Call it a to do reading list for 2014. If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of these 20 novels that area residents have dubbed the best-read of 2013. They are the most purchased books in 2013 from Barnes & Noble Bookseller in Cedar Rapids and Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City.
“Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere” by Lucas Mann
Award-winning essayist Lucas Mann’s chronicles of a year of minor league baseball in a small Iowa town follow not only the travails of the players of the Clinton LumberKings but also the lives of their dedicated fans and of the town itself. Along the Mississippi River, in a Depression-era stadium, young prospects from all over the world compete for a chance to move up through the baseball ranks to the major leagues. Their coaches, some of whom have spent nearly half a century in the game, watch from the dugout. In the bleachers, local fans call out from the same seats they’ve occupied year after year. And in the distance, smoke rises from the largest remaining factory in a town that once had more millionaires per capita than any other in America.
“The Twelve Tribes of Hattie” by Ayana Mathis
In 1923, 15-year-old Hattie Shepherd, swept up by the tides of the Great Migration, flees Georgia and heads north. Full of hope, she settles in Philadelphia to build a better life. Instead she marries a man who will bring her nothing but disappointment and watches helplessly as her firstborn twins are lost to an illness that a few pennies could have prevented. Hattie gives birth to nine more children, whom she raises with grit, mettle and not an ounce of the tenderness they crave. She vows to prepare them to meet a world that will not be kind. Their lives, captured here in 12 luminous threads, tell the story of a mother’s monumental courage — and a nation’s tumultuous journey.
“Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” by David Sedaris
David Sedaris will delight you with twists of humor and intelligence and leave you deeply moved. Sedaris remembers his father’s dinnertime attire (shirt sleeves and underpants), his first colonoscopy (remarkably pleasant) and the time he considered buying the skeleton of a murdered Pygmy.
“Tenth of December” by George Saunders
George Saunders, a master of the short story, writes his most honest, accessible and moving collection yet.
In the taut opener, “Victory Lap,” a boy witnesses the attempted abduction of the girl next door and is faced with a harrowing choice: Does he ignore what he sees or override years of smothering advice from his parents and act? In “Home,” a combat-damaged soldier moves back in with his mother and struggles to reconcile the world he left with the one to which he has returned. And in the title story, a stunning meditation on imagination, memory and loss, a middle-aged cancer patient walks into the woods to commit suicide, only to encounter a troubled young boy who, over the course of a fateful morning, gives the dying man a final chance to recall who he really is.
“Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” by Reza Aslan
A fascinating, provocative, and meticulously researched biography that challenges long-held assumptions about the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth.
Sifting through centuries of mythmaking, Reza Aslan sheds new light on one of history’s most influential and enigmatic characters by examining Jesus through the lens of the tumultuous era in which he lived: first-century Palestine, an age awash in apocalyptic fervor. Scores of Jewish prophets, preachers and would-be messiahs wandered through the Holy Land, bearing messages from God. This was the age of zealotry — a fervent nationalism that made resistance to the Roman occupation a sacred duty incumbent on all Jews. And few figures better exemplified this principle than the charismatic Galilean who defied the imperial authorities and their allies in the Jewish religious hierarchy.
“The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson
Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother — a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang — and an influential father who runs a work camp for orphans. Superiors in the state soon recognize the boy’s loyalty and keen instincts. Considering himself “a humble citizen of the greatest nation in the world,” Jun Do rises in the ranks. He becomes a professional kidnapper who must navigate the shifting rules, arbitrary violence and baffling demands of his Korean overlords in order to stay alive. Driven to the absolute limit of what any human being could endure, he boldly takes on the treacherous role of rival to Kim Jong Il in an attempt to save the woman he loves, Sun Moon, a legendary actress “so pure, she didn’t know what starving people looked like.”
“Dear Life” by Alice Munro
In story after story in this new collection, Alice Munro pinpoints the moment a person is forever altered by a chance encounter, an action not taken or a simple twist of fate. Her characters are flawed and fully human: a soldier returning from war and avoiding his fiancee, a wealthy woman deciding whether to confront a blackmailer, an adulterous mother and her neglected children, a guilt-ridden father, a young teacher jilted by her employer.
An astonishing suite of four autobiographical tales offers an unprecedented glimpse into Munro’s childhood.
“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman
“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is Neil Gaiman’s first new novel for adults since his No. 1 New York Times best-seller “Anansi Boys.”
This bewitching and harrowing tale of mystery and survival, and memory and magic, makes the impossible all too real … . It starts 40 years ago when the narrator, who was then a 7-year-old boy, unwittingly discovered a neighboring family’s supernatural secret.
“Jewelweed: A Novel” by David Rhode
With “Jewelweed,” David Rhode returns to a Midwestern out-of-the-way hamlet and introduces a cast of characters who all find themselves charged with overcoming the burdens left by the past, sometimes with the help of peach preserves or pie.
