Saturday, December 27, 2014

WSB's Bestsellers of 2014

Fiction: Paperback
1. The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker 
2. A Well Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker
3. Orphan Train by Christina Kline
4. Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple
5. The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker

Fiction: Hardcover
1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
2. Fatal Harbor: A Lewis Cole Mystery by Brendan Dubois
3. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
4. Euphoria by Lily King
5. The Kept by James Scott

Non-fiction: Paperback
1. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
2. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
3. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
4. Really Important Stuff My Dog Has Taught Me by Cynthia L. Copeland
5. Quiet by Susan Cain

Non-fiction: Hardcover
1. Mystery on the Isles of Shoals by J. Dennis Robinson
2. Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow
3. Dollarocracy by John Nichols
4. A Religion of One's Own by Thomas Moore
5. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande


1. Hidden History of Exeter by Barbara Rimkunas
2. The LastingMatters Organizer by Barbara Bates Sedoric
3. The Worry Tree is Waiting for You by Rebekah Prince Bergeron
4. Old Man on a Bicycle by Don Petterson
5. Exeter: Historically Speaking by Barbara Rimkunas

1. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul by Jeff Kinney
2. The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham
3. 39 Clues: Book 1: The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan
4. Spirit Animals: Book 1: Wild Born by Brandon Mull
5. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
2. Insurgent: Divergent Book 2 by Veronica Roth
3. Allegiant: Divergent Book 3 by Veronica Roth
4. Looking for Alaska by John Green
5. Maze Runner by James Dashner 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Liz Whaley's favorite books of 2014

Liz Whaley has been a bookseller at Water Street Bookstore for over a decade. She's one of the most prolific readers I know, and even though she can't always be with us in the store, she faithfully reads all of the latest books, writes them up, and sends in her reviews. It's second best to having her here. Below are her favorites from 2014.

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Sarah Waters is a terrific writer whom I sometimes think of as a contemporary Dickens. Her first novel, Fingersmith, was about a group of pickpockets with an engaging cast of characters and their adventures. After three others, set in different periods, now comes The Paying Guests. It takes place in the early 1920s in England and concerns a mother and adult daughter who have turned part of their house into an apartment to make money now that they are nearly destitute following the husband’s death. A rather off-beat couple moves in, and Frances becomes friendly with Lillian. Soon their friendship blossoms into a secret love affair. Eventually there is a murder and a trial, providing a nail biter. 

Euphoria by Lily King
A gorgeously written novel based loosely on the experiences of three real anthropologists-- Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, and Reo Fortune—when they were together for a few months in 1933 on the Sepic River of “what was then called the Territory of New Guinea” (author’s acknowledgments). King borrows from their lives but recounts a different tale.   Sensual, erotic, raw, visceral and filled with local characters, rituals, desires and passions, the novel stuns with its evocation of a completely foreign world. The interplay of the three characters is dangerous, nuanced, complex, enthralling.

The Children Act by Ian McEwan
A slim little novel somewhat reminiscent of Saturday in that it centers on one protagonist, this time a 59-year-old female judge in London, and much of it takes place on one day. The novel concerns the case of a 17-year-old Jehovah Witness with leukemia who is refusing a necessary life saving blood transfusion, and his parents are also refusing to give the hospital permission because it goes against their religion. Fiona Maye is in the midst of a crisis in her marriage and tries not to let that color her decision. Gripping, beautifully written, provocative.

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
A fascinating novel about the relationship between two half-sisters and their lives during the 1940s.  Bloom writes with no wasted words and with many phrases you want to copy, but you are propelled forward by the plot. Rich minor characters too. Iris is the more outgoing, the extrovert, and Eva, forever loyal, is quieter but very smart. The characters are firmly embedded in the history of their time, and real world events are vividly revealed. I should have read it more slowly to savor it more completely.

Florence Gordon by Brian Morton
An amazing achievement for a male writer, this wonderful novel is about a feisty 75-year-old feminist who is often blunt, even rude to people. She’s writing her memoir which is really a history of the latest phase of the women’s movement. She is bothered by her left foot which sometimes drags or moves without her controlling it. After a fall and a sprained ankle, she gets a cane. Eventually she is diagnosed with ALS, something she keeps secret. Her granddaughter, Emily, realizes Florence is ill but respects her and says nothing. The two have a lovely relationship.  Florence is a delightful, if difficult, woman. 

