Best of 2014

I miss Goodreads when I make up my end-of-the-year lists. I've been using Calibre to catalogue my books & reviews, and I always note the date that I read the book in a purpose-made column, but apparently (I just discovered) not in a way that is easily sortable. 

Anyhow. My strongest impression about my year-in-reading is that I didn't read enough. And, indeed, when I made a list of my reading highlights, a huge percentage of them were books I listened to as audiobooks. 

I can think of many reasons why I wasn't reading much, or why I wasn't reading very challenging material (with my eyes). I spent the year preparing to self-publish and also writing a book that has caused me no end of angst, and I think that combo made books themselves stressful or aversive. 

On the other hand, I'm going to keep writing and releasing books, so this is a problem I'd better get over--and that will require making an effort rather than just waiting until I return to "normal". My "normal" has changed, and if I want to keep my reading habit, I'm going to have to work for it.

That being said, I read some great books this year. Here are my top picks: 

FOOL ME TWICE by Meredith Duran

Just a perfect romance novel. Wrung my heart dry & left me in a happy, swoony daze at the end. A fall-into-it, don't-come-up-for-air, happy-afterglow sort of book. There are a lot of things to love about romance, but that's the high I chase, and Fool Me Twice delivered. 

THE SILKWORM By Robert Galbraith

I read and enjoyed The Cuckoo's Calling enough to jump on the sequel almost as soon as it came out, but it was The Silkworm that made me a fan of the series. I love Cormoran & Robin, individually & as a developing team, I loved the intricate mystery, and I loved the gleeful nastiness of Galbraith/Rowling's portrayal of the literary world. 

THE WITCH WITH NO NAME by Kim Harrison

I can think of other individual books that impressed me more or engaged me as well--but I've been a fan of the Hollows series for about ten years now (when I put it that way: yikes...) and it was everything a series should be. Every book was meaty and satisfying, and every book served the series-arc. The main character grew and changed, learned things about herself that brought the entire world and its history into sharper focus, met greater and greater challenges with increasing competence, and her ultimate success not only secured her own happiness but changed the entire world for the better. 

Harrison really stuck the landing with this series. 

THINKING FAST & SLOW by Daniel Kahneman

I listened to this on audio & it took me months--months during which I must have been a very tiresome person to visit with, because I could not stop talking about it. No matter where I went--to wedding showers, apple festivals, wherever--I'd end up bringing up the book, "Kahneman describes this amazing experiment..." and blah blah blah. 

It's a dense book and I couldn't listen for long stretches at a time because it really demanded focus, but this is a book that really, honestly, no exaggeration helped me understand what it means to be human. Helped me understand the irrational decisions we make, why we can be so stupid and thoughtless and blind. It's a little depressing, but for me understanding is the way to reach empathy. 

So. Thinking Fast & Slow. Fascinating, dense book by a Nobel-prize winning psychologist. Worth the time and effort. 

ENDURANCE: SHACKLETON'S INCREDIBLE VOYAGE by Alfred Lansing

Audiobook again. This might be a story that is too amazing to mess up--though maybe not, because I already knew the story and Lansing still kept me hanging on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. If you like man vs. nature stories, you are probably already a Shackleton groupie. If you haven't read a book about his famous arctic voyage, I do recommend this one. 

Full review here.  

THE ROOK by Daniel O'Malley

In terms of high-concept, page-turning goodness, The Rook tops the chart. As a reminder, here's how the blurb starts:

"The body you are wearing used to be mine." So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her."

The differences that emerge between the two Myfanwys--old Myfanwy, new Myfanwy--gives the book some depth and makes the action more interesting and more satisfying. 

Full review here

THE LAST LION: WINSTON SPENCER CHURCHILL: DEFENDER OF THE REALM 1940-1965 by William Manchester and Paul Reid

I've always assumed that I hate military history--especially all the strategy stuff; how battles are won and lost--but I've read a few books lately that really held my interest. In this case, I was interested in learning more about Churchill and I'd heard this biography is great--but it's huge, four fat volumes, and I decided to skip straight to the WWII years. 

What I got was a biography of Churchill, yes, but with a wide focus--the book doesn't zoom tightly in on the subject, doesn't try to crawl around inside his brain. It paints a full picture of Churchill, his strengths and weaknesses, his humor and his small tyrannies, and it sets him firmly in context--it tells the story of the war, so that we can understand Churchill's role in it. 

I listened to this book on audio and it kept me company for a good long while--fifty-odd hours--but I was riveted the whole time. 

Full review here.

THIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE by Ann Patchett 

I listened to this on audiobook, pretty early in the year, and snippets of it come back to me still--Patchett's voice, some of her comments about writing (I was repeating something she wrote about writer's block just yesterday), and most of all the straightforward way that she discussed really messy experiences. 

Three books tied for the final slot in my list--I couldn't decide which to cross off, so instead a quick list: 

KJ Charles's CHARM OF MAGPIES books--for the sharp wit, the fraught romance, and especially for making the Regency feel fresh and new. 

BRING UP THE BODIES by Hilary Mantel--I really loved this book, but it hasn't been much on my mind since I read it, except for one line, which repeat silently to myself on a regular basis--"Those claws, those claws, those claws". Gorgeous writing. Proof that the pen is mightier than the sword (or just as sharp, I mean). 

ANCILLARY JUSTICE by Ann Leckie--A perfect layer-cake of smart & complex & idea-driven worldbuilding and engaging characters who drive the story & give it a strong emotional core.