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Best of the Year

2014 Newbery Honor Winner: Kevin Henkes on "The Year of Billy Miller"

YrBillyMiller300I'm fascinated by watching illustrators draw, and award-winning author/illustrator Kevin Henkes graciously agreed to have a chat about The Year of Billy Miller (one of our Best Children's Books of 2013) AND draw one his most beloved characters, Lilly (Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, among others) on camera when we met up at Book Expo America.  

When I say that Henkes is an award-winning author, I don't mean it lightly--he's won the Caldecott Medal for Kitten's First Full Moon, a Caldecott Honor for Owen, a Newbery Honor for his middle grade novel, Olive's Ocean, and this year he took home two awards: a Newbery Honor for his latest book, The Year of Billy Miller and a Geisel Honor for Penny and Her Marble, the third book in his new beginning reader series.  Henkes is truly a jewel of the children's book world, and a delightful, down-to-earth guy who was really fun to meet and talk to.  We chatted about how he decides which format to write next, where the story for Billy Miller came from in his own life, and about the fact that he's never had a main character that was a dog.  You can watch him draw in the first video below, and the second is our conversation before and after.

 

 

 

What Makes a Woman Dangerous?

Dangerous Women We asked a few of the authors who contributed to the wonderful, genre-jumping short story collection Dangerous Women -- one of our Science Fiction & Fantasy Best of the Year picks -- what they think makes a woman dangerous. Here's what they had to say...


Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson
"Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell"

What makes a woman dangerous? Well, what makes a person dangerous?

To me, the best kind of danger--which is, in a way, also the worst kind--is unexpected. It's that twisted kind of dangerous that takes something familiar and safe and reveals it as something deadly. Wolves are frightening. A loyal pet going mad and killing a child is ten times more terrifying to me.

For the anthology, I wanted to find a way to express this unexpected sort of dangerous. I didn't want a lean, professional assassin or a warrior in her prime, dangerous though those may be. I wanted something closer to home, a blend of the expected and unexpected. That is where I found Silence Montane.

The first name is one I ran across while reading puritan names. It was the second piece of the puzzle, as it raised questions. Who names their daughter Silence, and what does it imply? What is it like to grow up with this name? The answers built into the concept of a stout pioneer woman who ran an inn on the frontier, drawing the seediest criminals the land had to offer. She'd then track them after they left her inn, and murder them for their bounties.

Familiar, yet unexpected. Kindly, yet deadly. The story turned out better than I could have hoped, and I'm thrilled to have had the chance--and the prompting--to write it.

 

Kress

Nancy Kress
"Second Arabesque, Very Slowly"

What makes a woman dangerous? The same thing that makes a man dangerous: wanting something too much. "Wanting something" is, of course, what drives characters in fiction, as well as in real life. Wanting to win a football game, an argument, the presidency, a certain mate. Wanting to gain money, power, glory, a buff body, a hole-in-one, the most ambitious Christmas lights in town. This is all normal (well, maybe not the Christmas lights). It becomes dangerous when people will do anything at all to obtain what they want. Then you get bloody coups, bank robbery, dangerous steroid use, assassination, and the 1919 World Series. 

It's a balancing act, satisfying the sometimes competing requirements of desire, morality, and other people's outrage. The temptations are many, the rewards great, and the strictures of varying intensity. How badly do I want this? What am I willing to do to get it? At what price? All the characters in Dangerous Women want something, or they would not be dangerous. Usually they want it pretty badly. These are stories about how they go about getting it.

 

Spector

Caroline Spector
"Lies My Mother Told Me

There are so many ways a woman can be dangerous it's difficult to narrow the field. But these four characters in the following films are dangerous because they are all ruthless in getting what they desire. They're beautiful, dangerous monsters.

 

  • Ingrid Magnussen: White Oleander
  • Cora Smith: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
  • Phyllis Dietrichson: Double Indemnity
  • Matty Walker: Body Heat

 

Lindholm

Megan Lindholm
"Neighbors"

Malala Yousafzai threatens the Taliban in a way that no amount of military might could achieve. While still a teenager, she is one dangerous woman, in the best sense of that phrase!

The Top Five Humans of New York

HONY-OMNIBrandon Stanton's thousands of not-quite-candid street portraits of New Yorkers (and accompanying captions, usually from the subjects themselves) have made his Humans of New York blog both poignant and extremely popular--as well as garnering him recognition as one of Time magazine's 30 People Under 30 Changing the World. His book of the same title collects 400 of his best portraits, telling small stories that are outsized in their humor, candor, and humanity. It was also our number one pick for the best books of the year in Photography.