Now in paperback:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love.  Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu, beautiful, self-assured, departs for America to study.  She has many ups and downs, all the while feeling the weight of something entirely new to her: race. Obinze, quiet and thoughtful, had hoped to join her but post 9/11 America will not let him in. Years later Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of a blog about race in the U.S. When Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, the two face problems. Bittersweet, but with much humor, this is a richly told story.

The Cartographer of No Man’s Land by P.S. Duffy 
Here’s a WWI novel that belongs right up there with Birdsong and A Very Long Engagement. Angus MacGrath signs up in 1917 to serve as a cartographer in hopes of finding his brother-in-law, Ebbin Hant, who has been reported missing in action. Instead of a safe location drawing maps, Angus is sent to the front in France and becomes involved in the Battle for Vimy Ridge. Accounts of battles and trench warfare are graphic.  Yet the writing is often beautiful. Chapters alternate with ones of Angus’s young son, Simon Peter, at home in Snag Harbor, Nova Scotia. A poignant father-son tale also.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert 
Here is an inviting, long, old-fashioned novel, the kind to curl up with by the fire and just immerse yourself in.  I hesitated about reading it as I had avoided Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love because I thought it sounded too self-indulgent.  But this is an amazing achievement, the product of exhaustive and meticulous research and gifted story telling.   We read about Alma Whitman, born in 1800 and living into her 80s.   She is a very bright child who becomes a brilliant botanist. Yes, there’s a lot about botany, but there’s also Alma’s compelling life story, including all the complex people surrounding her.


Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Eilis, a young woman in a small town in Ireland, can’t find a good job and is working in a grocery store for the nasty Miss Kelly. Eilis lives with her widowed mother and Rose, an attractive and accomplished older sister with a good job. Father Flood tells Eilis he can get her a good position in Brooklyn, and she can live with a Mrs. Kehoe, who takes in Irish female boarders. After experiencing seasickness on the ocean voyage and homesickness when she arrives in America, Eilis meets Tony, a young Italian man at a dance. He falls for her, and Eilis becomes comfortable with him. Then she Is called back to Ireland, and we read on to find out if she’ll return to Tony. Toibin captures the immigrant experience beautifully. 

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain 
A biting satire on American culture. A group called Bravo was caught on film by Fox TV saving some troops in Iraq.   The government has brought Bravo back to the U.S. for a victory tour culminating in the halftime festivities at the Dallas Cowboys football game on Thanksgiving Day. Fountain captures the language, often vulgar, of the young men, whose spokesman is 19-year-old Billy Lynn.   But it is the mindless gushing of the civilians who praise the young men, and it is the obscenity of the whole football culture that are so strong. An amazing tour de force.

Other noteworthy reads:
Some Luck by Jane Smiley, the first novel in a hundred year trilogy, from 1920 to 2020 about a family in Iowa.
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri covers generations of an Indian family, moving from Calcutta to Rhode Island to California and even Ireland, and spanning the years from 1960 to the present.
The Goddess of Small Victories by Yannick Grannec  is a novel that tells the life story of Adele, the opinionated and outspoken widow of a famous, real mathematician who worked at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton – a huge novel set primarily in 1866 in a small town in New Zealand that involves the 12 signs of the Zodiac and how they apply to the 12 main male protagonists.

Some good mysteries: 
The Reckoning by Rennie Airth, the latest from one of the great British mystery writers.
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling), the very satisfying sequel to The Cuckoo’s Calling.
The Long Way Home by Louise Penny, in which the beloved and inimitable Armand Gamache, though retired, helps to solve another mystery.
The Secret Place by Tana French – another about the Dublin Murder Squad involving a murder on the grounds of a girls’ posh boarding school outside of Dublin.

