Friday, May 15, 2015


Well, it is a banner year when I get my year end booklist up here by June first... Here are the books I loved in 2014 - MY BELOVED 5-STARS!

Now, I pretty much love everything I read because I don't keep reading if I don't like it. But these are the ones that I couldn't put down. And they are listed in chronological order. Not that it matters...

THE DAYS OF ANNA MADRIGAL by Armistead Maupin – This was a no brainer. While I didn't love the penultimate TALES OF THE CITY book, MARYANN IN AUTUMN, I did adore this flashback-laden look at Mrs. Madrigals youth as a boy growing up in a Nevada bordello as well as the way the former residents of Barbary Lane and their partners, friends, and children surrounded her at the end of her days. A perfect ending for a beloved series. [fiction]

MARCH by John Lewis – This graphic novel about Lewis' part in the Civil Rights Movement was very moving. The graphics were simple and evocative and the text was linear and strong. It had a great combination of humor and drama. [YA graphic memoir]

A LITTLE PRINCESS by Frances Hodgson Burnett – The story of Sara Crewe and her transformation from poor little rich girl to rich little poor girl is worth rereading every year! [children's book - reread]

MAYBE ONE DAY by Melissa Kantor – What looked at first glance like a teens with cancer weeper turned out to be a wonderful blend of dreams shattered and the power of friendship. Two best friends are asked to leave their dance academy – one vows to never dance again, the other goes on to teach dance to underprivileged kids. One of them gets cancer. [YA - reviewed for VOYA]

CHARM & STRANGE by Stephanie Kuehn – This is a BLEAK look at a kid who thinks he might be a werewolf. Which is why I refused to read it for so long. Sounds dumb as hell. It is so much more than that. And it will knock you right down. It is really stunning in both a good and a bad way. [YA]

THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE by Leila Sales – A girl who is bullied finds solace in DJ-ing at a local unlicensed club. The character is oddly appealing, the writing is stunning and the story is much more interesting than it appears at first. [YA]

IS EVERYONE HANGING OUT WITHOUT ME by Mindy Kaling – Mindy's autobiograpy/guide to life is just a hoot. It was a summer reading option this year and was quite popular. [memoir]

MR.PENUMBRA'S 24 HOUR BOOKSTORE by Robin Sloan – Is a story about, well, you can probably tell from the title. I didn't love it at first, but I had taken it out of the library and a previous borrower had written snarky comments about the quality of the writing in the margins, in a polite, light pencil, but still... The notes were enough to keep me reading until I fell in love. It was a nice, twisty, techie caper that was just a little magical. [novel]

ATTACHMENTS by Rainbow Rowell – I love this little slice of office life, female friendship and benign stalking. [novel - reread]

HUMAN.4 by Mike A. Lancaster – This was an odd little scifi book involving mind control in the digital age and the comfort of cassette tapes. Freaky, weird and very compelling. [YA]

CAN'T WE TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE PLEASANT by Roz Chast – This book got great press this year. I think of Chast as kind of emotionally distant and she didn't go obviously for the heartstrings in this story of her parents' final years, but she got them just the same. [graphic memoir]

ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell – This is such a beautiful book. I adored both of these 1990s Omaha kids in love. [YA reread]

THUNDERSTRUCK by Elizabeth McCracken – Holy smokes! McCracken wrote one of my all time favorite novels – THE GIANT'S HOUSE and only for her would I read a collection of short stories. I was amply rewarded. These are crazy good, some touching, many creepy and twisty. [short stories]

WE WERE LIARS by E. Lockhart – Lockhart steps away from her usual sharp humor to explore some bleak family dynamics at a family's summer island compound. [YA]

CHEAP SHOT [A Spenser Mystery] by Ace Atkins – I have always been one of the people to mock those who write “from beyond the grave” like V.C. Andrews, but I have to say that the folks who are still churning out the late, great Robert B. Parker's detective novels are doing it right. They hired Atkins who has a great grasp of Parker's dialogue and action heavy style. All the mysteries smush together in my head, of course, but they are still a lot of fun to read. [mystery]

84 CHARING CROSS ROAD by Helene Hanff – I am a sucker for epistolary novels and this is a favorite that I reread nearly every year. Helene Hanff was a television writer in New York whose thirst for obscure classic literature led to a pen-pal-like relationship with the manager of a London bookshop in the years after WWII. Her sharp wit and brass bumps up against his amused reserve in the best possible way. [fiction - reread]

JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta – A friend has been touting the genius of this book since it won the Printz in 2009, but I could never get past page 20 or so. Well, I decided that if I taught it, I would have to read it so I assigned it for my YA class and dug in. It is simply amazing. It is beautifully written and falls together perfectly. [YA]

