It would be folly to try to find a common thread in the 100 books contained within, except that they were chosen by committed readers of various stripes. In our annual attempt to recommend the years best reading, we have identified five books that stand out: three works of fiction (one of those for younger readers) and two of nonfiction.
History plays a big part in three of those books, and the other two dwell on contemporary human behavior. All in all, this roundup is once again a
| Steve Paul, email@example.com
TOP FIVE BOOKS OF THE YEAR
Our correspondents mustered multiple nominations and unqualified enthusiasm for this quintet of outstanding reads.
The Maids Version, by Daniel Woodrell (Little, Brown). A fatal dance hall explosion haunts a southern Missouri town and echoes through the lives of the haves and have-nots. This is literature, compact and compelling, that transcends the region and touches hearts and minds.
Tenth of December, by George Saunders (Random House). Saunders latest dark but spirited short-story collection reflects his razor-sharp balance of sentimentality and snarkiness as his diverse cast of ordinary people meet absurd enemies and formidable challenges head-on.
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, by Jill Lepore (Knopf). Benjamin Franklins closest sibling is revived in this sensitive rendering of the life of a woman of keen political insights, who had been nearly lost to history.
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, by George Packer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). A sometimes quirky but expertly reported and interwoven collection of stories about people and trends reflecting Americas economic malaise and political dysfunction. It connects Midwestern de-industrialization, Wall Street shenanigans, the housing and banking debacle, the rise of the tea party and other significant dots. Justifiably won a National Book Award.
For young readers
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martins Griffin). In 1986, two star-crossed high-school misfits make mixtapes and surmount class and family obstacles to give their first love a fighting chance. (Young adult)
THE REST OF THE BEST
All That Is, by James Salter (Knopf). From Salter, who turned 88 this year, comes an understated novel about a World War II Navy veteran and editor whose romantic life is unsettled, even as his career in publishing is on the ascent.
All the Land to Hold Us, by Rick Bass (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). In this incandescent desert saga, Bass turns the salt flats and oil derricks of West Texas into a place of strange obsessions and tough individuals.
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Knopf). Set in Nigeria and the U.S., this novel takes on race, individuality, honor and love with wit, forthrightness, caring and complexity.
& Sons, by David Gilbert (Random House). A sharp, shrewd take on contemporary culture, through the story of a famous, reclusive novelist and his three sons.
Benediction, by Kent Haruf (Knopf). Past National Book Award winner Harufs latest is a moving, mournful novel about frayed family ties, mortality and our capacity for grace in trying times.
Bobcat and Other Stories, by Rebecca Lee (Algonquin). Lees first collection of short stories illuminates varied characters in brilliant and sparkling prose.
Byzantium, by Ben Stroud (Graywolf Press). Quirky stories explore mans descent into barbarism, or the thin promise of civilization.
Children of the Jacaranda Tree, by Sahar Delijani (Atria Books). Set in post-revolutionary Iran, this novel spans 30 years of Iranians affected by the fundamentalist regime and their struggle against it.
The Dinner, by Herman Koch (Hogarth). An exquisite and refined multicourse meal slowly reveals the twisted and amoral hearts of the diners.
Dirty Love, by Andre Dubus III (W.W. Norton). In this series of interconnected novellas, Andre Dubus III tells four stories of sex, betrayal and love, showcasing the best and worst aspects of relationships, bringing his characters to life with vivid detail and deep empathy.
Duplex, by Kathryn Davis (Graywolf). The brilliant Davis pushes through the looking glass in this mind-blowing fairy tale of a rapidly changing world.
Equilateral, by Ken Kalfus (Bloomsbury). A 19th-century astronomer endeavors to contact Mars in this short novel that encompasses big ideas.
The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, by Elizabeth L. Silver (Crown). A compelling, subtle saga of an enigmatic woman on death row is told not only from her point of view but productively from other points of view.
