Posts Tagged ‘2014 Book Club Selections’

My Top Ten Books of 2014

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Best Books of 2014 from MomAdvice.com.
I still have one more month of reading to go, but I always like to deliver my top ten reads to you for holiday giving and for you to enjoy reading over your holiday break. I have read 47 books so far this year and I read so many incredible books that it is a difficult task to narrow it down to just ten. Since it is so hard, I will be sharing some honorable mentions as well as my top picks this year from what I have read. One special feature that I added to our site this year has been our Sundays With Writers. Many of the books on this list also include a discussion with the writer where I get to ask them my most pressing questions about their stories. My heart always pitter-patters like crazy when I send out an interview request, but even the most seasoned writers have been gracious and generous to share on our site. I haven’t had a single writer turn me down yet and it adds another element to these stories for me and for you.

As always, if you are looking for a little inspiration this year, be sure to check our MomAdvice fan page for a weekly check-in on what everyone is reading each week on our Facebook Fan Page. I hope you will swing by on Fridays and share about the books you are working on or request recommendations with one another. So far it is a huge success and I have gotten a few new ideas for my own stack!

Just as a reminder, I read many more books than are just featured here, but try to feature the ones that are my absolute best picks of year.  If you want to see more of what I am reading,  please feel free to friend me on GoodReads! You can find me right here and I am always happy to connect with people there too! There is nothing more motivating than seeing what other people are raving about and my to-be-read pile continues to grow with all of my new friends on there! In fact, many of the books featured are ones that I have found through my friends on GoodReads.

In no particular order, here are My Top Ten Books of 2014:

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Do you ever pick up a book completely outside of your normal genre and find yourself completely swept away in a world you never dreamed you would escape to? It happened a couple of times for me with The Hunger Games series and Twilight series, just to name two types of books that I never thought I would love.  If you would have asked me if I would have fallen head over heels in love with a book with a plotline firmly planted in science fiction with a zombie apocalypse theme or even just another dystopian thriller ( a genre I had grown very tired of), I would have probably laughed at you.

No, this is not your typical recommendation on here and I loved it because it was so different and so awesome.

All the descriptions of this book state that Melanie is simply a special girl. You don’t know what makes her special until you dive in and discover the girl and all her gifts.

This book is wildly imaginative, suspenseful, and leaves you wondering who you should be rooting for as the story develops. I really, really loved this book.  Unfortunately, it is just the kind of book that you shouldn’t talk about so that each reader can go on the journey with this child and find out just what makes her so unique. It’s a book that you will want to finish and share with friends. It reads like a movie and is just the type of literary adventure I would recommend if you have been in a reading slump.

After you finish this one, dive deep into our exclusive interview with M.R. Carey about his amazing book. It was one of my favorite interviews I got to do this year!

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Two books slipped into my top ten of the year just this week and one of them was Station Eleven. This book was absolutely incredible and finally a new take on a pandemic world captured through the storytelling of a Hollywood actor and a band of traveling actors that risk it all to perform their art during a flu apocalypse. The storytelling jumps and weaves through time making it a treat to read from start to finish about what life was like before and after a fatal flu strikes the country.

Masterfully woven characters, particularly with the use of the three wives in Arthur’s life, the author brings these stories together in a way that makes you feel like you know each character. The ending was abrupt, but perhaps leaves it open for a sequel story.

I really enjoyed this one and can’t wait to read more from this author!

All the Lights We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Although I hate to rank my books, I must say that this was my favorite book of the year.

I can be the first to admit that sometimes the size of a book can be intimidating to me.  All the Light We Cannot See has been in my book stack several times this year, but at over five hundred pages, I just didn’t think I had the time to sit down and really dive in deep with a heavy book.  It had been recommended to me by some of my most respected fellow readers and I knew I would love it, but it being named our local book club selection for the month was finally what pushed me to just sit down and read.

And read.

And read.

And please leave me alone, I AM READING THE BEST BOOK IN THE WORLD.

I could not flip the pages fast enough. What will happen to these beloved characters? How will my life go on when this book ends?

Most of all, why did I wait so long to read this?

