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Best Books of 2013

2013 Book of the Year

Neil Gaiman has this voice, charming and humane but creepy, occasionally whimsical but capable also of evoking real dread; and when he gets dark all the effects amplify because you have been charmed and cozened.
That voice is central to his new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. The set-up is fairly straightforward; the narrator returns home to rural Sussex after several decades away. There to eulogize at a funeral he finds himself with a bit a free time so he drives around his old neighborhood. He comes upon a somehow familiar farmhouse. And there he begins to remember.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a book filled with strangeness and charm; its sole flaw by my lights is that it is over far too soon. –Matt, Los Angeles

Best Fiction

Life after Life is AMAZING! I have been a fan of Kate Atkinson since Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I love the Jackson Brodie mysteries. Her books are quirky and smart, with a caustic wit that is (mostly) irresistible. Life after Life is an ambitious and wonderfully unclassifiable blend of Downton Abbey, Connie Willis (Blackout/All Clear), Groundhog Day (yes, the movie), and In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat that flies with the page-turning appeal of a Gone Girl, or Atkinson’s own mysteries. The book opens in November 1930, as Ursula Todd pulls the trigger on a gun aimed at Hitler. On a cold and snowy day in 1910, Ursula Todd dies before she can draw her first breath. And that’s just the first five pages! –Sara, Atlanta
In this story spanning decades, Hosseini weaves an intriguing tale of how lives can be forever changed through a single event. A desperate father sells his 4-year old daughter to a wealthy couple. The separation is felt keenly by her older brother, who never quite relinquishes the dream of being reunited. The author moves the reader through the years and across oceans, teaching us what it means to love and care...and how people traverse real-life journeys. Another absorbing novel from a master storyteller. -Margaret, Pittsburgh
Publishers Weekly says The Son “speaks volumes about humanity—our insatiable greed, our inherent frailty, the endless cycle of conquer or be conquered.” Three generations of the McCullough family tell the story of living in Texas: Eli is captured and raised by Comanche Indians, his son Peter wants nothing to do with the world his father had forged from dirt and blood, and Jeannie ultimately inherits the family fortune. A woman running a corporation in the man’s world of oil and a son trying to break out of family dealings would make for an interesting story in the hands of a talented writer like Philipp Meyer but his tales of life with the Comanche will make your heart pound and your jaw drop. –Sydne, Atlanta

Best Non-Fiction

The best summation of this gripping narrative came from The Boston Globe: “the ethical complexities of making life-and-death judgments in the absence of perfect information and clear guidelines.” When Katrina hit New Orleans there were hundreds of people at Memorial Hospital – patients, staff and family members of both that took shelter there. The generators were in the basement which quickly flooded and, as a microcosm of the whole city, conditions were hectic but orderly to begin with but rapidly broke down. More than 500 interviews convey a story of confusion, heart-breaking decisions made on the fly, instances of heroism and incredible hubris. Hopefully, this can be used as a model for what not to do in a crisis but, as in life, no one is totally good and no one is totally bad. -Sydne, Atlanta
Focusing on the last 30 years, Packer’s book examines our nation in crisis. Packer profiles the lives of a handful of citizens at all levels of social strata in an effort to delineate the forces that are ripping our country apart. In telling these stories Packer utilizes many of the strategies of John Dos Passos’ USA Trilogy. Perhaps Packer uses these strategies because the story he is telling is so similar to that of Dos Passos work; the conditions of these times being so closely paralleled by those of the 20’s and 30’s. The effect here is similarly dazzling and dismaying, a necessary book. Here’s the first line: “No one can say when the unwinding began, when the coil that held Americans together in its secure and sometimes stifling grip first gave way.” –Matt, Los Angeles
Mary Roach’s books are disgusting examinations of the human body—and I love every single one of them. Her latest, Gulp., is an examination of the human digestive system which includes: America’s terrible imported olive oil, the bacteriafighting properties of saliva, the intricacies of smuggling, the possible reason for dragon mythos, and why Elvis died on the toilet. Hilarious and highly informative, Gulp. is a must-read. (Warning: Do NOT read Gulp. right before, during or right after meals, but it’d probably make an interesting bathroom read.) – Laura, Pittsburgh
This is a book about cheese; about a flamboyant Spanish farmer and cheesemaker named Ambrosio; about storytelling and community; about modern American culture and Old World values; a book about an author named Michael Paterniti. It is utterly compelling and beautifully written. It ripens and transforms in its telling in the same way that does a good cheese, or wine, or history. And in the weeks since I’ve finished it, its flavors have only grown richer. I highly recommend a tasting. –Sara, Atlanta

Best Business Interest

You will not look at processed foods and how they affect your body the same way after reading this book. If you want to eat healthier but your mind needs a gentle nudge to help you do it, read Salt, Sugar, Fat. Moss did extensive research for the book including interviews with the executives who turned the food industry into the sugar peddler it is today. Moss tries to present the most unbiased account possible but the truth is much harder to sugar-coat than our breakfast cereal. -Justin, Atlanta

Best Young Readers

Ulysses might be a superhero, but it’s Kate DiCamillo who’s the magician. She’s created yet another timeless, moving, and hysterical tale about an improbable hero:a squirrel whose run-in with a vacuum cleaner (and a cynical little girl named Flora) bestows upon him a talent for poetry, and the power to “fight the forces of darkness and evil.” Just as in our own, those forces create plenty of sadness in Flora’s world. Stories and humor and love are the antidotes: joy is the rabbit that DiCamillo never fails to pull from the hat. –Sara, Atlanta

Q&A with Kate DiCamillo
Read the first seven chapters of Flora & Ulysses

"Best of" Flashback to 2012

“It’s amazing to see a story that for a long time existed only in my imagination become visible. The Fault in Our Stars movie is happening because of an amazing script and great producers and a wonderful director and this beautiful, awesome cast, but it is also happening because of the many people who have read and loved and shared Hazel and Gus’s story so generously. If people didn’t like the book there would be no movie and we all understand that, so please know that everyone on this set feels a tremendous responsibility to the story and to its readers.” –John Green, from the set of The Fault in Our Stars, soon to be a major motion picture starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, and Willem Dafoe.
A major motion picture in 2014

See all of the Best of 2012 here

Bookseller Favorites

Anne - Atlanta

Anne - Rochester

Christine - Chicago

David - Boston

Justin - Atlanta

Laura - Pittsburgh

Laurie - Boston

Lee - Cleveland

Margaret - Pittsburgh

Matt - Los Angeles

Megan - Roanoke

Mike - Albuquerque

Ron - Los Angeles

Sandra - Seattle

Sara - Atlanta

Susan - Pittsburgh

Sydne - Atlanta

Valerie - Cleveland