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While other sites are ranking their favorite books written in 2014, I want to take a moment to share the books I enjoyed reading most this year – regardless of when they were written.
Goodreads description: On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?
My thoughts: This book has so many twists and turns! Just when you think you know the direction in which things are headed, the rug is quickly pulled out from under you. I don’t want to emulate any of the main characters but I did find them incredibly fascinating. I read this book in 2 days and I stayed up late to finish it because I couldn’t bear to put it down again!
Goodreads description: Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle—and people in general—has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence—creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.
My thoughts: I really enjoyed the characters of Bernadette and Bee [Balakrishna] – two unique and highly intelligent female characters in one story! The novel is told by 14-year-old Bee and it’s fascinating to see the world from that perspective. Much of the book is delivered to the reader via email correspondence, news clippings and the like in Bee’s attempt to reconstruct her mother’s story. Bernadette’s husband (and Bee’s father), Elgin Branch, works for Microsoft. The book pokes a lot of fun at business culture and people spending so much of their time trying to move up the corporate ladder, which I highly enjoyed. The book is very witty and satirical – if that’s your kind of humor then grab this immediately!
Goodreads description: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
My Thoughts: I don’t generally read romance novels because they seem cliché and ridiculous. If they were written more like The Fault In Our Stars then I might change my mind. This was a beautiful view of young love between two amazing characters. Hazel and Augustus are ultimately teenagers who are trying to make the best of the time left before cancer claims them permanently.
Goodreads description: Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.
Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond. Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.
My thoughts: I already wrote a review of Tiny Beautiful Things so I’ll just say that I found this book to be a revelation. I enjoyed all of the advice given and the fact that it applied to me even if the situation that caused the person to ask for it did not. I plan to read this annually – this is how I want to live my life.
Goodreads description [abbreviated]: In Salt Sugar Fat, Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter Michael Moss shows how we got here. Featuring examples from some of the most recognizable (and profitable) companies and brands of the last half century—including Kraft, Coca-Cola, Lunchables, Kellogg, Nestlé, Oreos, Cargill, Capri Sun, and many more—Moss’s explosive, empowering narrative is grounded in meticulous, often eye-opening research.
My thoughts: This was the first book I finished in 2014 and it was an eye-opener! My husband and I were making a lot of dietary changes at that time and this just helped to reinforce our belief that we were headed in the right direction. I’ve known that processed food wasn’t “healthy” or good for you for a number of years but so much of this book was fascinating due to the shock value. “They’re allowed to do that?!” I would scream internally. The book doesn’t tell you what to eat – there are plenty of other books that can provide that information from a lot of viewpoints – but it does detail the disaster that is the American processed food industry.
Goodreads description [abbreviated]: Mo’ Meta Blues is a punch-drunk memoir in which Everyone’s Favorite Questlove tells his own story while tackling some of the lates, the greats, the fakes, the philosophers, the heavyweights, and the true originals of the music world. He digs deep into the album cuts of his life and unearths some pivotal moments in black art, hip hop, and pop culture.
My thoughts: Questlove is fascinating to me – to have that much musical ability and knowledge all in one brain! And it was an interesting look behind the scenes of The Roots during their formative years. He comes from a musical family and has diverse musical interests. What I really appreciate is that he has so much knowledge but comes across as one of the most unpretentious people on the planet. I just want to give him a hug and discuss music with him – or let him tell me about music, more accurately.
Goodreads description: This unforgettable memoir was the basis for the Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave. This is the true story of Solomon Northup, who was born and raised as a freeman in New York. He lived the American dream, with a house and a loving family – a wife and two kids. Then one day he was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in the deep south. These are the true accounts of his twelve hard years as a slave – many believe this memoir is even more graphic and disturbing than the film. His extraordinary journey proves the resiliency of hope and the human spirit despite the most grueling and formidable of circumstances.
My thoughts: This book broke my heart. I’d never heard of it prior to the movie’s release but I knew that I need to read it. The practice of slavery, which still continues today in various forms, is horrific. The book was difficult for me to get through in some parts, but I knew that would probably be the case. I actually put off reading it for about a year for that reason. It’s not a book that I enjoyed by any means, but it was well-written and I believe that it’s an important story to read. Solomon has an amazing spirit in spite of his circumstances.
Goodreads description: A guy walks into a bar car and…
From here the story could take many turns. When this guy is David Sedaris, the possibilities are endless, but the result is always the same: he will both delight you with twists of humor and intelligence and leave you deeply moved.
Sedaris remembers his father’s dinnertime attire (shirtsleeves and underpants), his first colonoscopy (remarkably pleasant), and the time he considered buying the skeleton of a murdered Pygmy.
With Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, David Sedaris shows once again why his work has been called “hilarious, elegant, and surprisingly moving” (Washington Post).
My thoughts: I’ve already reviewed Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls but I will say that it made me howl with laughter. I laughed until I cried. One of the most hilarious books I’ve ever read. [But then again, I’ve devoted a lot of time to reading detective novels up until this year and they’re usually less humorous.]
Goodreads description: Ten years after graduating from high school in Neptune, California, Veronica Mars is back in the land of sun, sand, crime, and corruption. She’s traded in her law degree for her old private investigating license, struggling to keep Mars Investigations afloat on the scant cash earned by catching cheating spouses until she can score her first big case.
Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is not a simple missing person’s case. The house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.
My thoughts: I love Veronica Mars! I never watched the show when it was on the air but discovered it thanks to Netflix. I was instantly drawn to Veronica’s sassy wit – I wanted to be her. Why did I write that in the past tense? I mean, sometimes I still want to be her. This book has all the witty dialogue from the show and movie – you can actually imagine Kristen Bell saying these things as Veronica. [And if you got the audiobook, you could actually listen to her say them since she was the narrator.] That said, I wasn’t sure if the book was amazing on its own or just amazing if because I’m a fan – I’m extremely biased – hence the special mention.
Goodreads description: At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone.
Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
My thoughts: I have thoroughly enjoyed both Cheryl Strayed books that I’ve read – as evidenced by their inclusion on this list. I think this is an amazing story of finding yourself while you’re escaping something else. The main complaints about the book – that I’ve seen – are 1) that it doesn’t talk enough about the perils of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and 2) that Strayed just fell apart after her mother died instead of embracing the time they had together. Those opinions are fine but here’s mine: you never know with absolute certainty what you would do in a given situation until you’re actually facing it yourself. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have spiraled out of control if either of my parents had died when I was 22 but it’s something I’ll never know. I thought that book covered a lot of detail about the trail itself, so much that I’d be interested in doing shorter day hikes of parts of it. That said, if you’re mainly looking for details about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail then Wild probably isn’t for you.
What about you – any favorites read in 2014? I’m always looking for new suggestions!