It’s time for the fifth FAVORITE BOOKS OF THE YEAR post! (Only 15 days into the New Year too! That’s not as late as I feared.) You can also check out favorites from past years–2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013–at these links, if you are so inclined.
As usual, we’ll start with this category:
Favorite Newly Discovered Authors of 2014
The requirements for this award haven’t changed since previous years.
- I have to discover them this year.
- Then, I must become so obsessed with them that I read ALL their books.
- They must have more than one book out, because with each book, my love for that author exponentially increases.
The winners are:
Marissa Meyer, author of The Lunar Chronicles series
For this one, a big THANK YOU needs to go out to the readers on this blog: a BUNCH of you guys recommended this series. That convinced me to pick up a copy of Cinder while marooned at the Houston airport this March. By the twentieth of April, I’d finished all three books out in the series, and I loved them to pieces.
2014 also marks the first year ever that I got to meet one of my new favorite authors the SAME year that he or she became one of my new favorite author. I hope this becomes a new tradition, because it was pretty awesome:
Not only did I get to meet Marissa Meyer and tell her how much I was enjoying her series, I even shared a Small Business Saturday panel with her and other authors at Seattle’s University Book Store in November. That resulted in::
- the feeling of being in ridiculously awesome—and rather intimidating—company on that panel;
- a signed set of her books, which I’ll give away later this month; and
- learning some cool stuff about the series.
For example, she said that one influence on The Lunar Chronicles was Joss Whedon’s TV show and movie, Firefly and Serenity, which was SO cool to hear. I’ve always considered myself on more of a fantasy fan than a scifi fan, but if I had to pick a favorite scifi story, it would be Firefly/Serenity. (If I had to pick favorite scifi characters, they would all be in this show, but most favorite of all would be Simon and River Tam. Actually, maybe just River–she has been a huge inspiration for Rapunzel’s character in The Ever Afters.)
And just so you know, another big influence on The Lunar Chronicles is…SAILOR MOON!!!! The very first anime I ever love! Prior to The Lunar Chronicles, Marissa Meyer spent six years writing and publishing Sailor Moon fanfiction, so her new series is full of true love, moon princesses, evil queens, and mind control. I am a fan of ALL OF THESE.
But something else bumped this from my favorite series category to my favorite author one: the series’ structure. Each book follows a fresh plot-line AND love story centered around the character named in the title, while still developing a series-long conflict and character arc. That is so hard to do! It blows my mind!!
It makes me want to reread the entire series again to figure out how Marissa Meyer did it. Hopefully, I can do that before Winter comes out in November….
I’m breaking my own rules by adding Gayle Forman here. First, I listened to the audio recording of If I Stay back in 2011, so technically, I didn’t discover her books in 2014 (sorry, rule #2). Second, I found out yesterday that Gayle Forman has written two books before the publication of If I Stay, so technically, I haven’t read everything she has ever written (there goes rule #1).
However, SHE IS WORTH BREAKING RULES OVER. That is how much I love her.
I did read all of these in 2014. The audiobook of If I Stay made me cry even more than it did three years ago. (I saw the movie as well and enjoyed it thoroughly—especially since I am a fan of Chloe Grace Moretz.)
If you’ve read my books, you have probably gleaned that I like my fantasy bursting with struggles between good and evil, full of scary foes and big action scenes. With realistic fiction, however, I like to read dramas full of characters who aren’t out to get each other.
Real life is hard enough without people being needlessly mean, and that’s a big part of what I love about Gayle Forman’s novels. She acknowledges the tough side of life, but she also chronicles characters’ growth after the tough times set in. Her stories are all about healing from heartbreak, making art, meeting loved ones halfway, reconciling fate with free will, and forging your dreams into reality.
They should also all be read with a box of tissues. As Forman’s website claims, “All. The. Feels.” You have been warned.
Random side note: Both of these authors have a book releasing soon: On 1/27, Marissa Meyer’s Fairest will pub; Gayle Forman’s I Was Here pubs two days later. January will be an AWESOME month. WOOHOO!
Slightly more relevant note: When I read, I habitually mark passages I love, type them up, print them out, and paste them into my journal. This happens a lot with my faves of the year, so I’ve included a few here. Not including one doesn’t mean that I didn’t ooh and ahh over the book’s language. It usually means that a) all of it was awesome, and I wanted to mark every page, or b) my favorite excerpt was so entwined with the story that I couldn’t bear to include it out of context.
Favorite Magic Realism
A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd
Stories aren’t peaceful things. Stories don’t care how shy you are. They don’t care how insecure you are, either. Stories find their own way out eventually. All you gotta do is turn ’em loose. —Natalie Lloyd
(Quick definition for some of my younger readers: magic realism is a story genre containing just a touch of fantasy, or “a snicker of magic” (sorry, couldn’t resist :-P). In the fantasy genre, big magic tends to to change the world; with magic realism, small magic tends to change characters.)
It’s hard to explain this book. On the surface, Felicity Pickle and her family moves to Midnight Gulch, her mother’s hometown, but it’s really about making a home and dedicating yourself to helping others and connecting with loved ones. And it’s about ice cream.
Also, after I finished, the Happy Book Glow lasted for DAYS.
