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The book reviews below are from Amazon because…it’s their list! But we’ve cross-checked these books against other best books lists–you can see all the lists each book has made in our Shop.
The Amazon Editors’ Pick for the Best Book of 2017: In the 1920s, the Osage found themselves in a unique position among Native Americans tribes. As other tribal lands were parceled out in an effort by the government to encourage dissolution and assimilation of both lands and culture, the Osage negotiated to maintain the mineral rights for their corner of Oklahoma, creating a kind of “underground reservation.” It proved a savvy move; soon countless oil rigs punctured the dusty landscape, making the Osage very rich. And that’s when they started dying.
You’d think the Osage Indian Reservation murders would have been a bigger story, one as familiar as the Lindbergh kidnapping or Bonnie and Clyde. It has everything, but at scale: Execution-style shootings, poisonings, and exploding houses drove the body count to over two dozen, while private eyes and undercover operatives scoured the territory for clues. Even as legendary and infamous oil barons vied for the most lucrative leases, J. Edgar Hoover’s investigation – which he would leverage to enhance both the prestige and power of his fledgling FBI – began to overtake even the town’s most respected leaders.
Exhuming the massive amount of detail is no mean feat, and it’s even harder to make it entertaining. But journalist David Grann knows what he’s doing. With the same obsessive attention to fact – in service to storytelling – as The Lost City of Z, Killers of the Flower Moon reads like narrative-nonfiction as written by James M. Cain (there are, after all, insurance policies involved): smart, taut, and pacey. Most sobering, though, is how the tale is at once unsurprising and unbelievable, full of the arrogance, audacity, and inhumanity that continues to reverberate through today’s headlines. –Jon Foro, The Amazon Book Review
An Amazon Best Book of March 2017: When Nadia and Saeed fall in love in a distant unnamed city, they are just like any other young couple. But soon bullets begin to fly, fighter jets streak the sky, and curfews fall. As the spell of violence spreads, they flee their country, leaving behind their loved ones. Early in Exit West, the author Mohsin Hamid explains that geography is destiny, and in the case of his two young lovers, geography dictates that they must leave. Hamid offers up a fantastical device to deliver his refugees to places: they pass through magic doors. Rather than unmooring the story from reality, this device, as well as a few other fantastical touches, makes the book more poignant and focused, pointing our attention to the emotions of exile rather than the mechanics. Surrounded by other refugees, Nadia and Saeed try to establish their places in the world, putting up different responses to their circumstances. The result is a novel that is personal, not pedantic, an intimate human story about an experience shared by countless people of the world, one that most Americans just witness on television. –Chris Schluep , The Amazon Book Review
An Amazon Best Book of February 2017: Those who read and loved Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens have been eagerly anticipating his new book Homo Deus. While Sapiens looked back at our evolutionary development, this new book examines where we might be headed (Homo Deus is subtitled “A Brief History of Tomorrow”). Predicting the future isn’t as easy as deconstructing the past, and Harari openly admits the challenge—but even if he’s completely wrong in his predictions, and most of us doubt he is, Homo Deus is the kind of provocative, food-for-thought read that drew so many of us to his work in the first place. According to Harari, our future could be very different from our present—dark, technocratic, and automated—but reading about our possible fates, presented in Harari’s clear-eyed and illuminating style, sure is fascinating. –Chris Schluep, The Amazon Book Review
An Amazon Best Book of February 2017: Lincoln in the Bardo is hilariously funny, horribly sad, and utterly surprising. If you can fight past an initial uncertainty about the identity of its narrators, you may find that it’s the best thing you’ve read in years. This first novel by acclaimed short-story-writer and essayist George Saunders (Tenth of December, The Brain-Dead Megaphone) will upend your expectations of what a novel should be. Saunders has said that “Lincoln in the Bardo” began as a play, and that sense of a drama gradually revealing itself through disparate voices remains in the work’s final form.
