Wednesday, January 18, 2017

BEST OF 2016: Adult Fiction

If 2015 was the Year of the Super Long Book, then 2016 was an extraordinary year for short little gems. Three of the books to make our 2016 list—Another Brooklyn, Eleven Hours, and Margaret the First—come in at under 200 pages, and News of the World is just a tiny bit longer. Of course it's possible we were so exhausted from reading massive (but fabulous) tomes like 2015's Fates & Furies, A God in Ruins, and A Little Life that we were simply more apt to enjoy the shorter books this past year. But honestly, I think several 2016 releases nailed the ability to pack a truly powerful story into a slim volume, and we loved it.

In addition to these short-but-awesome reads, we also discovered some truly memorable, more average-length works across a variety of genres, including historical fiction, contemporary drama, and even romance. We were especially drawn to thrillers in this year's deliberations, and the committee had a tough time limiting the number to make the final list. But ultimately, we've created a list of titles we feel lives up to the designation "Best of the Year."

The 2016 committee includes:

  • Beth, Assistant Branch Manager, Lebanon Junction Branch Library
  • Donna, Circulation Clerk (various locations)
  • Stephanie S., Reference Services, Hillview Branch Library
  • Tanya, Circulation Clerk (various locations)
  • Tobee, Lebanon Junction Branch Manager
  • Tracy (that's me), BCPL Public Relations Coordinator & Committee Organizer
  • Trish, Reference Services, Mt. Washington Branch Library


All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage

Donna says:
A suspenseful page turner!

Trish says:
I loved this book. There are so many twists and turns!

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

I say:
Woodson, whether she is writing in verse or prose, can always be relied upon for her stunning imagery and use of language.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Beth says:
I LOVED this book! It has a great story, and I could not put it down!

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

I say:
Patchett does a fantastic job of detailing the messiness of modern families.

Donna says:
I enjoyed this story as seen through the eyes of two families of children that are fused together through the dissolution of their own families and then joined by marriage. These children go through much chaos growing up, actually raising themselves. The bonds they form are lasting, and the stories they have to share are very eye opening and entertaining.

Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens

Tanya says:
Heartbreaking and mesmerizing at the same time. It's a beautiful, yet sad, portrayal of the emotions that different women can face during delivery. I read this in one night.

The Fireman by Joe Hill

I say:
There were passages in The Fireman that were so visceral and beautifully put that they held me in thrall. I was listening to the audiobook, so I often scanned back on the CD just to hear them again. Easily one of my favorites of the year.

Beth says:
Fans of Stephen King may already know that Joe Hill is his son, and you will see many nods to King's works in this riveting book. Hill’s work is getting progressively better—from Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, and NOS4A2, Hill seems to have found his niche and takes you on a ride you never want to end. The Fireman is a terrific read, with characters I cared about within the first 50 pages. Every time I put it down, I was burning to pick it up again to keep reading. The best book I've read all year!


First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Tobee says:
This is an excellent contemporary romance with well-developed characters. The plot is fast moving with several surprises, and the interactions between characters and their unique points of views pull you in immediately.


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

I say:
Luminous. This sweeping saga begins in 18th-century Ghana and first follows two half sisters who are strangers to one another and then their descendants. While one sister's line remains on the Gold Coast, the other sister is transported to America. The story of each generation feels like an intimate, powerful tale all on its own, but together they all fit into one beautifully perfect book. It's a stunning debut and probably my favorite book of the year.


I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

Donna says:
The book was a little slow for the first chapter or two, then it grabbed me with an iron fist! The plot is great, full of unexpected turns. I loved it. 5 stars!

Trish says:
When one of the reviewers said that they audibly gasped at one point while reading it I actually snorted. However, while reading this book one afternoon I gasped so hard that I dropped the book onto the ground. I highly recommend this book and I can honestly say that I loved it! Not one but TWO great twists!

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Stephanie says:
To call Jane Steele a retelling of Jane Eyre is unfair. Although the heroines share more than just a first name, the books are very dissimilar. Where Jane Eyre sees no justice, Jane Steele revels in it. Where Jane Eyre seems a timid girl, Jane Steele is beyond bold. Even those who have never read Jane Eyre will enjoy Jane Steele, a thoroughly avant-garde anti-heroine.

Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton

Stephanie says:
Dutton’s fictional work paints a beautiful picture of a not-so-pleasant past. This historical work reads more like a contemporary novel, or maybe it’s just that “Mad Madge” was sooo ahead of her time.