Here are Stanton's own top five favorite images, accompanied by his own words. Click on the images to see larger versions, and learn more about Humans of New York. It also makes a wonderful gift for any of the humans in your life.

 

 

 


1) Ironically, some of the best quotes come from the people who have the least amount of time to talk to me.  She told me: "I can't talk, because these shadows are changing every second."  Normally I'm a bit downtrodden if I'm unable to interview a subject, but I thought her 'brush-off' was the perfect complement to the photo.  Centralpark-4847

 


2) I always cite this photo as representing the most emotional interaction that I've ever had on the street.  I came across this 100 year old woman just south of Central Park.  She was walking in a rainstorm with a very bright umbrella.  After I took her photo, I got under the umbrella with her, and asked her for one piece of advice.  She said: "I'll tell you what my husband told me when he was dying.  I asked him: 'Mo, how am I supposed to live without you?'  And he told me: 'Take the love you have for me and spread it around.'"

Midtown-3881 


3) I was walking through Chelsea one morning when I noticed someone rolling around in the middle of the street.  Of course I started running toward the scene, and when I arrived, I found this drag queen.  Apparently she had been performing a song at a nearby bar, and at the climax of her performance, ran into the street and threw her tips into the air.  I joke that this photo captures more elements of New York than any other I've taken.Edit-8986 

 


4) I love this photo because of the variety of expressions that I managed to capture.  I found these kids in the Lower East Side, making the most of a hot summer day.  Right before I took the photo, one of the kids leaned a little too far forwards and started spilling water from the pool.  This created a variety of different responses from his fellow swimmers.Les-4598 

 


5) The young boy seemed so unwilling to participate in the portrait, that at first it seemed like a photo would be impossible.  But his shyness ended up coming through beautifully, creating a portrait of the relationship between mother and son.IMG_1560

 

 Learn more about Humans of New York.

 

 

Best of the Year in Science Fiction & Fantasy ... plus Horror

It's been an amazing year for Science Fiction & Fantasy. We saw the conclusion of a truly epic epic fantasy series, father and son horror writers cleverly nodding to one another, a self-published ebook phenomenon turned hardcover release, and much, much more. What follows are three of my favorite genre reads of 2013.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

It's the short story that refused to stay small. Neil Gaiman weaves a gorgeous coming of age tale, filled with all the wonder and magic we've come to expect from him. But it's the autobiographical elements, the moments that came from his memory rather than his pure imagination, that give this tale its true heart. Learn more
The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

There's something to be said for subtlety. Wecker's debut isn't what we typically think of when we think of the fantasy genre. It's more of alternate history that happens to revolve around two incredibly real-feeling and memorable fantasy beings. Months later, the story continues to move me. Learn More
N0S4A2

N0S4A2 by Joe Hill

Imaginative, original, creepy as hell, and referentially genius, N0S4A2 is a new horror gem. Hill delivers true suspense, keeping us locked within the confines of his characters -- showing the story, never telling it. And what characters they are! Vic, a young girl we grow with throughout. Manx, a man so twisted he cameos as an abstract threat in Stephen King's Doctor Sleep. Personalities and special powers are all precise and powerful, even for those we barely get to know. Hill nailed this! Learn More
See all 20 books on the Sciece Fiction & Fantasy Best of the Year list

The Best Children's Books of 2013

This year we looked at even more children's books because, let's face it, there are some really special books for kids of all ages--Sense and Sensibility: Opposites Primer, anyone? Ab-so-lutely.  Here are the Best Books of the Year lists by age, and you can see the list for Teen & Young Adult here.

These are the titles that took the number one spot for each age range:

Humans of New York Rocket's Mighty Words by Tad Hills
Rocket has popped up in a couple of earlier picture books, but this oversized board book appeals to a variety of ages.  Babies and toddlers will enjoy the bright colors and learning to say simple words while Rocket learns to spell them. Little bird's teaching also gives preschoolers and kindergarteners a chance to practice their letters and early spelling skills. A perfect choice for households with little ones that are a couple of years apart.    Baby-Age 2
The Day the Crayons Quit The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
I still crack up every time I read this book.  The story's sense of humor--crayons who write letters to the boy who uses them--plays equally well to kids and adults and can be read repeatedly without my wanting to poke an eye out. The Day the Crayons Quit is also great for kids reading on their own because the personalities that come through in each crayon's letter offers an opportunity to explore the nuance of feelings behind the words ranging from whining to praise to peace making.   Ages 3-5
My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish

