For some unfathomable reason, my library keeps no list of the books I’ve checked out—which is really annoying when I want to reference a book in a blog post or refer a good read to someone else and I CANNOT REMEMBER THE TITLE. So I have to keep my own records. Goodreads is my preferred site for this, since my READ (past tense) list not only keeps track of the books I’ve finished, it also includes the date and my rating.
I love Goodreads. If I was Oprah, I’d give it away as one of My Favorite Things. *cue shrieking*
So now that another year has passed, I’d like to share my favorite books of 2014— ’cause when I find an excellent story, I want to give it some love. Maybe some of these will tickle your fancy. Here they are, in no particular order:
Title and Author: The Real Boy, Anne Ursu
On an island on the edge of an immense sea there is a city, a forest, and a boy. The city is called Asteri, a perfect city that was saved by the magic woven into its walls from a devastating plague that swept through the world over a hundred years before. The forest is called the Barrow, a vast wood of ancient trees that encircles the city and feeds the earth with magic. And the boy is called Oscar, a shop boy for the most powerful magician in the Barrow. Oscar spends his days in a small room in the dark cellar of his master’s shop, grinding herbs and dreaming of the wizards who once lived on the island generations ago. Oscar’s world is small, but he likes it that way. The real world is vast, strange, and unpredictable. And Oscar does not quite fit in it.
But it’s been a long time since anyone who could call himself a wizard walked the world, and now that world is changing. Children in the city are falling ill, and something sinister lurks in the forest. Oscar has long been content to stay in his small room in the cellar, comforted in the knowledge that the magic that flows from the trees will keep his island safe. Now, even magic may not be enough to save it.
Why I Loved It: Anne Ursu is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors due to her impressive world building and her ability to turn a unique phrase. I also had no idea that this story was a fairy tale retelling until I was halfway through the book. The story is complex and engaging enough to stand on its own.
Title and Author: Clariel, Garth Nix
Award-winning author Garth Nix returns to the Old Kingdom with a thrilling prequel complete with dark magic, royalty, dangerous action, a strong heroine, and flawless world-building. This epic fantasy adventure is destined to be a classic, and is perfect for fans of Game of Thrones.
Clariel is the daughter of one of the most notable families in the Old Kingdom, with blood relations to the Abhorsen and, most important, to the King. She dreams of living a simple life but discovers this is hard to achieve when a dangerous Free Magic creature is loose in the city, her parents want to marry her off to a killer, and there is a plot brewing against the old and withdrawn King Orrikan. When Clariel is drawn into the efforts to find and capture the creature, she finds hidden sorcery within herself, yet it is magic that carries great dangers. Can she rise above the temptation of power, escape the unwanted marriage, and save the King?
Why I Loved It: I’m a huge Garth Nix fan. HUGE. His Abhorsen trilogy is one that I look back on as forming my early ideas as an author. His world building is second to none. So when I heard that he’d written a prequel for this series, I was super excited and also more than a little nervous, believing it couldn’t live up to the rest of the series. Thank goodness I was wrong.
Title and Author: Dreams of Gods and Monsters, Laini Taylor
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Synopsis of the First Book in the Series (Daughter of Smoke and Bone):
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.
Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.
When one of the strangers–beautiful, haunted Akiva–fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?
Why I Loved It: Angels and demons, a celestial war, an urban fantasy partially set in the fascinating Prague…what’s not to love?
Title and Author: If You Find Me, Emily Murdoch
A broken-down camper hidden deep in a national forest is the only home fifteen year-old Carey can remember. The trees keep guard over her threadbare existence, with the one bright spot being Carey’s younger sister, Jenessa, who depends on Carey for her very survival. All they have is each other, as their mentally ill mother comes and goes with greater frequency. Until that one fateful day their mother has disappeared for good, and two strangers arrive. Suddenly, the girls are taken from the woods and thrust into a bright and perplexing new world of high school, clothes and boys.
Now, Carey must face the truth of why her mother abducted her ten years ago, while haunted by a past that won’t let her go . . . a dark past that hides many secrets, including the reason Jenessa hasn’t spoken a word in over a year. Carey knows she must keep her sister close, and her secrets even closer, or risk watching her new life come crashing down.
Why I Loved It: This one grabbed me with the premise: an isolated teenager raised in the woods who’s forced to assimilate into modern-day society. What kept me reading was the achingly real and empathetic main character.
Title and Author: The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
In this Newbery Medal-winning novel, Bod is an unusual boy who inhabits an unusual place—he’s the only living resident of a graveyard. Raised from infancy by the ghosts, werewolves, and other cemetery denizens, Bod has learned the antiquated customs of his guardians’ time as well as their ghostly teachings—such as the ability to Fade so mere mortals cannot see him.
Can a boy raised by ghosts face the wonders and terrors of the worlds of both the living and the dead? And then there are being such as ghouls that aren’t really one thing or the other.
Why I Loved It: Um, it’s Neil Gaiman?
Title and Author: The Sea of Tranquility, Katja Millay
I live in a world without magic or miracles. A place where there are no clairvoyants or shapeshifters, no angels or superhuman boys to save you. A place where people die and music disintegrates and things suck. I am pressed so hard against the earth by the weight of reality that some days I wonder how I am still able to lift my feet to walk.
Two and a half years after an unspeakable tragedy left her a shadow of the girl she once was, Nastya Kashnikov moves to a new town determined to keep her dark past hidden and hold everyone at a distance. But her plans only last so long before she finds herself inexplicably drawn to the one person as isolated as herself: Josh Bennett.
Josh’s story is no secret. Every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. When your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space. Everyone except Nastya who won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But as the undeniable pull between them intensifies, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.
The Sea of Tranquility is a rich, intense, and brilliantly imagined story about a lonely boy, an emotionally fragile girl, and the miracle of second chances.
Why I Loved It: The main character was utterly unique and intensely flawed. And what started as a possible love triangle turned into something unpredictable, which was a refreshing change. Also, it has possibly the BEST ENDING LINE OF A NOVEL EVER.
So those are my top picks for 2014. What about you? Care to share which books you loved and why?
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.