Monday, January 19, 2015

BEST OF 2014: Adult Fiction & Nonfiction

Once again, the entire BCPL staff was asked to submit their picks for the best books of the year for adults. From ambitious literary triumphs to crowd-pleasing bestsellers, here are our collective picks for 2014's best:

Adult Fiction

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This beautiful, sprawling story told from multiple viewpoints centers mostly on Mare-Laure, a 16-year-old blind girl, and Warner, a young German soldier, whose paths are destined to cross.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Mystery, humor, and family drama collide in this brilliantly paced page-turner involving a suspicious death during a parent-night fundraiser at a small-town public school and the months leading up to the tragedy. Readers are left guessing until the very end who was was killed and why, but the authentic personalities and situations are what truly make this book shine.

Blood Magick by Nora Roberts
In this final installment of the Cousins O'Dwyer Trilogy, Roberts delivers another supernatural-spiced romance with a vivid Irish setting and likable characters.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
As a fifteen-year-old runaway, Holly Sykes has no idea of the integral role she will play in a secret war between two groups of near-immortals. Spanning decades and continents, this novel tells the intricate story of that war, weaving in and out of Holly's life even as she remains mostly oblivious—until the day that the pieces finally come together in time for a final epic battle.

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett
The epic multigenerational saga of five families whose live intersect through the 20th century comes to a head in this final episode full of family drama, political intrigue, and societal upheaval.

Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
A multi-layered story told through many voices, Leaving Time is at its heart a story about motherhood. The novel centers on a precocious 13-year-old girl determined to unravel the mystery of her mother's disappearance ten years ago, with the help of a disgraced former police detective and an infamous psychic.

The Martian by Any Weir
Originally an underground self-published hit and now destined for the big screen, this novel is a quiet but captivating thriller about an astronaut stranded on Mars with limited supplies and no rescue on the horizon.

Shadow Spell by Nora Roberts
Full of Irish lore and compelling characters, this second installment of the Cousins O'Dwyer Trilogy features an impending battle against a magical sorcerer and a romance between childhood friends enmeshed in the struggle,

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
On the eve of a pandemic that will wipe out 99% of the global population, a celebrated actor dies on stage during a performance of King Lear. Twenty years later, a group of traveling musicians and actors and a few others struggle to keep art, culture, and history relevant in a world where the struggle for survival has wiped out hope for many. An elegiac and thought-provoking dystopian novel with substance.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
A cantankerous young widower finds new purpose when he finds an abandoned two-year-old in his bookstore.

The Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott
When a young teen lays hands on her injured friend, it is discovered that she has the power of healing. Unfortunately, with each attempt to heal someone else, Ava finds she herself grows weaker.



Adult Nonfiction
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
In this witty graphic memoir about the last years of her elderly parents' lives, Chast honestly and often humorously depicts the mental and physical struggles of both the dying and their caregivers. 

Deep Down Dark by Héctor Tobar
Through an empathetic and vivid account, an award-winning journalist brings to life the unfathomable experience of the 33 men who were trapped 2,000 feet underground at a Chilean mine for 10 weeks in 2010. A riveting account of disaster, survival, and coming to terms with the experience in the midst of a media frenzy.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow
This funny, whimsical guide to like is sure to appeal to nostalgic bibliophiles.
The Mockingbird Next Door by Harper Lee
In this intimate biography of Harper Lee, a journalist offers insights into the reclusive author's life and thoughts based on their conversations in the latter part of Lee's life.

UnPHILtered by Phil Robertson
The Duck Dynasty star offers his opinions on life and faith as well as other controversial topics.



Monday, January 12, 2015

BEST OF 2014: Favorite Teen/YA Books

From dark, twisty fairy tales to stunning realistic fiction with an otherwordly quality, 2014 was a great year for YA literature. Andrew Smith had not one but two top-notch books (although I must admit that I've only read one so far) and Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series came to a worthy end (though the final book hints at further Shadowhunter adventures to come). There were excellent titles that just missed making this year's list including the Smith book I have read (100 Sideways Miles), the latest installment of Maggie Stiefvater's mind-blowing Raven Cycle (Blue Lily, Lily Blue), and the 2015 Morris Award finalist The Story of Owen. And then there are the promising titles I haven't read just yet such as Timothée de Fombelle's Vango, Meg Wolitzer's Belzhar, and that other Andrew Smith book (Grasshopper Jungle).

