I love reading so much, as is evidenced by my ever-growing list of books I want to read that I keep filed away in Evernote. It seems like for every book I read, I add another five books to the list! Last year I set a goal to read 26 books, and I’m happy to report that I read 29, eeking the last one in the hour before we left for a New Year’s Eve party! My goal for 2015 is to read 35 books, and next week I’ll share some tips to make more time for reading, as well as the books I’ve chosen for my participation in the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2015 Reading Challenge. But for today, let’s look back at 2014.
Interestingly, I found 2014 to be meh year for books. I read quite a few amazing books the year before, books that made it physically painful to start something new because I was so heartbroken to be done with the previous book. While I read some good stuff this year, I didn’t have many of those books you feel compelled to shove into other people’s hands. There’s not one specific book that I could confidently say, “This was THE BEST thing I read all year.” Here’s hoping that changes in 2015! Enough yapping, let’s get to the best books I read in 2014.
The Snow Child by Eoywn Ivey
A couple escapes the pain of infertility and loss in the early 1900s, making a new life for themselves in the Alaskan frontier. The cruel weather and back-breaking work give their minds a reprieve from the memories. One evening, in an unusual break from character, the couple spends a few playful moments in the first snow, building a child out of snow. The next day, a child appears seemingly out of nowhere. Over the years, every winter, the snow child returns again and again, giving them hope and reminding them of their deep desire to be parents still. I loved this novel, filled with joy, heartbreak and mystery.
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
William Talmadge is content to spend his days tending to his apple and apricot orchards as if they were family. And in a way, they are his only family. His mother is long dead, and his sister disappeared without a trace years earlier. One day, two teenage girls appear, stealing from his orchard. Like wild and feral animals, they make a home on his land, staying just out of reach. Against the odds, they soften for each other, only to let tragedy in and stir up long forgotten ghosts. These are quiet characters that move at a slow pace, but they grab you and make you want to keep reading. I love the relationship William has with the different women in the novel, and you wonder how the effect of losing his mother and his sister affects how he relates to other women (in short – not very well).
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
How is your ability to choose the right thing affected when no one is watching? Does tragedy earn you special rights and privilages? Is it ever too late to do the right thing? And what happens when the right thing isn’t black and white? This novel brought up these questions and more, as I read about Tom and Isabel. Living a lonely, solitary life as lighthouse keepers on Janus Rock, the couple struggles to fill the void left by miscarriage and loss. Then one day a boat washes ashore, carrying a baby and a dead man. What develops after that will leave you asking those very questions.
Life After Life: A Novel by Kate Atkinson
Ursala Todd is born on a cold and snowy night in 1910. Just as quickly she dies as she takes her first breath, she dies. Only that isn’t the end of her story, for every time Ursala dies, she is born again. Same time, same place, only with each successive rebirth she lives a little longer. And with each rebirth, she retains some faint memory of her life before. As she makes her way, again and again, through the events of the early 20th century, we see how one person’s choices shape the lives and the world around them. Prepare to spend a lot of time flipping back to earlier pages – not in confusion, but in lightbulb moments. I found it to be a very unusual and extremely captivating book.
You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Grace Reinhart Sachs is a well-known and respected Manhattan therapist, and if you think she’s feeling a bit self-superior about her upcoming book release, “You Should Have Known,” you’d be right. But just weeks before her manual on how women need to trust their intuition about their mates, her husband goes missing and she finds herself wondering about the man she married. Could he be behind a violent murder? Do we ever really know the people we love best?
Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins
This is Taylor’s first novel, and I hope she writes many more. I fell in love with the characters immediately, and she has a way of writing complicated relationships without making them seem overdramatic or one-dimensional. Elsie Porter meets the love of her life when she least expects it, and what follows is a whirlwind romance totally out of character for her or her mate, Ben Ross. Two weeks later they’re head-over-heels in love, five months later they elope, and nine days into married life Ben is killed in a tragic accident. Still reeling from the shock, Elsie must confront Susan, the mother-in-law she never met, who doesn’t even know her son had married. The book goes back and forth between Ben and Elsie’s courtship and the days that follow his death, mixing the euphoria of falling in love with the heartbreaking grief of losing someone you love. You’ll root for Susan and Elsie, as they try to heal and figure out if and how they fit into each other’s broken lives.
Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist
I knew I had to read this when some of my favorite people gushed about it (I’m looking at you, Emily!). Part confessional, part devotional, part cookbook, wholly satisfying. I don’t buy many books for myself, but this one has a permanent home on my bookshelf, and will be a gift for some of my favorite people.
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
I absolutely loved Liane’s earlier book, What Alice Forgot, and was eager to read more from her. The novel revolves around the life of three women in the same Australian town. Cecelia Fitzpatrick is living the perfect life and is the envy of the other mothers, with a beautiful family and a successful Tupperware business. Then one day she finds a letter written by her husband, to be opened only upon his death. She reads it, and everything she thought she knew changes. Tess O’Leary is blindsided when her husband and cousin, who is also her best friend, confess that they’ve fallen in love. She takes her broken heart and her young son back to her hometown to sort out the shattered pieces of her life. Rachel Crowley is the school secretary who is still mourning the unsolved murder of her teenage daughter nearly three decades earlier. She’s convinced the person responsible not only walks free, but is employed at the school where she works. All three women’s lives will converge in one moment, but it’s the pages that lead up to that moment that will keep you engrossed.
You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt
This is also a first novel for the author, and it’s a good one. This was the very last book I read in 2014 and I read it quickly – I just had to find out if my intuition about the characters was right. The book opens in the midst of the Cold War. It’s Washington, DC in the early 80s. Reagan is president and Russia is the enemy. Sarah Zuckerman and Jennifer Jones are ten-years-old and best friends. They decide to write letters to the Soviet premier and ask for peace between their two countries. In a twist of fate (or is it?), Jennifer’s letter makes it the premier, and she becomes an international media sensation after her family is invited on a publicity tour of Russia. The girls’ friendship is never the same, and a few years later Jenny and her family die in a plane crash. Yet Sarah just can’t let go of what was and what might have been. Years later she embarks on her own visit to Russia after a mysterious message arrives which implies Jenny’s death may have been a hoax. I couldn’t wait to see what she’d find, and if the answers she received changed anything about the friendship that was.
Mother-Daughter Book Club Picks
The Giver by Lois Lowry
How did I miss this as a young adult? If you enjoy today’s dystopian novels, you’ll love this classic. What if you lived in a world where there was no pain, no anger, no real memories? What if everything was engineered for sameness? It’s the only life Jonas has ever known, and he loves his life, his friends, and his family unit. Jonas is approaching his twelfth year, when he will learn of his official job in the community. His job, which is very unusual and a tremendous honor, will end up causing him great pain, and force him to rethink the world he thought was so just and perfect. Elena read it for school, then passed it on to me, who then passed it on to Mike. Elena and Mike would like me to warn you that the movie isn’t worth your time – stick with the book.
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Elena and I didn’t like this as much as Eleanor & Park (which may be one of my favorite reads ever), but Rowell has a way of writing underdog girl characters with real issues that you can’t help but root for. And you really, really root for Cath. She’s obsessed (hence the title) with Simon Snow (think Harry Potter). She’s grown up with the book series, and it’s gotten her through some of her hardest times. She’s read the books a zillion times, spent thousands of hours on fan forums, dressed up like characters, and found a niche as an uber popular (but anonymous) author of Simon Snow fan fiction. Growing up, her twin sister, Wren, was just as into the fandom as she was. The book opens with the girls headed to the same college but headed in very different directions. Wren wants nothing to do with her sister or the fandom, leaving Cath confused and lonely. I could tell that Elena really related to Cath and her love of her fandom, much as Elena loves her own particular fandoms (she’s a Superwholock, by the way). On my end, I enjoyed getting into the world Elena and her friends inhabit, and understanding how they can find their own tribe in these fandoms. I just adore Rainbow Rowell.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Elena didn’t finish this one … she said she didn’t care for it, but I think it gave her the creeps. And it is an extremely dark and creepy book. I read this one towards the end of our trip to Spain, and something about the old pictures and travel back in time just fit with where I was physically. I loved it, and would rank it right up there as one of the best books I read all year. Sixteen-year-old Jacob is reeling after the bizarre and frightening death of his grandfather. While his own father struggled to relate to his father, finding him paranoid and distant, Jacob and his grandfather shared a special bond. He leaves him with a bizarre request and some very strange photographs. In an effort to heal from the tragedy of his grandfather’s death, Jacob convinces his father to take him to the remote island off the coast of Wales where his grandfather grew up in a very peculiar orphanage. Weaving mystery, time travel, and dark magic together in a fantastic tale, this is a peculiar, but riveting story. I need another kid to read it so we can discuss!
