BookPage Releases Top 50 Books of 2013


No visit to the library is complete without first picking up your complimentary copy of BookPage. Each month, this publication is packed with reviews, book news, and interviews from your favorite authors.

The December issue is always highly anticipated not only for their great gift ideas, but also for their editors’ picks of Best Books of the Year.

Here are a few of the highlights:






So, how many on the list have you read?   Did your favorite books make the cut?  See the complete list of the 50 Best Books of the Year and let us know. What were your favorite books of the year?

Archery Catching Fire Among Young Girls

I was struck this morning by a fascinating report on NPR about how the success of the Hunger Games book trilogy and movies have breathed new life into an old sport – Archery.

Girls as young as seven are discovering that bows aren’t just something you wear in your hair.  Suppliers are even having a difficult time keeping traditional recurve bows, like the one used by heroine Katniss Everdeen, in stock.

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

Following in the footsteps of Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen, who’s fiercely talented with a bow and arrow, is one reason Y’Jazzmin came through the door here this fall.

Her mom, Alicia Christopher, says positive reinforcement has kept her daughter coming back. Y’Jazzmin competed in her first tournament earlier this month.

“Watching the way that she’s developed confidence in what she’s doing — she’s very confident,” Alicia says. “She used to be a really shy person, but now she’s opening socially.”

Isn’t that wonderful?  Amazing, how reading a simple story can lead you to try something new and ultimately give you more confidence.  I’ve tried to think back if a character ever impacted me like that as a girl.  There was no one quite like Katniss Everdeen when I was growing up, but I was drawn to independent and strong female characters.  Anne (with an e) Shirley, heroine of L.M. Montgomery’s wonderful Anne of Green Gables series was a real “kindred spirit” and I was sure that if we ever met we would become “bosom friends”.    Anne taught me that mistakes don’t define you because “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it…yet.” She also left me with a lifelong fascination with Prince Edward Island and a secret desire for red hair.

What about you?  What books or characters have impacted you either as a child or an adult?  Who are your literary heroes and heroines?  

Have you ever been so enthralled with a character or book that you learned a new skill or traveled to a new place?  Did reading Wild motivate you to take up hiking?  Did A Year in Provence inspire you to live abroad?  Did Julie and Julia encourage you to start cooking?  Does reading this blog post make you want to share your story?  Please share them in the comments section below. I would love to hear your stories!

Hunger Games Trilogy:



The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

 Years after surviving a brutal attack while riding her bicycle in college, Laurel Estabrook retreats into a world that includes only a few trusted friends, her swimming routine, and the familiarity of her work at a homeless shelter.

When a former patron of the shelter named Bobbie Crocker dies leaving behind a box of negatives, Laurel is charged with the task of developing the film and creating an inventory for a show to benefit the shelter.

Laurel, an amateur photographer herself, recognizes at once the quality of the work and the prominence of the subjects. Who was this man who photographed everyone from presidents to movie stars? How did he end up homeless? Laurel soon becomes obsessed with finding the answers to these questions.

Among the box of negatives are a few old family snapshots taken in front of a home, which Laurel feels sure she recognizes as a place she used to go swimming as a girl. Could this man, Bobbie Crocker, actually be the prodigal son of the wealthy Buchannan family? And to what lengths might they go to protect the family name from embarrassment?

As Laurel begins to develop the film, she is startled to discover several shots of a woman resembling herself riding a bicycle through the woods. She recognizes the trail as the scene of her attack and begins to wonder if she might be the woman in the photographs. Why was Bobbie Crocker taking pictures of her? What is this man’s connection to her?

Her quest for answers will ultimately bring her face to face again with one of her attackers. But is she ready to face the truth of what happened to her all those years ago?

Christopher Bohjalian crafts a novel that is at once suspenseful and introspective. The characters are all fully realized and completely believable. Readers will also be delighted and intrigued by the many references to people, places and events of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Several revelations made towards the end of the story may change your perception of characters and events. So much so, that you may not be able to resist the urge to read it again in a new light. An excellent choice for book clubs, and readers who appreciate complex characters.

