Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Annual Book List - 2014 Edition


The 2014 list of the books I've read in the last year is shown below. The list has one new category: OC: Over Cooked (good ingredients, but overwritten). You may print the list to take with you to your favorite book store or library to make selections for yourself or for holiday giving. If you wish to share it, please share the link to to this post. I'll share what I consider the best books of the year in each category throughout the month of December.

Happy Reading, 

Find a printable version here:

Hungry for Good Books? Annual Book List for 2014
Find these and more at:
©Copyright November, 2014 by Trina Hayes
Letters after each selection designate the book as CC: Chinese Carryout (page-turners, great for plane rides), D: Desserts (delightful indulgences), DC: Diet Coke and Gummi Bears (books for teens and young adults), G: Gourmet (exquisite writing, requires concentration), GPR: Grandma’s Pot Roast (books that get your attention and stick with you), GS: Grits (evocative of the American south), OC: Over Cooked (good ingredients, but overwritten), PBJ: Peanut Butter and Jelly (children’s books adults will like), PP: Pigeon Pie (historical fiction set at least 50 years ago),  S: Sushi with Green Tea Sorbet (satire, irony, black humor, acquired taste), SF: Soul Food (spirituality, theology, books for your soul), SN: Super Nutrition (lots of information, yet tasty as fresh blueberries), and T: Tapas (small bites including short stories, novellas, essays, and poetry). The letters BC denote books for book clubs.  Asterisks (*) depict the most outstanding titles in each designation. The plus sign (+) is for books I recommend as “very good,” The number sign (#) is for books with full reviews on my blog. All books listed were published in the last year unless noted otherwise.

General Fiction

*Akpan, Uwem, Say You’re One of Them, Akpan, a Jesuit priest, relates emotionally draining stories about children in sub-Saharan Africa.  “Ex-mas” highlights the trinkets NGOs give that families sell to buy food. Children affected by war tell each story thus “a child will lead them.” Mary Karr called this "a new language—both for horror and for the relentless persistence of light in war-torn countries." T/SN, BC (2012)
*Backman, Fredrick, A Man Called Ove, a grumpy Swedish curmudgeon, annoyingly tells everyone the right way to do things, won’t allow what he considers unseemly behavior in his terrace, and wants to be left alone. Ove’s backstory reveals itself as he’s forced to interact with his neighbors, the mail carrier, and a cat. I’m madly in love with Ove. If you loved Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, you’re in for a treat. GPR, BC
+Baker, Tiffany, Mercy Snow arrives in a dying mill town with her brother and sister to claim their father’s land. The orphaned children have nothing and a terrible school bus accident is blamed on Zeke Snow despite conflicting evidence. A dose of magical realism and careful plotting make these North Woods characters come alive. You’ll cheer for them to prevail. GPR, BC
*#Bloom, Amy, Lucky Us, a quirky, witty, beautiful novel opens with “My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”  Then 11-year-old Eva’s mother abandons her on her Dad’s doorstep where she meets her half-sister Iris.  The girls go to California where Iris is in movies until a scandal forces their move to NYC in a Thelma and Louise-style road trip. Capturing the prejudices of the 1939–1948 period, it shows that family is more than genetics. GPR/PP, BC
*Butler, Nickolas, Shotgun Lovesongs, four men grew up together in Little Wing, a small Wisconsin town. Hank stayed to farm his family’s land and raise a family with wife Beth.  The others left: one to trade commodities in Chicago, one to ride in rodeos, and one to become a rock star. This debut novel captures their lives and the truth and beauty of the Midwest.  It’s funny, passionate, poignant, and real. Read this gem. It’s an archetype for a changing culture and Butler is an author to watch. G/GPR, BC
*#Church, Kim, Byrd, as Addie writes letters to the baby she gave up for adoption she slowly reveals herself and her story.  Byrd is her name for the boy who she’s let soar into a good life without her. This superb debut novel quietly builds toward Addie’s becoming herself. It’s a wonder! GPR, BC
DiSclafani, Anton, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, a coming-of-age novel set in 1930 in northern Florida and a remote Blue Ridge Mountain camp, begins with an unrevealed scandal exiling 13-year-old Thea to the camp. Thea is an engaging character and a compelling narrator yet the book reads like a soap opera. Horse lovers will enjoy the accurate depiction of competitive riding.  The explicit sexual scenes are inappropriate for teen readers. PP (2013)
*Doeer, Anthony, All the Light We Cannot See absolutely soars. Two stories set during World War II intersect as the war wanes. Marie-Laure, a 16-year-old blind girl who lives in a Brittany village having escaped Paris with her father, reads Jules Verne over the radio.  At the same time brilliant German orphan Werner’s expertise with radio transmitters puts him into the Wehrmacht to track illegal radio transmissions like Marie-Laure’s. A sub plot involving a missing diamond brings in more amazing characters. This is a war book that celebrates good over evil.  It’s a Natl. Book Award Finalist. G/PP, BC
+Fowler, Karen Joy, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a phenomenal discussion book about what it means to be human, to grieve, to separate, to suffer unintended consequences.  The characters appropriately flat affect fits their circumstances. I found the university town setting and people to be perfect as I grew up in a similar town only 90 miles away. Don’t read the back cover; let the book reveal its secrets.  Pen Faulkner Winner, Man/Booker Finalist G/GPR/SN, BC (2013)
#Glass, Julia, And the Dark and Sacred Night, I loved greeting favorite characters from Glass’s wonderful Three Junes but a terrible twist and an inexplicable ending ruined an otherwise good read for me. GPR
