Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Reading Year in Review - Top 14 of 2014 + Honorable Mentions





An abridged version of this post originally appeared on Examiner.com
 
I spent my year navigating other people’s heartbreak, falling in love for the first time, discovering new worlds, figuring out superpowers, but mostly I spent it with my face in a book, sitting on the sofa with a cup of coffee and a cozy blanket.  Saying that 2014 was a great reading year for me would be an understatement; finishing the year with 127 books read it is my best reading year to date and included a varied mix of Adult Fiction, Children’s Literature, Comedy Memoirs, Graphic Novels and the staple in my reading list Young Adult Fiction.  Instead of going the traditional reading route this year for some books I decided that listening to an audiobook would be preferable, and for me it really worked.  It allowed me to enjoy “reading” while I worked, drove and on rare occasions, cleaned.   

The most important thing I took away from my grand reading adventure was this: Happiness for me is directly related to how much time I make for reading.  The more time I allow for reading, the more content I am, and the more I dedicate myself to everything else in my life.  So for 2015 I plan to read, read some more and then read until I can’t see straight.  Before we ring in the New Year I wanted to share my Top 14 Books of 2014 with superlatives and a few honorable mentions.  Let me know what your thoughts are on my choices and what your Top 14 reads of the year are.  



#14: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Martin Selznick
Superlative – Most Unique Read
A magical adventure told through stunningly simple drawings and minimal words, The Invention of Hugo Cabret takes you on a journey of discovery.  I was unsure what to expect from this one, and I was absolutely enchanted by the illustrations and simplicity of this “mystery” as it is unwound before your eyes.  It was made into a movie a while back and I have heard wonderful things about it. I am really curious to see how the movie will compare to this imaginative book.


#13: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Superlative – Most Likely to Give You Nightmares
Haunting, disturbing and downright creepy; the biggest compliment I can give to this stunning graphic novel is it reminded me of reading Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories.   I picked this one up on a whim at the bookstore and was immediately drawn in by the stark swaths of color and dramatic illustrations.   A slow build of scary with every turn of the page, it also makes a beautiful addition to your library.   



#12: Covet by Tracey Garvis Graves
Superlative – Most Memorable Plot
Having previously read Ms. Garvis Graves On the Island I knew that she was a master at delayed gratification.  Building up so much tension between her characters that you, as the reader, literally start sweating; she is that good at conveying chemistry through words.  Even so, I never expected what was waiting for me when I cracked open Covet.  She perfectly captures the need and want of a woman to feel appreciated and wanted by her partner.  The utter longing of the characters drip from the pages and the tension builds until the very end in this “will they – won’t they” story.  It left such an impact I read it twice.  

Find my mini video review of Covet here




#11: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
Superlative – Most Likely to Revive a Genre
This is technically a cheat, as this was the last book I read in 2013, but I couldn’t leave it out when I was compiling my list.  This book breathed new life into a genre that I had completely abandoned: Vampire Fiction.  Holly Black turns the traditional story of vampires on its head by infusing it with a zombie apocalypse vibe and stripping it down to a gritty story of survival.  No glitter, no werewolves, just an old-fashioned vampire story.   This was the book I recommended and loaned out the most in 2014 and I received rave reviews from everyone who read it.  



#10: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Superlative – Best Retelling
Full disclosure:  I love retellings.  I especially love Beauty and the Beast retellings.  But, it’s rare that the author does something new with the story.  Rosamund Hodge managed to create the most unique version of the Beauty and the Beast story I have ever encountered.  Reminiscent of Greek Mythology but with a twist of Shakespearean Tragedy, Cruel Beauty was a stunning blend of the familiar and the new.
Find my mini video review for Cruel Beauty here



 #9: Shatter Me Series by Tahereh Mafi
Superlative – Most Surprising Reading Experience
I had been hearing about this series for years.  How could I not? It was all over Goodreads and I recall seeing the cover image of Juliette in her white dress surrounded by shattered glass and thinking…”that just looks dumb.”  I am the poster child for judging a book by its cover, despite that; I managed to pick up Shatter Me in the spring.  At first, I thought all my preconceived ideas of the book were right.  I hated the main character Juliette, as a matter of fact; I have never hated a main character as much as I did Juliette.  But, the writing was so stunningly haunting, beautiful, and poetic that I could not stop reading.  Tahereh Mafi is a gifted author; an author who manages to create an utterly loathsome heroine, but who has such a way with words that the reader looks past it.  Once I did I couldn’t get enough.  The Shatter Me Series is completely stolen by Warner and Kenji and that’s perfectly fine by me (and I would guess most readers).  Through three novels and two novellas Taherah Mafi takes the reader on a fun dystopian journey of self-discovery for her heroine and heroes and someone manages to do the unthinkable by the end of book three, Ignite Me: she teaches the reader to appreciate and like Juliette and understand her choices.   



 #8: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Superlative – Cutest Couple
Stephanie Perkins is the uncrowned queen of YA Contemporary Fiction.  She manages to infuse all her stories and characters with a sweetness and warmth that makes for the best kind of escapist literature.  I read all three of her books this year and while they all made me smile I couldn’t help but feel a special attachment to Lola and Cricket.  I know Anna and the French Kiss started it all, and while many swoon for St. Clair’s French charm it was Cricket’s nerdy idiosyncrasies that really hooked me.  Her ability to consistently provide her readers with an uncomplicated and enjoyable story every time is an incredibly special ability, and will keep this reader loyal. 



