30 best books of 2017

The 2017 books listed below are the top choices of the Monitor’s book critics – the 30 books that moved, informed, or delighted us most.


Dark at the Crossing
By Elliot Ackerman
Knopf, 256 pp.
Set against the war in Syria, this National Book Award-nominated novel by former US Marine Elliot Ackerman focuses on the actions of characters caught up in the chaos of fighting. (CSMonitor.com review, 2/2/17)

Lincoln in the Bardo
By George Saunders
Random House, 368 pp.
This 2017 Man Booker Prize winner by acclaimed short story writer George Saunders juxtaposes a family tragedy – the death of President Abraham Lincoln’s son – with the national tragedy of the Civil War.
(CSMonitor.com review, 2/27/17)

The Hate u Give
By Angie Thomas
Balzer + Bray, 464 pp.
This dark but excellent young adult novel provides a window into conversations about race. (CSMonitor.com review, 3/1/17)

Strange the Dreamer
By Laini Taylor
Little, Brown, 544 pp.
This evocative and lyrical young adult fantasy novel by National Book Award finalist Laini Taylor blends a love story with a search for a lost city and a battle between humans and gods. (CSMonitor.com review, 3/31/17)

The Golden Legend
By Nadeem Aslam
Knopf, 336 pp.
Set in contemporary Pakistan, acclaimed author Nadeem Aslam’s fifth novel tells the story of a widow who must decide whether to pardon her husband’s killers. Aslam handles themes of religious conflict, violence, and family dissent with dignity and grace. (CSMonitor.com review, 4/18/17)

The Leavers
By Lisa Ko
Algonquin, 352 pp.
Lisa Ko’s powerful debut novel examines transracial adoption, bravely and beautifully sorting through issues of love, loyalty, and identity. (CSMonitor.com review, 5/2/17)

Salt Houses
By Hala Alyan
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 320 pp.
Drawing on her formidable skills as a storyteller and lyrically gifted writer, Palestinian-American writer and poet Hala Alyan uses her debut novel to tell the story of the diaspora of a Palestinian family. (CSMonitor.com review, 5/9/17)

The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories
By Penelope Lively
Penguin, 208 pp.
British author Penelope Lively mixes perspicacity and grace in this short story collection. (CSMonitor.com review, 5/30/17)

Anything Is Possible
By Elizabeth Strout
Random House, 272 pp.
Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout’s perceptive and unflinching short stories set in small-town rural America showcase the drama in everyday life.
(CSMonitor.com review, 5/30/17)

The Essex Serpent
By Sarah Perry
Custom House, 432 pp.
A Loch Ness-like monster and a woman scientist face off in this engaging novel set in England in the Victorian era. (CSMonitor.com review, 6/19/17)

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
By Arundhati Roy
Knopf Doubleday, 464 pp.
Arundhati Roy’s first novel in two decades returns to the religious divisions polarizing India.
(CSMonitor.com review, 7/18/17)

Glass Houses
By Louise Penny
Minotaur Books, 400 pp.
Louise Penny transcends the limits of genre fiction with yet another excellent “Chief Inspector Armand Gamache” murder mystery
set in a rural village
in Quebec.
(CSMonitor.com review, 9/7/17)

Sing, Unburied, Sing
By Jesmyn Ward
Scribner, 304 pp.
Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award-winning novel about a racially mixed family with one parent in prison has been called a “Beloved” for the incarcerated generation, with echoes of William Faulkner and Eudora Welty.
(CSMonitor.com review, 10/11/17)


The New Odyssey
by Patrick Kingsley
Liveright, 368 pp.
Based on firsthand observations and interviews, journalist Patrick Kingsley paints a vivid picture of what migrants from Africa and the Middle East experience during their journeys to Europe. (CSMonitor.com review, 1/10/17)

The Souls of China
By Ian Johnson
Knopf Doubleday, 480 pp.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ian Johnson traces the remarkable rebirth of religion in China. (CSMonitor.com review, 5/12/17)

Thunder in the Mountains
by Daniel J. Sharfstein
W.W. Norton & Co., 640 pp.
Historian Daniel Sharfstein recounts the tragedy of the Nez Perce War.
(CSMonitor.com review, 4/27/17)

I Was Told to Come Alone
By Souad Mekhennet
Henry Holt, 368 pp.
A journalist with a specialty in terrorism and security, Souad Mekhennet offers a chilling but intelligent up-close look at the war on terror.
(CSMonitor.com review, 6/14/17)

Hue 1968
By Mark Bowden
Grove Atlantic, 608 pp.
“Black Hawk Down” author Mark Bowden wades into deep historical waters with this skillful, gripping account of the turning point of the Vietnam War. (CSMonitor.com review, 6/15/17)

Sea Power
By Adm. James Stavridis
Penguin, 384 pp.
Adm. James Stavridis has crafted a fascinating and bracing examination of the ways that the world’s major bodies of water and politics intersect. (CSMonitor.com review, 6/27/17)

Be Free or Die
By Cate Lineberry
St. Martin’s Press, 288 pp.
Journalist Cate Lineberry tells the remarkable story of former slave and US Congressman Robert Smalls. (CSMonitor.com review, 6/20/17)

Reading with Patrick
By Michelle Kuo
Random House, 320 pp.
This is the touching true story of a one-time teacher who put her prestigious career on hold (she was fresh out of Harvard Law School) when she heard that a former student in Arkansas had landed in jail and needed her help.
(CSMonitor.com review, 7/10/17)

Henry David Thoreau
By Laura Dassow Walls
University of Chicago Press, 640 pp.
Laura Dassow Walls offers a well-crafted biography of Walden’s most famous resident.
(CSMonitor.com review, 7/14/17)

An Odyssey
By Daniel Mendelsohn
Knopf, 320 pp.
A classics professor learns much when his father becomes his student, studying the “Odyssey” with him and even traveling to the sites that inspired it.
(CSMonitor.com review, 9/20/17)

The Future Is History
By Masha Gessen
Penguin, 528 pp.
Russian-American journalist and activist Masha Gessen offers a dark examination of what went wrong in contemporary Russia. (CSMonitor.com review, 10/3/17)

Code Girls
By Liza Mundy
Hachette Books, 432 pp.
Journalist Liza Mundy tells the captivating story of America’s female code-breakers in World War II. (CSMonitor.com review, 10/12/17)

The Gourmands’ Way
By Justin Spring
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 448 pp.
This engaging culinary history features profiles of six talented American writers who were strongly impacted by Paris and the French – a fascination they passed along to their American readers. (CSMonitor.com review, 10/13/17)

By Walter Stahr
Simon & Schuster, 768 pp.
This excellent biography brings President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of War out of the historical shadows.
(CSMonitor.com review, 9/15/17)

By Ron Chernow
Penguin, 1,104 pp.
“Hamilton” biographer Ron Chernow returns with his latest take on a historical figure, vigorously portraying Ulysses S. Grant as a great military leader, champion of rights, and honest man. (CSMonitor.com review, 10/10/17)

By Victor Sebestyen
Knopf Doubleday, 592 pp.
Hungarian-born author and historian Victor Sebestyen illuminates one of history’s most destructive leaders.
(CSMonitor.com review, 11/13/17)

By Jed Perl
Knopf Doubleday, 704 pp.
Art critic Jed Perl has written a comprehensive biography that clearly establishes American sculptor Alexander Calder as one of the artistic giants of the 20th century. (CSMonitor.com review, 11/30/17)

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