Top Ten Reads of 2014
I read about 50 books for 2014, which is a huge drop from my typical year (almost by half!). Pregnancy, and the resulting baby, are to blame, and while I'm a little disappointed, the aforementioned baby -- our Little Reader -- is so frickin' cute, I kind of can't care.
I still walked away with some stellar reads for 2014, and once again, had a challenging time identifying the top ten of this year. In the end, I picked the books I still talk about obsessively, that I purchased (for myself and/or others), and that I want to reread or force others to read.
Seven of the ten novels are historical fiction. Four are penned by men and two are collaborative efforts, which is fascinating -- I've never had novels with multiple authors make my top ten before, and now two have! In terms of other diversity, I did badly, and it's a 2015 goal of mine to read more authors of color and non-US/UK/CA-based authors.
Here they are!
Sally Beauman, The Visitors
I haven't gotten around to reviewing this one (although I did blurb it for Bloggers Recommend, and if you want a great review, see Historical Fiction Notebook.) Ultimately, the book's heroine, Lucy, captivated me, and despite the novel's slightly disjointed feel, her voice was so strong, I sucked up every page just to be with her.
Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, The Tilted World
Penned by a married couple, a novelist and a poet, this novel swept me away, much like the flood central to the story. A little love story, a murder mystery, a historical snapshot of a forgotten disaster, this novel has it all. I expected the story to feel disjointed, but Franklin and Fennelly created a lyrical, cohesive story I haven't forgotten.
J. Boyce Gleason, Anvil of God
This was one of my first reads for 2014, and I still think about the story and characters. Set in the 8th century, this novel has flavors of Marion Zimmer Bradley and Phillipa Gregory, and mixes romance with battle easily and convincingly. I'm dying to read the next book.
Elaine Neil Orr, A Different Sun
I was astounded by this novel -- by the premise, by the narrative style, by the deft handling of white privilege, slavery, women's rights in a historical context. Inspired by the real life diary of the first Southern Baptist missionaries in Africa, Orr explores marriage, faith, and colonialism in a compassionate, captivating manner.
Mallory Ortberg, Texts from Jane Eyre
I'm madly in love with this smart, snarky volume of classics "retold" in the form of text messages between characters. Books about books are a perennial favorite of mine, and this one takes the best of more than sixty classics, both ancient and contemporary, and distills them to their silliest and most sublime.
Laura Purcell, Queen of Bedlam
This novel represents what I love about historical fiction: a well-researched story that entertains. Focusing on the wife and daughters of "mad" King George III, Purcell evokes the tumultuous and tragic events of the Hanoverian royals without overdoing the drama or loading on the unnecessary research. At the heart of this novel, a story of family and loyalty.
Deanna Raybourn, Night of a Thousand Stars
This was my first experience with Raybourn, and I fell madly in love. This was a splashy, historical rom com with exotic locales, a winsome heroine and a dreamy hero, and plenty of drama. There were laugh-out-loud moments, a romance I rooted for, and smart narrative styling that kept this from being rote or cheesy.
Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation
This creepy, sinuous speculative novel captivated me -- so much so I had nightmares inspired by it! A poetic novel with a sci-fi plot, this is a slender book that invites one to linger but I couldn't help racing through it. Supremely original.
Various, A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii
Six fabulous historical novelists tackle the eruption of Mount Vesuvius with a series of intertwined stories. The intentional collaboration pays off in this cohesive novel; there's no jarring misstep, dropped thread, or narrative shift to distract from the tragedy of the story.
Ann Weisgarber, The Promise
This is one of those reads I can't seem to review well; I need to just make a video of myself flailing in hopes of conveying my love. A novel of the 1900 Galveston hurricane, it is also the story of emotional storms. Weisgarber's writing is just wonderful, and she makes the novel's triad -- two women connected to one man -- rich, fascinating, and heartbreaking.