While I love to read, 2014 was not a year for lots of books for me. I am lukewarm about several that I read, but other books did impress me–and I am picky about literature. Good literature only whets my appetite for more.
You’ll see what I have read, and then what I plan to read, both in novels and in histories. There’s even a very last, ambitious list at the bottom which I’ve just discovered. What books would you recommend to me?
- The Children of Willesden Lane by Mona Golabek. I’m always intrigued when I learn something new from the tales of history. How surprising to learn of something called the Kindertransport. As Hitler was gaining power and darkness spread through Europe, some Jewish families sought ways to smuggle their most precious possessions–their children–to England. A network of synagogues, charities, and churches formed–the Kindertransport–and found homes for hundreds of Europe’s Jewish children. This book takes the stories of some children placed in a foster home in England and follows them through the war years. Not a brilliantly-written book, this was nevertheless an interesting portrayal of this little-known story from the perspective of one musically-talented young Austrian girl.
- The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. Much has been written about this book, and thinking about going to the movie, I decided to break down and read it first. (You may not know that I don’t like following contemporary booklists, because I find much to dislike in what passes as popular “literature.”) The point of view of the narrator–death–took me by surprise, and he didn’t make me comfortable at all. I think that’s the point. This book was beautiful and horrifying, and its heartbreaking conclusion wiped me out. Though I considered it a good book, I decided not to subject myself to the movie. I can recommend this book, but only to folks who are not strongly affected by heart-wrenching drama.
- Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. This is the second book in his Stormlight Archives, after The Way of Kings. He is masterful at creating a fantasy world, as also seen in his Mistborn series. His characters, the magical world they populate, and the good battling evil drew me in and held me captive all the way through. I’m going to blame this book on my reason for not reading more books this year. This is an incredibly long book! Worth every minute, though.
- Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. His two series, mentioned above, made me want more of his fascinating fantasy storytelling. Steelheart did not disappoint. He definitely wrote this book for a YA (Young Adult) audience, but that doesn’t deter me from reading good novels. The main character, a teenage boy who is awkward and geeky, made me smile frequently. Sanderson does a masterful job of creating compelling and believable characters.
- The Great Pearl Heist by Molly Caldwell Crosby. I thought I was going to read a mystery fiction, but this turned out to be a true story about an infamous crime from the turn of the century. Not a dry history, this story was compelling all the way through.
- The Princes of Ireland: The Dublin Saga by Edward Rutherfurd. I’ve enjoyed reading his novel of England’s history (Sarum) and Russia’s history (Russka). His method is unique–telling the history by focusing on one geographic area and creating familes whose descendants interact with one another over more than a thousand years. I loved traveling through Ireland a few years ago, so I looked forward to reading Rutherfurd’s creative history. This was well done, as usual, and I recognized some of the landmarks. His related novel, The Rebels of Ireland, is on my list to read next. I also want to read his novel of Paris, because I dream of going back there someday.
- The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley. This is the latest in the Flavia de Luce novels that have delighted me for the past few years. I love this smart, funny eleven-year-old girl who plays with chemicals in her uncle’s laboratory and dreams of concocting poisons, while she solves mysteries. Bradley’s next novel can’t come too soon!
- The Girl in the Ice by Jason Vail. I hadn’t realized that this was Book 4 of a series, mysteries solved in medieval England. This one wasn’t good enough to capture my imagination and draw me to read the other books in this series. Though I enjoy fictional history, and especially of medieval Europe, this one just didn’t do it for me. The characters aren’t well developed, and the story itself didn’t hold together well.
- The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley. You might classify this as a romance, but I refuse to call it that. It’s a historical novel, well-written, easy reading. I like the author, and I always enjoy the setting she creates, usually in England or France. Not great classical literature, but every once in a while it’s a light divergence from the norm.