*Greenway, Alice, The Bird Skinner is reminiscent of The English Patient. Jim, a bitter, retired ornithologist, retires to a Maine island after the amputation of his leg.  He plans to drink, smoke, and live away from people but his scout during World War II in the South Pacific sends his daughter to stay with Jim for a few weeks before she goes to Yale and his plans must change. Gorgeous prose and some of the best imagery ever blend nature, love, regret, and war into something very special. G, BC
+Guzeman, Tracy, The Gravity of Birds shows how art illuminates and hides truth. Thomas Bayber, one of America’s greatest living painters, lives penniless in a tiny apartment assisted by Mr. Finch. Steven, a wayward art expert, and Finch must find the Kessler sisters, subjects of an unknown Bayber painting, before the painting can be sold. A brilliant puzzle told in alternating chapters slowly reveals each character’s connections and history.  G/GPR, BC (2013)
+#Harnisch, Kristen, The Vintner’s Daughter, Sara, the vintner’s daughter, is brilliant at making wine in the Loire Valley in 1895 but she must move to California’s Napa Valley. This will appeal to Adriana Trigiani fans. It’s a page-turning romantic, historical story for oenophiles. Try the audio version too. D/PP/SN, BC 
*Heller, Peter, The Painter, Jim Stegner is a renowned expressionist painter as well as an ex-con who almost killed a pervert in a bar after the man implied that he’d molest Jim‘s daughter.  Years later Jim does kill and the victim’s cohorts try to exhort revenge while Jim’s paintings increasingly show his torment.  In our strange celebrity-driven society, the fact that Jim may have killed enhances the value of his art. It brilliantly evokes fishing, nature, and art.  G, BC
+#Henderson, Smith, Fourth of July Creek is as gourmet as a book can be.  The writing is so smooth it reads like lobster dipped in melted butter. It’s a brutally shattering tale of families that go off track without knowing they’re slipping. Pete Snow is a rural Montana social worker whose own family is a mess. When he meets mountain man Jeremiah Pearl through Pearl’s son Benjamin who has scurvy and giardia, he hopes to gain Pearl’s trust but trust is a rare commodity in this strange country. A brilliant debut! G, BC
+Ironmonger, J. W., Coincidence is a clever play on the meaning of luck, providence, and coincidence at work in the life of Azalea Lewis as it traces her through Great Britain and East Africa. Her mother dies when she’s three and exactly ten years later her adoptive parents are killed so she seeks out an authority on coincidence to debunk her fears. CC/GPR, BC
+Jackson, Joshilyn, Someone Else’s Love Story is both escape and a way of looking at how we become our assumptions. Shandi, a college student, believes her son Natty is the result of a “virgin” birth.  She won’t face that she was raped since she was still “intact” so Natty’s birth must be the miracle that he is. At a convenience store during a robbery a customer takes a bullet that could have killed Natty and Shandi begins to rethink her life and her destiny.  You think this page turner is going to turn out predictably but believable twists make it shine.  GPR/GS/D, BC (2012)
+Johnson, Deborah, The Secret of Magic is set in1946 when Regina Robichard, a new lawyer working with Thurgood Marshall in the New York NAACP legal offices, heads to a small Mississippi town to investigate the death of an African-American GI who died as he returned from the war. Regina is intrigued by a letter about the case from the reclusive white author who wrote her favorite childhood book. She learns that racism is different in the south but not in the ways she expected.  She doesn’t feel alone in her blackness here but is wary of the almost magical forces that control the town and its people. GPR /PP, BC
+Joyce, Rachel, Perfect is unlike Joyce’s debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which shows that this writer has guts and talent. Two 11-year-old British boys wonder about the two seconds that will be added to the year 1972 and Bryan is sure that his mother has hit a child on a bicycle with her Jaguar during those extra seconds. Bryan’s friend James tries to help and the girl’s family initiates a scam.  A separate story of a mentally disabled man intersects in a very clever and haunting way.  The novel eerily explores perfection and destiny. G, BC
+Kelly, Elizabeth, The Last Summer of the Camperdowns is a great beach read. It’s 1972 on Cape Cod and 12-year-old Riddle’s father is running for Congress. Riddle watches a crime being committed in a neighboring barn, but she’s afraid to report it. The repartee of Riddle and her parents is reminiscent of Hepburn and Tracy but with dramatic undercurrents.  CC (2013)
Kidd, Sue Monk, The Invention of Wings was informative regarding Angelina and Sarah Grimké, Charleston S.C. sisters, who moved north and worked with abolitionists and of Charleston, SC’s 1822 slave uprising led by Denmark Vesey.  The twinned story of Handful, Sarah’s slave, who was given to Sarah on her 11th birthday in 1803 was strong but the story lagged from their childhood until Sarah’s actions forty years hence and I’d rather have read the history.  PP/SN  
+King, Lily, Euphoria, anthropologists Nell Stone (inspired by Margaret Mead), Stone’s husband Fen, and Englishman Bankston canoe up New Guinea’s Sepik River to record tribal culture.  A 1930s love triangle sets this distinctive trio on their way to find euphoria. Reminiscent of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Patchett’s State of Wonder, this novel is entirely unique and will leave the reader unsettled, captivated, and in awe of King’s talent.  It’s no wonder Kirkus named it the best fiction of the year.  G/PP/SN, BC
*Klay, Phil, Redeployment is a smorgasbord of hurt delivered with a one-two punch. Klay’s vivid debut delivers interconnected short stories that punctuate the Iraqi landscape with the lives of those attempting to serve. Chaplains, soldiers, Foreign Service flunkies, and more deliver searing tales   Klay’s pen is a scalpel that cuts through the horror to deliver an eloquent portrait of a unique war. Every member of Congress and those in the Cabinet need to read this year’s National Book Award winner, G/SN/T, BC
