Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Favorite books of 2014

One of my favorite ways to sum up my year - sharing my favorite books from 2014. I clocked in at 58 books read this year, plus five re-reads. Here's the top 13 (I could not limit myself to just 10!) Almost all of my favorite books were a variation on my favorite theme: a character having to confront a different "world" and learning something about themselves in the process. Almost all of my favorite books were written in 3rd person, except for a couple that were written in first 1st person, dual point of view, and only one in 1st person, one point of view: Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. My next post will be a breakdown of genre and type and how I did on my reading goals for 2014.

The Graveyard Book
Dreams of Gods & Monsters
Sailing Between the Stars: Musings on the Mysteries of Faith
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
The Left Hand of Darkness
Ruin and Rising
Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
The Winner's Curse
How to Save a Life

1) Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
This is in my ALL TIME favorites list. Absolutely funny, sad, true, hopeful, heart-lifting. I read a lot of books with diverse characters this year and this one will make keep reading more and more and more. 14 year old Junior, leaving the Rez school (but not the Rez itself) to broaden his horizons, is in my heart forever. My favorite quote:

I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms. And the tribe of cartoonists.

2) The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula Le Guin.
1969. After falling in love with Le Guin's Earthsea series in high school, and being deeply influenced in them, I never got around to reading more of her books. So thankful I finally picked up another book of hers in my goal to read more classic SF. This book is many things, but above all, it is a beautiful story of a friendship between two people (Genly and Therem) from entirely different worlds, who struggle to understand each other: and succeed, though at great costs. The world-building is absolutely phenomenal.  My favorite quote:

To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.

3) Dreams of Gods and Monsters, by Laini Taylor
2014. This series is, for me, the closest I have ever come to the magic of Middle Earth. It's very different of course. Instead of the noble Westernesse otherwordliness that makes the Lord of the Rings so magical, this series' magic is more raw, passionate, and dark, but also laugh-out-loud funny at times. And oh, sooooo romantic. Karou and Akiva's story makes Aragorn and Arwen's story pale in comparison. My favorite quote (but oh there were SOOOO many!!!)

It was the first time either of them had ever held another's hand, and for them alone, the immensity of what unfolded that night was overshadowed by the perfect wonderment of fingers intertwined - as though this was what hands had always been for, and not for holding weapons at all.

4) Alienated, by Melissa Landers
2014 (debut). An alien exchange student - BEST PREMISE EVER. This book also has some laugh-out-loud moments, and some deadly serious ones. The second half of this book, about where Aelyx (the alien) starts thinkin of Cara (the human) as Elire - the whole tone of the book shifted from "interesting and fun" into something far more serious and heart-wrenching. The love story is also riveting, too. My favorite quote:

How can we understand what we’ve never experienced and adapt without making mistakes?

5) The Winner's Curse, by Marie Rutkoski
2014. complicated, thoughtful story about slavery, set in a fantasy world with close parallels to ancient history. This story packs a powerful punch with a role reversal that I can't even hint at, and a forbidden love story (Kestrel, Arin) that tore at my heart.  My favorite quote (so hard to pick! so many good ones!)

Isn’t that what stories do, make real things fake, and fake things real?

6) Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
2013. This is an interesting case; I loved this book when I read early in 2014, but I didn't expect to be one that kept popping back into my mind throughout the year, along with serious temptations to re-read it! But here it is nearly 10 month later and I keep smiling when I think about this book and planning to buy a copy for myself for Christmas so I can re-read it whenever the mood hits me. I love it because it's about a girl, Cath, who's a writer, like me, even though I'm not into writing fan fiction like she is, I could still totally get her. All the other characters in this book are amazing, too (Levi, Reagan, Wren, the dad). My favorite quote:

“Just... isn't giving up allowed sometimes? Isn't it okay to say, ‘This really hurts, so I’m going to stop trying’?”
“It sets a dangerous precedent.”
“For avoiding pain?”
“For avoiding life.”