My absolute favorite so far? It's a really, really tough contest between I'll Give You the Sun and We Were Liars. The writing in each simply stunned me. I also found the artwork and text combination of Through the Woods to be both magically creepy and breathtaking. Anyway, of those titles I have read, these are my picks for the best YA books of 2014:
 
Fiction
City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare
This final installment of the Mortal Instruments series includes plenty of twists and turns and doesn't overdo the happy ending. When a group of rebellious teens take on evil, consequences are to be expected. Here, though, Clare manages an excellent compromise: a fantastic journey with plenty of action and romance, heartbreaking moments of despair, a satisfactory wrap up for favorite characters, and hints of what is to come in her upcoming series, The Last Hours and The Dark Artifices.

Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King 
So Glory and her sort-of best friend got drunk and ingested the remains of a petrified bat. As weird as that sounds, things get even more bizarre when they begin to see glimpses of the pasts and futures of strangers, family members, and acquaintances. While Glory has lived in a sort of limbo ever since her mother's suicide, now she is forced to face both the past and the idea of a future, even if the apocalypse may be coming. Trippy, powerful, and full of insights into society and coping with grief, Glory O'Brien's History of the Future is yet another gloriously unique novel from the fantabulous A.S. King.

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Stunning and full of passages readers will want to revisit again and again, I'll Give You the Sun is the story of fraternal twins Noah and Jude. Three years ago, Noah and Jude were so connected that they communicated without words. Now sixteen, they are practically strangers—to each other and even to themselves. Their closeness has been shattered by secrets and lies and tragedy, but perhaps there is a chance to regain what was lost if first each can face what went wrong before. The novel is narrated jointly between the two siblings, weaving in an out of time seamlessly, Noah in the past and Jude in the present. This is an unforgettable novel, kooky and heartbreaking, full of art and love and even a ghost or two. 

Noggin by John Corey Whaley
Sixteen-year-old Travis Coates was dying of cancer when he did something drastic. Although his entire body was riddled with cancer cells and beyond saving, a doctor suggested an experimental procedure. So his (cancer-free) head was cryogenically frozen until the day medical science would be able to bring him back. Travis didn't think it would work, but suddenly he finds himself awakening—no longer sick—to discover that it is five years later and the world has moved on without him. For Travis, it has only been moments, but his friends are college-aged now, and his girlfriend has moved on. Wryly honest, pitch-perfect narration, likable characters, and a surprisingly realistic oddball plot make this a surefire winner.

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki
Bittersweet and brilliantly paced, this coming-of-age graphic novel centers on a young teen's summer vacation, during which she finds herself drawn to an older boy and depressed by the strain in her parents'marriage. Mariko Tamaki's illustrations wonderfully convey Rose's frustrations, anxiety, and heartbreaks, and the images are full of life and movement.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Vivid, glossy illustrations and text along with creepily evocative prose tell psychological horror stories with a decided fairy-tale inspiration. This is a uniquely beautiful and terrifying graphic novel, where the text and images truly become inseparable.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
A story of love, lies, secrets, and deep family dysfunction, We Were Liars is a gorgeously written psychological thriller full of drama and mystery. The tale centers on Cady, a young woman with no memory of the summer that changed her life forever but determined to uncover the secrets her wealthy, Kennedy-like family try to keep hidden. 

The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski
Rich yet seemingly effortless world-building and compelling characters make for a dynamic introduction to a promising new trilogy. Kestrel is the daughter of a celebrated, powerful general in a society based on slavery. Soon, according to custom and the expectation of her father, she will have to choose between joining the army and marrying. Although she is an expert strategist, Kestral has no desire to do either. Arin is a slave, far brighter and more cunning and that he appears. Despite their many differences, Kestrel and Arin form a tenuous friendship that promises to become more, but betrayal, conflicting loyalties, and potential war may make peace between them impossible.


Nonfiction & Poetry

Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin
Through candid interviews and before, during, and after photos, Kuklin presents the stories of six very different young adults who are transgender, intersex, or gender neutral. The stories are eye-opening and honest, portraying each teen as a complex, real person rather than an idealized "example." Extensive back matter provide further information,

Eyes Wide Open by Paul Fleischman
Sidebars, graphs, images, and lively prose combine perfectly to provide teens a comprehensive yet appealing overview of modern environmental issues. Best of all, the text does not tell readers what to think or believe; instead, Fleischman focus on the underlying principles and provides the tools teens need to evaluate information and come to their own conclusions. For example, although Fleischman's views on certain topics are pretty clear, he provides references for locating divergent opinions.

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming
This accessible, well-researched history explores the lives, personalities, and relationships of the family Romanov in contrast with the lives of the ordinary workers and peasants of early 20th century Imperial Russia. Fleming does a fantastic job of putting the Romanov story in global context in a way that will not overwhelm teen readers. Glossy photo interests of the family and other personalities enhance the text.