My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish by Mo O'Hara
When his big brother gets a real chemistry set for his birthday, Tom knows the sibling torment is about to get worse.  How much worse is part of the hilarity, and first and second graders with teenage brothers and sisters will likely relate to this family dynamic.  Readers are sure to enjoy the turn of events when Tom's pet goldfish comes out of his chemistry set experience supercharged with hypnotic powers and a thrist for revenge. A really fun way to get both boys and girls excited about reading chapter books.  Ages 6-8

Counting by 7s

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Willow is a 12-year-old genius and outsider who focuses on her passions--nature and diagnosing medical conditions--and her family.  When she is suddenly orphaned, her world turns upside down and so begins her moving story of transformation and connection.  Counting by 7s is a story that lingers long after you read it, with memorable characters and beautiful writing that speaks directly to your heart.   Ages 9-12

Best of the Year in Nonfiction

Top three questions that customers asked me during the incalculable hours I spent standing behind the registers in bookstores:

Q. I was in here about a month ago and you had a book on the corner of this table. Do you still have it? I think the jacket was blue.

A. [No answer. Suggest the latest John Grisham/Sue Grafton/James Patterson book, whichever was closest to blue.]

Q. Do you have that book that was on TV?

A. Yes.

Q. Where do you keep the nonfiction?

A. Everywhere, man.

Nonfiction, man. It is defined by what it is not. It's both meaningless and whatever you want it to be (except fiction). Somehow, it is also my favorite category. Here is a closer look at three of our picks for the best books of the year in Nonfiction.

Thank You for Your Service Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel

How do you make war personal? It’s not easy, especially when writing about a war that the public has basically given up on (or was never that interested in to begin with). Descriptions of violence that most of us will never see can lose their potency and trail off toward the abstract; it happens in even the best novels and nonfiction. But what David Finkel has done is to follow the troops home from Iraq to cover their “after-war.” Their struggles and suffering back in the States are easier for us to relate to, and Thank You For Your Service is an absolutely mesmerizing account of the pain and hope that they carry from day-to-day. Learn More
Pilgrim's Wilderness

Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by Tom Kizzia

When Robert "Papa Pilgrim" Hale, his wife Country Rose, and their 15 children moved into the old mining outpost of McCarthy, Alaska, they were welcomed as kindred--if eccentric--souls by the ghost town's few residents. But after purchasing an old mining claim in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Hale chafed against the regulations that came with being a inholder, and the humble hermit became a lightning rod for property-rights activists in Alaska and beyond. Expanding on his original reporting for the Anchorage Daily News, Kizzia has written a nearly unbelievable tale of narcissism and religious mania, building toward a denouement reminiscent of Night of the Hunter and Robert Mitchum’s own creepy and deranged preacher. This book somehow flew under the radar this year, but everyone who's taken my recommendation on it has had their mind blown. Learn More

Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer and the African Adventure that Took the Victorian World by Storm

Between Man and Beast: An Unlikely Explorer and the African Adventure that Took the Victorian World by Storm by Monte Reel

In 1856, the gorilla was still the quasi-mythical njena of the Western imagination: a savage, bloodthirsty beast dwelling deep in the forests of equatorial Africa. Paul Du Chaillu set out to bag one in the name of science--and as a shortcut to academic credibility--but he could not have foreseen that he and his stuffed specimens would become unlikely pawns at the center of the burgeoning debate over Darwin's theory of evolution. In the meantime, Du Chaillu's reputation as a death-defying killer of monsters granted him celebrity status and lifted the often bewildered hero to rarified levels of London society. With the unlikeliest of heroes at its center, Between Man and Beast is a fast-paced and fun blend of adventure and history. Learn More

NB: Though Between Man and Beast is now available in paperback (and I've linked to it here), I've used the hardcover image for its awesome depiction of an angry gorilla bending a rifle barrel in half.

Read more in our free Best Books of 2013: Reader's Guide, which you can download now for your Kindle. It features interviews, essays, excerpts, and other fun extras about the year’s top 20 titles: Donna Tartt talks about her eating habits while writing The Goldfinch; David Finkel discusses the emotional impact following the 2-16 infantry battalion in Thank You for Your Service; and much more.

The Best of the Year in Arts & Photography

What to do with Arts & Photography?

