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Best of 2016: Fiction

Updated: January 18, 2017

The best books of the year, as selected by LAPL staff.  Perfect for holiday gift-giving!  For more book lists and featured book reviews, written by the LAPL staff, check LAPL Reads.

Addlands : a novel
Bullough, Tom,

Bullough presents three generations of farmers in Radnorshire, an area between Wales and England, covering 1941 to the present. This is a Faulknerian saga of family farmers, the Hamers, who endure despite catastrophes. Their story has a suprisingly upbeat ending.


All the Birds in the Sky
Anders, Charlie

Sometimes people have very different ways of looking at the world, and the differences can be difficult to overcome: for example, someone is a young witch who talks to birds, or another is going to use magic to save the world, and another is good at mechanical engineering. Can magic and science help save a rapidly disintegrating planet?

All things cease to appear
Brundage, Elizabeth.

In this literary page-turner, the hundred-year-old Hale farmhouse is the setting for two seemingly unrelated tragedies. Is the Hale farm haunted, or were two families victimized by an all-too-human form of evil?


The Angel of History: A Novel
Alameddine, Rabih,

While waiting in a clinic, Yemeni-American poet Jacob mulls over his life, which began with little promise, and was filled with turmoil. All the while, Satan is flirting with him, Death tells him to call it quits, and there are fourteen saints hanging about. Jacob is confronted with what is worth remembering and what should be forgotten in his exceptional life.

The ballad of Black Tom
LaValle, Victor D., 1972-

Victor LaValle takes one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most racially insensitive stories, “The Horror at Red Hook,” reimagining and reinventing it into something that is in every way superior to the original. The novel is chilling, alarming and a great deal of fun. It will also leave you with much more to consider and fear, than H.P. Lovecraft’s mythical Cthulhu. 


Best of my love
Mallery, Susan.

Shelby Gilmore is fed up with her inability to trust men. Aiden Mitchell is fed up with his well-earned reputation as a playboy. So they come up with a plan: he will teach her that not all men are untrustworthy, and she will teach him that women are more than just conquests. But the other residents of their small town believe there’s more going on between them than what either of them will admit.


Black Deutschland
Pinckney, Darryl, 1953-

Jed, middle-class, black and gay in 1980s' Chicago, hopes to find freedom and acceptance in Berlin, as did William Bradshaw in Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories. Darryl Pinckney's writing style and plot structure weave stream of consciousness, reflection and critical commentary, into a uniquely modern story.

Blood defense
Clark, Marcia,
Call Number: M

The first book in a new series by famed prosecutor-turned-mystery-writer Marcia Clark. Los Angeles defense attorney Samantha Brinkman is struggling to make ends meet in her small three-person practice. Part attorney and sleuth, her first case is the death of a television reality star. The mystery is solved, but dangling threads provide a segue to the second novel in the series, Moral defense. 

Baker, Mishell.

The first book in the Arcadia Project series, Borderline introduces us to Millicent Roper a failed film maker and double amputee, who is marking time at a psychiatric facility after a suicide attempt. She doesn’t leap at the chance to help police travel between this world and Fairyland, but she will not shy away from a challenge. Millicent is an impressive protagonist: fragile, pragmatic and relentless.


Britt-Marie Was Here: A Novel
Backman, Fredrik, 1981-

Britt-Marie ends up in the small town of Borg after leaving her unfaithful husband. With the personality of a latter-day Mary Poppins, she is resourceful, exacting and determined to take care of herself. Unwarranted romantic attentions come from a local policeman, and somehow Britt-Marie is enlisted to lead the rag-tag children's soccer team. As quirky, funny and heartwarming as Backman's other novel, My grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry.

The city baker's guide to country living
Miller, Louise (Chef),

Pastry chef Olivia Rawlings’ successful career takes a sharp turn when her flambé dessert accidentally sets a tony Boston club aflame. Slinking back home to Vermont to regroup and lick her wounds, she finds herself taking a position as a live-in baker at a local inn. But little does she know that she’s signed up for so much more.