OPEN ROAD SUMMER by Emery Lord – If ever a novel cried out to be on the summer reading list, it is this one. Basically, imagine you are Taylor Swift's best friend back when she was 17 or so and you go on tour with her and fall in love with a cute guy who understands you and the reason for the walls you have put up to keep people at bay. Sure, it is a little predictable, but it is also adorable! [YA]

THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS and THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Patterson – I realized this summer that I had never read any Katherine Patterson and chose to remedy this. I now understand why everyone gasped in horror when I said I had never read any Katherine Patterson! She is stunning. I regret that I didn't read these as a kid. I wonder if they would have been as heart-wrenching back then. [children's books]

THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir – “It is a great story and the science is so realistic!” is how this book was described to me. So of course I had no interest in reading it. But I always need science-y books for the SR list so I dove in. It was just fantastic! Mark Watney is a botanist/engineer who is left for dead during a mission on Mars. He has to survive until the next mission shows up in 4 years. Oh, and no one knows he is still alive. [science fiction]

ONE PLUS ONE by Jojo Moyes – A destitute family does everything it can to get the youngest daughter to a math meet. It involves roping a repressed millionaire into driving across England. It is funny and touching even (surprise!) romantic. [fiction]

THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger – The first chapter of this book us my go-to when I just want to practically weep with happiness. Funny, because the rest of the book can be depressing as all get-out. Still, this is one that I go back to again and again for the swoony love story and the cleverly patchy chronology. [fiction – reread]

ZAC & MIA by AJ Betts – It's no THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, but this Australian “kids with cancer” story is compelling in its own way. Peppered with “of the moment' online references, it is hard to say if this will last, but the experiences of two very different teens dealing with cancer is much rougher around the edges than I expected. And I mean that in a good way. [YA]

LUCKY US by Amy Bloom – Amy Bloom is so odd. I loved the way this story slithered around itself and the way that it kind of clicked together at the end. Her writing is so good and while the characters don't end up feeling like friends (or even better, like I am living their life through the book) it still works as a picture of a family navigating through some bizarre events in the middle third of the 20th century. [fiction]

LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell – Just to be clear, this is the worst thing that Rainbow Rowell has ever published. That being said, I still loved it! The story of a 30-something comedy writer and her marital troubles drags a bit and you will need to suspend a pretty significant amount of disbelief, but it is a lot of fun and I couldn't put it down. [fiction]

WHILE BEAUTY SLEPT by Elizabeth Blackwell – A retelling of The Sleeping Beauty, this is a rich, detailed and suspenseful story that pulls the magical aspect back into the real world with magnificent results. [fiction]

ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes – To say that I enjoyed this would be a lie, but I was compelled to read it and it was perfectly put together. It is the story of a underperforming young woman who gets a job as a caregiver to a recently paralyzed entrepreneur. [fiction]

SAY WHAT YOU WILL by Cammie McGovern – When a young man with a secret disability begins a volunteer project as a companion to a seriously physically disabled girl, both of their lives change. I loved the way that the book allowed you to hear Amy's inner life without being cloying. [YA]

MORE ALL OF A KIND FAMILY by Sydney Taylor – Five Jewish sisters growing up on the upper east side of New York at the turn of the century are the cast in an adorable series of books just rereleased by Lizzie Skurnick Publications after years out of print. [children's book – reread]

STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. James Mandel – A medetation on the beauty of the human experience set in pre- and post-apocalypse Toronto, LA and Great Lakes region featuring a present day paramedic, a movie star and an itinerant actress traveling through a landscape ravaged by plague. [fiction]

IN THE WOODS by Tana French – The murder of a young girl in a Dublin suburb harkens back to the disappeareance of some other children 20 years eariler in this compelling mystery. [mystery]

HEAVEN TO BETSY, BETSY IN SPITE OF HERSELF, BETSY WAS A JUNIOR, BETSY AND JOE, BETSY AND THE GREAT WORLD and BETSY'S WEDDING - by Maud Hart Lovelace – These are my favorites from way back and it is a rare year when I don't reread at least a few of them. This year I went hog wild and read them all over again! [YA, before YA was cool!]

THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. VICKERY by Gabrielle Zevin – A.J. is a widower who finds a toddler in his bookstore and decides to raise her himself. The heartwarming and often very funny story is interspersed with his reviews of short stories. This inspired me to read all those short stories too, so thanks, Zevin! [fiction]

MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME edited by Stephanie Perkins – This collection of holiday themed short stories was incredibly varied and just the perfect thing to read over Christmas vacation! [YA]

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