I wish I could give this book ten stars on GoodReads. I was held captive by it and could not put it down. The storytelling is superb, the characters vividly created, and the words read like poetry. My heart was in my throat for much of it and I could not turn the pages quickly enough so I knew what would happen with Marie-Laure & Werner. I loved how their stories weaved together and how the author created such striking details that made you feel as though you were witnessing it all firsthand.

In this story, Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

I can’t recommend this one enough- it will be, perhaps, in my top ten books ever read. 

Once you finish this beautiful book, be sure to read my author interview with Anthony Doerr. I was so incredibly honored that he took time out to answer my questions when he has had such a busy year with this endeavor. The interview is just as captivating as the book!

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

Whistling Past the Graveyard by Susan Crandall

I read this beautiful book, Whistling Past the Graveyard,  in just a couple of short days and absolutely fell in love with it. It was the kind of book that I thought about for many days after.  I would say that if you are a fan of, “The Help,” or young narrator’s with lots of spunk, you will want to get this book right away. If you don’t fall in love with these characters, I fear for you. It’s that endearing.

In the summer of 1963, nine-year-old Starla Claudelle runs away from her strict grandmother’s Mississippi home. Starla’s destination is Nashville, where her mother went to become a famous singer, abandoning Starla when she was three. Walking a lonely country road, Starla accepts a ride from Eula, a black woman traveling alone with a white baby. Now, on the road trip that will change her life forever, Starla sees for the first time life as it really is—as she reaches for a dream of how it could one day be.

This book is so  beautiful your heart aches. A coming-of-age story about what it means to be family and how the most unlikely people can be a part of that despite all racial and societal barriers. Set in the ’60′s, the spitfire child narrator captured my heart. This story is a perfectly satisfying read that I believe anyone would love. 

Once you finish the book, grab a cup of coffee and settle in with my interview with Susan Crandall- it is a fun one!

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

In this novel, two doctors risk everything to save the life of a hunted child named Havaa.  Havaa is just eight years old when her neighbor Akhmed finds her hiding in the woods, watching her house burning down. Akhmed knows getting involved means risking his life, but her father is an old friend, and he risks it all deciding to take her to an abandoned hospital where a woman named Sonja Rabina runs a hospital almost single handedly.

Sonja does not love kids…at all. Akhmed convinces her to keep Havaa for a trial, and over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will change in ways she never imagined. The reader is taken on a journey through each of these character’s past on an extraordinary journey of love, loss, and ultimately what it means to be human.

I found myself completely swept away into each of these characters and what they had to overcome.  Although the book was about war and suffering, the book was also all about love and what we do for love.

This entire book was so beautiful that I found myself rereading scenes and even saying them out loud because Marra’s words read like poetry to me. The writing is just unreal and it is impossible to not get swept away into the story.

Be sure to read my interview with Anthony Marra once you finish it. I was so honored to get a chance to interview him this year and to learn more about how he developed this storyline.

Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche

Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche

Not sure if you can get on board with a non-fiction pick? Just picture me laughing until tears are rolling down my cheeks ever since I picked this book up. Then picture me reading aloud almost the entire book to my husband, while trying to read it to him, still laughing with tears rolling down my cheeks and trying to catch my breath so I can read every word to him. It is that funny and that awesome.

City girl, Torre DeRoche,  isn’t looking for love, but a chance encounter in a San Francisco bar sparks an instant connection with a soulful Argentinean man who unexpectedly sweeps her off her feet. The problem? He’s just about to cast the dock lines and voyage around the world on his small sailboat, and Torre is terrified of deep water. However, lovesick Torre determines that to keep the man of her dreams, she must embark on the voyage of her nightmares, so she waves good-bye to dry land and braces for a life-changing journey that’s as exhilarating as it is terrifying.

It is hilarious, harrowing, and a true story of what it would be like to sail around the world.  I could not put this book down and loved every moment of it. I really think you would love this one too!

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

If there is one thing I love it is a well-written thriller. There is nothing  better  than a book that you can rapidly flip through and sit in suspenseful moments as the story unfolds. Those kinds of books that your eyes can’t read fast enough because you just HAVE to know what is going to happen.   If you have been waiting for the next-big-thing since Gone Girl, then I have the just the book for you!

