Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Books of 2014

Now, when I say "Best Books of 2014," I do not mean the best books published in 2014, I mean the best books I read in 2014.  This isn't the New York Times, people; my sense of self-importance isn't constantly threatening to explode all over you and this post isn't going to be twenty years long.  (I actually love the New York Times.  But the previous statement is still completely true.)

The problem is, even though the majority of what I read wasn't brand spanking new, some of it was still pretty great, great enough to want to not-so-subtly pressure/ recommend you read it, however, what started as a quick, "Here's my favorite five or so books I read this year" listy kind of post quickly mutated into something twenty years long.

For around eight seconds I lost my head completely and thought about cutting books from the list (the horror), but then inspiration struck, and rather than one huge list, I decided to divide the books into smaller, sometimes genre- specific, sometimes completely arbitrary lists of my own design, because that's... well, certainly not shorter, but perhaps a bit more organized, and seeing as tomorrow's the beginning of a New Year I understand mobs of people are going to be obsessed with organization for two whole weeks, right?

Anyway.  Onward!

Fiction by Brits  

To be read with tea, or with coffee and you can just pretend it's tea, because tea is nasty.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Read this one if you want to pull for an older man and his wife and walking and the strangers he meets and England.  I've always loved the idea of a pilgrimage, but then, I love to walk.  Everything happens so fast when you're driving; whereas walking provides time for introspection and it forces you to be in that great healer The Outdoors, plus you feel great when you reach your destination.  Don't believe me?  Ask Harold Fry.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

If you like mystery series or female protagonists who have a working brain or the 1920's- 1930's or, again, England, these are the books for you.  This is one of those where Ms. Winspear makes me love her characters so much that I get exceedingly nervous for them, having to pause and put the book down to take a deep breath when they get themselves into pickles or when there's only ten pages left but they do something stupid; can't they see the book's almost over and they're in danger of being killed off?!  Plus there are close to a dozen books in the series, so if you do love it, you have ready-made reading material far into 2015.

Fiction by Other Foreigners

Is there any way to say "foreigners" without sounding completely hateful?  Because I really don't mean it that way.  I mean, who knew Australians were so funny?  And now I'll stop before Derek has a heart attack, even if my prejudices are xenophilic in nature.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I started this book and stayed up way too late reading into one night and neglected certain halfway necessary tasks the next day just to finish it.  Then I went into my library and wheedled and pleaded until the librarian had requested every other book by Moriarty she could find.  Big Little Lies remains my favorite of this author's books so far, although they're all entertaining; her characters are absolutely endearing, the pace of the books is quick, quick, quick, and the observations on human behavior are en pointe and absolutely hilarious.  

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

I talked about this and a few other books in this post, and I'm guessing by now you've heard about this book everywhere.  It's charming.  The characters are lovable.  You won't be able to put it down.  Everyone loves it.  Your library likely has several copies; just go get one already.


To be read while eating cookies, because calories don't exist in Faerie.

Ms. Valente is ridiculously creative in her world building and twisty, turny plots, not to mention her incredible skill with fickle, fickle words.  Perfect escapist fantasy, Adelaide and I both adore this book and the two others in the series; Adelaide recently mentioned that if she could pick one book to go on and on forever, it would be this one, because our daughter has excellent taste.

A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle

I read and loved A Wrinkle in Time as a child, and while it remains one of my all time favorites, I had yet to read the Time Quartet before this year.  I'm not really sure why I waited so long, except for the always valid excuse that there's never enough time to read All The Books.  I loved this book: the continuation of a beloved story, its inherent message, and the fact that I can't stop thinking about the way she chose to depict an angel.  Forget halos and gentle smiles and curiously Scandinavian hair and skin; this angel was memorable and somehow feelingly real.  

Historical Fiction

Even those of us who actually liked reading our history textbooks have something to learn from these, and bonus!  There will not be a test when you're done, but feel free to come by my house; we'll bury the kids in Legos and argue about the protagonists' motives over coffee.    

