Top 10 Reads of 2014

Hello everyone!  As kind of a conclusion to this year, I thought I’d look back on the many, many books I’ve read this year (*cough* all 151 of them *cough*) and pick out the 10 I liked best and would recommend!  Admittedly, some of these are in the middle of a series, so really, I’m recommending the whole series.  I hope you enjoy!  In no particular order, here are my ten picks!

1. The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, #1) by Rae Carson

Released: September 20, 2011

I originally gave it: 5 Roses

Why?: I loved loved loved this book.  It was the best in the series, in my opinion.  Elisa is a total underdog in the story, a girl who doesn’t believe she can accomplish anything.  I loved that this fantasy was so well-imagined and intriguing.  Lots of spies and warriors and a coming war sparking tension throughout multiple kingdoms.  Seriously, what is there not to like here?

2. Mortal Heart (His Fair Assassin, #3) by Robin LaFevers

Released: November 4, 2014

I originally gave it: 5 Roses

Why?: I physically could not stop reading this book.  As the last in its series, it was one of the most exciting.  It’s a historical fiction with a bit of a fantasy twist on it, full of assassins and hunters.  (…Are we sensing a trend yet in what I like to read?)  Annith, our main character, is a complete people pleaser because of her awful past.  Once she realizes that others are trying to exploit her for this reason, she decides she needs to take her fate into her own hands.  I loved that she was strong enough to do that.  And the romance in this story wasn’t bad either.  🙂

3. The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf

Released: October 11, 2011

I originally gave it: 5 Roses

Why?: I fell in love with this book.  Definitely one of the more eclectic on this list, it is written entirely on poetry from the voices of 24 passengers and crew on the doomed Titanic.  I loved that every single voice felt distinct, which is incredible because there were 24 of them.  But I loved how I came to know each of these different characters (who were real people on the ship) and came to know their (somewhat fictional) stories.  Obviously, the author has taken liberties to create an interesting book.  It was so worth it, though, as a someone who finds Titanic fascinating, to read poetry from their perspectives.

4. A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller

Released: January 23, 2014

I originally gave it: 5 Roses

Why?: This historical fiction was so frustrating and real.  I felt for Vicky and her struggle to be her own woman in 1909, when suffragettes were treated horrifically and women were expected to obey men at every turn.  I was frequently angry at characters in the story, but I was also proud of Vicky for pushing those boundaries.  You know there had to be women like Vicky in order for us to be where we are today.  All she wanted to do was paint, and the world told her she couldn’t.

5. After the End (After the End, #1) by Amy Plum

Released: May 6, 2014

I originally gave it: 5 Roses

Why?: Yay, my first dystopian on this list!  Actually, it’s a lovely twist on a typical dystopian.  Juneau has lived her entire life in the Alaskan wilderness with the only people who survived World War III…or at least that’s what she’s been told.  Imagine her surprise when she finds out the world still exists, but WWIII never has.  This spectacular twist put a new spin on an old story.  And I loved the tension between Juneau and Miles, the boy who takes her in when she’s looking for her missing clan.  And Miles may have some secrets of his own…

6. Still Star-Crossed by Melinda Taub

Released: July 9, 2013

I originally gave it: 5 Roses

Why?: A truly lovely tale about the aftermath of Romeo and Juliet.  It was so imaginative and totally plausible in that world.  Verona is trying to recover from the bloody summer that took the lives of far too many residents.  Prince Escalus, in an attempt to reconcile the families, decides that the Capulets and Montagues should marry…and picks Rosaline and Benvolio to wed.  It was truly awesome to read the story from their perspectives, especially since Rosaline was the one who originally turned down Romeo and Benvolio was witness to the entire mess.  But together they form a bond when they discover that even if they wed, the feud between their houses may still cost them their lives.

7. Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay

Released: July 23, 2013

I originally gave it: 5 Roses

Why?: A dystopian twist on a tale as old as time.  Obviously, I tend to geek out with anything that has to do with Beauty and the Beast, but I was scared to try this one.  But it was beautiful.  The dystopian storyline only enhanced the story and the love between the characters.  Princess Isra is blind and relies heavily on those around her.  Gem is a mutant from outside the domed walls of the kingdom who is struggling to survive.  He sees Isra as a chance to rebalance the world he lives in and exact his revenge.  Oh, it’s such a beautiful story.  What are you waiting for?  Go read this before I buy up all the copies for myself!

8. Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule

Released: March 11, 2014

I originally gave it: 5 Roses

Why?: I have been singing this book’s praises since the moment I finished it.  It has the feel of a modern fairytale without having a fairytale that it draws from.  I loved that.  Sing da Navelli has been training since birth to be an opera singer, just like her parents.  She’s gained admittance to a prestigious school called the Dunhammond Conservatory…a school with a strange history.  But Sing doesn’t care about that.  She just wants to get the lead in the school’s opera, Angelique.  Somehow, her voice just isn’t right and she needs training from an apprentice, Nathan, whose take-no-prisoners approach just may be the push Sing needs…or enough to break her.

9. Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Released: May 6, 2014

I originally gave it: 5 Roses

Why?: I love Morgan Matson’s stories.  She always makes her realistic fictions poignant and emotional while being hopeful.  Also, Matson’s inclusion of playlists in the stories is just awesome.  It’s something she does with every book and it makes me feel like I know the characters more.  Emily didn’t used to be popular or “crazy” until Sloane became her best friend.  Sloane was the spontaneous one who dragged Emily along on her adventures.  Then Sloane disappears and Emily doesn’t know what to do until a list arrives in the mail from Sloane of things Emily needs to do this summer.  Apple picking at night? Dancing until dawn?  Ok.  Kissing a stranger?  Um…

10. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Released: September 10, 2013

I originally gave it: 5 Roses

Why?: While I wasn’t a fan of Eleanor & Park, I found myself ga-ga over this book.  I even reread parts of it 3-4 times before I returned it to the library.  It was realistic and so different from the many NA books I try to avoid.  Cath is completely awkward and would much rather write her Simon Snow fanfic than go out and do normal things at college.  This is what Cath knows she’s good at.  But college isn’t like Cath thought it would be, either.  Her creative writing teacher hates fan fiction with a passion.  Cath’s twin sister Wren is off doing what normal people do in college.  I loved that Cath’s experience with college was so like my own: we were fish out of water, unsure what to do.

A Breath of Frost (The Lovegrove Legacy, #1)

First Lines: Breaking into a dead woman’s house was easy work since she rarely complained.  Breaking into a dead witch’s house was a different matter altogether.

I grabbed this from the library for two reasons: 1) it’s winter and with the snowflakes on the cover, I thought there might be a winter bend to this story and 2) I really like the humor Harvey usually includes in her writing.  Plus, life just needs a little magic every now and then, doesn’t it?

It’s 1814 and three cousins–Gretchen, Emma, and Penelope–are attempting to survive their season…until things get much, much worse.  Suddenly, the girls learn they come from a long line of witches once a binding spell breaks.  And by claiming their powers, they may have just opened up the gates to the Underworld.  Terrifying creatures are now after the girls, the worst of which being the Greymalkin Sisters–the spirits of three dark witches.  The Greymalkin Sisters are murdering debutante witches for their power…and Emma keeps finding the bodies.  Can the cousins seal the gates before another witch is killed?

I loved the fusion of a historical fiction and a paranormal story.  I’m a sucker for them, really.  Can I really go wrong with debutante balls, English gentlemen who look dashing in their evening wear, and ghastly ghosts who are intent on murdering people?  I think not.

I will give credit for the magical world Harvey creates in the Goblin market.  I wish we’d seen more of it and the strange people there.  It would’ve been a great way to get to know the magical world more.  The debutante world was great and all, but I just wanted more of the strange world she created.

Most of the time, i liked the main characters.  Emma is stubborn and persistent enough to try to unravel the mysteries around her.  Gretchen is a mother’s worst nightmare in 1814, refusing to do anything girly. I loved her spunk.  Penelope was just a sweet little thing.  But it was really the minor characters who caught my attention.  Moira, One-Eyed Jim, Cedric.  I wanted to see more of them.

I liked the mystery of the story and how it unfolded.  It was interesting and intriguing.  I did figure out who the “bad guy” was, but only a chapter or two before it was revealed, so it had me stumped for a long time.

The one problem I had was that it didn’t feel like the story needed to be nearly 500 pages.  Parts of the story dragged on, bogged down by details and characters that I didn’t think needed to be there.  (Of course, that’s simply my opinion.)  Also, when everyone assumed early on that Emma knew about the magical world, things were not explained well.  Even after finishing the book, I still don’t understand some of the hierarchy and components of the magical world as well as I think I should.

Overall, I thought this was an imaginative story.  I liked the blend of history and magic.  What could go wrong with debutantes and witchcraft?  (…Everything.  Everything could go wrong.)

Stealing Parker

First Lines: Bubblegum Pink is the nail polish of the day.  Matt Higgins will definitely like it–he’s into all things girly-girl, so I add another coat before blowing on my nails.

It’s been a few years since I’ve read Catching Jordan, but it’s still one that I remember fondly.  I just never got around to continuing the series to see what some of these other girls go through.  Until I finally remembered to look for this book when I was at a larger library than my local one.

Parker’s life couldn’t be better.  She’s an all-star player on her school’s softball team and she’s on track to be her class’s valedictorian. But then her mom’s scandal rocks Parker’s life and suddenly, no one will talk to Parker.  So Parker decides it’s time for a change.  She quits softball, drops 20 pounds, and becomes the school flirt.  Because why kiss one boy when you can kiss three?  Or four?  Why stop there, when the new baseball coach is majorly cute?  …But how long before Parker loses herself?