The year is 1862. President Lincoln, already tormented by the knowledge that he’s responsible for the deaths of thousands of young men on the battlefields of the Civil War, loses his beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, to typhoid. The plot begins after Willie is laid to rest in a cemetery near the White House, where, invisible to the living, ghosts linger, unwilling to relinquish this world for the next. Their bantering conversation, much of it concerned with earthly — and earthy – pleasures, counterbalances Lincoln’s abject sorrow.
Saunders takes huge risks in this novel, and they pay off. His writing is virtuosic – and best of all, its highs and lows are profoundly entertaining. You may hear echoes of Thornton Wilder, Beckett and even a little Chaucer, but Lincoln in the Bardo is peculiar and perfect unto itself. Some advice: don’t try to read this one in a library. You’ll be hooting with laughter when you aren’t wiping away your tears. –Sarah Harrison Smith, The Amazon Book Review
An Amazon Best Book of August 2017: Sweeping, magnetic—John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a novel so grounded in a single character, but it dexterously expands into a fully realized portrait of humanity in all of its messy glory. The author of the bestselling (not to mention heartbreaking) novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, has crafted a story that has all the feels – it’s genuinely funny, romantically tragic, with moments of sickening violence and then just as quickly redemptive resilience. Set in Post-War Ireland, when intolerance cloaked in Catholicism is at its height, we follow the lifespan of the adopted boy Cyril Avery. On the first page, Cyril introduces us to his birth mother and the circumstances in which he was born, and for the rest of the book, the reader is in Boyne’s capable hands: waiting, wondering, clamoring to know when he will meet his birth mother and how it will be uncovered that they are related. Told in seven year increments, taking the reader from Dublin to Amsterdam to New York and back, we bear witness to Cyril’s life alongside the cultural and societal evolution of Ireland. Weaving in and out of chance encounters with his birth mother, love affairs, decades-long friendships and bitter wounds from the past, Boyne has paced this novel perfectly, providing the reader one of the greatest gifts that fiction can deliver: hope. –Al Woodworth
An Amazon Best Book of June 2017: Sherman Alexie’s memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, is an extraordinary look at the complicated relationship between a remarkable mother and an equally remarkable son, set, mostly, in the Spokane Indian Reservation where Alexie spent his childhood. His whip-smart, sometimes cruel mother saved the family when she stopped drinking, but was inexplicably tough on her kids – something Alexie traces back to mental illness, sexual assault, and the Indian experience of violence and oppression. Family memoirs often seem like an opportunity for score settling, but Alexie is so aware of his own fallible memory and his own imperfections that this one won’t make you bristle. His style is idiosyncratic – passages of verse lead to passages of prose — but it’s readable, unpretentious, funny and deeply compassionate. –Sarah Harrison Smith, The Amazon Book Review
An Amazon Best Book of September 2017: Bread is life as the saying goes, and it certainly is life-changing for software engineer-turned-baker, Lois Clary. As Robin Sloan’s latest novel opens, Lois gets a plum gig working at a tech company that specializes in robotics. The money is good, but the longer Lois stays in the role, the more she feels like the product she’s working on. Her only respite is a neighborhood takeout place she orders from each evening, run by two infinitely amiable brothers. When they are forced to flee the country due to visa issues, Lois is entrusted with something that jogs her from her dispassionate existence: a sourdough starter. Armed with this magical mixture of flour and water (it really is magic—it even sings!), Lois–whose fridge and gastronomic knowledge has heretofore been utterly barren—begins to bake. Applying herself earnestly and enthusiastically to the task, Lois finds that she excels at it, and soon she is foisting the fruits of her labor onto eager, gluten-tolerant co-workers, one of whom encourages her to hawk her wares at a local farmer’s market. The cutthroat committee rejects her, but Lois is quickly courted by a mysterious marketplace that ends up exploiting both her tech savvy, and culinary pluck. If all of this sounds a bit out there, it is. In the best way. And you’ll need to steel your suspension of disbelief for a stunner of an ending, of Stay Puft Marshmallow Man proportions. But Robin Sloan’s Sourdough is quite simply delightful. Its overarching message of the importance of pursuing a fulfilling, meaningful life is one you will loave. –Erin Kodicek, Amazon Book Review
