The Bookworm of Edwards staff chooses best books of 2016 |

The Bookworm of Edwards staff chooses best books of 2016

Daily staff report
Book of the Year: “Homegoing,” by Yaa Gyasi.
Special to the Daily |

While Santa’s list is filled with robots and virtual reality gaming systems, there is still a very basic piece of technology out there that delivers.

“An economical and portable collection of words, transferred to paper and bound between two boards is still an amazing invention,” said Nicole Magistro, owner of The Bookworm of Edwards. “No matter what, books make great gifts.”

And for the 30-plus staff members of the local bookshop and cafe, selecting the best books of the year is an undertaking they get very excited about.

“With widely varied opinions, it’s rare that we all agree on books, but this is the time of year where we come to consensus,” said longtime store manager Christopher Green. “We hotly debate the merits of most books, and so these titles were sifted down from a long list. These are the rare books we can all get behind.”

Book of the Year:

“Homegoing,” by Yaa Gyasi — In this New York Times best-seller, Effia and Esi are born into different villages in 18th century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery.

One thread of “Homegoing” follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of 20th century Harlem, right up through the present day, “Homegoing” makes history visceral and captures how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

Best Genre-Bending Novel:

“Underground Airlines,” by Ben Winters — A gifted young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the U.S. Marshall Service.

He’s got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called “the Hard Four.” On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn’t right — with the case file, with his work and with the country itself. Victor believes he’s hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won’t reveal the extraordinary stakes of Jackdaw’s case.

Victor himself may be the biggest obstacle of all — though his true self remains buried, it threatens to surface. Victor believes himself to be a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he has worked so hard to earn. But in pursuing Jackdaw, Victor discovers secrets at the core of the country’s arrangement with the Hard Four — secrets the government.

Best Family Read Aloud:

“Pax,” by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen — Pax and Peter have been inseparable ever since Peter rescued the fox as a kit. But one day, the unimaginable happens: Peter’s dad enlists in the military and makes him return Pax to the wild. At his grandfather’s house 300 miles away from home, Peter knows he isn’t where he should be — with Pax. He strikes out on his own, despite the encroaching war, spurred by love, loyalty and grief, to be reunited with his fox.

Meanwhile Pax, steadfastly waiting for his boy, embarks on adventures and discoveries of his own. From best-selling and award-winning author Sara Pennypacker comes a novel about the essential truths that define us and the devastating costs of war.

Best Teen Read:

“Salt to the Sea,” by Ruta Sepetys — It’s 1945 in East Prussia. World War II is drawing to a close as Russian forces overtake the Germans, and thousands of refugees are on a frantic trek toward freedom, almost all of them with something to hide.

Among the throngs of people seeking safety are Joana, Emilia and Florian: each one borne of a different homeland, yet equally desperate to escape a life marked by brutality and war. As their paths converge en route to the Wilhelm Gustloff — the former cruise ship that promises each character’s salvation and future just beyond the Baltic Sea — the three are forced by circumstance to unite, and with each step closer toward safety, their strength, courage and trust in each other are tested.

Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, Russian torpedoes strike the massive ship. Neither country, nor culture, nor status matter, as all 10,000 people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival. Most will not make it. Sepetys delivers a work of historical fiction inspired by the real-life tragedy that was the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the single greatest maritime disaster in history.

Best Picture Book:

“What Do You Do With a Problem?,” by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom — From the same author and illustrator as the No. 1 national best-seller “What Do You Do With an Idea?” comes a new book to encourage you to look closely at problems and discover the possibilities they can hold.

This is the story of a persistent problem and the child who isn’t so sure what to make of it. The longer the problem is avoided, the bigger it seems to get. But when the child finally musters up the courage to face it, the problem turns out to be something quite different than it appeared.

