Thursday, January 22, 2015

top five reads of 2014

It's still January, so I can still get away with posting 'best of' lists from last year, right?

That's what I thought.

So let's get down to it, and get on to this super amazing, wicked important post in which I share with my darling readers the five best things I read in 2014!

drumroll please, and in no official order...

The Seas by Samantha Hunt

I had put this book on my ridiculously long literary wish list years ago, so I don't actually remember how I first came across it and decided it looked interesting...then last spring I saw that it was listed for only a few US dollars as a Kindle download and scooped it up.
This was just my kind of read, characters just offbeat enough to fascinate, but not overwhelm you or come off as contrived, and a storyline that casually dips into magical realism territory if you choose to side with the protagonist. And that, my friends, is a territory I love to wander in.
The short and sweet synopsis: our nameless narrator lives in a small coastal town in Maine where she works at her family's hotel called the seas. In love with an older, psychologically damaged man, her story and personal belief that she is actually a mermaid and her father was not lost at sea, but merely returned to their true home manages to deftly channel some serious Undine and The Little Mermaid vibes.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Remember when I said "in no particular order" a while back? That might have been a bit generous, because this book sealed the deal and made it onto my favorite novels ever list before I was halfway finished reading it. I snagged a battered paperback copy of this novel at an annual used book sale here in town, and seriously wish I could send whomever donated it a thank you card. This book actually made me angry...angry that no one had ever recommended it to me before. No joke.
The short and sweet synopsis: A group of eccentric, introverted college students studying the mysterious and exclusive classics program at their small, private, east coast university get in over their heads one weekend, and things spiral out of control, leaving all of them forever changed.
This book is fairly heavy reading contextually, and you really get a sense of how intelligent Tartt herself is, both as a skilled writer, and scholar. The characters were all at once sympathetic and monstrous, and I stayed up too late more than one night while reading this because I couldn't bear to put it down.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

I was a pretty big fan of Miss N.'s first novel, The Time Traveler's Wife (p.s. - if you're interested in the premise, don't bother with the movie of that story, it fell WORLDS short of the novel), and had been meaning to check out this novel for a while when I finally scored a copy of it just last month. It was my final read of the year...and I definitely left 2014 with a bang because of it. In fact, it pretty much sneaked its way on to my list as well...
The short and sweet synopsis: Identical, mirror twins Valentina and Julia are suddenly pulled out of their quiet, self inclusive bubble in the suburbs of Chicago when they inherit a flat in London sight-unseen. Hardly a straightforward living situation, the girls are sandwiched between a neurotic, reclusive genius and the former lover of their deceased benefactor...the same benefactor that hasn't yet managed to move out of the flat herself. A dangerous game of correspondence between the living and the dead forms an even more dangerous plan for escape with chilling, amazing results. Ghouly, magical realism territory here too, folks.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

When we had our family vacation to Spain last April,while walking through the lobby one day, I noticed a discreet row of low-laying book shelves. They turned out to be a lending library of sorts, filled with dog-eared, waterlogged paperbacks left behind by their previous, vacationing readers. So of course, I made time to gleefully scour every shelf for something interesting to read, and I had to admit, ended up toting this and one other book all the way home to Norway with us, just because I had to read them myself...
This book making my top five list surprises me a bit, because I found myself both loving the well-paced mystery of the story, and grumbling about the seemingly unendless destinations and hoops the two protagonists had to jump through in order to reach their final destination. While not uninteresting in the slightest, it did feel at times to be a bit much. I must also admit that I found the ending to fall a bit short and flat of the build-up of the rest of the novel. But something about the nature of the premise of the story itself ended it on this list...
The short and sweet synopsis: This mystery novel takes the titular subject of one of my absolute favorite stories of all time, Dracula, by Bram Stoker, and turns him an avid reader and collector of knowledge, desperate for a mortal historian, a librarian really, to help him achieve a near impossible task. The story is split between the teenage daughter of a scholarly diplomat, and the recounted story of her father, via letters and journal entries. A suspenseful enough read, well researched, and a neat read for anyone else that falls into the category of bookworm intrigued with the man, and veritable monster behind the Dracula myth. All at once mystery, and horror novel.

Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

This emerging series is one of the raddest urban fantasy, YA type reads out there right now. I received the first Miss Peregrine book as a gift from a dear friend of mine a while back, and thank goodness too! I adored it, and the combination of great story with random and creepy old photographs integrated into the pages of the novel had me won over from the very start. My one and only complaint: it has taken FOREVER for Riggs to come out with this, the second volume in the series, and wouldn't you know it, just like the first book, this is a cliffhanger too. DAMN IT. The next installation isn't even available for pre-order yet either. So if you dive into these books and gobble them up like I did, don't say I didn't warn you when you turn the last page of this sequel and find yourself saying: "That's it?! Wait. What?! NO!"
The short and sweet synopsis: Without revealing too much from the first volume in the series, we find ourselves back with the gang of peculiar children, right where we left them at the end of the previous installment. Led by Jacob, the amazing children continue on their dangerous journey to London, seeking allies to aid in restoring their beloved Miss Peregrine to her once future glory, and secure the safety of "peculiars" the world over.

And there you have it, darling readers. My five favorite reads of 2014.

I managed to read 29 books during the calender year (mere days shy of rounding out the number to 30!), which I'm pretty proud of, considering it was a pretty busy year for myself and our family...

I would love to hear if any of you have read any of these books, what you thought of them and of course, what your top reads of the past year were...

We got lucky and managed to reserve all of next week in the mountains up at the company cabin owned by the Hub's workplace, so come Monday all four of us are off for a week of skiing, snowman-making, and quiet family time. We'll have the place to ourselves from monday to thursday, then we've invited up the Hub's parents and siblings to spend the weekend with us so we all can get some slope-time in.
Aside from actually packing for the trip, and the three-hour drive into mountain passes with an odd 12-feet (!) of snow covering them, I'm stoked.

So stay tuned for a recount of winter-y, cabin-y goodness, and hopefully some photos on the next post!