Four good nonfiction: 
My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead
Nothing to Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
Dancing Fish and Ammonites:  A Memoir  by Penelope Lively.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Here's your Emily St. John Mandel Primer

Let me share a little indie bookseller secret with you: Her name is Emily St. John Mandel and she is a genius. She's written three previous novels with the wonderful, literary, indie publisher Unbridled Books. Each book was an IndieNext pick, meaning a bunch of indie booksellers read it, loved it, and here's the really amazing part, loved it ENOUGH to remember to write up a short review and email it in 2 months before the book comes out (as an avid reader and an avid IndieNext-nomination-forgetter-to-write, this is the most impressive thing of all). Best news ever: she has a new novel coming out in September from Knopf-- a big, wonderful, epic, sprawling, frightening, hopeful novel called Station Eleven. She is a writer's writer-- her plotting is simply exquisite and her prose is sublime. Station Eleven is set during and after the collapse of civilization from a pandemic called the Georgia Flu. It's a plague novel, sure, but it's so much more. There's a traveling Shakespeare company, an aging Hollywood actor, his three ex-wives and best friend, and all throughout, the idea that some things do transcend, some things do last forever. Station Eleven coming to a bookstore near you September 9th.

And in the meantime, a little ESTM primer:

The Lola Quartet

Here’s the thing: you’re looking at a book written by a master. Mandel is an absolute pro at weaving stories together, pulling at seemingly disparate people and places and drawing their stories in concentric circles that eventually overlap, becoming one. It’s quite remarkable. Add to that top notch writing, and you’ve got an under-the-radar gem.

This story starts with Gavin, a journalist in New York City who finds himself doing the one thing a journalist should never do: make stuff up. From there the story leads to Florida, Virginia, Arizona, and back again to Florida. Backward and forward in time, circling the truth. The stakes are always high in a Mandel novel. Just like in life.

The Singer's Gun
In this impressive sophomore effort, Mandel tells the story of Anton, a man whose life, his marriage, job and possibly his sanity, is slowly falling apart, a man in a family of crooks who is trying to go straight.

Mandel’s prose is haunting and dreamlike, and the drama of the story is outrageous enough to make you wonder if things like this really happen, while keeping you turning the pages. (It kept me reading late into the night…) 

The story is perfectly told—the truth is sifted out bit by bit, and by the end you realize that what you thought at the beginning couldn’t be more wrong. The characters change completely before your eyes in an impressive sleight of hand. 

Last Night in Montreal
This novel is spooky good. It's the story of Lilia, a woman with a mysterious past and an unconventional childhood. After she leaves Eli, the man she met and lived with in NYC, without a word Eli becomes desperate to find her, going to shocking lengths to bring her back to him. We learn about Lilia in flashbacks that are filled with deep secrets, misremembering, and a life of journeying that she can't seem to quit. 

Mandel writes beautiful, evocative prose that is dream-like and yearning, yet perfectly succinct and satisfying. This is a wonderfully unique, unforgettable debut.   

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cutest picture book EVA. In history.

Call off the search. We just discovered the cutest picture book of the year (or maybe ever): Adventures with Barefoot Critters by Teagan White (Tundra Books). 

It's an alphabet book starring woodland creatures, one of which is a baby Triceratops, because why not. Great rhyming, gorgeous detail. More at her website!

The Signature of All Things-- now available in beach format, aka paperback.

Bookseller Liz Whaley had this to say about Elizabeth Gilbert's critically acclaimed latest novel, The Signature of All Things:

This is a long, wonderfully absorbing, old-fashioned novel, the kind to curl up with by the fire and just immerse yourself in. I hesitated about reading it because I had avoided Eat, Pray, Love, thinking it sounded too self-indulgent. But this is a masterful achievement, the product of exhaustive and meticulous research and gifted storytelling. It is the life story of one of the year's most fascinating protagonists, Alma Whittaker, born in 1800 and living into her 80s. A very bright child, she becomes a brilliant botanist. Yes, there's a lot of botany, but there is so much more. We are transported from Philadelphia to London, Peru, Tahiti, and Amsterdam, and we meet all the colorful and complex people in Alma's life: her father and mother, her sisters Prudence and Retta, who have their own stories, the men in Alma's life, personal and professional. And all of this is embedded in the history of the times.