The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell
History readers and true crime aficionados will both find much to appreciate in this extensively researched yet accessible work about the murders of three men in 1964 Mississippi. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner—two of them white, the other black—were civil rights workers encouraging African Americans to vote before they mysteriously disappeared and later found murdered. In his depiction of the events during "Freedom Summer" and the lengthy search for justice for the murdered workers, Mitchell provides a clear-eyed, thought-provoking look at social justice, then and now,  It will also make an excellent pairing for the older fans of Deborah Wiles's Revolution.

How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
Through short, free-verse sonnets, the author paints a portrait of coming of age in the Civil Rights era, from the age of five until about 14. The poems reflect the Speaker's increasing understanding and awareness of the world around her. Though Nelson is reluctant to claim the work as autobiographical, she also describes the work as "personal memoir, a 'portrait of the artist as a young American Negro Girl'". Regardless, it is an intimate, nuanced portrait or growing up in 1950s America.

Poisoned Apples by Christine Heppermann 
Beautiful, haunting poems turn fairy tale tropes inside out to explore the expectation of society and self-doubts of young women.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

BEST OF 2014: Favorite Middle-Grade/Tween Books

Five stunning works in verse and two unforgettable graphic memoirs are just the beginning of 2014's wonderful offerings from middle-grade authors. My personal favorite so far? I don't think I can choose, although I might just love Hello, I'm Johnny Cash a tiny bit more than the others. I personally read and adored each of the books on the list except for one, which I haven't yet read and was submitted by another staff member (thanks, Kirsten!).

So, without further ado, our favorite middle-grade titles of 2014 are:

Fiction
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Far more than "a basketball novel in verse," The Crossover is an emotionally rich tale of  two twin brothers—middle school basketball stars—facing the first real challenge to their close relationship. As they struggle with their diverging interests and jealousy over a new girl, Josh also begins to worry about the secrets his parents may be keeping. The novel is told from the point of view of Josh, who is funny, talented, slightly immature, and wholly believable.  The Crossover a kinetic tour de force that will leave readers cheering and probably a little teary eyed.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul by Jeff Kinney
In this ninth installment in the ever-popular Wimpy Kid series, Gregg Heffley and family hit the road for a trip that promises to be wild, crazy, and laugh-out-loud funny.

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage
Mo LoBeau and the crazy, loveable residents of Tupelo Landing are back, and I couldn't be happier. The Newbery Honor–winning Three Times Lucky was one of my absolute  favorite books of 2012, and this book is a worthy follow up. Mo still has the same irrepressible charm as ever, and she and Dale have a new mystery to solve. The question is... Can the inn impulsively bought by Miss Lana really be haunted? And if so... Whose ghost is it and how can the new paranormal division of Desperado Detective Agency prove it?

Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky
A sixth-grader who appears to be male but who identifies with "girl" behaviors and , Grayson Sender believes it is safest to remain a friendless loner.  Grayson secretly pretends that basketball pants are a lovely flowing skirt and quietly doodles castles and princesses in class, disguising his drawings as abstract shapes only he can decode. Grayson doesn't really know what all this means but just wants to be comfortable and quit repressing the inner feelings that are becoming increasingly persistent. Finally, with the help of a teacher and a few older classmates, Grayson finds the courage to finally be Grayson. This is an important, triumphant novel told respectfully and gracefully from Grayson's point of view.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford
When a troop of unexpected visitors descend on the family inn, 12-year-old Milo is not pleased with the interruption to his winter holiday plans. But soon Milo and his new friend Meddy discover that the guests have secrets worth uncovering and launch a secret investigation. Woven throughout is the rich history of the inn—a haven for smugglers—and bits of folklore that may reveal more than anyone suspects. This is a rich, layered story with a bit of the fantastic. It's a near- perfect  winter read.

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
Twelve-year-old Rose is besieged by storms. There's a literal hurricane headed her way and even with her difficulty gauging emotions, she can sense her father's growing tension. Diagnosed with Asperger's, Rose finds joy in prime numbers and homonyms and can talk about them endlessly. While her uncle Weldon and her dog Rain don't seem to mind, her father and classmates easily grow tired of her obsession. But when Rain is lost in storm, Rose must step out of her comfort zone of rules and routines in order to locate her beloved dog. This is a nuanced story of devotion and bravery made memorable by a earnest, unique narrative voice.

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
In this powerful and moving novel told through poems and pictures, a young Sudanese girl has her hopes shattered by armed militants who attack her village. Heartbroken after the attack, Amira loses her ability to speak until a simple gift helps her find joy and purpose.