After serving time for a dubious conviction, Blake Bookchester is paroled and returns home. The story of Blake’s hometown is one of challenge, change, and redemption, of outsiders and of limitations, and simultaneously one of supernatural happenings and of great love. Each of Rhodes’ characters — flawed, deeply human and ultimately universal — approach the future with a combination of hope and trepidation, increasingly mindful of the importance of community to their individual lives. Rich with a sense of empathy and wonder, Jewelweed offers a vision in which the ordinary becomes mythical.
“The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton
Winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize and Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award, a breathtaking feat of storytelling where everything is connected, but nothing is as it seems… .
It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of 12 local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody soon is drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky.
“Inferno” by Dan Brown
In his international blockbusters “The Da Vinci Code,” “Angels & Demons” and “The Lost Symbol,” Dan Brown masterfully fused history, art, codes and symbols. In this riveting new thriller, Brown returns to his element and has crafted his highest-stakes novel to date.
In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces — Dante’s Inferno.
Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with a riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust before the world is irrevocably altered.
“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak
The No. 1 New York Times best-seller made into a movie, Markus Zusak’s unforgettable story is about the ability of books to feed the soul.
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death never has been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with a Jewish man hidden in her basement.
“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn
Marriage can be a real killer. Gillian Flynn takes that statement to its darkest place in this story about a marriage gone terribly, terribly wrong.
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Mo., it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media — as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents — the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter — but is he really a killer?
The thriller confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.
“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel never has been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. The book won the 2013 Children’s Choice Teen Book of the Year Award.
“Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans” by Rush Limbaugh
Rush Revere, a seemingly ordinary substitute history teacher, takes readers back in time with his talking horse Liberty to see with their own eyes how our great country came to be. Meeting the people who made it all happen, including a shipload of brave families journeying on the Mayflower in 1620.
“Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline
Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains ran regularly from the cities of the East Coast to the farmlands of the Midwest, carrying thousands of children who would either be adopted or would forced into hard labor and servitude.
As a young Irish immigrant, Vivian Daly was one such child, sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future a world away. Returning east later in life, Vivian leads a quiet, peaceful existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing rendered a hazy blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.
Seventeen-year-old Molly Ayer knows that a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her out of juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly is also an outsider being raised by strangers, and she, too, has unanswered questions about the past.
Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, “Orphan Train” is a powerful tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances and unexpected friendship.
“Everything I Need To Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book” by Diane Muldrow
A humorous “guide to life” for grown-ups. Diane Muldrow, a longtime editor of the iconic Little Golden Books, realized that, despite their whimsical appearance, there was hardly a real-life situation that hadn’t been covered in the more than 70-year-old line of children’s books — from managing money, to the importance of exercise, to finding contentment in the simplest things. In this age of debt, depression, and diabetes, could we adults use a refresher course in the gentle lessons from these adorable books, she wondered — a “Little Golden guide to life”? Yes, we could.
“Sycamore Row” by John Grisham
Often named an all-time favorite by John Grisham’s legions of fans, the book that started it all — “A Time to Kill” — gets a brand-new chapter. when John Grisham returns to Ford County, Miss., where defense attorney Jake Brigance will have to fight for justice in a trial that could tear the small town of Clanton apart.
“The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” by Jonas Jonasson
After a long and eventful life, Allan Karlsson ends up in a nursing home, believing it to be his last stop. The only problem is that he’s still in good health, and in one day, he turns 100. A big celebration is in the works, but Allan really isn’t interested (and he’d like a bit more control over his vodka consumption). So he decides to escape. He climbs out the window in his slippers and embarks on a hilarious and entirely unexpected journey, involving, among other surprises, a suitcase stuffed with cash, some unpleasant criminals, a friendly hot-dog stand operator and an elephant (not to mention a death by elephant).
“Skull in the Ashes: Murder, a Gold Rush Manhunt, and the Birth of Circumstantial Evidence in America” by Peter Kaufman
On a February night in 1897, the general store in Walford burned down. The next morning, townspeople discovered a charred corpse in the ashes. Everyone knew that the store’s owner, Frank Novak, had been sleeping in the store as a safeguard against burglars. Now all that remained were a few of his personal items scattered under the body.
At first, it seemed to be a tragic accident mitigated just a bit by Novak’s foresight in buying generous life insurance policies to provide for his family. But soon an investigation by the ambitious new county attorney, M. J. Tobin, turned up evidence suggesting that the dead man might actually be Edward Murray, a hard-drinking local laborer. Relying upon newly developed forensic techniques, Tobin gradually built a case implicating Novak in Murray’s murder. But all he had was circumstantial evidence, and up to that time few murder convictions had been won on that basis in the United States.