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    Best Books Of 2017

SEA TRIALS

AROUND THE WORLD WITH DUCT TAPE AND BAILING WIRE

Hinman (Tightwads on the Loose, 2012) serves up a second real-life maritime adventure.

The author’s first book charted her seven-year sailing trip around the Pacific with her husband, Garth Wilcox. In this follow-up, she recounts an around-the-world voyage that Garth took with his family as a 13-year-old boy. The crew aboard the 40-foot sailboat, christened Vela, consisted of parents Dawn and Chuck along with Garth and his reluctant 10-year-old sister, Linda. The narrative follows the Wilcox family every step of the way, from the very moment they set out from San Francisco Bay on Aug. 20, 1973. There is an immediate focus on the emotional and psychological aspects of this huge undertaking that prevails throughout the biographical tale. Garth imagined himself as a latter-day Horatio Hornblower, eager for exploits. Linda didn’t want to leave her friends or forfeit her role as captain of the football team. Their mother and father had their own worries, questioning what lay ahead and reflecting on leaving ailing parents behind. Relationships were tested as the family circumnavigated all manner of threats, including pirates and naval mines. Yet, the Wilcoxes’ determination remained admirable, particularly when they found themselves shipwrecked on a reef off the coast of Fiji and were forced to rebuild their ship. The author’s expressive writing captures the wonder of being at sea in all its glory: “Days passed quickly, their sea-going routine highlighted by the wonders of nature: meteor showers and dolphins frolicking in their bow wave, storm petrels and albatross as they soared overhead and dipped into the waves, and bioluminescence that trailed behind the boat as though Vela were a rocket shooting through an inky black sky.” Some readers may prefer the urgency of Hinman writing in the first person, as in Tightwads on the Loose. Yet, despite not having experienced this particular seafaring odyssey personally, her engaging narrative succeeds in capturing the thrills and frustrations of this intrepid family. Taking in remarkably far-flung destinations such as Christmas Island and the New Hebrides, this exhilarating book should appeal to any would-be explorer who has stood at the prow of a ship and dreamed of the possibilities. Highly readable and sufficiently evocative to sense the scent of sea air in the pages. 

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9848350-3-4

Page Count: 458

Publisher: Salsa Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

A fresh, original series starter bolstered by a dynamic protagonist and a welcome sense of depth.

ISLAND OF EXILES

From the The Ryogan Chronicles series

Cameron (Assassins: Nemesis, 2017, etc.) tells a YA fantasy tale about a “nyshin”—a warrior, mage, and hunter—on a desert island rife with danger.

Khya is no stranger to hardship. Life on the island of Shiara is inhospitable at best, and as a nyshin, burdens fall especially heavily on her. Nevertheless, she’s always been able to depend on her clan and the fact that everyone in it works for the good of the many. But everything changes when they threaten to take from her the one thing she can’t give up: her brother, Yorri. Her worries are understandable as her sibling approaches a rite of passage that will determine the course of his life, but the greatest dangers facing her are ones that she can’t even imagine. As storms rage across the island and enemies probe the clan’s borders, a conspiracy begins to unfold that will test everything Khya has ever known. Not knowing whom to trust, she must rely on strange bedfellows: Sanii, a member of the servant class and the love of Yorri’s life; and Tessen, Khya’s sometime-friend, sometime-archrival, and possibly something more. But most of all, she must depend on herself, casting aside faith, duty, and honor for the strength of love and family. Readers won’t be able to put this book down, as the excitement begins from the first page and only grows from there. Cameron expertly blends worldbuilding and intriguing characters with page-turning action scenes and a story that builds in tension and complexity. The novel’s commitment to diversity adds new dimensions to the story, as the cast is entirely nonwhite, and the clan recognizes nonbinary gender identities and complex sexual orientations. The lexicon of unique terms and concepts may be intimidating to some readers, but the vocabulary adds fantastic texture to the world without distracting from the plot. This rare gem of a book has a lot to offer readers, including magic, action, and intrigue on the edge of a knife.

