Susan’s Picks from 2014

I feel terrible for only squeezing in 27 books this year, a new low for me, but considering I wrote or edited three books in between, I don’t feel so bad. I am an unforgivable nerd, wallowing in science, history, psychology, and biography to the point I read almost no fiction at all anymore. I feel bad when people ask me to recommend something and I have no clue what to offer because the last really good book I read was on the histology of Ebola, or they’re looking for romance recommendations and my idea of a great romance is the novelization of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Here are the best and worst I read this year, not counting a reread of Chris Wooding’s Retribution Falls, which I love so much I gave out ten copies at Christmas:

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Jacket.aspxThe Riddle of the Labyrinth: the Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, by Margalit Fox. Fox covers the work by Michael Ventris, who eventually untangled the mystery of the early Greek/Mycenean Linear B glyphs, but spends much of the book discussing Alice Kober’s work, so much of it uncredited yet without which Ventris would not have succeeded. When Kober – who spent the majority of her life working on the syllabary – dies just a year before the pieces fall into place, you want to cry for her. If you love a good detective novel – this is a true story that shook the history world. (I warned you about the nerdism).

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Detroit: An American Autopsy, by Charlie LeDuff. An incredible book about the decay of Detroit, a city so far gone America has forgotten it exists, while the people still try to survive in a place without – well, anything. No jobs, no police, no grocery stores, and most recently, no water. Made me incredibly angry to see America left to rot like this.

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WJacket.aspxho Discovered America? by Gavin Menzies. Ever read a book that makes you feel like you woke up on an alien world, that everything you were ever told about history was wrong? This book takes Thor Heyerdahl to a whole new level, pointing out overwhelming scientific evidence that Asian, African, and European peoples were routinely coming to America long before Columbus was born. Utterly fascinating. Even if Menzies is only 10% right, it still changes everything we know about history. Easy to read, and you won’t be able to put it down.

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Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in Northern Korea, by Barbara Demick. This book is so touching and so sad, you cannot help but be moved by people who have so little control over their lives that even their food and clothing is doled out by the government, and if they say you will starve, then you starve, because they will not give you more. People risking death to swim to China, or pay for an underground railroad to South Korea, where they have extreme culture shock that defies the propaganda they have been fed for generations. Hate the leader, but love the people. I love Gavin Menzies, but I think this gets my vote for Best Book of the Year.

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deafI Can Hear You Whisper: An Intimate Journey Through the Science of Sound and Language, by Lydia Denworth. Denworth’s youngest son is born profoundly deaf; this is her story not only of trying to decide how to educate him (as a lip-reader, a signer, or hearing w/ a cochlear implant). Interspersed with her journey is the science behind hearing and language, and the history of deafness, and it is utterly fascinating how much hearing and learning are interconnected, and why many deaf people never read beyond a fourth-grade level.

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, by John LeCarré. I needed to read a couple of spy novels as research for a book I was writing. Every list I looked at said this was the best. I have no doubt they are right. A spy novel that will keep you guessing until the very end, it makes James Bond look like a pampered fool. Very British, but very, very good.

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boyWorst book I read this year? There were a couple of stinkers, but I think the worst I read was The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood, by Roger Rosenblatt. I don’t care how many awards he’s gotten. I almost never abandon a book half-way through, but I just couldn’t finish this. It has a boy, and he’s in New York, but the rest is just a single run-on sentence of chapterless rambling. You know how your brain wanders foggy from topic to topic when you’re lying in bed half asleep? That’s this book. I read some clunkers, but I made it to the end of them. This one I couldn’t get past 50 pages. No, thank you.

 

What did you like/dislike this year?

O, The Oprah Magazine Picks Top Ten Books of 2014

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The editors of O, The Oprah Magazine have come up with their list of the top ten books of 2014.  How many did you read?

boneThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – A vast, intricate novel that weaves six narratives and spans from 1984 to the 2030s about a secret war between a cult of soul-decanters and a small group of vigilantes called the Night Shift who try to take them down. An up-all-night story that fluentlymixes the super-natural, sci-fi, horror, social satire, and hearbreaking realism.thunder

Thunderstruck & Other Stories by Elizabeth McCracken – A collection of stories navigates the fragile space between love and loneliness, including the title story in which a family finds their lives irrevocably changed by their teenage daughter’s risky behavior.

shortThe Short & Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs – Presents the life of Robert Peace, an African American who became a brillant biochemistry student at Yale University, but after graduation lived as drug dealer and was brutally murdered at the age of thirty.station

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – The sudden death of a Hollywood actor during a production of “King Lear” marks the beginning of the world’s dissolution in a story told at various past and future times from the perspectives of the actor and four of his associates.