This was an interesting story.  It’s really not all the fluff you think it could be.  It actually deals with a lot of heavy topics, ones that people are usually uncomfortable talking about.  I applaud it for doing that.  Also, I really love that this series is a series of sports books for girls.  Do you know how rare that is?

While I didn’t necessarily like Parker at times, I found I understood her. I got why she acted the way she did.  She sometimes took drastic action when it didn’t require that and she often acted…immaturely?  That’s not quite the word I’m looking for, but it’s close.  Recklessly?  That’s closer.  Anyway, I was glad that she was able to finally see things from another perspective than her own by the end.

I also liked the romantic lead in this story, who shall remain nameless (even though it’s pretty obvious from the beginning who he will be).  I felt that when I didn’t like Parker, he was there to drive the story onward.

One of the hard topics this book focuses on is faith and the church.  While I don’t want to go into details, I have felt many of the same emotions Parker feels about the people at church.  It’s so frustrating that church teaches acceptance and yet the people at church are some of the most judgmental.  I thought that was an interesting direction for the story to go in because it’s so downplayed in books, if it’s even present at all.

There was one heavy topic that just bothered me.  I hate when stories pull in the student-teacher relationship angle.  I know it happens in real life.  I see it on the news in my community from time to time.  But as a teacher myself, the frequency of it makes me feel like teachers get a bad rep when it’s just a few who do this.  And I knew I was getting into that with this book.  I just wish we could find some other taboo topic to focus on.

Overall, I found this book to be a fast and thoughtful read that was romantic and silly while still managing to be serious and reflective.

Spotlight Friday (122)

Hello everyone!  Happy holidays!  I figured as a holiday treat, I’d let you know about some upcoming books that should be coming out in the next month or so that may be a good way to spend your newly acquired gift cards.  🙂  I’m helpful like that.  Now, on to the books!

The Boy Next Door by Katie Van Ark

Release Date: January 6, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

Maddy Spier has been in love with the boy next door forever. As his figure skating partner she spends time in his arms every day. But she’s also seen his arms around other girls—lots of other girls.

Gabe can’t imagine skating with anyone but Maddy, and together they have a real chance at winning some serious gold medals. So, he’s determined to keep thinking of her like a sister. After all, he’s never had a romantic relationship that lasted for more than two weeks.

But when their coach assigns a new romantic skating program, everything changes. Will this be the big break that Maddy’s been hoping for or the big breakup that Gabe has always feared?

What’s To Like: I like this for a couple of reasons.  First of all, I like the winter setting with figure skating.  I’m willing to bet this story came about because of Charlie and Merrill in the last Olympics, when everyone wanted them to be together and they weren’t.  Secondly, I like that this seems to have two different perspectives on love.  Maddie seems to want to try it and forget about the consequences, but Gabe is stuck on what those consequences could mean, and he’s afraid.  This looks like a very cute story.

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Release Date: January 27, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

Cody and Meg were inseparable.
Two peas in a pod.
Until . . . they weren’t anymore.

When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

I Was Here is Gayle Forman at her finest, a taut, emotional, and ultimately redemptive story about redefining the meaning of family and finding a way to move forward even in the face of unspeakable loss.

What’s To Like: For all of my good intentions, the only books by Gayle Forman I’ve read are from the If I Stay series.  I’m really interested to see how her writing has changed since then.  This seems like the same kind of hard-hitting, emotional stories I’m used to her writing.  Bring tissues!

Dearest (Woodcutter Sisters, #3) by Alethea Kontis

Release Date: February 3, 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

In her third book about the delightful Woodcutter sisters, Alethea Kontis masterfully weaves “The Wild Swans,” “The Goose Girl,” and a few other fine-feathered fairy tales into a magical, romantic companion novel to Enchanted and Hero.

Readers met the Woodcutter sisters (named after the days of the week) in Enchanted and Hero. In this delightful third book, Alethea Kontis weaves together some fine-feathered fairy tales to focus on Friday Woodcutter, the kind and loving seamstress. When Friday stumbles upon seven sleeping brothers in her sister Sunday’s palace, she takes one look at Tristan and knows he’s her future. But the brothers are cursed to be swans by day. Can Friday’s unique magic somehow break the spell?

What’s To Like: I like that these blend multiple fairy tales in one story.  I don’t know these two stories, but I still think they could be interesting.  I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the second book as I was about the first book, so this is Kontis’s last chance with me to make me keep going with this series.

Silver Shadows (Bloodlines, #5)

First Lines: I woke to darkness.  This was nothing new, as I’d been waking to darkness for the last…well, I didn’t know how many days.

