Below are some of the best books that I read last year, in no particular order.
The Magician's Elephan by Kate DiCamillo
DiCamillo is known for her children's books, many of which contain a fable-esque quality. The Magician's Elephant is a very sweet story of an orphan boy, an elephant, and how wishes do come true.
"Magic is always impossible.... It begins with the impossible and ends with the impossible and is impossible in between. That is why it's magic."
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
William is a farmer's son in Malawi, a poor African nation. During the midst of a famine, his family could no longer pay his tuition and he was forced to leave school. Using old textbooks available at the library, scavenged materials, and ingenuity, he builds a windmill to power his family's home, and gains international fame. The truly remarkable thing: he was only fourteen. This is an extremely inspiring story of perseverance, tenacity, overcoming adversity, and the power of learning.
"I try, and I made it!"
Soulless by Gail Carriger
This is the first book of Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, a fun steampunk romp featuring Alexia Tarabotti, a spinster who happens to lack a soul. One night at a party, she stumbles onto a plot involving vampires, a werewolf lord, and a secret society. See my review of the entire delightful series here.
"Cats were not, in her experience, an animal with much soul. Prosaic, practical little creatures as a general rule. It would suit her very well to be thought catlike."
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Major Earnest Pettigrew is a widower in a small town in England. Mrs. Ali is the widowed Pakistani shopkeeper in town. Together, the two defy societal conventions, fishmongering busybodies, and cultural differences to find deep friendship and even love. Utterly charming and delightful.
"The world is full of small ignorances. We must all do our best to ignore them and thereby keep them small, don't you think?"
The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale
A fairy tale without magic, and a love story without romance. A frumpy middle-aged Utah housewife stumbles into bestfriendship with a Hollywood heartthrob. They are from two different worlds, are complete opposites, but yet fit together perfectly. See my full review here.
"He would never abandon her, never leave a gaping hole, and even if he died someday, he was preserved like a lab specimen from all the alcohol he imbibed, so he wouldn't look or act much different."
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
I have a weakness for epistolary novels. I love them, adore them, and devour them. There is a true talent in telling a complete story in only letters. Guernsey takes place after World War Two, and tells the story of Juliet Ashton and the friendship she forges with the inhabitants of the island of Guernsey through letters. She learns of the Nazi occupation of their island, and the formation of their Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (read the book to find out the origin of the name). Completely engrossing.
"We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us."
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
This book follows three women in the Civil Rights era South: two black maids, and one white woman. The three band together on a very dangerous project: to give black maids of the town a voice to tell their stories. The book is both heartbreaking and hopeful.
"All my life I'd been told what to believe about politics, coloreds, being a girl. But with Constantine's thumb pressed in my hand, I realized I actually had a choice in what I could believe."
Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The Secret Danger of Everyday Things by Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie
Smith and Lourie are Canadian environmentalists who used themselves as guinea pigs, testing to see how much the use of normal, household products can raise their urine and blood levels of dangerous chemicals of concern. The authors also gave a thorough history of each chemical, and the potential dangers of exposure - particularly to the very young, and what we can do to reduce our exposure. This is a book I think everybody should read because knowledge is the most important thing in keeping ourselves and our children safe.
"Far from being the rock or island in the Simon and Garfunkel song, it turns out that the best metaphor to describe the human body is 'sponge.'"