The Best Books I Read in 2014 – Adult Fiction

adult fiction 2Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – I read Jane Eyre before I could truly understand it. I had seen the movie and I was drawn to the dark, dreariness of it. The unease that permeates throughout. Most of all, I liked Jane. There was also probably a hint of wanting to impress people by the fact that I was reading Jane Eyre. I remember the actual physical book vividly – it was red, leather bound and much nicer than the other books in my middle school library. It had a ribbon bookmark. (An aside: does anyone else remember the way their middle school library smelled? In my memory, most of middle school took place in the library.) I hadn’t revisited Jane Eyre in many years, but it turns out that middle school me and 2014 me have very similar tastes. This time, I listened to the book on audio as I drove around Virginia for my job during the fall. It seems to me that this has been a particularly rainy fall and winter and that was perfect for listening to Jane Eyre on long drives. I am still drawn to Jane and the mystery of it all, the atmosphere, the language, Mr. Rochester and his lying ways. This year, I’d love to watch all the Jane Eyre movie adaptations to compare them and read books that have been inspired by Jane Eyre, like Wide Sargasso Sea.

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland – When I was working in publishing, I didn’t blog about the books published by my company because it felt like a conflict of interest. That was the right thing to do, but I didn’t get to tell you about some really great books. Since I’ve switched jobs, I’m very excited to share them with you. The Transcriptionist is a quiet novel, one that can almost seem like it’s leading to something bigger, but don’t be disappointed when it doesn’t. The book starts out with a mystery, but this is a book that asks questions and doesn’t answer them. And that’s what I loved about it. It’s about a woman named Lena, a mysterious death, newspapers, technology, coincidence, war, life and death and what it means to be alone. Big questions with no easy answers.

The Three by Sarah Lotz – So, I’m really not a great flyer. It seems like it would be a horrible idea for me to read this book, about three plane crashes on the same day that the world believes are somehow connected. And it was! It was terrifying! But what I actually loved about this novel was the structure. It’s a book within a book and uses found documents, like chat and video transcripts, letters, and interviews. I didn’t necessarily expect this book to make my list of the best books of the year, but I keep thinking about the structure months after reading it. It managed to maintain the suspense and use the technique to its advantage. The other book I read this year that tried to do the same thing, The Supernatural Enhancements, let the structure get in the way of the actual story. I can’t imagine The Three being told any other way.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng – I only read Everything I Never Told You a few weeks ago, but I knew immediately that it was going to be one of the best books I read this year. On its surface, it’s a story that’s been told many times in literary fiction and crime fiction: a teenage girl goes missing and her family must deal with the aftermath. But this book takes every cliche from that tired story and turns it on its head. The Lees stand out in their small Ohio town in the 70s as the only interracial family. James Lee, the patriarch, wants nothing more than for his family to blend in. Marilyn Lee hates the homemaker life she has fallen into, so pushes all her medical school aspirations on her oldest daughter Lydia. When Lydia goes missing, James and Marilyn and their two remaining children, Nathan and Hannah, are left to untangle where it all went wrong. I can’t recommend this book enough.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay – An Untamed State is a difficult book to read and it’s a book that’s going to stay with me for a long time. Mireille, American-born and of Haitian descent, is visiting her parents’ estate in Haiti with her midwestern white husband and their infant daughter when she is kidnapped. Kidnappings are common in Haiti and her wealthy father refuses to give into the kidnappers’ demands, leading to a horrific two weeks of brutality for Mireille. When Mireille is finally released, she is shattered physically and emotionally and must somehow heal and learn how to live and love again after this horrible thing has happened. An Untamed State is the kind of novel that makes you feel. Anger, disgust, horror, and grief. But also hope and forgiveness.

Someone by Alice McDermott – This was one of the first books I read in 2014, for my book club, and I just knew it was going to stick with me. It has. It’s about the life of one ordinary woman named Marie. It’s a portrait of her and her life, her sadnesses and triumphs, that moves forward and backward in time with a beautiful fluidity. It’s one of the few books I reviewed this year, so I talk about it in a lot more detail here. Also, do yourself a favor. If you’re going to buy this novel, please buy the hardcover. It’s so understated, it’s hard to tell online, but it’s one of the most beautiful books I own. The buildings and text on the cover and the spine are this lovely metallic copper color and it’s just lovely.

