Midday's Best Books of 2014 | WYPR

Midday's Best Books of 2014

Dec 19, 2014

Best Fiction:

Title: Euphoria
By: Lily King
PublisherAtlantic Monthly Press
AboutSet in Papa New Guinea and loosely based on events in the life of brilliant, pioneering anthropologist Margaret Mead. Euphoria’s Nell is a headstrong researcher both aided and hobbled by her partner in life and in the field, her Australian husband Fen. As the book opens, the two are fleeing the brutal tribe they had been observing for a number of months, frustrated and hoping for a new opportunity.

Title: Neverhome
By: Laird Hunt
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
About: Told in a first person narrative, the story follows “Ash” Thompson, a young Indiana farmwife hungry for honor and adventure, who passes as a man in order to join the Union army. Ash soon finds she has a strong taste for battle and a remarkable talent with a gun. Hunt takes readers through the harsh realities of war in the Civil War era, seasoning the story with the kind of small details of daily life that fascinate readers and make history come alive.

Title: Bellweather Rhapsody
By: Kate Racculia
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
About: A murder mystery; in the Catskills in 1982, a young girl witnesses a murder-suicide in Room 712 of the Hotel Bellweather. Fifteen years later, she returns to the scene of the crime.

Title: Station Eleven
By: Emily St. John-Mandel
Publisher: Alfred A Knopf
About: Apocalypse by way of a flu pandemic; one snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. 

Title: The Martian
By: Andy Weir
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
About: An astronaut is accidentally stranded on Mars and has to find a way to survive; is being made into a movie by Director Ridley Scott

Title: Redeployment
By: Phil Klay
Publisher: The Penguin Press
About: “Irrevocably damaged” also serves to describe the characters who populate Phil Klay’s stories of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Redeployment. The winner of this year’s National Book Award, Klay’s stories plumb the emotional and psychological depths of what it means to serve, and the aftershocks that reverberate throughout the bedrock of life after homecoming.

Title: The Invention of Wings
By: Sue Monk Kidd
Publisher: Viking
About: Story loosely based on life of Sarah Grimké, an early abolitionist and feminist whose upbringing in a slaveholding Southern family made her voice particularly controversial. Kidd re-imagines Sarah’s life in tandem with that of a slave in the Grimké household. In 1803, 11-year-old Sarah receives a slave as her birthday present from her wealthy Charleston parents. Called Hetty by the whites, Handful is just what her name implies—sharp tongued and spirited.

Title: We Are Not Ourselves
By: Matthew Thomas
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
About: A love story that chronicles three generations of an Irish-American family from the point-of-view of the main character Eileen Tumulty.

Title: The Paying Guests
By: Sarah Waters
Publisher: Riverhead Books
About: It’s 1922, and Frances Wray lives with her mother in a big house in a genteel South London neighborhood. Her two brothers were killed in the war and her father died soon after, leaving behind a shocking mess of debt. The solution: renting out rooms to Leonard and Lilian Barber, members of the newly emerging “clerk class,” the kind of people the Wrays would normally never mix with but who now share their home. The first half of the book slowly builds the suspense as Frances falls for the beautiful and passionate Lilian and teases at the question of whether she will declare her love; when she does, the tension grows even thicker, as the two bump into each other all over the house and try to find time alone for those vivid sex scenes. The second half, as in an Ian McEwan novel, explores the aftermath of a shocking act of violence.

Title: Annihilation (The Southern Reach Trilogy)
By: Jeff Vandermeer
Publisher: FSG
About: The first installment in The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, whose volumes have all been published in 2014. Mysteries abound in this unsettling, intellectual sci-fi thriller.

Best Non-Fiction:

Current Events/Social issues

Title: Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain
By: Daniel J. Siegel, MD
Publisher: Tarcher/Penguin
About: Psychiatrist and author Daniel Siegel writes about the teenage brain, how it develops, how it works -- and how parents and their children can make the most of an important period of growth, change and experimentation.

