Horowitz proved his knack for writing spellbinding stories, but Magpie Murders is a tour de force mystery-within-a-mystery that takes things to an astonishing new level.

    Sleeping Beauties, by Stephen King and Owen King
    Putting a lie to the theory that writing talent doesn’t have a genetic component: the King family. Joe Hill has more than proven himself as capable as dear old dad at crafting tense, terrifying thrillers, and now brother Owen is getting into the game with his first book in the family wheelhouse, co-written with the world’s bestselling horror writer. The premise is certainly killer,and oh-so-timely: it a near-near-future, all women suddenly drop into a coma-like state. While their minds are transported to an idyllic, female-dominated paradise, their bodies become shrouded in a gauzy substance. If the shroud is disturbed, the women awaken as feral monsters. As male society struggles to adapt to a world without women, we follow one woman immune to the sleeping state. With the epic length you expect from any book with “King” on the cover—and the thrills and chills to match.

    A Legacy of Spies, by John le Carré
    John le Carré is not only back, he’s bringing George Smiley with him—or at least Smiley’s assistant, Peter Guillam, called upon to fill in the blanks on an old operation called Windfall, now that the British government is being sued over some of the unintended casualties of the Cold War. Guillam begins piecing together the truth behind Windfall, digging through old files, listening to interrogations, and supplementing these discoveries with his own reliable memories. As usual in a le Carré novel, the combination of meticulous detail, skillful spycraft, and moral blankness makes for a slow-boil thriller that slowly increases the tension to unendurable levels. The intelligence and (above all) patience of the men and women working in intelligence becomes as thrilling as any gunplay.

    Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker, by Gregory Maguire
    The author of the bestselling book and Broadway smash Wicked invites you to take a fresh look at the Nutcracker in this “double origin” story of the famous wooden toy and its creator, Drosselmeier. Who is Klara’s mysterious godfather, born a German peasant and seemingly fated to provide her with the sensational trinket? And what dark enchantment did he experience in his youth? Combining myths and historical legends, and written in the style of a Brothers Grimm tale, Hiddensee promises to delight and intrigue.

    The Ninth Hour, by Alice McDermott
    Tended to by an elderly nun after her husband commits suicide, a young widowed mother and her newborn baby are brought into the fold of the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor. Brooklyn in the 1940s and ’50s wasn’t forgiving toward families overcoming scandal, and the young mother discovers that the worst moment of her life is best not mentioned. The consequences of her husband’s act will affect many generations to come, but so will the loving friendships she makes with the nuns’ help. McDermott is a National Book Award and American Book Award recipient (for Charming Billy), and a multiple Pulitzer Prize finalist.

    Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
    Fans of Anne Tyler’s Digging to America and Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies will devour bestselling Ng’s compelling new drama. When free-spirited artist and single mother Mia gives up her wanderlust and puts down roots in the affluent, tight-knit Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, she quickly befriends her landlord Elena’s family. Mia’s dismissal of the town’s social norms causes friction, however, and when she opposes another family’s well-meaning but controversial custody battle for a Chinese American baby, Elena turns against her, determined to dig up Mia’s closely guarded secrets.

    Glass Houses, by Louise Penny
    A mysterious figure has appeared in the idyllic village of Three Pines, standing alone and stock still in the freezing November sleet. As the villagers, including Chief Superintendent Armand Gamache, grow increasingly perturbed and even frightened, the figure remains. Soon after it finally disappears, a body turns up, which is very probably not a coincidence, and it falls to Gamache to discover whether the killing is in fact a terrible retribution. Later that summer, the accused stands trial, but Gamache is forced to face the consequences of the actions he took during those fateful days in November. The 13th novel in Penny’s incomparable series ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable degree.

    Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
    Saunders’ celebrated short stories have plenty of the speculative about them. His debut novel is no different; starring Abraham Lincoln and set in the 19th century, it involves very real ghosts who populate the graveyard where Lincoln’s son Willie—dead at eleven years old—has been interred. These spirits have chosen to remain in an in-between state of existence, avoiding judgment, and retain all of the prejudices and personalities of their living years. Lincoln’s presence energizes them, and they determine to save his son’s spirit from their own static fate—and all of it is delivered with Saunders’ trademark wit, eye for delirious detail, and a prose style so absorbing you forget you’re reading and not hearing a story by the fire on a chilly winter night.

    The Women in the Castle, by Jessica Shattuck
    In Jessica Shattuck’s third novel (and her first historical), three women widowed by World War II and bonded by their husband’s roles in the resistance come together with their families to forge a new future. However, despite their apparently similar situations, their individual histories are not so easily reconciled. The women’s ad hoc leader, Marianne von Lingenfels, offers her family’s now-ruined castle in Bavaria as a safe harbor, but emotional resilience is tough to come by as the sins of the past come back to haunt the women in different ways.

    Sourdough, by Robin Sloan
    The author of 2013’s critically acclaimed Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore is back with a new novel set at the intersection of San Francisco’s technology hub and competitive farmers’ markets. When Lois Clary, an isolated computer coder who works in robotics, is bequeathed a sourdough starter (the yeast used to make bread) by two brothers about to be deported, she takes their request of “raising” the dough—which seems to have a personality all its own—very seriously. She soon finds herself in an invitation-only club of eccentric, fanciful chefs who wish to combine Lois’s day job skills in robotics with her newfound penchant for baking.

    Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
    Magical realism and poetic lyricism combine in this paean to road trip novels by a talented author whose creativity brings emotionally devastating truths to the surface. Ward’s previous novel, Salvage the Bones, won the National Book Award in 2011 for its vital depiction of Hurricane Katrina. Here, drug-addicted and poverty-stricken matriarch Leonie, a black woman living on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, is desperate to be a better mom but struggles with what that means and how to achieve it. She drags her two children (13-year-old Jojo and toddler Kayla) across Mississippi to the State Penitentiary, where their white father is set to be released. Jojo prefers the company of his grandparents over his parents, and is deeply reluctant to make the trip. His feelings on the subject are compounded when he’s visited by a spirit close to him in age, who died during his grandfather’s youth. Jojo’s ability was inherited from his mother, who is regularly haunted (and at times, comforted) by the ghost of her murdered brother.

    Artemis, by Andy Weir
    Weir’s first novel in the wake of The Martian‘s became a bestselling phenomenon and a major box office hit is a completely different kind of story, even as it shares its predecessor’s commitment to smart, plausible science. In Artemis, city on the Moon. Jazz Bashara works as a porter, scraping by and supplementing her income with a little light smuggling on the side. Her moonlighting brings her into contact with wealthy and powerful figures like Trond Landvik, a businessman with designs on a lunar aluminum monopoly. Landvik asks Jazz to come up with a way to sabotage his competition, and Jazz seizes the opportunity to grab a big score with a bold plan spiced. The resulting caper moves at a mile a minute, delivered with the same witty dialogue and ribald humor that made us fall in love with Mark Watney. If you ask us, Weir has another winner on his hands—and likely another blockbuster film adaptation in his future.

    Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate
    Avery Stafford, an attorney being groomed to follow her father’s footsteps into politics, returns home to a small town in South Carolina to help him through cancer treatments. There she meets an elderly woman in a nursing home who has a photo of Avery’s mother—although Avery’s never met or heard of the woman. Her sudden investigation into her prominent family’s past reveals a shocking secret connected to a sketchy orphanage (based, unfortunately, on real life) that spent decades basically stealing children from poor families and adopting them out to rich ones. As this tragic past catches up with the present, Avery has to reevaluate everything she thought she knew about family, heritage, and justice.

    What’s the best new fiction book you read this year?

    The post Best Fiction of 2017 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
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