This year I had intended to intersperse non-fiction with my fiction. It was one of my New Year’s resolutions. And, I started out strong. Seven of the first twelve books posted on my goodreads challenge for the year were non-fiction (and one of them was even relevant to my day job!) But, the end of the year saw a lot of binging my way through series many people have suggested many, many times. In 2014, I finished reading the available books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I read twelve (!) of the Stephanie Plum books. I read all five of Jennifer Armentrout’s Lux books (these I read on my phone). My goodreads goal was to finish forty books this year. I over shot that and read fifty-two. Realizing that, I thought this would be a hard list to make. A lot of good…well, reads, were devoured this year. But, upon looking at the list ten books immediately jumped out at me. Here they are:
1. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
This book was moving in all the right ways. I cried repeatedly while reading it. Strayed tells the story of how her life fell apart when her mother died and slowly fell back together while she planned and executed a trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. She survives not being appropriately prepared, a monster backpack, shoes that are too small, snow, and deserts. The solitude and physical hardship gives her a chance to deal with the real difficulty: having never gotten over the heartbreak of losing her mother and her best friend. I haven’t seen the movie yet but I cannot wait.
2. Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
I enjoyed this book immensely because it turns out that Cleopatra is an interesting lady. Prior to reading this book, my first thoughts of Cleopatra ran towards the stereotypical. She was beautiful. She survived by attaching herself to powerful men. She was a Ptolemaic girl in an Egyptian world. So, I learned a lot about her reading this book. It would seem that she was an efficient Queen who had the respect and love of our people. It was a pleasure to find that this historical figure often portrayed as a temptress and a whore but who was instead a strong leader who got shit done.
3. A History of the World in Six Glasses
I listened to, rather than read, this book while on a road trip. The text is a social history of humanity traced through its most favored beverages. Detailing the making of beer, wine, coffee, tea, spirits and coca-cola (with an epilogue about water), the author tells the stories of rising and falling empires, changing economies and social movements that make up the history of the world (women weren’t allowed in the first coffee houses making ladies’ tea rooms a popular alternative! And, Twinings, yes the Twinings you find at the supermarket, had a hand in that!). The recording from audible was great with a good narrator. After I finished, I looked for some of the modern brewers that were suggested in the epilogue. (Who wouldn’t want to try beer made from an Ancient recipe? I’ve not yet gotten my hands on a bottle, but when I do I will let you know!)
4. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell tells an alternate history of England contemporary with Napoleonic France in which there is magic in the world. Mr. Norrell is England’s last practicing magician and Jonathan Strange is his student. Where Mr. Norrell is as uptight as you’d expect an English magician Jonathan Strange is into trying new things and pushing the boundaries of magic. This was a fun, if enormous novel, with often hilarious footnotes (“promiscuous celery”. I don’t remember what it means, but I do know I found it funny/important enough to comment on it on goodreads). The tale follows Norrell, Strange, Norrell’s wife, a servant named Stephen, a Fairy King, the wife of an Upperclass Englishman, and a Magic historian from Yorkshire who chronicles the life of Mr.Norrell. The ending was curious but good and I was so happy to have finally read this book that I’ve owned since it came out! (That being said: I listened to this one, too, which means I have an unread read book on my shelf.)
5. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
Oh my god this book. Sigh, the Warden. And, Nic. And, Jackson. And, PAIGE OH MY GOD PAIGE! I cannot wait for the Mime Order to come out! I am so jealous of Beth who has already read it!
This was another book I listened to.
6. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
It was tough to pick a favorite of these books since I read all five available this year. I know from looking on goodreads that lots of people thought the story in books 4 and 5 suffered, but since I binge-read them they came as a really cathartic pay-off for having gotten through the first three books. But, there was a lot of catharsis in this book as well. I got way too attached to characters in the first book so by the time I got to this book I had learned my lesson. Looking back on it, my favorite thing about these books is the Small Folk. Hang in there, Small Folk, with your clever naming of weddings!
7. Four to Score by Janet Evanovich
All of your favorites are back. Stephanie’s crazy grandma, Stephanie herself. Ranger and Joe Morelli. Joe’s grandma. And, this book introduces us to Sally Sweet. I laughed my way through this book and then immediately started reading the next one. Stephanie Plum is ridiculous and for that I love her.
8. Origin by Jennifer Armentrout
All hell breaks lose because two teenagers fell in love. And, unlike classics like Romeo and Juliet, I’m pretty sure this is just meant to be fluffy, fun mayhem and not a satire. Which is good, because I tore through it like fluffy, fun mayhem.
9. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
This was on a list of books to read before the movie came out around this time last year. Well, I read it and then I looked for the movie and it was gone. Already out of the theater. Total Sadface. But, Rose Hathaway is such a badass and if they did a crap job bringing her to the silver screen then I’m glad I missed the movie. Also, I started reading this about the same time I started watching Sleepy Hollow, so Dmitri in my mind looks exactly like Ichabod Crane. I’m totally okay with this.
10. Zealot by Reza Aslan
I always have time to read books by fellow Iowa Alumni. This is another history/biography in the same vein of Cleopatra. Aslan keeps you interested with his writing style and puts the historical Jesus in a context that, frankly, just made me like him even more cool. (I realize that “him” at the end of the last sentence is ambiguous. I did that intentionally because the book made me like both Jesus and Aslan more.) Jesus would have been a man in an occupied Kingdom yearning to be free. It’s hard to not sympathize with that. And, then how this man who fought for freedom went from freedom fighter to global religious figure is also interesting to consider. I thought this was an interesting and thought provoking book and I’m happy I read it.
Books I started but never finished
1. The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
Guh. I didn’t care about the characters. I found much of the set up and background for the yarn shop to be unrealistic (what kind of sweaters was she making on contract to pay her bills in New York City?!?!). Couldn’t even be bothered to get to the main drama, that’s how early I put this one down. As a knitter, I’m always incredibly disappointed when knitting is the only thing interesting in a novel. People with a hobby might be a built-in audience but if you can’t be bothered to develop interesting characters or intriguing story lines then don’t bother.
2. The Waves by Virginia Woolf
This is a beautiful stream-of-consciousness novella that follows a group of friends from the school yard through their lives and I expect I’ll one day get back to it. But, I started reading it while I was traveling for work and it was too much for the end of the day reading I was using it for. Instead, I ended up reading the Armentrout books on my phone, so I’m grateful for that.
3. The Bat by Jo Nesbo
Good, and I’ll probably try to finish it one day. But, Harry Hole isn’t Kurt Wallander. I kind of love Kurt Wallander.
4. Vegan before Six by Mark Bittman
This is where I’m at with health books: I’m kind of done with them. I like this concept, reducing the amount of animal products you eat by eating plant-based for most of the day. And, if you’re anything like me (who cooks like, three or four times a weeks and eats toast and oatmeal and leftovers for the rest of your meals) this basically means either all vegan all the time or that it’s not a workable solution. I was thinking in the New Year I might give it a try (as a more or less all-vegan-all-the-time solution with occasional meat sometimes). We’ll see.
5. The Fault in our Stars by John Green
I just don’t like John Green, what can I say? Not his writing, mind you, him. I just don’t like him. I enjoyed what I read of this novel but I’d put it down and end up thinking about the author and I’d just get mad at myself for putting money in his pocket. I know I’m probably the only one who doesn’t like him, but there you have it. I might try it again, but with the world full of good books written by authors I like, I probably won’t.