An Amazon Best Book of January 2017: I was surprised to realize that The Dry was Jane Harper’s debut novel. The writing is fantastic, and the plot – where many mystery/thrillers fall short these days – was completely unpredictable in the best ways possible. Federal Agent, Aaron Faulk, returns to his hometown in Australia to mourn, and inevitably investigate, his best friend’s apparent suicide. What comes next is a series of twists and turns that will keep you guessing all the way until the end. I repeatedly found myself shocked and pulled in by Harper’s fast paced and engrossing writing. Truly a fantastic read and hopefully the first of many to come from Ms. Harper. –Penny Mann, The Amazon Book Review
An Amazon Best Book of January 2017: In 2012, author Douglas Preston joined a team of explorers searching for Ciudad Blanca (“The White City”), a legendary ruin hidden in the dense jungle of eastern Honduras. To this point the city – also known as “the Lost City of the Monkey God” – was literally a legend; while various hucksters and hoaxers had claimed to have discovered the abandoned metropolis, no credible evidence had ever been presented, and its very existence remained shrouded in doubt. In addition to the objective hazards of tropical disease, wild boars, and the deadly fer-de-lance viper, locals stoked the mystique, describing various curses awaiting would-be discoverers. Don’t pick the flowers, or you’ll die.
But this team had an advantage that previous searchers had lacked: LIDAR, an advanced laser-imaging technology able to penetrate the dense jungle canopy – just enough – and return detailed elevation profiles from which subtle, man-made anomalies could be identified. Almost immediately, two major sites emerged, their scale and architecture indicating a civilization to rival another local, more famous power, the Maya.
The announcement had consequences. The fledgling Honduran government, having gained power through a military coup, sought to use the discovery to bolster its status with the population, while the academic community ripped the expedition with accusations of Indiana Jones-style exploitation and shoddy scientific methods, cries which could be uncharitably interpreted as sour grapes. Encroaching deforestation and the prospect of looters created urgency to conduct a ground survey, and the team ventured into the wilderness and all the hazards that awaited, including an unexpected and insidious danger that cursed the team well beyond their return home.
The author of over 30 books, including number of bestselling thrillers co-written with Lincoln Child, Preston knows pace, and he packs several narratives into a taut 300 pages. Indiana Jones criticism aside, the story of the discovery and exploration of the ruin is solid adventure writing, and he walks a fine line in dealing with the archaeology community’s response, reporting on the bases for their criticism where they chose to provide it. And by invoking Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, Preston speculates on the mysterious, sudden demise of the White City and its inhabitants, drawing ominous parallels between their fate and possibly our own. Lost City is a tale that manages to be both fun and harrowing, a vicarious thrill worthy of a place on the shelf next to David Grann’s The Lost City of Z. –Jon Foro, The Amazon Book Review
An Amazon Best Book of September 2017: There’s so much to admire in My Absolute Darling: acute emotional insight, precise and evocative writing about the natural world, and pacing worthy of an action movie. How can this possibly be a debut? But some people live up to their names, and Gabriel Tallent, whose first novel this is, writes with bravura more experienced authors can only envy. His story, which feels a little like a girl-power fairy tale come true, starts dark. Fourteen-year old Julia, called Turtle, or sometimes Kibble, lives with her paranoid, survivalist father in the wilds of Mendocino County. Their ruin of a house has boarded-up windows and “spindled wooden railings overgrown with climbing roses and poison oak.” If Turtle is that rose, then her father is the poison oak: his touch (and he touches Turtle) leads to trouble. But he’s taught his daughter to shoot and forage — she can “decipher” the woods, even at night — and those skills serve her well when she finally starts to free herself from his control. One of the delights of this novel is the way Tallent reveals another culture – another world, really – coexisting in Mendocino, where middle-aged women practice yoga naked and swear by “the goddess” while their sons joke about hippies reading Finnegans Wake to their peyote plants. These flashes of humor and evidence of the sometimes goofy pleasures of civilization are like beacons lighting the way to a better life for Turtle, if only she can make her way out of the woods. –Sarah Harrison Smith, Amazon Book Review