Koch, Herman, The Dinner, two disturbing brothers and their equally disquieting wives, meet for dinner to discuss what their 15-year-old sons have done. Why have these boys set fire to a homeless woman in an ATM kiosk? This disturbingly dark novel will leave you reeling and feeling like you need to take a shower to rid yourself of its hold.  S, BC (2013)
*Krivak, Andrew, The Sojourn, baby Jozef survives after his mother tosses him into a Colorado river in 1899 in the bold opening of this story of war, forgiveness, and dreams. Jozef’s father takes him back to his Slovakian homeland where they live as shepherds. Cousin Zlee becomes Jozef’s adopted brother and their sharpshooting and English language skills move them to the front in World War I’s stark battles. It’s a spare, Cormac McCarthy-like rendering of war, survival, love, and forgiveness that was a National Book Award finalist. G/PP, BC (2011)
+# Levine, Jessica, The Geometry of Love, should Julia stay in a safe relationship or seek more? Dive into this complex Mobius strip of a novel to enter her mind as she struggles with balancing creativity, erotic love, and family while contending with the price of infidelity. G, BC
+Mandel, Emily St. John, Station Eleven, a National Book Award Finalist, looks at the world before and 20 years after a flu plague kills most. The survivors in a wandering Shakespearean crew preserve art, friendship, love, and kindness. They’re tied by coincidence and destiny as is seen in their lives before the disaster. They battle acute shortages, a changing climate, and a cult that threatens them. Set in the “new” northern Michigan, this novel makes you consider what you’d miss most in a post-pandemic world. It’s a compelling, page-turning, haunting, masterful piece of writing that isn’t one bit bleak.  G, BC
*Marra, Anthony, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a tough read, tender yet merciless in its evocation of war and loss. Eight-year-old Havaa is loved enough to overcome desolation in war-torn Chechnya. Akhmed paints portraits of the dead he’s too incompetent as a doctor to save and Sonja, a hospital doctor trying to keep things together, doesn’t need more problems. The “landmine,” the place where people are “taken,” is almost beyond something the human mind can accept. The writing makes this soar. Everyone should read and discuss it. G/SN, BC (2013)
*#McBride, Laura, We Are Called to Rise tells the hope-filled story of Bashkim, an 8-year-old Albanian boy; Luis, a soldier injured in Iraq; and two women who try to help in the face of tragic mistakes. This wonder of a debut novel is set in a Las Vegas no one knows. Only a gifted writer could make poverty, war, and prejudice this engaging and positive.  GPR, BC
+#Messud, Claire, The Woman Upstairs, Nora, a third grade teacher, exists on the edges of other peoples’ lives yet she’s angry and the novel slowly reveals the source of her anger. She meets and falls in love with the hybrid Palestinian/Lebanese/Italian Shahid family. This brilliant novel of envy, desire, invisibility, betrayal, and emergence is one requiring patience as it evolves slowly yet assuredly until it suddenly bursts from its cocoon. G, BC (2013)
Meyers, Randy Susan, Accidents of Marriage is a page-turning glimpse of marriage and what happens when one or both partners don’t notice what’s broken.  Maddy, a social worker, knows the damage domestic violence can do but she tiptoes around her own husband then he drives too fast and Maddy ends up brain injured and confused. This novel about second chances, healing, facing problems, loving, and learning to forgive will appeal to Kristen Hannah and Jodi Picoult fans. CC/GPR/SN, BC
+Moriarty, Liane, Big Little Lies is a delectable tale about friendship and kindness.  Yes, it also shows that domestic violence can happen to anyone and there’s a mystery but it’s primarily a slice of real life among caring friends – three different Australian mothers who meet through their kindergarten children.  It’s similar to Tom Perotta in its satirical look at suburbia – even in Australia. GPR/S, BC
+Netzer, Lydia, How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky,  Irene and George are like mythical figures residing, yet not really living, in the world. Irene, an astrophysicist, is a star in the astronomy world as she’s just created a black hole in her lab. She’s isolated herself from her recently deceased alcoholic mother, a practicing psychic but she returns to Toledo to take a job at the premier Toledo Institute of Astronomy where George has always been the hotshot.  Irene and George meet and fall for each other but later learn that their mothers had plotted to birth and rear them to be each other’s soul mates so can this really be love? This is a peculiar read that only a writer with Netzer’s abilities could make work. S 
*Ng, Celeste, Everything I Never Told You opens with: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”  When teenaged Lydia can’t be found, the lack of communication in her Chinese-American family shows that things left unsaid can damage. By exploring what it means to be an outsider, this tense, page-turning debut novel makes you read slowly to get every morsel. Amazon named it the best book of 2014. G, BC
+Nicholls, David, Us, a Man Booker Prize nominee, looks back at the 25 years of Doug and Connie Peterson’s marriage after Connie tells Doug that she thinks she wants a divorce.  But first they embark on a long-planned European arts tour with their 17-year-old son Albie. Doug thinks of it as a second chance but he quickly alienates Albie and Connie so the marriage seems doomed.  Doug lays out his hopes and fears as the reader follows the trip and his and Connie’s past. This is a very funny, sometimes sad, and always kind-hearted look at marriage and life. Will the marriage last and more importantly should it? Nicholls, best known for One Day, has been an actor and screenwriter which shows in the cinematic scope of Us. You’ll alternately cheer for and be exasperated by Doug but you’ll never be bored. GPR, BC
