I haven’t been a diligent reader this past year, which is an irony since I started a book review site over the summer. To be fair, most of the books I reviewed are self-published, and only a few are even worth reading. But that is not an excuse for me not to discover and read new books. I cannot go back to reading Catcher and the Rye and Franny and Zooey every time I run out of good books to read.
Anyway, while I have not read a lot of books in 2014, I think the few that I will list here are interesting ones. Looking back at my past two top 10 lists, I’d like to believe that I’ve grown to appreciate a wider range of genres. I’ve gone from reading mostly YA books in 2012 to reading more poetry this year. And by poetry, I mean actual, good poetry and none of the cringeworthy crap that Lang Leav writes.
Anyway, here goes.
1. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith – Having enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling, I looked forward to the release of The Silkworm. In the first book, the victim was simply pushed over a balcony and the incident mistaken for a suicide attempt. In The Silkworm, the victim is doused in acid, disemboweled, and carefully posed in a particularly alarming position. Compared to the first Cormoran Strike novel, this is much darker, more graphic, and quite audacious—all of which I loved, naturally. But I think the most interesting quality of the book is that it is almost completely devoid of the J.K. Rowling I grew up reading, which is not a bad thing at all.
P.S. BBC One is adapting the Cormoran Strike novels into a TV series, and J.K. Rowling herself is writing the script. Something great to look forward to in 2015!
2. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer – One of the main reasons why The Interestings is listed here has nothing to do with the main plot of the novel, which involves a scandal. The reason this book made a mark is the strange familiarity readers will develop with each of the characters at one point in the novel and the stark realization of how small we all are, with our ordinariness and humdrum lives, and how each of us tries to make peace with that. Simply put, it struck a chord.
3. Winger by Andrew Smith – I read this only because I was paid to review the book after. I didn’t have any expectations going into it, but this turned out to be one of the most memorable YA books I’ve read in two years. Laugh-out-loud funny for almost 80% of the book, Smith cold-bloodedly snatches the comedy away within the last few chapters and turns the entire novel upside down, with it becoming heartbreaking and emotionally scarring. The narrative is well-written, the illustrations complement the story, and despite feeling betrayed by the author, I can’t help loving this book.
4. Mission 66 by L.E. Fryer-Stokes – Technically only a novella, this is another book I read only because I was paid to write a review. A self-published author, L.E. Fryer-Stokes is a fantastic storyteller and incredibly skilled in creating different distinct voices. The protagonist is a hired gun who is an expert in creating a different identity with every mission he is given—slightly reminiscent of Sean Bean’s character in Legends sans the FBI badge. Mission 66 delivers a cogent narrative that draws readers in immediately. It is refreshing, full of wit and action, and the ending is so satisfyingly good and frustrating at the same time. I can’t believe the book isn’t a big hit yet.
5. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters & Seymour: An Introduction by J.D. Salinger – I’ve had this book for a decade but never read it fully because I have never felt ready to fully appreciate it until recently. I think the best way to describe it is to say that different versions of me have different favorite Salinger novels. My fifteen-year-old self will always have a special place for The Catcher in the Rye in her heart; the twenty-two-year-old version will swear that Franny and Zooey just reverberates through her in an almost spiritual way; and the twenty-seven-year-old version has rediscovered so much about herself and other people because of Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters & Seymour: An Introduction.
6. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs – Initially, I thought this was going to be over-the-top scary, what with the book cover and the vintage photos included inside. But the book was a pleasant surprise—it’s original and weird and magical and riveting. Ransom Riggs did a great job incorporating the photographs into the story and they add to the charm of the book, but even without the photographs, the novel is a great read all on its own.
7. No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay – I have rekindled my love for spoken word poetry in the past year, and Sarah Kay had a lot to do with it so I was psyched when I found out that she was releasing a collection of her poetry. No Matter the Wreckage speaks to everyone’s inner dreamer. It’s raw and delicate at the same time, truthful without being rude, and brave without being a brag.
8. I Wrote This For You by Iain Thomas (pleasefindthis) – I only came across this book because it was one of the suggested titles on Amazon when I checked out No Matter the Wreckage. This is an altogether different experience, sort of an art mash-up, with the photographs and accompanying poetry and short verses giving readers a sense of nostalgia. I’ve never really been into contemporary poetry because there are too many people pretending to be poets but are not (I’m looking at you, Lang Leav). But I Wrote This For You is neither pretentions nor annoying. It’s a precious book that will make readers go “Awww” at every turn of the page.
9. The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan – This is another unique book that I came across this year. And the main reason I bought it is because there was a mention in the blurb about one of the characters being in love with Holden Caulfield. When I bought it, I thought it was going to be a novel. When I opened its pages, I thought it was a collection of poetry. But somehow it is neither. It is almost a stream of consciousness from the characters, some written in verses, some in prose, but all the time it is always touching and stark, and each voice captures teenage angst, love, hope, and heartbreak.
10. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath – I haven’t finished this nor would I want to anytime soon. But I am including this on the list nonetheless because it is too great to leave behind. Sylvia Plath has always been the female version of J.D. Salinger in my life. She is so profoundly fascinating, and she is more than her depression and consequent suicide—her journal entries prove that. More than anything, her journals humanize her.