Title: Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why
By: Scott Weems
Publisher: Basic Books
About: What makes us laugh? Cognitive neuroscientist and former University of Maryland research scientist Scott Weems delves into what makes things funny.

Title: The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession
By: Dana Goldstein
Publisher: Doubleday
About: With a look back at the history of public school teaching, journalist Dana Goldstein gets a handle on the ongoing controversies in public schools today, from teaching to the test to Common Core.

Title: Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China
By: Evan Osnos
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
About: New Yorker staff writer and former China correspondent Evan Osnos offers insights and observations about the world's most populous country.

Title: The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way And It Wasn’t My Fault And I’ll Never Do It Again.
By: P.J. O’Rourke
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
About: With laughter as an analytical tool, O’Rourke uses his own very ordinary—if sometimes uproarious—experiences as a key to his extraordinary age cohort. He writes about the way the postwar generation somehow came of age by never growing up and created a better society by turning society upside down.

Title: The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us
By: Diane Ackerman
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
About: Naturalist Diane Ackerman examines the arrival of the Anthropocene epoch, with humans as a dominant force of nature, and how human ingenuity might be able to engineer the planet out of impending crisis related to climate change and other environmental problems.

Title: The Big Rachet: How Humanity Thrives in the Face of Natural Crisis
By: Ruth DeFries
Publisher: Basic BooksAbout: MacArthur Genius Award-winner Ruth DeFries, an expert in the study of the human impact on our environment, counter's the idea of humanity's eventual demise and collapse by offering a positive examination of human capability. 

Title: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
By: Elizabeth Kolbert
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
About: Since its formation more than 4.5 billion years ago, Earth has gone through five waves of extinction, the latest being the extinction of the dinosaurs, which scientists believe was caused by an asteroid. Elizabeth Kolbert writes for The New Yorker.

History/Biography

Title: In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette
By: Hampton Sides
Publisher: Doubleday
About: Swept up by the so-called "arctic fever" of the late 19th Century, the Jeannette set sail in 1879 from San Francisco on an exploratory mission to reach the North Pole. But somewhere en route, the ship, carrying 32 men, became trapped in ice and sank.

Title: Blue-Eyed Boy: A Memoir
By: Robert Timberg
Publisher: Penguin Press
About: Just days before his tour of duty in Vietnam was scheduled to end, Marine Lt. Robert Timberg's vehicle struck a Viet Cong land mine. The explosion resulted in third-degree burns to Timberg's face and much of his body. Timberg, who later became a reporter and White House correspondent for The Baltimore Evening Sun and The Sun, recounts his fraught journey toward reclaiming his life.

Title: American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church.
By:  Alex Beam
Publisher: Public Affairs
About: In his new book, "American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church," Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam reports on the life and violent death of the charismatic founder of the Mormon church. The book traces the roots of Mormonism, the nation's fastest growing faith, and its turbulent early history.

Title: Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians
By: Justin Martin
Publisher: Da Capo Press
About: Walt Whitman's world in Manhattan before the Civil War is the setting for author Justin Martin's latest book on an American icon. Long before he became known as the Good Gray Poet, Whitman was a denizen of dingy Pfaff's basement saloon, noted as the site of the country's first bohemian culture, a hangout for rebel artists and other eccentrics.

Title: American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell
By: Deborah Solomon
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
About: Biography about the life and career of artist Norman Rockwell

Science/Technology

Title: Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars
By: Lee Billings
Publisher: Current
About: Are we alone in the universe? That’s the billion-dollar-question that has fascinated humans for centuries. In his book, journalist Lee Billings traces the history of scientific research into space and the universe as he attempts to explain human obsession with the possibility of life beyond our planet.

Title: Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better
By: Clive Thompson
Publisher: The Penguin Press
About: With information so easily accessible, is technology having a harmful effect on our brain power? Clive Thompson, columnist for Wired, says no -- that technology boosts our cognitive abilities, making us more productive and more creative than ever.