Other books by Chris Bohjalian:

  • The Light in the Ruins
  • The Sandcastle Girls
  • The Night Strangers
  • Secrets of Eden
  • Skeletons at the Feast
  • Before You Know Kindness
  • The Buffalo Soldier
  • Midwives
  • The Law of Similars
  • Trans-Sister Radio
  • Water Witches
  • Past the Bleachers

National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Longlist Announced

2011_nbafinalist_medalThis year, for the first time, the National Book Foundation is announcing longlists of 10 books in each of its award categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry and Young People’s Literature. Monday’s announcement was the Young People’s Literature Longlist and as a young adult librarian currently and a youth services librarian previously, this is the list that most interested me personally. For the last few years, the Young People’s Literature Shortlists have skewed heavily towards young adult literature rather than children’s literature, but this year’s Longlist looks like it has a pretty good balance. The only one I’ve read so far is The Summer Prince which I adored, so I’m looking forward to reading the rest. The Algonquin Area Public Library either owns or has most of these on order, so stop on in to check them out or to place a hold! Let us know in the comments if there’s any of these you’re excited to see on the list or a favorite author you think was overlooked. Plus, what do you want to see make the 5 book shortlist?

The 2013 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature Longlist

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelttruebluescouts

Kathi Appelt’s first novel, The Underneath took home a Newbery Honor and with her return to a swamp setting, I’m not surprised to see this latest effort make the longlist.


Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillofloraulysses

Kate DiCamillo isn’t the most prolific author out there, but she’s already racked up quite the list of awards including a Newbery Honor, a National Book Shortlist, a Geisel Honor, A Geisel Medal, and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction. Release date for this one is September 24th.

tangleofknotsA Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

Most of Lisa Graff’s previous books have been solidly mid-list crowd pleasers, well received by children, but ignored by award committees. It’s nice to see her get some awards recognition!

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnsonsummerprince

See my previous post for more details about my love for this one. Part of what’s so impressive to me is that this is Johnson’s first novel specifically for the young adult market, but she manages to capture the feel of being on the cusp of adulthood brilliantly.

thingaboutluckThe Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

Kadohata’s first book for children won the Newbery Medal and The Thing About Luck has been getting uniformly wonderful reviews, so no surprise to see this one make the cut.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithantwoboyskissing

The reviews on this latest David Levithan title have been mixed, but since I loved Boy Meets Boy I’m looking forward to reading this one when it comes in although it sounds like it’s got a very different tone.

farfarawayFar Far Away by Tom McNeal

Another title that’s been getting fantastic reviews, Far Far Away has an intriguing concept: Jeremy Johnson Johnson can communicate with the ghost of Jacob Grimm and soon finds himself at the center of a string of disappearances in town.


Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoffpicturemegone

Meg Rosoff won the Printz Award for her debut novel how i live now back in 2005 (the movie adaptation will be out this November) and while responses to her works have been varied since then, this one has been getting some good buzz. Picture Me Gone is due out October 3rd, so place your holds now!

realboyThe Real Boy by Anne Ursu

Ursu’s last novel Breadcrumbs got quite a bit of Newbery buzz although it had its detractors. I liked it, but thought it had some issues. With The Real Boy (due out September 24th) Ursu returns to fantasy but this time focuses on a main character that some have identified as being on the autism spectrum – an interesting twist that the National Book Award jury seems to feel pays off.

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yangboxers

It’s interesting that the jury chose to name this as one book since it’s published in two volumes. Yang’s graphic novels explore the Boxer Rebellion in China from both sides of the conflict. In Boxers we follow Little Bao who leads the rebellion. In Saints we see things from the viewpoint of Vibiana, one of the Chinese Christians persecuted by the rebellion. saintsYang takes historical fiction and adds touches of magical realism. This is the one title our library doesn’t own so feel free to place a hold and we’ll request it from another library!


The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Before I get into the meat of my first post here at our Reading Corner, let me introduce myself! I’m Jen Jazwinski, also known as Ms. Jen by some of our younger patrons, and I’m the Young Adult Librarian here at the Algonquin Area Public Library. My focus is on working with teens and young adults and you’ll see me at the Adult Reference Desk sometimes. I love to read young adult and children’s literature, but I also love almost anything genre – particularly regency romances, mysteries, paranormals and fantasy. Two things my favorite books almost always have are at least a little humor and some well defined female characters. I’m starting off here with a young adult book published this year that I absolutely adored – on to The Summer Prince!

