Staff Favorites of 2016 - Books

“Staff Favorites of 2016” lists The Day’s staff members’ favorite moments in the arts this year, from local exhibits and concerts to new releases on film, in music and print, and on television. Here, we share our favorite books from 2016.

“Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi

Gyasi’s debut, with its unexpected structure and robust storytelling, is compelling. “Homegoing” follows descendants of a Ghanaian family, one line ending up in the U.S. after a woman is sold into slavery and the other remaining in Africa. Each chapter follows a new character — the next in the family line — so that the narrative and history propel everything forward with a carry-the-reader-along rush.

— Kristina Dorsey

“Bite Me: How Lyme Disease Stole My Childhood, Made Me Crazy and Almost Killed Me” by Ally Hilfiger

Hilfiger (designer Tommy Hilfiger’s daughter) has written a wry, astute book about her long, debilitating battle against Lyme. Her years-long series of misdiagnoses was followed by “cures” that were, at times, just as devastating as the disease. That might sound like a grueling read, but it’s not, thanks to Hilfiger’s wit and self-deprecation.

— Kristina Dorsey

“Imagine Me Gone” by Adam Haslett

In Haslett’s hands, a father and son’s battle with mental illness feels very real in this devastating family portrait.

— Kristina Dorsey

“Boys in the Trees” by Carly Simon

This memoir was published in 2015, but I caught up with it when the paperback version came out this year. Simon is stunningly honest about her complicated life, and she is a storyteller extraordinaire, offering telling details and smart insights.

— Kristina Dorsey

“Razor Girl” by Carl Hiaasen

Like fellow Floridians Tim Dorsey and Dave Barry, Hiaasen uses the everyday, this-really-happened weirdness of his home state as plot trampolines to hop e’er-higher into the rarified air of comic satire. “Razor Girl” is a sequel of sorts. The hero of Hiaasen’s previous book, “Bad Monkey,” Key West police-detective-busted-to-restaurant-hygiene-inspector Andrew Yancy is back in a starring role — and the brilliant and intertwining narrative threads include the on-the-lam star of a redneck reality TV show, his LA agent, a New York mobster and the title character, Merry, whose scam is to neutralize kidnap victims via automobile fender-benders she causes whilst, ah, shaving her nether regions. Read it and weep — with laughter.

Rick Koster

“Before the Fall” by Noah Hawley

When impoverished painter Scott Burroughs catches a late-night flight on a private jet full of rich Martha’s Vineyard residents, he figures it’s a cheap way to get from the island to Manhattan. The plane crashes in the Atlantic, though, and after Burroughs swims miles to shore with the only other survivor — a small boy — on his back, he begins to wonder whether the crash was an accident. He’s not the only one. Brilliantly plotted and paced, with cautionary elements about the power of social media and media outlets with agendas, Hawley dips back and forth in time to reveal the histories and motivations of the wealthy and powerful people onboard the plane. The tension becomes unbearable and the answers are stunning.

— Rick Koster

“End of Watch” by Stephen King

This is the final episode of a remarkable trilogy where aging private detective Bill Hodges explores and refines his suspicions that his incapacitated and longtime foe, Brady Hartsfield — the so-called Mercedes Killer — isn’t nearly as “brain dead” as doctors believe. Indeed, Harstfield is utilizing a burgeoning sort of telepathy/mind-control to escape the shell of his body — but will Hodges figure it out in time to avoid a large-scale civilian attack? The Hodges books are wonderful and captivating, but Hodges himself stands and shines as one of King’s most amazing and complex characters. There are many writers who are celebrated in “literary circles” who will never approach the skill and heart King captures in Hodges. And is it too much to say this novel will break your heart? Don’t cheat, though. Start at the first and enjoy the greatness.

— Rick Koster

“The Innocents” by Ace Atkins

Sometimes I wish Atkins wasn’t a friend. That way, every time I include his always-great novels as a year-end Staff Favorites pick, I wouldn’t have to worry that readers think “the fix is in.” Well, it’s not. Atkins is just that good. This is the latest of his novels starring ex-Army Ranger Quinn Colson, who also happens to be the ex-sheriff of Tibbehah County in rural northern Mississippi. This time out, after a popular former high school cheerleader is found walking down the road engulfed in flames, Colson takes a temporary assignment from the current sheriff, his close friend and series co-star Lillie Virgil. After all, the incident is just one in a series of events from a variety of criminal elements that threaten to cumulatively destroy the whole county. Funny, dark, profane and beautifully structured, “The Innocents” is a remarkable literary crime novel.

— Rick Koster

“American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst” by Jeffrey Toobin

The oddly named Symbionese Liberation Army kidnaped the heiress to the Hearst family fortune in 1974 and then things got really weird, even for the ’70s. The SLA demanded that everyone in Oakland and San Francisco be fed for free, and the Hearst family, with the help of the Black Panthers, tried to comply. Riots broke out and people hit each other over the head with frozen turkeys. Patty Hearst, now going by “Tania,” wielded a machine gun during a bank robbery. Who alive at that time will ever forget the iconic image of an armed Patty Hearst? And then throw in Bill Walton, F. Lee Bailey and Ronald Reagan and you have a story almost too fantastic to be true. Toobin turns what will be a familiar story to many into a page-turner.

