In 2014, I focused on reading more books that I would probably have otherwise waited on, to try something new and get out of my literary comfort zone. In creating this list, I was very surprised to discover that all of my top five books can probably considered historical fiction, which I always felt I didn’t care for. I guess it goes to show that breaking a pattern can yield some wonderful results. I’m very motivated to keep trying new types of fiction this year!
In no particular order, my top five books read in 2014 are:
1. Justly the winner of many awards in 2014, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014) was hands down my favorite book read last year. I don’t even care for books set in World War II, yet this story about the parallel lives of two youth coming-of-age during the war was just so beautifully written, it captivated me at once and I couldn’t put it down. Just read it.
From the cover: Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure’s agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.
In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.
2. Published in 2013, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is inspired by the true story of a woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829. I admit that I picked up this book not because of the plot, but because I am obsessed with Iceland and want to visit there. It is a beautifully emotional story, yet never overwrought. Kent creates a haunting atmosphere and I could feel the cold, harsh, lonely environment that Agnes endured while waiting for her execution.
From the cover: Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.
3. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (2013) is another story about parallel lives, except the characters are a brand new golem and an ancient jinni. The golem and the jinni navigate late 1890s New York City while trying to figure out the meaning of life and overcome their loneliness at being the only creatures of their kind in NYC. A wonderful debut novel.
From the cover: Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world. The Golem and the Jinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.
4. Published in 2014, The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh is another debut novel. Although perhaps not as powerful or evocative as The Golem and the Jinni, this was a moving story about family secrets. The dual storyline alternates between a daughter trying to solve the disappearance of her mother years earlier, and the story of her mother prior to disappearing.
From the cover: The Dane family’s roots tangle deep in the Ozark Mountain town of Henbane, but that doesn’t keep sixteen-year-old Lucy Dane from being treated like an outsider. Folks still whisper about her mother, a bewitching young stranger who inspired local myths when she vanished years ago. When one of Lucy’s few friends, slow-minded Cheri, is found murdered, Lucy feels haunted by the two lost girls-the mother she never knew and the friend she couldn’t protect. Everything changes when Lucy stumbles across Cheri’s necklace in an abandoned trailer and finds herself drawn into a search for answers. What Lucy discovers makes it impossible to ignore the suspicion cast on her own kin. More alarming, she suspects Cheri’s death could be linked to her mother’s disappearance, and the connection between the two puts Lucy at risk of losing everything. In a place where the bonds of blood weigh heavy, Lucy must decide where her allegiances lie.
5. Faithful Place by Tana French (2011). The third book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, this story focuses on Frank Mackey and his investigation into what happened to the love of his life on the eve of their elopement. His search reunites him with his estranged family and uncovers many deeply disturbing buried secrets and repressed emotions. I always feel that I can’t go wrong with a Tana French novel.
Excerpt from the cover: Back in 1985, Frank Mackey was nineteen, growing up poor in Dublin’s inner city, and living crammed into a small flat with his family on Faithful Place. But he had his sights set on a lot more. He and Rosie Daly were all ready to run away to London together, get married, get good jobs, break away from factory work and poverty and their old lives. But on the winter night when they were supposed to leave, Rosie didn’t show. Frank took it for granted that she’d dumped him-probably because of his alcoholic father, nutcase mother, and generally dysfunctional family. He never went home again. Neither did Rosie. Everyone thought she had gone to England on her own and was over there living a shiny new life. Then, twenty-two years later, Rosie’s suitcase shows up behind a fireplace in a derelict house on Faithful Place, and Frank is going home whether he likes it or not.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938). A classic.
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (2007). Hill’s first novel, not-quite-horror, but creepy and suspenseful.
Defending Jacob by William Landay (2012). A great courtroom/family drama thriller.
What were some of your favorite books read in 2014??