Every year an internal debate sparks like fire among literary types. What books were the best of the year? Which were overrated? And, of course, why? Reviewers and contest judges stake their claims early, but our local independent bookstore waits until December to look back on the year's most loved books for adults and children.
"Customers really help us to decide which books stick," says Franny Gustafson, children's book specialist at The Bookworm. "Once they read and love a book that I thought was really special, I know it's on the list."
And so without further adieu ...
"The Marriage Plot," by Jeffrey Eugenides
Are the great love stories of the 19th century dead? Or can there be a new story written for today and alive to the realities of feminism, sexual freedom, prenups and divorce? With devastating wit and an abiding affection for his characters, Jeffrey Eugenides revives the motivating energies of the greatest Victorian novelists, while creating a story so contemporary and fresh that it reads like an intimate journal of our own lives.
"The Paris Wife," by Paula McLain
This brooding novel captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife, Hadley. After setting sail for Paris, these historical characters come to live among a lively and volatile group including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Entertaining and heartbreaking, well researched and well told, this is our favorite historical novel of the year.
"The Tiger's Wife," by Tea Obreht
Intertwining stories are beautifully crafted in this mystical debut novel by 20-something Tea Obreht. What is truth? What is myth? Do memories trick us into explaining the unthinkable? A young physician unfolds the mystery of her beloved grandfather during post civil war in the Balkan region. Obreht depicts history through legends, people through love and memories, place through powerful descriptions. This is a novel for serious readers - it's an extraordinary tale!
Book Club Selection
"The Lotus Eaters," by Tatjana Soli
In the final days of a falling Saigon, three remarkable photographers are brought together under the impossible umbrella of war: Helen Adams, a once-naïve ingenue whose ambition conflicts with her desire; Linh, the mysterious Vietnamese man who loves her, but is torn between conflicting loyalties to his homeland and his heart; and Sam Darrow, a man addicted to the narcotic of violence, to his intoxicating affair with Helen and to the ever-increasing danger of his job. An excellent debut novel - and paperback original - exploring passion, obsession and love.
"Salvage the Bones," by Jesmyn Ward
A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, and the four siblings who make up the central cast of the book are just barely afloat. They've grown up mostly motherless, protecting and nurturing each other when love is scarce. But in the face of an especially historic day - the afternoon Hurrican Katrina makes landfall in rural Mississippi - they must come together in a way that doesn't seem possible. A beautiful and dramatic conclusion resonates long after the last pages. No wonder it's been chosen for the National Book Award in fiction this year.
"Fire Season," by Philip Connors
This first person narrative, a tribute to the natural cycle of forests, moves effortlessly from historical account of wildfire suppression, to stunning musings on the awesome power of nature, to celebration of the simplicity of freedom. This book captures all that is grand about our western landscape.
Book about Books
"Tolstoy and the Purple Chair," by Nina Sankovich
After losing her 46-year-old sister to cancer, this attorney, wife and mother of four sons turns to reading a book a day to honor and connect with her past. Through this journey, she also learns how to grieve, love, forgive and move forward without her sister. Her belief is that books don't take us out of life, but rather into a more fully realized life. This memoir celebrates the power of books, ideas and family. It is beautifully written.
"Unbroken," by Laura Hillenbrand
One of the most extraordinary heroes of the Second World War started out as an incorrigible delinquent. He turned his destructive energy into athleticism, but when war came, the young man became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to a doomed flight, a tiny raft and a drift into the unknown. In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in "Seabiscuit." Telling an unforgettable story of a man's journey into extremity, this true story is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.
"The Destiny of the Republic," by Candice Millard
Just as wonderful as "The River of Doubt," this slice-of-life history tells the little-known story of James A. Garfield, the 20th president of the United States. Who even knew much about Garfield? But after reading this extraordinarily strong narrative about medicine, madness and assassination, you'll never think about history or health care in the same way. Compelling and engrossing!
"Super Natural Everyday," by Heidi Swanson
This chef/author has taken a whole new approach to cooking natural foods and has earned herself a global readership. The seductively flavorful vegetarian recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, treats and drinks are quick to the table but tasty enough to linger over. The recipes are super healthy, naturally delicious and easy enough to recreate everyday. Our favorite cookbook of the year!
"The Night Circus," by Erin Morgenstern
You'll want to listen to this one slowly, to savor it and the magical storytelling by Jim Dale - famed for his performance of the Harry Potter audio books. The author keeps your imagination entwined in the extraordinary lives of competing magicians Celia and Marcus. The world of black-and-white-striped tents of the Cirque des Rêves (Circus of Dreams) is vivid and descriptive, helping any reader escape into a fantasy world - if only on the morning commute!
Nicole Magistro is the co-owner of the Bookworm of Edwards. Email comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.