This is brilliant WWII fiction; if you've already read a bunch of WWII fiction (who hasn't?), and you therefore don't need to read this one, I say fair enough, as long as you already know about the use and importance of radios used in the war, you're aware of the part locksmiths played in European museums, and you've never wondered how certain parts of the population- such as the blind-  survived living in Occupied parts of Europe.  A must-read.

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

This is The Help if the The Help had been told from the point of view of a plucky nine-year-old who's a magnet for trouble but still entirely likeable.  She and her comrades-at-arms will have you cheering and crying and hoping that they'll somehow find their way out of the inherent scrapes that come from being an African American, or even being seen with someone with darker skin, in the South in the 1960's.  Recent events here in the real world may leave you the tiniest bit depressed while reading this book, though, thinking that perhaps we haven't come so far after all.

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

You are only allowed to skip this book if you can give me a full dissertation on the yellow fever epidemic of 1793.  If not, read this and send me a heart-felt thank you note later.  I did a more complete review in this post, and my feelings have not changed:  this one's a keeper; one of the few books I've actually bought with real live money just so it could occupy a precious space on our bookshelves.

The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander

At the beginning of this book you'll be smiling and whispering, "Oooh, this is a good one," halfway through you'll start to worry for the characters and whisper, "Well, I apparently know NOTHING about Russian history," at the end you'll flip through the final pages in bewilderment, whispering, "It's over?  That's it?  After that plot twist?"

Actually, I hope you don't do any of that.  All of that whispering is creepy.


Because people are interesting.

A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel

Read this one after you've slogged through half of The Goldfinch before remembering no one's actually forcing you to read such a lugubrious tome of a book.  Kimmel is just as smart as Tartt but about a million times more relatable.  From Kimmel's father convincing her they really did adopt her from a band of traveling gypsies to her wry observation that her older brother was a very attractive, angry young man and that girls went nuts over him, you'll wonder why she ever had to stop telling the world at large about her family and innocuous Indiana hometown.  I love this one.

Books You Want to Shove In Other People's Faces

But don't.  People don't like that, I've been told.  

Quiet : The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

This one should by on your Life's Syllabus, if only because it will describe the maddening, befuddling actions of a large part of the population.  I'm a strong introvert, and I was astonished over and over again to have so many of my behaviors identified and explained, but also validated, with helpful coping mechanisms suggested throughout.  My mom thinks it should be required reading for teachers; I would only expand that to anyone who works with other human beings.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Yes, I'm still harping about this book.  Yes, it's about a university professor who develops alzheimer's disease. No, there are no frolicsome wyverns or romps through beautiful lands; they can't all be The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland.  But as I no doubt said before, this book feels important, like you're learning to empathize with anyone who's ever been forced to wander down the terrifying path of Dementia, and it's written in a way that you're not forcing yourself to pick it up and keep reading; you're eager to do so.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

This is a book to be slowly and thoughtfully ingested, one precious revelation at a time, until you reach the end, and then you flip back to the front and start over.  You'll wallow in little things like grace and compassion and thankfulness, and who doesn't need that?


  1. Excellent review! I've now got several new books on my "to read" list :-)

  2. Thank you! This is great. I read "A Girl Named Zippy" earlier in the year when you mentioned it, and I loved it. I'm looking forward to picking more books from your list here.

  3. I have yet to read Still Alice. My friend devoured it during her 40th birthday beach vacation (it was raining) and then shared about it when not completely absorbed by it. The conversations with her were enough to embolden Bill and I to talk with his parents about his mom's behaviors. She has early onset dementia. I'm scared of this book because watching her progress is so painful for me. I'm already a mess and can barely deal with my emotions after spending time with her. I can't imagine reading about it some more.

  4. HOW DID I MISS THIS POST?????!!!!!!!!! (yes, I know you hate multiple questions marks and exclamation points, but this situation truly warrants them)

    What a fun post! And may I say it tickles me that we liked so many of the same books this year? (We both have The Rosie Project and Still Alice on our favorites list for the year! I'm also dorkily (yes, that's a word today) delighted that you liked books I recommended to you!

    I intended to read Zippy this year, I even checked it out from the library, but I somehow didn't get to it before it was due. I will have to give it another try.

    Thank you so much for sharing.


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