Frances and Bernard, by Carlene Bauer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). This epistolary novel inspired by the friendship between Flannery OConnor and Robert Lowell offers a refreshingly candid perspective on faith, love, friendship and art.
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown). A terrorist attack, a missing masterpiece and a young man loose in a world of obsession and avarice, Tartts epic tale of displacement, reinvention, beauty and moral chaos is gorgeously written and enrapturing.
Good Kings, Bad Kings, by Susan Nussbaum (Algonquin). The teens at the center of this debut are funny, rebellious, troubled and scared and residents of an institution for juveniles with disabilities.
The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride (Riverhead). This surprisingly entertaining romp, recent winner of the National Book Award, follows the scraggly path that abolitionist John Brown took from Kansas to the eve of the Civil War through the eyes of a 12-year-old black girl, whos really a boy.
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead). A brilliant riff on self-help books, this meditation on identity, success, politics and celebrity transcends rising Asia.
The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf). Two brainy brothers, two countries India and the U.S. 1960s political upheaval and the vicissitudes of immigration: Lahiri has written an exquisite, morally complex, deeply human novel.
MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood (Doubleday). Social rupture, bio-horror, humanlike desire and brilliant satire combine in this third volume of Atwoods dystopian trilogy, which began with Oryx and Crake.
Margot, by Jillian Cantor (Riverhead). Imagine the life Anne Franks sister might have had if she had escaped the death camps and relocated to Philadelphia. A thoughtful speculation about a post-war life.
Mary Coin, by Marisa Silver (Blue Rider). A textured historical novel, inspired by Dorothea Langes famous Migrant Mother photograph, explores the difference between looking and seeing, and the often uneven relationship between artist and subject.
Necessary Errors, by Caleb Crain (Viking). A recent college grad experiences expat life in 1990 Prague in this novel about friendship and figuring out life.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow). Equal parts nostalgic idyll and chimerical nightmare, Gaimans latest book for adults follows a young man coming of age in a world filled with monsters both magical and real.
The Pure Gold Baby, by Margaret Drabble (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). In a discursive novel that is as deep and layered as it is wide, the veteran British novelist tells the story of an anthropologist mother and her special needs child, a daughter who has much to teach those around her.
Someone, by Alice McDermott (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). A master of subtleties, McDermott brings to poignant life an Irish-Catholic Brooklyn neighborhood and follows the footsteps of a sister and brother.
The Son, by Philipp Meyer (Ecco). Two centuries of American life sprawling, disturbing, ambitious, vengeful, poignant as experienced by succeeding generations of one Texas family.
TransAtlantic, by Colum McCann (Random House). Deft, lyrical interweaving of characters and events linking Irish and American history.
The Valley of Amazement, by Amy Tan (Ecco/HarperCollins). In Tans first novel in eight years, a half-Chinese, half-American daughter learns who she really is while navigating the stratified, codified world of early 20th-century Chinese courtesan culture.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove, by Karen Russell (Knopf). An Antarctic tailgater, a lemon-loving vampire and Rutherford B. Hayes in the body of a horse represent just some of the vibrant narrators in Russells latest darkly comic and spooky story collection.
Woke Up Lonely, by Fiona Maazel (Graywolf Press). In playful but tightly controlled prose, Maazels novel follows a clever cult leader and a freelance covert agent as they fumble for human connection in the unlikeliest of places, from North Korea to a network of subterranean Cincinnati tunnels.
Mysteries and thrillers
A Delicate Truth, by John le Carre (Viking). The greatest living spy novelist spins an enthralling, intricate yarn about a young British diplomat who aims to expose the sleazy politicians and mercenary contractors who are trying to cover up an illegal and deadly offshore military operation.
Ghosts of Bungo Suido, by P.T. Deutermann (Macmillan). This rip-roaring sea adventure is set in the Pacific during World War II. The harrowing last chapters, set in a Japanese prison camp, have a disturbing ring of authenticity.