2014 End of Year Book Survey

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Every year, Jaime at the Perpetual Page-Turner puts together this great End of Year survey. It’s just a fun way to look back on your reading year. I took most of December off from blogging, which was much needed, but I’m ready to get back into the swing of things with a full week of best of 2014 and looking ahead to 2015. To kick it off, I’m going to start with the year-end survey! I always pick the questions that are most relevant to my reading life, so be sure to check out the full survey if you’d like to add it to your blog, too!

Reading Stats

Number of Books Read: 102 and I’m expecting to read a few more before the week is over.
Number of Rereads: 3
Genre You Read the Most From: Fantasy – 39 books.

Best In Books

Best book read in 2014? Like I could pick just one! Someone by Alice McDermott, The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland, Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, and Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Book I was excited about and thought I was going to love more: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. A Secret History is one of my favorite books, so I had high hopes for The Goldfinch. While I liked it a lot, it’s definitely not one I’ll read again.

Most surprising book: I’m going to go with most surprising series – The Vampire Academy series and the Bloodlines series. I devoured these this year and really loved them, which I wasn’t expecting! They aren’t perfect books, but I liked the world building a lot and cared about the characters.

Book I pushed the most people to read: I’m constantly telling people to read The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Best series I started in 2014: Bloodlines!

Favorite new author: I think everyone discovered Roxane Gay this year, but An Untamed State was one of the best books I read this year. Celeste Ng is another author I’m eager to read again and Lin Enger, author of The High Divide.

Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year: The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero and The Three by Sarah Lotz

Book I’m most likely to reread next year: I like to wait at least a year or so in between rereads, so probably nada.

Favorite cover: 

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Most memorable character of 2014: Jane Eyre

Most beautifully written book of 2014: Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore and Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman (Goal: read more beautiful books in 2014)

Most thought-provoking book of 2014: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

Book I Can’t Believe I Waited Until 2014 to Read: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield – I won this galley in a Twitter contest ages ago and it had been sitting on my shelf for a long while. I ended up loving it and I’m sorry it sat on my shelf for so long!

Favorite passage? From Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman:

The letters are sitting right here, bound in dirty string so they can’t come open too easily, so they can’t steal my nights as I look for secrets in their creases. Mama developed Grandma’s preference for onionskin paper too, and felt-tip, I wait for this to happen to me, I’m certain it will. The only way to tell the difference between Mama’s letters and Grandma’s at first glance is that Mama’s stay bundled up so tight the string rips into their pages and Grandma’s are loose and open, all over this table. I keep Mama’s letters closed, keep their edges close together like a cut that needs force to heal. I’m all wrapped up in there, jumbled with her, small i‘s and slashes, her story in my story at every turn.

Shortest book? Hilda and the Midnight Giant by Luke Pearson (40 pages) Longest book? A Feast for Crows by George RR Martin (976 pages)

 Book that shocked me the most: Wild Ones by Jon Mooallem had some fascinating and shocking facts about conservation and extinction.

OTP: Sydney and Adrian!!!!

Favorite non-romantic relationship: Karou & Zuzana from Daughter of Smoke & Bone

Favorite book read in 2014 from an author I’ve read previously: Locke & Key and Saga volumes 2 and 3

Best book I read in 2014 based on a recommendation: Wild Ones by Jon Mooallem based on a recommendation from Aarti

Best debut I read in 2014? Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Best worldbuilding? Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Book that put a smile on my face: Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and

Book that made me cry: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Hidden gem of the year: I want everyone to read David R. Dow, so I’m going to say Things I Learned from Dying by David R. Dow

Book that crushed my soul: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Most unique book of 2014: The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero – Though this style of book isn’t really unique, it was definitely the most unique book I read in 2014!

Book that made me the most madAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay made me viscerally angry about the horrible things that people can do to each other.

Looking Ahead

One book I didn’t get to in 2014 that will be a priority in 2015: I’ve already picked out my first book of the year for 2015 and it’s going to be My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, which I’ve only heard good things about.

