It’s that time of the year again, folks – time to start making year-in-review lists! For this post, I’m going to highlight eleven of the most memorable books I read in 2014. (Why eleven? Because I couldn’t pick just ten!)
Now I want to state that placement on this list doesn’t mean these books were published in 2014 (most probably weren’t); instead, these were books I read for the first time in 2014. Likewise, this list doesn’t represent every book I read in the past year. (According to my GoodReads stats, that would be 97, so there is no way I could list that many! Well, I could but that would bore you. And me.)
11. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Normally, general fiction isn’t my go-to genre and I usually avoid it like a harp seal avoids clubs, so I actually surprised myself with this pick. The cross-generational storyline intrigued me and, overall, I ended up liking this book more than I thought I would. Its premise is simple and the plot is a little predictable, but the overall story is engaging enough that the ending, which you can essentially guess at from the start, is completely forgivable. Despite that, it was certainly worth my time picking it up.
10. The Meaning of Night: A Confession by Michael Cox
Here’s yet another general fiction pick that surprised me. The Meaning of Night is no light read in either length or vocabulary but its style, plot, and setting drew me in. Another appealing aspect was the conflicted chief protagonist, who can’t, by all rights, be labeled a hero – he’s despicable yet you see where he’s coming from, which makes him relatable in a way. Not that it makes his actions any less forgivable but it shows the depths of fallen human nature. Lastly, the actual writing harkens back to the time when words themselves carried their own weight and possessed inner beauty as well as moved the plot along, so kudos to Cox for bringin’ old school prose back.
9. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
This book was suggested to me by one of my book club members as a monthly selection and I took her up on it. In general, I like the paranormal genre but most of the stories are about either vampires or werewolves without much deviation. Thankfully, this book was a welcomed change of characters, story, and pace. Not to mention the incorporation of actual photographs really brings the novel’s respective characters to life and it was an ingenious idea on Riggs’ part to create a hybrid story like this. Even though the ending wraps up a bit neatly in terms of some character relationships, it wasn’t entirely unbelievable and still made for an awesome overall read.
8. Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
This was my first foray into zombie lit and, I must say, this read was equal parts charming, funny, and original. Marion succeeds in making a zombie character an actual individual (as opposed to a member of an Undead herd) and giving him a personality without betraying his zombie roots. Likewise, the story doesn’t dwell on or mope around in its apocalyptic surroundings and, oddly enough, the zombies aren’t immune to dystopian woes themselves. I appreciated the main character’s development and it was definitely a fun, clever ride.
7. Spark by Anthea Sharp
GoodReads recommended this sci-fi/fantasy novel by indie writer Anthea Sharp. The premise that a sim game actually is a portal to the faerie realm sounded cool, so I checked it out. Not being a gamer myself, I knew enough to get drawn into this book and finished it in record time. The premise is fun and works for the story and the characters are on point. This is definitely one I’ll set aside for a future review. Overall, I was impressed and pleased that the ultra-cool cover didn’t act as a mask to a weak story. This definitely made me want to read more of Sharp’s other works set in this fey-gaming world.
6. I, Isaac, Take Thee, Rebekah: Moving from Romance to Lasting Love by Ravi Zacharias
Finally, a Christian relationship book that isn’t stupid! (Of course, I wouldn’t suspect anything penned by Zacharias to be stupid.) This text paints a Biblical portrait of marriage by using Isaac and Rebekah’s love story as a model. It’s for singles and couples alike, which I appreciate, and I loved his focus on how marriage is supposed to be a blessing, not a burden. I gave up reading dating books in 2014 because my own love life (at least as of this posting) hasn’t changed, but this was one book I didn’t regret reading. I do hope it can become more relevant to me, maybe even in this new year! 🙂
5. Divergent by Veronica Roth
Judging by some reviewers, it seems like these books foster a love-hate relationship: readers either really enjoy them or utterly despise them. Myself, I liked it and I was surprised. Upon reading the premise, I wasn’t sure how well I would enjoy reading a big novel that focused mainly on training, simulations, and tactical decision making. Yet much to my surprise, I actually found it a speedy, engaging read. Tris holds her own as she’s a heroine worth rooting for and the other characters are fairly fleshed out, too. It was good enough to get me to read Insurgent, which is saying something because normally if the first book in a series disappoints, I don’t give it a second chance. But Divergent certainly convinced me to finish the story that it started.
4. Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory
This was yet another zombie read that also takes a different spin by having a family take in an Undead boy and raise him as their own son. (As improbable as that sounds, it actually works. It really does.) In this novel, zombies are more than just brain-noshing monsters: they have created their own loosely-knit society and are sentient beings at odds with the living, who have shut them out. Unlike Warm Bodies, this novel isn’t intended to be humorous and it ends on a bittersweet note, but it’s still a fantastic read.
3. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is the master of dark, gritty, paranormal tales and always manages to create original stories that don’t make you call to mind something you’ve read before. This novel is no exception, and even though it’s a short book, it’s packed full of suspense and subdued terror that reminded me a little of Coraline (hey, I can compared an author’s work to his own material, after all) only more grown up as it plays on the idea of what we remember as kids isn’t always reality…or is it? The melding of the mundane and the supernatural was masterfully executed with the deft hand Gaiman possesses, so I was glued from page one until the end.
2. Cinder/Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
I’m combining these first two books of the Lunar Chronicles since I read them back-to-back. This is definitely one of the better modern sci-fi reads I’ve come across in recent years, and I think Meyer’s take on revamping traditional fairy tales is innovative and full of interesting world-building. These were definitely some of my favs this year. Initially, I feared these were just going to substitute sci-fi elements for aspects of each novel’s respective fairy tale; turns out I was way off. This isn’t just Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood set in the future – these novels’ respective stories bring so much more to the table and they are worth investing time in.
1. The Reapers Are the Angels/Exit Kingdom by Alden Bell
These two related novels by Alden Bell fairly claim top prize. While both of these could also be classified as zombie lit, they possess a southern Gothic style with compelling, conflicted characters who do what they can to survive in a world made hostile by both the living and the Undead. It’s a shame Bell is not a more recognized name because his writing skills and story concepts are impressive and deserve to be engaged. (He reminds me of Eric Garcia in this way where I’m left thinking, “Wake up, world – here’s an author you must read!”) The Reapers Are the Angels was recommended reading on a zombie lit list, so I took the plunge and was captivated by its bleak environs and tortured heroine. Exit Kingdom, which serves as a prequel of sorts (though you can read these books out of order), is equally impressive. These two novels might be gritty southern Gothic with a dose of Zombie gore but they stand out as true gems in my reading selections for 2014. They hooked me and didn’t let go until I finished them with much reluctance as I didn’t want these stories to end.