LitReactor Staff Picks: The Best Books of 2017 (part 2)
Another year has come and gone. You know what that means, don't you? Time for a bunch of strangers to tell you what was good! And why should you care what the LitReactor staff thinks are the best books of the year? Trick question! You shouldn't. But what they have to say might interest you nonetheless, because they are good-looking and knowledgeable and they read like the wind. So for those who care, we submit for your approval/derision some of LitReactor's favorite reads of 2017 (part 2).
Not all of these books were published this year. We figured if someone read a book for the first time in 2017, they deserved the opportunity to crow about it.
Read part 1 HERE.
Joshua Chaplinsky — Managing Editor
'Found Audio' by N.J. Campbell
I'm a sucker for these types of stories (see also: Fictional Films and Filmmmakers, Lost Signals Anthology) and Found Audio did not disappoint. A creepy meta-mystery that will leave you pondering your own existence.
'Borne' by Jeff VanderMeer
From the author of the Southern Reach Trilogy comes one of the most enjoyable reads of the year. Also one of the most relatable—even though it's essentially about the relationship between a woman and an inhuman organism surviving in an apocalyptic wasteland. Throw out all your Dr. Spock. This is the only book on parenting you'll ever need.*
*DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and in no way reflect the opinions of any sane human being.
'Paperbacks from Hell' by Grady Hendrix
A love letter to the horror paperbacks of the 70s and 80s. A time when restrictions were limited, and all you needed to become a published author was a kick-ass cover and a fresh take on the orifice-invading animal subgenre. Relive the mass market glory days in full color.
'The Sarah Book' by Scott McClanahan
I don't know where the fact ends and the fiction begins with McClanahan. Which makes this book that much more heartbreaking. Is that a good thing? Better him than me, I suppose. It's also a very funny book. A teary-eyed chuckler of a read.
'Twenty Days of Turin' by Giorgio de Maria
This lost gem from the 70s, recently published in English for the first time, is politically and socially relevant in the most unsettling of ways. It is a story that concerns the most dreaded of isms. No, not veganism. The other one. The one that starts with an F. The ending alone made my skin crawl. My epidermis was all, "Peace out!"
Honorable Mentions: In the River & Entropy in Bloom, both by Jeremy Robert Johnson, Human Trees by Matthew Revert, Little Star (2013) by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Sip by Brian Allen Carr, Black Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman
Renee Asher Pickup - Class Facilitator
'Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body' by Roxane Gay
I don’t know how to explain what this book is about because it touched me so deeply it felt like it was (at least partially) about me. It’s a little bit about food and weight, and all the horrible things that come along with our society’s attitudes toward both, but it’s also about moving through life when you’re young and screwed up. Gay’s honesty about her experiences as a lost young woman will hit you right in the gut. I’m not a crier, but my eyes welled up more than once reading this book.
'The Long And Faraway Gone' by Lou Berney
This didn’t come out in 2017, but I read it in 2017, and I loved it so much I couldn’t leave it off my list. It’s a PI novel that’s not a PI novel, even though the plot is a beat-by-beat PI story. What makes it special is who our PI is, and what he’s facing. This is the rare crime novel that hits you with the after effects of the crimes seen on the page. Berney’s Wyatt is a rich and full character, grappling with survivor’s guilt, trauma he’s never dealt with, and trying to find answers to the kind of questions real victims ask all the time, but don’t usually ask in crime fiction. It has all the fun of genre with a heart I can’t compare it to anything else I’ve read this year.
'A Negro and an Ofay' by Danny Gardener
I don’t know where to start with this book, other than to say – give it the awards, make it into a movie, teach it in classrooms. Gardener’s novel is fun, fast paced, and plays out like a movie in your mind it’s so well written. A Negro and an Ofay takes you back to post-war Chicago and dares you to say society is different now. I want more Eliot Caprice, and I want it in every format available. Seriously, if you haven’t read this book – what are you doing?
'Grand Trunk and Shearer' by Ian Truman
I flew through this book, having fun every step of the way, and was totally unprepared for how hard the ending hit me. Truman takes the tried and true revenge story, and plunks it down in a working class neighborhood in Montreal. The group of guys he sends on a mission of vengeance are funny, often inept, and feel very real. But when I hit the last few chapters of the book I knew it would be something special. It’s hard enough to write a story where a bad thing happens, the protagonist gets his revenge, and everyone lives happily ever after, but Truman puts all of that under a microscope, and really makes you feel the consequences of all the action you gleefully participated in throughout the story.