The book opens with the following words, “I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don’t know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she’s scared. But I will.”

Born to a prominent Chicago judge and his stifled socialite wife, Mia is unlike her parents in every way, content with her life as an inner-city school teacher. When she finds herself at a bar one night alone, after being stood up by her boyfriend,  she meets a guy. Her plans for a one-night stand turns into the worst mistake of her life.

I don’t want to say anymore because the beauty in this book is those plot twists you never see coming! If you have been looking for something to capture your thriller-lovin’ heart, this is the book for you. Be sure to read my author interview after you are done. It is a particularly moving story of a writer who didn’t give up on her dreams of being published- super inspiring!

The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis

The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis

This book is absolutely stunning from start to finish. It was filled with words that begged to be read again because they felt like poetry to me.  It is a  beautifully woven story with big moral messages about love, forgiveness, and redemption. The plot twists? I never saw them coming, which happens rarely when you are an avid reader like I am. 

Set in the close-knit Portuguese community of Provincetown, Massachusetts, The Orphans of Race Point traces the relationship between Hallie Costa and Gus Silva, who meet as children in the wake of a terrible crime that leaves Gus parentless. Their friendship evolves into an enduring and passionate love that will ask more of them than they ever imagined.

On the night of their high school prom, a terrible tragedy devastates their relationship and profoundly alters the course of their lives. And when, a decade later, Gus—now a priest—becomes entangled with a distraught woman named Ava and her daughter Mila, troubled souls who bring back vivid memories of his own damaged past, the unthinkable happens: he is charged with murder. Can Hallie save the man she’s never stopped loving, by not only freeing him from prison but also—finally—the curse of his past?

Told in alternating voices, The Orphans of Race Point illuminates the transformative power of love and the myriad ways we find meaning in our lives.

The author is just as fabulous as this book so be sure to read my interview with her after you finish it- her story of becoming an author is REALLY inspiring and made me appreciate this beautiful book even more!

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

This book slipped in at the tail end of the year when I thought that I had chosen my list of ten. It was charming and a book for a true book lover.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore that changes his life forever…

This story is enchanting from start to finish. This book is a must-read for book lovers as it references so many of my favorite books and centers around a little bookshop in a seaside town. I could not put this one down and, truly, did not want the story of these beautiful characters to end. If you need a little winter escape, check this book out. I may just read it again, it was that simply that perfect.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

If you haven’t read The Girl You Left Behind or Me Before You, you must reserve them at your library because they are amazing. I don’t know how she does it, but this book made me laugh, cry, and connect with every character in this book. Moyes weaves an endearing story of a mother who is down on her luck and can barely make ends meet when her daughter is offered the chance of a lifetime to receive a scholarship for her excellence in mathematics that will cover 90% of her daughter’s education. Coming up with the other ten percent seems impossible, but she is determined to make this happen for her daughter. When she hears of a math contest happening in Scotland that offers a cash prize, she must do everything she can to get her there… including hitching a ride with the most unlikely man who could ultimately change their entire world. 

Anyone who has ever struggled financially or who would sacrifice it all to give their kids everything they need will appreciate this extraordinary book that, I hope, will be adapted to movie one day. It is that good! It’s one of those that just reminds me of a really great Hugh Grant romantic comedy film. It’s just perfect.  Amy Allen Clark- Best Books of 2014

If that isn’t enough books for you, here is my lengthy list of Honorable Mentions that you should check out this year!

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (get ideas for a book club around this one here)

Rooms by Lauren Oliver

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

The Martian by Andy Weir (read my interview here)

Last Night at the Blue Angel by Rebecca Rotert (read my interview here)

Life Drawing by Robin Black

We Were Liars  by E. Lockhart

Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf (read my interview here)

Close Your Eyes Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian (read my interview here)

A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable (read my interview here)

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead (read my interview here)

Hush Little Baby by Suzanne Redfearn (read my interview here)

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld (read my interview here)

A White Wind Blew by James Markert (read my interview here)

Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

The Bear by Claire Cameron (read my interview here)

Best Reads of 2013

Need More Book Ideas? Here are my top ten lists from the past four years!

