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Lists of the previous year seem to abound, so here is a review of the top sellers in several categories at Fact and Fiction Downtown.

The books reflect events, news and bookseller favorites – with a few contenders that may end up as part of your 2014 reolution to read.

The two best-sellers in fiction reflect the power of a good story and the power of a visiting author:

“The Art of Hearing Heartbeats”

by Jan-Philipp Sendker

When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be – until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago, to a Burmese woman they have never heard of. Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived and discovers a beautiful tale of resilience and the power of love.

“Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories”

by Sherman Alexie

A bold and irreverent observer of life among Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, the daring, versatile, funny, and outrageous Sherman Alexie filled the Wilma Theatre 45 minutes before his scheduled reading for HumanitiesMontana Festival of the Book in October. “Blasphemy” unites 15 beloved classics with 16 new stories in one sweeping anthology for devoted fans and first-time readers.

Other fiction contenders: “Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver, “In the Shadow of the Banyan” by Vaddey Ratner and “Sweet Thunder” by Ivan Doig.

Mystery lovers gave the nod to two local writers:

“Light of the World: A Dave Robicheaux Novel”

by James Lee Burke

Dave Robicheaux comes to Montana to take in the sweet summer air, accompanied by Alafair, his wife Molly, faithful partner Clete and Clete’s newfound daughter, Gretchen Horowitz. Serial killer Asa Surrette escapes from a prison transport van and heads to Montana also, thus ending a calm summer in Lolo, Missoula and Flathead Lake


by Gwen Florio

Sure-footed journalist Lola deftly negotiated Afghanistan’s deadly terrain but feels off-balance when she tries to solve the murder of her friend.

Other contenders: “Death Al Dente” by Leslie Budweitz and “Keeper of Lost Causes” by Jussi Adler-Olsen.

Poetry titles of note included:

“Dog Songs”

by Mary Oliver

New books by Mary Oliver are always a cause for celebration then add the fact that all the poems in this collection are about dogs and what’s not to like. “Dog Songs” collects cherished poems together with new works, offering a portrait of Oliver’s relationship to the companions that have accompanied her daily walks, warmed her home and inspired her work.


by Josh Slotnick

Josh Slotnick is known for being a farmer, University of Montana educator, and a strong advocate for sustainable agriculture and community involvement. He also found time this year for UM’s TED X and “Tell Us Something.”

Other contenders: “Earth Again” by Chris Dombrowski and “Four Swans” by Greg Pape.

Moving to the world of children’s books:

“Have You Ever Seen a Bear with a Purple Smile”

by Laura Budds and illustrated by Kadie Zimmerman

“Have You Ever Seen a Bear with a Purple Smile” is a wonderful and entertaining tool to teach young children about huckleberrying and huckleberry season. Find a stuffed bear and some huckleberry chocolates and you have a great family gift!

“The Day the Crayons Quit”

by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Poor Duncan just wants to color. But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing: His crayons have had enough! They quit! Black wants to be used for more than just outlining. Blue needs a break from coloring all those bodies of water. And Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking – each believes he is the true color of the sun. In the end Duncan earns an A-plus in creativity, as does the author.

Other contenders: “Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site” by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld, and “Duckling Gets a Cookie” by Mo Willems

Some of the best writing these days is being done for young adults, these are a few not to miss:

“Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book I”

by Colin Meloy and illustrated by Carson Ellis

Prue McKeel’s life is ordinary. At least until her brother is abducted by a murder of crows and taken to the Impassable Wilderness, a dense, tangled forest on the edge of Portland, Ore. No one’s ever gone in – or at least returned to tell of it. You have time to read this and the sequel “Under Wildwood,” before the final volume, “Wildwood Imperium” arrives at the end of January.

“Hard Luck: Diary of a Wimpy Kid No. 8”

by Jeff Kinney

Greg Heffley’s on a losing streak. His best friend Rowley Jefferson has ditched him, and finding new friends in middle school is proving to be a tough task. To change his fortunes, Greg decides to take a leap of faith and turn his decisions over to chance. Is Greg’s life destined to be just another hard-luck story?