Oyeyemi, Helen, Mr. Fox was far too clever for me. While I admired the artful language and the ingenious rendering of Bluebeard in his many guises, reading it felt more like piecing a jigsaw puzzle than falling into a narrative.  These fox-filled fables of love and literary striving were too contrived for this reader. S (2011)
+Phillips., Jayne Anne, Quiet Dell, This story, based on a gruesome, true crime in 1931, is beautifully written.  I liked Emily Thornhill, the protagonist, Chicago Tribune reporter, but didn’t feel that all her actions fit her or the era especially her rescue of a street urchin. Otherwise it’s an evocative, elegant tale about an intriguing criminal mind. PP/GPR, BC (2013)
Picoult, Jodi, Leaving Time is a lackluster story that’s almost saved by a compelling, realistic teen heroine. Thirteen-year-old Jenna is searching for her mother who is either missing or dead.  Alice, the mother, studies elephant behavior particularly mothering and grief - the book’s main themes. A stereotypical psychic, a noir detective, Alice, and Jenna are the book’s uneven narrators.  Picoult is known for endings with an unexpected twist but others have used this strange variation with more success. GPR, BC
*Pitre, Michael, Fives and Twenty-Fives is a debut novel about a group of Marines in Iraq charged with identifying, disabling, and filling mined potholes. They also must recognize and cope with the danger and despair of a war that has made cavities inside each of them and what that means when they get home.  This tough read is insanely beautiful. I wanted to personally rescue the young Iraqi interpreter who reads Huck Finn to calm himself. G/S, BC
+Quindlan, Anna, Still Life with Bread Crumbs, Rebecca is 60 and is renowned for the photographs taken in her thirties that chronicled her domestic life.  Featured everywhere, they’ve paid her bills but the money is running out so she sublets her NYC apartment and rents an isolated country cottage. She uses her camera to stay afloat as she searches for a new life and love in a world that offers second chances. Thanks to Quindlan for creating a realistic 60-year-old protagonist. GPR, BC
+#Reichl, Ruth, Delicious! is happiness distilled in former Gourmet editor, Reichl’s first novel -- a foodie romp. Billie moves to New York for a dream job at Delicious! magazine, a Gourmet-like publication.. When the magazine closes, Billie is kept on and she finds a trove of WWII letters to James Beard hidden in a secret room.  Puzzles abound as Billie falls for man known affectionately as “the complainer.”  D/GPR
+Robinson, Marilynne, Lila, If you loved Gilead, read this prequel. It’s more essay and theology than it is narrative though. Lila and her early life are beautifully rendered and the love that builds between her and Rev. Ames is almost mystical. I found the last third of the novel less compelling than the beginning.  It’s a National Book Award finalist and is on many “Best Book” lists.  SF/SN
+Roorbach, Bill, Life Among Giants stars “Lizard,” an almost seven-foot tall football player heading to Princeton then the NFL when his parents are murdered. He and his sister and the famed ballerina next door are all giants of a sort in this coming-of-age, mystery saga that follows the trajectory of their strange lives. This is a novel to sink into like a feather bed with its bold, genuine, quirky cast of memorable characters. GPR, BC (2011)
*#Roorbach, Bill, The Remedy for Love, Eric, an upright lawyer, meets dirty, disheveled Danielle in the grocery store and drives her to a remote cabin as a winter storm brews and they end up snowbound. Roorbach weaves equal parts survival adventure, poignant romance, slapstick comedy, and brilliantly worded nature scenes in an evocative tapestry to entice even the most cynical reader. You won’t be able to put it down once you start reading. GPR/G, BC
+Sayers, Valerie, The Powers, set in New York in 1941 as war looms and Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak seizes everyone, captures 17-year-old Agnes O’Leary and her grandmother, the indomitable Babe, who has cared for her family since her mother’s suicide. Babe, a diehard Yankee fan, knows that her prayers and powers fuel DiMaggio and the Yanks. The Washington Post’s Ron Charles aptly calls Babe a “baseball loving Olive Kitteridge.” The narrative grips; Babe and DiMaggio reign. GPR/SN/PP, BC (2013)
*Simsion, Graeme, The Rosie Project  Don Tillman can explain anything scientifically even his own spot on the autism spectrum so he’s utterly at a loss when love intervenes and disrupts his attempt to find a woman to marry via his “Wife Project” questionnaire. Rosie is the antithesis of what he wants but could that make her the perfect match?  It’s sheer delight. D/GPR, BC (2013)
Simses, Mary, The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Café is a sugar cookie, blueberry tart dessert of a romance that will appeal to Nicholas Sparks and Mary Kay Andrews fans.  New York attorney, soon-to-be married Ellen’s beloved grandmother has died and her last wish was for Ellen to deliver a letter to a man in a small Maine. Ellen almost drowns and her rescuer enchants her but her upstanding fiancé and good life beckon as well. It’s simplistic escape. D
Sullivan, J. Courtney, The Engagements depicts the DeBeers empire and the history of the “A Diamond is Forever” ad campaign that made diamonds for everyone as seen through Fran, the copywriter, who wrote the line.  Featuring engagements through the diamond rings and the people who wore them, it shows how marriage has changed.  CC/D/PP (2013)
Sussman, Ellen, A Wedding in Provence is a light summer romance.  Profane language and sexual indiscretion abound. Skip this one as there’s not much to it except the lovely setting. CC
*Szybist, Mary, Incarnadine won the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry and features the Biblical Mary, Mary, the author, and simple life settings in gorgeous, lyrical, inventive poems. A poem shown as a diagrammed sentence and my favorite - one done in a circle leading to God - form a collection that readers will return to often. T/G, BC