Best Book for Active Travelers:

“Epic Bike Rides of the World,” by Lonely Planet — Discover 200 of the best places to ride a bike in this illustrated hardback. From family-friendly, sightseeing urban rides to epic adventures off the beaten track, destinations range from France and Italy, for the world’s great bike races, to the wilds of Mongolia and Patagonia. These journeys will inspire — whether you are an experienced cyclist or just getting started. Each ride is illustrated with photography and a map.

A toolkit of practical details — where to start and finish, how to get there, where to stay and more — helps riders plan their own trips. There are also suggestions for three more similar rides around the world for each story. Each piece shows how cycling is a way to get to know a place, a people and their culture.

Best Cook Book:

“The Love and Lemons Cookbook,” by Jeanine Donofrio — The Love and Lemons blog has taken the internet foodie world by storm with its standout design and recipes. Now, in her highly anticipated debut cookbook, Donofrio celebrates seasonal and impromptu cooking with more than 100 new vegetarian recipes.

Donofrio’s cooking philosophy is that simple combinations can make delicious meals that are easy to put together. Organized by ingredient, “The Love and Lemons Cookbook” will teach you to make beautiful food with what you have on hand, whether it’s a bunch of rainbow-colored heirloom carrots from the farmers market or a four-pound cauliflower that just showed up in your community-support agriculture box.

Best Contemporary Novel:

“Today Will Be Different,” by Maria Semple — Eleanor knows she’s a mess. But today, she will tackle the little things. She will shower and get dressed. She will have her poetry and yoga lessons after dropping off her son, Timby. She won’t swear. She will initiate sex with her husband, Joe.

But before she can put her modest plan into action — life happens. Today, it turns out, is the day Timby has decided to fake sick to weasel his way into his mother’s company. It’s also the day Joe has chosen to tell his office — but not Eleanor — that he’s on vacation. Just when it seems like things can’t go more awry, an encounter with a former colleague produces a graphic memoir whose dramatic tale threatens to reveal a buried family secret.

Best Real Life Adventure:

“Jungle of Stone: The True Story of Two Men, Their Extraordinary Journey and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya,” by William Carlsen — Imagine The Lost City of Z, except the fabled lost jungle civilization really was found — an “Egypt in the Americas” in which 1,500-year-old pyramids and temples were hidden in impenetrable tropical forests, along with evidence of astonishingly sophisticated art, writing, science and culture.

In 1839, when John Lloyd Stephens, a U.S. special ambassador to Central America, and Frederick Catherwood, an acclaimed British architect and draftsman, set out into the unexplored jungles of the Yucatan, Charles Darwin was aboard the H.M.S. Beagle, the Bible was the basic template of history and most people believed the world was less than 6,000 years old.

Deep in the jungles, they stumbled upon the ruins of the Mayan civilization — an astonishing find that would change western understanding of human history. In “Jungle of Stone,” Carlsen uncovers the history of the ruins as he follows Stephens and Catherwood’s journey through present-day Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. Drawing upon Stephens’ journals and Cather’s illustrations, Carlsen tells the story of two great voyagers and the world they discovered.

Best Historical Narrative:

“Hero of the Empire,” by Candice Millard — At age 24, Winston Churchill was utterly convinced it was his destiny to become prime minister of England one day, despite the fact he had just lost his first election campaign for Parliament. He believed that to achieve his goal he must do something spectacular on the battlefield.

Despite deliberately putting himself in extreme danger as a British Army officer in colonial wars in India and Sudan and as a journalist covering a Cuban uprising against the Spanish, glory and fame had eluded him. Churchill arrived in South Africa in 1899 to cover the brutal Colonial war the British were fighting with Boer rebels. But two weeks after his arrival, the soldiers he was accompanying on an armored train were ambushed, and Churchill was taken prisoner.

Remarkably, he pulled off a daring escape and then had to traverse hundreds of miles of enemy territory. Millard spins an epic story of bravery, savagery and chance. But “Hero of the Empire” is more than an adventure story, for the lessons Churchill took from the Boer War would profoundly affect 20th century history.

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