The Mothers by Brit Bennet

Donna says:
This is a story about a high school love where choices become lifelong consequences. It's a story of two sides of a family, with two sides of emotions. It gives readers a lot to think about, and with the different viewpoints, I think the book offers something for everyone.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Tobee says:
Very well written and interesting! In a western setting, just after the Civil War, an elderly ex-military man is taxed with the mission of delivering a ten-year-old Indian captive to her relatives. Captain Kidd and Johanna surmount numerous challenges and defy swollen rivers, outlaws, and the less-than-understanding attitudes of other people. The somewhat reluctant Captain and the half wild child become grandfather and granddaughter in a family bond that lasts the rest of their lives.

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

Donna says:
I highly recommend this one! It's a story of a powerful love between a mother and daughter and how that love withstands the test of time, under extremely dysfunctional circumstances. It's a very entertaining story illustrating how many children with single parents that are seeking "true love" eventually find themselves. 

Tobee says:
The characters are wonderfully portrayed in all their good and bad traits, and the plot is riveting. Sometimes I laughed and sometimes I wanted to cry, but I always wanted to know what was going to happen next!


Redemption Road by John Hart

Beth says:
I LOVED this book! John Hart is such a wonderful storyteller. This is a really good crime story with a twisty plot and great characters.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Donna says:
There are parts of this book that are extremely hard to read or listen to, but it is so worth it. I loved it. This book really makes a person look at the world in a different way.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead


I say:
This creative reimagining of the Underground Railroad as a literal railroad did more to aid my understanding of the risks undertaken by fugitive slaves and the Railroad's facilitators than anything I've read before. It's a wonderfully written book, with some passages I will probably never forget. 


The Vegetarian by Han King

Tanya says:
Not at all what I expected, but totally worth the read. I couldn't put it down; it was that good, that surprising.

The Widow by Fiona Barton

Tanya says:
What an excellent read! The book is experienced through the perspective of all the characters involved, plus there's a plot twist I didn't see coming at all.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

BEST OF 2016: Our Favorite Books for Teens

From the fantastic world building of top-notch fantasies to historical dramas and gritty realistic fiction that left me stunned, 2016 was a fantastic year for young adult literature. I've laughed at clever repartee (Highly Illogical Behavior), I've been mesmerized by gorgeous storytelling (The Sun Is Also a Star), and I've been completely engrossed by not one but two stories featuring teenage killers (Scythe and The Female of the Species).

And those are just some of the YA books I've read and loved over the past year. Our Best of 2016 list is a joint effort and includes a wide variety of fiction and a few standout nonfiction titles.

The 2016 committee includes:
  • Brandy, Circulation Clerk
  • Crystal, Circulation Clerk
  • Elizabeth, Technology Support
  • Stephanie S., Reference Services, Hillview Branch Library
  • Tracy (that's me), BCPL Public Relations Coordinator & Committee Organizer

Fiction


Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

I say:
Well-developed, authentic characters and a unique setting make Burn Baby Burn one of my most memorable reads of 2016. The juxtaposition of the fear that permeated New York City during the Summer of Sam with Nora's own troubled home life creates a sense of edgy urgency that pulled me into the story completely.

The Bitter Side of Sweet by Tara Sullivan

Crystal says:
This is a book that grabbed my interest with just the summary, and it definitely did not disappoint. Not only was the plot engaging, but the characters and setting really made me think.
The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas

Crystal says:
I loved the premise of this story from the beginning, and it was a very engaging read. The author's ability to take such a dark topic like murder and shape the story in a way that demonstrates the characters' maturity was quite fascinating for me.

The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis

I say:
A teenage killer who volunteers at an animal shelter, a preacher's kid with her own secret rebellions, and a player who struggles with the fear that he really is a douchebag may seem like an unlikely trio of narrators, but Mindy McGinnis gives readers a gift with each of these characters. This is an unsettling, brutal book in many respects, but it's also complex, riveting, and completely brilliant. 

The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter

Elizabeth says:
 It grabbed me from the start! I had to find out why she was in the mental institution and if she was ever going to get out and come to terms with her past.  

The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

Elizabeth says: 
This is such a great story about a girl drawn into the search for a missing Jewish girl during WWII. A story with mystery, betrayal, and heroism. 

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

I say:
I can't say enough good things about this book! Unlike some of the other "award worthy" books of the year, Highly Illogical Behavior doesn't feel like it's actually trying to win an award, if you know what I mean. Instead, there's an unselfconscious ease and wit, creating a highly readable story about mental illness, friendship, and taking chances. The characters are quirky and immensely likable despite their flaws, and Whaley has done a remarkable job of making the thoughts and fears of a teenage agoraphobe relatable.  Even better, he has created a fully rounded character with Sol that is so much more than the fear others use to define him.


The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Elizabeth says:
It took me a little while to get into this book, but once I did I couldn't wait to see how everything would play out!

The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry

Crystal says:
Intriguing and enlightening from start to finish, this book taught me a lot about a time in world history that I knew very little about. It was the kind of book that kept me guessing, and that definitely makes for a great reading experience.

