Friday, January 08, 2016

Best of 2015 from among 154

A selection of the many items [old and new] enjoyed by Burbank Public Library staff during 2015, recommended for your consideration:

Reviewed by Melissa E.,
Teen Librarian

Last year, according to Goodreads, I read 145 books, so this year I decided to up the ante and set a goal of 156. (I came up two books short, as you can tell from the title of this blog post.) I had, therefore, many books from which to choose for my year's "best of," and understandably found it hard to pick just one. Here, therefore, are my top books of the year, in order of when I read them. Some are teen books, but I only selected those I felt would also be great reads for adults.

Rot and Ruin, by Jonathan Maberry (YA)

I didn't expect to like this book; when teen book club nominated it, I thought Oh no, zombies. But it was interesting and well written, and not really about the zombies but rather about the humans who were hyper-focused on the zombies. It dealt with the fact that the zombies were formerly humans who were special people to someone, and went into morals and values regarding treatment (and disposal) of zombies. It was also about fancy fighting tricks and sibling relationships and even included a little romance. You can find the entire series in the Young Adult section.

The Girl You Left Behind, by JoJo Moyes
(adult historical fiction)

What an engaging, absorbing tale this was. Sometimes I really dislike books that jump back and forth between two time periods, but this one did it just right, and in such a satisfying juxtaposition tied together by the portrait of Sophie. The historical portion, of a portrait and a person surviving German occupation in World War I, perfectly balanced the contemporary story of the woman who has come to depend on the portrait as the repository of all her precious memories.

The Just City, and The Philosopher Kings,
by Jo Walton (adult fantasy/science fiction)
It's rare to find a novel (or two) that is focused on the life of the mind, and yet also gives you both story and characterization that are equally energizing. I'm not sure to whom I would recommend these books; the audience needs to have some knowledge of Socratic and Platonic philosophy in order to understand and appreciate the saga. It is such an interesting idea, and the mix of old ideas with fresh interpretations, and the experiences of naive participators in a theoretical plan for societal excellence proved to be an unexpectedly entertaining read. And after all the adventures and the thoughts and ideas that they provoke, the twist at the end of the second book is simply stupefying. It didn't seem, until the last two chapters, that there was further to go, although I knew this was to be a trilogy; but now Walton has crossed yet another genre barrier from myth and history into full-blown science fiction, and the possibilities are wide open. The third book can't come soon enough!

She Is Not Invisible, by Marcus Sedgwick (YA)

A blind girl and her little brother get on a plane from London to New York City to find their father. They have one point of contact, an extremely oblique one. It seems both completely plausible and insanely impossible to Laureth that she and Benjamin can go and find their father, who was supposed to be in Austria, but whose precious notebook (he's a writer), which never leaves his possession, has somehow turned up in the hands of a stranger in NYC, who has emailed to claim the reward offered for its return. Desperation leads to a trip to the airport, and they're on their way. What an adventure it is.

But what is so wonderful about the book is how it is written. It takes us into the entire experience from the "viewpoint" of the blind girl. Nothing in the book is described visually. As you read She Is Not Invisible, you experience the world as Laureth, which means that you hear voices and sounds, smell smells, feel textures, but there is absolutely no sight in this story. Questions from Laureth and directions from her seven-year-old brother, Benjamin, plus her faith and confusion and confidence and fear become yours.

It is also about coincidence, synchronicity, obsession with making order from chaos, discovering random moments of clarity from within a background of noise. It's a journey for all the characters, and the last paragraph is an unexpected and delightful gift. (All you philistines who read the last page of the book first, DON'T.) What a cool book!

Little Black Lies, by Sharon Bolton (adult mystery)

This mystery is told from the viewpoint of three different characters, and with each one you think you have gotten to some basic truth of what's going on, only to think again. Catrin seems like a grim fate waiting to happen; Callum is troubled yet benign and supportive; Rachel, the author of all their troubles with her rash action of three years past becomes the least sympathetic focus until you hear the story in her voice in the last third of the book. Each segue gives you a new perspective and makes you more desperate to finally learn the truth, and what a truth it turns out to be! Bolton hangs onto your breathless attention until the very last sentence.

The characterizations were thorough and evocative. Everyone in this book lives--no one is just background--from the beachcomber to the police officers to the three protagonists and their family members. This is a skilled writer of personalities. The scene-setting was likewise fantastic. Bolton didn't skimp on her research, and the wealth of physical detail and description give a further richness to the story. Best Sharon Bolton to date, and that's saying something.

I'll Meet You There, by Heather Demetrios (YA)

Skylar is trying so hard to get out of her dead-end town in the Central Valley, her job at the Paradise Motel, the trailer park where she has to take too much responsibility for her broken mother; her dreams of art school in San Francisco, even with a full scholarship and work-study program on her side, seem so far from reality that even though it's her plan, she just can't bring herself to believe in it. Josh, the hard-partying Mitchell boy who took a different route out of aggie California by joining the Marines, ends up back in Creek View, having left a leg in Afghanistan and brought back all sorts of dark memories and bad dreams he can't get past. The two of them together? The most unlikely pairing in anyone's eyes.

It's a love story, but it's also a story about poverty and dreams, about war and consequences and heartache. An author quote from the afterword sums it up for me: Demetrios says she wrote the book "because young adults are being recruited for the military while they're still in high school and they need to know what war really is and what it means to serve." Then she says to all the poor kids who have to grow up too fast, "Love is medicine and dreams are oxygen." I loved the way she wrote it, the pictures she paints, the emotions she invokes. The authenticity is on every page.

Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith (adult mystery)

I just reviewed this a few short days ago, so I won't repeat myself--you can read the long review here. For those of you on the hold list, consider the audio book or the e-book!

No comments: