I think it’s fitting that my first post on my new site is my own personal list of favorite books that I read in 2014, released in 2014. The list is just that – my favorites. These are books that I loved and that spoke to me in whatever way this year – and out of the 115 books I read total, it’s been hard to whittle down, and even harder to place them in a rank order. But I’ve done my best! Here goes:
10. The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams
I love historical novels, and I love books that move back and forth between multiple time periods. This book did just that, and it included one of the most memorable heroines I’ve read in recent years in Vivian Schuyler. She is vivid, feisty, hilarious, and definitely someone with whom you would want to be friends, making reading her story a treat.
9. Arcana by Jessica Leake
This was one of those books I read in under 25 hours because I just couldn’t put it down. The characters are brilliant and a joy to read about; the banter between our heroine and narrator, Katherine Sinclair, and her suitor, the Earl of Thornewood, is witty, smart, and funny. The chemistry between the pair, as well, is very well rendered. I loved that this was a sweet, fun, and unpredictable romantic tale.
8. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Reading this novel was an experience. You become immersed in the world of the narrator, Mireille, even when at times you don’t want to be, even when what she is going through is so horrific that you wish you could look away. Gay unflinchingly tackles the issues of violence against women and the existence and consequences of privilege in the world, things that many people choose to ignore. This was a book that made me think even as it told a well-crafted, brilliantly written story. This is a difficult book to read, but one that is so, so important.
7. Conversion by Katherine Howe
This ripped-from-the-headlines YA novel – about a group of girls at an elite New England private school who come down with the same strange, seemingly inexplicable symptoms – is tied by American history scholar Howe to the Salem Witch Trials. When I first heard about this book, I got very excited, as I had made the same mental connection when hearing about the students in Leroy, NY, and was pumped to read a book that explored those similarities. I was not disappointed. In addition to being a compelling read, Howe successfully explores the pressures and tensions of female friendships, as well as delving into the ways that social media affects and informs our reactions to the world around us, and the ways in which it can create a phenomenon all its own.
6. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Of all the YA I’ve read in the last few years – and there’s been quite a bit – this one, to me, best captured the excitement, innocence, anxiety, and insecurity of being a teenage girl. It was a book that was vivid and lifelike, a joy to read, and one I was sad to see end.
5. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
One of the most important books published in 2014 (in my opinion), Gay’s essay collection meditates on gender, race, sexuality, and the intersection of these with entertainment and popular culture, among other topics. There were many points throughout the book where I found myself nodding along as Gay expressed and described – much more eloquently than I can – many things I have felt, experienced, and thought before. At the same time, the book engages with issues about which I had not thought much or was not particularly educated, and so found myself learning, thinking, and feeling my mind expanding.
4. Euphoria by Lily King
This was a gorgeous, gorgeous book. It is a brilliantly written and researched historical novel as well as being a complete page turner – I just had to keep reading to find out what happened to these characters. The experience of reading it feels almost like a dream from which you are reluctant to emerge.
3. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This book was nominated for the National Book Award, and I could certainly see why upon reading it. The non-linear nature of the narrative flows beautifully, and the novel’s themes – of the value of art, of hope, of the ways in which humanity can survive even with “civilization” – will stick with you long after you’ve finished reading.
2. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
I enjoyed every second of reading this book. It was the perfect balance of being light and entertaining at moments, as well as exploring heavy, difficult topics at times. You knew right from the beginning that there would be a twist at the ending, and so it’s hard not to race through the pages to find out what happens.
1. Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
Definitely my favorite book I’ve read this year. As I mentioned, I love historical fiction, and this book was a perfect example of the genre – well researched and brings the time periods it depicts vividly to life. Fairy tales are a theme, subject, and underpinning of the book, and the book appropriately functions as a treasury of fairy tales, seamlessly weaving together the story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, confined to a nunnery by the French king; her past, scandalous days at court; and the story of Margherita, which would later become the tale of Rapunzel; and the story of Selena Leonelli, a Venetian courtesan and Titian’s muse. The French court in the days of the Sun King and Renaissance Venice are equally vividly portrayed. This was a beautiful, beautiful book; one I would recommend to lovers of historical fiction as well as anyone who loves a good story.
And, of course, honorable mentions (since I can’t just pick 10!): More Than Music by Elizabeth Briggs, Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless by Liz Czukas, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Actress by Amy Sohn, and The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon.