Top 20 Reads of 2014

Top 20 Reads of 2014

I think I will go on record as saying that 2013 was The Year of the Book for me: last year, I read a total of 124 books, a number that will prove difficult to top. I had ambitiously hoped to exceed last year’s book total this year, but came in a bit short at just 95 books for the year of 2014. Though I might have read fewer total books this year, I read/listened to books from a range of genres and was fairly happy with my book selections. The chart below depicts my star ratings for the year: just one 5-star book, but no 1-stars!

Book Ratings of 2014 Bar Graph

My personal life (getting pregnant) and work life (teaching middle school Language Arts for the first time) dictated many of the year’s book selections: I read many more pregnancy- and parenting-related books than I could have anticipated at the start of the year, and I worked my way through more YA selections than I typically have read in the past. I read 64 fiction books and 31 nonfiction books, which is a much more balanced fiction:nonfiction ratio than I’ve read in past years; I find that I appreciate nonfiction much more these days. (I’ve also discovered that I generally prefer nonfiction audiobooks over fiction audiobooks, while I like reading fiction print books more than nonfiction ones.) Though I struggle to pick favorites, here are my top picks from a few different categories.

FAVORITE FICTION READS

Favorite Thrillers

Favorite Thriller #1: Missing You, by Harlan Coben – Kat Donovan is a middle-aged cop who ventures into an online dating forum and finds herself wrapped up in an internet catfish scheme involving her former fiancé. Coben lives up to his reputation for writing unputdownable stories with this fast-paced novel!

Favorite Thriller #2: The Expats, by Chris Pavone – When Kate Moore relocates to Luxemborg with her family for her husband’s job, she thinks she has left her life with the CIA behind; but when her seemingly benign husband’s actions grow increasingly suspicious, she finds herself entwined in an all-too-familiar life of secrecy and espionage. I love how this novel combines the genre of spy thriller with the themes of a contemporary domestic novel. The Expats is more than a suspense novel, it is an examination of marriage and the secrets that we keep.

Favorite Foodie Fiction Delicious!

Favorite Foodie Fiction: Delicious!, by Ruth Reichl – After a popular food magazine shuts down, employee Billie Breslin stumbles upon a secret room in the magazine’s headquarters and discovers a treasure trove of letters written to the magazine’s editor by a young girl during WWII. This book is not very original, but the characters are likable, the story is intriguing, and the food descriptions are mouth-watering. This is a must-read for any fiction-loving foodie.

Favorite Christmas Story The Christmas Train

Favorite Christmas Story: The Christmas Train, by David Baldacci – Vastly different from Baldacci’s typical fare, The Christmas Train tells the heartwarming story of Tom Langdon, a former war journalist who is traveling by train from D.C. to L.A. at Christmastime. On his journey, Langdon encounters an unusual cast of characters and has the opportunity to rekindle a relationship with the former love of his life. The novel has a few surprising twists that take it up a notch from sweet Christmas tale to highly-recommended reading.

Favorite Animal Story: Racing in the Rain

Favorite Animal Story: The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein – Sometimes heart-wrenching, sometimes humorous, this is the story of a family torn apart by illness and caustic family members. That might not seem like such an unusual premise, and yet this book is very unique due to its narrator: a philosophizing dog with an eye for detail and a heart of gold. Enzo’s narration is comical and inspiring, and his voice is exactly what every dog owner hopes is going through the mind of their own pet. 

Favorite YA Novel Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Favorite Young Adult Novel: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne – This Holocaust story, told through the eyes of the innocent young son of the Commandant of Auschwitz, offers a unique perspective on a popular topic. I adored this book. Many critics have said the naiveté of the main character (whose story is surprisingly touching, almost verging on humorous) takes away from the atrocities of the Holocaust, but I felt that it only served to highlight them. This book is geared toward teens but I believe it could serve as an effective way to introduce younger readers to this sensitive topic. (See full review here.)

Favorite Historical Fiction

Favorite Historical Fiction #1: The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman – In the years following the First World War, a boat washes up on the shore of an isolated island off the coast of Australia. When the soul occupants of the island—a lighthouse keeper and his wife—discover that the boat is carrying a living baby, they decide to keep the child and raise her as their own. This book is absolutely heartbreaking, but also thought-provoking as it led me to reflect on the moral decisions of the various characters. I was captivated by the mesmerizing narration and impressed with the author’s dexterity in navigating this emotionally complex plot.

Favorite Historical Fiction #2: Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline –  Orphan Train tells two stories: one of an Irish Immigrant who takes the orphan train from New York to the midwest in the 1920s, and one of a modern Native American girl living in the foster care system. I really enjoyed both of these stories, and liked how they came together in the end. The sweet and creative plot lines of this novel more than make up for the lackluster writing style. (See full review here.)

Favorite Series The Lunar Chronicles

Favorite Series: The Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer – I was pleasantly surprised by this fairytale-themed YA series about a futuristic society under potential attack from a ruthless lunar people. I’m generally not a science fiction fan, but the premise of these books is creative and ambitious, and the stories of each book are unique but cleverly intertwined. The books in the series have gotten progressively better, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Meyer concludes the series.