— Tim Cotter 

“Delta Lady: A Memoir” by Rita Coolidge

Coolidge’s memoir does double duty as a history of rock ‘n roll in the ‘70s, as she sang with some of the greats, including Clapton and Cocker, was the inspiration of songs by Leon Russell and Stephen Stills, had relationships with Stills and Graham Nash and, of course, was married to Kris Kristofferson. Coolidge is best when giving readers a behind-the-scenes look at these crazy, drug- and booze-fueled times, but as a memoirist she falls short in self-awareness.

— Tim Cotter

“The Last Good Heist: The Inside Story of The Biggest Single Payday in the Criminal History of the Northeast” by Wayne Worcester, Randall Richard and Tim White

Having spent my formative years in a suburb of Providence, I consider my fascination with The Mob a birthright. There was the body covered by the cops with a sheet as we passed by on the school bus. And the wise guy whacked on his front steps a few blocks away that made the front page of the paper. So, yeah, I loved this inside story of this inside job. The thieves’ take was in the neighborhood of $30 million in cash, jewelry and diamonds from safe deposit boxes. It’s unclear exactly how much was pilfered because when you’re hiding valuables from the feds you don’t run to the cops when they’re stolen. The authors, all journalists, retell this compelling story largely through the actions and words of career criminal turned rat Robert “Deuce” Dussault. A must-read if you share my fascination.

— Tim Cotter

“The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World” by Andrea Wulf 

Published late last year and already in its 17th printing, this 450-page biography not only chronicles a life like none other, it reminds us about the shelf life of fame. Wulf makes a case that in the mid-19th century, just about the most famous man in the world was the Prussian naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt. And for good reason … not only did he make more scientific and geographic discoveries in South America than all other Europeans before him combined, he developed the very concepts of the ecosphere, of interwoven ecosystems and almost all of our attitudes toward the natural world. Darwin read his books incessantly. John Muir revered him. There are more towns, parks and places named after Humboldt today than any other person. His story is so dramatic, both climbing volcanos in Ecuador and negotiating European politics, when you read Wulf’s vivid book, you’ll be shocked that you know so little of all this. I know I was. 

— Milton Moore

“Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into The Nest” by Julie Zickefoose 

Many books have been written — and illustrated — about our feathered friends, but nothing like Julie Zickefoose’s “Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into The Nest” has ever been attempted. 

Zickefoose, an artist and wildlife rehabilitator, spent 13 years documenting in words and watercolor drawings the daily development of 17 wild bird species, 16 of which nest on her 80-acre wildlife sanctuary in Appalachian Ohio. 

Dispelling the myth that mother birds will abandon their babies if they’ve been touched by human hands, Zickefoose took each hatchling out of its nest and into her studio to observe and record their daily development from birth to maturity. 

This resulted in a hardcover book featuring 400 exquisite watercolor paintings and comprehensive text about bird breeding, biology, growth and cognition. 

“Rapid development of baby birds is one of the unsung miracles of nature,” she said in an interview with The Day. “How a morning dove goes from a little hatchling the size of your thumb to a flying bird in 10 days is one of the things I can only witness. I can’t really explain the miracle of how they do this. Drawing things from life in order to understand them is something I’ve been doing for a really long time.” 

— Amy J. Barry

“Everybody’s Fool” by Richard Russo 

Russo takes us on another rollicking ride through North Bath, N.Y., the setting of his 1993 novel, “Nobody’s Fool.” Donald “Sully” Sullivan, played by Paul Newman on the big screen, takes second billing here to his nemesis, the cop Doug Raymer. 

— Betty J. Cotter 

“The Bridge Ladies” by Betsy Lerner 

The author joins her mother’s bridge club to get closer to the older generation. That the women play a cut-throat game is only one of the surprises in store in this generous memoir. 

— Betty J. Cotter 

“Georgia” by Dawn Tripp 

In prose alternately lyrical and heartbreaking, Tripp gives voice to the artist Georgia O’Keeffe. This novel, based on extensive research, focuses on O’Keeffe’s love affair and marriage to the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, but its true subject is her evolution as an artist. 

— Betty J. Cotter 

“Loon Lore” by Bill Sullivan and Leslie Tryon 

Sullivan, a Westerly poet, and his cousin Leslie, an illustrator, have produced a beautiful tribute to the bird that winters off Weekapaug. Sullivan’s essays and poems and Tryon’s evocative drawings celebrate the bird’s mystery and sound the alarm for its protection.

— Betty J. Cotter 

“Leaving Lucy Pear” by Anna Solomon 

A baby left in a pear orchard forms the center of this engrossing historical novel, set in Cape Ann, Mass., during Prohibition. 

— Betty J. Cotter

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