It’s that time of the year again, the time when all the Best Of lists start to roll out. I don’t know about you, but I can’t believe it’s already the middle of June!! It seems like I was just complaining about the snow (Pittsburgh saw a record 60 inches) this winter. Thankfully, the warm weather is finally here, but those cold nights made for some awesome reading time – and there was no shortage of fantastic books!
I’m breaking my list up into three categories: ADULT, YOUNG ADULT, and PRE-2014. If you’ve read any of these, let me know what you thought of them! Did you love them just as much as I did or did you hate them with a passion and think I’m a lunatic? Don’t forget to let me know what your favorites of 2014 (so far!) are!
Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen
A Vietnamese-American woman discovers a family heirloom holds a link to the pioneer girl: Laura Ingalls Wilder. I couldn’t stop gushing over this novel and now, five months later, I still can’t get over it! This was one of those rare novels where I wanted to immediately start over again once I reached the end – and you can bet I checked my library to see what other works of Nguyen’s were available! Pioneer Girl also rekindled an interest in the Little House books, definitely a potential summer project! #WeNeedDiverseBooks followers take note: Nguyen’s novels all feature Vietnamese/Vietnamese-American families!
The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon
My very first review on the blog was McMahon’s Don’t Breathe a Word, way back in the summer of 2011. It’s taken me nearly three years to read another but the wait was worth it. A woman overcome with grief after the loss of her child. Auntie, believed by the town to be a witch – or worse. A new family who moves into the farmhouse nearly a century later. McMahon blurs the lines of reality and the paranormal and she does so beautifully. I was so caught up in the story that I was actually scared in the middle of the afternoon!
Savage Girl by Jean Zimmerman
The Gilded Age. High Society. A feral child. Gruesome murders. Savage Girl was basically written for me. A wealthy couple embark on a tour of the American West and end up adopting a wild, untamed girl. They bring her home to Manhattan and begin the process of grooming her for her introduction to their socialite friends. On their return trip across the country however, a string of murders follows the Delgates and Savage Girl is told through the eyes of the son, Hugo, while he’s being held in prison. I was thoroughly enchanted by the rich details and was kept guessing the Who-Dun-It right up to the very end. It’s a shame I haven’t seen more buzz for this novel; I enjoyed it immensely and am now keeping an eye out for what Zimmerman does next!
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
I mentioned in my review that I wouldn’t be surprised to see this end up as a book club pick and that still stands. A.J. Fikry is nothing short of a love letter. A love letter to readers, to bookstores, and to books. A bookseller (who can only be described with two of my favorite words: curmudgeonly and crotchety) finds his life changed after the loss of a priceless novel. Over time, the town unites as one and A.J. bookstore is the center of it all. Zevin’s characters were flawed and wholly real, watching these people changed and grow was a sight to behold and I rejoiced with them every step of the way. I had originally pictured this story as something else entirely and was worried I wasn’t going to enjoy it; it turns out this book is even better. I laughed, I cried, and took A.J.’s recommendations to heart.
Lockstep by Karl Schroeder
It had been a decade since I last read a space opera, but Lockstep obliterated any fears or reservations I might have had about getting back into the genre. A 17-year-old boy goes on a routine mission and wakes up 14,000 years in the future. If that wasn’t bad, it turns out his family is in charge of things and his own brother is on the throne, ruling with an iron fist. In the years Toby was missing his family developed a way of hibernating – individual chambers that virtually freeze the body for decades. With the Lockstep system in place people are able to live for thousands of years while barely aging a day. A cult-like religion sprang up around Toby’s disappearance and his prophesied return – and with word out of his existence his siblings want him dead. Lockstep was a novel that had me hooked from the start, despite it’s somewhat confusing math (math is so NOT my thing).
Steal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom
If you’re looking for an emotionally-charged, character-driven family drama, Steal the North is for you. Emmy is sent to spend the summer with an aunt she never knew existed. Kate was cast out of her fundamentalist church as a teenager and left home without looking back. Now her sister, still very much a part of the faith, needs her. Reuben knows life on the reservation will only hold him back, but it’s full of his tribe and family. Bethany, Kate’s sister, has suffered miscarriage after miscarriage and knows her church would become suspicious of her herbal remedies. I cannot say enough about this novel. In my review I said it was heartbreaking and raw, and it’s still on my mind months after finishing. Secrets surface over time and every single character – big or small – was simply beautiful. This is a stunning debut and Bergstrom is an author to watch.
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
You wouldn’t think a 700-page behemoth of a novel would be a page-turner, right? Wrong. I Am Pilgrim is a sweeping saga spanning continents and decades and has just about everything you would hope for in a novel: mystery, intrigue, conspiracy theories, deadly plagues. While this might not be the ideal novel to lug around on vacation, it’s certainly the perfect beach read with its fast pace and a story that completely captivated me. This book is definitely greater than its hype and I would love to see it become wildly successful. In my review I purposefully kept vague so as not to spoil its secrets and I’m doing the same here. Trust me, you’ll be glad I did!
