The year is nearly over, so it’s time for some best-of book recommendations.
We gathered together and reviewed our recently-read book pile to make a list of our favorites to share with you. Here they are in no particular order.
Wendy J. Fox
Grand-prize winner of the 2017 Literary Awards Program in Fiction. You can follow her on Twitter @WendyJeanFox.
The Expense of a View by Polly Buckingham is a debut with a sense of bleakness and fantasy. Buckingham’s characters are often both struggling and inhabiting harsh landscapes, mixed in with an undercurrent of danger that is sometimes just below, and sometimes surfacing – and she handles this tension expertly with textured, nuanced, and sparkling prose. I’m Fine But You Appear to Be Sinking by Leyna Krow is a debut book that is both bleak and fantastical. Short stories that are contextually and deeply emotionally linked, it feels less like a collection and almost more like a deconstructed novel, each story an isolated study in craft, yet still bound together with a narrative arc. In the City by Joan Silber is Silber’s second book and remains out of print. An NBA nominee and PEN winner with a new book out this year, Silber’s career has been long, prolific, and consistent. A coming of age story that turns bitter in places, this novel flashes with moments of the writer Silber has become. More than a snapshot of 1920s New York, it is a deft period piece with a depth to the protagonist that belies the simplicity of the premise, and it is a true joy for readers familiar with her later work.
Former Editor of the SFWP Quarterly and author of the Translator’s Cut. You can follow him on Twitter @kesemmel.
What can anyone say about Margaret Atwood at this point in her career? Oryx & Crake depicts a world set in a dystopian future, where thanks to genetic engineering animals such as pigoons and rakunks run wild. I’m a sucker for this kind of novel. The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld is a fascinating lyric novel portraying characters living on death row. Beautifully conceived, marvelously written, Denfeld explores the minefield that is the issuing surrounding the death penalty, and she does so with grace and poise. The Dark Net by Benjamin Percy – I will read any new book published by Percy. I love his sentences and the way he uses verbs. In this new novel, he’s at it again with his signature style: a strong plot, plenty of thrills, and interchanging narratives that ratchet up the drama with every page. Bonus points for having supernatural touches in this one.
Founder the Santa Fe Writers Project and author of the memoir We All Scream: The Fall of the Gifford’s Ice Cream Empire. You can follow him on Twitter @SFWP.
Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Trilogy was just astounding. I was a little worried when she announced that the next book, post-trilogy, would be a standalone novel set in the same universe. But she pulled it off with Provenance. And, in doing so, she made me realize that she’s easily the heir to Iain Banks (one of my favorite sci-fi authors). Banks created the Culture, an advanced race of humans and machines struggling with the chaos swirling around their otherwise utopian society. While there are many Culture books, they are all pretty much standalone adventures. So I’m fine if Leckie follows this path and takes us through the multifaceted world that the Ancillary Trilogy introduced us to. Really looking forward to more work from her. I plowed through the first two books of The Luna Series by Ian McDonald early this year. Set on the colonized moon where corporations rule – and conduct bloody feuds to expand their power – this series had an old-school sci-fi feel, perfectly meshed with a modern voice and unique storytelling. The moon of the future is a monstrous place where family corporations tear each other apart and it often feels like no one will get out of this story alive. Great sci-fi action with an epic feel, complicated Dune-style political maneuvering, and a twisty, turny plot. Also this year, I read The Clash of Eagles Trilogy by Alan Smale. It’s 1218 AD…and a Roman legion arrives to claim North America for the empire. This is one of the finest alt-history series I’ve read. Strong characters highlight this adventure, and the world building is addictive. I wanted Smale to take us all over this alternate North America. We do get to travel around for a bit, but the center of the story is the coming clash between Rome and Genghis Khan on the Great Plains and on the Mississippi. With plenty of action, a bit of romance, and a sublime study of a massive culture clash, this trilogy is well worth picking up.
April L. Ford
I’ve been a fan of Heather O’Neill‘s prose for a decade. If you take a chance like I did on Daydreams of Angels, you’ll see why. I’m happy I got to conclude 2017, my all-Canadian reading year, with Cora Siré‘s second novel Behold Things Beautiful. The language and suspense are masterfully balanced. Emily St. John Mandel does not fool around: she brings you right into dilemma and discomfort with Station Eleven. She keeps you on the page.
Daniel M. Ford
For no discernible reason, at the busiest time of my school year, I decided to try and read one of the biggest and most impenetrable of Charles Dickens novels, Bleak House. A kind of pre-holiday self improvement program for the reading mind. I thought I’d peter out halfway in, but instead I could barely stop. Probably some of the best, most hilarious descriptions of people and places in the canon. There is rather too much plot packed into the last 150 pages or so, but I let myself be carried through it on the momentum of the prose itself, and it worked. The only book on my list actually published in 2017, Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames, is so good, so fun, so hilarious that I’ve spent the past two weeks recommending it to everyone I know who games or reads fantasy and possibly just to strangers on the street. The central conceit – adventuring groups as touring rock bands, complete with booking agents, groupies, and huge traveling rigs – should instantly, delightfully land with anyone who’s ever picked up dice with a group of friends. The Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon (really an omnibus edition of a trilogy) had been on my radar for quite a while, but once I realized I was writing a trilogy of novels about a Paladin, I swore off all other paladin related stories till I was finished, or nearly finished. So with Crusade essentially in its final shape this year, I finally read what is rightly considered the definitive Paladin novel of the fantasy canon. The depiction here of the slow-burn conversion experience is riveting, the military training feels very authentic, and the trials Paks undergoes for her faith are truly, genuinely harrowing.
Melanie Greaver Cordova
I realized when putting this list together that my favorite books I’ve read this year were all published in 2015. I’d apologize for being late to the game if they weren’t such strong works. At once vibrant and dark, Noelle Stevenson‘s Nimona is a graphic novel about an impulsive young shapeshifter. Stevenson’s witty prose and clever plot complement the excellent artwork from start to finish. Probably the most eccentric work I’ve read this year is Valeria Luiselli‘s The Story of My Teeth, translated by Christina MacSweeney. Luiselli punctuates this auctioneer’s memoir with profound, minute imagery as we go through the history of each of his teeth. I just finished Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley Beaulieu, which proved to be a rich, complicated story. The city of Sharakhai is masterfully crafted, and while the sheer length made the novel a beast to get through, Çeda’s world remained consistently compelling.
Writer, interviewer, and book reviewer for SFWP. Follow her on Twitter @poetic_moni.
Annette McGivney‘s Pure Land weaves three tangential relationships together: a Japanese hiker in the Grand Canyon, her Native American murderer, and the white journalist tasked with following their stories. Focusing heavily on place, generational and childhood trauma, and the healing power of the Grand Canyon, Annette McGivney offers a story of pain and awakening, and gives some explanation for why our hurt bleeds into our descendants. Ishion Hutchinson masters a language of trauma in House of Lords and Commons, a collection of poems. The book begins at a train station, where the speaker awaits their father, whom they haven’t seen in many years. From there, we are launched through the Caribbean, Europe, and the United States, searching for communion with myth tellers, relatives, and strangers who have so much to teach us about what is right, what is hard, and what is beautiful. Though this wasn’t published in the last year or so, Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson opened new possibilities to my understanding of form and retelling. Carson updates and rewrites the myth of Geryon and Herakles, describing a love story not previously seen in the myth itself. The book asks what is myth, how do we maintain it, and what good comes from language if it does not teach? The language and line breaks surprise and startle the reader as they ask what happens to a red-winged boy in love.