Favorite books of the year- 2014

As Joe and I trekked up to his parents’ house in Normal, IL with both kids in tow, we started talking about books. I know, what are the odds that two people who own a bookshop would start talking about books?

At the end of the year we usually tally up how many books we’ve read (Joe keeps a page count as well, which I find slightly insane and charming all wrapped up together). This year we each had a couple of books stand out for us.

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On Joe’s list:
1. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan
This is what happens if you cross Douglas Coupland with Neal Stephenson. A recently unemployed web designer falls back on his first love (books) when he notices a help wanted sign in a very unusual bookstore in San Francisco. Discovering a puzzle hidden in the mysterious volumes of the store’s tall stacks, he creates a program to solve it, only to find greater puzzles waiting. A great read for people who love both books and technology, but love books more.

2. The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje
Traveling by ship from Ceylon to England, a boy falls in with a motley assortment of passengers: two other boys his own age, a slightly seedy pianist, a gardener of exotic plants, and others. The narrator looks back at his 1950s self with a mix of wonder, nostalgia, and regret as he ponders the effects of this voyage on the lives of his friends. This novel is Ondaatje at his best, blending colorful characters, stories within stories, and lyrical but economic prose to rebuild a magical time and place.

3. Blythewood, by Carol Goodman
In Blythewood, author Carol Goodman revisits New York’s Hudson Valley, the setting of many of her adult novels, in her first YA/teen fantasy. In 1911, a young garment worker named Avaline Hall discovers there is more to her world than she knows – just as she is plucked from her hardscrabble life by her wealthy grandmother, she finds a world of wonder and danger at Blythewood, a boarding school that trains young women to defend humanity from dark and fantastic creatures. Blending real world events (the Triangle fire) with fairy tales come to life, Goodman builds a compelling story perfect for fans of Libba Bray.

And for Kelsey (me):
1. Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
Set in 1986, this is the story of two teens who bond over music and comic books while riding the bus to school every morning. Eleanor has fiery red hair and dresses in old hand-me-down clothes. Park, half Korean & half white, dresses in black and loves punk music. Eleanor is different, and Park is both nervous for her and intrigued by her. Park is different, and Eleanor is drawn to his inner confidence and charmed by his “normal” family.
I thought the writing was good- particularly the back-and-forth repartee between the two, as well as Eleanor’s interior monologue. The heavier plot lines regarding abuse and poverty were handled beautifully. I really loved this book!

2. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Theo Decker recounts his life story – including how he managed to steal, or rescue, a famous painting during a terrorist attack on a museum. The writing is wonderful, with the turns of phrase that only Donna Tartt can pull off. I love stories that bring in many different elements that seem random but then are brought back and essentially become the most important parts of the plot.

3. The Weight of Blood, by Laura McHugh
Written by a local (Columbia, Mo) author, this eerie crime novel takes place in the Ozark mountains. Lucy Dane is grappling with the murder of her friend, another high schooler in their small town.  As Lucy begins to uncover the grisly truth about her town, friends, and family, the truth about her mother’s disappearance 16 years before is revealed.  This book reminded me of Tana French & Gillian Flynn’s stories, in which the history of the characters becomes just as important as the current storyline.  It reminds us that our past experiences are never fully dealt with, but come back for us to search through as new situations trigger their echoes.

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