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

Crystal says:
I listened to the audiobook and was instantly drawn back into the world of Stiefvater's Raven Cycle, thanks to her brilliant use of description and her enigmatic characters. This book perfectly completes the story that began in the first book and kept my interest from start to finish.

Stephanie says:
A good storyteller effortlessly compels you to experience the spectrum of emotion; I laughed, I cried, etc. This is true of Stiefvater, and especially true in The Raven King. The book grips you from the first sentence and doesn't let you go. You will be on the edge of your seat until the end, and what an ending it will be.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

I say:
I loved the different points of view and the fact that readers were given the perspectives of characters who are seldom represented in literature about World War II. Here we get a young Lithuanian nurse traveling with a group of refugees, a Prussian apprentice on a self-appointed mission, a determined fifteen-year-old Polish girl with a sad past, and a young Nazi who is staunchly loyal to Hitler's propaganda, all on a journey to a doomed ship without knowing the greater danger that awaits. Sepetys does a remarkable job of bringing to life a historical event that deserves to be much better known.

Elizabeth says:
The story flowed easily and never lost my interest. I loved all the different points of view!

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

I say:
Set in a world where humans are virtually immortal and ordained killers known as Scythes are used to keep overpopulation in check, this is a gripping sci-fi thriller that raises thought-provoking questions about morality and human nature. I can't wait for the next two books in the planned trilogy!

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

I say:
Nicola Yoon's follow-up to Everything, Everything is an an intensely moving and thought-provoking journey from beginning to end. What is on the surface a meet-cute romance becomes so much more as questions of destiny and chance arise and underlying connections are unraveled.






Nonfiction


Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America by Gail Jarrow

Elizabeth says:
Going into this book I had a very limited knowledge of the bubonic plague. It answered many of my questions and I found it interesting. I’ll never think of fleas the same again!

March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell

I say:
I can't believe I waited so long to start this series! March: Book Three deserves all the accolades it has been getting and more.

Radioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling

Brandy says:
This book is abundantly full of pertinent and interesting facts.

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela S. Turner

I say:
With fluid prose and the occasional snarky aside, this epic warrior tale reads like a novel while creating a fascinating (and often violent) picture of 12th century Japan and a man who became a legend.

Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II by Albert Marrin

I say:
So much of World War II history focuses on the war itself, Hitler, and the European experience, but I have been fascinated by the Japanese-American experience during that time ever since I read John Okada's No-No Boy as a college undergrad. With Uprooted, Marrin presents a well-researched, accessible account of a dark moment of American history that might also serve as a cautionary tale.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

BEST OF 2016: Our Favorite Books for Middle-Grade Readers/Tweens

From a shipwrecked robot story to the true tale of a child survivor of the Nagasaki bomb, our 2016 selections are all about variety. There's the wonderful humor of The Best Man and the breathless intensity of The Plot to Kill Hitler. The heartwrenching beauty of Maybe a Fox, and the fun-filled adventure of Mighty Jack.

We hope every reader of middle-grade fiction or nonfiction will discover a book they love among our Best of 2016 list. We sure did!

The 2016 committee includes:
  • Allison, BCPL Outreach & Programming Supervisor
  • Cheryl, Assistant Branch Manager, Ridgway Memorial Library
  • Marianne, Reference Services, Ridgway Memorial Library
  • Tracy (that's me), BCPL Public Relations Coordinator & Committee Organizer

Fiction


As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds

Allison says:
Realistic characters, wonderfully developed. I am a fan of Reynolds, but I was worried since this is his first foray into middle-grade. He did a great job transitioning from YA; this was excellent.

Marianne says:
A nice story about city kids (brothers) and a slow-moving summer spent with Grandparents on a remote farm in Virginia. They learn about family, friendship, and consequences.
 
The Best Man by Richard Peck

Cheryl says:
Hilarious and fast-paced, this story is told convincingly from a boy’s point of view. I laughed and laughed. I especially love the relationships Archer has with the four men in his life!


 
Booked by Kwame Alexander

I say:
Anyone who loves words, books, or puns will be unable to resist Booked. It's a fun and engaging read, a whirlwind of short poems that fit together to form the story of Nick's eighth-grade experiences, from his parents' breakup to soccer victories and his first crush. And who doesn't love a story featuring a rapping librarian as a side character?

Marianne says:
I listened to the audiobook and was mesmerized by the style and rhythm of the poetry and enthralled with the story.


Garvey's Choice by Nikki Grimes

I say:
There were so many wonderful middle-grade novels in verse this past year, including Booked (a fellow 2016 Best Book) and Catching a Storyfish (which just missed the cut). What makes this one stand out for me is the stereotype-breaking hero. I also really enjoyed the tanka poetry style, along with Grimes's explanation at the end of the book.

