Year in Review: Best Books of 2014

Today I am continuing my Year in Review by revisiting my favorite books of the year. (I am doing this series instead of my regular What I’m Into post that I normally do with Leigh Kramer) I read a total of 61 books this year (I am currently reading Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, but I don’t think I’ll be able to finish it in the next two days so 61 it is). Most of them were good books because, let’s face it, if it’s really awful I probably won’t bother finishing it. Ain’t nobody got time for that ;). Several of the books I read this year have made it onto my Best Books of All Time list.

One of the things I most enjoyed about my reading this year was the opportunity to read lots of different genres. I learned so much about the world and about myself from the books I read this year. The downside to the wide spread of genres is that it made it difficult to compare books when trying to choose favorites, so instead I made it easier on myself by breaking it down.

Best Fantasy:

Words of Way of KingsThe Way of Kings  ($7.68 for Kindle) and Words of Radiance (still on sale for Kindle for $3.75) by Brandon Sanderson. I wrote about these on my recent Kindle deals post, so I’ll just reiterate – these are the first two books in a series that is still being written and they are two of the best books I have ever read in this or any other genre. I cannot say enough good things about them. They are masterpieces. This is a fantasy epic that will appeal even to those who aren’t huge fantasy readers. This is a story about honor and justice and revenge. The characters are fantastic and the world with it’s various people groups and magic system, etc is captivating. If I could recommend just one book from this year’s reading to everyone I know it would be this book. (PS- If you get it, stick with it through the prologue. It’s a weird start to the book but I promise after you get past those first two chapters you’ll be hooked).

wise man's fearName of the WindThe Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (Only $1.99 right now!): This is also one of the best books I’ve ever read. If you are into fantasy at all, you must read this book and the sequel The Wise Man’s Fear ($5.99!) The prose is gorgeous. The world-building is phenomenal, the characters will become dear friends. I really can’t say enough positive things about this book. This is the first-person narrative of a terrifically gifted young man who grows to be the greatest wizard the world has ever seen.

Best Mystery:

secret placeThe Secret Place by Tana French ($11.99 on Kindle, $16.06 hardback) I love, love, love Tana French. She and Kate Atkinson are my favorite mystery writers, hands-down. This book did not disappoint me. I will say – this was the first of her books that I guessed who the murderer was pretty early on, but I don’t really think it was because it was too obvious. I just had a good gut instinct on this one. The Likeness  is still my favorite French book, but I really enjoyed this one. As a warning – this is an Irish Detective novel so the language is pretty salty.

 

silkwormThe Silkworm by J.K. Rowling under the name Robert Galbraith. ($10.99 for Kindle and $16.09 in hardback) This is the second of Rowling’s Cormoran Strike mystery novels. It did not disappoint. Rowling is, of course, a master storyteller and the mystery was intriguing, the characters were well-developed, and the plot was engaging and unpredictable. I thought this book was great fun, though I probably liked the first Cormoran Strike book (The Cuckoo’s Calling ) slightly better.

Best Spiritual Memoirs:

Faith unraveledFaith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions by Rachel Held Evans (still on sale for Kindle for $2.99): Evans’ story about coming from a fundamentalist evangelical “it’s us against the world” background and learning to be ok asking questions, even if you don’t find answers right away resonated deeply with me. I love that she actually articulates some of the really hard questions of life and faith in this book and doesn’t try to smooth them over with Bible verses or trite Christian phrases. My biggest takeaway was something Evans said at the very end of the book – that there is a difference between questioning God and questioning what you believe about God.

FoundFound: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer by Micha Boyett (still on sale for Kindle $3.03). This is a story for tired Christians who need to experience God in the ordinariness of life. It particularly resonates for those of us who grew up evangelical and have always felt burdened by the need to pray more, read more, do more. This book will probably be especially meaningful for those who feel they’ve lost themselves in parenthood, but even as someone who is not a mother I could relate so well.

