Monday, January 19, 2015

What I Read in 2014 — or, It's Never Too Late To Talk About Last Year's Books

Another year, another whole bunch of books read.

The year began with a bang but ended with a bit of a whimper, I am sorry to say. My total book consumption was a little shy of six dozen books, but I read only one novel in December: All the Light We Cannot See.

I started the year out favorably with one of my favorites of the year: The House of Silk, a Sherlock Holmes novel authorized by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is worthy: while still writing in the style of the original, Anthony Horowitz brings The House of Silk — and Holmes' usual suspect — gingerly, but strongly, into the modern-day mindset (review).

Horowitz's follow-up, Moriarty, hit the shelves right before Christmas, and it's on my list of January reads.

A favorite read from 2011, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (review) was followed up in 2014 by Hollow City. It also was wonderful, but it wasn't the end — which will please author Ransom Riggs' fans.

It was not the only series on my reading list in 2014. I consumed the entire All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness, including re-reading Discovery of Witches (also from 2011). The series was far-reaching in time and geography. It was very intriguing, and very worthy.

Another favorite read was One Summer: America, 1927. Who knew so much happened during a few months in a single year? Well, I suppose Bill Bryson, one of my favorite authors, who did not disappoint with this book (review). It's incredible, and a worthy read.

Another fascinating historical read was was American Decameron, a series of stories written by another favorite author, Mark Dunn (review). Based on the structure of  Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron, a classic short story collection (which I also read in 2014), Dunn wrote one story for every year of the 20th century, set in every state and a couple of geographical locations outside of the United States. Many of the stories have stayed with me, especially 1948.

If you think human culture and society is strict and complicated, try living life as a bee. Laline Paul showed readers that in another fabulous novel, The Bees. Told from the perspective of Flora 717, a bee in the hive, Paull shows us what life in the hive is like — and helps us understand their lives and plight. I cannot see the world the same way after seeing it through the eyes of Flora 717.

The Book of Unknown Americans took my breath away. The character-driven novel features people who live in a particular apartment building in Delaware. Latino residents had come to the United States for their own reasons, bringing their families for a better life, for safety, for opportunities. How many left prosperous lives, how many were far from everything they knew, how many sacrificed everything to be in a country not their own — at least, not yet. How do people adapt, how do they cope, how do they relate? Cristina Henriquez's characters take us places we never could have imagined.

My least favorite book of the year was Unbroken — not because Louie Zamperini's story is not compelling or interesting, but because Laura Hillenbrand's storytelling did not feel compelling or urgent. I felt the same way about Seabiscuit, another of the author's books.

What were your favorite books of 2014? Which did you like least? Did any disappoint you? Let me know!

Here is a complete list of my 2014 reads:
  1. All the Light We Cannot See
  2. The Miracle Jar
  3. One Yellow Daffodil
  4. Hanukkah Around the World
  5. Judaism (DK Eyewitness Book)
  6. Hanukkah, Schmanukkah!
  7. Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Holidays
  8. Hanukkah Lights: Stories of the Season
  9. This House is Haunted
  10. The Family Fang
  11. The Book of Unknown Americans
  12. Unbroken
  13. The Brothers Cabal
  14. The Bees
  15. A Red Herring Without Mustard
  16. Second Glance
  17. Centuries of June
  18. A Room With A Zoo (
  19. The Interestings
  20. Bats at the Ballgame
  21. Ouroboros Ouzo / Extent Demon King / Johannesburg Cabal and the Blustery Day/A Long Spoon: A Original
  22. Bats at the Library
  23. I Lost My Bear
  24. The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag
  25. Bats at the Beach
  26. Bandit’s Surprise
  27. What Successful People Do Before Breakfast
  28. Tobacco Road
  29. Bandit
  30. The Book of Life
  31. Shadow of Night
  32. The Fault in Our Stars
  33. A Discovery of Witches
  34. The True Story of Stellina
  35. Top Secret Twenty-One
  36. Toots the Cat
  37. Millions of Cats
  38. The Beauty of the Beast : poems from the animal kingdom
  39. Takedown Twenty: a Stephanie Plum novel
  40. The Eye of Zoltar
  41. The Eyre Affair
  42. The Goldfinch
  43. American Decameron
  44. The Decameron
  45. Year of No Sugar
  46. Petropolis
  47. The River of No Return
  48. Philomena
  49. Healthy bread in five minutes a day : 100 new recipes featuring whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and gluten-free Ingredients
  50. The creative habit : learn it and use it for life: a practical guide
  51. One Summer: America, 1927
  52. A Face in the Crowd
  53. Twittering from the Circus of the Dead
  54. Ender’s Game
  55. Hollow City
  56. I Suck at Girls
  57. Sleep Donation
  58. A Walk in the Woods
  59. Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past
  60. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
  61. Coffee is good for you : from vitamin C and organic foods to low-carb and detox diets, the truth about diet and nutrition claims
  62. Fossil
  63. Not left behind : rescuing the pets of New Orleans
  64. You can't take a balloon into the Metropolitan Museum
  65. You can't take a balloon into the National Gallery of Art
  66. You can't take a balloon into the Museum of Fine Art
  67. A contract with God : and other tenement stories
  68. House of Silk

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Poetry Wednesday: What My Lips Have...

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (Sonnet XLIII)

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, 
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain 
Under my head till morning; but the rain 
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh 
Upon the glass and listen for reply, 
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain 
For unremembered lads that not again 
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry. 
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree, 
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, 
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before: 
I cannot say what loves have come and gone, 
I only know that summer sang in me 
A little while, that in me sings no more.

-Edna St. Vincent Millay