Hook’s Revenge, by Heidi Schultz
After the ticking crocodile eats Captain Hook, his daughter, Jocelyn Hook, travels to Neverland to take revenge. Just with that plot line alone, I would have been freaking out with fangirl glee, BUT what really sold me on the story was: a) Jocelyn, who is relentlessly herself, no matter who is pressuring her, whether it’s finishing school teachers or the spirit of her late father; b) Roger, her best friend, who has a dry, self-deprecating sense of humor and heart-rending loyalty; and c) the narrator’s voice, which made me laugh out loud and want to grow up and become a pirate.
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
Some of you grown-ups may have heard of this one. It won the National Book award, and controversy followed due to a really poor comment by the guy presenting the award. He apologized and tried to make up for it later. Sometimes, that kind of publicity has the opposite effect—it can make you feel like you’ve read the book, because reading an article sometimes makes you feel like you know everything you need to know about the book.
But I’m here to say: if you haven’t read the book, you really need to do so, especially if you’re a writer. I’ve never read anything else that completely captures what a storyteller’s formative years feel like: waking up to your calling and to the material that will fuel your stories for years to come, recognizing tensions outside the home, the love she had for her family, and the revolutionary idea that words can effect change.
When you’re a young writer, you sense all of this. You can feel it swimming inside you, both the stories and the material that will fuel them, but it takes years for your skill and your understanding to catch up and allow you to articulate it. Jacqueline Woodson depicts this perfectly.
The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander
When I bought this book, I thought I was getting a sort of Tim Green/Mike Lupica novel about fourteen-year-old twins who play basketball. The first surprise was that it was in verse, the kind that pulsed with enthusiasm and made you grin. The second surprise was that it was more about family and love than about basketball. The last surprise was the ending, which shocked me so bad I started crying in an airport terminal. (I NEVER CRY IN PUBLIC!)
I seriously loved it. I devoured it within a day.
Honorary Mention: West of the Moon, by Margi Preus
I picked this up, because the title made me think that it was a retelling of my favorite fairy tale (“East of the Sun, West of the Moon”). It was, kind of, but it was really about the lengths one sister will go to save another.
Favorite Series Conclusions
Since I spent most of 2014 finishing Of Enemies and Endings (a.k.a. the last book in The Ever Afters), I read a lot of series conclusions. These two picks are both the third book in trilogies, and they both expand the fantasy world in a way that kind of redefines the whole story. Basically, after books one and two, the reader thinks that the main conflict of the series is about one thing, and although these books resolve that original conflict, they also reveal a wider context—a greater struggle than the characters initially recognized.
In other words, these were game-changers, the same way The Amber Spyglass was a game-changer in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series.
This was so cool and so IMPRESSIVE.
Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #3), by Laini Taylor
It was a new idea for him, that happiness wasn’t a mystical place to be reached or won—some bright terrain beyond the boundary of misery, a paradise waiting for them to find it—but something to carry doggedly with you through everything, so humble and ordinary as your gear and supplies. Food, weapons, happiness.
With hope that the weapons could in time vanish from the picture.
A new way of living. —Laini Taylor
Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin #3), by Robin LaFevers
We are all of us, gods and mortals, made up of many pieces, some of them broken, some of them scarred, but none of them the sum and total of who we are. —Robin LaFevers
Best Short Stories
I haven’t completed a short story since 2007 (I was in college), so one of my current goals is to re-learn the short form and to write some short stories I would also enjoy reading. This involves actually reading short stories—another activity I’ve avoided since college, and I surprised myself by getting REALLY into them.
My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories, edited by Stephanie Perkins
“Night of Cake and Puppets,” by Laini Taylor
A Tale for the Time Being, but Ruth Ozeki
I read this with my book club, and it ended up being my very favorite adult novel of the year. It basically asks the question, What if you were reading something and you hated the ending so much you reached through time and tried to change it? It also contains my very favorite buddhist nun great-grandmother of all time.
Warning to younger readers: Content-wise, it’s definitely for grown-ups. (A.k.a. rated R.)
(Further warning: It starts rather slow.)
Love Walked In, by Marisa de los Santos
I must want to live in this book.
When I originally read it in December 2011, I kind of dismissed it as an easy, breezy read, but it stuck with me—the rhythm of the holiday season it chronicles, the characters who survive within it. So, I reread it. Actually, I’ve read it three times in the past three and a half years, and every time, I find something new to admire about it: the dialogue, the underlying structure, the way she subtly handles a reader’s expectations and then subverts them.
Marisa de los Santos just made it LOOK easy. I aspire to do the same.
I’ve recently noticed that I pick my favorite nonfiction based not on its quality, but how it affects my year and influences my thoughts. Just so you know how subjective the Favorites of the Year process is.
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell
“Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.” —Malcolm Gladwell
I’ve read some of Malcolm Gladwell’s books before, but this one is my favorite for one reason: it helped me ponder and define many of the themes in Of Enemies and Endings right at the beginning of 2014. Before the deadline loomed and the stress set in, this book turned my brainstorming into purpose, and I don’t think I could have finished the book last year without that. (So, thank you, Mr. Gladwell!)
This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett
“Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words.” —Ann Patchett
This is not a book about marriage. It’s a collection of essays on many topics, including love, family, friends, and the writing life. I copied out the quote above and posted it above my writing desk. It inspired me to write this post (click here). It helped me stop focusing on (and worrying about) short-term deadlines, and it helped me start to recognize (and plan for) my long-term goals.
WOW. This post got a lot longer than I expected. You get TONS of brownie points if you’ve read this far, but since you guys are awesome at recommendations, I have to ask one thing:
What books did y’all love in 2014?