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The Seattle Times: The Best Books of 2016

Seattle Times book reviewers share their fiction and nonfiction favorites from the past year, from the challenging to the sublime. Included for Bookshop's Best of 2016 Lists.

 

 

The Throwback Special: A Novel Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780393249460
Availability: Out of Print
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - March 14th, 2016

A group of middle-aged men gather each year at the same hotel to re-create one of the most gruesome football plays in American football history — the 1985 play in which New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor sacked Washington quarterback Joe Theismann, breaking Theismann’s leg in several places and ending his career. This National Book Award finalist in fiction is anthropological in its study of how American males interact, drop-dead hilarious and a wistful look at the things that bind us. — Mary Ann Gwinn


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Imagine Me Gone Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780316261357
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Little, Brown and Company - May 3rd, 2016

Haslett (“Union Atlantic”) moves with penetrating wit between the points of view of a father, mother, daughter and two sons as he traces a family’s legacy of mental illness. Love, concern and unexpected comedy prove as central to his tale as exasperation and dread, making this a novel that’s stayed in my mind like no other has this year. — Michael Upchurch


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News of the World: A Novel Cover Image
$22.99
ISBN: 9780062409201
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: William Morrow - October 4th, 2016

The life of an aging ex-army captain is changed when he agrees to escort an orphan girl across Texas in this fictional recounting of what happened to pioneer children who were captured by Indians and later returned to their former lives. Jiles, a poet turned novelist, is an exquisite writer. — Ellen Emry Heltzel


Mercury: A Novel Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9780062437501
Availability: Backordered
Published: Harper - September 27th, 2016

A novel as fast-moving and slippery as the element, “Mercury” uses an obsession about a horse as the catalyst for a probing study of family bonds, friendship, loyalty, duty and the shady difference between right and wrong. — Melinda Bargreen


The Last One: A Novel Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781101965085
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Ballantine Books - July 12th, 2016

Seattle writer Oliva makes an impressive debut with her first novel, in which a young woman competes in what appears to be a grim and realistic reality-TV show. As the story unfolds, we don’t know what is “real” and what is a very well-executed television program. Oliva is one to watch. — Doug Knoop


Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings: A Novel Cover Image
$28.00
ISBN: 9780525429968
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Viking - April 5th, 2016

In this extraordinary work of imagination, O’Connor re-creates the tormented relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, his slave and common-law wife, using every literary form going — Hemings’ imagined diary, magical realism, actual excerpts from writings of Jefferson’s former slaves, and the voice of the dispassionate historian. A brilliant, unsettling book about power and its abuse. — Mary Ann Gwinn


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Commonwealth Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9780062491794
Availability: Backordered
Published: Harper - September 13th, 2016

Patchett’s semi-autobiographical novel of two families who are torn apart by an adulterous affair and spend the rest of their lives recovering is clear-eyed, funny and ultimately hopeful. — Mary Ann Gwinn


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Barkskins Cover Image
$32.00
ISBN: 9780743288781
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Scribner Book Company - June 14th, 2016

Marred by a simplistic view of history and the timber industry, Proulx otherwise plays to her strengths, with colorful characters and graceful descriptions of the landscape in this woodsman’s version of manifest destiny. — Ellen Emry Heltzel


Lovecraft Country: A Novel Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9780062292063
Availability: Backordered
Published: Harper - February 16th, 2016

Monsters and rogue sheriffs take turns terrorizing African American protagonists in this reprise of 1950s racism; Seattle author Ruff’s accounts of haunted houses, carnivorous beaches, and cheap, conniving wizards are sharply humorous, authentically voiced, and weird enough for any fan of the pulp fiction they spring from. – Nisi Shawl


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Swing Time Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9781594203985
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Penguin Press - November 15th, 2016

Smith’s latest is a sprawling, rewarding study of the friendship arc of two biracial, working-class London girls with a shared love of dance. — Misha Berson


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Daredevils: A Novel Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9781101979891
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Penguin Press - April 12th, 2016

Vestal’s gripping coming-of-age and bursting-out-of-Mormonism novel is set in rural 1970s Idaho. Inspired by daredevil Evel Knievel, his young protagonists launch a risky, fast-paced flight of their own for freedom, in an arcing trajectory toward self-discovery. It’s a wild and rewarding ride. — Tim McNulty


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The Underground Railroad (Pulitzer Prize Winner) (National Book Award Winner) (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel Cover Image
$27.95
ISBN: 9780385542364
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Doubleday - August 2nd, 2016

Whitehead’s novel, winner of this year’s National Book Award for fiction, brilliantly re-imagines the fabled network of escape routes for runaway slaves in the American South as an actual, subterranean rail system,in a moving tale of brutal oppression and the quest for freedom. — Tyrone Beason


Ninety-Nine Stories of God Cover Image
$19.95
ISBN: 9781941040355
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Tin House Books - July 12th, 2016