An Amazon Best Book of May 2017: It’s the rare novel that has an autistic teenage heroine, and an even rarer novel is one that surprises you on every single page, as Ginny Moon quite emphatically does. Told from the point of view of thirteen-year-old Ginny, this absorbing debut sets at its heart Ginny’s obsession with “Baby Doll,” whom she unwillingly abandoned four years ago when she was taken away from her drug-addicted and abusive birth mother. Ginny fears Baby Doll is still in a suitcase, where she left her when the police separated Ginny from her mother, and Ginny has been testing and breaking the patience of various foster parents in her attempts to reunite with her mother so that Ginny can again take care of Baby Doll. Ginny is not stupid—she finds her birth mother on Facebook, steals another student’s phone to contact her, and concocts various plans to get back to her Baby Doll with a single-mindedness that is as daring as it is alarming, for Ginny is fully aware that her birth mother will likely again physically abuse her. Ginny’s unpredictability keeps the pressure high, and I wondered throughout how this novel could possibly deliver a satisfying conclusion. But Benjamin Ludwig, himself the foster parent of an autistic teen, pulls together the action into a tear-provoking finale that will have you cheering for the stubborn, brave, impulsive, and ultimately heroic Ginny Moon. (Heck, I’m getting teary just writing this review.) —Adrian Liang, The Amazon Book Review
An Amazon Best Book of June 2017: To read The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is to immerse yourself in years of India’s religious, political, and cultural changes and to feel it all through the narrative of an incredible cast of characters. What becomes apparent throughout their individual stories is that power and belief are malleable, that suffering does not end but merely changes hands, and what is revered can easily become reviled. The latter shows up most clearly for Anjum, formerly Aftab, who becomes a famous Hijra in Delhi, only to later find herself keeper of a graveyard sanctum for others who are no longer welcome in the new society. Yes, there is a lot of violence and heartbreak in this novel, but Roy also suffuses it with humor, irony, and –more than anything– the ability of love and acceptance to heal the broken. Even when, or perhaps,especially when, it comes from places one would never expect. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is complex and compassionate, and the heart and soul that Arundhati Roy so obviously gave to it is worth every one of the many years it’s taken to give us another fictional masterpiece. –Seira Wilson, The Amazon Book Review
An Amazon Best Book of May 2017: Do not be put off by the slightly creepy title of this memoir: this is no sordid tell-all outing a deviant priest. Priestdaddy slides into the “you can never go back” end of the memoir spectrum. When debilitating illness, and the poverty that results, drives poet Patricia Lockwood and her husband to accept her father’s offer of shelter, she reluctantly returns to her childhood home. Except in Patricia Lockwood’s case, her father is Father Greg Lockwood, a married priest (short explanation: papal dispensation) who likes to lounge about in his boxers, “shredding” his guitar, and raging “HOMEY DON’T PLAY THAT” to signify displeasure. Home for Patricia and her husband will be in a bedroom near that of her parents in the rectory which comes with her father’s parish (a sign outside reads ‘God answers kneemail’). Part of the fun in this hilarious memoir is watching Lockwood gamely try to play the part of the straight-man to her parents’ shenanigans. The other part is seeing that most of their lunacy has rubbed off on her. Though she attempts a semblance of normalcy for her husband’s comfort, it’s clear that she’s all in with her crazy family. The laughs range from silly to raunchy in a spectrum that might make David Sedaris envious, but the line that stands out the most comes near the end: “A family never recognizes its own idylls while it’s living them.” Priestdaddy is Patricia Lockwood recognizing her idyll. –Vannessa Cronin, The Amazon Book Review