The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton (Little, Brown). A dark and stormy night. A 19th-century gold rush. A murder mystery. What more do you need? This huge novel won this years Man Booker Prize.
Visitation Street, by Ivy Pochoda (Dennis Lehane/Ecco). The disappearance of a teenager in the Hudson River has widespread repercussions on her blue-collar neighborhood in this novel that has been dubbed an urban opera.
You Are One of Them, by Elliott Holt (Penguin). A young woman travels to Moscow in search of her childhood best friend, who may or may not have ties to the KGB.
American Psychosis: How the Federal Government Destroyed the Mental Illness Treatment System, by E. Fuller Torrey (Oxford University Press). A whistle-blowing psychiatrist explains how American society ended up abandoning millions of mentally ill women and men, causing unrelenting difficulties for those individuals and society at large.
Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in Americas Heartland, by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau (University of Iowa Press). A touching memoir set in Kansas and Missouri by an author who figures out how to plant her heritage from India in Midwestern soil.
Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe, by Mario Livio (Simon & Schuster). Yes, even the brightest of minds screw up, and this readable account of five major scientists and the errors that eventually led to new discoveries is both revealing and readable.
Dragging Wyatt Earp: A Personal History of Dodge City, by Robert Rebein (Swallow Press). Those expecting a gentle send-up of Dodge Citys frontier legacy may be startled by the realities of growing up in mid-20th-century southwest Kansas; author Rebein describes how he and his friends knew they were raised for export and probably would leave their homes.
The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the Worlds Great Drinks, by Amy Stewart (Algonquin). An encyclopedic and entertaining tour of booze and the flora from which its many forms are derived (recipes included).
Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami, by Gretel Ehrlich (Pantheon). Ehrlich blends lyrical prose and astute reportage in this portrait of Japans splintered Tohoku coast months after a devastating earthquake and tsunami.
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sheri Fink (Crown). A harrowing, heartbreaking and spellbinding chronicle of the men and women making the hardest choices in the midst of Hurricane Katrina.
Hunting Season: Immigration and Murder in an All-American Town, by Mirta Ojito (Beacon Press). The murder of an undocumented immigrant on Long Island touches families, community members, civic leaders and public library staff.
In the Body of the World, by Eve Ensler (Holt). Daring, compassionate and giving, Ensler, a resounding advocate for women and all of life, is stunningly poetic and devastatingly forthright in this wrenching and beautiful chronicle of her work with women in the Congo who survived rape and torture, and her struggle with cancer while oil flooded into the Gulf of Mexico.
Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of Americas Police Forces, by Radley Balko (PublicAffairs). A dogged investigative reporter exposes how local police departments have chosen to ride roughshod over individual rights, often armed with weapons of overkill.
The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the Worlds Greatest Piece of Cheese, by Michael Paterniti (Dial Press). A superb practitioner of narrative nonfiction tells an unlikely but true story set in rural Spain, a story that begins when he tastes a sublime wedge of cheese at an Ann Arbor deli.
The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay, by Jess Bravin (Yale University Press). A Wall Street Journal reporter exposes the secret shame of the U.S. government as it incarcerates and tortures suspected terrorists without a scintilla of justice emerging.
Thank You for Your Service, by David Finkel (Sarah Crichton Books). What the author calls the second half of his war reporting yields homefront observations of the struggles of Iraq War veterans, several of them now living in central Kansas.
Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof, by Alisa Solomon (Metropolitan Books). A readable and scrupulously researched account that explains what made Fiddler great and what it represents as a cultural icon; one of Broadways greatest shows, in context.
Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Missouri: The Long Civil War on the Border, edited by Jonathan Earle and Diane Mutti Burke (University Press of Kansas). Kansas Citys much-discussed border legacy benefits greatly from fresh looks by many historians; essay topics include homemade guerrilla shirts, post-war reunions of old William Quantrill followers and how the athletic departments of the universities of Missouri and Kansas have leveraged it all to their advantage.