- The Secret Gospel of Ireland by James Behan. This is basically a history of Christendom in Western Europe, beginning with Augustine. The author’s thesis is that Ireland saved Christianity in Europe. The historical detail is excellent, but he didn’t keep his thesis as a thread throughout the book. From what he described I could not reach the conclusion that he draws.
- Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian. If you know me at all, you know that I don’t often read devotionals or Christian books. I find them to be less theology, more navel-gazing, less law and gospel, more personality-driven. I prefer to study the Bible itself as the source of all biblical wisdom (funny how that works). This one we read with our small group from church. While it focused on Colossians, which I love, I found it to be pretty much personality-driven. Give me a book of the Bible and let’s discuss it instead!
- The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss. Hungry for more Rothfuss (while we await the next book in his fantastic Kingkiller Chronicles), I decided to read this short book that focuses on one character from the Kingkiller Chronicles, Auri. What a disappointment! This is no more than a very long character sketch. I think the author wanted to remind us that he’s around while we wait for his next book. Seems like he was playing with phrases and adjectives, because there is no dialogue, very little action, and lots of introspection.
- The Finisher by David Baldacci. I have enjoyed Baldacci’s novels of intrigue and mystery. This is a complete departure from his “usual” genre, a foray into fantasy for him. He writes with an entirely different voice and tone. Utterly delightful, this beautifully written novel drew me in from the very first page. Now I cannot wait for the follow-up novel, because this cries out for a sequel. The characters are fully developed, the story exquisite. Probably the best book I’ve read all year.
- Jubal Sackett by Louis Lamour. While driving through the mountains of Colorado last summer, our son had us listen to one of Lamour’s Sacket novels. I can’t remember the title, but it was just the right novel for the rugged landscape that passed outside our window. So my husband picked up the entire (very long) Sackett series and exclaimed how much he enjoyed it last year. While driving again, we listened to Jubal Sackett. I will definitely begin this series on my own, because I’m a Western girl who loves the tone and description of these stories.
On my 2015 list
More ambitious at the beginning of each year than toward the end, I’ll list the ones that intrigue me, and we’ll see if I can maintain this level of ambition.
- More of the Sackett series by Lamour, definitely. It’s best to start at the beginning, way back in the 1600s, I’m told.
- Jeff Shaara’s new Civil War series, beginning with A Blaze of Glory. I have already begin this one. I love all of his books, so I’m excited to pick up these books. (He has two out and intends one more in this series, which takes place earlier than his Gettysburg trilogy.)
- More Rutherfurd books, as I described above. Probably the next Ireland one, and then Paris. They are long tomes, and I can only do them with lots of other books in between.
- As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley. It comes out at the end of April, just in time for my birthday. Good planning, Bradley!
- Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
- Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks
- Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
- Miss Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
- The Home Place Carrie LeSeur
- The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz
- Heretic by Bernard Cornwell
- The Norsemen by Jason Born
- The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell
- The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
- When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kaye Penman
- The Three Edwards by Thomas B. Costain
Histories (This is where my ambition comes in. I would like to study more histories…)
- The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez
- A World Lit Only by Fire by William Manchester
- The Wars of the Roses and The Plantagenets by Dan Jones
- Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution by Peter Ackroyd
- Mysteries of the Middle Ages; How the Irish Saved Civilization; Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter; The Gifts of the Jews; Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus; Heretics and Heroes, all by Thomas Cahill
- The Venus Fixers by Ilaria Dagnini Brey; The Rape of Europe by Lynn H. Nicholas; Rose Valland: Resistance at the Museum by Corinne Bouchoux; Saving Italy by Robert M. Edsel; The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel (all these books have to do with the stories on which the movie The Monuments Men was based.
But wait! Look at this list that my son just sent! I have already read many on this list, but now I want to read several more and then travel to the English counties in which each was based! Behold The Stars
You can suggest more that might be intriguing. Let’s see how many of these I accomplish, or whether my ADD tendencies (Look! A bookstore!) cause me to wander into other titles through the year.