A Super Tall Stack of New Paperbacks

2014 paperbacks

Before the days of instant gratification downloading, people like me used to get all excited about bestsellers coming out in paperback, so we could snatch them up and add them to our home library, or choose them for our book group without making everyone cough up big bucks for a hardcover. Even with Kindles and iPads, it's still nice to wait for new trade paperbacks -- they give you enough time to determine if you really think a book is good/fun enough to add to your ever-growing list of to-be-reads, and they have lots better info on the back (reviewer quotes) than new hardbacks. Plus, you can pass them on to friends.

I've got a (virtual) pile of books that were published in trade paperback in 2014, and I hope to get to every one of them ... just in time for this year's hardcover bestsellers to come out in 2015. Ack ... never, never enough time for all the books I want to read! Here are the newest trade paperbacks I hope to get to, with library blurbs and reviewer accolades:

rosie

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The art of love is never a science: Meet Don Tillman, a brilliant yet socially inept professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers. 

Rosie Jarman possesses all these qualities. Don easily disqualifies her as a candidate for The Wife Project (even if she is “quite intelligent for a barmaid”). But Don is intrigued by Rosie’s own quest to identify her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on The Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie―and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you.

Starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus

lowland

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Lowland is an engrossing family saga steeped in history: the story of two very different brothers bound by tragedy, a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past, a country torn apart by revolution, and a love that endures long past death. Moving from the 1960s to the present, and from India to America and across generations, this dazzling novel is Jhumpa Lahiri at the height of her considerable powers.

Starred reviews in Kirkus, Library Journal, and Booklist, New York Times Notable Book, Kirkus Favorite Book, National Book Award Finalist, Shorlisted for Man Booker Prize

signature

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love traces the multi-generational saga of the Whittaker family, whose progenitor makes a fortune in the quinine trade before his daughter, a gifted botanist, researches the mysteries of evolution while falling in love with an utopian artist against a backdrop of he Age of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution.

Starred reviews in Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus

completely

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Coming of age in middle America, 18-year-old Rosemary evaluates how her entire youth was defined by the presence and forced removal of an endearing chimpanzee who was secretly regarded as a family member and who Rosemary loved as a sister.

Starred reviews in Booklist, Kirkus, and Library Journal

bird

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

Mistaken for a girl on account of his curly hair, delicate features, and sackcloth smock, 12-year-old slave Henry Shackleford realizes that his accidental disguise affords him greater safety and decides to remain female. Dubbed "Little Onion" by his liberator, abolitionist John Brown, Henry accompanies the increasingly fanatical Brown on his crusade to end slavery -- a picaresque journey that takes them from Bloody Kansas to Rochester, New York, where they attempt to enlist the support of such notables as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman before embarking on the infamous, ill-fated 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry.

Starred reviews in Booklist and Publishers Weekly, Washington Post Top Ten Book of the Year, Pubishers Weekly Top Ten Book of the Year, Winner of the National Book Award

burial

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

In March 1829, servant girl Agnes Magnúsdóttir is sentenced to death for the murder of her employer. However, since Iceland's nascent prison system is ill-equipped to house inmates, Agnes must await execution in the home of local farmer Jon Johnsson, his wife Margrét, and their daughters. The family must also extend their hospitality to include the Assistant Reverend Thorvardur "Toti" Jonsson, the young priest whom Agnes has chosen as her spiritual confessor. As Toti counsels Agnes, their conversations segue into flashbacks that reveal the complicated story behind the young woman's situation.

Starred reviews in Booklist, Library Journal, and Kirkus, Indie Awards Debut Fiction of the Year Winner

constellation

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

This debut novel by Pushcart Prize-winning author Anthony Marra is set in rural Chechnya during the region's war with Russia. Though events shift in time, the main focus is a five-day period in 2004, when an eight-year-old girl witnesses her father's abduction by Russian soldiers. Swearing to protect the girl, local doctor Akhmed (whose true passion is portraiture), brings her to a crumbling hospital, run by a hardened but dedicated surgeon, for safety.

Starred reviews in Booklist, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly, New York Times Notable Book, Washington Post Top Ten Book of the Year

behind

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

Unwillingly rendered an object of obsession by the Kommandant occupying her small French town in World War I, Sophie risks everything to reunite with her husband a century before a widowed Liv tests her resolve to claim ownership of Sophie's portrait.

Starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal

someone

Someone by Alice McDermott

An ordinary life—its sharp pains and unexpected joys, its bursts of clarity and moments of confusion—lived by an ordinary woman: this is the subject of Someone, Alice McDermott’s extraordinary return, seven years after the publication of After This. Scattered recollections—of childhood, adolescence, motherhood, old age—come together in this transformative narrative, stitched into a vibrant whole by McDermott’s deft, lyrical voice.

