There are only so many hours in the day, so many days in a year, and always, there are more books than we can possibly read. You probably understand this problem. Many of us on staff at BookPeople keep track of the books we read over the course of a calendar year. There are always a handful of books that the get lion’s share of attention from critics, customers, and award committees, and you probably already know about these. They are good books worthy of the attention. Then there is another, much larger group of books that don’t this kind of attention but are in no way less deserving of it. These are the books that we often hand-sell when the right customer comes in, or they are the ones we are quietly pulling for come awards season. So, we looked over the books we read in 2014, and highlighted a few excellent books that didn’t get as much high-profile hoopla, and you might have missed them because of that. Enjoy!
Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth
This is a quirky book. This book is set up as a “build-your-own-bird” catalog. Shoppers can pick out the features they want their bird to have – beaks, feet, plumage – and Aviary Wonders Inc. will send the parts with assembly instructions. What I found so interesting about this book – other than the general concept – is the artwork. The art is gorgeous – lush, vibrant, scientifically correct regarding structure & form. Even though this book is clearly fiction, the information it contains is grounded in fact, and contains many ornithological tidbits. I would recommend this book for adults and kids who have more peculiar tastes, wild imaginations, enjoy unusual & beautiful artwork, and dream of fantastical beasts.
Mouseheart by Lisa Fiedler
Hopper is a very small mouse with a very brave heart, even if he doesn’t know it yet! Rats, cats, prophicies, and secrets continue Hopper’s story in the second book, Hopper’s Destiny. With really fantastic illustrations, Mouseheart is a great adventure story – with mice! – that proves you don’t have to be big to do great things.
Recommended for fans of: Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH, Redwall
The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett
I just (finally) got to The Children of the King, which was on top of my still-to-read stack from 2014. I just think that it is a great book on a number of levels. The writing is elegant and resonant while the characters nicely step out of that elegance with realistic childlike petulance and spunk and selfishness and sadness. I think this would be a wonderful book for readers of classic fiction. Set during the evacuation of London during WWII, Hartnett effectively blends the story of WWII with the story of Richard III and the Princes in the Tower to reflect on the ways people have sought (and continue to seek) power throughout history and the ways that children are dragged into those conflicts.
Catch A Falling Star by Kim Culbertson
While it may be one of my favorite genres, when it comes to “realistic teen fiction” your mileage may vary on how realistic it actually is. Essentially what teen fiction means in the BookKids section is that there are no supernatural elements like vampires or werewolves. While there’s nothing wrong with escapism (I’m a huge fan) this novel about a teen who is not famous dating a movie star is anything but wish-fulfillment fantasy. Carter Moon is a strong, smart protagonist who’s willing to go through a farce of a relationship if it means she can help her family. Of course things get messy and complicated, but through it all Carter strives to stay true to herself even as she’s growing up and figuring out the kind of person she wants to be. Highly recommended for fans of North of Beautiful by Justina Chen or Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.
Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly by Conrad Wesselhoeft
I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy this book–I’m not particularly athletic, and I don’t know anything about military technology. I’m so glad I read it. Seventeen year-old Arlo Santiago lives a rough, tough life with his dad and his younger sister in Arizona: his mother was killed in a convenience store hold-up, his father is an alcoholic, and his sister has been diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease. The only things that bring Arlo joy are riding his dirt bike in the desert and playing a drone strike video game, and he’s spectacular at both. When he’s offered an army contract (and a chance to save his family from financial ruin) Arlo has to decide what is most important: his values, or the money. It is an AWESOME book.