2017 Best Books from Robbins Library Staff

Happy New Year!  Here are the Robbins Library librarians’ top picks of 2017!

Fall was a particularly amazing season for books in 2017, and YA books especially: the genre-bending Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, Turtles All the Way Down by John Green, and the long-awaited Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman were all absolutely top-notch. In adult literature, The Power by Naomi Alderman was incredibly thought-provoking, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman had one of the most unique narrators ever, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee was a sweeping multi-generational epic of a Korean family, and J. Courtney Sullivan was back in top form with Saints for All Occasions, about two Irish sisters who move to Boston and how their lives diverge. In adult nonfiction, there were true stories from The Moth in All These Wonders, an incisive examination of how sexism is present even in the lives of women who are at the top of their respective industries in Anne Helen Petersen’s Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud, and Roxane Gay’s new memoir Hunger, which I still need to read! My to-read list for 2018 is pretty long already…

A Different Pond by Bao Phi: A picture book for all ages about a family of Vietnamese immigrants. Father and son get up early to fish at their local pond (it’s a true Father/Son bonding theme but with the added complexity that the team is fishing because they have to, not for recreation). Father tells tales about the family and they meet all sorts of other neighborhood fisher-people. Warm and thoughtful and comforting but with a tinge of sadness.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: This teen novel is very similar to Jason Reynolds “All American Boys” in that each have a protagonist who witnesses a police officer shooting a black man. In “The Hate U Give”, Angie Thomas spends some more time allowing us to get to know Starr. Starr is divided between her predominantly black home neighborhood and the social structure of the majority white day school that she attends. When she witnesses the shooting of her childhood best friend at the hands of a white police officer, her whole divided world comes tumbling down. The story is warm, effectively, thought-provoking, scary, sad and at times, funny.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly: The story of the black women mathematicians who worked on the space missions in the 1950s and beyond. The book explores personal histories as well as professional challenges and triumphs. Amazing!

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill: The winner of last year’s Newbery Medal, it made it onto my reading list this year. A perfect and lovely fantasy with a cast of magical and fun characters. Just read it.

Bluefishing by Steve Sims

I bought this book as the business book selector for the library because it contains an intriguing entrepreneurial perspective. When the book came in, I checked it out, took it home, and read the entire book in one Saturday afternoon; there were so many brilliant insights, I couldn’t put it down. My brain was blown in an amazing way; I am not sure if I learned anything brand new, but it completely changed my mindset around sales and marketing.

I took copious notes (which I almost never do even though I am a voracious reader) because the content was exactly what I needed to read.

The following things struck me the most:

1. Do not believe what people tell you. Most don’t have the ability to communicate effectively. All of their best information is unsaid, somewhere between the lines. Drill down for it. [Keep asking “Why?”]

2. Personalized Communication: Send a quick hand written note to let people know that you are thinking about them. Keep it simple.

3. Do a self audit, because things don’t magically get better. Take an honest look at your strengths and weaknesses. Invest in the strengths and see what weaknesses you need to remove.

4. Try the Chug Test. If you want to know if someone is a good match for you (as a client, customer, vendor, boss, employee, friend) ask yourself: Would I chug a beer with that person?

5. My [Steve’s] meditation is different. It’s in riding a motorcycle or getting into the boxing ring. It’s that moment when you focus so much on something that everything else in your day and work and life falls away.
[Note from Sue: I personally experience this when powerlifting; moving meditation can be as powerful as or more than seated meditation.]

Picture books

Plume by Isabelle Simler. Gorgeous illustrations, a playful premise, and a surprise ending.

Where’s Halmoni? by Julie Kim. A cross between picture book and graphic novel. A thoroughly entertaining adventure with beautiful illustrations which are a cross between manga and folklore.

Green Pants by Kenneth Kraegel. A little boy faces the existential question of how to balance his individuality and the conformity required of him. Adorable!

Max Speed by Stephen Shaskan. I love reading this one in story time.

Children’s fiction

The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman. I loved re-entering the richly imagined, mysterious and complicated world of Philip Pullman.

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. Possibly the most fun I had this year while listening to an audio book. Witty, funny, with exhilarating action, a great female protagonist and dastardly bad guys – a total romp of horror! And horror is not usually my favorite genre.

The Goat by Anne Fleming. I loved this story of a goat living at the top of an apartment building in NYC.

Children’s graphic novels

Anna & Froga: Completely Bubu by Anouk Ricard. Quirky and hilarious.

Lucy & Andy Neanderthal: The Stone Cold Age by Jeffrey Brown. Funny and surreptitiously informing.

Adult graphic novels

My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris. Really personal horror/historical fiction. Compulsively readable, with amazing illustrations.

Adult fiction

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. It was so much fun to read about this eccentric character, a woman of precise language and manners, who has absolutely no understanding of social cues. Her difficult past is revealed over the course of the book and we get to cheer as she finally confronts it.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal. I loved this story of immigration and assimilation, and of women searching for meaning and joy.

Glass Houses by Louise Penny. Reading Louise Penny is like putting my head into the hands of a master – I get to completely inhabit this familiar world of beloved characters and new bad guys and believe in the power of hard work and true conscience.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Quite beautiful and original.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Elizabeth Arden

The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo

Wires and Nerve by Marissa Meyer

The Boy on the Bridge by Mike Carey

Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

This story about three astronauts participating in a very realistic training simulation, is an incredibly engrossing work of character-driven science fiction.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This teen book is on lots of “best of” lists this year, and with good reason. A thoughtful, complex, well-crafted book about race and one teenage girl’s experience of feeling caught between communities and trying to decide when to speak up about injustice. The audiobook is excellently narrated by Bahni Turpin.

