My Favorite Novels of 2014 & What I'm Reading Now
I am a writer because I was a reader first. So, as I considered which book to choose as my first fiction read of 2015, I did a quick look back and chose my favorite fiction of 2014. Two things I need to note before getting to my 'top 10.' First, I did not keep track of all the books I read last year, so I chose from the ones I could remember. Second, not all of these books were published in 2014, but that is when I read them. Here they are, with a bit about why I chose each:
A Place of Secrets. Can dreams be inherited? That is the question that drew me to this novel. It was a runaway bestseller in Britain with over 100,000 copies sold. It’s a deep and somewhat dark historical mystery in the tradition of Kate Morton, who is one of my favorite authors in this genre. The story centers on an auction house appraiser, Jude, who leaves London for what she thinks will be her dream job. The setting is Starbrough Hall, an estate in the countryside, where Jude is to examine and price the manuscripts and instruments of an eighteenth-century astronomer. She is welcomed by Chantal Wickham and Jude feels close to the old woman at once: they have both lost their husbands. Jude unearths not only treasures, but a story of another woman who once lived at Starborough and it is that story that makes this novel so enchanting.
Beautiful Ruins. This novel feels like a movie from the very first page, so it's not surprising that the film it is currenly in production. Lyrical and beautiful, it is the story of an almost-love affair that begins on the Italian coast in 1962. Dee Moray, a 22 year-old acturess, has been sent from the Italian set of 'Cleopatra,' the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton epic. Her arrival gives young Pasquale Tursi something to focus on other than the fact that he has inherited a struggling pensione, appropriately called The Hotel Adequate View. Jess Walter tells a bittersweet tale of love, loss and hope with humor and grace. I probably told more people about this book than any othe I read last year.
The Dressmaker. Author Kate Alcott introduces us to the most famous designer you’ve never heard of—Lucile Duff Gordon, who in the early years of the twentieth century was the one of the top names in the fashion world. But this story belongs to the fictional Tess, who is hired by Lucile and joins her on a very famous ship—The Titanic. Alcott is a bit of a seamstress herself, ably layering fact and fiction to give us insight on what happened to the survivors of the Titanic. It is true that only one lifeboat went back to attempt to rescue passengers in the water, despite the fact that many had room to take on more individuals. And it is the moral questions that the characters struggle with that haunted me long after the last page.
The Language of Flowers. I seek out debut novels—I’ve read dozens-- but this one stands out. Every year, 20,000 teens age out of the foster system without being adopted. Although Victoria Jones is a fictional character, the impact of this statistic is illustrated through her heartbreaking story. We meet Victoria as she turns 18. Challenged by ‘normal’ communication and a painful past, she becomes homeless. After she is discovered and hired by a local florist, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. As she creates her own guide to the language of flowers, you will hope there is some magic left for her.
The Light Between Oceans. Another haunting debut novel, this one explores the impact of the choices we make and the secrets we keep. Tom and Isabel live alone on an island off Australia, where Tom is in charge of the lighthouse. After Isabel suffers several miscarriages, Tom's discovery of a baby seems like a gift from God. Yet eventually, love turns to fear as Tom and Isabel learn their baby is not an orphan at all.
The Light in the Ruins. This story of a family, a war and a mystery, begins in 1943. It is the story of the Rosatis, a noble Italian family living in the hills of Tuscany. They believe that they are safe in their ancient villa and their remote village. But when two soldiers—a German and an Italian—arrive at their doorstep asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the family realizes that the war has come to their door. Part love story, part murder mystery, there is everything here that makes a great novel.
The Night Circus. Another first novel (is there a theme here?) Author Erin Morgenstern is an American multimedia artist with a background in theatre. Of course her novel is artistic and theatrical! It is also filled with magic as Le Cirque des Rêves arrives without warning and is only open at night. But best of all, it is a love story. Are Marco and Celia fated or doomed? You won’t put this novel down until you know. It has been published in more than a dozen languages and won the annual Locus Award for Best First Novel.
The Orphan Train. (Debut novel # 4) I did not know that Orphan Trains were real. That fact alone made me want to read this novel. Between 1854 and 1929, there were so-called orphan trains in the United States, running regularly from east coast cities to the farmlands of the midwest. Thousands of abandoned children were taken off the streets. While some were adopted by loving families, others endured childhoods of hard labor and servitude. We are introduced to some of these stories through the fictional Vivian Daly, a young Irish immigrant who loses her family in a fire. She is taken by rail from New York City to an uncertain, and often unkind, future in Minnesota. When we meet Vivian again, she is in her 90s and leading a quiet life on the coast of Maine. She lives alone in a large house, her past carefully stored in boxes in her attic. Molly Ayer is a 17 year-old foster child who steals a book and is caught. She is offered a community-service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic or a stint in juvenile hall. But as Molly helps Vivian sort through her keepsakes and possessions, the women discover that they have more in common than either could imagine. A tenderly told tale.
The Rosie Project. (Debut novel # 5) While I read a lot of what my husband calls ‘sad stories,’ this one was laugh out loud funny. Don is a brilliant genetics professor, who has no social skills. When he decides he wants to find and marry his perfect partner, he takes the same evidence-based approach he takes with all things, and designs the Wife Project. Rosie Jarman is on her own quest -- to identify her biological father. As Don helps Rosie with The Father Project, an unlikely—but not unexpected-- relationship develops and Don learns that love is not predictable.
Someday, Someday Maybe. (Debut novel #6) Okay, I’ll admit that actress Lauren Graham will always be Lorelei Gilmore to me. She was a single mom and so was I. My daughters and I have watched every episode of The Gilmore Girls over and over (of course we own the complete series) and never tire of the quips. So I had to read her book. Clever and charming, it affirms the theory that first novels are what the author HAD to write. This novel, about what else-- an actress--is pure Lorelei, um, I mean Lauren. Clever, funny and endearing, Graham has the makings of an author to anticipate.
Bird in Hand. My sister happened to bring this book home over the holidays. I had just finished The Orphan Train by the same author so I chose Bird in Hand as my first read of 2015. I am more than halfway through the story, told from the perspectives of four friends--two women, friends from childhood, and their husbands. Happy reading!