7) The Disrpetuable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart
2008.I loved the way this story is told, with an omniscient narrator with her own distinct voice. I loved Frankie, how she thought about everything before she said anything, how she'd consider all sorts of possibilities and consequences in a matter of seconds and then (almost always) come up with a response that keeps people guessing about her. I loved how she out-smarted the boys and their exclusive secret society (though I kinda ended up liking Alpha), and the price she was willing to pay to show herself a respectable equal, not just a pretty ornament. This is serious girl-power book. Ra!  My favorite quotes:
It is better to be alone, she figures, than to be with someone who can't see who you are.
She will not be what people tell her to be.
8) The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman
2008. Just a warning: the first chapter starts out ruthless, but the story quickly turns improbably sweet: the only survivor of a murdered family, the baby, toddles his way to the graveyard and  how strange and whimsical and charming that is, a baby toddling its way into a graveyard, to be rescued and adopted by a bunch of graveyard ghosts? And what a loveable bunch of ghosts! Loved Silas and Liza and Caius... all of them. My favorite quote:

"Are they happier?"
"Mostly, no. It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Where ever you go, you take yourself with you."

9) How to Save a Life, by Sara Zarr
2011. Beautiful dual point-of-view story from two very different girls: Jill, who had everything (a beautiful home, loving family and boyfriend) and Mandy, a pregnant teen, who has never had anything or anyone to love her. They're forced to live together in a very bizarre but compelling circumstance. A deeply thoughtful and beautiful story.

“The kind of life I want is to be a person who would get a personal note every day.”

10) Ruin and Rising, by Leigh Bardugo
2014. I've got mixed feelings about this end to the Grisha trilogy, because at first I didn't like it much. But something about that ending, as much as it bothered me, also kept drawing me back. I've re-read the last 100 pages several times now. I'm still not sure exactly why, but there you go; perhaps there's something about myself I don't understand yet, but it understands the controversial ending of this grand fantasy and how the tangle of Alina, Mal, Nikolai and the Darkling plays out. My favorite quote:

They had an ordinary life, full of ordinary things - if love can ever be called that.

11) Salvage, by Alexandra Duncan
2014.  I have mixed feelings about this one, too, mostly because I despised, absolutely HATED the first 8 chapters where Ava simply accepts her handmaiden, repressed status (she can't even read!) on her family's spaceship. But then she's forced to run for her life, and Perpetue rescues her, and Miyole teaches her to read, and Rushil teaches her to trust. A deeply satisfying and rich story. My favorite quote:

All this suffering.” Perpetue looks deep and unblinking at me. “It doesn't make us saints, fi. It only makes us human. You understand? .... There's a balance....there's what you're forced to do, there's what you choose, and everything else – most things – are a mix. At best, you'll spend your life trying not to get hurt, but trying not to do the hurting, either. You won't always come through....

12) Sailing Between the Stars, by Steven James.
2006. Subtitled "Musing on the mysteries of faith" this is a non-fiction that reminded me very much of C.S. Lewis' writings (my absolute favorite writer). I haven't had a chance to put together my favorite quotes from this book yet, but the summary does it beautiful justice:

The foundation of Christian belief is paradox: death is the beginning of life, foolishness is the pathway to wisdom, the meek conquer the strong. Everywhere we look we see mysteries piled upon mysteries, and for all our efforts to fit God into a box that makes sense, Christianity is not founded on common sense. 

13) Writing 21st Century Fiction, by Donald Maass
2012. Subtitled "High impact techniques for exceptional storytelling." I didn't think this could be as good as his last book, The Fire in Fiction, but it is EVEN better. There are no easy formulas in this book; in fact, that's really the point: there is no easy short cut to great fiction. A great book demands everything of you. I put together a list of no less than SIXTY things I need to fix/incorporate into my story based on this book, half of which I am still at loss as to how to implement, but I'm convinced, no matter how long it takes, how much it challenges me, it will be worthwhile.  Favorite quote:

For me, where genre ends and literature begins doesn’t matter. What matters is whether a given novel hits me with high impact. If it does, it probably is fulfilling the purpose of fiction. It has drawn me into a story world, held me captive, taken me on a journey with characters like none I’ve ever met, revealed truths I’ve somehow always known and insights that rock my brain. It’s filled me with awe, which is to say it’s made me see the familiar in a wholly new way and made the unfamiliar a foundational part of me. It both entertains and matters. It both captures our age and becomes timelessly great. 

What are your favorite books read this year, the ones with the greatest impact?

1 comment:

  1. Great picks! The Diary of a Part-Time Indian is one of my favorites as well. It's actually a perfect read that I suggest to some reluctant readers. I love the Grisha series and Leigh Bardugo's writing.



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