My Top Ten Books of 2013

The Best Books Read in 2012

My Top Ten Books in 2011

The Top Ten of 2010

For more great suggestions, check out the NPR Book Concierge- swoon! It is heavenly stuff!   Tell me, what your favorite books were in 2014 or share your links to your own round-ups! Anything I should be adding to my library bag?  Leave your suggestions in the comments below! Looking for book ideas? Check out our entire Book section of the site! Don’t forget to friend me on GoodReads!

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though.

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Sundays With Writers: The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

Sundays_With_Writers-1_Final

Sundays With Writers is quickly becoming my new favorite feature on MomAdvice. Is it for you too? I really hope so!  My only dilemma is reading enough that we always have fresh new authors to feature. This week I finished a riveting book called, “The Enchanted,” by Rene Denfeld and I can’t wait to share our interview with the author.  As soon as I finished it, I knew that I needed to email her to see if she would participate in our discussion. Not only is the book itself a fascinating look at prisoners on death row, but she is, in her real life, a death penalty investigator. She uses this background well to plot out the corruption of the prison world and what an investigator does to present facts about a death row inmate before going to trial.

You know that I always disclose if a book is graphic in language or in nature. This book is graphic and, as we learn in the interview with Rene, it is altogether true that many of these things do happen in the prison system.  There were points where I had to detach myself from the book in order to press on through it. Although in many cases, it infers violence and sexual abuse, sometimes it allowed my mind to fill in those blanks and I had to step away from it.

the_enchanted

In, “The Enchanted,”  we are viewing a stone wall prison through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Though he is confined in a cell,  he sees visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs with the devastating violence of prison life.

We follow through the story through his eyes of two outsiders, a fallen priest and the Lady. The Lady is an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners’ pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honesty and corruption which reveal many secrets of her own.

I promise to never post any spoilers in these interviews so please read on as we learn more about Rene and her amazing debut novel (picked as a Best Book of the Month by Amazon)!

The-Enchanted-Rene-Denfeld

As a death penalty investigator, you truly have the background to write about death row. The story that you weave is a tough one to swallow for someone who is on the outside- corruption within the prison system, constant sexual abuse of prisoners, lack of basic resources, and most of the death row inmates are products of their sad upbringing. Has this really been your experience and how did you get drawn into this type of profession?

The story is very much the narrator’s story—what he sees in this enchanted place. But much of what he sees I recognize from my work. Sadly, what happens in the book to the character called the white-haired boy is real and common. I got into the work in 2008 when I was looking for a day job. I had been a journalist, but had adopted three kids from foster care, and writing wasn’t paying the bills. Truth be told, I needed a job. I had met death penalty investigators as a journalist and was fascinated. It seemed like a chance to really learn the truth of a person and a crime. I love the work. It is often terribly sad, but I can also bring moments of profound insight.

I reread many lines and paragraphs in your book because they were filled with so much truth and made me stop and think. On page 119, It says, “She thinks about how sad it is that we remember the killers and not their victims. What if the world forgot Hitler and remembered all the names of his victims? What if we immortalized the victims?” Do you find that in your job that people are often more worried about the killers than those who were victims in your cases?

I worry that in our society we focus so much on the criminals we erase their victims. For all our focus on crime and violence—all the graphic televisions shows and movies—we don’t stop to really dig deep to understand why some people hurt each other. We devalue the gravity of what they have done, to real people.

As our narrator imagines the world he is in with majestic golden horses, that also happen to grace the cover of your book, do you believe that the narrator is just highly imaginative, mentally ill, or do you think that being locked away in a cell is causing hallucinations after being away from the outside world? Are these golden horses meant to symbolize something to the reader?

The narrator truly believes he lives in the most magical, enchanted place. And for him, he does. I spend a lot of time with people with profound mental illness, and one thing I remind myself is they could be right and I could be wrong. Perhaps they are seeing something I cannot. It is real to them, that’s what counts. I think the narrator has a lovely view of the world. The golden horses in particular—to me they symbolize his hunger to escape the confines of his bars, to feel and see wild passion and beauty in the world.