Revolution by Deborah Wiles
In small-town Mississippi during the summer of 1964, 12-year-old Sunny's life is turned upside down by "agitators" and "invaders" who are encouraging African Americans to register for the vote. Her peaceful community is suddenly full of fear and violence, and Sunny becomes a witness to events she can barely understand. Revolution is a powerful novel that gives young readers an intimate glimpse into important history, but it is personalized by the everyday struggles of Sunny as navigates relationships with her new stepfamily and copes with feelings about the mother who abandoned her. The book appears thick an intimidating, but a number of the pages offer up a series of photographs, quotes, song lyrics, and news stories which provide context and enrich the story.

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd
When Felicity Juniper Pickle arrives in her mother's hometown of Midnight Gulch, she hopes that their small family can finally stay put in one place. Her secret hope is that a trace of the magic that once made Midnight Gulch famous will finally cure her mother's need to travel. What Felicity finds is far more than she ever hoped—her first true friend, a family larger than she knew, and the secrets that just might lead to a renewal of magic in the town  if only she can find the key. Overflowing with lovable, eccentric characters and a folksy tone reminiscent of Ingrid Law's Savvy, A Snicker of Magic is an exuberant, heartwarming novel that is magical indeed.

The Thickety: A Path Begins by J.A. White
In a closed off community where magic is forbidden, 12-year-old Kara toils to care for her sickly brother and depressed father. Her mother was killed as a witch, and now that she has discovered that she has magic as well, Kara is terrified. And intrigued. With the discovery a magic book in the dangerous, forbidden forest, Kara turns her life—and then the village—upside down. Creepy and thrilling and a little bit scary, this is a truly engaging read about good and evil and belief in oneself. I already can't wait for the promised sequel!

West of the Moon by Margi Preus
Gripping storytelling weaves elements of folklore and fairy tales in with the tale of two sisters in 19th century Norway who are determined to find a better life together. When 13-year-old Astri is sold by her aunt to a villainous goat farmer, she vows to escape and reunite with her younger sister Greta. Astri is a compelling, resourceful heroine willing to do anything for her sister, and she refuses to regret the morally questionable choices she is forces to make.




Nonfiction

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Through her own recollections and the scattered memories of family members, a celebrated author shares her own childhood and her path to becoming a storyteller (or liar, as her mother called her as a child) and author. This is a lucid and eloquent memoir in poems that speaks to experiences both universal and personal.

El Deafo by Cece Bell
In this funny and heartwarming memoir, the author shares her personal experiences of growing up deaf. The artwork is expressive and engaging, brilliant in concept. As a character, CeCe is irrepressible and someone readers will root for all the way. 

Harlem Hellfighters by J. Patrick Lewis
Brief, anecdotal poems introduce readers to the story of the Harlem Hellfighters, two thousand black New Yorkers who served as musicians and legendarily brave soldiers in World War I France. While the text is engaging and frequently poignant, it is the haunting illustrations that truly make this work shine.

Hello, I'm Johnny Cash by G, Neri
In this stirring biography, Neri (Ghetto Cowboy) presents the life story of Johnny Cash as Johnny himself might tell it. That is, if Johnny Cash were to speak in vivid, powerful free verse. Gorgeously rendered illustrations and explanatory back matter round out a truly special work.

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Christian Robinson
Free-spirited verse, dynamic typography, and stunning acrylic illustrations celebrate a truly fascinating woman in this beautifully designed picture book biography.

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin
An important piece of World War II history is related in a very personal way in this story of 50 men—mostly African Americans—who refused to load more ammunition onto ships after over 200 were killed in an explosion. It's a powerful story of injustice, told accessibly and compellingly by the author of Bomb, one of our Best of 2012 picks.

Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat by Gail Jarrow
In this fascinating tale of scientific discovery, Jarrow uses engaging text and striking archival photographs to tell the story of how a fatal illness that became disconcertingly prevalent in the South during the first half of the 19th century was identified and eventually eradicated. The the black, white, and deep red layout of text and images adds visual appeal to help sustain interest.


Sisters by Raine Telgemeier
In her follow-up to Smile, Telgemeier focuses on the ups and downs of her childhood relationship with her younger sister. The two are wildly different and have frequent battles, and yet they have one very important thing in common. Though there are frequent flashbacks to key moments, the narrative centers on a family road trip to attend a family reunion. The pacing, text, and expressive art are top-notch.

The Story of Buildings by Patrick Dillon
David Maccauley fans and aspiring architects will rejoice to discover this comprehensive, gorgeously illustrated history of buildings. The text is informative yet conversational, engaging readers from the first line and addressing everything from historical building practices across the world to notable buildings, past and present.

Strike! by Larry Dane Brimner
Compelling text, presented along with striking images and colorful sidebars, tells story of the American labor movement and creation of the United Farm Workers (UFW). It's a tale of bravery and determination that begins not with Cesar Chávez but with the little-known story of  Filipino-American farm workers who jumpstarted the movement.
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