Book I am most anticipating for 2015: The third book in the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patric Rothfuss, Doors of Stone, does not have an official release date, but the rumor is that it will be in 2015. Fingers crossed!

One thing I hope to do in my reading life: For every book by a white person, I would like to read a book by a person of color and keep up my trend of reading more books by women. I’m going to do a more detailed post about my 2014 stats and my 2015 reading goals, so keep an eye out for that this week!

What did your reading year look like?

 

 

Fog Island Mountains by Michelle Bailat-Jones

fog islnadkitsune is a fox from Japanese folktale tradition. It can be a shapeshifter. It often has many tails. The kitsune can be a trickster. After finishing Fog Island Mountain, I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the kitsune folktales and it makes me want to go through and read this novella again with new eyes, keeping watch for elements of the kitsune tradition.

This novel is about grief, about tragedy, about storms literal and figurative, and how we weather them. When South African expat Alec learns he has cancer, he waits for his wife Kanae to meet him at the hospital. She does not come. Instead she races away from Komachi, their small Japanese town, and tries to escape the dread and fear of her husband’s death by pretending he is already dead, that she is already living as a widow. She is wrecked by the thought of being left by him and so she leaves him. Meanwhile, a typhoon is coming, threatening with destructive winds and torrential rains. The story of Kanae, Alec, and Komachi is told by Azami, the oldest inhabitant of Komachi and the daughter of a famous poet and storyteller.

Fog Island Mountains is a slim book, a novella, that tells a complex story of grief and loss and love. It’s lovely and told in a style reminiscent of folklore while still painting the characters in stark relief. We don’t have very many pages to get to know and understand Kanae and Alec and their children. We don’t necessarily know all of their motivations or every step that brought them to these decisions, but you trust that they are genuine. Even minor characters are elegantly written.

The actual plot of this novel only covers a few days, which is one of my favorite devices in fiction, and Fog Island Mountains was no exception. This story, though, is about more than just the few days, it’s about a lifetime of love between Kanae and Alec, it’s about childhood and adulthood, it’s about a town, and it’s about stories.

Fog Island Mountains was awarded the Christopher Doheny Award for fiction, which is an award “which recognizes excellence in fiction or nonfiction on the topic of serious illness by a writer who has personally dealt or is dealing with life-threatening illness.” Fog Island Mountains is about the choices we make when we are faced with illness, with life and death, with grief, even the anticipation of grief. The person that comes out when we are faced with the inevitable but impossible to imagine is not always a person we are proud of. Fog Island Mountains is compassionate and forgiving when it comes to these moments.

Fog Island Mountains is such a fast read, but filled with small moments I’m sure I missed, especially after reading more about the kitsune tradition that inspired the novel. It’s a novel I plan on revisiting.

I received a review copy of Fog Island Mountains by Michelle Bailat-Jones from TLC Book Tours. You can read more about this novel and see the other tour dates here

 

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

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I first downloaded The Raven Boys on audio because I thought it was a different book. It was an excellent mistake.

I first fell in love with The Raven Boys because of the narrator, Will Patton. The particular lilt of his voice is beautiful, the cadence like poetry or song. It calms me. I always keep an audiobook from The Raven Cycle downloaded on my phone so I can pick a point in the middle of the story and listen if I’m feeling nervous. I especially like to listen to it on airplanes.

It was more than just the narration of The Raven Boys that made it great, of course. I do think that Will Patton could read me the phone book and I would be happy, but Stiefvater’s prose is like magic, effortless and intricate and lovely and surprising. Sentences that shouldn’t work do. Things that should sound cheesy instead just sound right and like there is simply no other way to describe it.

It’s everything else that keeps me coming back for more. The characters are complex. Good and bad. No one is wholly evil and no one is wholly good. The characters surprise and charm  Now that I’m back in Virginia, I’ve been enjoying the setting even more. I’m originally from Virginia and I’ve been spending a lot of time in the area where Henrietta is supposed to be. It’s just fun to read about places and landscapes you recognize, people you could know.  I’m looking forward to more explanation of the magic, but oh how I love the combination of folklore and psychic powers and traditions.

