A Year in Pages

Last year around this time I was tasked with my weekly blog post.  As the year end was chasing me down, I found myself thinking of very little else except all the great books I read throughout the year.   So when faced with some wicked writer’s block, I decided “If you can’t beat’em, join’em” and churned out my Top 10 Favourite Reads of the year.  I see a similar situation staring me in the face as we speak so all you non-readers best look away cuz it’s about to get all bookish up in here.

These are my Top 10 Favourite Reads of 2014 (*note not my top books written in 2014, just my top books READ in 2014).

“Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson (2014)

I haven’t read a book this mesmerizing in a really, really long time. And sure lots of folks have tried the “let’s jump around time periods” methods before but Atkinson nails it in such a way that your heart breaks anew with every chapter.   It’s got love, war-time Europe and even Hitler.  If you need something that will break a run of ho-hum books, pick this one.  Then read it again.  And then again. (*Note: if you can score the version with the fox on the cover even better)

 

 “The Light Between Oceans” by M.L Stedman (2013)

As a parent, this book tore my heart out in a HUGE way.   A baby washes up onshore near a lighthouse into the arms of a grieving and childless couple.  I felt an actual physical pull to these characters and found myself with tears free-flowing late into the night as I read.  You can see the whole story laid out before you, you sense what’s coming and yet “predictable” is the last word you’d pick to describe it.  This book was pure brilliance and heartache and ultimately the biggest love story I read all year.

 

“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman (2014)

Continuing with the “ocean” themed books,  I tore through this little gem by Gaiman in one wonderful little sitting.  His story is pure magic and fantasy and I can see picking this up on snowy afternoons for years to come.  This would be a great read for pre-teens looking for a story with a bit more meat on its bones too – it’s got weird creepy neighbours, a scary nanny, and things reaching down from the night sky to pluck you straight off the ground.  Sometimes I think he can do no wrong whether he’s writing for kids or adults.  In the end, I doubt the audience really matters at all.  He is magic for all ages.

“Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey (2012)

Besides having the most beautiful name I’ve ever heard, Eowyn Ivey has also created the most beautiful version of a folktale you could ever hope to read.  1920’s Alaskan homesteaders fashion themselves a child from the snow and the result is Faina, a girl born of the ice and trees, travels with a constant fox companion and disappears with the spring.  I mean, honestly, how can you not want to read this book already??  A more perfect winter read I have yet to find.

 

“The Orenda” by Joseph Boyden (2014)

As confessed in last year’s list, I am a recent Boyden bandwagon joiner and have been devouring one book after another since discovering him last year.  Obviously for me, this one is no different.    For sure, it’s a tough read and there were more than a few parts where some deep-breaths were required for me to get through but for every scene of graphic violence there were also scenes of utter poetry and total silence.  His is the stuff that rattles around in your head for a good long while.

“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt (2013)

Okay so much like my unjustified snobby-ness for the “Canada Reads” books, I feel equally snobby towards the “Heather’s Picks” at Chapters.   They all seem to begin with the description “A tragic coming of age story about a boy in (insert country name here) struggling to come to terms with (insert personal struggle/injury/overbearing family member/political strife here).”   I can’t even process them anymore.  Anyway, you had to be living under a rock to not have seen this book everywhere last year, and I mean EVERYWHERE.  Heather was hocking in on TV, in every magazine, on every page of the Chapters website and you practically tripped over the giant pyramid of “Goldfinch” books when you walked in the store.  I picked it up for my Mom as a gift – she was going on a long sunny vacation and I thought the sheer size of this book would make it a perfect contender for extended marathon reading sessions on the beach.  Long story short, she forgot to pack it, I was house-sitting and without a book to read so I picked it up and then never put it down.  I admit it.  Heather was right and I was so, so wrong.  This book was OUTstanding.   I guess I can admit that maybe a Pullitzer Prize cancels out my Heather bias?

“The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende (2005)

Remember last year when I said that when one of your favourite people shoves a book at you, you better damn well read it?  Well that happened again.  From the shelf that brought “Arcadia” into my life, came this big giant sweeping epic Latin American opera.  It’s got multiple generations of just wonderful witchy ladies, a dramatic patriarch named Esteban, political intrigue and a giant dog.  It’s a hit on all levels really.  I couldn’t get enough.

 “The Sharper the Knife, the Less You Cry” by Kathleen Flinn (2008)

A super fun little memoir of a woman who dropped everything, left behind her American life to attend the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris.  Who hasn’t had the fantasy of doing that very thing at least once or twice in their life?  There’s nothing about this book that reinvents the wheel, she doesn’t have any real life-changing advice, but as a straight-up enjoyable lifestyle read, this book had it for me.  Added bonus???  It comes with heaps of amazing recipes from her time in Paris.

 “The Son” by Phillip Meyer (2013)

This book was the book that broke a bad streak of reads for me.  I was in such a funk and seemed to pick up one unsatisfying read after another.  I actually bought this for my husband for Christmas in 2013 but never thought it would end up on my side of the bed (I judged a book by its cover and thought it looked too much like a western.  I hate westerns).  It was out of pure desperation that I picked it up and honestly thought I’d be tossing it onto the pile of aforementioned bad books.  This book had other plans for me though and resurrected my faith in the written word.  It’s epic and sprawling and violent and sad and dusty and beautiful.   My only wish is that I hadn’t read it the same year as “The Orenda” because I think Boyden handled a similar subject and did it better.  Still, an outstanding read all the same.

“The Miniaturist” by Jessie Burton (2014)

It’s the 1600’s, it’s Amsterdam, she’s a new bride in a new house, there’s a strange husband she’s never met, there’s a creepy sister-in-law and there’s a dollhouse that’s mirroring everything happening in her real-life.   I adored this book!!  Loads of mystery and oddities,  loads of betrayal,  loads of desperation – a great read to get lost in.  I’ll be searching out some other material from Burton to be sure. (this book came to me from my new Goodreads app – are any of you on there??  I’d love to snoop your bookshelves…)

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Honourable Mentions

 “A Red Herring Without Mustard” (2011)“I Am Halfsick of Shadows” (2012) by Alan Bradley

I didn’t include these in my Top 10 because really, they are hardly great works of fiction worth being included in a year end list BUT as a series, I cannot say enough about how much I enjoy the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley.  They’re such fun and eccentric in a Wes Anderson kind of way.  I hope he never stops writing them.

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So thanks for humouring my love of books and lists of books and talking about books etc etc.  This is always a hard list to compile and this year was no exception as, despite a few duds, I thumbed my way through some truly beautiful new books and revisited more than a few old favourites.

What did you love this year???  My notepad is ready...