The city of mirrors.
Cronin, Justin.

The final book in Justin Cronin’s trilogy:  The Passage in 2010, and The Twelve in 2012. It is hard to think of a more satisfying, and heartbreaking end to a series that chronicles the near end, and new beginning, of human life on earth.


Company Town
Ashby, Madeline,
Call Number: SF

When everyone else in town is a cyborg where does that leave the last unmodified human? Hwa is an “unhackable” martial artist and bodyguard who takes on the unpopular job of protecting the youngest member of the wealthy family that just bought her entire town. Minus super reflexes or a computer, Hwa has a lifetime of anger and alienation to use protecting the people she cares about.


Conspiracy of ravens
Bowen, Lila,

In the sequel to Wake of Vultures, Nettie Lonesome, (The half-Native American, half-African American, Texas Ranger, who now goes by Rhett, and is also The Shadow), goes on another adventure in search of her destiny. Along the way, she meets Earl, another “monster” who can turn into a mule and Bernard Trevisan, a monster of an entirely different sort, one who is building a railroad on the backs of slaves. Rhett decides that Bernard Trevisan needs to be killed, and that Rhett is just the man to do it.


Willis, Connie,
Call Number: SF

Here’s an important dating tip: If your boyfriend wants you to have an operation allowing the two of you to share thoughts, say no. Otherwise you might find yourself accidentally telepathic, beset by family drama, and suddenly spending way too much time hiding in the basement with a cute scientist who isn’t your boyfriend. Connie Willis continues to give readers the very best in fast paced, sci-fi, romantic comedies.

The devourers
Das, Indra,

Both hauntingly lovely and upsetting, this novel follows the story of one lonely man as he transcribes the several strange and violent journals of an odd, feral man. The journals recount the lives of shapeshifters:  their loves, their hungers, and their loneliness 

The dollhouse : a novel
Davis, Fiona, 1966-

Two young women, who live in the once famous Barbizon Hotel for women, are coming of age in New York. between 1952 and 2016. This novel deftly joins historical fiction with mystery. There’s romance, intrigue and heartbreak as the reader follows one woman trying to figure out a long-kept secret and her path in life, while the other tries to find her way in a world that wants her in a particular box.  


Every heart a doorway
McGuire, Seanan.

What if Wonderland and Narnia and Neverland really do exist? What happens to the children who are abandoned back in the real world after their life changing adventures beyond? For Nancy, the answer is the Home, a residential house that parents see as a psychological care unit and children see as a support group for the left behind. The children at the Home desperately miss their adopted worlds and now one of them will stop at nothing to find their way back.


The everything box
Kadrey, Richard,

With elements of film noir and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, this novel is the story of a thief, who specializes in spooky magical items, and has been tasked with stealing the end of the world. He operates in a weird, shadowy version of Los Angeles with his friends, enemies, frenemies, and strange demons, bureaucrats, and monsters who call Los Angeles home. 


Fever at dawn
Gardos, Peter, 1948-

A small gem of a love story, based on the lives of the author's parents. It is 1945, and a 25-year-old Hungarian, who has survived a concentration camp, is deathly ill in a Swedish hospital. With a six-month death sentence, he feels free of inhibitions, and writes to 117 Hungarian women, also recovering camp survivors living in Sweden. Lili is the one who answers, and the rest becomes history.

The glorious heresies : a novel
McInerney, Lisa,

There's no sex, drugs and rock 'n roll, instead the characters deal with booze, drugs and murder, and all of it chastened by a recalcitrant Irish Catholicism, which has lost a strong grip over its flock.  It is the type of desolation the Irish have lived with for centuries, and it is sardonic humor that has helped them endure and survive.  An unintended murder and unplanned pregnancy all conspire to devastate several people in Cork, but audacious Maureen will have none of it. Even if she cannot change the conditions, it is her spirited, profane talk that cuts through.