In previous years, we Amazon editors crafted a single, 10-book list, cramming in everything that fits our liberal definition of "Arts & Photography": Art, Photography, Fashion, and Architecture. Of course, that was insufficient, ridiculous. In 2013 I've gone rogue, breaking every rule by breaking everything out into its own list (and in the case of Photography, three lists, because I like Photography books the most). Still, narrowing each category to 10 books remains an impossible task--these lists are skewed to my tastes while deserving books are necessarily omitted. But so it goes, and here they are. Our Best Books of the Year in:

 Here's a closer look at three of our selections. See all of them here.

Humans of New York Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton

Stanton's thousands of not-quite-candid street portraits of New Yorkers (and accompanying captions, usually from the subjects themselves) have made his Humans of New York blog both poignant and extremely popular. And now, his book of the same title collects 400 of his best portraits, telling small stories that are outsized in their humor, candor, and humanity. Learn More
Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe by Tim Leong

I'm not a comic book guy, and it's not even close. However, what Leong (a Wired art director) has done here transcends that universe by superhuman leaps and bounds. It's a high-flying exercise in graphic communication, a sort of Visual Display of Quantitative Information for the capes-and-SPANX demographic. Learn More
The Digital Print: Preparing Images in Lightroom and Photoshop for Printing The Digital Print: Preparing Images in Lightroom and Photoshop for Printing by Jeff Schewe

Looking at pictures on your computer is all well and good, but sometimes your pictures are so nice that you want to put them on a wall. But looks can deceive, and the path from monitor to matte is fraught with often unexpected, disappointing results. Although it's Adobe software-specific, Schewe's follow-up to The Digital Negative (also excellent) is enlightening, engaging reading for the discerning photog, hobbyist or otherwise.  Learn More
See all of our picks for best of the year in Arts & Photography.

YA Wednesday: Favorite Books from John Green, Veronica Roth, and Markus Zusak

Earlier this month we announced our picks for the best books of the year, but we also wanted to know what books (not all published this year) a few of our favorite YA authors read and loved in 2013.  Below are the top three titles chosen by John Green, Veronica Roth, and Markus Zusak.

John Green: He's been on location in Amsterdam for the filming of our number one pick of 2012, The Fault in Our Stars but Green is not a man to be without a good book, as evidenced by his top reads of 2013:  

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid


An old professor of mine told me to drop everything and read this book, and I'm so glad I did. A rags-to-riches story set in a nameless Asian nation, I find myself thinking of Hamid's novel almost daily even though it's been months since I finished it.
Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell


Rainbow Rowell's novel was one of the first I read in 2013, and it remains one of the best. It's a beautiful and often funny love story that also explores the reality of poverty and emotional abuse.
Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Terry Hayes


Where'd You Go Bernadette is the funniest novel I've read in years. Everyone I've recommended this book to has thanked me.

 

Veronica Roth: She was busy wrapping up her Divergent trilogy this year but still found time to
read some fabulous YA, including these favorites:

Siege and Storm

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo


One of the best "second book in a series" I've ever read, it carries the larger story forward without feeling like just a bridge between two other books, and the characters and the mythology of the world keep getting more complex and interesting with each page.
Starglass

Starglass by Phoebe North


Starglass combined a lot of my favorite things: beautiful writing, a complicated girl who makes morally questionable (but still real and believable) choices, and SPACE!
The Bitter Kingdom

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson


The world of this series has always felt huge, strange, and dark, and it contains one of my favorite love stories. I was eager to see how this story would end. I was

 

 Markus Zusak: The beloved author of The Book Thief shared the three books he couldn't live without in a recent post--now he answers the question, "what did you love this year?":

I've always believed that a loved book is a loved book; once that happens it transcends the category it came from, and I guess the same goes for the year of its publication. That said, one of these books came out this year. One came out in 2009. And one is a book for the ages.

The Signature of all Things

The Signature of all Things by Elizabeth Gilbert


I bought a signed copy of this for a friend, but as happens every now and again, when I read a few pages out of interest, I thought, 'I think I’ll keep this for myself!' I'm loving its characters, and admiring its seemingly effortless scope. My friend will probably still receive it, but only after I'm finished…
Library Lion

Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes


Published in 2009, I only came across this picture book earlier this year when some friends bought it as a present for my kids. I've read it to them dozens of times now, and it never fails to hit me. I can’t help but get a bit teary as we go through the trials and triumphs of a lion showing up in the local library -- and staying.
The Diary of Anne Frank

The Diary of Anne Frank


As relevant as ever, reading this book again on a trip through America, I was amazed (as we all are) by the life force of a girl, her pages and a pen. As you read a passage like this one – When I write, I shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirit revives. But...will I ever be able to write something great? – you can’t help but wish you could tell her that she most definitely did, and that it’s still alive today, and as important and brilliant as it always has been.