+Tartt, Donna, The Goldfinch is a slightly confusing journey of over 750 pages leading to a sublime twelve pages explicating the meaning of life.  Those pages are as Theo states earlier “the keystone that held the whole cathedral up.”  Theo is thirteen when a bomb explodes and his mother dies. In the confusion Theo steals a famous painting. He moves to Las Vegas with his negligent father then seeks solace with kind antique furniture restorer Hobie who may be able to restore Theo. G with a touch of OC, BC (2013)
*Watson, Larry, Let Him Go, George, a retired sheriff, and his wife, Martha, head off to reclaim their grandson from their daughter-in-law who’s remarried after their son’s death in this novel set in the early 1950s in North Dakota and Montana. The new in-laws, a violent, evil crew, set the stage for a frightening climax but George and Martha’s relationship stars. If you loved Watson’s Montana, 1948 or are a fan of Kent Haruf and Leif Enger, you’ll adore this. GPR/PP, BC (2013)
+Williams, John, Stoner goes to college to learn agronomy but literature beckons and he leaves the farm behind at the beginning of the 20th century.  His proper wife turns his daughter against him and his academic career is foiled so he falls deeper into solitude. This is a stark, unrelenting classic that begs for discussion. G/PP, BC (2006 reissue of the1965 classic)
*#Zevin, Gabrielle, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is a delightful glimpse into a place many of us would love to live – a small bookstore on an island. Fikry, a 39-year-old bookseller /curmudgeon, hasn’t cared about life or his customers since his wife’s recent death.  When a too-cute-by-miles, 2-year-old is left in his store, he rejoins the human race. Maya introduces him to others in his town who care about him and he falls in love.  Dry humor elevates it from the saccharine. I adore Zevin’s enthusiasm for books and reading and I rejoice in her humor. GPR/D, BC

                    Mysteries, Suspense, and Thrillers                                  
Cash, Wiley, This Dark Road to Mercy, Ruby and Easter are good characters but his first novel A Land More Kind than Home is so much better. If you like baseball, you might like it. The Crime Writers Dagger Award disagrees with me and awarded it a “gold.” GPR/GS
*Dicker, Joël, The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair,  Quebert is pronounced Kuh-bear thus rhyming with “affair.”  Also think Stephen Colbert for a hint to this tongue-in-cheek whodunit with a famous young author’s novel coming to life in a tragic way.  It was a mega hit in Europe but the author’s childhood summers in Maine and the setting give it an American flair.  It’s a big, 643-page book you’ll probably read in one weekend because the twists and switchbacks will keep you flippin’ those pages and enjoying the wild ride. CC/S
+French, Tanya, The Secret Place is a boarding school mystery seen from the viewpoint of a close knit group of Irish teens and from the “outsider” detectives that investigate the year-old case when a new clue appears. Great, believable characters help build the tension.  CC
Grisham, John, Sycamore Row  is a sequel to A Time to Kill, Grisham’s first book, and lawyer Jake must represent a will penned by a man who leaves his fortune to his black housekeeper then hangs himself.  It’s a nuanced portrait of a racially divided Southern town in1988. CC
+Hayes, Terry, I Am Pilgrim is a fast-paced espionage thriller. Scott Murdoch, “the Pilgrim,” retired as one of America’s best secret agents but duty calls him back when an extremist, dubbed “The Saracen,” plots to destroy the U.S. as revenge against the Saudi’s for his father’s beheading. Captivating side stories packed with detail and great minor characters work well but the book would have sizzled if it had been 100 pages shorter. CC
*Iles, Greg, Natchez Burning, Dr. Tom Cage, revered as "Atticus Finch with a stethoscope,” is accused of murdering his former nurse so his son Penn, town mayor and former prosecutor (who’s appeared in three previous books), tries to help him and soon finds clues going back to1968 and a group more evil than the KKK.  Reporter Henry Sexton uncovers ties to the atrocities and Dr. Cage disappears.  Is he guilty and is family loyalty more important than justice?  Iles credits the investigative reporting of true crimes that inspired the novel.  This is the first in a planned trilogy.  At 791 pages it’s just the right length. CC/SN, BC
+Krueger, William Kent, Windigo Island captures the essence of the Ojibwe people of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota in this chilling tale of young teenage Native girls involved in sex trafficking near Duluth. Cork O’Connor and a respected tribal elder try to stop the evil. CC/SN
+Mandel. Emily St. John, The Lola Quartet is a literary noir treat that begins with a teenage girl and a stroller with $120,000 taped beneath it and follows the money and four members of a high school quartet in a sprawling south Florida suburb through a web of lies, music, and fear.  This is much more than a crime novel though as it plots how deceit grows like the snakes taking over Florida’s canals that engulf everything in their path.  GPR/CC (2012)
+Milchman, Jenny, Cover of Snow is a cold, piercing debut in which small town newbie Nora Hamilton searches for answers to why Brendan, her policeman husband, would have killed himself. When the police and her mother-in-law freeze her out and homes are set afire she finds clues in a 25-year-old death, an autistic man’s rhymes, and a reporter’s research.  CC (2013)
+Nesbo, Jo, The Bat is the first of the Harry Hole mysteries in which Swedish police detective Hole travels to Australia to investigate the murder or a well-known Swedish woman.  He works with Aboriginal detective Andrew Kensington and the great series begins. CC (1997)
+O’Dell, Tawni, One of Us asks if psychopaths are born or bred and forces the reader to ponder the difference between evil and mental illness.  Sheridan Doyle, a famed forensic psychologist returns to the coal-mining town where he’s simply Danny Doyle, grandson of Tommy and son of a mentally ill mother.  There he confronts buried truths and a cold-hearted heiress.  CC 