Hag-seed : The tempest retold
Atwood, Margaret, 1939-

Disgraced theatre director Felix Phillips plots revenge on the men who betrayed him, using his position as head of the Literacy Through Theatre program at a men's prison and a production of The Tempest to seek justice. This Shakespearean riff by the legendary Margaret Atwood is wildly inventive and satisfying, with an ending you won't be able to stop thinking about.


Here comes the sun : a novel
Dennis-Benn, Nicole,

Jamaica, an island paradise for tourists, but not for most of its residents. The remnants of colonialism face off against current issues of racism, and gender and economic inequality. Two sisters and their mother all want something better out of life, but have different ideas about how to get there. A complex and illuminating debut novel.

Olde Heuvelt, Thomas,

A classic gothic ghost story planted firmly in the environs of the 21st Century. A woman is accused of being a witch in a small town in upstate New York before the colonies broke away from Great Britain, which results in how that accusation shaped both the town and our country. An atmospheric and unsettling story, and disturbing and shocking


Gyasi, Yaa,

In 18th century Ghana, 15-year-old Effia catches the eye of slave trader James Collins and is taken for his wife. Unbeknownst to her, her half-sister Esi is just downstairs, awaiting her future as a slave. Spanning continents and generations, Homegoing brings to mind the best of Toni Morrison and Amy Tan but is breathtaking in its own right.


The house at the edge of night : a novel
Banner, Catherine.

An enchanting love story between two unlikley people, and the many stories from four generations of family members who live on the fictitious island, Castellamare (Sea Castle), somewhere near Sicily.

I'm thinking of ending things
Reid, Iain, 1981-

At the outset of this disturbing short novel, Jake and his nameless girlfriend are on a road trip to meet his parents. While Jake thinks a visit to his childhood home will solidify their relationship, his girlfriend is secretly thinking of ending things. At least that’s how it seems at the beginning. But something isn’t quite right here: the car radio plays the same corny country song incessantly. And Jake’s girlfriend finds countless missed calls on her cellphone—all of which originate from her own phone number. As things get curiouser and curiouser, only a shocking ending will reveal what’s really happening on this long, strange trip.


The immortals
Brodsky, Jordanna Max.

We are introduced to Selena DiSilva, who finds the body of a young woman gruesomely killed.  Selena is not your ordinary woman, she is the Greek goddess Artemis, dwindled down with the passage of time and the loss of worshipers to a state of almost powerlessness.  Artemis has always been a protector of innocents, so she begins to investigate the murder with an eye to exacting revenge. More bodies turn up, and it seems the killer or killers might not be all that human.  


It ends with us
Hoover, Colleen,

This novel starts out as a typical love triangle, but turns into something much darker. Hoover shows how a strong, successful woman can be attracted to a partner who may not be right for her, and with devastating results for her family. Some aspects of the novel are reminiscent of a fairy-tale, but the emotional fallout of the characters are very, very real. 


Jane Steele : a confession
Faye, Lyndsay,

This historical thriller is a pitch black, wickedly funny homage to the novel Jane Eyre. Impoverished orphan Jane Steele survives the slings and arrows of Victorian England with the help of a sharp wit, and a sharper dagger. But will her hard-won happy ending (a romance with the brooding master of Highgate House, Charles Thornfield) be doomed when Thornfield discovers that Miss Steele, the prim and proper governess to his ward, has murdered at least a half-dozen evildoers before finally reaching the safe haven of his estate?


The jewel and her lapidary
Wilde, Fran, 1979-

Fran Wilde’s novelette drops you into the middle of a crisis in a strange world. The kingdom in the Valley is run by the aristocratic Jewels and their lapidaries, who can control powerful gemstones imbued with the ability to shape the world around them. But their peaceful rule is endangered by betrayal, madness and the invasion of a hostile army. A rich story of a lost reign that leaves you wanting more.


