Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014 In Review

It's that time of year again - time to look back over the highlights (and lowlights) of the past reading year. Once again, I was lucky to have many more highs than lows - I don't know if that is due to my increasing ability to choose books I like, or my increasing dependence on reviews from readers I trust, but no matter the cause I'm certainly happy with the outcome.

I read little nonfiction in 2014, which is somewhat unusual, but can most likely be attributed to the lack of large chunks of time to read. I generally do better with nonfiction when I can devote several hours over a weekend to reading a book - that doesn't happen much lately. But here are the best of my nonfiction year -

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot -  we all know that good nonfiction reads as compellingly as fiction, and this would be a book to prove that thesis. Fascinating and heartbreaking, this story made me think about the good of science vs. the good of the person, and which really is the most important.
 Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer - given to me by a good friend, this is a lovely book about choosing to follow the voice of vocation in your life. Had I read this book as a 20-year-old, it most likely would have become one of the seminal books in my life. Coming to me later, it was a good reminder to listen for the truths that your heart tells you. Wise and gentle, a thoughtful read.
 Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton - This book became much more than a book for me. It became a mantra - a philosophy - a call to live the life I want to life. Melton's words are wise, funny, and gracious, reminding us all that love really is the most important thing. I loved this book so hard.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and a Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber - This spiritual memoir will, quite honestly, not be for everyone. For me, it was a breath of fresh, redeeming air that resonated with my soul. Faith doesn't have to look the same for everyone, and sometimes the questions are the path to true belief. Beautiful, real, and spirit-filled.

Fiction was by far the bulk of my reading this year, which isn't a huge surprise. There is just nothing like getting lost in another world for a while to make my world feel right again. A LOT of my favorite reads of the year were speculative fiction - sci-fi or fantasy - which is also not a huge surprise. They've been a staple of my reading diet for years. Here are the highlights -

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman - this was my first read of 2014, and it was a stunner. Gaiman's story of a young boy saving himself is a meditation on memory and the power of words, and it was unforgettable.
 A Woman in the House by William E. Barrett - a loan from my mom, this is not a book I would ever have chosen on my own, but it was a truly beautiful story about two unlikely characters coming to love each other in the strangest of circumstances. Once again, my mom is always right, and her taste in books continues to be pretty darn good.
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - I think I loved this book from the first sentence, and didn't stop until I turned the last page. These two quirky characters completely stole my heart, and the bittersweet ending was absolutely perfect. Wonderful.

 Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - I finished a classic this year! That always feels like an accomplishment. I have to admit this one was a slow starter - I nearly gave up, but eventually Magwitch wormed his slimy way into my heart, and then I was lost in the story. I'm happy I finally made the time to read this much-beloved story.

 The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt - there is just something about Tartt's twisty, unpredictable door-stoppers that keep me reading page after page. I don't know that I actually liked any of the characters, and there were points that felt S L O W as mud, but she always makes me want to find out what happens in the end.
 The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin - definitely not a book that will appeal to everyone, but I've always loved novels that take Biblical characters and imagine lives for them, and Toibin's Mary has doubts and anger that seem so natural to the life she has lived. This was thought-provoking and beautifully written.
 Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones - my first DWJ, but certainly not my last, this was a delight from beginning to end. I'm hoping to visit more of this world in 2015.
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs - I think I liked this MORE than the first in the series, which is pretty rare for me. I know the ending left me with a pit in my stomach, and a deep need to know what happens next. I love the author's use of found photographs to augment the story - they add a creepy element that feels just right. Love this series.
 Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund - I can't remember how I first stumbled on this series - it might have been a library impulse read - but it's becoming one of my favorites. The two books seem so different, yet when they connect the story becomes so much richer. I love Peterfreund's feisty, take-charge heroines, and her homages to classic books are lovely. I hope there are lots more volumes in this series!
 The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin - I chose this for my Diversiverse read this year, and it was fantastic. Not a perfect novel by any means, but so entertaining that the flaws didn't really bother me. I'm looking forward to reading the next books in this series in 2015.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson - the last book I finished in 2014, and it was a whopper! Well over 1,000 pages, and while it took some time to truly get into the story, it was well worth the investment. I am fasincated by this world, it's religion, politics, nations and peoples. I am eagerly looking forward to the (many) upcoming volumes in this magnificent series.

Of course, there were a few stinkers - as my New Year's gift to you, here are three to stear clear of in 2015 -

Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block (poorly imagined and convoluted)
Taking the Lead by Derek Hough (superficial and unsatisfying)
Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig (really just wrong in every possible way)

I don't keep track of stats, really, but I'm going to be more intentional about what I read in 2015, so maybe the keeping of stats will naturally follow. I've been running with the "read whatever I feel like" method of choosing books, and while it's been fun, it has also lead me to a backlog of books on my shelves and TBR list that are just not getting read. In 2015, I am going to be much more purposeful about reading the books I've already chosen - of course, I will continue to abandon with glee books that don't strike my fancy. Life is too short to read boring books.

Here's to 2015 - let's make it another great reading year!


bermudaonion said...

I've read 4 of those books and like all of them except The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - fantasy is just not my genre. Happy New Year!!

Amy said...

Eleanor & Park <333

I want to read Pastrix as well. So glad you had a good year!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Great Expectations, E&P, Oceans, you read such incredible books this year! I liked but didn't love Miss Peregrins, so I'm excited to hear you liked Hollow City even more.

Carolynn said...

just added E&P to my list!

Aarti said...

I have never read Great Expectations, and feel like I should. Maybe on audiobook, it will work for me, though I Feel like Dickens is so dense, I am not sure...

Thanks for pointing out the stinkers - I shall avoid those :-)

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Eleanor and PARK. God I loved that book so much. I got it for Christmas, so I want to reread it soon -- such a dear and lovely book.