The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster). This mammoth (900-plus pages) story of the Progressive Era is told through the prism of the friendship between presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Its a masterpiece of narrative, assembling a vast cast that embraces one of the most consequential eras in American social and political life.
Dallas 1963, by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis (Twelve). Not a book about the Kennedy assassination per se, but a fascinating, month-by-month examination of the highly charged atmosphere of political anger and extremism a culture of hate that took root and flourished in Dallas in the early 1960s, culminating in the tragedy of Nov. 22, 1963.
A Death in San Pietro: The Untold Story of Ernie Pyle, John Huston, and the Fight for Purple Heart Valley, by Tim Brady (Da Capo Press). An account of a U.S. Army captain and his companys struggle against the Germans in the mountains of Sicily during World War II.
Dont Hurry Me Down to Hades: The Civil War in the Words of Those Who Lived It, by Susannah Ural (Osprey Publishing). This collection of letters, diaries and personal accounts by ordinary citizens chronicles the war through firsthand experiences.
The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945, by Rick Atkinson (Henry Holt & Co.). The last of Atkinsons brilliant Liberation Trilogy imparts little-known facts and impressive insight into what faced generals and G.I.s in the European campaign.
Hunting Che: How a U.S. Special Forces Team Helped Capture the Worlds Most Famous Revolutionary, by Mitch Weiss and Kevin Maurer (Berkley Caliber). The little-known story of a bootstrap Mississipian who led a mission in Bolivia in 1967 to help root Che Guevara out of the jungle and to change hearts and minds in the process.
Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage, by Jeffrey Frank (Simon & Schuster). A telling portrait of a political partnership between World War II hero Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, the upstart senator who, hard as it might be to believe all these years later, was once viewed as the GOPs emissary to young voters.
The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union, by Peter Savodnik (Basic Book). Eschewing Kennedy-assassination conspiracy theories, the author attempts to make sense of the man behind the trigger, delving into Oswalds troubled and rootless childhood and, in particular, the three dispiriting years he spent living in Russia as a defector prior to landing back in Dallas in 1963, consumed with feelings of rage, desperation and violence.
The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War, by Richard Rubin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). From its opening page-long virtuoso sentence, Rubins oral history of the last surviving centenarians who fought in World War I never lets go emotionally. His search to find the last surviving veterans of the Great War is a triumph.
The Lost Cause: The Trials of Frank and Jesse James, by James P. Muehlberger (Westholme Publishing). A Kansas City lawyer, Muehlberger provides insider detail as to how Frank and Jesse James, for all their alleged Robin Hood ways, lawyered up to fight off an 1869 civil lawsuit over a stolen horse.
The Norman Conquest: The Battle of Hastings and the Fall of Anglo-Saxon England, by Marc Morris (Pegasus Books). Stunning in its action and drama, this book illuminates fully what turns out to have been a tangled and violent passage in history.
The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England, by Dan Jones (Viking). In this immensely readable history, Jones chronicles the dynasty that claims some of the most forceful and memorable personalities in English history.
Shakespeares Restless World, by Neil MacGregor (Viking). The exhilarating, dramatic world of Elizabethan England comes alive as MacGregor looks at 20 revealing objects.
Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of Englands Most Notorious Royal Family, by Leanda DeLisle (Public Affairs). The familiar story is told from the perspective of the Tudor women, who generation by generation pushed the family to eminence and ensured its bloodline.
Vanished: The Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II, by Wil S. Hylton (Riverhead). A thoroughly reported tale about American soldiers who disappeared over a remote Pacific island and the man who decided that he needed to find the plane that carried them.
Lives and letters
The Book of My Lives, by Aleksandar Hemon (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). This first nonfiction work by a National Book Award fiction author highlights his burnished style as he describes emigrating from Sarajevo to Chicago.
Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington, by Terry Teachout (Gotham). An enlightened narrative about a complicated artist, one who created an indelible soundtrack of Americas 20th century.