League of dragons
Novik, Naomi,

This is the last book in the long running Temeraire series, in which history is shaped by both humans and the dragons that share the same world. The existence of dragons, upends the rigid social hierarchy that shapes the Regency Era in England. It forces everyone to reconsider issues of colonialism, slavery, class, and gender in new ways while in the middle of thrilling flights, duels, and chases. The two main characters, the dragon Temeraire, and the former Navy man William Laurence, have a friendship that draws you in and grounds every other aspect of the Temeraire story.



Lily and the Octopus
Rowley, Steven, 1971-

Grab a tissue for this tearjerker. Ted’s best friend is his beloved dachshund Lily. They share everything together, cuddling on the couch for movie night and gossiping about their new celebrity crushes. One day Ted wakes up to find an octopus perched on Lily’s head and nothing he does will shake it off. This blend of magical realism and heart rending true to life drama will leave every dog lover clutching their pup close.


The long way to a small, angry planet
Chambers, Becky,
Call Number: SF

In her debut novel Becky Chambers takes readers on a year-long mission aboard The Wayfarer, a ship that creates stable wormholes between the distant locations of galactic space. Readers meet the crew and are given the chance to know and care about them, all while being shown just how much fun character-driven Space Opera can be!


Lovecraft Country: A Novel
Ruff, Matt

In each chapter of this book different members of one African American family take on 1950s racism and classic horror tropes with humor, strength, and determination. Each family member gets a chance to be their own type of hero and has to face not only their own monster, but also the darker realities of the world all of us live in.



Miss Jane : a novel
Watson, Brad, 1955-

Fictionalizing a case in his own family history, National Book Award finalist Watson tells the story of a woman born a century ago in rural Mississippi with genital abnormalities that make it impossible for her to control her bladder and bowels, or to have a normal sexual relationship.  A fascinating and often moving portrait of an individual condemned by her body to a life of solitude and secrecy, and yet manages to build a satisfying, fulfilling existence for herself.


Liu, Marjorie M,
Call Number: 740.9999 M7567

Maika Halfwolf is used to being called a monster. As an Arcanic, creatures who can sometimes pass as human, she and her kind are hunted and enslaved by humans, led by the Cumea, a sisterhood of sorceresses who consume Arcanics in order to steal their supernatural abilities. But Maika Halfwolf isn’t just any monster. An ancient evil is living in her skin, fighting to get out. Maika must discover what this creature inside of her is and how it relates to the murder of her mother. Set in a lush, art-deco steampunk alternate of 1900s Asia, this beautiful but brutal world from Liu and Takeda is not to be missed.


The obelisk gate
Jemisin, N. K,

This is the second book in the award winning Broken Earth trilogy. It is an epic fantasy about the end of the world, the birth, death, and rebirth of family, and the struggle to try to live a good life, or any life, in a society that is both hostile and unjust. There are also magic rock powers, roguish pirates, strange children, and mysterious floating towers.


Pretty deadly. script, Kelly Sue DeConnick ; art & covers, Emma Rios ; colors, Jordie Bellaire ; letters, Clayton Cowles. Volume two, The bear
DeConnick, Kelly Sue,
Call Number: 741.5 P9425 v.2

A lyrical, dreamlike graphic novel about war, death, and rebirth, Pretty Deadly volume two is the story of a young man’s experience in World War I. While he tries to stay alive on the front line, his family convinces death’s agent to bring him home to say a last goodbye to his ailing grandmother before it's too late. 


Vasquez, Juan Gabriel, 1973-

Political cartoons are charged with commentary, but their artist has an advantage as a satirist, and may also have tremendous power to influence an entire country.  "The living legend," political cartoonist Javier Mallarino, has his conscience and position rattled by a young woman who forces him to examine his life and work.

The rope
Makiya, Kanan,

Beginning with the American invasion of Iraq and Saddam Hussein's hanging, the nameless narrator reflects on his life as an Iraqi citizen and military man. He reviews Iraq's modern history as a nation, and the cultural-religious-political events which have left the country fractured.

