2014: what a bumper year for reading. I had set a fairly modest target of 100 books for the year, given that once I had finished off my degree in the first half of the year, I would have a good six months or more to complete the target. Then, in early February, I stumbled across some intriguing reading challenges on Pinterest that I was compelled to undertake. I've been tracking my progress throughout the year in the column to the right and regular readers of this blog will know that as the year has drawn to a close, it has become ever-harder to 'fit' my reads into the categories that I've had left. I wasn't able to complete all three of my reading bingo challenges, but that's for another post.
I did manage, however, to complete my original target of 100 books - exactly. According to my Shelfari profile, my 100 reads can be broken down in genres roughly as follows:
Romance - 47
Steampunk - 7
Children's - 4
New adult - 2
Young adult - 16
Non-fiction - 5
Chick lit - 2
Urban fantasy - 2
Fiction - 4
Fantasy - 3
Crime - 1
Romance clearly takes up the bulk of my reads, but I've used the heading to encompass the sub-genres of contemporary, historical, medieval and erotica, amongst others. About 12 were re-reads and what re-reads they were. 2014 will be memorable not only for discovering new authors and titles, but re-discovering ones that I've loved in the past.
This is now my third 'Best of the year' post since I started this blog in February 2012. It's always hard to narrow down my favourite reads, and this year was no different. I came across my first favourite of the year very early on, and they
didn't stop coming. By the end of the year, I had around 20 'favourites'
that have been further (painfully) slimmed down, as follows below (in order of review):
1. Deeper by Robin York, a pseudonym for Ruthie Knox (2014) (reviewed 10-03-2014, Grade A+) (YA reading bingo challenge: A book that made you cry)
Ruthie Knox was my favourite new-to-me author of 2013 and this year, she didn't disappoint. 2014 saw Ruthie Knox tryng her hand at new adult, proving that she's just as adept at this hot new genre as she is at contemporary romance. Deeper and its sequel Harder follows college student Caroline Piasecki when she becomes a victim of revenge porn at the hands of her ex-boyfriend. Bad boy West Leavitt is the last person anyone expects to come to Caroline's aid, but he teaches her how to ignore the haters and accept herself and find joy again in her life. A gritty story that will make you cry - in the best way.
2. A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton (2014) (reviewed 08-05-2014, Grade A-) (Fiction reading bingo challenge: A book by a female author)
The fourth installment in Sharon Bolton's Lacey Flint series was one of my most anticipated books of the year. I've been looking forward to Ms Bolton's yearly release each year for a number of years now and 2014 was just as good as its predecessors, and Little Black Lies (standalone) in 2015 will be no exception. A Dark and Twisted Tide sees Lacey adapt to her new life on the river after she left her job with the police. When she finds the body of a girl in the Thames, wrapped up like a ritualistic sacrifice, Lacey can't help but get involved. When it looks like someone is leaving Lacey clues about the killer, this latest investigation will, like the others, impact her life forever.
3. The Saint // The King by Tiffany Reisz (2014) (reviewed 07-08-2014, Grade A // reviewed 16-10-2014, Grade A) (Romance reading bingo challenge: A book without a happy ever after // A book with a title referencing the peerage)
The first of two double-entries: Tiffany Reisz captivated readers with the exploits of New York's number one Dominatrix, Nora Sutherlin and her enigmatic relationship with priest Søren and businessman Kingsley Edge in the four books that make up the Red Years. The Saint and The King are the first of the four books of The White Years, telling the tales of how Nora first met Søren and how King came to own and run the Underground network in New York as we know it. Filled with brilliant dialogue, outrageous sex and answers that readers didn't even know they were looking for, you'll be hooked by the first chapter and begging for more. Make sure you start your journey into The Eighth Circle right and read The Siren first.
I didn't manage to review this title, but I was checking my original post where I introduced my reading bingo challenges, and there was no requirement that I actually needed to review the title, though of course I should have. Jonas Jonasson's first novel, The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window and Disappeared was met with great acclaim, and I'm ploughing my way through it now. The Girl Who Saved ... is his second novel and in my opinion, the better of the two. Nombeko was born into poverty in South Africa, a latrine worker who was determined to find a better life for herself. She taught herself how to read and write and discovered that she had a way with numbers. When she becomes bound to the service of an alcoholic engineer charged with building nuclear missiles for Sweden, Nombeko comes into her element. This is the story of Nombeko's journey from the slums of South Africa, a seventh missile that was built by mistake and how the fate of the world comes to rest in her hands ...
5. My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas (2014) (reviewed 04-09-2014, Grade A) (Romance reading bingo challenge: A non-Regency historical)
Catherine Blade has arrived in England to track down a precious jade tablet while evading the clutches of her worst enemy. She doesn't expect to literally bump into Captain Leighton Atwood - the lover she thought she left for dead eight years ago. The pair share a complicated and twisted history in which they had both lied and manipulated their way through their relationship as they journeyed together across Chinese Turkestan. Now, both Catherine and Leighton are forced to reevalue their relationship where it had left off, learning more about each other and themselves than they had ever expected. I've heard reams of good things about Sherry Thomas and this was the book that turned me into a committed fan. I'm all for the non-traditional historical romances and Ms Thomas' lyrical writing really brings her characters and settings to life.
