Monday, January 12, 2015

My Favorite Reads of 2014 #amreading

Each January, I look over my Goodreads list and pick out a few books that really stood out to me over the past year.  I read all genres, although obviously as a romance author, I tend to favor stories that involve a relationship between two characters, even if it isn't the central plot.  And while I've had a new release come out each year I've done this, including this summer's DIVINE FALL, I leave my own books out of the running, for obvious reasons!  Here's a look at a few of my favorite reads of 2014, along with links to my 2012 and 2013 lists.

Historical Fiction:  A tie-- River God, by Wilbur Smith and The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom.

Historical Fiction and Historical Romance are genres I gravitate toward...I love immersing myself in the past as a dramatic story unfolds in a different time and place.  There were two books this year that I really enjoyed.  River God is an older book, published in 1995, set in an even older time--Ancient Egypt, circa 2,000 BC.  This is book #1 in Wilbur Smith's Ancient Egypt series, and I'm so glad a friend told me about it.  While I had my misgivings when I realized the entire story would be told in the first person Point of View by a eunuch slave, it worked really well, and the engaging narrator Taita was even able to bring the forbidden romance between Tanus and Lostris alive for me.  And Taita is a literary "Mary Sue", but the author knew what he was creating and he had fun with it.  This novel reminded me of some of my other favorite books--Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth, his Century Trilogy, or Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series--this was an epic tale full of drama, history, romance, war, medicine, affairs of state, adventure, crime and punishment, royalty, and slavery.

The other historical fiction novel I enjoyed, The Kitchen House, is set on a Virginia plantation in the late 1700s.  It's a compelling contrast between the life of the slaves and the life of the plantation owners, reminiscent, to me at least, of The Help.  Two narrators, an orphaned white girl brought to work as an indentured servant, and a half-black, half-white slave with ties to "the Big House" (ie, the plantation mansion), provide complementary looks at the struggles facing those with limited or no freedom during this time period.

Biography:  Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand

Nonfiction is rarely something I choose, but even before all the hype surrounding this book reached me, one of my friends recommended it to me.  I knew I had to read this incredible true story, and I began recommending it to others before I was even halfway through.  At this point, almost everyone has heard of Louis Zamperini, and either read the book or seen the movie.  I've done both, and I do think the movie did a good job within the obvious constraints of fitting an amazing, full life into a two-hour time-frame.  But I don't think the movie comes close to conveying the magnitude of the events--so I highly recommend reading the book if you haven't.

Literary Fiction/Suspense: two novels by Tawni O'Dell, Fragile Beasts and One of Us.

Back in the days when I belonged to one of those Book-of-the-Month clubs, I saw Back Roads described in the catalog.  I sent away for it, and I absolutely loved it--a tragic, dark, haunting, and yet somehow hopeful family drama set in the dreary, poverty-stricken landscape of a dying mining town.  I was hooked on the story, and the author.  I eagerly snapped up her next two books (Coal Run and Sister Mine) as they released over the years, but then I didn't see any new ones for a while--so imagine my happiness when I did a quick search on GR one night and discovered TWO new Tawni O'Dell novels waiting for me!  Each of her novels is a stand-alone, but they all share that rural, gritty setting of a Pennsylvania coal mining town with little left to offer the families who gave their lives to the mines that sustained them for generations.

Legal Thriller:  Defending Jacob, by William Landay

Another recommendation from a friend (everyone knows how much I like to read!).  Legal thrillers aren't my thing lately, but this one was an out-and-out page-turner that I literally could not put down.  I brought my Kindle to my son's baseball games so I could read a few pages between innings.  This one's about a lawyer defending his son against murder while not entirely convinced of his innocence.  The level of tension and uncertainty reminded me of Gone Girl.

Young Adult - Historical Fantasy: The Kingdom of Little Wounds, by Susann Cokal

This book was listed in a Jan. 2014 Boston Globe article of books not to miss.  Otherwise, it's unlikely I would have ever heard of it, and that would have been my loss.  The name intrigued me, as did the cover.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of contention over whether this is really a "Young Adult" book, but two of the main characters are indeed young women, living within the palace of a sort of "alternate reality" Scandinavian city in the 16th century.  Despite a few invented details, the history of the period itself is obviously meticulously researched, and young people were often thrust into unpleasant things at an early age in the 1500s.  Does that lead to some very graphic descriptions, disturbing scenes, and gruesome diseases and traditions?  Yes.  But that's what life was like then.  The prose is beautiful and the world-building top-notch.

Well, there you have most memorable reads of 2014.  What were yours?  I'm always looking for my next great book!

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