A collection of fiction for our fractured times from a modern master — funny, profound and redemptive. Williams’ God believes in reincarnation because “it explains so much,” and wants to compete in a demolition derby. — Jeff Baker


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Another Brooklyn: A Novel Cover Image
$22.99
ISBN: 9780062359988
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Amistad - August 9th, 2016

Woodson’s first book for adults in 20 years uses memory fragments that land with the concentrated power of poetry to tell the story of four girlfriends in 1970s Brooklyn and how their bonds unraveled. — Claudia Rowe


Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver Cover Image
$16.95
ISBN: 9781770412071
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: ECW Press - October 13th, 2015

A deep dive into the world of — and an appreciative “attaboy” for — this truly busy mammal,tracing its history from flourishing to nearly extinct to triumphant, tree-chomping return. — Melissa Davis


The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780307958044
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Knopf - October 25th, 2016

This detailed account of the United States’ 19th-century wars against Native Americans provides historical background for the passions aroused today over the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. — John B. Saul


Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life Cover Image
$35.00
ISBN: 9780871403131
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Liveright - September 27th, 2016

Jackson, author of the horror classics “The Lottery” and “The Haunting of Hill House,” showed an astonishing range, publishing eerie fables of scapegoating and loneliness as well as domestic humor, all while caring for four children and an intellectually detached husband. This biography examines her divided soul and is an elegy for a talent snuffed out too soon. — Mary Ann Gwinn


Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart Cover Image
$30.00
ISBN: 9780307962089
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: Knopf - March 1st, 2016

There have been many biographies of Charlotte Brontë over the years, but Harman’s had this dyed-in-the-wool Brontë fan mesmerized: the details of life at Haworth are told with an almost cinematic vividness, and the excerpts from Brontë’s recently published letters add a moving intimacy. — Moira Macdonald


The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780735220775
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Viking - September 6th, 2016

This incisive and witty memoir, by the man who long ago set the gold standard for modern espionage novelists, is a glittering treasure chest of great stories — about the making of le Carré’s books as well as his own extraordinary career as a British spy at the height of the Cold War. — Adam Woog


Landmarks (Landscapes #4) Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780241967874
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Penguin Books - August 2nd, 2016

Simply one of the best nature history books I have read in years, “Landmarks” is a stunning paean to the beauty of language, the craft of writing and the power of nature. It is truly a book that will force you to rethink your relationship to the world around you. — David B. Williams


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The Gene: An Intimate History Cover Image
$32.00
ISBN: 9781476733500
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Scribner - May 17th, 2016

This in-depth examination of genes and genetics, by the oncologist-turned-author of “The Emperor of All Maladies,” is many things — a natural, social and medical history, as well as a predictor of humanity’s future once the ability to manipulate genes is fully accomplished. A challenging, scary and necessary book. — Mary Ann Gwinn


On Trails: An Exploration Cover Image
$25.00
ISBN: 9781476739212
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Simon & Schuster - July 12th, 2016

An Appalachian Trail thru-hiker explores his fascination for established paths — why they form, evolve and persist or fade — by traveling from Botswana to Borneo and beyond for answers. — Irene Wanner


The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780062316547
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Harper - June 28th, 2016

Highly annoying, to the point where I almost wanted to smack the self-satisfied author, this book nonetheless made me think harder than anything else I’ve read this year about how America could do better for its people in the realms of education, health care, workplace possibilities and … well, attitude. — Melinda Bargreen


Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution (The American Revolution Series #2) Cover Image
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ISBN: 9780525426783
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Viking - May 10th, 2016

History at its most compelling: Philbrick tells the fascinating story of Washington’s long struggle to win the Revolutionary War, of the fractious young Republic and of Benedict Arnold’s surprisingly central role in it all. — Kevin Hamilton


Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds Cover Image
$29.99
ISBN: 9780062351937
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Harper - January 5th, 2016

Sakamoto blends meticulous research with radiant storytelling to relate one family’s harrowing experiences during World War II, both in America and near ground zero in Hiroshima, Japan. — David Takami


The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India's Young Cover Image
$26.95
ISBN: 9780393071009
Availability: Hard to Find - Contact Store for Availability
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - March 7th, 2016

New York Times correspondent Sengupta’s new offering, a beautifully written memoir and sociopolitical study, chronicles not only the many challenges that confront India’s young people, but also how they attempt to push past their karma or destiny and rewrite it. — Bharti Kirchner


The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe: A Biography Cover Image
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ISBN: 9781451645903
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Simon & Schuster - March 8th, 2016

This biography of the author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” demonstrates that perseverance against oppression is an ongoing effort that continues from one generation to the next. Howe’s life story provides lessons about a national history that has never been less than complex. — Barbara Lloyd McMichael


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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9780062300546
Availability: Available from Warehouse - Usually Delivers in 3-14 Days
Published: Harper - June 28th, 2016

Before Nov. 8, Vance’s account of his family’s stop-and-start mobility out of Appalachia was the memoir of the year. At the dawn of the Age of Trump, it’s essential. — Jeff Baker


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