Jack London: An American Life, by Earle Labor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Labors vividly written landmark biography leaves us stunned by Londons literary genius, prodigious output and universal appeal, as well as the panoramic scope of his wildfire life, his abiding compassion and tireless quest for truth.
Johnny Cash: The Life, by Robert Hilburn (Little, Brown). A biography of an interesting and important American singer by a veteran music writer.
The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Vol. 2: 1923-1925, edited by Sandra Spanier, Albert J. DeFazio III and Robert W. Trogdon (Cambridge University Press). This ongoing scholarly project to publish more than 6,000 pieces of correspondence focuses on the crucial Paris years when Hemingway was teeing up to become a literary star.
Margaret Fuller: An American Life, by Megan Marshall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). The most vivid, psychologically and socially acute, and empathic biography yet of this singular American thinker and writer.
Men We Reaped, by Jesmyn Ward (Bloomsbury). A memoir that chronicles the authors life growing up in Mississippi along with the lives and tragic deaths of five men close to her.
Mo Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove, by Ahmir Questlove Thompson and Ben Greenman (Grand Central). The drummer of the Roots, house band for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, delivers a vivid, energetic and honest memoir about growing up in a family band, the tough realities of the recording industry and the joys of obsessive musical fandom. With its quirky letters, playlists and outsider insight, its not your mamas memoir.
Norman Mailer: A Double Life, by J. Michael Lennon (Simon & Schuster). A multifacted portrait of the writer extraordinaire by his editor and archivist.
Alight, by Fady Joudah (Copper Canyon Press). His most distinguished poetry book yet, showing substantial innovation after his debut book won the Yale Younger Series of Poets award. Joudah, a translator with world acclaim, won the 2013 Griffin Prize.
All You Do Is Perceive, by Joy Katz (Four Way Books). Alternatingly playful and elegiac, musical and imagistic, this long-awaited second full-length collection by Katz addresses the limits of human understanding by examining the aftereffects of history and the complexities of parenthood.
F, by Franz Wright (Knopf). Arguably the best American poetry book since the heyday of confessionalisms Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath, this one confronts the ravages of mortality with extraordinary elan. The long poem Entries of the Cell is a masterpiece.
Glaciology, by Jeffrey Skinner (Southern Illinois University Press). A wry and inventive collection of poems that confronts contemporary spiritual and political landscapes with droll clarity.
Headwaters, by Ellen Bryant Voigt (Norton). In the urgent, whistle-clean poems of her eighth collection, Voigts exacting eye and meticulous ear are trained on the hard truths of her Vermont neighborhood and Virginia childhood.
Incarnadine, by Mary Szybist (Graywolf). Another long-awaited second collection, Incarnadine continues Szybists fascination with complex questions of faith, a project that won her the National Book Award.
Leaving Tulsa, by Jennifer Elise Foerster (University of Arizona Press). Here Tulsa is a landscape filled with history, including stories of the writers family Creek Indian allotment, now covered and flattened to a parking lot.
Lullaby (With Exit Sign), by Hadara Bar-Nadav (Saturnalia Books). This third book by Kansas City poet Bar-Nadav is both stunning and harrowing as it meditates on loss and grief, all the while paying homage to Emily Dickinson.
Red Doc>, by Anne Carson (Knopf). This sequel to Carsons epic Autobiography of Red continues that books narrative stream a re-imagining of a fragmentary account by Greek-language poet Stesichorus.
Straight Razor, by Randall Mann (Persea Books). Manns third collection formal, unflinching, bawdy and sometimes quite funny secures his place as an essential heir to seminal gay poet Thom Gunn.
Trace, by Eric Pankey (Milkweed Editions). This quiet, careful, meditative collection the eighth by Raytown native Pankey movingly considers the complicated places where psychology and religious faith blur.