Other contenders: “Apothecary” by Maile Meloy and “Divergent” by Veronica Roth. Also, authors Eric Pierpoint and Michael Harmon earned many fans during their visits to area schools and the Montana Library conference.

Memoirs and biographies are another popular area of the store; two titles with Montana interest lead the list:

“Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune”

by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.

Huguette Clark was the daughter of William Clark and lived to the age of 104, secluding herself from the world for more than half a century in a hospital room. When she died, three empty mansions in California, New York and Connecticut were discovered.

“Last Stand: Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet”

by Todd Wilkinson

“Last Stand” is an exploration of Ted Turner’s lesser-known but larger-scale other life: eco-capitalist, citizen environmentalist, anti-nuclear weapons crusader, humanitarian agitator, bison baron and bequeather of land.

Other contenders: “When Women Were Birds” by Terry Tempest Williams and “My Beloved World” by Sonia Sotomayor

Moving to history:

“The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics”

by Daniel James Brown

Daniel James Brown tells the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their quest for an Olympic gold medal. The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team.

“Hog’s Exit: Jerry Daniels, the Hmong and the CIA”

by Gayle Morrison

The American Embassy in Bangkok reported the accidental death of Jerry “Hog” Daniels by carbon monoxide poisoning. Three decades later, his family and most of his friends remain unconvinced that the U.S. government told them the truth. This book examines the unique personality and reported death of a man who was a pivotal agent in U.S.-Hmong history.

Other contenders: “Bully Pulpit” by Doris Kearns Goodwin and “One Summer by Bill Bryson”

Next up is our eclectic mix of science:

“The Esperanza Fire: Arson, Murder and the Agony of Engine 57”

by John N. Maclean

In an atmosphere of heightened expectation the jury entered a Riverside County Superior Court room in Southern California to render a decision in the trial of Raymond Oyler, charged with murder for setting the Esperanza fire of 2006, which killed a five-man U.S. Forest Service engine crew sent to fight the blaze. Today, wildland fire is everybody’s business, from the White House to the fireground. Wildfires have grown bigger, more intense, more destructive and more expensive.

“The Wolverine Way”

by Douglas Chadwick

“The Wolverine Way” reveals the natural history of this species and the forces that threaten its future, told by Douglas Chadwick, who volunteered with the Glacier Wolverine Project. Wolverines, according to Chadwick, are the land equivalent of polar bears in regard to the impacts of global warming. The plight of wolverines adds to the call for wildlife corridors that connect existing habitat that is proposed by the Freedom to Roam coalition.

Other contenders: “In the Shadow of the Sabertooth” by Doug Peacock, “Cooked” by Michael Pollan and “Dirt Work” by Christina Byl

Missoulians love to give books about their place, so top titles in the Montana section were:

“Missoula Impressions: Montana’s Five Valleys”

photographed by Nelson Kenter with foreword by Daniel Kemmis

Photographer Nelson Kenter captures the unique character of Missoula, from its architecture and rich history to its cultural events and outdoor recreation.

“Mining Childhood: Growing Up in Butte, 1900-1960”

by Janet L. Finn

Last January, Janet Finn began Fact and Fiction’s events with a presentation at the Holiday Inn Downtown for her child’s-eye view of Butte. With its rich stories, the book captures children’s experiences of school, play and work by exploring their joys and miseries, and the varied lessons learned.

Other contenders: “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean, “Missoula Mercantile” by Minie Smith and “Opportunity, Montana” by Brad Tyer.

Thanks for supporting local writers and trusting local booksellers’ recommendations!

This year promises to continue a Montana author trend with new books by Bryce Andrews, Peter Stark, Walter Kirn, Carrie LeSeur and Malcolm Brooks, to name a few.

Barbara Theroux manages Fact and Fiction bookstore in downtown Missoula and writes for the Booming section.

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