The Best of the Year in Romance

It was a great year for Romance of all stripes, so full of gems -- from newer authors and old favorites -- that it was difficult even to narrow this list down to 20 titles. Across Romance's ever-widening variety of subgenres, however, our top picks share an emphasis on characters. And not just any characters, but unique characters that haven’t traditionally been represented in the romance world.

From the two male warriors at the heart of J.R. Ward’s tender Lover at Last to the charming, socially awkward professor at the heart of The Rosie Project, the top 20 romances of 2013 are filled with characters who come vividly to life and push the genre to be ever more inclusive. Here's a look at three of the books that made our Best of the Year list.

Once Upon a Tower Once Upon a Tower by Eloisa James

Eloisa James’ consistently charming Fairy Tales series hits new heights with Once Upon a Tower. Ostensibly a take on the Rapunzel story, Tower incorporates a dash of Shakespeare (in classic James fashion) by adding in an element of Romeo and Juliet. The love story between forthright cellist Edie and logical to a fault Gowan is a delight-- hilarious, touching, and gorgeously non-traditional. Learn More
Heart of Obsidian Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh

Even after 12 books, Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series continues to produce surprising, daring romances. Heart of Obsidian, the first of the series to feature a romance between two Psy characters, is compelling and fast-paced, featuring a dark hero who gradually reveals himself to a strong but tormented heroine. Building off of an impeccably constructed world, Singh has written a romance that feels fresh, with characters who are complex and finely-drawn. Learn More
Three Little Words Three Little Words by Susan Mallery

Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold series focuses on an all-American small town, full of quirky characters, close friendships, and busy bodies. This setting makes for a sweet and cozy romance that you can sink into instantly, surrounded by loving families and loyal friends. Three Little Words is the third in a new cycle of Fool’s Gold books focusing around a group of former military special forces members, a few with previous connections to the town, who move in to start a bodyguard academy and corporate retreat called CDS. All three of the books in this new chapter of Fool’s Gold romances are excellent—compelling, character-driven narratives with the perfect balance of sweetness and reality—but Three Little Words might just be the best of the bunch. Learn More
See all 20 books on the Romance Best of the Year list

2013 Best Books of the Year: Humor & Entertainment

I always get a little giddy around the time that I finalize the Humor & Entertainment Best of the Month list. I have so much variety to consider: from the laugh out loudness of a well-written comedy book to the no-holds-barred biography of an entertainment icon, the epicness of a pop culture photo tome to quirky niche and novelty items. My three faves this year, collectively, touch on a little bit of all of that.

Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Insight in the guise of absurdity, fearlessness wrapped in self-deprecating shame. Deceptively easy to read, to LOL to, to point at a friend, family member, or oneself and say "That's so you!!!" In other words, Hyperbole and a Half -- the colorful (literally and metaphorically) book by Allie Brosh -- is a lot like the popular webcomic from which much of the material comes, but with the bonus of being tangible. Because, well, Web site links just make crappy gifts. Learn more
The Wes Anderson Collection

The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz

Reading this coffee table-style book feels a little like bearing witness to an enthrallingly awkward conversation: one in which one of the participants has studied at the school of 1960s Bob Dylan non-answer-answer techniques. The thing is, you can learn a lot about an interviewee precisely because they're unforthcoming about themselves beyond their role as artist. Broken down and organized chronologically by each movie in quirky film director Wes Anderson's oeuvre, the conversation segments are each paired with essays by the author (a longtime film critic) and behind-the-scenes and related images. It all begins with an intense intro from Michael Chabon. The result is a combination of mega-filmography, gorgeous art book, movie companion guide, and oddball biography of sorts. It's one of the most unique books I saw this year and one I root for friends to spot and take off of my shelf. Learn More
Star Wars: Frames

Star Wars: Frames by George Lucas

Bum bum bum bumbabum bumbabum... "The Imperial March" plays in my head as I place each of my hands carefully on either side of the box. Resistently the top half slides up; I imagine the whoosh of a Death Star bay door opening. Then something very real hits me: New Book Smell. Yes, this is full-on fangirl geekout, but this collection of images singlehandedly curated by George Lucas from the entire Star Wars saga is nothing short of magnificent. If you have to ask what the point is of poring over stills from movies known for their epic scores, special effects, and storylines, then wrap this one up with a bow and give it to the fan in your life. You'll understand when you see their reaction. Learn More
See all 20 books on the Humor & Entertainment Best of the Year list

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

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