Some more praise:

"Unlike anything Gilbert has ever written. The book's heroine is Alma Whittaker, the brilliant, restless daughter of an imperious botanical explorer. Its prose has the elegant sheen of a 19th-century epic, but its concerns--the intersection of science and faith, the feminine struggle for fulfillment, the dubious rise of the pharmaceutical industry--are essentially modern...Gilbert has returned to her roots in fiction and written the sort of rip-roaring tale that would have been considered entertainment for the masses 150 years ago." 
--The New York Times Magazine
"The most ambitious and purely imaginative work in Gilbert's 20-year career: a deeply researched and vividly rendered historical novel about a 19th century female botanist." 
--The Wall Street Journal

"Gilbert has mulled, from the confines of her desk, the correlations of nature, the principle that connects a grain of sand to a galaxy, to create a character who does the same - who makes the study of existence her life's purpose. And in doing so, she has written the novel of a lifetime." 
--O, The Oprah Magazine

"Gilbert has returned to fiction, and clearly she's reveling in all its pleasures and possibilities...[an] unhurried, sympathetic, intelligent novel by an author confident in her material and her form."--"Publishers Weekly"

"Rich, highly satisfying...Gilbert, in supreme command of her material, effortlessly invokes the questing spirit of the nineteenth century...Beautifully written and imbued with a reverence for science and learning, this is a must-read."

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Stef's favorite books of the year 2013

Favorite books of the year (2013 that is...)
This is admittedly freakishly late. Crazy Christmas rush late. Fast-approaching maternity leave late. Last minute new bookstore inventory system late. Newborn (fussy) baby late (That's right Dominic-- Mommy's throwing you under the bus). Excuses, excuses. Anyway, for what it's worth, here are my favorite books from 2013. Due to my lateness, they are likely soon to be out in paperback-- actually, a few already are!
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (Hachette)
Wow. Just, wow. This novel is simply stunning. It felt like a revelation to read. Atkinson is such a gifted writer and she creates such vivid characters that you are willing to go along with practically anything. Ursula Todd is born on a snowy night in 1910--in one life, she dies. In her next life, she is born on a snowy night in 1910 and lives. Her story, as it happens over and over again, is just exhilarating.  

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (Hachette)
You know those rare books where the world is so fully formed you feel it all around you when you read? This is one of those books. As I read, I found myself in the New York apartment where Theo Decker lives with his mother, at the Met as his world falls down around him, and later when he moves to Park Avenue to live with his friend Andy’s posh family and their cold, confusing lifestyle. I moved with Theo across the country with his father, to his white washed, thickly carpeted McMansion where Theo meets Boris and both of them run wild. And all along, I felt presence of The Goldfinch, the painting that changes Theo’s life. This novel is sweeping and written in glorious, carefully crafted prose. It’s quite clear that Tartt took a decade to write this novel. It’s a masterpiece. 

Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Random House)
I am crazy about this book. Why, you ask? It may have been the New York Times website screenshots with photos of the arrestingly beautiful girl who floats around the center of the story. It may have been the mythology of Stanislas Cordova himself: a famed filmmaker whose movies have inspired madness and violence, and which have driven him into hiding on a huge, Gothic estate in upstate New York. Whatever it is, it grabbed me by the shirt collar and didn't let go for 600 pages or so. Pessl has created a lovely band of characters whose relationship brings a touch of levity to an otherwise dark story. Her writing is crisp and the story is addicting.

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne (Simon and Schuster)
This book is just amazing. It's smart, funny, sad, and just terribly current and real. Jonny is a sweet 11 year old kid with an amazing voice who is discovered on YouTube and becomes a Justin Bieber-like superstar with his hit song, Boys Vs. Girls. Jonny is fully immersed in the business side of his world, more so than any 11 year old should be, as his mother does everything she can to manage his career straight to the top, whether that's cutting his daily calorie count or making late night backroom deals with promoters. All Jonny really wants though is a normal life, and to find the father they left behind. Great storytelling, and a great take on our obsession with celebrity culture and the consequences of lost innocence. But above all is the voice. Wayne just nails Jonny's voice. It's unreal.

Bobcat: Stories by Rebecca Lee (Algonquin)
This collection of stories is absolutely stunning-- Rebecca Lee is one to watch. I love discovering new writers who amaze me-- with each story, each new glimmer of writerly talent, there is a delicious anticipation of the long, wonderful writing career ahead of her. Many of her stories take place in and around college campuses-- from college students to professors to a young child taken to see a professor of child psychology at the local university who teaches her to go to "Slatland" when troubles face her, that is, float about herself and see her experience as a dot on the line of her life. The stories are excellent--nuanced without being New Yorker-style opaque. The story "Min" is the strongest among a strong collection. When I finished reading it, I felt like a had witnessed something almost magical.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon by Anthony Marra (Random House)
Get ready for a powerful story set in Chechnya of a young girl who loses her family, the broken doctor with a painful past who takes her in, the man the girl’s father called his best friend, and a village elder, a man who has seen it all and still can’t believe what he’s experiencing. Learning about the Chechen experience alone is worth the price of admission, considering especially that it happened in the very recent past, much of it not covered by Western media (at least, as a teenager, I feel like I only knew of the atrocities happening there obliquely at best). Marra’s writing is just exquisite, and the story of the characters spinning toward their separate, mostly tragic, fates is done with an honesty and authenticity that felt respectful of the many true stories undoubtedly hiding behind Marra’s fiction. 

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid (Penguin)
This book is really incredible. Hamid manages to get you to know and care about both the nameless, anonymous narrator and the nameless main character, the "you." The story is told as a self help guide, teaching you how to go from being a poor boy in a small village to a rich, powerful man in a big city. The writing is clear and sparkling and clever and often actually funny. Reading it feels more like having an experience than just reading a book. And the ending is truly remarkable, with its tender grasp of humanity and love.

Other favorites (because apparently I can't narrow down worth a damn this year):

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (Random House)
Someone by Alice McDermott (Macmillan)
The Night Guest by Fiona MacFarlane (Macmillan)
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (Penguin)
You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt (Penguin)
The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly (WW Norton)
The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood (WW Norton)
All the Light There Was by Nancy Kricorian (HMH)
Z by Therese Anne Fowler (Macmillan)
This is Between Us by Kevin Sampsell (Tin House)

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright (Random House)
This book is nuts! But it's also an important investigation into a powerful organization. The thing is, most people assume that Scientologists are just a bunch of crazy Hollywood people and that we should just leave them to their craziness, and there is something to be said for that. Sadly though, the fact of Scientology existing in its present form is something that should matter to us because as a religious organization, they are tax exempt. Read the book to find out how that came to be and the implications of it. (Plus insane human rights violations, mental cruelty, corruption, crime, and the shocking influence that power, money, and intimidation can have.) Read this book with someone close by (preferably some nice person who doesn’t mind constantly being interrupted), so that you can read passages aloud while gesticulating wildly. At least that’s what I did. 

Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Mossman (Random House)
Here’s my warning: don’t read this book if you don’t want to know just how crappy the crap you’re eating is! This is an extremely detailed, in-depth look at the processed food industry, focusing specifically on the different ways that salt, sugar, and fat have been used to tempt us, trick us, and completely transform our palate. Moss focuses a lot on the companies and individuals who have attempted over the years to decrease the amount of salt, sugar, and fat in their products, but who were stopped because without these ingredients, many of the foods simply don’t hold together. Add to that the pressure companies face from Wall Street to constantly increase sales, and there isn’t much incentive for these huge companies to go healthy.  One of those books that manages to be equally entertaining and appalling.

The Girl Factory by Karen Dietrich (Globe Pequot)
This is just the most lovely, most sweetly sad, most powerful memoir I’ve read in a long time. Karen tells her story of growing up in a small factory town outside of Pittsburgh in the 1970s and 80s. Her middle class family is normal, she has an older sister and parents who work at the local glass factory, except when it isn’t. Something happened to her as a child that affects her whole life, without her even realizing it. Karen has amazing recall of her life-- her description of the small details of growing up, playing the Picnic Game in the car, learning about the Challenger explosion, her mother’s summertime lemonade recipe, made me remember my own small childhood memories, even though they weren’t the same as Karen’s. It’s a pretty special thing when a writer can bring you to your own conclusions, as she comes to her own. The writing is just stunning. I can’t wait for more from her.

Five Days at Memorial by Sherri Fink (Random House)
Some of you may remember hearing about the patients stuck in hospitals in New Orleans during Katrina. I think many of us either heard it and forgot it, or didn’t catch it in the flurry of news stories about that city and that storm. I remember hearing about the Super Dome and FEMA, about President Bush’s flyover and the Ninth Ward. The story about what happened to the patients in one of New Orleans’ most beloved hospitals, Memorial (known for decades before as Baptist), is an important story that needs to be told. Fink takes us day by day through the storm, from the day when staff & family members sought refuge in the hospital because they optimistically, and foolishly perhaps, thought it was the safest bet, to the day when the hospital’s parent company chose not to send additional rescue helicopters, to the day when decisions were made about which patients would make it out and which would not.  It’s a terrifying story, with many important lessons. Let’s hope the right people read this book, and make changes accordingly. 

