Silea's picks:Red Rising, by Pierce Brown
This book starts with a gut-punch and never lets go. While relying on many of the tropes now common in YA fiction (member of a suppressed class trying to bring the system down, etc), it manages to be entirely unique.
Non-fiction: The Vinedresser's Notebook, by Judith Sutera
This book is simple, meditative, and contemplative, based primarily on grape vine metaphors to teach patience and humility. Though short, it's powerful. I don't believe it's possible to read this book and not become a better person in the process.
Suzanne's PicksAn Unnecessary Woman, by Rabih Alameddine:
Aaliya isn't the most likable fictional character: she shuns her neighbors, preferring books to reality. But then her reality is Beirut, through civil war, chaos and lots of family upheaval. Aaliya, however, is an astute, wry observer of those realities, and Alameddine is a lyrical writer: the combination has made the novel, one of the first I read this year, one of the most memorable and my favorite.
Non-fiction: A Spy Among Friends, by Ben Macintyre
Focusing on Kim Philby, one of the British spies whose betrayals rocked the British establishment in the 1950s and 1960s, this takes a different approach to the story, telling the tale through the eyes of Nicholas Elliottt, Philby's closest friend in MI6. For Elliott, Philby's betrayal was more than just treason: it was a personal violation of the most profound kind. The book is both a fast-paced spy yarn and a heartbreaking tale of betrayal and misery.
JWP's PicksCrossover, by Kwame Alexander
Josh Bell thinks his school year is going to be all about basketball and how amazing he and his twin brother can be on the court, but life has something else in store. His words zing off the page showing how great poetry can be to illustrate life's good and bad moments.
Non-fiction: Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies, by Lawrence Goldstone
A title with a little bit of everything, Goldstone makes the history of heavier than air flight available to even the least scientific of minds. Thrills, chills, spills and daredevils from the golden age of early aviation all highlight the battle to get airplanes and their inventors off the ground.
Dunyazad's PicksThe Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber
I judge the quality of a novel by how much I wish I could be reading it when I'm doing other things. In this case, those other things included visiting friends for the weekend and attending the National Book Festival, but I still found myself sneaking out this book to read a few pages whenever I could. The story of a missionary witnessing to aliens on another planet while his wife experiences apocalyptic conditions back on earth was unlike anything I've read before.
Non-Fiction: How We Learn, by Benedict Carey
This is probably the non-fiction book that's had the most real impact on my life this year. It's a fascinating synthesis of recent and not-so-recent findings in learning science, or in practical terms, a book full of evidence-based suggestions for how to learn more effectively and efficiently. Besides the helpful ideas themselves, I found it extremely encouraging just to read that forgetting is not the enemy of learning, that there are specific techniques that make it easier to remember foreign vocabulary within a reasonable time frame, and so on. This book gives me reason to hope that I'm nowhere near the limits of my abilities yet.
Fiction: My Wish List, by Gregoire Delacourt
This book asks an unoriginal question (What if you won the lottery?) and answers it in a completely original way. A compact story that felt simultaneously surprising and inevitable.
Non-Fiction: The Shelf: Adventures in Extreme Reading, by Phyllis Rose
A book in which reading a random shelf of library books becomes a discussion about book covers, undiscovered authors, blurbs, how libraries decide which books to discard, dog training, and occasionally, literature. The Shelf combined two of my favorite topics, books about books and harebrained schemes, brilliantly.
Sandy Kay's picksFiction: Red Rising, by Pierce Brown
If you mixed together a dash each of Lord of the Flies, Hunger Games, Hogwarts Academy, and Roman history and set it hundreds of years in the future you might come up with this book. But it is fresh and exciting even with all those familiar elements. I could barely put it down and can't wait for the next book in this trilogy due in January 2015.
Nonfiction: Dear Luke, We Need to Talk, Darth: And Other Pop Culture Correspondences, by John Moe
I read mostly for entertainment so don't do much nonfiction. This collection of John Moe's imagined letters, e-mails, text messages, and other correspondence behind some favorite pop culture references made me laugh.
CK's picksFiction: The Secret of Magic, by Deborah Johnson
Deborah Johnson stole my heart back in January with The Secret of Magic, a masterful interweaving of tradition, resilience, injustice, idealism, and respect. In impeccably measured prose that is all the more beautiful for being unassuming, Johnson introduces us to an idealistic young lawyer, a gentle and righteous father, and the author whose words have impacted both their lives. Even as she evokes the tensions of the post-WWII South, she also layers in such talismans as ladybugs, mistletoe, and a mailbox full of bluebirds. These and many other moments sing of simplicity while they hint at deeper meaning.
Non-fiction: The Nazis Next Door, by Eric Lichtblau
Coincidentally, my other selection also centers on events in the U.S. just after WWII. Eric Lichtblau's The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler's Men is a thorough, professional, and incredibly frustrating exploration of the warm welcome the U.S. government extended to a number of people involved in the German war effort. This book is an implicit indictment of the choices some members of our government made that ran counter to the tenets on which we like to think the social contract of our country exists. When you tackle this worthwhile book, give yourself permission to partake of it in 50- to 60-page increments.
Note: Most, if not all, of these were received as ARCs through the Amazon Vine program.