Susan’s Top 4 of 2014

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Secret DaughterOn the eve of the monsoons, in a remote Indian village, Kavita gives birth to a baby girl. But in a culture that favors sons, the only way for Kavita to save her newborn daughter’s life is to give her away. It is a decision that will haunt her and her husband for the rest of their lives, even after the arrival of their cherished son. Halfway around the globe, Somer, an American doctor, decides to adopt a child after making the wrenching discovery that she will never have one of her own. When she and her husband, Krishnan, see a photo of the baby with the gold-flecked eyes from a Mumbai orphanage, they are overwhelmed with emotion. Somer knows life will change with the adoption but is convinced that the love they already feel will overcome all obstacles. Interweaving the stories of Kavita, Somer, and the child that binds both of their destinies, Secret Daughter poignantly explores the emotional terrain of motherhood, loss, identity, and love, as witnessed through the lives of two families—one Indian, one American—and the child that indelibly connects them.

The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham

The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for MeaningI Am Not Perfect is a simple  statement of profound truth, the first step toward  understanding the human condition, for to deny  your essential imperfection is to deny yourself and  your own humanity. The spirituality of  imperfection, steeped in the rich traditions of the Hebrew  prophets and Greek thinkers, Buddhist sages and  Christian disciples, is a message as timeless as it is  timely. This insightful work draws on the wisdom  stories of the ages to provide an extraordinary  wellspring of hope and inspiration to anyone  thirsting for spiritual growth and guidance in these  troubled times.

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy, #3)After traveling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s enchanting series, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches–with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency. In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.

Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek

Leaders Eat LastSimon Sinek is an optimist, a visionary thinker, and a leader of the cultural revolution of WHY. His second book is the natural extension of Start with Why, expanding his ideas at the organizational level. Determining a company’s WHY is crucial, but only the beginning. The next step is how do you get people on board with your WHY? How do you inspire deep trust and commitment to the company and one another? He cites the Marine Corps for having found a way to build a culture in which men and women are willing to risk their lives, because they know others would do the same for them. It’s not brainwashing; it’s actually based on the biology of how and when people are naturally at their best. If businesses could adopt this supportive mentality, employees would be more motivated to take bigger risks, because they’d know their colleagues and company would back them up, no matter what. Drawing on powerful and inspiring stories, Sinek shows how to sustain an organization’s WHY while continually adding people to the mix.

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Cyndi’s Top 4 of 2014

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner

These Broken Stars (Starbound, #1)Luxury spaceliner Icarus suddenly plummets from hyperspace into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive — alone. Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a cynical war hero. Both journey across the eerie deserted terrain for help. Everything changes when they uncover the truth.

Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us by Robert D. Hare

Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among UsMost people are both repelled and intrigued by the images of cold-blooded, conscienceless murderers that increasingly populate our movies, television programs, and newspaper headlines. With their flagrant criminal violation of society’s rules, serial killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy are among the most dramatic examples of the psychopath. Individuals with this personality disorder are fully aware of the consequences of their actions and know the difference between right and wrong, yet they are terrifyingly self-centered, remorseless, and unable to care about the feelings of others. Perhaps most frightening, they often seem completely normal to unsuspecting targets–and they do not always ply their trade by killing. Presenting a compelling portrait of these dangerous men and women based on 25 years of distinguished scientific research, Dr. Robert D. Hare vividly describes a world of con artists, hustlers, rapists, and other predators who charm, lie, and manipulate their way through life. Are psychopaths mad, or simply bad? How can they be recognized? And how can we protect ourselves? This book provides solid information and surprising insights for anyone seeking to understand this devastating condition.