Trouble Behind Glass Doors, by Walter Bargen (BkMk Press). This master poet, the first Missouri poet laureate, uses humor and social critique to illuminate Midwestern mores. Bargen is one of the regions foremost commentators.
For young readers
Allegiant, by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books). The end to the dystopian Divergent trilogy is messy, passionate and wonderfully unexpected. (Young adult)
The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas, by David Almond with illustrations by Oliver Jeffers (Candlewick). Stanley Potts lives an unusual life with his aunt and uncle, working on fish-canning machines in the living room instead of school, until Uncle Ernests dastardly deed causes Stanley to run away and join the circus. There, his unassuming and good-natured personality makes him a natural successor to the legendary Pancho Pirelli, who swims in a tank of piranhas. (Ages 9-12)
The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt with illustrations by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel). The crayons have up and left Duncans crayon box, and in their places are letters complaining about everything from overuse to misuse to underuse in this delightfully creative picture book that will make you look at crayons in a new way. (Ages 3-7)
Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martins Griffin). College-age Cath struggles to find her own identity separate from her twins in this smart, funny, poignant novel. (Young adult)
Flora & Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo with illustrations by K.G. Campbell (Candlewick). Its tough to decide who is the more fascinating character of this book: Flora, the 10-year-old cynic whose writerly mother ignores her in favor of a shepherdess lamp named Mary Ann, or Ulysses, a poetry-writing squirrel who gained superhero powers after he was sucked into a vacuum cleaner. (Ages 8-12)
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, by Matthew Quick (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers). The author of Silver Linings Playbook takes us inside the mind of a teen who takes a pistol to school to murder his high school nemesis. Its a nuanced, sympathetic portrait of a young man and a difficult subject. (Young adult)
Hostage Three, by Nick Lake (Bloomsbury). The third hostage on a yacht captured by Somali pirates is a teenage girl whose attraction to her captor elevates the tension and brutality in this wild adventure on the seas that readers wont be able to put down until the end. (Young adult)
Mr. Wuffles, by David Wiesner (Clarion Books). A delightfully disdainful cat, Mr. Wuffles, cant be bothered with playthings until he discovers a toy that looks like a strainer is actually a spaceship filled with little aliens to be played with and tormented as only a cat can. (Ages 4-8)
Our panel of nominators
Allen Barra is a writer who lives in New Jersey.
Gerald Bartell is a writer who lives in New York.
Michelle Boisseau is a poet and professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Brian Burnes, reporter for The Star, compiles the weekly Readorama feature.
Kevin Canfield is a writer who lives in New York.
David Conrads, a former Kansas Citian, is a writer and editor in Fort Worth, Texas.
Liz Cook is a freelance writer in Kansas City.
Edward M. Eveld is a features writer for The Star and staff co-ordinator of the FYI Book Club.
David Frese is entertainment editor of The Star.
Jeffrey Ann Goudie is a freelance writer and book critic living in Topeka.
Christie Hodgen is associate professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and author of Elegies for the Broken Hearted.
Denise Low is a freelance writer and former Kansas poet laureate. She lives in Lawrence.
Wayne Miller is a Kansas City poet and professor of English at the University of Central Missouri.
Jeneé Osterheldt is a features columnist at The Star.
Steve Paul, longtime book critic and editor of this section, on Dec. 2 begins a new role at The Star as editorial columnist.
Ben Pfeiffer is a writer and editor living in Lawrence.
Christine Pivovar is a freelance writer in Kansas City.
Donna Seaman is an editor at Booklist and lives in Chicago.
Anis Shivani is a fiction writer, poet and critic living in Houston; his next book is the novel Karachi Raj.
Linda Simon is a book critic and writer who lives in Oakland, Calif.
Elaina Smith is a graduate student in creative writing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and an intern this semester at The Star.
Kaite Mediatore Stover is director of readers services for the Kansas City Public Library.
David Walton is a writer and teacher in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Steve Weinberg is a writer and biographer in Columbia.