Sound the trumpets! Roll out the red carpet! Ready the ticker tape... Happy 15th day of 2015!!! I made a completely intentional and artistic decision to wait until today to post, just for the pleasure that such symmetry brings to my life. Not because I am a lazy, Hulu-addicted procrastinator.
Anyway, I make my triumphant return to blogging with one of my favorite features... Uh, my only feature I guess since I've taken to scraping together a photo heavy blog post every two months. Today, I bring to you my favorite reads of 2014. Last year was heavy on the reading for me, I managed to devour 63 books, so I actually had a pretty torturous time decidng which ten were my absolute favorites. But after reviewing this list, I can recommend any of these books without reservation. Unless you hate it. Then the decision was all on you--I can't MAKE you do anything...
So, away we go, in random order, my favorite books of 2014:
1) The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman (Amazon rating 4.2 stars)
Let 2014 be known as the year that I discovered Neil Gaiman... sorta. I mean, I saw Coraline when it was in theaters and thought, hey, this guy seems intriguing. Then I primarily slept through the audiobook of Neverwhere as a passenger on a road trip, waking up every now and then to think, "hey, this sounds good!" Then I read American Gods and I was like, hey, I quite like this author. Then I read Ocean and fell truly, madly, deeply. It is absolutely magical and wonderful, and I cannot impress upon you how much I want you to read this book. And then be like, "hey, have you heard of Neil Gaiman?" and literally everyone you know will be like, "uh, yes."
2) I Am Livia, Phyllis T. Smith (Amazon rating 4.4 stars)
As much as I enjoy historical fiction, I haven't read much set in ancient Rome. It was fascinating to read more about this period in time that we've all heard so much about--the assassination of Julius Caesar--and the tumultuous years that followed. I particularly appreciate that it was told from the perspective of a strong, powerful woman who has been largely vilified by history. It left me wanting to read much more set in this time and place, which led me to...
3) Memoirs of Cleopatra, Margaret George (Amazon rating 4.5 stars)
Sometimes you just need an epic, sweeping historical novel, and this one fit the bill perfectly. After reading I Am Livia, I found myself incredibly curious to know more about Cleopatra than just what Shakespeare and Hollywood would have us know. This novel follows Cleopatra from her tumultuous, politically unstable childhood in Egypt to her many years spent in Rome and then back to Egypt where she and Marc Antony met their fateful ends, and kept me riveted the entire time.
4) The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver (Amazon rating 4.2 stars)
When I am in the mood for a richly layered, beautiful book with its fair share of grit and realism, I always know I can count on Kingsolver to deliver. This is the story of Taylor Greer, who has run away from everything she has known in rural Kentucky and start anew in Tucson, Arizona with a broken down car and a foundling child. Having made it out of her adolescence without getting pregnant, the last thing she wanted was to be stuck in another small town saddled with a kid, but unable to locate the child's parents', she begins to navigate her newfound life and responsibilities.
5) The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern (Amazon rating 4.3 stars)
I'm pretty late to this party, as I have had this book recommended to me for years, but somehow never got around to it. I'm so glad I finally did! It is perfectly gorgeous, slightly creepy, beautifully haunting, and most importantly a gripping story. I could have done with a companion piece that is nothing but descriptions of all the magical, mystical tents!
6) The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman (Amazon rating 4.4 stars)
“...or I can forgive and forget...Oh, but my treasure, it is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things...we always have a choice.” Truly, one of the most heartbreaking, gutwrenching books I've ever read, but at the same time so full of beauty and love. I don't want to say too much more for fear of spoiling the effect of discovering this story on your own, but come prepared to ponder it long after you turn the last page.
7) You, Caroline Kepnes (Amazon rating 4.2 stars)
When discussing relationships with my friends, I often make the joke that what is a sweet and romantic gesture from a guy you like could just as easily be perceived as creepy and stalkery from a guy you do not. Well. This book kind of put a pin in that theory. As it turns out, a stalker can be pretty good at convincing not only himself, but the eponymous "You" of their love, devotion and complete trustworthiness. There were a lot of reasons I found this book completely horrifying, not in the least, the times where I found myself identifying and nodding in understanding with one of the most terrifying narrators I've ever come across. This book is dark, but it is compelling. It is engrossing. It takes you to places in your mind that you would likely never go on your own. It's not a story about love. It is a story about obsession and narcissism--two things that are often confused with love. I'm not saying this is going to be the most enjoyable read of your life, but it will certainly be unforgettable.
8) Life After Life, Kate Atkinson (Amazon rating, 3.6 stars)
"Amor fati... It means acceptance. Whatever happens to you, embrace it, the good and the bad equally. Death is just one more thing to be embraced, I suppose." This was a really unique take on the concept of living an experience over and over again until you get it right. It's sort of like Groundhog Day, if it wasn't funny... and Bill Murray had to live through WWI... and WWII... repeatedly. I got to the end and thought I understood what I had just read, and then the last few paragraphs had me questioning everythng. Truly a remarkable piece of writing.
9) 12 Years A Slave, Solomon Northup (Amazon rating 4.6 stars)
I think that if someone had kidnapped me and sold me into slavery, I would not be nearly as capable of giving such a clear-eyed history of my experience. I saw the movie not long after reading the book, and while I thought it was a wonderful adaptation, there was something just so much more moving about reading this story as a first person narrative. It made it that much more real and compelling.
10) Me Before You, Jojo Moyes (Amazon rating 4.6 stars)
I'm not even sure how to go about reviewing this book, because in the end, it left me with so many feelings that went beyond what was on the paper. I guess that right there says something about the impact of the story. Up until about halfway through, I didn't really get the fuss over the book. It was entertaining, and interesting enough, but it just wasn't grabbing me. Then, the turning point, the moment when you, the reader, and the main character, Louisa, realize the stakes, and suddenly each page turn feels like a race against time. Without giving anything away, this book made me examine a lot of my own beliefs about right and wrong, and honestly, I still don't know what I would want for myself when faced with the situations presented in the book.
You can find my Top Books of 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013 here.