As a team, we wanted to put together our top 14 reads for 2014 for our weekly column at 5 Minutes for Mom. We did that, so please click through those links to see what they are. It was a great idea, but we had a problem. Take 5 booklovers who read many books each year, and 14 books didn’t begin to cover it.
Check out our top 14 over there, along with 18 of our other favorites right here:
The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez — With deep character development, this novel explores the idea of what it means to be an American, following several members of a diverse immigrant community in Delaware. The collective narratives reveal a variety of perspectives about the immigrant experience, and readers may find their eyes open to points of view they’ve never imagined before.
All I Love and Know by Judith Frank — Opening with a tragedy, and telling the story of a family dealing with the aftermath, this novel goes to dark places that confront important current social and political issues. Making the abstract quite personal through the stories of complex, flawed, and very realistic characters gives this novel a serious tone. One to be enjoyed for its expert writing as well as its thought-provoking nature.
Crooked River by Valerie Geary — A shadowy mystery novel that reads like literary fiction, this one had me chewing on my nails, unable to put it down until a resolution came. Readers will likely find themselves questioning their early assumptions, and then revisiting their new assessments, as well. Though the plot revolves around the mysterious death of a young reporter visiting a small town, the dark scenes are not gratuitous, and I even passed this along to my teenage son.
We are Called to Rise by Laura McBride was not only a good book but an excellent audiobook listen. It’s one of those books that hit contemporary issues such as city growth, immigration, parenting, ennui and so much more, in a way that didn’t feel preachy or like she was trying to write a socially important novel. This is her first novel, and I know I’ll be checking out her second.
Glitter and Glue is a memoir by Kelly Corrigan. I don’t know if everyone will respond to it as I did, but it hit me in all the right places. It’s about her own, somewhat strained, relationship with her mother, flashbacks of her own years navigating early adulthood, becoming a mother herself, her worry about leaving her kids too soon as she battles cancer. Sounds grim, but she’s so funny and intuitive that reading it makes you feel like you know her or she knows you.
The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell pulled me along. It’s a novel of a dysfunctional family that somehow highlights the function and dysfunction in all of us. Many of these characters had secrets and Jewell unraveled the story at a perfect pace that had me squeezing in as much reading as I could so that I could find out the hows and whys of their actions.
Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen — The author’s own battle with breast cancer is clear in this novel about a woman who finally wakes up after a year of being figuratively asleep since her husband’s death.
Season of the Dragonflies by Sarah Creech — The prodigal daughter returns to her family perfume business in this magical realism tale.
House of Wonder by Sarah Healy — This novel explores beauty in its multitude of forms, including pageant queens, a centuries-old tree, and the innocence of children.
House of Glass by Sophie Littlefield — This page-turning suspense novel reads like a Lifetime movie on paper, and not in a bad way, when a family is held at gunpoint by two men in the basement of their own home.
Queen of the Tearling: Author Erika Johansen imagines a world in which humanity attempted to begin anew in a sort of utopia, only to find themselves within a few hundred years living in a sort of medieval world, with horses as transportation and swords and arrows for weapons, and feudalism and sex-trafficking and slavery all functioning as well. But the story opens with a bookish and isolated girl hiding in a tree, watching the horsemen come and knowing this is the day her life irrevocably changes. The best YA book I read this year. It’s the start of a trilogy, a gripping and well-told tale that combines a coming-of-age story, a book about social justice, and a fantasy world.
Truth about Harry Quebert Affair: This book is just really fun to read. The characters are drawn with realism and compassion, and the story-line is full of twists and turns. There are meditations on life, the publishing and marketing industries, how the past affects the present, and much more, but the bulk of the book is simply a good story.
The Invisible Girls (memoir/Christian): Written with raw honesty and compassion, The Invisible Girls combines 2 stories; author Sarah Thebarge’s struggle with cancer and the invisibility imposed on her by her family, and the invisibility of a Somali refugee family whom Sarah encounters on public transportation one day, and with whom she gets inextricably involved. This is a realistic book without sentimentality, a story of courage and faith.
In Paradise: This isn’t an easy book to read, but it’s an important one. The framework is fairly simple: an ecumenical group of people gather for a week during the winter of 1996 at Auschwitz to “bear witness” to the atrocities committed there through prayer and meditation. However, this novel isn’t an exercise in cheap emotion at the cost of others pain. It instead looks long and hard at why such atrocities can happen, and at how the complicity of others allows them to happen, all wrapped up in this framework of people who care coming to a retreat in a place where something horrible happened, to remember. And although the ending isn’t particularly happy, it is satisfying nonetheless.
One Night in Winter: Set in Stalin’s Moscow in June, 1945, this book blends historical fact and fiction flawlessly as it looks at an oppressive regime’s reaction to the excesses of adolescent love of romanticism after a game goes wrong and 2 teens from powerful families end up dead. Yet this is ultimately a story about love and the places we find it, and what we are willing to give up for it–or not give up for it. This is a gripping read, filled with unexpected twists and turns and a satisfying denouement.
How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky: I had Kindle issues (my fault, it turned out, months later) so I never did write this one up for review, but it’s a really unusual and well-written story that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend. Two close friends decide to have children at the same time, raise them identically but separately, and in that way prepare them to be “soul mates” whose experiences inexplicably match. It’s a crazy idea and the people involved are really flawed, but this book is magical. The introduction had me hooked beyond recovery.
The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness is the third book in her All Souls trilogy, and it fixes everything that was wrong with the second book. Once again, Diana and Matthew are central characters in the present day, and the book is filled with action and intrigue as they search for the secret of Ashmole 82. The characters are compelling, and their problems and challenges rope you in. This is one of those “I’ll just read one more chapter” books, and I can only hope that although this was meant to be a trilogy, Deborah Harkness has something new up her sleeve, as hinted at near the end of The Book of Life.
After the Funeral by Agatha Christie is a book I read years ago, much like the majority of all Agatha Christie mysteries. I hadn’t picked one up in years until this version was recently rereleased. Dame Agatha has and amazing ability to develop a mystery that never quite turns out the way you want with characters so flawed that you feel like you should despise them but yet you never can. After the Funeral is no different, with Hercule Poirot as arrogant as ever called in to determine who killed Cora Lansquenet and plenty of suspects all of whom seem to have a motive. It’s never who you suspect it will be, and even though you know you’re being led on a merry chase, you’re happy to take the journey to discover the true villain.