Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Bookseller Top 5 of 2021 - Part 6

Our final day of top 5 blogging has come. We hope you have enjoyed it. And we super duper hope you've found a book or two or seven or twenty for yourself and maybe even someone else to love or like or just tolerate. We close out the day with our last two booksellers in alphabetical order (surely you noticed that we did this in alpha-order for fairness, right?!) - Thom and Tim.

Thom Clancy opens us today with his top 5 picks.

#1 Shards of Earth (The Final Architecture #1) by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The Arthur C Clarke award-winning author of Children of Time offers up an extraordinary space opera about humanity on the brink of extinction, and how one man's discovery will save or destroy us all. Authors weight in: from Stephen Baxter: "If Homer had written space opera... Enthralling, epic, immersive and hugely intelligent. This might be Tchaikovsky's best so far, and that's saying something." And from Christopher Paolini: "Adrian Tchaikovsky: king of the spiders, master worldbuilder, and asker of intriguing questions. His books are packed with thought-provoking ideas (as well as lots of spiders; did I mention the spiders?). One of the most interesting and accomplished writers in speculative fiction."

#2 Red Hands by Christopher Golden. When a mysterious and devastating bioweapon causes its victims to develop Red Hands, the touch of death, weird science expert Ben Walker is called to investigate. From The Washington Post: "Tautly written, Red Hands - the third in a series starring Walker - excels not just because of its scare factor (which is high), but also its humane depiction of grief, isolation and fear, growing mistrust of government and even one’s own neighbors." And from the starred Booklist review: "The neck-whipping action and shifting points of view give the reader a wide-angle perspective...invoking maximum terror on every page.. .For fans of horror-thriller series like those by Jonathan Maberry and Mira Grant."

#3 A Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers. Hugo Award-winner Becky Chambers's delightful new entry in the Monk and Robot series gives us hope for the future. It's been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness and laid down their tools; centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again; centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend. One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of "what do people need?" is answered. NPR says, "A Psalm for the Wild-Built begins a series that looks optimistic and hopeful, pursuing stories that arise from abundance instead of scarcity, kindness instead of cruelty, and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here."

#4 Fugitive Telemetry (The Murderbot Diaries #6) by Martha Wells. Thom loves Murderbot and that's no lie! The  security droid with a heart (though it wouldn't admit it!) is back. When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people - who knew?). Hope you like these notes from NPR, because here's some more: "Martha Wells' newest entry in her award-winning, nerd-charming, trope-bending Murderbot series, Fugitive Telemetry, is a lot of things that you probably don't expect. It is an unadorned whodunit. A cozy mystery garlanded with plasma cannons and spaceships... One of Wells' superpowers has long been her ability to pack an epic's worth of material into a very small package."

#5 The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman. Set in a world of goblin wars, stag-sized battle ravens, and assassins who kill with deadly tattoos, Buehlman's latest begins a dazzling fantasy adventure unlike any other. We've still (as of this posting) got a few signed copies, too! As well as two other fans in the shop - Ogi and Jason - of this one. From Library Journal's starred review: "Readers of epic fantasy novelists, like Tolkien or Brandon Sanderson, will enjoy this journey, which is by turns fun, magical, or terrifying for the travelers... this title is transporting."

And now, we finish our top 5 picking with Tim McCarthy's favorites of the year.

#1 Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead. Tim's rec: "Whitehead starkly defines his characters' world as he unwraps their stories with a direct, graceful style and unique symbolism. I met him once at a Boswell Book Company event. I saw the genius in his eyes; the sincerity, too. And he’s funny! Once again, he drops us into another time. Harlem, 1959, was a much harder place than the one where I was born (that same year). Ray Carney is a loving family man with a small furniture company and modest ambitions for upward movement. He stays at the edges of the hustles all around him, but everything heavy pulls at the edges. He “was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked" until his beloved cousin Freddie draws him into a heist. I like Ray, and in Whitehead’s masterful hands he becomes real. I haven’t read a better American novelist, living or dead. He stands with James Baldwin, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, and E. L. Doctorow. Back-to-back Pulitzers ain’t bad. By giving us the past, Whitehead leads us toward the future. He's the new King of American historical fiction, the new voice as powerful as Doctorow’s. The torch of greatness has been passed."

