Best Books of 2017: Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

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THE MOST CHARMING READ OF THE YEAR: THE STORY OF ARTHUR TRULUV by Elizabeth Berg
I’m not sure when charming stories became a genre, but they really have and this one is terrific. This is a multi-generational look at loss and love and friendship and family. I laughed, I cried, I loved it.
Runners-UpELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail HoneymanRABBIT CAKE by Annie Hartnett

BEST WOMEN’S FICTION: LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng
In her sophomore effort (after the fabulous EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU) Ng has created a world of believable characters, none of whom is perfect. This is a  compelling story about family dynamics that is driven by these characters and was unputdownable. I especially loved her evocative writing which really captured my imagination.
Runners-Up: THE IDENTICALS by Elin HilderbrandSEVEN DAYS OF US by Francesca Hornak

BEST CRIME SERIES READ: THE MIDNIGHT LINE by Lee Child 
Jack Reacher, Book 22
Lee Child has been writing his character, the larger than life Jack Reacher, and keeping every book interesting and relevant, not to mention unputdownable. Kudos to keeping a series this fresh after so long. I’ll put down whatever I’m reading to inhale a new Lee Child book and this one was exceptional.
Runner-UpTWO KINDS OF TRUTH by Michael Connelly, Harry Bosch, Book 20

BEST STANDALONE THRILLER: THE GIRL BEFORE by J.P. Delaney
This was a really tough decision. I loved several thrillers this year (see the Runners-Up) but I had to pick one. I read this book towards the end of 2016, it published in January 2017. A couple of weeks ago I had a library patron looking for a good thriller, something different, and I told her all about this book. When I can remember the plot of a book a year (and 300+ books later,) the decision becomes obvious. This is a compelling, excellent read.
Runners-Up:  THE GOOD DAUGHTER by Karin SlaughterTHE RED HUNTER by Lisa Unger, & SAY NOTHING by Brad Park

BEST LEGAL THRILLER: EXPOSED by Lisa Scottoline
Last year I selected Anthony Franze’s debut as my favorite legal thriller. I could have picked him again and been happy: THE OUTSIDER by Anthony Franze was wonderful, but my heart belongs to Scottoline. Another author with a long series that never gets old or tired, you can feel the love she has for these characters and why her fans feel the same way.

BEST THRILLER DEBUT: THE DRIVER by Hart Hanson 
I haven’t found a thriller this dark and funny in a long time. Hanson is a TV writer who has developed many books into TV series, most notably “Bones,” based on the Kathy Reichs books. His skills with pacing are evident here as this is a real page-turner. The Driver is a roller coaster ride of good cops, bad cops, gangs, torture, parrots, skateboarders and more. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and the laughter outweighed the violence more often than not.

BEST  MYSTERY: THE LATE SHOW by Michael Connelly
This is an excellent series debut from the finest crime fiction writer out there. Detective Renée Ballard works the “late show”, the overnight shift, in Hollywood, California. This is a police procedural at its best; the damaged protagonist who happens to be a woman, police politics, a couple of interesting, twisty cases, and a satisfying conclusion. I was shocked to realize this book was over 400 pages, it was a very fast read for me. Connelly has a way of drawing me into his stories that make it almost impossible to put down the book, and this book was no exception.

BEST HISTORICAL LIT: THE ALICE NETWORK by Kate Quinn
“The Alice Network” was a real spy ring comprised of women during World War I led by Louise, the “Queen of the Spies.” This completely fascinating book is historical fiction based on rather mindblowing facts. It moves back and forth between World War I and the end of World War II. This is riveting stuff even though at times, the material was quite difficult to read. The author’s notes at the end parse fiction from fact and the facts heavily win out. An excellent read for fans of historical fiction, especially with a woman’s bent. This would be a fabulous choice for a book discussion as well.

BEST JEWISH LIT: ALL THE RIVERS by Dorit Rabinyan
The story has been called an Arab-Israeli Romeo and Juliet. Yes, it is a love story but it is more about how people of different cultures and faiths relate to one another and is set shortly after 9/11 in New York City, then moves to Israel towards the end. Rabinyan won Israel’s prestigious Bernstein Prize in 2015 for this book. It became politicized when Israel’s Ministry of Education banned the book from the high school curriculum. And I was shocked to learn it a very autobiographical novel.

BEST HISTORICAL ROMANCE: A DUKE IN SHINING ARMOR by Loretta Chase
Difficult Dukes, Book 1
This first book of a new series from perennial favorite Loretta Chase introduces the three “dis-Graces,” dukes who have been so badly behaved that they are barely welcome in society. Chase brings her trademark wit and sensuality to this delightful romp.
Runners-Up: THE GIRL WITH THE MAKE-BELIEVE HUSBAND by Julia QuinnTHE BAD LUCK BRIDE by Janna MacGregor  (debut)

BEST  CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE: YOU SAY IT FIRST by Susan Mallery
This category was another struggle for me, there were some really excellent contenders. But again I used my memory as a guide, I can easily talk about this book without a struggle plus it is the first book of a series and the second book, SECOND CHANCE GIRL by Susan Mallory, was also terrific, so there you go.
Runners-Up: ROOMIES by Christina LaurenON SECOND THOUGHT by Kristan HigginsLOST RIDER by Harper Sloan

BEST CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE SERIES: The Blue Heron Series by Kristan Higgins
Higgins strength as a writer, besides her terrific storytelling ability, is her sense of humor, her ability to create strong, believable characters, and enough drama and romance to keep the pages turning. Best of all, she does it all seamlessly. Her books are emotionally satisfying, which I deeply appreciate. She literally makes me laugh and cry in each and every book; the crying is rare and special, and the humor is sometimes surprising and often laugh out loud funny. While each book can and does stand alone, following the relationships as they develop adds something to each book, so read in order: The Best Man; The Perfect Match; Waiting on You; In Your Dreams;  Anything for You. The setting is a small town in upstate New York with the Blue Heron Winery at its center, and all the characters are inter-related in one way or another. I read them all in a week.

BEST  NONFICTION: THEFT BY FINDING by David Sedaris
Diaries (1977-2002)
Sedaris is a prodigious journaler and a brilliant writer. He has been keeping journals for most of his life and I heard him read from his diaries several years ago, and I laughed until I cried.  Sedaris is an observer of life. He spent his early adulthood wandering the country, working odd jobs and dining at an IHOP nightly. He meets a lot of quirky people along the way and it is these observations, usually completely on the mark, that is the hallmark of his humor. Pay close attention or the punchlines will go rushing past you – I had to stop several times and reread a line or two.

BEST BOOK OF POETRY: THE RAIN IN PORTUGAL by Billy Collins
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins has a new book of poetry and I couldn’t be happier. I’ve loved his poetry for a long time, and when the Palm Beach Poetry Festival got going many years ago, he was one of the first guests of honor. To hear him read his work is just, well, fantastic, and now I hear his voice, his inflections, when I read it myself. This is his twelfth book of poetry, and it made me laugh and think and cry, all the sorts of emotional response that good writing, especially good poetry, will imbue.

BEST COOKBOOK: DINNER by Melissa Clark
Melissa Clark is a food columnist for the New York Times who also contributes a lot of recipes as well, many of which I’ve made. She is a working mom and apparently understands that not all of us want to come home from work and spend hours in the kitchen to get dinner on the table. Nor do we want take out every night. So here she offers us a terrific compromise – easy dinners, often in one pan. This is just a super useful cookbook with lots of delicious recipes.
Runner-Up: THE BEACH HOUSE COOKBOOK by Mary Kay Andrews

12/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

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