'The Woman From Prague' by Rob Hart
Nepotism is a bitch, right? It would be awful for me to include Rob on my list because we work together – but it would be really awful to leave this book off because I loved it so much. Ash McKenna has become one of my favorite protagonists, and his trip to Prague is packed full of all the fun and heart I look forward to in his adventures. Unlike the previous two Ash novels, this one is a spy thriller complete with James Bond-esque gadgets, and Daniel Craig as James Bond-eaque ass kickings. The supporting characters are fantastic, and there’s one scene (I won’t spoil it for you) with an iPhone that needs to be on the big screen yesterday.
Keith Rawson - Columnist
I totally cheated this year and put together a top 10. As usual, they’re in no particular order, I just liked them.
'A Little Life' by Hanya Yanagihara and 'The Weight Of The World' by David Joy
These two novels almost created a new genre: Literary Torture Porn. Seriously, the authors of both novels put their protagonists through the emotional and physical ringer before ultimately wounding them permanently/killing them in the worst ways possible. Both novels are powerful testaments to friendship and the levels of pain we’re willing to endure for them.
'The Golden House' by Salman Rushdie and 'The Savage' by Frank Bill
On the surface, these books seem as opposite as A Little Life and The Weight Of The World. But they share two common threads:
- Both are steeped in social realism
- Both are insanely dark fantasies that virtually no human being will ever experience
To be blunt, I loved The Golden House, it’s Rushdie on all cylinders and may be one of his best novels. With The Savage, Bill has taken a narrative leap forward. It’s a densely told and richly detailed post-Apocalyptic novel and is a stand out in the sub-genre.
'The Book Of Joan' by Lidia Yuknavitch and 'Sea Of Rust' by C. Robert Cargill
Both are post-human science fiction novels. They’re wonderfully pulpy and oddly funny. By the way, I REALLY hope Yuknavitch tries to tackle horror with her next novel (No, The Small Backs Of Children doesn’t count).
'She Rides Shotgun' by Jordan Harper and 'The Smack' by Richard Lange
Nothing gets my nipples harder than L.A. crime fiction, and Harper and Lange are two of its best practitioners. Harper lets his Ellroy flag fly with stunning affect and Lange’s short con novel is fast paced and atmospheric.
'Difficult Women' by Roxanne Gay and 'Entropy in Bloom' by Jeremy Robert Johnson
Both collections are so fucking weird. I was expecting it from Johnson, but I was a little taken aback by Gay. Both authors write with stunning clarity and uproarious, surreal humor. If you’re not a short story fan, try these two collections on for size, they’ll change your mind.
Richard Thomas - Instructor/Columnist
'Best Horror of the Year Volume 9' edited by Ellen Datlow
I mean, it’s what I read every year, this anthology of the best horror out there. I know it’s one opinion, it’s all so subjective, but I feel that as a writer of dark fiction, this is a must read. I was only long-listed, but I’ll keep trying. Stand out stories by Brian Evenson, Livia Llewellyn, and Kristi DeMeester, among others.
'The Handmaid’s Tale' by Margaret Atwood
Finally got around to reading this book. WOW. Scary, funny, and so emotional. Really got to me. For all of the darkness going on these days, it’s hard to read, I can actually see how we might GET HERE. Which is all the more terrifying. I also enjoyed the television show as well. If you’ve put off reading this, pick it up now.
'The Warren' by Brian Evenson
Just a novella, but wow, did this pack a punch. What I love about Brian’s voice is the way he so subtly gets under your skin, sneaks up on you, selling one story, waving his right hand, as the left hand does something else, behind his back, our back—all of our backs. Reminded me a bit of the movie, Moon. Just a huge fan of Brian’s work, so be sure to pick this slim volume up from Tor.
'The Dark Net' by Benjamin Percy
I think Ben has replaced Stephen King as the author that I just PICK UP when a new book comes out, no matter what it is. He never disappoints. Always straddling the fence between the best of genre and literary fiction, this was a tense, wild ride. Paranoid, horrific, and very possible, this book really grabbed me, and didn’t let go. Loved it. Pick up his other work too—Red Moon, The Wilding, The Dead Lands, etc.
'Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living' edited by Manjula Martin
This is a fascinating collection of interviews, essays, and creative non-fiction about how we as authors make a living. There were some essays that really just floored me—the passion, the emotion, the struggle. If you are trying to make a living as an author, this is a book you must read. Excellent contributions from Laura Goode, Alexander Chee, Roxane Gay, Julia Fierro, Jennifer Weiner, and Nina MacLaughlin.
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