 

PastrixPastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber ($8.89 for Kindle and $12.97 in paperback) I just finished this book at the beginning of December which is why you haven’t heard me talk about it before, but it was profound to me in many ways. I read this after listening to a podcast interview she gave a few months ago. I admit that it’s not for everyone, but I am not the kind of person who has to agree with everything someone else says in order to appreciate the truths they share. Bolz-Weber is the pastor of an unconventional Lutheran church in Denver, Colorado called the House for All Sinners and Saints known for such things as the blessing of the motorcycles and the chocolate fountain in the baptismal on Easter Sunday. She writes beautifully about how she came back to faith by believing that there was a place in the Church for someone like her—covered in tattoos and recovering from addictions. One of the most beautiful bits of her book to me was when she talked about falling in love with the liturgy. She says she loved it, “because the liturgy has it’s own integrity. It doesn’t depend on mine.”

Best Non-fiction

QuietQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (still on sale for Kindle for $2.99) I found this book completely fascinating. If you are an introvert or you love an introvert, you must read this. It taught me so much about how I work as a highly sensitive introvert in contrast with my husband who is more strongly introverted, but is not highly sensitive. I also found her exploration of Western culture’s “extrovert ideal” so helpful in understanding the ways in which I’ve trained myself to act more extroverted. This helped me make sense of why I am 100% sure I’m an introvert, but other people sometimes seem surprised by that.

DaringDaring Greatly: How to Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, by Brene Brown ($10.99 for Kindle and $14.66 for hardback). I believe everyone struggles with shame and vulnerability and I also believe the ideas and strategies in this book about embracing vulnerability and developing shame resilience has the power to change people’s lives. I encourage you to read it and be open to finding yourself in it. You can read my full review of this book here or watch Brene Brown’s TED talks on this topic here and here.

Best Food Writing

bread and wineBread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table by Shauna Niequist (Still $1.99 for Kindle right now): This book is about food and hospitality and about the table as a place for building community. I wrote more about what this book meant to me here. This book fit into two genres since it’s part spiritual memoir part culinary book (with recipes!) and makes the list in both.

 

19715106Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage by Molly Wizenberg ($12.99 for Kindle  or $15.18 in paperback). I love books about food and the food industry and this one – about a young couple opening a specialty pizza restaurant in Seattle, both satisfied my voyeurism about that world and broke down some of my romanticized notions about what owning a restaurant is like.

 

 

OmnivoreThe Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Michael Pollan ($7.99 for Kindle and $9.60 in paperback). This book follows the food chain from one end to the other for four different meals. The industrial food chain which produces the McDonald’s chicken nugget (which, you will learn, is largely composed of corn, rather than chicken). The industrial organic food chain where grass-fed beef and non-chemical fertilizers and pesticides are used to mass-produce organic food for places like Whole Foods. The local organic food chain where all of the food is raised locally using sustainable practices and intentionally not traveling far from where it was produced. And finally a meal from a forager’s food chain where all of the food was personally grown or collected by the consumer. This book was fascinating and enlightening and convicting and will certainly challenge you to think about where you food is coming from and what you are putting into your body from an ethical standpoint more than a health one. I genuinely think this book will impact my food choices in the future.

 Best Contemporary Fiction

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (still on sale for Kindle for $3.99). I read four books by Liane Moriarty this year. Also, she’s Australian, so I feel cultured reading about people in Sydney. 😉 This is her newest release and probably my favorite. I think she’s a great contemporary writer, writing about complex family relationships and suburban drama in a fresh way. Her characters are always interesting and fully-formed. This particular novel revolves around the death of an elementary school parent at a school function, but who died and how it happened remains a mystery until the very end. It’s a fun, engaging read.

