Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

My best books of 2014 (and other distinctions)

Here are my favorite books from 2014. To make the list, I had to have read the book for the first time in 2014 so that old favorites don't clog the top spots. Except! This year, I made one exception (see below). I'll post a complete list of the books I read in 2014 plus some "fun" stats in a few days.

The Dream Thieves (Maggie Stiefvater). This is book 2 in The Raven Boys series, and I read it twice this year. I love this book more than The Raven Boys and more than Blue Lily, Lily Blue. It is beautiful and crazy and haunting and scary and it makes you want to give everyone except Kavinsky and possibly Greenmantle a big, meaningful hug. Or, in the case of Ronan, a big, meaningful nod of the head, from afar.

Mastering The Art of Soviet Cooking (Anya von Bremzen). It had me at "a memoir of food and longing," especially since the setting was Soviet Russia.

One Light Still Shines (Marie Monville). This book wears EMOTION and RELIGION and JESUS on its sleeve, and I embraced almost every minute of it. I have never wept such genuine tears while reading a book. This woman speaks a different religious language than I do (lots more "Jesus with skin on" and such), and she prays in a different way than I do, but the workings of God in her life as described in this book transcended syntax and word choice and spoke directly to my soul and spirit.

A House in the Sky (Amanda Lindhout). I could not bear to read on. I could not bear to put it down. Searing.

Global Mom (Melissa Dalton-Bradford). Lovely, lovely book and everyone should read it. I think about this book all the time and I got a little starry-eyed when we were in Germany this summer and met some people who know this amazing woman.

Siege and Storm (Leigh Bardugo). This is book 2 in the Grisha trilogy, which is one of my new favorite series ever. I loved the angst and uncertainty and danger and Russia of this book.

Candyfreak (Steve Almond). CANDY. -BASED. MEMOIR. This man and I probably would not get along in real life, but he understands candy and therefore understands ME.

Ghost Soldiers (Hampton Sides). Those of you who wish you could read Unbroken again, for the first time, should read this one instead.

The Queen of Attolia (Megan Whalen Turner). I guess I am a sucker for Book 2s, because here is another book 2 of a series. This is my exception to the first-time-reads-only rule of favorites, because I actually read this for the first time back in 2009. I picked it up again this summer and loved it. I think once you get over the narration conceit of the first book, the stage is set for you to love this one. Apparently that took me five years.

Now for some fun distinctions.

Most unexpectedly good book: Like No Other. I was expecting a run-of-the-mill Romeo & Juliet spinoff, not a thought-provoking treatise on the realities of interfaith relationships and the nuances of religion in everyday life.

Most unexpectedly bad book: The Children of Men. I heard the movie was good, and the book is always better, right? Wrong. This book was bad.

Longest book: The Other Boleyn Girl (661 pages!!!!! I thought it felt long, but yeesh!)

Shortest book: A Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. Johnson (144 pages).

Most-read book: I didn't have any 3x-reads this year, but I did re-read these books for the second time: The Other Boleyn Girl, The Boleyn Inheritance, The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Daughter of the Forest, Insurgent, The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, and The King of Attolia.

Best bad book: Black Ice. This book is a total Monet - it looks good from far away, but up close, it's a big old mess. In other words, I totally stayed up way too late to read it, even as I realized that it was a silly, silly book.

Worst good book: Escape From Camp 14. I never want to read it again, but I'm glad that I read it.

Worst book I didn't finish: The Queen of the Tearling. Sometimes it's hard to decide not to finish a book. Not so with this one - super easy. It was dumb AND offensive.

Worst book I DID finish: The Lifeboat. I kept reading because I held out hope until the final sentence that something would make this book interesting. Nope.

Worst cover: Take a look at Fire and Hemlock and tell me you've seen worse. You haven't. What makes it even more egregious is that this book at no time has a scene in which a naked-ish lady rides a horse.

Best cover: So many pretty ones this year! Like Siege and Storm (above), plus:

Worst title: The Kiss of Deception. I could hardly bear to say it out loud to Jeremy when he asked me what I was reading.

Best title: A House in the Sky. Beautiful imagery and taken right from the author's experience. Also The Emperor of All Maladies.

Book that I am most afraid to re-read: These Broken Stars. I almost put it as one of my favorites of this year, but then I thought, could it really have been that good? Was it just the audiobook, or the time that I read it, or that it came after a dearth of good YA? If I re-read it and love it again, I'll feel bad that I didn't include it in this year's favorites, because I sure did genuinely love it the first time around.

Most forgettable book: The Forgotten Garden. I know I read it, but darned if I can't tell you any of the character names or what the characters did, beyond something about a painting, and Sometimes this happens when you devour even a good book a little too fast.

Book that gave me the worst case of logorrhea: Cockpit Confidential. Poor Jeremy. I had to tell him ALL THE THINGS about this book, as I read it, whether he wanted to hear about it or not.

Best use of the word "nonplussed": The Raven Boys:
"You're the only one who doesn't seem fazed by this," he said after a moment. "It's not that I'm accustomed to it, but I've run across some unusual things before and I guess I just...but Ronan and Adam and Noah all seem...nonplussed."
Blue pretended she knew what nonplussed meant.

Books where the characters spend most of their time in an open boat on the sea: Sea Runners, The Lifeboat

Books where there is a planet with two moons: These Broken Stars, The Knife of Never Letting Go

Books where a character uses a weapon injudiciously and then cannot use it again because of a guilty conscience: Insurgent, The Knife of Never Letting Go

Books where a character follows his/her nose to a crucial location: Control, These Broken Stars

Books where a character "knows exactly what sound a pistol made when the safety was taken off" thanks to movies: The Dead in their Vaulted Arches, The Raven Boys

Books where unruly teenagers gather in empty lots to set off illicit fireworks: The Dream Thieves, Panic

Books where a character is held hostage: A House in the Sky, A Sliver of Light, A Captain's Duty

Books where a couple have a discussion about how they need to talk about the little things as well as the big things; and also the denouement of the book depends on the protagonist's relationship with his/her estranged father: Into the Still Blue, Allegiant

Books where creepy dark insect-y characters created by a character's imagination skitter around in terrifying ways: Ruin and Rising, The Dream Thieves

Books that mention frangipani flowers: The Forgotten Garden, Across a Star-Swept Sea

Books that mention Diana Wynne Jones: The Thief, Fire & Hemlock, We Were Liars

Books that mention the fact that water becomes as hard as concrete when you jump into it from a height: A Captain's Duty, In the Mind's Eye

Books in which the main character has an ancient book in his/her possession that, if s/he read it, could possibly save the world as s/he knows it: The Elite, Siege and Storm, The Kiss of Deception

Biographies about non-living entities: Jerusalem, The Emperor of All Maladies

Books in which someone tries to murder someone else by leading them outside during a snowstorm and then locking them out of the house: Bellweather Rhapsody, Black Ice

Books in which a woman is seen embracing a man in the forest and it's assumed it is her lover when in fact it is her brother: Daughter of the Forest, The Kiss of Deception

Books where if everyone would just sit down and have a conversation THEN MAYBE ALL YOUR PROBLEMS WOULD BE SOLVED AND THIS BOOK WOULD BE OVER. Hmph: A lot of books this year, including The Selection/Elite/One, The Kiss of Deception, and Black Ice.

The Jay interview

December 26th, outsourced