An Amazon Best Book of July 2017: Nimble, playful and a little bit mischievous, Spoonbenders is a novel full of loveable eccentric characters trying to prove their worth to their family, the mafia, the government and to talk show hosts. The trick is, they’re a bit extraordinary. Sure, grandpa might only be a con man with fast hands, but his daughter detects lies, his son can predict the future, and his deceased wife was a real psychic and his grandson might be too. Over the span of decades, Daryl Gregory weaves a story of the birth of the “Amazing Telemachus Family,” their rise to international acclaim, their tragic demise and their chance at redemption a generation later. Heroic, comic and grounded in the intricate details of storytelling, Spoonbenders spins a genial family saga into a story of adventure, soviet intrigue and shady cover-ups. –Al Woodworth
An Amazon Best Book of February 2017: Paul Auster’s 4321 is his first novel in seven years, and it feels extra personal. Details of a life spent growing up in Brooklyn—of loving the Brooklyn Dodgers, Laurel and Hardy, summer camp—are laid out with the earnest intensity of a writer looking back on his life. Plot points arise—for instance, a person is killed by lightning—which mimic more unique moments from Auster’s own life experience. At nearly 900 pages, it is also a long novel—but a reason for that is 4321 tells the story of its protagonist, Archie Ferguson, four different times. What remains consistent throughout Archie’s life (or lives) is that his father starts out with the same career, Archie falls in love with the same girl, and his personality seems more nature than nurture. But those are starting off points, and if our lives are the sum of our choices, they are the sum of other people’s choices as well. Circumstances matter, and what will keep you thinking about this book is the convergence of time and circumstance within each of Archie’s different lives. His past propels him, his circumstances form him, and regardless of which life we are reading, time will ultimately take him. –Chris Schluep, The Amazon Book Review
An Amazon Best Book of January 2017: In recent years we’ve seen an increasing number of memoirs from transgender individuals and from parents forging uncharted waters in order to help their transgender children live happy, healthy lives in a society that still largely defines gender by what’s in your pants. In her novel This is How It Always Is Laurie Frankel takes those real-life experiences and puts them into a big-hearted story of family and secrets. Penn and Rosie are a close, loving couple, living in Madison, Wisconsin with their five boys. But it becomes evident before long that their youngest, Claude, feels like he should have been born a girl. So how do these strong, supportive parents go about helping their son live as the person he wants to be? It’s a fascinating thing to behold. The nuances and unforeseen pitfalls of trying to protect your child from fear and hate while nurturing a sense of acceptance is daunting. What is private and what is a secret, and what is, really, nobody’s business? Sometimes secrets have a way of materializing in the blink of an eye or the span of an innocuous question, and this novel is about the lengths we will go, as parents and siblings, to protect each other. And how we react when our secrets are exposed. This is How It Always Is in an incredible read that speaks to the heart of what it means to love and be loved by family. –Seira Wilson, The Amazon Book Review
An Amazon Best Book of July 2017: A passionate love affair is often described as an “inferno,” but in 2012 and 2013, boyfriend and girlfriend Charlie Smith and Tonya Bundick turned the metaphor into reality as they lit 70-plus fires in derelict buildings across Virginia’s Accomack County. Monica Hesse’s spare but memorable prose sketches the true story of a once-prosperous county now in sharp economic decline, its derelict buildings easy targets for Smith and Bundick. But Accomack County’s plunging fortunes is the simplistic explanation for the arson epidemic, and Hesse pushes that aside to plumb the complicated personal relationships, the tight-knit community, and the stories told in small towns that can shape a person’s destiny just as surely as one’s actions. When Smith and Bundick set fire after fire—sometimes several a night—the exhausted volunteer firefighters in Accomack County band together to stop the arsonists putting a match to their way of life. Hesse can do with a handful of words what other writers do with paragraphs, and as she traces the intersecting paths of the amateur arsonists and the authorities determined to capture them, she reveals that every crime has its own personal, sometimes inscrutable DNA. –Adrian Liang, The Amazon Book Review