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot also by Liane Moriarty ($7.99 for Kindle and $8.70 in paperback). This is probably Moriarty’s most popular book – it’s about a woman who wakes up after a fall with no memory of the past ten years of her life. While the whole “I have amnesia” trope can feel overdone or predictable, the complexity of the characters made this a much more nuanced story instead of just a cheap plot device. This was a fun, quick read, but it also left me thinking a lot about how the little choices we make in life that can add up to change the direction of your life. Little moments can pull you somewhere you never imagined going. This book also deals with infertility in a very genuine way that I’ve never quite seen done in fiction.

Best Historical Fiction

book thiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak ($7.99 for Kindle and $8.52 for the paperback).  I’m sure you’ve heard of this book or maybe seen the movie, but this book is a gem. The characters are unique and interesting (especially the choice to have it narrated by the character of Death) and the story is moving. I sobbed through the ending. It’s one of the best WWII fiction book I’ve ever read. I suppose some people would complain that they felt “emotionally manipulated,” but, I mean, it’s a WWII book – if you don’t have an emotional response to it there’s probably something wrong with you. (Just kidding, sort of).

19398490-1All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr ($10.99 for Kindle  and $17.16 in hardback). This book is gorgeous and haunting and will stay with you long after you finish it. In alternating chapters the book tells the story of a blind French girl whose father is the Keeper of the Locks for the Museum of Natural History in Paris and a German orphan boy whose talent with engineering gets him recruited into an elite military academy and then sent into the field tracking the Resistance during WWII. As WWII progresses their paths collide as each deal with the aftermath of one of the most terribly times in human history.

I recently bought a ton of books with the Amazon gift card my parents sent for my birthday and I am looking forward to doing lots of reading over my winter vacation which starts next Friday! (I know, I know, I have a problem!)

Disclaimer: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.

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47 comments

  1. I really must read some Brandon Sanderson. My backlog is too big, and I can’t buy any new books until after we move from Japan to Canada. So, it’s going to have to wait.

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    1. I feel your pain – I don’t know what I’d do without my kindle while living abroad. I will read real books until the day I die, but for situations like this when you’re living abroad, e-readers are a lifesaver. Don’t forget about Sanderson though – when you finally read these you’re gonna wonder what you’ve been doing with your life. 😉

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      1. Well, I’ve been living in Japan for nearly 10 years, so I’ve gathered a somewhat large collection of books here. I have to figure out how to get them to Canada as cheaply as possible. I do not sell my old books.

        I’m sure Sanderson will change my life 🙂

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      2. Ah, I see. Bit of a different scenario. We left all of our books home in the US when we moved here. It would have been epic to try to ship them all since we basically had a whole room full. Good luck finding an affordable way to get them there! Maybe shipping via boat?

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      3. I just have a closet full. My sister is coming to visit next year with an empty suitcase. Maybe I can send some back with her. But I also have an old computer that I need to send back and eventually try to recover the thousands of photos I have on it.

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  2. This is a great list. I have All the Light We Cannot See on my too read list, and I can’t wait for the next Patrick Rothfuss book to come out. I am meandering my way through The Small Regard of Silent Things, his novella, slowly. The language is just too beautiful.

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    1. I haven’t read The Slow Regard of Silent Things yet – I’m kind of waiting for it to go on sale because I’ve bought too many books lately and hubby says I can’t buy more until I finish the ones I have. 😉

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  3. Gosh – we love a lot of the same books! Really enjoyed Big Little Lies, All the Light, Found, Quiet, Daring Greatly….etc.! Can’t wait to pick up Pastrix! Haven’t done much Fantasy, but your recommendation of the Sanderson books has me very intrigued. Thanks!

