Oakland Public Library Staff’s Favorite Books of 2014

OPL staff looks back on their favorite books of 2014.

You’ve seen them everywhere—end of the year Best Books lists in The New York Times, Time Magazine, Amazon, to name just a few—now it’s time for us to weigh in. Here are a few of our favorite books published in 2014.

We’d love to hear from you, too! Please tell us about your favorite books of 2014 in the comments.

All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr 
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Emily Odza, Librarian
I love the kind of story where two persons' fates slowly converge, lending a feverish suspense to the story, despite its experimental approach to time. The backdrop is France and Germany and it tells the parallel stories of two young people swept up in WWII. Doerr has an incredible ability to depict a setting, and I still smell the salt air of Saint Malo, the crash of the ocean, and the atmosphere of a town under occupation, as experienced by a blind French girl. Meanwhile, a young German boy is drafted by Hitler Youth and then into the Army, witness to and participant in terrible atrocities in the hunt for partisans. It is possible to follow along as he comes to realize that he does not want to be part of Hitler's machine anymore and as the final days of the war degenerate into chaos, he is able to do the one good act that redeems his life.

Annihilation
by Jeff VanderMeer
Recommended for: Teens, Adults           
Recommended by: Alice, Library Assistant, Piedmont Branch
It has colorful and textural descriptions of a dense natural environment that may actually be a character in the story. Its like a fine tuned naturalist wrote a mystery that you can't put down. Bonus: It is book one of a trilogy!!

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher
by Hilary Mantel
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Kathleen DiGiovanni, Senior Librarian, Main Library
Read this collection of ten short stories by the masterful English writer Hilary Mantel while you wait for the third installment of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy to be published. The stories are darkly humorous, many of them touched by the macabre. Mantel's language is rich, crisply specific, and evocative.

The Bohemians
by Ben Tarnoff
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Kathleen DiGiovanni, Senior Librarian, Main Library
The Bohemians is a fascinating read for its depictions of San Francisco's literary elite during the Civil War. Why did Mark Twain's star rise? Why did Bret Harte's fall as he squandered his early success? Tarnoff analyzes both of these questions. He also brings into the story two of early San Francisco's other leading writers, the long-forgotten gay writer Charles Warren Stoddard and Oakland's own Ina Coolbrith, California's first Poet Laureate, both associates of Harte and part of Twain's circle.

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
by Roz Chast
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Kathleen DiGiovanni, Senior Librarian, Main Library
If you've ever struggled to have a difficult conversation with your children or your aging parents, read Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast's graphic memoir of her parents' final years. Sad but never sentimental; laugh-out-loud funny and insightful, Chast nails the experience of middle-aged children coping with their beloved but complicated parents in decline.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage
by Haruki Murakami
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Brian Guenther,  Branch Manager,  Martin Luther King, Jr. Branch
With encouragement from his lover, Murakami's title character seeks to find out why his tight-knit group of friends suddenly cut ties with him after he left home for college. Through reconnecting with his old friends Tazaki uncovers shocking news, reveals a dark mystery, and discovers truths about himself. An usually realistic novel for Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru is a beautifully solemn book about authenticity and how we often don't know ourselves as much as we think we do.

Everything I Never Told You
by Celeste Ng
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Mana Tominaga, Librarian, Main Library
Ng’s debut novel is an elegantly written thriller with some familiar elements – a missing girl, a lake nearby, and a love interest apparently gone awry, with some surprising twists involving parental expectations, sibling rivalries, and the added complexities of a mixed race family growing roots in 1977, in an all-American town in Ohio. The book was gripping, and I plowed through, trying to figure out why each family member just couldn’t bring themselves to talk about the real reasons behind Lydia’s disappearance. It’s a heartfelt portrait of a family struggling with its place in history as well as with each other.  

The Flight of the Silvers
by Daniel Price
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Susy, Teen Librarian, Cesar E. Chavez Branch
Two sisters are saved from the end of the world by two alien beings sliding silver bracelets on their wrists. They find themselves on a parallel Earth where they meet 4 other survivors from "their" Earth. The 6 find themselves fighting an incredibly fierce and knowing enemy and searching for an answer and a savior in their new world as well. After 600 pages I can't wait for the next one in this series.