June Costa is 18 years old and obsessed with becoming the best artist in Palmares Três – a pyramid city in what used to be Brazil before the Y Plague wiped out 70 percent of the male population, before the dirty bombs, before the nuclear wars and the freezing and the southern migrations. Older women called Aunties rule in Palmares Três. After all, look what male rulers did to the world. Palmares Três has a King only once every five years. At the end of a king year, the king is sacrificed and with his dying breath names the new Queen with word or gesture in a ritual that has lasted for hundreds of years. This year’s Summer King is Enki – Enki who is only 18 years old, Enki whose skin is darker than the gene modifications are supposed to allow, Enki from the verde – the lowest level of the pyramid city, Enki who June and her best friend Gil adore from afar until they actually meet and sparks fly. By the time Enki, June, and Gil are done, they and Palmares Três will never be the same.

To understand the world of Palmares Três takes work, but it’s well worth it. Johnson naturally reveals clues to how society has recreated itself following apocalyptic events through June’s thoughts and feelings as she starts to better understand her place in her city. Palmares Três has a vibrant culture with roots in Brazil, Africa, Japan, Catholicism, and Candomblé and the evolution of language as depicted here plays with all those cultures – verde for the algae infested lower pyramid tiers, kiri for assisted suicide, waka for the young people, grande for the older people. Johnson manages to convey all this without info dumps and still keeps June’s character as a privileged Tier 8 teenager consistent. June is far from perfect – easily caught up in how she’s perceived, particularly as an artist, constantly faltering from her ideals, resentful of her mother and her mother’s new wife, but June’s also open to new ideas, a thoughtful artist, brave and intelligent – even if she’s almost always a step behind Enki and the Aunties.

Like all the best science fiction, Johnson tackles big ideas and sticky issues. Johnson extrapolates on how society as a whole might change with certain advances. For example, what would it look like if lives were extended so that people could live for 200 years? Adulthood might come later and teenagers might be feared and controlled even more than they are now. Assisted suicide might become an accepted choice for those who feel they cannot continue their lives through such a span. Johnson also tackles issues we face today such as how big a role technology should play in our lives. Should the government be in control of how much and what kinds of technology are available? When does technology become detrimental to life? When does using outdated technology become unacceptably dangerous? Johnson ably presents multiple viewpoints, showing that while technology is one type of tool, neither good nor evil, it is a dangerously powerful tool that can be used in service to both.

What’s amazing is that these are only a fraction of the topics Johnson explores – there’s also the power of art and music, the myth of matriarchal societies automatically being altruistic, and socioeconomic justice. All while giving us characters that are true to life and easy to sympathize with even when their actions are reprehensible. All while keeping track of a plot that twists and turns. All from a debut novelist. So, yeah – I loved this book – and I hope someone else out there has read it, because I’d love to talk with you about these meaty themes and what you think is next for June and Alaya Dawn Johnson!

If The Summer Prince sounds fantastic to you, here’s a couple other titles to check out:

Feed by M.T. Anderson

feed“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.” So begins M.T. Anderson’s futuristic story of consumerist teens with computer feeds directly wired into their brains. Bombarded with information and commercials every second of the day, Titus lives for his feed. Then he meets Violet who wants to fight the feed and everything changes.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

shipbreakerCopper wiring, aluminum, nickel, even steel clips and tiny staples – this is the “treasure” Nailer’s light scavenge crew sweats and scrapes to retrieve from the hulking wrecks of tanker ships. Ship breaking is a hard life, the crew face possible death or permanent injury every day, but it puts at least a meager amount of food in their mouths. Nailer hates scavenge work and avoids his druggie father, but he gets by as best he can even as he worries about what he’ll do when he gets too big for the tight spaces that hold the best scavenge. Everyone dreams of the lucky strike that might take them to the top of the ship breaking heap or even away from the destroyed beachfront, but lucky strikes are one in a million. Then, after a hurricane, Nailer finds the fanciest storm-wrecked ship he’s ever seen – days before anyone else knows it exists. With scavenge from this lucky strike he could be set for life. Only one thing stands in his way: Nita – the one survivor of the shipwreck – a swank, beautiful girl. Inspired by real Bangladeshi ship breakers, Bacigalupi has created a fascinating, near-future world devastatingly changed by technology and ecology in ways that seem quite possible.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

readyplayeroneWade Watts spends as much time as possible in the virtual world of the OASIS, and he spends a lot of that time trying to figure out the puzzle that Halliday, creator of the OASIS left behind. Whoever solves that puzzle will be given control of OASIS and since most of the world spends it’s time there, that control will equal enormous power. When Wade stumbles across the first challenge, it’s not long before competitors the world over are after him – including a nefarious corporation – and the race is on. Steeped in the culture of the 1980s, Ready Player One is a particularly fun listen with narration from Wil Wheaton.