Roses and rot
Howard, Kat,

This is a modern day fairytale in the vein of Tam Lin, Snow White and Rose Red.   Two sisters get the opportunity of a lifetime to escape to an exclusive artists' retreat and create art.  The retreat proves to be complicated and dangerous. Not only does the fierce competition between artists strain the sisters' relationship, but the possibility of truly magical creativity waits for only one artist, who is willing to make a supreme sacrifice.


Saga. Brian K. Vaughan, writer ; Fiona Staples, artist. Vol. 6
Vaughan, Brian K,
Call Number: 740.9999 S1295 v.6

With Brian K. Vaughan’s clever writing and Fiona Staples’ striking art, the saga of Saga continues into its sixth volume. Alana and Marko continue the search for their daughter Hazel and Marko’s mother Klara, while Will continues his quest for vengeance against Prince Robot IV. Longtime fans of the series will not be disappointed.


Saving Jake
Sala, Sharon,

When an IED explosion ends his military career, Jake Lorde returns to his hometown of Blessings, Georgia, to readjust to civilian life while afflicted with PTSD. Living right next door is Laurel Payne, a young mother still reeling from the suicide of her husband, who had also come back from the battlefield with wounds she couldn’t see. Can these two neighbors learn to help each other to finally heal?


Sixth watch
Lukʹianenko, Sergei.

Sergei Lukyanenko concludes his long running Night Watch series with this novel.  The series is a Russian take on a world that is similar to ours, but actually has an underground world of magicians, witches and vampires and others.  This underworld is watched by the night watch (forces of ostensible good) and the day watch (forces of ostensible evil).  In this volume we meet all the previous characters, and watch all the storylines tie off in a final way. It is highly recommended that you read the series in order. 


Stiletto : a novel
O'Malley, Daniel,

This novel is book 2 in a series which began with The Rook.  It depicts the workings of a super-secret British government agency made up of individuals with innate peculiar talents: ability to remotely control the anatomy of others, or control a set of quadruplets who share one mind.  The agency's goal is to protect ordinary Britain from the depredations of the supernatural. So far it has battled an internal and an external threat.  

The underground railroad : a novel
Whitehead, Colson, 1969-

A fantasy and historical novel that explores the experience of American slavery through the eyes of Cora, who escapes on a railroad that runs underground in antebellum America. Her experiences as she journeys from Georgia to the north are amazingly portrayed by Whitehead. The book often lurches from the gruesome violence that defined slavery to a world of fantasy, with all of it grounded in the horrific reality of slavery.


The wicked + the divine. [Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson, Clayton Cowles] Vol. 4, Rising action
Gillen, Kieron,
Call Number: 741.5 W6365Gi v.4

Beautiful, fast paced, and full of twists and turns, The Wicked + The Divine series is about 12 young people who are granted enormous power and celebrity, but are warned that they will be dead in two years. Each one of the 12 is a mix between a rock star and a reincarnated god, according to the mysterious old woman, Ananke, who finds them, gives them their powers, and guides them. If only they could trust her.


The winner's kiss.
Rutkoski, Marie.
Call Number: YA

In the final book of The Winner’s Trilogy, the dance continues between Lady Kestrel, daughter and only child of General Trajan of the Valorian army, and Arin, the Herrani slave she purchased impulsively at auction. Over the course of the trilogy there have been misunderstandings, lies, allegiances have shifted, decisions have been made that had dire consequences, and sacrifices have been made on both sides as these two navigate the treacherous relationship that started as slave and master and has developed into something so much more. The final chapters will leave readers breathless.

The wolf road : a novel
Lewis, Beth, 1986-

Elka has to struggle and survive in a world that used to look like our own, but now is awash with nature, devoid of technology, and danger lurks at every turn. All that she knows to be true is found to be a lie. Will she make a new life for herself or find herself caught in a trap? Only time will tell.