In 2017, the Tall Poppy Writers were a prolific bunch but you know what else we did an absolute ton of? READING. Here are the books recommended by Tall Poppy Writers as the best reads of the year.
Sally Koslow, author of the highly anticipated Another Side of Paradise recommends Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles. From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel. Sally loved it for the elegant language, wry tone and originality.
Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason. More than a year ago, mild-mannered Jason Getty killed a man he wished he’d never met. Then he planted the problem a little too close to home. But just as he’s learning to live with the undeniable reality of what he’s done, police unearth two bodies on his property—neither of which is the one Jason buried. Kate Moretti says “Mason’s writing is lyrical and descriptive, the premise is original, and the dark humor is perfectly unexpected.”
Sonja Yoerg recommends Anna and the Swallowman, because of its unusual perspective on WWII in Poland and the miracle of unexpected relationships. A stunning, beautiful, and ambitious debut novel set in Poland during the Second World War perfect for readers of All the Light We Cannot See and The Book Thief.
Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders, is an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul. Weina Dai Randel called it “a poetic creation that evokes the ghosts who are deeply human and the surreal atmosphere between here and there. It made me cry, sigh, and smile.”
Our Short History, by Lauren Grodstein, is an an unforgettable story about parenthood, sacrifice, and life itself. Karen Neulander, a successful New York political consultant and single mother, has always been fiercely protective of her son, Jacob, now six. Now Karen is dying and he only thing she cannot bring herself to do for her son—let his father become a permanent part of his life—is the thing he needs from her the most. How can a woman learn to let go of the people she loves the most? Recommended by Ann Garvin because “it was like talking to a best friend and both laughing and railing about death and love.”
The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is another irresistible novel by the remarkable Fannie Flagg. Fabulous, fun-filled, spanning decades and generations, it’s centered on a little-known aspect of America’s twentieth-century. Flagg is at her hilarious and superb best in this new comic mystery novel about two women who are forced to reimagine who they are. Tina Ann Forkner put this at the top of her 2017 list “because of the women’s history, the relationship between the sisters, and of course, the humor that is so Fannie Flagg.”
Dragon Springs Road, by Janie Chang. From the author of Three Souls comes a vividly imagined and haunting new novel set in early 20th century Shanghai—a story of friendship, heartbreak, and history that follows a young Eurasian orphan’s search for her long-lost mother. That night I dreamed that I had wandered out to Dragon Springs Road all on my own, when a dreadful knowledge seized me that my mother had gone away never to return . . .Kathryn Craft A top read for “for its atmospheric Chinese estate, poetic passages resulting from the young protagonist’s unshakable faith in a Fox spirit—and despite the early 1900s setting, women’s rights and cultural identity issues that are still relevant today, on the other side of the world.”
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne. Cyril Avery is not a real Avery — or at least, that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he? Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. From the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Boy In the Striped Pajamas, a sweeping, heartfelt saga about the course of one man’s life, beginning and ending in post-war Ireland. Kelly Simmons loved this book “For making the story of a gay Irish orphan completely universal, and for an equal mix of laughter and tears, which is nearly impossible to accomplish!”
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. A Pulitzer Prize winning novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times). Recommended by Kerstin March.
Windy City Blues, by Renee Rosen. In 1960s Chicago, a young woman stands in the middle of a musical and social revolution. A new historical novel from the bestselling author of White Collar Girl and What the Lady Wants. Leeba Groski finds love and acceptance at a job in a new Chicago record company. The interracial relationship is unwelcome in segregated Chicago and they are shunned by Leeba’s Orthodox Jewish family. Yet in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Leeba and Red discover that, in times of struggle, music can bring people together. Recommended by Amy Sue Nathan because “It made the birth of blues music fascinating to this non-musical person with its fabulous cast of characters, both real and imagined. It tackles a lot of topics still relevant today, like racism.”
We Could Be Beautiful, by Swan Huntley is a spellbinding psychological debut novel, Swan Huntley’s We Could Be Beautiful is the story of a wealthy woman who has everything—and yet can trust no one, featuring a fascinating heroine who longs for answers but is blinded by her own privilege. A glittering, seductive, utterly surprising story of love, money, greed, and family. Recommended by Amy Impellizzeri called it “one of those ignore-the-kids-and-everything-else-don’t-bother-me-I’m-reading kind of books.”
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. In this entrancing novel “that speaks to the Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor in us all” (Kirkus Reviews), a legendary film actress reflects on her relentless rise to the top and the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine. Recommended by Lisa Barr because “it’s Hollywood, Love, Passion, Glamour, Drama – and a page-turner. All my faves!”
A gorgeous novel by the celebrated author of When the Emperor Was Divine that tells the story of a group of young women brought from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” nearly a century ago. In eight unforgettable sections, The Buddha in the Attic traces the extraordinary lives of these women, from their arduous journeys by boat, to their arrival in San Francisco and their tremulous first nights as new wives; from their experiences raising children who would later reject their culture and language, to the deracinating arrival of war. Recommended by Karen Karbo, who called it both “Stunning and heartbreaking.”
The Rules of Magic, by Alice Hoffman. From beloved author Alice Hoffman comes the spellbinding prequel to her bestseller, Practical Magic. Find your magic. For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man. Recommended by Kimberly Brock “because the WORDS and MAGIC and HOPE and HEART.”
Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah. The story of a mischievous young boy who grows into a restless young man as he struggles to find himself in a world where he was never supposed to exist. It is also the story of that young man’s relationship with his fearless, rebellious, and fervently religious mother—his teammate, a woman determined to save her son from the cycle of poverty, violence, and abuse that would ultimately threaten her own life. Recommended by Nomi Eve because the book “opened up a window to a time and place I didn’t know much about and Noah told his compelling story with grace and a lot of wit.”
Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff. Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years. Recommended by Erin Celello who called it “A dual telling — from both the husband and wife’s point of view — of a marriage in the most stunning prose I’ve probably ever read.”
The Arrangement, by Sarah Dunn. A hilarious and emotionally charged novel about a couple who embark on an open marriage-what could possibly go wrong? Lucy and Owen, ambitious, thoroughly-therapized New Yorkers, have taken the plunge, trading in their crazy life in a cramped apartment for Beekman, a bucolic Hudson Valley exurb. Recommended by Camille Pagan “because it was smart, funny, and a spot-on take about what might actually happen if a mostly-happy couple decided to try open marriage.”
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine. When fish-out-of-water Eleanor Oliphant meets bumbling, unhygienic Raymond and they rescue an elderly man named Sammy, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. Smart, warm, uplifting, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . . Cathy Lamb recommends because “she introduced us to a totally unique, authentic character.”
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. It’s the year 2045, and the real world is an ugly place. Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them. Amy Reichert called it “It was the perfect mashup of 80s pop culture, brilliant world building, and perfect escapism.”
The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden. Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed—to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales. Nicole Baart called it “Magical, atmospheric, beautifully written.”
Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward. In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first-century America. An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing journeys through Mississippi’s past and present, examining the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power—and limitations—of family bonds. Recommended by Julie Cantrell who called it “Lyrical, dark, honest, raw, the kind of story that shapes souls and leaves us with a broader view of the human journey.”