At the beginning of last year, I started out with a specific reading challenge in mind: I chose to read 35 books in 2014, but at least 10 of the books I chose had to be a five-star book and the rule was that I had to choose from several genres. Otherwise I’d just stick with fantasy and historical fiction, which I adore.
I spent some time in advance getting my reading list worked out. As luck would have it, I spent a lot of time in bed this year from painful arthritis flares, and I also did quite a bit of traveling and long-haul flights, so I had plenty of time to crack out some long-count novels and business books that I’ve been wanting to read for ages. Between the real travel journeys I embarked on this year and the fantasy travel that I completed with my reading list, I feel like I really got to see the world this year.
By the end of 2014, I had 61 books on my list, and I relied on my grandmother’s tried and true technique of going back through my notes and book reviews to remember which books were the best and why.
Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time.
—Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
My favorite books of the year include:
My Favorite EPIC FANTASY and LONG COUNT Novel of 2014
1. A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time #14) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.
This was a Goodreads Choice Awards Best Fantasy winner. At 912 pages, A Memory of Light was also the longest book I read in 2014. (Number 10 was a close second, and it was also part of a large epic fantasy series that I began many years ago.) I was really sad to say goodbye to these beloved characters that I’ve known since childhood. One of the coolest things about this book is that the original author Robert Jordan died before he was able to finish the series. He hand-picked a young up-and-coming fantasy writer to finish his series for him, and that is how I became a Brandon Sanderson fan.
This leads me to book two on my list…
My Favorite NEW-ISH FANTASY Author of 2014
2. The Well of Ascension (Mistborn #2) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
I read the first book in this series in 2013, and I enjoyed it, but Sanderson’s The Well of Ascension blew my mind. I’ve never read fantasy like this before. His battle scenes are completely believable and entirely riveting, and the way he writes about magic is just incredible. The magicians in this book are not naturally gifted with magic. They gain their magic through Allamancy. If you’re into fantasy, this is one series you won’t want to miss out on. Judging from the reviews on GoodReads, Sanderson’s writing gets better and better as the series moves on. I’ve been holding on to the right moment to start Book Three, but trust me, it’s going to happen in 2015!
My Favorite Chinese-American Book of 2014
3. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
This was fantastic tale about a young girl named Kim who moves from Hong Kong to America with her mother to work in a Chinese sweatshop in Brooklyn. Kwok’s descriptions of a young immigrant girl that is caught between two cultures is captivating.
Kim and her mother arrive in New York with big dreams of making a fantastic new life for themselves in the USA. Instead, they end up working in her aunt’s illegal clothing factory where they earn 1.5 cents for each skirt they complete. Kim was the best English student in her class in Hong Kong, but in America, she is overlooked, misunderstood and taunted mercilessly every day.
My Favorite Italian Author for 2014
4. The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani
This story is set in the Italian Alps, and it follows the lives of Ciro and Enza, two young village friends who both end up chasing their destinies on the far and distant shores of America. Ciro and his brother Edward are left at a local nunnery at a young age, and they are brought up by the nuns. Just a few villages away, Enza’s family struggles to make ends meet. They meet when Enza’s young sister passes away. This is a story of star-crossed love, but it also provides a tantalizing glimpse into what life was like as a new immigrant in America at the turn of the century.
My Favorite Non-Fiction Book for 2014
5. Salt, Sugar, Fat – How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss
I read quite a few non-fiction books this year, but this one really sticks out in my mind because it has made the biggest impression on me to date. Salt Sugar Fat offers an in depth look at the food industry, and how companies like Nestle, Kraft, Coke, Pepsi and so many other food giants deliberately load their foods with salt, sugar, and fat to encourage people to eat more.
It’s no wonder that North America is suffering from an obesity problem. The amount of sugar, salt, and fat that we are ingesting these days has TRIPLED since the 70s. It’s clear that the processed food industry can’t exist without these things. What’s not clear is where we’re going with all of this, and what will happen to the millions of people across the world who are developing serious health issues because of this.
The bottom line is that you have a choice, and the first step in educating yourself on what your food contains is to start reading labels and paying better attention to what’s grabbing your eye on your grocery store shelves.