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
smekdayA story of the alien invasion that focuses on Gratuity “Tip” Tucci and renegade Boov mechanic J.Lo and their road trip across the U.S., The True Meaning of Smekday made me laugh more than any other science fiction story I’ve read while still making me think. The hardest part is trying to decide whether to recommend the book with it’s hilarious illustrations or the audiobook with masterful narration from Bahni Turpin – in the end, I say grab both and flip back and forth as needed!

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Just finished reading the first book in the Maisie Dobbs mystery series by Jacqueline Winspear. Fans of well-written historical fiction and mysteries featuring intelligent women are sure to enjoy following the exploits of M. Dobbs, Psychologist and Investigator.

A significant portion of this first book in the series is devoted to Maisie's backstory. After her mother dies, young Maisie is sent to work for the Comptons as an undermaid. Fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy reading about her life "below the stairs" in this well-to-do household. There's even a loyal butler named Carter who bears a striking resemblance to a certain butler in service to Lord Grantham.

When Maisie is caught reading in library one night, Lady Rowan, the liberal-minded lady of the house, encourages her to continue her education. Enlisting the help of Maurice Blanche, who becomes Maisie's tutor and mentor, Lady Rowan helps Maisie gain admittance to the prestigious Girton College at Cambridge.

Unfortunately, her academic pursuits are cut short by the outbreak of World War I. Maisie does her part by volunteering as a V.A.D. nurse with the Red Cross and is ultimately sent to tend to the wounded on the battlefields of war-torn France. During that time, Maisie experiences love and loss on a deeply personal level, the memories of which she keeps carefully buried.

Years later, Maisie's past catches up to her while working her first case as a private investigator. During the course of a routine investigation, she comes across a curious set of cemetery markers that share a troubling connection - the lack of a surname. The trail leads to a home for battle scarred veterans called The Retreat, but is this respite from the world all it's cracked up to be? Her quest to learn the truth stirs up painful memories from the war. Solving the case will mean confronting her own demons, but is she brave enough to face the truth after all these years?

More than just another cozy mystery series, Maisie Dobbs explores issues of class, gender, love and loss following the wake of World War I.

Maisie Dobbs is available to check out in multiple formats including print, audio CDe-book, or e-audiobook.

Maisie Dobbs Series:

1. Maisie Dobbs
2. Birds of a Feather
3. Pardonable Lies
4. Messenger of Truth
5. An Incomplete Revenge
6. Among the Mad
7. The Mapping of Love and Death
8. A Lesson in Secrets
9. Elegy for Eddie
10. Leaving Everything Most Loved

If you enjoyed the Maisie Dobbs series, here are some other titles that may interest you:

Jade del Cameron Mystery Series by Suzanne Arruda

Like Maisie, Jade del Cameron, heroine of this outstanding historical mystery series, sees the horrors of war first hand as an ambulance driver in the Great War. Her promise to a dying soldier leads her to colonial Africa, where she quickly becomes entangled in a murder investigation where supernatural forces appear to be at work.  Mark of the Lion is the first title in a series of six books to date.


Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries (featuring Harriet Vane) by Dorothy Sayers

Fans of Maisie Dobbs, the bluestalking, will fall in love with Harriet Vane.  Harriet is a well-educated and highly intelligent mystery writer who finds herself on trial when her former lover is murdered by the very method she is researching for her next book.  Lord Peter Wimsey is the debonair "gentleman detective" intent on proving her innocence.  Strong Poison is the fifth book in the Lord Peter Wimsey series, and the first one in which we are introduced to Harriet Vane.  Other books in the series featuring Harriet include Have His CarcaseGaudy Night, and Busman's Honeymoon.


Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

If you were drawn to Maisie Dobbs by the historical backdrop of the Great War, you may also relish the historical detail of this multi-layered novel about a British officer's love affair with a French woman during World War II.  Faulks writes in heartbreaking prose about the horrors of war and the toll it takes on the body and soul.



Atonement by Ian McEwan

Another wonderful and well-written historical novel set in wartime England is Ian McEwan's Atonement.  While this novel is set years later, during World War II, readers will recognize similarities between Maisie and Robbie Turner. Both walk a fine line between the social classes. Robbie, whose mother is a housekeeper for the Tallis family, grows up as "almost" one of the family.  His Cambridge education is even financed by the family.  Yet he is never truly one of them.  Readers drawn to Maisie's background as a VAD nurse, will also follow Briony Tallis' career as a war-time nurse with interest.  Richly detailed and beautifully written, this is one of my favorite novels. Be prepared, though, for your heart to break.  There's nothing "cozy" about this book.

The Golem & the Jinni

Cultures collide when two mythical creatures from different traditions meet in turn of the century New York City. Chava, a golem whose master dies aboard ship to America, arrives at Ellis Island uncertain of her purpose and path. A sympathetic rabbi recognizes her for what she is and helps her adapt and fit in to the Jewish community. Chava longs to be useful and obediently follows the rabbi’s advice, careful always not to draw too much attention to herself, lest she be recognized and destroyed. She constantly wrestles to keep her true nature in check, afraid she will endanger the people she cares about.

The jinni, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. Ahmad, who has been trapped in a bottle for thousands of years, cares only for himself and satisfying his own desires. He craves his own freedom and pleasure, just as Chava desires only to please others. Those are their natures. When the two cross paths, they are equally critical of each other and their choices. Yet, the two forge a tentative friendship that cuts across the social and religious boundaries constraining their human counterparts. As it turns out, Chava and Ahmad have more in common than they realize. They are linked by a powerful enemy who threatens to destroy everything they are and all that they have become. Can Chava and Ahmad overcome their natures to save themselves and each other?

Although slow-moving at times, this historical fantasy is richly detailed with well-developed and interesting characters. Book clubs looking for something a little bit different will find plenty to discuss and explore here. The recurring themes of free-will and identity should spark a lot of interesting discussion.

The Golem and the Jinni is available to check out in print, or to download as an audiobook to your computer or smartphone. Look for e-book availability coming soon!

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

“It had only to do with how it felt to be in the wild.  With what it was like to walk for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, mountains and deserts, streams and rocks, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. ”
— Cheryl Strayed

I recently finished listening to Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, at the recommendation of fellow librarian, Claire Matthews.

This engaging memoir chronicles the author’s brave and some might say reckless decision to hike 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert to the state of Washington by herself.  With no real long-distance hiking experience, Strayed embarks upon a life changing journey along one of the most scenic and challenging trails in the United States.  Weighed down by an enormous pack of supplies (she even has a foldable saw!), nothing could prepare her for the actual reality of hiking the PCT.  Strayed encounters wildlife, extreme weather, intense hunger and dangerous thirst, as well as a cast of vividly depicted characters she meets along the way.

Much more than a travel memoir, Wild is the story of a young woman whose life is spiraling out of control following the tragic and unexpected death of her mother from lung cancer.  Seemingly determined to ruin her life and her marriage, she engages in high risk behaviors including a string of one-night stands with strangers and a dangerous flirtation with heroin. Following her inevitable divorce from Paul, who by all accounts appears to be the most patient and understanding man in the world, Strayed is determined to get her life back. Hiking the PCT is the first step of a long journey back to her true self.

“I had to change was the thought that drove me in those months of planning.  Not into a different person, but back to the person I used to be – strong and responsible, clear-eyed and driven, ethical and good.  And the PCT would make me that way.  There, I’d walk and think about my entire life.  I’d find my strength again, far from everything that had made my life ridiculous.”

Strayed writes with breathtaking honesty about her own mistakes, her sense of guilt, and the unquenchable grief she feels at the loss of her mother.   Wild is inspiring, funny, sad, cathartic, and well written.  Readers will enjoy taking this journey with Strayed; perhaps even being inspired themselves to invest in a good pair of hiking boots and a bottle of Snapple lemonade.

Wild is available in multiple formats from the Library including regular print, CD audio, eBook, and downloadable audiobook.

Book Trailer