Thank You For Your Service by David Finkel (Penguin)
This book is so important. It's one that everyone should read if they care about the troops, if they want to know what it's like to come back from war and have to reintegrate into a world you don't recognize, a world that can't handle or understand the person you've become. Finkel tells these solders stories with such poise and respect, while not leaving out any difficult detail. Some of their stories are hard to read, and must have been hard for them to agree to share with him. Finkel demonstrates with these personal stories that we've really doomed a whole generation of soldiers, and their families, by not taking care of them properly, by not doing for them the service they did for us. This book is a must read-- well written, with compassion, insight, and wisdom.

Topic I became obsessed with (Scientology) 
and the books I read:
Going Clear by Lawrence Wright
Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill
Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman

More Than This by Patrick Ness (Candlewick)
This book has so much going on. I’ll just tell you, because you’d find out pretty quickly anyway, that this book starts with a boy drowning, dying. It’s pretty awful, but keep reading. Keep reading because he, Seth, wakes up, and because the story he has to tell is pretty amazing. When he wakes up, he realizes that he is back in his childhood home, which is impossible because it’s in England and he died living in America. It also makes no sense because he’s completely alone--there isn’t another soul on the street he lived on, anywhere at all. Where is he? Is this the afterlife? Is it hell? Seth flashes back to his previous life, to how he ended up drowning, and to what led up to it. It’s a heartbreaking story. But don’t worry-- this book isn’t all sadness and loneliness. Seth soon realizes that there is something he can do to change his situation, and he gets to work. The author delivers some great characters and great twists, with a crazy ending you won’t see coming. Great follow up by Ness to another really special book, A Monster Calls.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (Macmillan)
Gahhhhh this book is so cute. Just. so. cute. And awesome. Just awesome. Cath and her twin sister Wren are starting their freshmen year at college together. Wren is “the pretty one,” makes friends easily, popular, etc. etc. Cath (short for Cather...the two names together make Cather-wren, get it?) is the loner. Well, loner in real life. In the virtual world, she is practically a god, as the author of the most popular Simon Snow fanfic on the website (Simon Snow is a Harry Potter like character, and fanfic, if you don’t know, are stories people write online about characters in their favorite books, movies and TV shows). Cath doesn’t take well to college-- her roommate is a scary, sexy goth, and her first writing assignment gets panned by her writing instructor. But soon things get even more complicated. Read on with delight as Cath’s romance life heats up. Sweet, funny, adorable.

Picture books
Paul Meets Bernadette by Rosy Lamb (Candlewick)
Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley (Peter Pauper)
If You Want to See a Whale by Julie Fogliano and Rebecca Stead (Macmillan)
Cozy Classics: Emma, Jane Eyre, War and Peace (Simply Read Books)

I blame the fact that I didn't go on vacation this year for not having read any backlist books this year. Seriously, not a one. I'll try to do better next year.

Books I can't wait to sell next year:

Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley (Harper, March 2014)
This is such a lovely book. Stella tells her story, from girlhood living with her mother in a small city bed-sit, to living in the suburbs with her mother and new stepfather, to her first young, wild love, and the baby that comes out of it, all the way through her life till she’s in her fifties, in quite different circumstances. We follow her struggles and her triumphs, her many heartbreaks, the joy her children bring her, her loves, achievements, and deep disappointments, her constant need to run away from it all and her equally strong need to always come back. The writing is sharp and crisp and glittering with clarity and wisdom about the human experience. It’s a story about one woman’s life, but it’s so much more than that. Just lovely. 

Life Drawing by Robin Black (Random House, July 2014)
This is a truly masterful novel. It builds slowly and quietly, much like the slow and quiet life that married couple artist Gus and writer Owen share in the country, to a truly explosive, though entirely deserved, ending. I was shocked and devastated by what happened, while also realizing that all the pieces had come together perfectly and in the only way they could have. Black’s characters are fully human, flawed and difficult, aware of the sacrifices, disappointments, and secrets all marriages require. I sympathized with, rooted for, hated and loved all of them. A finely written first novel that explores the joy and pain of self discovery and the power of secrets and betrayal with grace and wisdom. 

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez (Random House, June 2014)
The Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill (Random House, January 2014)
Last Days of California by Mary Miller (Norton, January 2014)
A Life in Men by Gina Frangello (Algonquin, February 2014)