Saturday, January 21, 2017

BEST OF 2016: Adult Nonfiction

As some of you may know, I tend to gravitate to fiction books over nonfiction. Case in point: of the 80+ reviews I've written for Book News & Reviews over the years, only two of them—Sex on the Moon and Tiger, Tiger—have been for nonfiction works. That's not to say I haven't read, enjoyed, and recommended plenty of nonfiction books. But perhaps I've been a bit less enthusiastic in my desire to share and talk about the nonfiction titles I've read.

But this year, there have been nonfiction books I couldn't wait to talk about. I was delighted when I learned a new essay collection would be released by Annie Dillard, a personal favorite ever since I discovered Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in an undergrad writing class. Then there was Rovelli's Seven Brief Lessons on Physics and Klosterman's But What If We're Wrong?, both of which helped me finally get a word in edgewise with a certain friend who's convinced he understands all the mysteries of the universe and tends to lecture his less informed friends (like me) despite pleas for mercy. And who wouldn't want to tell everyone about a book featuring "the bad-ass librarians of Timbuktu"?

There were so many discussion-worthy nonfiction books in 2016, and not all of them could make our list of the Best Books of 2016. But if you have a favorite that didn't make our 2016 list, let us know. We're ready to talk books—fiction, nonfiction, whatever. 

The 2016 Adult Nonfiction committee includes:
  • Stephanie S., Reference Services, Hillview Branch Library 
  • Tanya, Circulation Clerk (various locations) 
  • Tracy (that's me), BCPL Public Relations Coordinator & Committee Organizer


The Abundance by Annie Dillard

I say:
Annie Dillard can always be counted on for an offbeat perspective on seemingly everyday occurrences, and her way of observing the natural world is nothing short of inspiring. She's not for everyone, but her writing always leaves me in awe.

*E-book available via Kentucky Libraries Unbound*

Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal

Stephanie says:
I am not usually one to read about science, blah! However, De Waal's book may just change that. De Waal's cross-species study of cognition is amazing, even to a layman like me. This book is to make you think twice when talking to your pets or walking through the zoo. 

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and Their Race to Save the World’s
Most Precious Manuscripts
by Joshua Hammer


Tanya says:
It had me hooked in the first chapter. There's just the right mix of history and mystery, not overwhelming with unimportant details. This is a great read!

The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama XIV and Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams

Stephanie says:
LOVED it. It is a simple read, but thoroughly enjoyable and inspirational.

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

Stephanie says:
Loved it! Often when a musician writes a memoir, they use the same poetry they utilize in lyric writing and the outcome is disjointed, sporadic bursts of words that end up being too stream of consciousness. That is not the case with Born to Run. Springsteen does indeed employ the poetry he is famous for, but the end result is inspiring.

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

I say:
In past years, books like Ghettoside (2015) and Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012) have given me an eye-opening glimpse at an unfamiliar world through in-depth fieldwork and compassionate reportage. Desmond's stories of eight real families living in poverty in Milwaulkee is yet another gripping ethnographic study that I will remember for years to come. Literary journalism at its finest.

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach

Stephanie says:
This book is definitely a niche book, but it's really good!

Morgue: A Life in Death by Dr. Vincent Dimaio and Ton Franscell

Tanya says:
I absolutely loved this book! It was a fast read, with very informative insights into current cases as well as infamous cases in history.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli

I say:
I got more out of this book than I retained from an entire semester of advanced high school physics and two semesters of college astronomy. Rather than introducing boring formulas I'll never use and endless technical terms and dates, Rovelli focuses on the wider theories, their inconsistencies with one another, and the questions that still exist in our understanding. In under 80 pages, he explains a century's worth of physics in conversational language, creating an accessible, beautiful meditation on physics and philosophy.

*E-book and e-audiobook formats available via Kentucky Libraries Unbound*

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

I say:
Okay, I'll be honest. I haven't quite finished this book yet (it's over 600 pages, and the audiobook I'm listening to is over 19 hours), but so far it's fascinating! So I had to put it on this list anyway, even if it's all downhill from here. Jackson's life is interesting enough on its own, but Ruth Franklin does a wonderful job of grounding Jackson's work and influence in her time and makes a convincing case for why she deserves more recognition in the greater literary canon. I'm a total book nerd with an interest in the history of publishing, so I am loving the references to Sylvia Plath, Ralph Ellison, and other writing and publishing personalities of the era as well as the insights into Jackson's life and work.

*E-audiobook available via Hoopla*

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman

Stephanie says:
This is a book about writing, but more than that. It is about the love of words, sentences. Anyone who loves books for the artform that they are, for more than mere entertainment, would enjoy this book. It was written to inspire, and it did. I wanted to write in the margins and highlight my favorite passages.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

I say:
What a profound and moving book this is about death and about life. It's beautifully written—I  have oodles of  passages saved in my Kindle highlights—and the author's love of literature and his command of it permeates the entire book. One of my highlights (location 355) reads as follows: "Books became my closest confidants, finely ground lenses providing new views of the world." With his own book, Kalanithi indeed provides a lens into the world, not only into his own life that ended far too soon but also a lens through which its readers can better understand their own hearts and minds.

Stephanie says:
Paul Kalanithi always wanted to be a writer; instead, he followed in his father's footsteps and became a doctor. I am sure many lives were saved by Kalaithi’s hands, but I mourn the loss of the writer. When simultaneously faced with death and new life, Kalanithi struggles with the one question we all struggle to answer; why are we here? And in my opinion, he answers it. Full of hope, full of wonder, Kalanitih will help you look at your world through a different perspective. A highly enjoyable read!

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.


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