#2 The Beatryce Prophecy by  Kate DiCamillo, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Tim's rec: "Here two stars have aligned. The first is Kate DiCamillo - a fine storyteller, an original voice in children's literature, a two-time Newbery Medalist. She is not shy. She’ll tell children about the world’s great terrors, then offer characters who rise above their traumas. Sophie Blackall is the second star - a creator of elegant pictures that perfectly suit my eye, a two-time Caldecott Medalist. In this wise and wonderful novel, Beatryce is found, filthy and covered with blood, by a fierce and “uncompromising” goat named Answelica, and by Brother Edik of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. Answelica abides nobody, so when Beatryce is found, near death, clutching the goat's ear, it's clear that she's special. She has no memory of how she came to this place, but there is a King looking for this dangerous girl of whom the prophecy speaks. It’s a clever story, made warm with humor and love, and it’s a tribute to the power of reading, writing, storytelling, and strong women and girls. I gladly align my fragile star with the strength of theirs."

#3 The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams. Tim says: "Hope can be tough to come by these days, but Jane Goodall certainly has it. She is truly "a beacon of hope." People from all over the world look to her for it, and it's not wishful thinking. She has very specific and detailed reasons to be hopeful, and she thinks what people see in her is an unflinching honesty about the nightmare scenarios we face on Earth combined with a sincere belief that we can still overcome them. She freely admits there are times when she feels down, but at 87 years old, long after her revolutionary studies of African chimpanzees, she still travels the world working with people and nature, collecting the most amazing stories! She believes that hope is a survival trait which humans have developed, but that it must also be nurtured and reinforced. Her travels give her a fierce belief in "the amazing human intellect, the resilience of nature, the power of young people, and the indomitable human spirit." She discusses each of these reasons for hope in profound dialogues with Douglas Abrams, who wrote The Book of Joy with the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. This is a book I've badly needed, a renewal of my sense of purpose and possibility from one of our wisest elders!"

#4 Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley. Tim's write up goes a bit like this: "Firekeeper's Daughter is a thriller. We know on the first page, when we’re given a glimpse of what’s to come - a revolver pointed at our narrator's face, but the novel doesn't happen at break-neck speed. It's the very personal story of Daunis Fontaine just after her high school graduation. It's deliberate, like her talent for science, and strong, like her ability to play varsity hockey with the boys. She was born a scandal, but her wealthy, white, sixteen-year-old mother insisted on keeping her Ojibwe father’s family in her life. Daunis balances two worlds, loved by both and never completely fitting with either. Now she’s ready for college, looking to be a doctor in the safe world her money and light skin allow her. It's a life her father's Firekeeper family wouldn't expect to have, and things aren't going as planned. Daunis will fight through traumatic losses and walk straight into danger to protect her people, all while pretending she's not falling in love. She's an impressive character, with a toughness and raw honesty that I wish I had. It’s a powerful teen novel, an eye-opening experience, and I learned so many cultural lessons as I was being drawn into the suspense. This is sure to be one of my top books of 2021!"

#5 Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. Tim recommends this book like so: "This book is easy to read, and not because it's simple. Ishiguro creates tremendous emotional depth with a graceful narrative flow. That must be how you win a Nobel Prize: expertly crafting writing that sounds so natural. Klara observes the world and its people with open curiosity, at first untainted by her limited experience, but she’s always learning. Her ability to analyze human behavior with sincerity, consideration, and objectivity is something I would love to possess, but Klara isn't human. She's a machine, waiting for a future with a human family who would buy her as their child's Artificial Friend. She looks forward to being displayed in the storefront window, where nourishment from the sun will make her stronger, and she can see more of the city's intensity. Then there’s a wider world out there, where her status will be friend, family, and possession. Klara feels the effects. She has her own intentions, and her personal story has an unmistakable living warmth. Can Klara love and be loved? Is she ultimately being used for her owners' needs alone, or do they care for her as they would care for a person? One thing I can say without hesitation is that I wish Klara was my friend!"

We sincerely hope you've enjoyed our notes on our favorite books of 2021. Until next year's roundup-list-making-time, happy reading to all of you.

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