Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Best Books of 2014

Image copyrighted by Keira Soleore This is a long post, so be prepared. There were many books which fell in my five-star bucket this year. I'm detailing a few of them here.

Like last year, this year, too, was marked by a number of re-reads. So this year, my list had a mix of books new to me and old favorites. I borrowed most of the new-to-me books from the library, thus continuing on with last year's resolution to not buy too many books. What was unusual for me was the low number of books that I read that were published in 2014.

The best book of the year for me, hands down, was The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett (Vintage, Apr-97). I read it twice and listened to the audiobook. I also read its companion guide The Ultimate Guide to Dorothy Dunnett's The Game of Kings by Laura Ramsey (Self-pub, Jan-13). I charted my multi-month reading progress of the book via monthly posts. If you want to read the updates, start HERE at the last post with links to all the rest of them.

I continued with my spate of reading traditional Regency romances. I re-read and re-loved my four Michelle Martins: Hampshire Hoyden (Fawcett, Jun-93), The Mad Miss Mathley (Fawcett, Aug-95), The Butler Who Laughed(Fawcett, May-97), and The Adventurers (Fawcett, Sep-96). They are true traditional Regencies with clever dialogue, nuanced and in-depth character development, developing romantic interest, only kissing, and wit.

I re-read and re-loved trads from last year: The London Season by Joan Wolf (Signet, Jan-86), Imprudent Lady by Joan Smith (Fawcett, Sep-78), Lord Richard's Daughter by Joan Wolf (Signet, Jul-83), Escapade by Joan Smith (Fawcett, Jan-77), Knaves' Wager by Loretta Chase (Avon, Aug-91), Talk of the Town by Joan Smith (Fawcett, Jan-79), Fool's Masquerade by Joan Wolf (Signet, Aug-84), A Double Deception by Joan Wolf (Signet, Oct-83), A Grand Design by Emma Jensen (Signet, Nov-00), and The Rebellious Wife by Joan Wolf (Signet, Feb-84).

The annual re-read of Devilish by Jo Beverley was superb as always. Rothgar's story never gets old and tired. It's fresh every single time. This is a story that was written in 2000, but it doesn't feel dated or following some romance conventions of the 2000s—it's timeless.

I went through my annual re-read of Joanna Bourne's spy romances set in France and England, in particular The Spymaster's Lady (Berkley, Jan-08) and Black Hawk (Berkley, Nov-11), as I was preparing for this post about her new book Rogue Spy (Berkley, Nov-14).

Another series I love is C.S. Harris's St. Cyr Regency mysteries. This year's book Why Kings Confess (NAL, Mar-14) was no exception. Her characterization and period feel are among the finest I have seen in a historical mystery or a historical fiction book.

The leisurely exploration of Barbara O'Neal's women's fiction makes for a riveting read for me every year. Talk about nuances! Even her nuances have nuances. I really enjoy the luxury of time and space that her books encompass. All You Can Eat Buffet (Bantam, Mar-14) was this year's book.

Fool Me Twice (Pocket, Apr-14), Meredith Duran's Victorian romance, is topping many Best Of lists this year. It had a few problematic elements for me: the hero's extreme possessiveness, his violent behavior towards the heroine, and his need to have her submit to him (not verbalized but in his thoughts). However, I felt that Duran's skill is such that she handled it all superbly and I bought into the redemption of the hero and the culmination of the story's romantic arc. An aside: Isn't that a gorgeous cover? I want to eat it.

Anyone who's read Richard Lederer knows he's laugh-out-loud hilarious. His Word Wizard: Super Bloopers, Rich Reflections, and Other Acts of Word Magic (St. Martin, Apr-06) was predictably good entertainment. As I talked more about it here, he's very entertaining in person, too. His books reflect his personality.

Poetry by Robert Frost never fails to stir me. I have been reading him since middle school, and I've been lucky to have had great English teachers who sustained and deepened my interest in poetry. This love of poetry emboldened me to give philosophical prose poetry by Kahlil Gibran a try. I talked about The Prophet (Knopf, Sep-23) more HERE. I came out of that experience greatly affected. I doubt I fully understood it all. It's going to require multiple re-visits.

My first introduction to Joan Didion was through a talk she gave at our local symphony hall. I knew her by reputation but hadn't read any of her articles or books. I was fascinated by the political talk she gave with her grasp of the details and complexities. So when I heard about The Year of Magical Thinking (Knopf, Oct-05), I knew I had to give it a try. Great, great look at the year following the death of her beloved husband. Her straightforward spare prose highlights the beauty of what she's saying very effectively.

In a complete departure from the seriousness of the above books, came these two: a middle-grade fantasy Titan's Curse (Hyperion, Jan-07) by Rick Riordan and memoir Taking the Lead (William Morrow, Aug-14) by Dancing with the Stars professional dancer Derek Hough. While Hough's memoir tries to be serious, its anecdotal nature gives it a more entertaining spin than a philosophical one. Riordan's aim is pure delightful transportation. I thoroughly enjoyed my daughter's recommendation.

I greatly enjoyed Courtney Milan's Suffragette's Scandal (Self-pub, Jul-14), a smart, sophisticated historical. Disclaimer: I worked with Courtney on editing the book.

And that's a wrap! My entire list of 88 books is available for you to look at, if you so wish.