A fresh, original series starter bolstered by a dynamic protagonist and a welcome sense of depth.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63375-592-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Entangled Teen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

A cleareyed but warm family saga of buried recriminations and the struggle for reconciliation.

A WEEKEND WITH FRANCES

A mother and her daughters reunite to dredge up old traumas in this tension-wracked drama.

Frances Rafferty has her normally cantankerous 84-year-old spirits lifted when her favorite daughter, Kathy, an off-Broadway actress with a rich second husband, decides to come home from New York to visit the family home in Brown County, Indiana. Also attending are Frances’ daughter Edie, a doormat housewife, and her dyspeptic husband, Sam, who actually inhabit the family home, having exiled Frances to a mother-in-law trailer in the backyard; and third daughter Rosie, a psychologist who is bitterly estranged from Frances and is bringing her disabled son in tow. The narrative unfolds over a three-day weekend of dinners, Scrabble games, church, and squabbles, told through ruminative soliloquies by each of the women probing her present feelings and past resentments from times when the family almost disintegrated in madness and poverty. Each woman’s soul and secrets are laid bare: Kathy, a domineering diva who puts up a front of ebullient cheer while denying the reality that her life’s stability is about to collapse; Edie, perpetually striving to please everyone around her and guilt-stricken when she can’t, who harbors a hidden passion for an old flame; Rosie, seething with bitterness toward Frances over a childhood wound her sisters know nothing about. Thomas (Blessed Transgression, 2015, etc.) creates vibrant, sharply etched characters who come with plenty of rancorous baggage but manage to unpack enough of it to regain sympathy for one another and themselves. They come alive through the author’s gift for crafting distinctive voices in well-observed dialogue, emerging through their own reflections and the refracted perspectives of their loved ones. Thomas writes in a relaxed, understated prose that conveys the heavy emotional impact of family conflicts without histrionics and melodrama. (Frances in a rare moment of contentment: “I woke up all of a sudden. And the sweetest feelin’ come over me. Like an angel of the Lord done passed through the room. And I couldn’t help but call out in the darkness, ‘God is good.’ Yup, that’s all I could think to say. God is good.”) Readers should root for Frances and her daughters as they fitfully knit their family ties back together.

A cleareyed but warm family saga of buried recriminations and the struggle for reconciliation.

Pub Date: July 24, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9976445-0-0

Page Count: 252

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

An affecting portrayal of the making of a veterinarian and the day-to-day challenges she faces.

KYLIE'S ARK

THE MAKING OF A VETERINARIAN

In Bourke’s debut novel, a young veterinarian is inspired and sometimes tortured by her intense empathy with the animals she treats.

Kylie Wheeler’s route to a career in veterinary medicine begins with an after-college job with the National Park Service observing and protecting endangered species of shorebirds on the New Jersey coast. From there, she travels to the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana to work on a National Forest Service project to investigate the feasibility of reintroducing the Canadian lynx to the environment. In both of these jobs, Kylie faces frustrations and rewards as she learns about the unique qualities of the birds and rabbits she studies as well as the human ignorance and indifference that so often contribute to animal suffering. Discouraged by the futility of keeping picnickers from trampling rare plover eggs and alienated by scientific research that requires the deaths of its subjects, Kylie goes back to school to become a vet. She finds that even the healing of sick and injured animals is complicated by money, professional egos, and human error. Bourke does an excellent job of animating Kylie—a cynical but warm and hardworking young woman who is quick to admit and relinquish her prejudices and cares deeply about the animals in her care even when she is supposed to affect professional detachment. The novel is engagingly written and never drags or dithers. The quick changes of scene can sometimes feel a bit disjointed, but Bourke moves Kylie through her interesting careers with skill, maintaining reader interest and allowing her character to grow and develop through her widely varied experiences with animals. As a vet, Kylie articulates the particular pain of a caring medical professional treating creatures who are under the control of owners who may not value their lives or feelings very highly.

An affecting portrayal of the making of a veterinarian and the day-to-day challenges she faces.

Pub Date: April 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9964201-0-5

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Lansinger Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

A fine collection of tales about people dancing frenetically on the edge of doom.