#1 Favorite Fiction Gone Girl

#1 Favorite Fiction: Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn: I included Gone Girl on last year’s list, which in itself is a testament to how much I love this novel because I almost never reread a book. I enjoyed Gone Girl (the audiobook this time) even more on the second read: Flynn is a brilliant storyteller, and even with knowing what was going to happen, I was drawn into the suspense of the story and the intricacies of the characters. Despite anticipating the release of the film for over a year, I never managed to make it to the theater to see it—hopefully it shows up at RedBox soon!

FAVORITE NON-FICTION READS

Favorite Celebrity Memoir Yes Please

Favorite Celebrity Memoir: Yes Please, by Amy Poehler – Comical memoirs from television comediennes are a dime a dozen these days, but despite their ubiquitousness, I’ve found that they rarely disappoint. In this humorous memoir, Poehler dishes about Hollywood life, motherhood, and her somewhat sketchy past without delving inappropriately deep into her personal life. I would highly recommend the audio version of this book, which is read by Poelher herself and features a number of celebrity cameos.

Favorite Book for Teachers Book Whisperer

Favorite Book for Teachers: The Book Whisperer, by Donalyn Miller – Written by a literature-loving middle school teacher, this paradigm-shifting book guides teachers in fostering a love for reading in their students by creating a book-centric classroom. Miller’s suggestions are unexpected and inspiring, and I successfully utilized many of her strategies in my own classroom this year.

Favorite Book on Health and Fitness 4-Hour Body

Favorite Book on Health & Fitness: The 4-Hour Body, by Timothy Ferriss – The 4-Hour Body features Tim Ferriss’s unorthodox approach to fitness, nutrition, and healthy living. Though Ferriss’s suggestions are likely too extreme for all but the most ambitious fitness enthusiasts, his presentation is entertaining and his findings are intriguing. This book covers a lot of ground and is intended to be used as a topical reference rather than consumed from cover to cover (though I did read the book straight through). 

Favorite Personal Memoirs

Favorite Personal Memoir #1: Glitter and Glue, by Kelly Corrigan – Kelly Corrigan’s touching memoir centers around her time as a nanny for an Australian family, focusing in on how this job assignment on the other side of the world drew her closer to her own mother. This is an emotional but powerful book overflowing with opportunities for reflection. I appreciated this book as both a former nanny and a mom-to-be.

Favorite Personal Memoir #2: 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, by Jen Hatmaker – This quirky-but-significant memoir documents Christian author Jenn Hatmaker’s unique approach to minimalism. The experiments Hatmaker undergoes for the sake of this book are extreme, but her narration is relatable and her motives seem pure. In the months since I read 7, the book has led to some intriguing conversations and initiated personal reflection about how my own lifestyle is not necessarily in line with my proclaimed values. (See full review here.)

Favorite Pregnancy Book What to Expect When You're Expecting

Favorite Pregnancy Book: What to Expect When You’re Expecting, by Heidi Murkoff – Citing What to Expect as my favorite pregnancy book is a bit . . . expected. But I’ve read quite a few books on pregnancy, and this one really does top them all; there’s a reason it’s everybody’s go-to resource during pregnancy! What to Expect has answered nearly all of my questions at each point in my pregnancy, providing information and reassurance on a range of topics. Other books have gone into greater detail on specific areas of interest, but this book is the one that I find myself referencing more than all the others.

Favorite Book About Faith Faith & Doubt

Favorite Book About Faith: Faith & Doubt, by John Ortberg – My reading of Faith & Doubt was one of those instances when the right book came to me at exactly the right time! Ortberg helped me to come to terms with some doubts I was struggling with earlier this year, and I found it comforting to read about great Christians who themselves have struggled with doubt. Ortberg makes a powerful case for his own faith in Christ, but he also talks about how doubt can be healthy and can actually strengthen our faith. Ultimately, he helped me to that see that there are good reasons to believe, and even IF God didn’t exist (though I believe He does), there would still be value in faith itself. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is currently grappling with issues of faith. (Read more here.)

Favorite Parenting Books

Favorite Parenting Book #1: The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Harvey Karp – Pediatrician Harvey Karp helps parents understand the needs of their colicky babies and provides time-tested suggestions for soothing the fussiest of infants. I can’t attest to the effectiveness of these strategies (yet), but Luke and I both read this book and are optimistic about its usefulness. 

Favorite Parenting Book #2: Fearless Feeding, by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen – All children—from infants to teenagers—need to eat, and parents face a plethora of challenges in keeping them happily and healthfully nourished. This comprehensive guide is written by two dietitians who fully understand the nutritional and emotional needs of children at every stage of development. Fearless Feeding has definitely taken a lot of fear out of the the prospect of feeding my child. (See full review here.)

#1 Favorite Nonfiction Recapture

#1 Favorite Nonfiction: Recapture, by Becky White –  Of all the books I read in 2014, none impacted me more deeply than Becky White’s modern interpretation of the Biblical book of Ruth. White candidly shares her own amazing testimony and offers hope for readers facing a famine of the heart. Uplifting, inspiring, and thought-provoking, this is the one book I read this year that I think everybody should read. (See full review here.)


Have you read any of the books on my list? If so, what did you think? What were your favorite reads of 2014?