*Penny, Louise, The Long Way Home is a book that imbued me with a feeling of melancholy then peace.  This novel, unlike any other mystery I’ve ever read, showed how important it is for humans to feel useful, to be brave, and to be kind. Inspector Gamache doesn’t want to leave Three Pines especially to solve a mystery or, possibly, to find that something terrible had happened to neighbor Peter Morrow. Using art and creativity as a metaphor, Penny shows how nothing great can be created without heart or without feeling. Absolutely perfect. G, BC 
*#Slaughter, Karin, Cop Town, Kate Murphy is the pretty, privileged new cop on the Atlanta PD in 1974.  Excellent period references especially the playing of Carole King’s Tapestry album in the background set the stage. There’s a cop killer on the loose and another cop has died. The police are racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, woman-hating creeps. They treat the law like a smorgasbord, taking what they want regardless of who gets hurt. Can Kate prevail? CC, BC  
*#Smith, Tom Rob, The Farm is a psychological thriller similar to Gone Girl or Tana French’s novels. When Daniel’s father calls from Sweden to say that Daniel’s mother is in hospital as she’s psychotic and delusional, Daniel hurries to Heathrow to fly to see her. Before he boards his mother calls that she’s on her way to London. She says his father is involved in a criminal conspiracy and wants here out of the way. Who can Daniel believe?  His mother, Tilde, carefully lays out a tale packed with facts that may or may not prove her allegations. Smith, known for his espionage thrillers set in Russia, takes a new tack with this riveting tale of trolls, elk, strangely carved wood, and the darkness of Sweden.  GPR/CC, BC
*Spencer-Fleming, Julia, One Was a Soldier is the best yet in this series. Clare Fergusson, Episcopal priest, has just returned from a tour as a helicopter pilot in Iraq and she’s drinking too much and having nightmares. This seventh title is from the hymn “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God” with the words: “one was a soldier, and one was a priest, and one was slain by a fierce wild beast;” It’s an apt title as the returning soldier/priest and her Police Chief boyfriend are facing a beast that threatens their well-being. Clare reluctantly joins a support group to get a young amputee to attend and there she meets other returning soldiers trying to fight the beast in differing ways.  When one of them commits suicide (or was it murder?) the group finds that the problems of Iraq have followed them all home. CC/SF, BC (2011)
Spencer-Fleming, Julia, Through the Evil Days is the latest in the Clare Fergusson Episcopal priest/detective series and it’s a touch long and has too many wintry chases. Crystal meth, jurisdictional battles, child custody, Native adoption rights – it pulls out all the stops.  It’s good but after One Was a Soldier hit the ball out of the park – this one pales in comparison.  CC/SF
+Stevens, Taylor, Doll, Vanessa Michael Munroe has been abducted to help the “Doll Maker” who merchandises young women and girls. It starts slowly and isn’t as good as her stunning debut The Informationist but it’s still a compelling read if you can stomach the violence.  CC (2013)

Peanut Butter and Jelly: Books for Children
*Alexander, Rilla, The Best Book in the World has bold, happy, imaginative artwork. It conjures other books that children love, particularly books with bright hues, happy repetitions, and magical graphics.  It will make children smile. PBJ Ages 3 – 7
*Aylesworth, Jim and McClintock, Barbara, illustrator, My Grandfather’s Coat tells of an immigrant tailor who makes a special coat then reworks it into a jacket, a vest, and a tie to wear to a special wedding. It’s a warm family tale with great illustrations. PBJ Ages 4 - 8
*Brown, Peter, Children Make Terrible Pets, Lucy, a little brown bear wearing pink, takes a cute little boy she finds in the forest to her home and begs to keep him.  Her mom says, "Children make terrible pets," Lucy loves little Squeaker but he’s messy and impossible to potty train. The very funny twist on bringing home a pet will make parents and kids smile. PBJ Ages 3 – 6 (2010)
*Brown, Peter, My Teacher is a Monster, when Bobby meets his scary teacher in the park he realizes she may not actually be a monster. Kids and teachers will love it.  PBJ Ages 4 - 8
*Cooper, Ilene and Swiatkowska, Gabi, illustrator, The Golden Rule is a gorgeous, luminous book featuring a boy and his grandfather exploring the golden rule as expressed in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and in Shawnee wisdom.  It explores what living the rule means and how it “begins with you!”  It belongs in every family library and would make a wonderful baby gift.  Thanks to author John Green for suggesting it. PBJ/SF Ages 4 - 8 (2007)
*#Foxlee, Karen, Ophelia and the Magic Boy is set in a museum resembling The Hermitage and Ophelia must save a trapped boy in a modern retelling of “The Snow Queen.”  This resembles Harry Potter blended with From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler. It’s a gem! PBJ Ages 8 – 12 
Maclear, Kyo and Morstad, Julie, illustrator, Julia, Child is as the author says a story that “should be taken with a grain of salt and perhaps even a generous pat of butter.”  Would-be chefs and Francophiles will relish the illustrations and sentiments.  PBJ Ages 5 - 10
*Novak, B.J., The Book with No Pictures, Actor/Comic Novak has penned a book that even boys that “hate to read” will relish.  Having to read ALL the words will make kids and adults roar with laughter.  Pictures would be superfluous in this winner. PBJ Ages 5 - 8
*Offill, Jenny, Sparky, A girl wants a pet.  “As long as it doesn’t have to be walked, bathed, or fed,” says her mother.  So the girl gets a sloth, names it Sparky, and tries to teach it non-sloth behaviors. Yes, a sloth is a sloth but love is love as well. PBJ Ages 3 - 6 
Pinkwater, Daniel & Pinkwater, Jill, illustrator, Big Bob and the Winter Holiday Potato, Skip it! (1999)
*Riordan, Rick, Percy Jackson’s Olympians introduces the Greek gods with Percy Jackson’s wry, humorous narration that will capture his many fans. After reading this they’ll be ready for the D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. A perfect holiday gift for most boys.  PBJ/SN Ages 8 - 12