I love love love Richelle Mead.  She’s one of my favorite authors and I’ve read well over a dozen of her books.  But I just fall off the bandwagon a little when I forget about the newest book.  When I went to a bigger library in my county, I made sure I looked for this.

*Definite Series Spoilers Ahead*

Sydney Sage is used to walking the line between Alchemists and Moroi.  But when she makes a heartbreaking decision, she’s forced to face the consequences of picking a side.  Trapped and surrounded by her enemies, Sydney struggles to survive day to day and stay strong in the process.  Meanwhile, Adrian clings to the knowledge that Sydney is out there somewhere and he will find her, even when everyone else tells him it’s a lost cause.  But it won’t be easy for Adrian either, especially once his old demons reemerge…

I think this was easily the darkest book of the series so far.  (And that’s kind of a trend with series.  The farther into the series you get, the darker they are.)  And there was a lot that I liked about it, and some I didn’t.

First of all, there is just something about Sydney and Adrian’s relationship that works, even though it doesn’t seem like it should.  Sydney is this straight-laced, knowledgeable Alchemist who acts like everyone’s big sister.  Adrian is artistic and given to flights of fancy.  But Sydney can be funny and imaginative right back at Adrian, and Adrian can think himself out of a problem just as well as Sydney can.  They’re different, but complementary.  I never would have expected this out of them, based on what I knew of them from Vampire Academy.  For that alone, I’m glad they got their own series.

There was a lot of action in this book, fight-action and intrigue/suspense-action.  I liked that.  It kept things exciting and interesting.

At the same time, there were a couple of things I didn’t like so much about this book.  One was Adrian in the first third/half of the book.  I completely understand why Adrian ended up doing what he did.  I get it.  But it didn’t make it easy to read.  It was almost painful watching his old demons pop back up.  I got frustrated because almost nothing happened in these chapters either, at least not compared to Sydney’s.  I got to the point where I wanted to start skipping parts of the chapter just to get back to Sydney and the action.

The second reason was that the ending lacked some oomph for me.  It definitely had action and suspense, and it was interesting, but the cliffhanger just wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be.  I guess I kind of saw it coming, so it didn’t surprise me too much.  I think at this point, it’s all just building toward the finale at the end of the next book, so there wasn’t much resolution or something here.

Still, it was worth the read.  Mead brings all of her signature elements back for this story: humor, awkward situations that turn out to be funny, and a beautiful love story.

Spindle’s End

First Lines: The magic in that country was so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like chalk-dust and over floors and shelves like slightly sticky plaster-dust.

I have a thing for fairytales (as many of you already know), and I’ve yet to find someone who writes better fairytales than Robin McKinley.  And, even though Sleeping Beauty isn’t my favorite tale, I’d been meaning to read this for a while.

After years and years of waiting for a babe, the King and Queen finally find themselves expecting a little bundle of joy.  The kingdom couldn’t be happier to have a new princess…until Pernicia, an angry fairy, places a curse upon the princess that she will prick her finger by her twenty-first birthday on a spindle’s end.  Desperate to keep her safe, another fairy gives the princess to someone who will watch over her and protect her.  Newly named Rosie, the princess is being raised away from the palace and those who could hurt her.  But will Rosie survive to her 21st birthday?

Like I said, this isn’t my favorite fairytale.  And that might have colored my impressions of this book somewhat, even though I tried not to let that happen.

For some reason, this book just didn’t work for me.  There were many things I liked about it.  I liked the narration style, the way it jumps around a bit between characters at random.  It felt like someone was telling me the story.  Those kind of stories never quite follow chronological order or a solid narration line. So I liked that it made it feel realistic in that sense.

I also liked McKinley’s twists on the story.  Particularly with Rosie’s character.  Rosie is a very strong, independent girl who pretty well demolishes everyone else’s expectations of who she should be.  It was done so naturally that it simply felt like Rosie’s character instead of some kind of statement about princess culture.  Whenever Rosie’s stubborn streak came out, I always though, “Oh, there goes Rosie again,” instead of something like, “Wow, McKinley really wanted us to understand the effects of the princess culture we’re used to.”  It wasn’t like that at all.

There was something else about the story that made it hard to get through, though it’s hard for me to pin down exactly what that is.  Partly, I think it’s the plot.  I was more excited by the beginning than the ending.  I even got to a point where I didn’t care how it ended.  (I found the ending to be confusing as well, which didn’t help.)  But also the narration bogged things down at times.  There were so many inconsequential details that I just skipped.  I skipped whole paragraphs sometimes when they were talking about an animal’s fur color or how the trees danced in the wind or whatever it was about.  I got bored.

It is a harder read.  It’s not something you can breeze through in an afternoon.  And maybe that’s part of the issue too.  I wish I knew.

I still think McKinley is a great writer.  Her fairytale retellings are ace.  It’s just that this one didn’t work for me.