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1) by Ilona Andrews

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles, #1)On the outside, Dina Demille is the epitome of normal. She runs a quaint Victorian Bed and Breakfast in a small Texas town, owns a Shih Tzu named Beast, and is a perfect neighbor, whose biggest problem should be what to serve her guests for breakfast. But Dina is…different: Her broom is a deadly weapon; her Inn is magic and thinks for itself. Meant to be a lodging for otherworldly visitors, the only permanent guest is a retired Galactic aristocrat who can’t leave the grounds because she’s responsible for the deaths of millions and someone might shoot her on sight. Under the circumstances, “normal” is a bit of a stretch for Dina. And now, something with wicked claws and deepwater teeth has begun to hunt at night….Feeling responsible for her neighbors, Dina decides to get involved. Before long, she has to juggle dealing with the annoyingly attractive, ex-military, new neighbor, Sean Evans—an alpha-strain werewolf—and the equally arresting cosmic vampire soldier, Arland, while trying to keep her inn and its guests safe. But the enemy she’s facing is unlike anything she’s ever encountered before. It’s smart, vicious, and lethal, and putting herself between this creature and her neighbors might just cost her everything.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were LiarsA beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.

Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

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Here’s Bernardo’s Top 4 of 2014!

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to SuccessFor generations, we have focused on the individual drivers of success: passion, hard work, talent, and luck. But today, success is increasingly dependent on how we interact with others. It turns out that at work, most people operate as either takers, matchers, or givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return.

Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud

The Bartimaeus Sequence is made up of four bestselling novels featuring the grumpy, sarcastic and resourceful fourth-level djinni, Bartimaeus. Since the first book, The Amulet of Samarkand, was published in 2003, the series has sold more than 6 million copies in 36 languages worldwide. The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye and Ptolemy’s Gate are set mainly in an alternative present-day London. They follow Bart’s relationships with his young master, Nathaniel, and with Kitty, a fiery member of the Resistance against the magicians.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Allison Bechdel

Fun Home: A Family TragicomicA fresh and brilliantly told memoir from a cult favorite comic artist, marked by gothic twists, a family funeral home, sexual angst, and great books.
This breakout book by Alison Bechdel is a darkly funny family tale, pitch-perfectly illustrated with Bechdel’s sweetly gothic drawings.

The Bletchley Circle (television)

Four women who worked as codebreakers at Bletchley Park have taken up civilian lives. Susan has collated data about a series of murders. She tries to convince the police she knows where another body is, but they are unable to locate it and dismiss her. She turns to her three friends and they work out where the next victim will be taken, find the body, and then decide they are the only ones who can track down the killer.

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Mariah’s Top 4 (plus one more) of 2014!

Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

Gives you a completely different perspective on processed food! The science that goes into the foods we take for granted is amazing – not only have these foods been carefully crafted to create a “bliss” point, they’ve also been engineered to be highly addictive (finally, an explanation for why I can’t stop eating chips!) Packed with info but never boring, this was hands-down my favorite read of the year. Finally, it contains one of my favorite facts of the year, which I shared to the glee of many many elementary students: there exists a chip-eating robot, whose sole purpose is to determine the absolute perfect crunch for a chip. Awesome!

West of the Moon by Margi Preus

A quick read that’s gorgeously written, West of the Moon weaves together folktales and the story of Astri – a Norwegian girl who must rescue her sister, escape a cruel goat-man, and find a way to America, all while pondering questions of magic and right vs. wrong. Beautiful!

 

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

Finally! The conclusion to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy! Let’s just say I am very satisfied 
 
 
 
 

S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

Worth the read due to the format alone – if you like a book filled with hidden codes, microscopic hand-written notes in the margin, and an ambiguous ending, this book’s for you!
 

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

Mr. Tiger is tired of his rigid life in the city (and the accompanying rules) so he decides to explore his wild side and his true nature. Amazing pictures, and a hilarious story about finding and being true to yourself, this is definitely my favorite picture book of the year!

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Emma’s Top 4 of 2014!

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the CrematoryMost people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty—a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre—took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humor and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased. Honest and heartfelt, self-deprecating and ironic, Caitlin’s engaging style makes this otherwise taboo topic both approachable and engrossing. Now a licensed mortician with an alternative funeral practice, Caitlin argues that our fear of dying warps our culture and society, and she calls for better ways of dealing with death (and our dead).