empathyThe Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison –  A collection of essays explores empathy, using topics ranging from street violence and incarceration to reality television and literary sentimentality to ask questions about people’s understanding of and relationships with others.boy

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi – A reimagining of the Snow White story set in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s.

can'tCan’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast – A graphic memoir by a long-time New Yorker cartoonist celebrates the final years of her aging parents’ lives through four-color cartoons, family photos and documents that reflect the artist’s struggles with caregiver challenges.lucky

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom – Forging a life together after being abandoned by their parents, half sisters Eva and Iris share decades in and out of the spotlight in golden-era Hollywood and mid-twentieth-century Long Island.

beingBeing Mortal by Atul Gawande – A prominent surgeon argues against modern medical practices that extend life at the expense of quality of life while isolating the dying, outlining suggestions for freer, more fulfilling approaches to death that enable more dignified and comfortable choices.bad

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay – A cultural examination of the ways in which the media influences self-perception, and discusses how society still needs to do better.

 

 

Goodreads Best Book Award Winners Announced!

Every year Goodreads allows its registered members to vote on the best books of the year in a variety of genres and categories. The votes are done in three rounds, each round lasting about a week. This years voting for the final round ended on November 24th. The winners in each category are:

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Fiction: Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Mystery & Thriller: Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King
Historical Fiction: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Fantasy: The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
Romance: Written Down in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
Science Fiction: The Martian by Andy Weir
Horror: Prince Lestat by Anne Rice
Humor: Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Nonfiction: The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
Memoir & Autobiography: This Star Won’t Go Out by Esther Earl
History & Biography: The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport
Business Books:#Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso
Food & Cookbooks: Make it Ahead by Ina Garten
Graphic Novels & Comics: Serenity: Leaves on the Wind by Zack Whedon
Poetry: Lullabies by Lang Leav
Debut Goodreads Author: Red Rising by Pierce Brown
Young Adult Fiction: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Young Adult Fantasy: City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare
Middle Grade & Children’s: The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan
Picturebooks: The Pigeon Needs a Bath! by Mo Willems

Librarians Pick Their Favorite Books of 2014

The top ten titles that public library staff most enjoyed recommending in 2014 have been announced. As part of LibraryReads first-year celebration,  library staff members across the country voted on their favorite LibraryReads’s picks from the monthly lists beginning with the first one in September, 2013.

The resulting list, in order of most votes received, is:

1. The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. A middle-aged bookseller mourning his lost wife, a feisty publisher’s rep, and a charmingly precocious abandoned child come together on a small island off the New England coast in this utterly delightful novel of love and second chances.

2. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Don Tillman, a brilliant geneticist, thinks that having women fill out a six-page, double-sided questionnaire before a date is logical and reasonable. Rosie Jarman, an impetuous barmaid, thinks Don should loosen up and learn to live a little. Follow the unlikely pair in this laugh-out-loud, feel-good story of unexpected joys, discovery and love.

3. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Set during World War II Europe, this novel is sobering without being sentimental. The tension builds as the alternating, parallel stories of Werner and Marie-Laure unfold, and their paths cross.

4. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. At turns funny, sweet, smart, and sad, Fangirl traces Cath’s journey to independence as she begins college, struggles to have an identity separate from her twin sister, find her voice and passion as a writer, and fall in love for the first time.

5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. Readers who love the novelist for her richly developed, dark, multi-layered characters and thoroughly researched topics will not be disappointed. Tartt pulls together many threads of a story across a long span of pages and into a complete masterpiece.

6. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. This brilliant and heartbreaking novel tells the story of a prestigious family living on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Full of love, lies, secrets, no shortage of family dysfunction, and a shocking twist that you won’t see coming.

7. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. An actor playing King Lear dies onstage just before a cataclysmic event changes the future of everyone on Earth. What will be valued and what will be discarded? Will art have a place in a world that has lost so much? What will make life worth living?

8. One Plus One by Jojo Moyes. A single mom, her math genius daughter, her eye-shadow-wearing stepson, a wealthy computer geek and a smelly dog all get into a car…it sounds like the start of a bad joke, but it’s actually another charming novel from Jojo Moyes.

9. Landline by Rainbow Rowell. Landline explores the delicate balance women make between work and family, considering the tradeoffs and pain. Rowell has a special gift for offering incredible insights into ordinary life. Never heavy-handed, Rowell’s writing is delivered with humor and grace.

10. Longbourn by Jo Baker. Using Pride and Prejudice’s familiar setting and characters, Baker tells a very different story of family, love and self-discovery.beautiful, uplifting novel full of mystery, hope and romance. Highly recommended for Austen fans and historical fiction readers.