Marianne says:
A short and sweet coming-of-age story told in verse.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

I say:
Totally gripping from beginning to end. Reynolds covers so much in this relatively slim novel that clocks in at under 200 pages. The story feels both timeless and entirely modern. I am so excited that this is the beginning of a new series!
 
Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

I say:
I really loved Raina Telgemeier's portrayal of sisterhood in Sisters, and Ghosts is just as good, with the added benefit of...well, ghosts.
 
The Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz, illus. by Hatem Aly

Allison says:
I couldn't put it down. Went to bed intending to read a chapter or two. Ended up not going to sleep and finished it in one sitting. I didn't want it to end. I like the Canterbury Tales feel of different narrators, always making it fresh. The tension was nail-biting. Can we say medal-worthy?

The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly

Allison says:
Powerful, inspiring, uplifting. I LOVED this one!

Marianne says:
I'm a big fat mom, so I had to overcome my horror at the two sisters who were abandoned and left in the care of an abusive "stepmother"...once I was able to set that aside, I really was fascinated at the imaginations of those two little girls.

Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee

Allison says:
I don't cry reading books. Or watching sappy movies, or commercials. I bawled like a baby reading this. Which was even more problematic since I was reading it in public. This was gut-wrenchingly wonderful for me. If it doesn't receive a Newbery, my faith in humanity is gone.

Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

Allison says:

I really like this one, and the artwork is dramatically good. Is the next book in the series out yet??????

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson

Allison says:
MOVING is not the word. I don't generally like to read about someone's struggle with disease, but this one drew me in. Realistic fiction is not usually something middle-grade authors do well, but this is amazing!


Pax by Sara Pennypacker, illus. by John Klassen

I say:

Pennypacker writes with an insightful lyricism that is simply stunning. Also, I love that Pax perceives and acts like a real fox, not a standard children's book animal who thinks and acts more like a human.

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

I say:
Yet another standout middle-grade novel from two-time Newbery-winner Kate DiCamillo. The writing is crisp and energetic despite the quiet story. I adored Raymie and the quick, unexpected friendship she builds with her fellow baton-twirling students. There are so many small moments in this book to love.

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

I say:
Oh my goodness, the illustrations in this book! The design of the book is simply beautiful, as is the story. A wonderful mix of reflection and action, with short, punchy chapters to keep readers in thrall.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Allison says:
I like the setting, the description of the town, and the way Annabelle's parents take to Toby. There's a bit of  a To Kill a Mockingbird feel to the story and characterizations.



Nonfiction

Echo Echo: Reverso Poems about Greek Myths by Marilyn Singer, illus. by Josée Masse

Allison says:

The illustrations are gorgeous, and I like the two narrator approach and the rhythmic flow of the poems, their arrangement in the collection. Some prior knowledge of Greek mythology might make it even more enjoyable, but the notes for those who aren't into mythology are helpful.

Jazz Day by Roxanne Orgill, illus. by Frances Vallejo

I say:
The concept behind this book is so inventive! The illustrations are fantastic, and the (mostly) free-form poetry perfectly evokes the spirit of jazz music. Plus, the short bios and further reading suggestions in the back matter provide a path for those who wish to learn more.
Allison says:
I'm not usually a fan of poems, but this was neat. Each poem led to the next, adding up to tell the story of the gathering of the musicians from the photograph.

The Plot to Kill Hitler by Patricia McCormick

Allison says:
HOLY cow!! I loved this. Faced-paced nonfiction/biography that reads like awesome fiction? Who knew it was not only possible, but that the reader would forget it was nonfiction? This book definitely left me thinking and wondering,

A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illus. by Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson

I say:
Wonderful. Of all the spectacular poetic works I've read this year, this is the one that most stands out for me. It's such a loving, fascinating tribute to Ezra Jack Keats and the impact of his work.

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story by Caren Stelson

I say:
This is such a powerful book that puts a face on an under-examined moment in US-Japanese history and the longlasting consequences for Japanese survivors in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The story is very readable, and the book is laid out perfectly to provide age-appropriate context with informative sidebars, photographs, etc. Important, harrowing, and beautifully done.

*Available on Hoopla*

Some Writer! by Melissa Sweet

Allison says:
FANTABULOUS!! The story flows from page to page, with bold artwork and personal commentary from White. This feels like you are sitting in someone's living room looking at their—amazing!— personal scrapbook.

The Way Things Work Now by David Macauley

I say:
I was so glad to see the late-90s classic guide updated to include the digital age! Curious kids who like building and technology or simply want to understand the way things work will love Macauley's way of illustrating complex concepts. Engaging text and illustrations make it a joy to browse, or you can focus on whatever category interests you, from simple machines to digital devices and Wi-Fi,

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