My Favorite Travel/Autobiography Book of 2014
6. How Not To Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness by Joshua Samuel Brown and David Lee Ingersoll
I am slightly biased about this book because I consider the author to be a good friend, but the reason WHY he’s my friend is because I have always admired his writing. How Not to Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness is a collection of 19 stories written during Joshua Samuel Brown’s 10+ years on the road as a travel guide writer.
It’s packed full of funny travel stories, quirky observations, and amusing inner monologues. In typical JSB fashion, it’s the type of book you can laugh out loud to, and it is just as absurd as I expected it to be. This isn’t your average travel novel. JSB has an insatiable lust for travel and adventure, and he always manages to find a little bit of trouble to get into. He also has a gift for making the average, mundane experience into a story that is utterly unique and completely unforgettable
My Favorite Historical Novel about the South
7. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
At 11 years of age, Sarah Grimke receives ownership of her first slave, an 11-year-old girl named Handful. The only problem is that Sarah abhors slavery. She doesn’t want to own a slave. She wants to stop slavery. Despite their skin color, Sarah and Handful discover that they aren’t so different after all. Handful is bound in a life of slavery, while Sarah is bound by gender. The two girls eventually become friends and allies, and their relationship goes on to span thirty-five years.
My Favorite Historical Novel on the Tudors
8. The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir
I am obsessed/fascinated with Tudor history. I’m also obsessed with literature about strong women in history. In an age that had no reverence or respect for women, I think it is simply fascinating that Elizabeth Tudor was able to rise to power. She is one of the longest ruling and best known English monarchs of all time.
Queen Elizabeth has always been one of my favorite women in history. I’ve read many stories about her reign as Queen, but this is the first story of her childhood that I’ve read. Weir does a tremendous job of showing Elizabeth grow from a young and precocious child of two to a young women on her way to becoming Queen of England. As a young child, we learn of Elizabeth’s respect and adoration for her father, the gruesome death of her mother, and the endless line of stepmothers.
As Elizabeth turns into a young lady, she very nearly destroys her name and reputation, she endures a complicated relationship with her sister Mary, and she faces imprisonment in the Tower of London. From all of this, we see the Virgin Queen emerge. A cunning woman who forges herself into the ruler of the Golden Age, Elizabeth presided as Queen of England for 45 years.
My Favorite Young Adult Fiction – TOSS UP!
9. The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I know it’s a bit of a cheat to name two novels, but these novels were strikingly different and just so…good!
The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey combines my love of post-apocalyptic science fiction with teenage drama. When an alien race takes over Earth, only a very few survive the four alien waves that wipe out most of the world’s population. The dawn of the 5th wave has arrived, and we find young Cassie on the run. The aliens are now impersonating humans and the only way for her to stay alive is to stay on her own. Then she meets Evan Walker, and he might be her only hope for rescuing her little brother.
John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars was a winner in the 2012 GoodReads choice awards. There is a reason why John Green is known as one of the biggest pop culture icons of this decade. He writes so eloquently about the hopes, fears, and dreams of his teenage characters, it’s almost impossible to believe that he isn’t a teenager himself. If you’re looking to experience a range of emotions in your literature, look no further than The Fault in Our Stars.
My Favorite Horror Novel
10. Wizard and Glass The Dark Tower #4 by Stephen King
I started Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series over a decade ago, but it took so long for him to come out with each book, I decided to put the series down until it was complete. This year I rekindled my romance with one of my favorite authors of all time! I thought Book 3 was the best book in this series – up until I read Wizard and Glass, that is.
There are so many great things about this book, I don’t even know where to start! For one, there is a heavy nod to The Stand, which is one of my favorite books of all time.
In Wizard and Glass, we meet 14-year-old Roland and we learn about how he becomes a gunslinger. We also find out what sets him on his quest to find the Dark Tower. Young Roland and his friends, Alain and Cuthbert, have been sent to the town of Hambry in the Meijis, where his father Steven believes Roland will be safe from Marten Broadcloak.
Instead, Roland finds his one and only true love, Susan Delgado, and he also crosses paths with the Big Coffin Hunters and a nasty old witch named Rhea the Coos. Roland and his friends soon discover that the town isn’t what it seems, and they uncover a secret that threatens the whole Affiliation. At the center of it all is a pink glass ball, which is known as Maerlyn’s Grapefruit – a wizard glass – and it is one of the most evil things in existence.
So there you have it. These were my top reads for 2014, but I assure you, I have many other great books on my list so stay tuned.