6. Emma by Jane Austen (1815) (reviewed 08-09-2014, Grade A+) (Fiction reading bingo challenge: A book with a one-word title)
Emma Woodhouse - what a heroine. Pemberley Digital's modern adaptation of Austen's heroine won over my heart, more than The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, just as Emma, the novel, has managed to surpass the great Pride and Prejudice. I loved Emma's meddling and matchmaking ways and Mr Knightley's continued attempts to tone her down. The book and web-show were perfect complements to each other and I'm glad that I experienced both in such close proximity. This was admittedly a tough read at times and I did have to re-start it several times, but I'm glad that I can tick this one off the list.
7. Paradise by Judith McNaught (1991) (reviewed 03-11-2014, Grade A) (Romance reading bingo challenge: A classic romance)
You can't get more 'classic' in the romance world than Judith McNaught's Paradise. Whitney, My Love, also by McNaught, would also classify, but that title is somewhat contentious in the romance world. There aren't enough words to describe how much I love this book - easily my favourite McNaught to date. Meredith Bancroft and Matthew Farrell are thrown together by fate and just as quickly, pulled apart by circumstances that leave them broken-hearted and bitterly antagonist towards each other. Fate cruelly pushes them back together and they're left to untangle the messy web of lies that were woven around them. Matt is a complete asshole on several occasions and doesn't nearly grovel enough, but the agony of the writing makes up for it.
8. Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase (2012) (reviewed 17-11-2014, Grade A) (Romance reading bingo challenge: A cabin/road romance)
This is one of those series that I wish I'd started reading much, much earlier. Sophy is a classically funny, resourceful and all-round wonderful Loretta Chase heroine and one of those protagonists who you wish were your best friend. Set hot-on-the-heels of the first book in this series (Silk is for Seduction), Sophy is still dealing with the fall-out after her older sister married the Duke of Clevedon, choosing a dressmaker over the noble Lady Clara who he'd been 'engaged' to since forever. Strangely enough, Clara had become a good friend and their best customer, so when she runs away with only her maid in tow, Sophy feels it's her responsibility to bring Clara back. Joining her is Clara's brother, Harry, who has been wary of Sophy and her talents ever since he's made her acquaintance. Their mad dash across England forces them into an awkwardly intimate corners and before long, they have a truce of some sorts that eventually becomes something more ... I'm not overly fond of class-differences relationships but Loretta Chase somehow makes it believable and I love her for it because I can't imagine not loving something she's written.
9. The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne (2008) (reviewed 19-11-2014, Grade A) (Romance reading bingo challenge: A book with a Fabio cover)
I remember reading all the good reviews about this book when it was published way-back in 2008 and received five awards in AAR's annual poll of the year's best romances. I've belatedly realised what I've been missing out on and the series is up to its fifth book - I've got a lot of catching up to do. Annique Villiers is France's best spy, only she's got herself captured by literally her worst enemy. She manages to set herself and her fellow prisoners free - and comes to realise that she's possibly made the worst mistake of her life. Her fellow prisoner was none other than Robert Grey, the British Head of Section whose been on Annique heels the past six months, who now can't believe the prize that has landed in his hands. Robert is determined to make Annique spill her secrets - can she stay loyal to her cause and country? Clever, witty and full of intrigue - one of those books that constantly leaves me dumb-founded.
10. Curtsies & Conspiracies // Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger (2013 // 2014) (reviewed 23-11-2014, Grade A // reviewed 11-12-2014, Grade A) (Young adult reading bingo challenge: A book set in the past // A book set in another world)
I hadn't been convinced by the first book in this series, Etiquette & Espionage (still unreviewed, perhaps that says something?) but titles 2 and 3 have really stepped up the mark. I said in one review that the Finishing School series is like a steampunk Gallagher Girls (of the wonderful Ally Carter invention). Plus, with these beautiful covers, what is there not to love? Sophronia is a spy-in-training at Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing School for Young Ladies of Quality - a dirigible floating over the countryside in Yorkshire. When she's not worrying how to properly greet a vampire or calculate how much poison is needed for a dinner party of six, she's trying to steer her group of friends through school, manage her two highly unsuitable suitors and supply her mechanimal Bumbersnoot with a constant supply of comestibles - not an easy job! The final book in this quartet, Manners & Mutiny, will be out in late 2015 and one of the few books that I will be buying this year.
11. The Jewel by Amy Ewing (2014) (reviewed 29-11-2014, Grade A) (Young adult reading bingo challenge: A book with music)
This was a very late entry into my Best of 2014 list: I had only just slimmed down the list when I finished reading this book and was forced to reevalue my list again. I thought I was done with young adult dystopian fiction, but I was sorely tempted by the cover in Waterstones and I'm very glad that I can be so superficial. Violet has spent the last four years of her life living in a holding facility - luxurious and comfortable, where her every desire is catered for, but a holding facility, all the same. A girl of the lowest ranks of society, she possesses are rare gene that renders her ideal for carrying the surrogate child of society's nobility. She ceases to have a name and identity - instead, she just becomes another number in the annual auction, where the highest bidder will take her home to The Jewel and prepare her body for the ultimate invasion. The Jewel is haunting, utterly captivating and takes dystopia to new heights. I hope there'll be a sequel.
So that's it: my most recommended reads of the year. As always, a painful list, but I can already feel the anticipating of discovering what will make the list in 2015.
Just to finish up: the Honourable Mentions that just missed the top spot:
The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin (2014) (Grade A) (Fiction RBC: A book based on a true story)
Panic by Lauren Oliver (2014) (Grade A-) (Fiction RBC: A book with a mystery)
Frost Burned by Patricia Briggs (2013) (Grade A) (Romance RBC: An urban fantasy)
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (2012) (Grade A) (Young adult RBC: The first book in a series)
May 2015's reading be just as fruitful!