Sunday, December 28, 2014

My favorite books from 2014

For the past five years, I have been recording each book I read with a rating.  Here are the 10 books I rated a "5" in 2014 (well, 12 books, but there's a trilogy, so I'm counting them as one!)

1.  My favorite of the year was "My Notorious Life" by Kate Manning.  Based on the life of Axie Muldoon, known as the "wickedest woman in New York" for her work in women's reproductive rights in the late 19th century.  Axie's life begins on the streets of New York in the 1860s, where she and her siblings struggle to survive.  Sent west on an Orphan Train, she later finds her way back to NYC where she is apprenticed as a midwife.  Unwilling to go quietly about her work, Axie struggles to give women reproductive choice in a time when to do so was scandalous.  I can't recommend this book highly enough!


2.  There is nothing I love to read as much as sweeping historical fiction.  Ken Follett's Century Trilogy certainly fits the bill!  Following the lives of 5 families from America, England, Germany, and Russia from pre-World War I through the 1980s, "Fall of Giants," "Winter of the World," and "Edge of Eternity" are worth your time.  For much of the first book, I felt as though I was in the world of Downton Abbey (which I also watched for the first time this year!).  If you like historical fiction, these books are for you.

3. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is probably my single favorite book of all time.  I've been fascinated with Nelle Harper Lee for years - as most readers have probably asked, why did she write a single book?  After watching a PBS special on her life and learning about her family, particularly her older sister Miss Alice, who worked as an attorney alongside their father, I wanted to know more.  Journalist Marja Mills befriended Nelle and Alice and was granted access to their lives of the course of multiple years.  One of the things I found most interesting was Nelle Harper's thoughts about young adult fiction, and how glad she was "To Kill a Mockingbird" was not classified as such, as she believed it would have limited its exposure to adults.  As a lover of young adult fiction, I wish I could disagree with her, but I think many excellent books are discounted because they are written for young people!  (As an interesting side note, Nelle Harper Lee joined her friend Truman Capote to Kansas to help him research "In Cold Blood."  For a period of time, they rented a house in Manhattan just a few blocks from my house - 1711 Fairchild Ave.)

4.  This book has been on my list to read for multiple years, and I finally got around to it this year.  Wish I had read it sooner!  "The Night Circus" is simply enchanting.  I found it reminiscent of the movie "The Prestige," where two young magicians compete against each other in what becomes a battle of life or death.

5.  I read "The Rosie Project" while we were in Colorado last winter.  Don is a geneticist with some unusual thoughts about life.  When he decides to find a wife, he creates a survey to find the right woman.  Not just any survey - Don's survey has sixteen pages and is designed to eliminate women with characteristics he finds unacceptable.  Rosie is a bartender who is searching for her father.  Don sets aside the Wife Project to help Rosie with her Father Project and ends up falling in love despite his best efforts.  The second book in this series will be released this week, and I can't wait!

6.  How have I never read this book?  After hearing my friend Audra Reed talk about reading it with her 6th grade class, I checked it out from the library.  What amazing young adult fiction!  Like "The Hunger Games," it makes you think about how very different our future world could be with just a few changes to the present, and not in a good way.  

7.  This is the "fun" book on my list, particularly for all you parents of kids in elementary school or for my teacher friends!  A parent is dead at a PTO fundraiser.  Was it murder or an accident?  What is really going on behind closed doors in this sleepy school community?  And why does everyone in the PTO have a blonde bob?  Too entertaining!

8.  The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books are quiet stories, but I always find them quite entertaining.

9.  My friend Beth St. Amand wrote this memoir about her son's death by suicide.  Every parent or person who works with young adults should read this book.

10.  While in Florida for Christmas, I read "All the Light We Cannot See."  Another work of historical fiction (are you noticing a theme in what I like to read?), it follows the lives of two children in pre-WWII France and Germany whose lives intersect during the war.  I've seen this book mentioned multiple times as one of the best of 2014, and I couldn't agree more!

I know there are still three days left in 2014, so I may have an update to this list ;)  Happy reading!

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