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
It’s hard enough when things are normal for Caitlin. She has Asperger’s, and struggles to understand the world around her and the strange habits of the people that inhabit it. Losing her mother was bad enough, but thanks to her caring father and patient older brother, Devon, she’s able to manage. Then Devon is killed in a school shooting. How can Caitlin find the elusive “closure” everyone is talking about? How will things ever get better? Seeing the world through Caitlin’s eyes, with our phrases that make no sense and our confusing social expectations will make you appreciate the complexity of Asperger’s. This was a quick read, and would be appropriate for younger readers as well (perhaps 4th grade and up).
Say What You Willby Cammie McGovern
It’s Amy’s senior year, and she decides she’s had enough of being a stranger on the sidelines to her peers. Born with cerebral palsy, Amy has trouble controlling her movements, needs a voice box to talk, and a walker to walk. She informs her mother that she wants student aides to guide her through her days instead of the nurses they’ve always hired. She chooses Matthew, a fellow student who struggles privately (so he thinks) with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Through the year, they grow close in ways they could’ve never imagined, and realize they need each other to conquer their very different fears of the outside world. There are some mature themes in this one, so you might want to read it first yourself and decide if it’s appropriate for your tween first.
If I Stay by Gayle Foreman
Elena read this one first and passed it on to me. She loved it (the sequel not so much), and I loved half of it! The book alternates between two states: Before and After. Before, 17-year-old Mia is a promising cellist, with a picture-perfect family and a boyfriend she adores. After, Mia is looking down on herself as she lies in a coma. There’s been a horrific car accident, and she is the lone survivor in her family. Should she stay, and try to make some kind of life for herself without her family? Or should she go with her parents and brother? I found the flashbacks to be pretty cheesy, and wondered what teenager likes their family that much. The post-accident story was raw and emotional, though. It brought on some powerful discussions about life, death, tragedy, the different kinds of love you can have, and how what you love and what you’re passionate about can get you through hard things.
Looking For Alaska by John Green
Miles Halter, lover of last words, is in search of his “Great Perhaps.” He’s sure this can’t be found at his public school in Florida, where he doesn’t have a single friend. He persuades his parents to send him to his father’s alma mater, Culver Creek boarding school. His roommate, The Colonel, introduces him to Alaska Young. Flirty, rebellious, and mercurial, Alaska has Miles under her spell. That’s all before. What happens after will force the friends to do some serious soul searching and find answers to hard and painful questions. On this, Elena and I agree to disagree. This is her favorite John Green novel, and I will always love The Fault in Our Stars best. Word of warning: this is for teens and up. It’s one of those books I wish she hadn’t read first, because – hello, sex! Then again, I was sneaking my older sister’s “Flowers in the Attic” book at Elena’s age and I turned out alright. I think.
Arcadia by Lauren Groff
Stitches by Anne Lamott
Purity by Jackson Pearce
Making Out with Blowfishby Brian Sweany
A Good American by Alex George
The Memory of Runningby Ron McLarty
To Be Sung Underwater by Tom McNeal
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen
11/22/63 by Stephen King
Skipping a Beat by Sarah Pekkanen
The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
I Couldn’t Love You More by Jillian Medoff
Are you still with me? Good! This was a doozy, but I just had to share all the good stuff I read this year. I’m just starting to get the hang of Goodreads, so follow me there if you like. I love adding to my list of must-reads, so please leave a comment with the best book you read in 2014. Happy reading!