When I first got The Dream Thieves, I read it much too quickly. I didn’t want to make that same mistake with Blue Lily, so I savored it and it is everything you have come to expect from this series. It is much less like a series than one continuous novel that has just been broken up into chunks, which is not a complaint. I’m looking forward to reading them all cover to cover one day.

We spent The Raven Boys getting to know our characters. The Dream Thieves was all about the magic of Cabeswater and two different dreamers. Blue Lily, Lily Blue is much more about moving the plot along to some kind of conclusion, though not without character development (so much Noah!) and more exploration of the magic that lives on the ley line. I loved that we got to know the women of Fox Way a little bit more in this installment.

It’s just nice to find a story to get lost in again.

I received a promotional copy of Blue Lily, Lily Blue from the publisher.

Introducing Nonfiction November!

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I’m so excited to announce that Nonfiction November is returning for 2014! The idea for Nonfiction November came because I had had such a great year of themed reading and I had (and have) way too many nonfiction books languishing unread on my shelves, plus alliteration is a wonderful thing, so Nonfiction November was born. Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness, nonfiction blogging hero and all around wonderful person, co-hosted with me and it ended up being one of my favorite blogging months ever! This year I’m happy to say we have two new bloggers who have joined us – Rebecca from I’m Lost in Books and Katie from Doing Dewey will be co-hosting with us this year!

Like last year, this is an event that can be as low-key or as involved as you want it to be! There are three main ways you can participate and, of course, we hope you’ll be able to do all three! I’m most excited about our new readalong this year, but we need your help to pick out the book we’ll be reading. See below!

Option One

Read and post about one nonfiction book during the month of November and include it in one of our linky posts!

Option Two

Participate in our weekly discussions about nonfiction! Each week there will be a different topic, hosted by a different co-host. On Monday, we’ll post about that week’s topic and on Friday we’ll do a round up of that week’s participants. You can put your post up on anytime during the week, just be sure to add your link to the linky before Friday so we can include you in the round up post! Here are this year’s topics, so you can plan ahead:

Week 1 (Nov 3-7), Hosted by Kim – Your Year in Nonfiction

Take a look back at your year in nonfiction and answer the following questions:

  • What was your favorite nonfiction read of 2014?
  • What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?
  • What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?
  • What do you hope to get out of Nonfiction November?

Week 2 (Nov 10-14), Hosted by Leslie (me!) – Be the Expert/Become the Expert/Ask the Expert

This was one of my favorite topics last year. Everyone loves a list, after all! If you decide to Be the Expert, post a list of books about a certain topic that you’ve read and can recommend. If you’d like to Become the Expert, do a little research and create a list of books on a certain topic that you’d like to read. Finally, if you’d just like suggestions from other participants on which books to read about a certain topic, you can Ask the Expert. Here are a few examples from last year.

Week Three (Nov 17-21), Hosted by Rebecca – Diversity in Nonfiction

What does diversity in nonfiction mean to you? Is it about the topic or theme of the book? Or is it the race or ethnicity of the author? Do you have any recommendations for diverse nonfiction books? Are there any topics that you’d like to see written about and/or read more widely?

Week Four (Nov 24-28), Hosted by Katie – New to My TBR

It’s been a week full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

Option Three

POLL COLLAGE_2Finally, the third way you can participate is new this year: our Nonfiction November Readalong! This year we’re adding a readalong component and we’d like you to help us pick which book we’ll be reading. Please go to this link to vote on which of the following four books you’d like to read for the readalong: Cleopatra by Stacy SchiffThe Sports Gene by David Epstein, The Restless Sleep by Stacy Hornor Wild Ones by Jon Mooallem. 

PHEW. That was a lot to say in one post, but I hope you’re as excited about participating in Nonfiction November as we are about reading your posts! I can’t wait!

The Sparrow Readalong: Final Thoughts

sparrow-Readalong

I never blogged about the first time I read The Sparrow, but I wish I had. It left me feeling so conflicted the first time I read it. The ending left me feeling completely miserable, affected me so profoundly, but I found much of the first three quarters of the book to be difficult to connect with. But after I finished reading The Sparrow, it stuck with me. I just kept thinking about it. When that meme went around on Facebook a few weeks ago, where you listed your most influential books, The Sparrow made my list. It’s a book I haven’t really stopped thinking about since I read it: the tragedy of it, yes, but also the characters, the science fiction element, and,  the questions of fate and faith and what we do when we’re faced with the impossible.

