by Heidi Simmons

An end of year “favorites” column is fun, but it is also difficult.   Fun, because I get to look over all the books I read and shared with you over the past year.   Difficult because there are so many good books and each has its merits.

Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, I try to find the book’s heart and soul, the significance and meaning within its pages –– and share it with you.

Here is a list of my favorites in nonfiction, fiction and short stories for 2017 and why the book resonated with me. 



 “Unsettlers: In Search of the Good Life in Today’s America” by Mark Sundeen (Riverhead Books, 336 pages).  

Author Sundeen shares the lives of three different couples and their pursuit to live off the grid, survive without government intervention and live a sustainable life without abusing or harming the environment — a quest far more challenging than you might think. 

This book gave me hope, and I absolutely love the idea of pursuing liberty and being self-sufficient. 

“Culture as Weapon: The Art of Influence in Everyday Life” by Nato Thompson (Melville House, 288 pages).

The author defines art as something that has a potentiality for being both deeply coercive and absolutely powerful.  Not only is he referring to the traditional arts like theater, film, dance and fine art, but also the art of advertising and PR.

Thompson notes the impact of global business, which in 2015, spent  $600 billion to sway consumers.   More than ever, advertising and public relations plays a critical role in daily business practices to alter culture.  The author gives examples how politicians and world leaders manipulate cultural narrative to rally support and change public opinion. 

If you think you are making freewill decisions, think again.

“Blood Brothers: The Story of the Strange Friendship Between Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill” by Deanne Stillman (Simons & Schuster, 286 pages). 

I thoroughly enjoyed going back in time and meeting these amazing and complicated human beings.  Stillman shares the remarkable friendship between Buffalo Bill, Sitting Bull and Annie Oakley. 

It’s lovely to get lost in such an amazing period of American history and get to know the fascinating people who shaped it.


 “Quiet Until the Thaw” by Alexandra Fuller (Penguin, 228 pages).

This generational story about an Oglala family is not only about peace, violence and injustice, but the strength, endurance and significance of Native American people and their culture.

Poetically told, Fuller delivers such insight and warmth you would think she grew up on a reservation.  I especially appreciate how the author completely trusts her reader and did not let political correct rhetoric enter the story.

“Quicksand” by Malin Persson Giolito translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles (Other Press, 501 pages).  

Voted “Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year,” the story is about a school shooting and how the tragedy came about.  Well written and thoughtful, the story is told by the shooter. 

Things are not always what they seem.  I appreciate how well constructed the narrative is as we come to understand the circumstance of those involved and those killed.

“Nutshell” by Ian McEwan (Nan A. Talese, 208 pages)

The narrator in this story is an unborn fetus.  Nearly nine months old, he has turned and dropped into position for birth.  Although he is ready to meet his mom and dad, there is a problem.  Mom and dad are living separately, and his mom wants to kill his dad.

I loved discovering the storyteller was an unborn child.   This conceit is even more heightened because the narrator is unreliable.  Made me consider how much do the unborn know? 


“Difficult Women” by Roxane Gay  (Grove Atlantic, 260 pages)

The author provides tantalizing and provocative insights to the challenges of being true to one’s self, living outside the norm and accepting one’s flaws in a world that is unjust and disrespectful to women.

This is an especially timely collection of stories with the current conversation about harassment in the workplace and the outing of predators.  Beyond the compelling subject matter, Gay writes brilliantly and her stories are engaging.

“Homesick for Another World” by Ottessa Moshfegh (Penguin Press, 304 pages).  

The author crafts complete worlds and complex characters.  There are no clichés and she boldly delves into the dark and painful reality of those who are heartbroken by other human beings and frustrated by life vicissitudes.

Sometimes intense and sometimes funny, Moshfegh is not afraid to visit the dangerous and frail side of our human experience.

“The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories” by Osama Alomar  (New Directions, 104 pages).  

How do Americans get insight into the lives of Syrians? You read a collection of stories.

I felt as if I were reading great Arabian writers from the past who shared their secrets, wisdom and the beauty of their culture through poetry and prose.

Alomar’s lyrical voice seems to be crying out from the wilderness. His stories are meaningful, timeless and urgent. Reading the book as a whole evokes compassion, outrage, sorrow and perhaps even some hope for the region.

Thank you dear readers for sharing your favorite books, providing me with suggestions and letting me know if I got the review right. 

Also, I want to thank a hero of mine. 

CVW publisher Tracy Dietlin is an amazing human being.  She is the smartest and hardest workingwoman I know, and because of her and her paper, I am allowed to celebrate books and share the joy of reading. 

As a publisher and editor, Dietlin gets how important reading is.  She understands the pleasure of sitting down with a print copy and getting involved in a narrative. 

Dietlin is to be commended and celebrated for believing in readers and quality content.

May your New Year be filled with books!

(To read the complete reviews go to under Columns heading Book Reviews.)