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A German orphan with a penchant for fixing radios. A Parisian girl who lost her eyesight. The Second World War is looming overhead and the lives of these two children intertwine – though not in the way you’d expect. All the Light was simply a pleasure to read. The language in its pages was breathtakingly haunting and I was caught up in the vivid descriptions and passages. My emotions came out in full force while reading this one – I panicked when some boys at the orphanage began wearing Hitler Youth armbands, I cheered when Marie successfully found her way across town, I wept at the bullying one of the children faced (and was left brokenhearted by his fate). Wartime fiction is rarely a happy experience, but I’m glad I read this novel, sobs and all. It’s one that will stay with me for a long, long time.
Golden State by Michelle Richmond
And now the Wild Card. Golden State received the lowest rating out of every novel listed here (I gave it a 3/5), but it’s one that I keep thinking about. While reading I was reminded of one of my favorites from 2012, The Age of Miracles for one reason: the Big Event takes a backseat to the characters. Golden State takes place on the day California will take a vote on whether or not to secede from the United States and become its own Republic. Instead of focusing on the vote however, the novel follows a couple once in love, but now going through the pains of divorce. I’m a big fan of character-driven stories and for that reason alone Golden State earns a spot on this list.
No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale
Talk about a polarizing debut! Readers either loved this quirky, Fargo-esque novel or thought it too weird and odd. Personally, I loved it. A gruesome murder set in the aptly-named town on Friendship, Wisconsin kept me on edge and the strangeness of the story seriously made me uneasy and uncomfortable – perfect for a mystery like this one! An awkward main character made it even more intriguing and I was glued until the final pages. As I said in my review, this is definitely not a book for everyone, but the readers who enjoy it will really love it.
Buzz Kill by Beth Fantaskey
Buzz Kill was just plain fun. I was completely obsessed with Nancy Drew while growing up and this new take on everyone’s favorite teen sleuth was great! A high school football coach is murdered and 17-year-old Millie is determined to get to the bottom of it – and clear her father’s name. It’s a bit odd to call a murder mystery ‘light-hearted,’ but seriously, this book was just that. Buzz Kill was a light-hearted, single-sitting read that I’ve recommended to readers looking for something quick and easy and entertaining. Going to be sitting poolside for a few hours? This is just the kind of novel to have with you.
Love by the Morning Star by Laura L. Sullivan
With WWII looming on the horizon, two girls are sent to stay at a secluded estate in the English countryside. Hannah, half-Jewish and working at her family’s cabaret in Germany, is a distant relative of the estate’s residents and seeks asylum. Anna is to spy on the supposed Nazi ties of the family while disguised as a maid. Unfortunately for the two girls, they’re mistaken for the other: Hannah is sent to the kitchens while Anna is invited into the family and given the comfiest of rooms. I’m a big fan of historical fiction and I love the mistaken identity trope. This book was surprisingly risque and had more than a few thought-provoking scenes.
The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes
Any Jojo is a fantastic Jojo and I always know I’m in for a wonderful – albeit heart-wrenching – time. I’m slowly working my way through Jojo’s backlog (Last Letter was my second, after the incredible The Girl You Left Behind and since then I’ve read a third, Silver Bay). Last Letter tells the tale of a 60s housewife piecing her life back together after suffering memory loss in a car accident. She uncovers love letters from a man who is certainly not her husband and realizes she needs to find this man who loved her so fiercely. In the present day, a woman is stuck in a nowhere relationship with a married man and was simply going through the motions of everyday life until she’s tasked with a feature column for her newspaper. She uncovers a file with decades-old letters and wants to find out just who these two people are and what became of their love story. Jojo has become one of my favorite authors for a reason and I highly recommend any – and every! – book she’s written.
The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna van Praag
This was my introduction to magical realism and I was instantly hooked. A young woman finds herself lost and unsure after the Worst Event Of Her Life and ends up at the door of 11 Hope Street. She’s welcomed into the home and invited to stay, though she cannot spend anymore than 99 days there. There to aid her in turning her life around are other women who have once stayed in the house: Agatha Christie, Sylvia Plath, Beatrix Potter, and many others. I cannot say enough about this book, only that I urge everyone to read it. Now. It was engrossing, enchanting, magical. I was so taken by it that I lived and breathed this story and was truly upset when I finished. A story like this doesn’t come around often.
Bone by Jeff Smith
While I was in high school I received the first volume of Bone as a gift and was told I would like it since I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman. With Gaiman on my mind, I began reading and absolutely hated it. A coworker and I recently revisited this series and once I took my expectations out of it, I was hooked. I ended up binging on the entire series and fell madly in love. It’s such a shame what hype can do – it took me a decade to give this series a second shot and I absolutely loved it. Three cousins, Smiley Bone; Fone Bone; and Phoney Bone, are kicked out of Boneville after a harebrained scheme of Phoney’s and they become lost in the desert. If you’re looking for some light-hearted fun, this is it. If you’re a follower on twitter, I’m sure you’ll recognize the rat creatures – I fell hard for these little guys and posted a TON of pictures!
Locke & Key by Joe Hill
Bone left me craving more graphic novels and I turned to Joe Hill’s Locke & Key series. Hill does his papa proud with this one: after the death of their father, three children and their mother move across the country to Lovecraft, Massachusetts. Once they reach Key House they quickly learn that a) their father’s death was not a random act of violence and b) there’s evil in the air. This was another series I binge-read and I loved every minute.