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

An experience during a law internship brings up difficult issues from the author’s own life, and she writes about all of it eloquently, balancing crime story with memoir.

Touch by Courtney Maum

A trend forecaster predicts a return to person-to-person contact in this thought-provoking near-future work of satire that’s close enough to our current reality to be believable.

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

A teen girl becomes fed up with the way girls are treated at her school, and decides to fight back by starting a zine and inspiring other girls to action. Wonderfully feminist, fun, and full of characters you’ll wish were your friends in high school.

My favorite picture book of the year was School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex and illustrated by Christian Robinson– Funny, sweet, and perfect for this whole family! I think my most recommended picture book of the year was the book Blue Sky White Stars by Sarvinder Naberhaus and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. America is a complicated place, but this beautiful and joyous book written by an immigrant and illustrated by an African-American really shows America off in all of it’s full-color joy.

I listened to my favorite novel of the year rather than reading it. Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders’ book about life, death, and Abraham Lincoln was narrated by 166 actors. I’m not sure if I would have liked it as a novel, but I loved it as an audiobook! For non-fiction, Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice by Dr. Willie Parker moved me deeply.

One of my favorite stories this year that wasn’t a book. The podcast Earhustle, produced by incarcerated men at San Quentin Prison was beautiful, sad, hopeful, and heartbreaking. New episodes will air in March of 2018 so right now is the perfect time to catch up on this amazing collection of stories about life inside.

Of course, I missed a lot of great 2017 titles as well. How is possible that I never got around to Roxanne Gay’s Hunger? Or Righteous, the second mystery about Isaiah Quintabe, known in his neighborhood as I.Q? Oh well, time to set my reading goals for 2018!

The Black Tides of Heaven & The Red Threads of Fortune by J. Y. Yang – These companion novels take place in an Asia inspired fantasy setting.  When children are born, they are not assigned a gender – rather they get to declare their gender when they’ve figured it out.  These stories follow a set of twins born to the Empress and the divergent paths their lives take after one twin discovers they have the power of prophecy.

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu– Vivian is sick of the sexism she sees at school & decideds to secretly create a Riot Grrl inspired zine to do something about it.  This book has so many amazing characters & a powerful, but fun, story.

The Backstagers by James Tynion IV, Illus. Rian Sygh – A delightful romp through a theater’s magical backstage area at an all boy’s school.  Beautifully illustrated with saturated colors and populated by compelling characters, this is a series I’m excited to see more from!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – An incredibly emotional story about Starr, a girl who watches her best friend get murdered at the hands of a police officer.  Starr has some of the best parents I’ve ever seen in any work of fiction, but even with that kind of support, navigating doing the right thing and protecting herself are never easy.

Jem and the Holograms: The Misfits by Kelly Thompson, Illus. Jenn St. Ogne – The Misfits get their own reality show & each of the members of the band gets their time to shine.  It’s so great to get to dig a little more into each of their backstories, since so much of the original Jem comic focuses on the Holograms.  The Misfits backstories are inspired by the original cartoon, while modernizing them to make it fit better in the contemporary world.  Gorgeous, punchy artwork, as I always expect from this series.

The Power by Naomi AldermanThis novel is brilliantly written. The story follows 4 main characters, and a few minor characters, through a massive change in the world. Girls suddenly have the power to deliver electric shocks via touch. The novel is framed as a historical novel, and is capped off by conversations between the male author of said historical novel and a female author he’s asking to give feedback. These endcaps do a fantastic job of really hammering home the ridiculousness of our current ideas about gender – with such gems as the female author saying she loves stories about “boy gangs” and how sexy such things are.

The characters were well rounded, realistic, and likable. Roxy is from a crime family in the UK, Tunde is an amateur journalist from Nigeria, Allie is an orphan who hears the voice of God in the US, and Margaret is an US politician. None of them felt like stereotypes and each of them surprised me over the course of the book in unexpected ways that still stayed true to their core character. I really enjoyed jumping between the different narrative threads and seeing how all of their stories were interwoven together.

The novel is a study in gender, yes, but more of a study in power and what power does to those who have it than anything else. The author imagines a world that’s almost the exact mirror of ours and clearly believes that power ultimately corrupts. While I don’t necessarily disagree with that assertion, I personally feel that any marginalized group wouldn’t so readily marginalize their oppressors *in the exact same way that they were oppressed* and that’s where I feel like things could have been explored more. I do acknowledge though, that there are certainly pros to exploring the exact inverse of our current society – mainly that it so elegantly points out absurdities with the current society.

I highly recommend the audiobook; narrated by master of accents Adjoa Andoh, who also narrated Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah.

Paul Takes The Form of A Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor – Paul is a queer shapeshifter & this book follows him as he breezes through life from city to city, love to love, & conquest to conquest. Usually books that meander and don’t have a strong plot drive me crazy, but in this book it completely worked. It was super atmospheric, slice of life, and weird – kind of like a book version of a Sophia Coppola movie. I loved Paul as a character, loved the window the book gives into 90’s queer culture, & loved the way it makes you think about gender & sexuality & relationships.

Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld, Illus. Alex Puvilland – Something weird happened in Poughkeepsie, NY.  Officially called “The Spill”, nobody knows if it was a nuclear accident, a hole opening up from another dimension, aliens, or something else entirely.  Addison wasn’t there that night, but her family was.  Only her sister survived and she hasn’t spoken since.  Addison makes ends meet by sneaking into her now  quarantined hometown and photographing the surreal and dangerous oddities she finds there.  The story here is incredibly layered and the artwork that accompanies is is stunning as well.  This book is a textbook example of masterful use of color – the artist uses realistic colors outside the Spill Zone and switches over to a lurid, neon-infused color palette for inside the Zone.  Volume 2 can’t come quick enough – I’m itching to know what happens next!

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