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone ClocksFollowing a scalding row with her mother, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: a sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as “the radio people,” Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life… A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting from occupied Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list—all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world. From the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You AreEach day we face a barrage of images and messages from society and the media telling us who, what, and how we should be. We are led to believe that if we could only look perfect and lead perfect lives, we’d no longer feel inadequate. So most of us perform, please, and perfect, all the while thinking, What if I can’t keep all of these balls in the air? Why isn’t everyone else working harder and living up to my expectations? What will people think if I fail or give up? When can I stop proving myself? In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown, PhD, a leading expert on shame, authenticity and belonging, shares what she’s learned from a decade of research on the power of Wholehearted Living–a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Every time Allie Brosh posts something new on her hugely popular blog Hyperbole and a Half the internet rejoices. This full-color, beautifully illustrated edition features more than fifty percent new content, with ten never-before-seen essays and one wholly revised and expanded piece as well as classics from the website like, “The God of Cake,” “Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving,” and her astonishing, “Adventures in Depression,” and “Depression Part Two,” which have been hailed as some of the most insightful meditations on the disease ever written. Brosh’s debut marks the launch of a major new American humorist who will surely make even the biggest scrooge or snob laugh. We dare you not to.

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Linda’s Top 4 of 2014!

Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George

Inspector Lynley plays the back up role as Detective Sargent Barbara Havers gets caught up in the kidnapping of her young friend, Hadiyyah, and the complications of that act. This volume moves back and forth between England and Italy. The small Italian town is a great setting. I did find the use of Italian phrases annoying, but they did lend depth to the setting and the problems Barbara faced not knowing the language. I loved the Italian, Inspector Lo Bianco. He should get his own series.

The Yard by Alex Grecian

This book is dark. We are in London, post Jack the Ripper, and everyone is angry that Scotland Yard couldn’t catch him. Their reputation is on the line again, especially when policemen start getting killed. This is a gritty book, not for the faint of heart. It is a tense page turner with particularly grisly murders.
 
 

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

This delightful sixth book in the Flavia DeLuce series is, I think, the best one so far. Flavia is starting to grow up. I don’t know how Mr. Bradley understands the slow process of maturation in a young girl but it is marvelous to see the subtle ways Flavia is changing in her words and actions. With this book, this series takes a twist I never saw coming, but it promises even more adventures to come.

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves

This book takes place in a very small village in the Shetland Islands. It is very suspenseful, and somewhat dark, showing the negative side of insular living in a small, isolated village. Outsider Jimmy Perez, a detective that grew up in an even smaller island community, heads up the investigation of a dead teenager. Once before in Shetland, a young girl disappeared, never to be found. There was a prime suspect but neither a body nor the proof was ever discovered. Is there a connection? The locals certainly think so, but Detective Perez isn’t so sure. This one kept me guessing right up to the moment of the arrest.

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Jen’s Top 4 of 2014

Lone Survivor (Movie)

Marcus Luttrell and his team set out on a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah, in late June 2005. Marcus and his team are left to fight for their lives in one of the most valiant efforts of modern warfare.

 

While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell

I am not the sort of person about whom stories are told. And so begins Elise Dalriss’s story. When she hears her great-granddaughter recount a minstrel’s tale about a beautiful princess asleep in a tower, it pushes open a door to the past, a door Elise has long kept locked. For Elise was the companion to the real princess who slumbered–and she is the only one left who knows what actually happened so many years ago. Her story unveils a labyrinth where secrets connect to an inconceivable evil. As only Elise understands all too well, the truth is no fairy tale.

A Land More Kind Than Home by Cash Wiley

For Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grown-ups. Jess is protective of his older brother, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can’t help sneaking a look at something he’s not supposed to–an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess’s.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot SeeMarie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall. In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

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