Starred reviews in Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus, Publishers Weekly Best Fiction Book of the Year, Kirkus Best Fiction Book of the Year, New York Times Notable Book, Washington Post Notable Book, National Book Award Finalist

owls

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris

Traces the author's offbeat world travel experiences, which involved surreal encounters with everything from French dentistry and Australian kookaburra eating habits to Beijing squat toilets and a wilderness Costco in North Carolina.

burgess

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

Catalyzed by a nephew's thoughtless prank, a pair of brothers confront painful psychological issues surrounding the freak accident that killed their father when they were boys, a loss linked to a heartbreaking deception that shaped their personal and professional lives.

Starred review in Library Journal

fikry

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

When his most prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, is stolen, bookstore owner A. J. Fikry begins isolating himself from his friends, family and associates before receiving a mysterious package that compels him to remake his life.

Starred review in Library Journal, Indie NextPicks, LibraryReads Selection

What to Read on the Bathroom Floor at 1 a.m. Through a Vale of Tears

The-Light-Between-Oceans.jpg

Part of me wants to save my space, time, and energy recommending books of which you might not already have heard. The Light Between Oceans, which has been on the NYT Bestseller List since last summer, hardly needs my help. But sometimes (and not often), I read a book that is ... just that good. So good, in fact, that I can think of no better words than really stupid ones like "so good" to describe it. That means the book left me wordless. Dumbfounded. Bowled over.

I have three kids so I really need sleep. I love to read, have since forever, but I don't have the luxury of maintaining my mental health and staying up all hours with my nose in a book. The two are incompatible. So I read more slowly than I might like. Usually. So just how did I end up, on the third night of reading M. L. Stedman's debut novel, awake well after midnight, on the bathroom floor, flipping pages like a maniac? 

Oh and did I mention the crying part? I mean I don't cry much when I read books. Maybe I've read too many. But this one ... it's kind of hard to finish a book you really want to read when you can't see the pages very well. I had to read in the bathroom so all my noisemaking wouldn't wake up my bedmate. I think I used up at least half a roll of toilet paper and gave myself an eensy headache by the time I closed The Light Between Oceans for the last time.

Oh, and a caveat, because I don't want you to not read this book because who wants to cry, right? These are the kind of tears you cry because something is ... Just. That. Beautiful. Heart-rending. Not depressing, but moving, breathtaking, stunning. Sooooo gooooood. (See, I gave up again and went back to stupid words.) In this way, The Light Between Oceans reminds me of one of my all-time most-beautiful favorites, Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain.

So what is this book about? It only requires a quick overview to know that Stedman has created a novel about a great moral dilemma, placing her characters in a situation in which no matter what path they choose, someone will be hurt. Twenty-something Tom Sherbourne returns from the Great War in the early 1920s to his native Australia. He's suffered immense loss, both as a child, and now as a veteran. Deeply scarred, Tom meets his foil in Isabel, a nineteen-year-old girl who is outspoken and spirited, and through whose love Tom is essentially brought back to life. 

Tom is assigned to work keeping a lighthouse on remote Janus Island, about 100 miles off the west coast of Australia. Despite reservations about her suitability for life on an uninhabited piece of land with returns to the mainland only every few years, Tom settles his bride on Janus. Isabel thrives in this atmosphere of wild, rugged beauty, but over the next six years, she and Tom suffer catastrophic loss -- Isabel has two miscarriages and delivers a stillborn son seven months into her third pregnancy. Isabel's grief is so keen that, in an effort to support his beloved wife, Tom continues the modus operandi of turning away from his own intense pain. 

Just a short time after the loss of Isabel's third pregnancy, the event occurs upon which the entire novel pivots: a small boat washes ashore on the beach and in it are a dead man and a screaming infant, alongside a woman's cardigan. In a matter of hours Isabel, having taken the infant to her breast nearly inadvertently, argues that the baby's mother must have drowned. In an effort to relieve Isabel's grief, Tom reluctantly buries the man and the couple decide to raise the child, whom Isabel names Lucy, as their own. 

Despite Tom's intense internal reservations over the morality of the choice he and Isabel have made, two nearly idyllic years pass as the new parents are opened to that love which is like no other -- parenthood. Then the time comes for their pass to the mainland, and Isabel's parents, who have lost her two brothers to the Western Front, meet the grandchild who offers a chance at happiness after many years of mourning.

In a heart-stopping scene during their mainland visit, Tom and Isabel learn that Lucy's mother is alive and suffering the extreme grief inherent in losing her husband and child. Isabel convinces Tom that they must return to Janus with Lucy, arguing that it is two years too late to do anything else. 

For Tom there is no right answer -- Lucy should return to her biological mother, but how can he take from Isabel, who will never bear a child, the daughter that has in essence brought her back to life? Tom is tormented by both his conscience and his love for his wife. As time passes it becomes harder and harder to undo what has been done. And when the game is finally up, lives are torn asunder.

The Light Between Oceans is potent, haunting, suspenseful, extraordinary. It asks deep moral questions while remaining imminently readable. It breaks your heart in the most exquisite manner. Run and read it as soon as you can. But clear out your calendar, for once you pick it up, you will be unable to break its spell until the last page is turned. And don't forget to pick up some extra toilet paper.