*Samworth, Kate, Aviary Wonders, Inc., this imaginative look at birds, habitats, and extinct species features phenomenal art and a very clever way of looking at consequences. It won the Kirkus Prize, PBJ/SN Ages 9 – 12 (and adults)
*Tullet, Hervé, Mix it Up! is an evocative blending of colors that mix, splatter, and disappear into a wonderfully imaginative gift. Get out your finger paints and have fun!  PBJ Ages 3 - 5
+Voigt, Cynthia, Mister Max : the Book of Lost Things, Max, a boy in Victorian England, is able to find solutions to peoples’ problems and be independent after his parents disappear. Toss in old-fashioned storytelling without gimmicks and you have the first book in a series both boys and girls will love if they give it a chance. PBJ/PP Ages 8 - 12 (2013)
*Woodson, Jaqueline, Brown Girl Dreaming, the National Book Award winner, is a memoir in free verse. It puts readers into Woodson’s childhood homes and makes them feel her sense of belonging and her “otherness.” Yes, it will teach children about the Civil Rights era but mostly it will make them settle into Woodson’s life and help them dream their own dreams.  I love it so much that I may have it memorized soon. The gorgeous writing makes this a must read for everyone. PBJ/G/SN, BC Ages 10 and up
Diet Coke and Gummi Bears: Books for Teens and Young Adults

+Avasthi, Swati, Split shows that domestic violence can happen in even the “best” homes. When Jace’s dad kicks him out he moves to New Mexico to be with his brother who left six years previously.  But how will they save their mother? SN/DC Ages 14 and up (2010)
*#Avasthi, Swati, Chasing Shadows is a graphic fiction hybrid with a haunting, intense, exhilarating story of grief, friendship and vulnerability set on the south side of Chicago. Hooray for a book set in a realistic multi-cultural and multi-racial setting. DC Ages 14 and up (2013)
*#Bassett, Kate, Words and Their Meanings is the story of Anna, a gifted writer, who has lost her desire to write and to care about living since the death of her uncle who was like a brother and best friend to her. Joe’s been gone a year and it’s time for Anna to reenter the world but can she?  This is a wonder of a story that, like an enchanted confection, inhabits the reader and creates a magical place where joy and grief can both abide. This is a debut author to watch especially for her strong voice. G/DC Ages 14 and up
*Collins, Suzanne, The Hunger Games (2008), Catching Fire (2009) I finally read the first two in this series and I agree with critics that they’re very well written.  DC Ages 12 and up
*Green, John, Looking for Alaska explores the lives of outsider teens at an Alabama boarding school.  Pudge, a new student obsessed with famous last words, meets Alaska Young, a self-named ball of fire who forces Pudge to live life fully. Divided into two parts: Before and After, the novel shows why things can never remain the same.  DC Ages 14 and up (2005)
+Green, John, Paper Towns has authentic characters living the last month of high school in the bubble they know won’t last forever.  Q and Margo are vessels trying to fill each other but is that the way they should live?  Two very funny road trips will make this appeal to male teens. Read it before the movie comes out in June, 2015. DC Ages 14 and up (2008)
*Koertge, Ron, Coaltown Jesus is told in free verse which makes it feel immediate.  Walker and his mother live at the nursing home she owns and manages.  They’re grieving the death of his brother and he can’t fathom “why God took Noah.”  Walker prays for help for his mother and a very irreverent, funny Jesus appears in his room. Regardless of your beliefs, read this book. Don’t think it’s religious drivel; it’s a wry treatise on living.  DC/SF, BC Ages 13 and up (2013)
+Koertge, Ron, Stoner & Spaz, Ben is sixteen, has no parents, and lives with his perfectionist, protective grandmother and his cerebral palsy makes him feel like a hulking monster . Movies are his escape so when Colleen, a tatted druggie from his school, plants herself in a seat next to him in a theatre things change. Colleen teases Ben about his disability and the two begin to question everything they’ve both assumed about life. It’s a winner. DC Ages 13 and up (2002)
*Lockhart, E., We Were Liars is a page turner about a dysfunctional family on the Cape Cod island they own. Cadence and her cousins are “the liars” and it’s hard to distinguish if any of them are telling the truth.  Cadence has migraines and doesn’t recall what happened “that” summer. The riveting, yet haunting, ending is sure to create goose bumps. Adults are devouring this one too. CC/DC, Ages 13 and up
+Perkins, Mitali, Bamboo People tells the story of two Burmese teen boys on opposite sides of the conflict between the Burmese government and the Karenni people. It shows how treatment of ethnic minorities hurts everyone. This would be a great classroom source. DC/SN Ages 12 - 15 (2010)
Roth, Veronica, Divergent, I see why teens love this but the writing didn’t make me want to read the others in the series. DC Ages 13 and up (2011)
+Simukka, Salla, As Red as Blood is reminiscent of the “Dragon Tattoo” books with 17-year-old Lumikki as a tough heroine. Lumikki means Snow White in Finnish. When Lumikki finds blood-stained euros in her school dark room her innocent life changes. This first book in a planned trilogy should appeal to seekers of strong female teen protagonists.  I love her ingenuity. DC Ages 14 and up
*Supetys, Ruta, Out of the Easy features Josie, a French Quarter prostitute’s daughter, hell bent on escaping to Smith College despite the mob targeting her to repay her mother’s debts. This 1950s tale reads like Dickens and celebrates books and reading in a unique way. DC/PP Ages 14 and up (2012)
Van Wagenen, Maya, Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek is a nonfiction memoir detailing 8th grader Maya’s quest to become popular by using advice from a 1951 guide to teen popularity.  Teens, parents, and teachers will enjoy this.  If it had been around when I was 13, my friends and I would have read it aloud over cherry cokes while wondering if pearls might make us more popular than actually practicing kindness. DC Ages 12 – 15.