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    1. Cool! Love finding new book buddies. 🙂 And these Sanderson books are really a great place to start if you aren’t that into fantasy because they are fantasy at it’s very best and they are characters you can care about even if you aren’t that into all the more fantastical elements. If you give Way of Kings a go just push through the first few parts. There’s a prologue to the series which is weird and confusing until later. Then there’s a prologue to the book which is also a little hard to get into. So, I admit that when I first started reading it I was like, “I am just not getting into this right away…” but after you start the real story it’s a pretty fast read (for being so long) and you’ll get sucked in. 🙂 My hubby (not a fantasy reader) is reading it right now and says it’s really sucked him in, I’m obviously very passionate about it, haha. Sorry for rambling. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. All three of your spiritual memoirs were on my list this year as well and I loved every one of them; I also read Daring Greatly and (last year) Quiet. Your fiction suggestions are also great. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it! Have you read Addie Zierman’s When We Were on Fire? I read it last year, which is why it wasn’t on this list, but that’s one of my all-time favorite spiritual memoirs, partly because her story resembles mine so much but also because she is an amazing writer.

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    1. Just left you a comment over at your place, but always glad to meet a fellow book-devourer – especially one with similar taste. I’ve seen some of your previous posts via Leigh Kramer’s link-up. Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. Great list…very happy to see Rothfuss here. I’m not a big fantasy reader, but this came highly recommended and fell immediately for his writing. Incredible…waiting for his next novel to show :-).
    Cheers!

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    1. Oh my goodness, yes. A friend introduced me to him this year and I was hooked immediately. Have you read his novella about Ari? The Slow Regard of Silent Things? I haven’t gotten to it yet, myself.

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      1. No, I haven’t ~ just heard about it about a month ago…and in January I will be traveling a bit so plan to read it then ~ taking my time and slowly enjoy his writing. Cheers to a great/wild year for you.

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      2. So the Slow Regard of Silent Things was not at all what I expected, but that ended up being a very good thing. A view into the world of Auri ~ and pieces of her that I think we all can relate with. Cheers ~

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      3. Ah, thanks for the update. I find Auri to be a really interesting character so I’m interested to learn more about her. But I think I will still wait and see if it goes on sale at some point. 😉

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  6. My boyfriend just bought me the Tana French book and The Silkworm. So excited to start reading it. Fantastic that you enjoy so many genres, I find it hard to divert from my preferred ones! Great list!

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    1. Awesome! I think you’ll enjoy them. If you haven’t read Tana French’s other books you should definitely get into those a some point too. 🙂 I used to only really read fiction, but ended up reading a lot of non-fiction this year and really enjoying it. I think since I’m not in school anymore it’s a way for me to continue learning things. I think the only genres I don’t really read are horror and sports. I take it you’re a mystery buff?

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  7. I love year end book lists! I just discovered Brandon Sanderson this year. I’m in the midst of reading Mist Born, and i am absolutely loving it! His voice and characters are so interesting. Thanks for the recommendations! We seem to have similar tastes. 🙂

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    1. I actually haven’t read Mistborn yet, but it’s already on my kindle, so as soon as I get through a few of my other books and am ready to dive into a whole new series I will get on that. Do you have any recommendations for me?

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      1. Oh man, definitely give it a read when you have time! I’m loving it! Are you a Neil Gaiman fan? If so, I’d recommend any of his books, but especially Neverwhere, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and The Graveyard Book! Aside from Mist Born, I’m also reading The Golem and the Djinni, by Helene Wecker. It’s beautifully written, full of fantasy, and easy to get lost in (so far)! I’m so glad I found your blog, I can’t wait to check out your other book recommendations! Your posts are wonderful. Nice to meet you!

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      2. The only Gaiman I’ve read is part of American Gods. I have a lot of friends who absolutely swear by that book, but I just never really got into it and ended up getting distracted by something else and not coming back to it. Maybe some day…or maybe I’ll pick up one of those others. I’ve heard good things about the Golem and the Jinni. Might need to put that one on the every-growing list. 🙂 I usually do a “What I’m Into” post at the end of each month and talk about what I read, so stay tuned for more book reviews/suggestions there! Thanks for reading, it’s great to meet you too!

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      3. Yeah, I didn’t really get into American Gods either. But Neverwhere is my absolute favorite by him! It sort of reminded me of Chronicles of Narnia, because the main character enters a new world and has to pretty much find himself by doing so. I love that! Have a great day, I’m excited to see what you recommend going forward!

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