Since books are such an escape for me, I loved that the narrator’s escape was also literature. His favorite book, The White Dawn, brings him so much joy. What made you pick this particular book for your narrator?

What a lovely thing to have in common with you! Books have been my escape, too, since I was a young child. The library was my sanctuary. The White Dawn happened to be one of my favorite books as a child. I kept my tattered copy on my bed stand the entire time I was writing the novel. At night I would touch it and hope the narrator would continue to come and bless me with his story.

What is one common misconception about death row and the death penalty that you wish more people understood?

That we will never prevent crime if we don’t truly understand why it happens. And that the human capacity to find joy and beauty—no matter what our circumstance—cannot be extinguished.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?

Oh, that is a tough one, because there are so many wonderful books. I just read All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It was stunning.

The-Enchanted-Rene-Denfeld
 *This post contains affiliate links! Love our Sundays With Writers series? Check out all of our past interviews here

 

February Book Club Selection: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (GIVEAWAY!)

Friday, January 31st, 2014

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

I am so excited to share with you our next book club selection for the month of February. The book for this month is, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,” by Anthony Marra.

My intention this month was to step away from historical fiction and read a lighter book. I proceeded to read five good books, not *the* book. When I picked up A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, it hooked me within it’s opening sentences.

“On the morning after the Feds burned down her house and took her father, Havaa woke from dreams of sea anemones. While the girl dressed, Akhmed, who hadn’t slept at all, paced outside the bedroom door, watching the sky brighten on the other side of the window glass; the rising sun had never before made him feel late. When she emerged from the bedroom, looking older than her eight years, he took her suitcase and she followed him out the front door. He had led the girl to the middle of the street before he raised his eyes to what had been her house. ‘Havaa, we should go,’ he said, but neither moved.”

Just as, “The Paris Architect,” moved me to tears, this book is one of the best books I have ever read and brings to life a country and time of war that I was completely unfamiliar with.

In this novel, two doctors risk everything to save the life of a hunted child named Havaa.  Havaa is just eight years old when her neighbor Akhmed finds her hiding in the woods, watching her house burning down. Akhmed knows getting involved means risking his life, but her father is an old friend, and he risks it all deciding to take her to an abandoned hospital where a woman named Sonja Rabina runs a hospital almost single handedly.

Sonja does not love kids…at all. Akhmed convinces her to keep Havaa for a trial, and over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will change in ways she never imagined. The reader is taken on a journey through each of these character’s past on an extraordinary journey of love, loss, and ultimately what it means to be human.

Again, because we are dealing with a wartime topic, there is a lot of graphic violence, gory medical scenes, and violence in this book. One torture scene in particular is difficult to read (but can be skimmed over).  It is a necessary part of the book though to truly capture what is happening to the Chechens.

For me, it took a little bit to really get into the meat of the story, mainly because of my own lack of education of what had happened in this country. If you struggle in the beginning, I encourage you to keep pushing on. This book is one of the most accomplished books I have ever read. It reads like poetry, the narrative is so unique, you will connect with every character in some way, there are moments of unexpected humor, and there is beauty in the pulling & weaving of these characters together.

Anthony Marra

The author, Anthony Marra,  is the winner of a Whiting Award, a Pushcart Prize, The Atlantic’s Student Writing Contest, and the Narrative Prize, and his work was anthologized in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012. He holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. He has lived and studied in Eastern Europe, and now resides in Oakland, CA.

I know you will want to become a fan after you read this one!

Anthony has graciously offered three of our readers the chance to win his book. He has also offered to answer your questions, which I could not be more excited about! 

To enter to win a copy of, “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena,”  please enter via the Rafflecopter widget below!  

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Our book club discussion for this novel will take place on February 25th. I will try to collect your questions for the author before that though via our Facebook groupSign up for our newsletter to stay informed and connect with me on GoodReads too!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

*This post contains affiliate links.

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