*Woodson, Jaqueline, Brown Girl Dreaming, see PBJ section for the review. Ages 10 and up
*Yang, Gene Luen, Boxers and Saints are two companion graphic novels that together tell the tale of the 1898 Boxer Rebellion in China. Boxers is from the Chinese point of view and Saints is from that of the foreign missionaries.  Together they speak the truth. DC/SF, BC Ages 12 and up
*Brown, Brené, Daring Greatly is a challenging, yet inspiring, way into becoming who you really are.  Watch Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability and read this to allow yourself to become “enough.” We all need to read this book. SF/SN, BC (2012)
+Brown, Daniel James, Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for God at the 1936 Berlin Olympics weaves the coming-of-age stories of the college boys who rowed and endeavored to win Olympic gold. These scrappy boys, some living in hunger, sacrificed for their goal in a changing world in this compelling tale. I adore Joe. SN, BC (2013)
*Byl, Christine, Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods is a straight-talking, poetic, humorous look at the work of a seasonal “traildog,” a person who clears and maintains trails in remote areas of National Parks.  Byl tells of digging holes, dropping trees, building stairs, moving boulders,  hauling chainsaws on her shoulders, wearing out countless pairs of boots, drinking lots of Pabst Blue Ribbon, consuming 1000s of calories, and crossing streams by slithering along logs on her butt.  Byl, traildog extraordinaire, honors her idols – Willa Cather, Jim Harrison and Thoreau - as she weaves this authentic, gritty, gripping tale. SN
+Daniel, Lillian, When “Spiritual But Not Religious” Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places Even the Church, witty, intelligent anecdotes and logical ideas make this case for church, community, and commitment extremely thought provoking. I hope non-church goers will read it. SF, BC (2013)
*Evans, Rachel Held, Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions, Original title (2012): Evolving in Monkey Town, I love, love, love the preface in which Evans lists several things about herself. “People tell me I exaggerate. I’ve been hurt by Christians. As a Christian, I’ve been hurtful. I’m judgmental of people I think are judgmental. At twenty-seven, I almost always root for the underdog, and sometimes I get the feeling that God does too.” With that I fell down the rabbit hole and adored every minute of her journey.  Read this book! T SF/S, BC
+Evans, Rachel Held, A Year of Biblical Womanhood has a great ending and lots of food for thought in this calendar challenge in which Evans used portraits of Biblical women along with the Proverbs 31 admonishments to embody her twelve principles. It’s honest and refreshing. SF/SN (2013)
*Gawande, Atul, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End is a book everyone needs to read yet the stories Gawande tells make it an engaging and hopeful read. This book should make you think honestly about medical choices and help you ask good questions about independence and what’s truly important to you or someone you love. SN/GPR, BC
Goodman, Matthew, Eighty Days: Nelly Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, Goodman’s editorializing weakens a fascinating tale of the young women’s 1889 journey. Inflated writing made it tedious but the research was exceptional.  OC (2013)
*#Kasischke, Lou, After the Wind tells the story of what really happened on May 10, 1995 on Mount Everest. Learn why Kasischke survived when many others didn’t.  I edited this book so I’m biased but even Kirkus Reviews named it one of the best of the year. SN/SF
*Klinkenborg, Verlyn, The Rural Life is a journal-like rendering of a year in American nature.  Klinkenborg is the E.B. White of our era with his lyrical, yet accessible, renderings of the ordinary.  The best way to read it is to read the chapter for the month during that month thus savoring it over at least a year.  It won’t be efficient but it will enhance appreciation. SN/G (2004)
+LeDuff, Charlie, Detroit: An American Autopsy, we’re probably all going to end up paying for Detroit’s mistakes and if we don’t note the errors, other cities will be on the verge of death too. So what will make us pay attention to this city we’d all like to ignore?  Charlie LeDuff - brash, wild, annoying, and sarcastic - might just have the words to make us care. S/SN, BC (2013)
Reichl, Ruth, Garlic and Sapphires: the Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, the former NY Times Restaurant Critic details her life as a critic and a mother. SN (2005)
*Remen, M.D., Rachel Naomi, My Grandfather’s Blessings, beginning with the idea that we’ve all been given more blessings than we allow ourselves to receive, this book helps you notice them and then become a blessing to others too. Just the ideas from the first chapter led to a spirited discussion in a group I led. This is very strong (and tasty) medicine.  SF/GPR, BC (2000)
*Riess, Jana, The Twible: All the Chapters of the Bible in 140 Characters or Less, when a kid said “The Emperor has no clothes,” everyone’s eyes opened.  When Riess reverently applies irreverence to her shortened chapters of the Bible she illuminates them in a way that’s difficult to ignore. Only someone with her knowledge could hone in so clearly on what each chapter says in so few words. Deuteronomy 18: “Don’t fry up your kids, cast spells, visit astrologers, or talk to the dead.  You’re special, Israel, so straighten up and fly right.”  Pithy summations make the reader ponder and then perhaps even consult the big book itself. SF/S, BC (2013)
*Scott, Ken, Ice Caves of Leelanau: A Visual Exploration, even if you didn’t suffer through the polar vortex winter of 2014, you’ll want this stunning book featuring photographs of the exceptional beauty of the ice in all its manifestations in northern Michigan.  Scott captures the ice’s magnificence and Jerry Dennis’ opening essay along with meteorologist Ernie Ostuno’s image descriptions make this the perfect winter companion. SN/D
*Sides, Hampton, In the Kingdom of Ice is a page-turning retelling of the voyage of the SS. Jeannette in the Arctic waters north of the Bering Strait as they searched for a sea passage to the North Pole.  It puts you on the ship, in the frozen ice, and deep in the darkness of the Arctic winter during the years the voyagers were at sea. Sides shows the remarkable courage and thought that the exhibition commander De Long and his crew exhibited. GPR/SN. BC
+Taylor, Barbara Brown, Learning to Walk in the Dark, God puts out our lights to keep us safe because we are never more in danger of stumbling than when we think we know where we are going says 16th century monk John of the Cross.  Chapters track the phases of the moon, starting and ending with the full moon. Sleep, fear, and living in darkness are the message. SF
+Thorpe, Helen, Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War tells the compelling stories of three Indiana women joining the National Guard before 9/11 then of their serving in Iraq.  The upheaval in their lives and their adjustment after will cause you to ponder.  I’m from Indiana so the inconsistent editing of Indiana details bothered me.  Louisville, KY is NOT south of Evansville, IN, nor is the college in Bloomington called the University of Indiana (She gets it right twice, wrong once).  Still, this is a fine piece of reporting that reads like a good novel.  SN/GPR, BC