Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Books of 2014

The book count for this year was 45.  Less than my goal of 52, but I'm ok with it.  Because a)  most of the 45 I really enjoyed and b) I decided to add needlework back into my life just as I did with books a few years ago and I actually did stitch a few things. So yay me again!  I reread the entire Outlander series (which includes reading Book #8 twice, once when it first came out and then again at the end of the reread) to console myself for not having cable and seeing the physical manifestation of Book #1 onto the screen.   I still haven't decided whether cable is worth it, because DVDs have to be coming at some point, right?  And the books are always better, right?  Anyway.

These are the books that got 5 stars from me in 2014.

  • Journey by Aaron Becker.  I loved the illustrations in this children's book and the clever girl who uses her imagination and determination to create her own destiny and find friendship along the way.
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.  This book stayed with me for a long time.  Lou Clark likes knowing what comes next.  She leads a relatively unexciting, safe life and she likes that just fine.  Will Traynor used to live an exciting, dangerous life and he liked that just fine.  He doesn't like the life he leads now as a quadriplegic.  When Lou takes a job as Will's caregiver, both their lives are turned upside down.  They push each other forward in unexpected ways.  This book got me thinking a lot about the boxes we put ourselves -- and others -- in.  Can we grow out of our boxes?  Do we want to?  What happens when we want to stay in our box and someone else wants us to come out?  
  • Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.  It would be fun if there really was a bookstore like Mr. Penumbra's.  Clay Jannon takes a job working the night shift at the bookstore after having been laid off from his web-design job.  The comings and goings of a lot of strange customers who never actually buy anything convinces Clay that there's got to be something else going on besides books.  And there is.  What follows is an adventure that is a lot of fun.  I loved the mystery and trying to figure it all out.
  • The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.  I loved this modern-day fairy tale.  Because I've lived in Alaska I understood both the loneliness the main characters feel and the exhilaration of living in such a wondrous place.  Jack and Mabel are homesteaders in 1920.  They are losing their way, both from the burden of trying to eke out a living in a harsh environment and from the sadness of not having children of their own.  In a moment of fun, they build a child out of snow.  The next morning they see a little girl running through the trees.  Faina hunts with a red fox at her side and seems to be part of the landscape.  Somehow she survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness.  Is she real or a figment of their imagination?

  • Little Bee by Chris Cleve.  Another book that stayed with me long after I finished it.  Little Bee is a Nigerian orphan whose fate is inexplicably tied to a well-off British couple, both journalists.  From Little Bee's perspective, our world is confusing and inexplicable just as hers is for Sarah, Andrew and their son Charlie.  And yet somehow they form a bond that is stronger than they expected.   I can't tell too much without giving it all away and the beauty of this book is its ability to surprise and yes, shock you.  It makes you think.  About your place in the world and who decides who gets what place and what advantage?  What is our obligation to others in the global community?  What is our obligation to ourselves and our families?  What makes a family?  
  • Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon.  My overwhelming feeling on finishing this book was "oh good, the story is not over yet!"  Even though it takes Gabaldon upwards of four years to write the next installment of Jamie & Claire Fraser's saga, I will wait patiently.  And if that patience wears thin, I will just go back to the beginning and enjoy the eight books there are so far again.  This book finds Jamie & Claire embroiled in the start of the American Revolution and all the attendant troubles that brings.  But at least they can take comfort  that their daughter Brianna and her family are safe in 20th century Scotland.  In reality, young Jemmy has been kidnapped and while Brianna searches for him in the present, Roger has gone back through the stones searching for him in the past.  And in true Gabaldon style, the ending only leaves you wanting more.  
  • The Sea House by Elizabeth Gifford.  Books that tell parallel stories from two time periods are among my favorites.  In 1860, Alexander Ferguson takes a post as the vicar of a parish on the remote Scottish island  of Harris.  He is an amateur evolutionary scientist and hopes to uncover the truth about the local tales of selkies (merdmaids or seal people).  In present day, Ruth and Michael buy a dilapidated home on the island and begin to renovate it with hopes of starting their own family soon.  The discovery of the bones of a tiny child buried underneath the house raise all kinds of questions.  The child's legs are fused together.  Is it a mermaid?  To move forward, Ruth must find the truth about the past and in so doing deals with her own past as well.  
  • Dear Mr. Knightly by Katherine Reay.  Samantha Moore relates to literary characters more than those in her life.  When it is hard to make conversation, she quotes her beloved Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte heroines.  When an anonymous benefactor calling himself "Mr. Knightly" offers to put Sam through the prestigious Medill School of Journalism, she is afraid to accept and more afraid not to accept.  There is only one condition: Sam must write frequent letters to her benefactor.  At first the letters are short and to the point, but as time goes on Sam finds Mr. Knightly's anonymity allows her to share more personal information, which in turn gives her the courage to open up in real life.  The letters allow her to come to terms with her past and move forward into the future.  But how will she cope without letters to Mr. Knightly once she graduates from her program? 

New goal for 2015?  To read the Book Club books in the month we're supposed to :-D