AT DANCETERIA AND OTHER STORIES

Celebrities—and some ordinary people—keep the party going as the AIDS plague gathers in these elegiac stories of gay life in the 1980s.

Walker’s debut collection imagines encounters between iconic gay men, drag queens, clubgoers, and warmly empathetic female divas in a vibrant but increasingly shadowed demimonde where news of the deaths of friends becomes routine. Designer Halston, Andy Warhol, and Liza Minnelli attend a fashion show and then repair to Studio 54 to snort cocaine and toss off bitchy one-liners; flamboyant rocker Freddie Mercury escorts Princess Diana, dressed as a man, to a London bar where she takes in a man impersonating her; a humble handyman bonds with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis when they visit a gay bar in New York; an aging Rock Hudson, unaware of his coming rendezvous with the HIV virus, cruises a gay nightclub and finds a hot young thing who still considers him a stud; a San Francisco drag queen channels Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker while Bette Midler beams from the audience; an average-looking gay man feels he is safe from the mysterious disease he dubs the Hot Guy Flu because it only seems to strike the handsomest men. And in the title story, artist Keith Haring erupts in spontaneous image-making at a Danceteria party, with Madonna herself belting out a benediction to him. Walker registers and skillfully evokes the intensely image-bound nature of these boldfaced names—a coked-up Minnelli is “bubbling, a bit manic, laughing. Like a tall puppet”—but also manages to give these brittle narcissists inner lives of needy vulnerability. His supple, fluent prose evokes the inchoate dread haunting the frantic party scene (“The strobe lights from the balcony flickered in just the right way so that, for a second, everyone looked as if they were frozen in time, suspended from the ceiling by wires”). Too cleareyed for nostalgia, this volume paints an evocative, painful, but sympathetic portrait of a cultural watershed.

A fine collection of tales about people dancing frenetically on the edge of doom.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-941960-05-9

Page Count: -

Publisher: Squares & Rebels

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

A promising debut that re-energizes tropes in the dystopian sci-fi genre.

AGE OF ORDER

In North’s debut YA novel set in a violently divided, high-tech New York City, a poor girl enrolls in a Manhattan school that serves as an enclave for the fabulously rich, powerful, and dangerous.  

An “Orderist” movement has given privilege and rank to those said to have the most “merit,” which include America’s wealthiest people. This state of affairs made California secede from the Union to become a rogue state; meanwhile, Manhattan, the new capital of the remaining 49, is a paradise of affluence for its chosen elite, with such fabulous luxuries as gene enhancements, gated communities, guardian drones, and self-driving taxis. The Bronx, meanwhile, is wretched, drug-ridden, and plague-filled. It’s also home to Daniela Machado, a fierce girl with phenomenal high school grades and impressive stats in track and field. She’s driven by a single-minded aim to attend a local medical school and fight “the Waste,” a mysterious, eventually fatal malady that’s slowly overtaking her political-agitator brother, Mateo. Unexpectedly, Daniela is granted a one-in-a-million chance to attend the Tuck School, a Manhattan academy for the best of the so-called “highborn.” She’s suspicious of the faculty’s motives and of the uber-handsome classmates around her, some of whom are friendly and welcoming, others not. She soon finds out that her predecessor apparently committed suicide, and she gets drawn into intrigue at the highest levels. There’s no shortage of YA sci-fi yarns that focus on the gap between haves and have-nots. But North’s entry is superlative, and his well-rendered setting is a more interesting conceit than Suzanne Collins’ similar Panem in The Hunger Games. Ultimately, what starts out as sort of a fish-out-of-water drama with sci-fi trappings becomes the story of a veritable clash of superbeings, but North maintains expert control over it, much as J.K. Rowling did in her Harry Potter sagas. The action scenes are deftly handled, as are the depictions of compelling, smart, multicultural characters. The background philosophy behind the Orderists also has a sinister verisimilitude (Aldous Huxley is cited, although Ayn Rand, curiously, is not). Both YA and adult readers will be transfixed by this novel, which works well as both a stand-alone and as a series opener.

A promising debut that re-energizes tropes in the dystopian sci-fi genre.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 339

Publisher: Plebeian Media

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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