#7: Saga Volumes 1-3 by Fiona Staples and Matthew Vaughn Not for children under 17
Superlative – Best Graphic Novel
Saga is the graphic novel series that everyone was talking about this year.  A gorgeous take on the classic star-crossed lovers’ tale, except in this story our hero and heroine happen to come from different worlds and those worlds are enmeshed in a bitter war.  World building at a level that is uncommon in a graphic novel, Saga introduces its readers to new worlds, monarchies, hierarchy’s and species.  It does an excellent job of living up to its name.  Volume 4 was released on Christmas Eve and I immediately scooped it up (technically as a present for my husband, but not really) eager to see how the next chapter in this epic romance will unfold. 

Find my video review for the Saga Series here




#6: The Giver by Lois Lowry
Superlative – Most Likely to Make You Regret not Reading it in School
I don’t know why it took me so long to pick up The Giver. It is teeny tiny, generally considered a modern classic, and beloved the world over.  Somehow, none of that information persuaded me over the past 20+ years of reading to actually crack it open and see what all the fuss was about.  I can’t tell you what inspired me to do so this year, but I can tell you, I regret that I didn’t do it 20 years ago.  It is a brilliant little bit of Young Adult literature masquerading as a Utopian cautionary tale.  Jonas, the hero, is the narrator and the readers guide into this perfect world. Somehow, Lois Lowry does in 179 pages what many authors fail to do in 400. She makes you associate with Jonas in a way that makes you feel like he is your proxy living for you and struggling but surviving in this idyllic world.  By the time the story ends in its non-committal infuriating way you can’t believe how much story was told in so few words. 



#5: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Superlative – Heroine Most Likely to Remind You of You
This was the year I read everything of Rainbow Rowell’s I could get my hands on.  Attachments, Fangirl and Landline, each a great book with relatable characters and a great story, but Fangirl stood out.  With her heroine Cath, Rainbow Rowell introduces a fan girl to idolize to a generation of fangirls (myself included).  Her obsession with Simon Snow the Harry Potter like character and the slash fan fiction she spends hours writing reminded me of the year I spent plunged into the abyss of Twilight and Harry Potter fanfic and what sweet torture it was waiting for the next chapter to go live.  It may just be that the story brought back so many enjoyable memories for me, but I absolutely fell in love with Cath, Levi and their awkward stumbles into falling in love. 



#4: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Superlative – Most Likely to Give You Heart Palpitations and Make You Want to Vomit
Oh Outlander, the effect you have had on a generation of readers is something special.  At over 800 pages you are definitely not an easy book to commit to, but once you do the payoff is spectacular.  A singular reading experience and one that has since gone unmatched, Outlander is truly unlike anything I have ever read.  Incredibly detailed world building, historical accuracy, intricate plots, a heart stopping love story, adventure with every page turn and some truly traumatic moments await you as a reader of this epic tale of time travel.  To categorize Outlander as a romance would be a disservice to this masterwork of storytelling, but it has to be said that the Jaime, Claire and Frank love triangle is pitch perfect.  Outlander was such an immersive experience for me that I needed a break upon finishing book one. At times the story can be too graphic, and some scenes especially during the last third of the book made me feel physically ill, but I understand Diana Gabaldon’s reasons for including them.   Somewhere along the way I decided that I would do one Outlander book a year until I finish the series, it definitely helps that the Starz show is brilliantly made and here to fill the Jaime and Claire void. 

Find my video review for Outlander here 
 


#3: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Superlative – Most Beautiful Book You Will Ever Read
I never expected a coming of age story about to friends in their early teens to be so hauntingly beautiful.  Every sentence felt like a love letter from the author to the reader.  Simple, emotive and beautiful, reading Aristotle and Dante felt like reading a book length poem.  No superfluous words, every line counted and made its intended impact on the reader. It may be clich√© to say it but, I laughed, I cried and felt completely satisfied with this gem of a book.

Find my video review for Aristotle and Dante here



#2: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Superlative – Most Nostalgic Read
There is something so special about books like Ready Player One.  Ernest Cline has lovingly crafted a completely unique story while making it entirely relatable to the reader by utilizing 80’s pop culture.  This book was an absolute joy to read from the first page.  The narrator, a teenage boy, is your guide through this marvelous world filled with pop culture and video game references.  From the first chapter you are completely transported and you don’t want to put down this cyber-punk adventure until you know how it will end.  For those of you so inclined, I recommend doing an audiobook – traditional book combo read.  The audiobook is narrated by Wil Wheaton (of Stark Trek, Wesley Crusher fame) brilliantly, he infuses it with such nerdy glee you can’t help but get sucked in.  If you love video games, 80’s nostalgia, pop culture, or just an amazingly fun and well told story Ready Player One is a must read.  

Find my video review for Ready Player One here


#1: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Superlative – Best Love Letter to Book Lovers
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a book to be savored.  I knew going in that this was going to be a story that I would treasure.  It is not a particularly long book, so before I even cracked the spine I decided that I would take it slow, read only a chapter or two a day. Author Gabrielle Zevin, known for writing insightful and touching Young Adult Fiction has taken what on the surface appears to be the mundane life of an older set in his way bookstore owner and turned it into a fairy tale.  She manages to turn A.J.’s solitude and loneliness into something thoughtful rather than sad.  And when A.J.’s life is completely turned upside down by an unexpected surprise you go right along this new, exciting and slightly scary journey with him.  Gabrielle Zevin carefully chooses the characters for her story, their importance in A.J.’s life and really makes them part of it.  You never feel as they are there as filler, but rather important parts of the story that you as the reader grow to love.  At times funny, sad, bittersweet and wistful, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a gorgeously written love letter to a life filled with love and books and it was the absolute highlight of my 2014 reading journey. 

 Find my video review for The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry here


Honorable Mention
Georgia Nicholson Series by Louise Rennison
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Alienated by Melissa Landers
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness 
Invisibility by David Levithan and Andrea Cremer
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman  
Throne of Glass  by Sarah J. Maas.

A pictorial guide to my year in books