When I found out Trish was reading The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell in September, I knew I wanted to join in for a reread. Would I feel less conflicted this time around? Would it be less powerful?

It took me a long time to reread The Sparrow, as long as it took me to read it the first time. I still found the beginning to be very slow, but I find nonlinear narratives difficult to get into in general. They are often very rewarding, though, and The Sparrow is proof of that. As sudden and abrupt as the ending felt, the novel prepares you for it and it felt real. What I appreciated much more this time around was the reality of The Sparrow. If there was a discovery of another planet, if we had the technology to get there, and if we did get there – I believed it could happen in this way.

The story really brightens and comes alive for me when Anne is introduced to the story. I understand and appreciate Emilio more through her eyes. The rest of the characters do feel somewhat less solid in comparison to Emilio and Anne, but Jimmy, DW, George, and Sofia all have their place in my heart. I think this is the novel’s strength and why the structure made it somewhat difficult to connect with the rest of the novel: I just wanted to spend all my time in 2019 with Emilio, his friends, and the discovery. I loved the joy of the scientific discovery, the pleasure the crew took in discovering something new about Rakhat. Emilio’s questioning of fate and faith, which propelled him on the journey that eventually lead him to tragedy, felt raw and honest.

These are the things that stuck with me after I read The Sparrow for the first time, and I imagine they are the things I will remember after this reread. It’s a beautifully written novel and I am glad I reread it, if only to sort out all the feelings I had about it. While I don’t expect it’s a novel I’ll reread again in the near future, it’s one I want to share with people, encourage them to read. It makes you think. It makes you wonder what you would have done in Anne’s position, in Emilio’s. And that, I think, is this novel’s greatest strength and its staying power.

Top Ten Authors I’ve Only Read One Book From But NEED to Read More

After looking through my GoodReads for the year, I’ve realized that I’ve spent most of the year reading series and rereading favorite authors. It’s been a year of changes and I’ve mostly gravitated to comfort reads.

1. Luke Pearson – I read Hilda and the Midnight Giant earlier in the year and loved it, but I haven’t picked up any of Luke Pearson’s other books in the Hilda series. These books are quirky and cute and so fun to read, so I’m not really sure what I’ve been waiting for.

2. Diana Wynn Jones – I know! I finally read Howl’s Moving Castle last year and it was practically life changing, I loved it so much. I’ve been a little worried that the rest of her books wouldn’t live up to how much I loved Howl’s, so I’m counting on you to tell me what to read in the comments. Please!

3. Kelly Braffet – I’ll take any chance I can get to tell you to read Save Yourself, so I’m not sure why I haven’t picked up any other books by Kelly Braffet yet. I need to read Josie & Jack or Last Seen Leaving stat.

4. Matthew Quick – Amy makes me want to read everything Matthew Quick has ever written. I liked Silver Linings Playbook, so I look forward to reading more.

5. Richard Lloyd Parry – People Who Eat Darkness was one of the most interesting nonfiction reads of 2013 and the topics of his other titles all sound interesting, like In the Time of Madness: Indonesia on the Edge of Chaos.

6. Franny Billingsley – Chime was such a strange, wonderful reading experience, I’d love to recreate that with Franny Billingsley’s other novels.

7. Eva Rice – Meg convinced me to read The Art of Keeping Secrets, even though it wasn’t quite my kind of novel. I enjoyed it thoroughly and would love to read another of her novels.

8. Jesmyn Ward – I’ve been meaning for a long time to read Men We Reaped, the new nonfiction book by the author of the amazing Salvage the Bones.

9. Mary Doria Russel – I’m rereading The Sparrow this month and I’ve heard from a few people that I should also explore her other books.

10. Eleanor Brown, Amor Towles, Jenny Wingfield, Lauren Graham, Carol Rifka Brunt… and all the other debut novelists who need to get writing their second novels right away! I’ve been waiting patiently. Please hurry!

toptentuesdayTop Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke & The Bookish.