The Girl in the Road
by Monica Byrne
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Christine I.,  Librarian, Main Library
The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne has remained with me like a vivid fever dream. Only the insane or desperate attempt to cross the Indian Ocean on a floating “bridge” of linked energy platforms. At first unsteady as a baby learning to walk, Meena is battered by the waves, then enters a watery world of eccentrics and miracles. Her story parallels a clandestine escape across Africa by another obsessed woman years before. How their lives are related and how they survive their harrowing circumstances make this near-future debut novel a fascinating alternative to the glut of formulaic dystopian tales crowding the shelves.

Glitter and Glue: A Memoir
by Kelly Corrigan
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Tamar Kirschner, Collection Development Librarian
Ms. Corrigan is a local memoirist with a gift for prose that is deceptively light and entertaining, while dealing with the really tough stuff in life. In Glitter and Glue we meet an Australian family left broken and stuck soon after the mother has died of Cancer. Enter a young traveling Kelly Corrigan looking to make a few bucks on her way through town as their live-in au pair. The course of the relationships she develops with the children and other members of the family over the next few months is as humorous and uplifting as it is painful to follow.      

How It Went Down
by Kekla Magoon
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Nina Lindsay,  Supervising Librarian for Children's Services, Main Library
Sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson is shot and killed in the street, but that is all that is certain. Alternating voices of teens relate the aftermath as the mystery around the tragedy unfolds.

I Pity the Poor Immigrant
by Zachary Lazar
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Barbara Bibel, Reference Librarian, Main Library
It is a fascinating fictional account of the early days of Las Vegas seen through the eyes fo Bugsy Siegel and his Holocaust survivor mistress.

Island of a Thousand Mirrors
by Nayomi Munaweera
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Christy Thomas, Librarian, Main Library
An eye opening fictional account of the devastating civil war between the Sinhalese and Tamil people of Sri Lanka. A Sinhalese girl immigrates to the U.S. with her family, only to return years later, her fate intertwined with a Tamil girl who is haunted by violence. A devastating book to read for its depiction of violence, but open the book to any page and you will read gorgeous prose.  Island of a Thousand Mirrors is a debut novel by an Oakland author and winner of the Commonwealth Book Prize for the Asian Region.

It's Night in San Francisco But It's Sunny in Oakland
by Various Authors
Recommended for: Teens, Adults
Recommended by: Sean,  Library Aide, Main Library
So many amazing East Bay poets released work this year that it would be impossible to narrow down a few favorites. This anthology by Oakland-based small press Timeless Infinite Light gathers 60 local writers for "a post/Occupy house reading that never ends." In a year when small press went big (hitting the cover of the East Bay Express) this collection is a snapshot, a celebration, and a poetical call to arms.

Over Easy
by Mimi Pond
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Susy, Teen Librarian, Cesar E. Chavez Branch
Even though it has an alias you know this is Mama's Royal Café on Broadway in our own Oakland. The storyline is fantastic and the characters are great. A good story about finding your way through art school actually any post high school and early adulthood in general. Should also especially appeal to those who have worked in the service industry - i.e. cafes and restaurants.

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights
by Steve Sheinkin
Recommended for: Children, Teens, Adults, Families
Recommended by: Nina Lindsay, Supervising Librarian for Children's Services, Main Library
An explosion at the Bay Area Port Chicago Naval Base in 1944 led to a groundbreaking civil rights protest by African-American sailors unjustly charged with mutiny. Sheinkin's book is one of the first following historian Robert Allen's uncovering of this story. It is gripping, provocative, and highly readable for tweens to adults.

Sinner
by Maggie Stiefvater
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Susy, Teen Librarian, Cesar E. Chavez Branch
This is a companion book to the Shiver Trilogy so it can easily stand on its own. It follows a character from the trilogy - Cole St. Clair. He's a rock and roll star who became an addict, had his inevitable downfall, and disappeared. He's also a werewolf in love with a human. He has found a way back, especially to her, by being in a reality show filing in Los Angeles. I thought I'd hate Cole but I really felt for him.

The Truth About Alice
by Jennifer Mathieu
Recommended for: Teens
Recommended by: Susy, Teen Librarian, Cesar E. Chavez Library
Alice is a slut - everyone knows. She was sexting the quarterback when he crashed his car and died. Different voices tell the story of how the rumors about Alice got so bad. Alice, herself, speaks up too. This book shows how quickly whispered rumors can so quickly turn to vicious, severely damaging bullying and how a young woman can be irrevocably slut shamed. 

The White Van
by Patrick Hoffman
Recommended for: Adults
Recommended by: Brian Boies, Librarian, TeenZone
Bleak and spare crime novel of current day San Francisco, will keep you tense and turning pages.

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