Top Five Friday: Best Books of 2014

I only get to sneak my “Top Five Friday” posts in occasionally these days, since the Pink for All Seasons recaps generally happen on Fridays. But I finished my GoodReads 2014 Challenge on Wednesday (with only hours to spare), so I’ve been thinking about all the books I read in 2014.

Do you use GoodReads? If you do, it’s fun to look at your stats about what you read. I know that I read 85 books in 2014, but GoodReads tells me that I read a total of 26,865 pages. Of all the books I read, I rated seven books as 5 stars and also seven as 2 stars. No books in 2014 got a 1 star rating – how excellent. The vast majority of the books I read were mysteries, and then several of my other categories (like books about India, fairy-tale inspired books, and nonfiction) were tied for second place. The majority of the books I read were published after 2000, and the oldest book I read was Around the World in Eighty Days (published in 1873). Maybe it’s nerdy of me to think that’s interesting, but I definitely do!

Looking back over everything I’ve read this year, I’ve come up with my Top Five list for 2014 reads. I’m excluding everything written by Lauren Willig, since I cover that pretty extensively in Pink for All Seasons. Here they are!

thousand stars 1. Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn. Don’t get me wrong or come after me with your torch and pitchforks. I love Lady Julia, but Deanna’s standalone novels from 2013 and 2014 are what put her on my list of favorite authors. A Spear of Summer Grass made my 2013 list, and she’s absolutely at the top of this year with Night of a Thousand Stars. Deanna has a gift for hooking you with her first lines. This story is no exception. Have a look: “I say, if you’re running away from your wedding, you’re going about it quite wrong.” When we meet Poppy, our heroine, for the first time, she is literally paused with one leg over a window sill in the process of bolting from her wedding. I loved this book. Poppy was funny and spunky, the setting was exotic, the mystery had a great pace, and Deanna’s storytelling is absolutely on point. I gulped this book down in two sittings and loved every page of it. Yes, it has connections to the Lady Julia series and also to A Spear of Summer Grass and City of Jasmine, but you can read this one and still thoroughly enjoy it without having read the others.
 every secret 2. Every Secret Thing by Susanna Kearsley (writing as Emma Cole). This book is different from Susanna’s projects of the last few years. Kate Murray is a journalist who is covering a high-profile court case when she witnesses a terrible accident. A stranger is hit by a car and killed only moments after he tells her that he has a story she could research – a story that stretches back to World War II and a killer who has managed to hide his crimes for decades. As Kate begins to trace the stranger’s past, she finds an unexpected connection to her own family, and she realizes that she is placing both the people who are close to her and the people who can help her in serious danger. The story flickers between Kate’s research in the present day and flashbacks to the 1940s in Canada, the US, UK and Lisbon. I really enjoy stories about World War II, but somehow this one hit me on an extremely personal level. The mystery was excellent (I did NOT see the end coming), the period detail is flawless, and if you are a fan of Mary Stewart novels, you will really appreciate this one.
 cress 3. Cress by Marissa Meyer. This is the third book in Marissa’s Lunar Chronicles series that began in 2012 with Cinder. In the Lunar Chronicles, Marissa creates a futuristic world where the citizens of Earth have been brought to the brink of war by a devastating plague, the threat of invasion from the Lunars (who live on the moon), and a tangle of international and intergalactic politics. Cress is a Rapunzel story, but instead of a beautiful princess locked in a tower by a witch, we have a young girl trapped in a satellite orbiting earth by an evil queen. Cress has been watching the situation between Earth and Luna deteriorate for years, and with nothing but computers and television for company, she has grown sympathetic to Earth’s cause. When an opportunity comes to be rescued from her satellite, she jumps at it, although she learns quickly that Earth is not the welcoming sanctuary it has always appeared from several thousand miles away. In this book, Marissa does a great job of bringing together several different plot lines she created earlier in the series, and I cannot wait to see how she will move the story forward. Cress stood out to me as the best in the series so far, and I feel like Marissa is preparing us for an unbelievable ride in Winter (due to be released in November 2015).
 Princess 4. A Princess Remembers by Gayatri Devi. In this book, Gayatri tells the story of her life in India, and it is fascinating. She lived in a time of unbelievable change – the India from the days of her childhood is so incredibly different from the India she knew as an adult. She grew up as the daughter of a Maharaja and became the third wife of the Maharaja of Jaipur after a secret six-year courtship. She was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, and she was the last Maharani that Jaipur would ever see. After Partition, Gayatri Devi ran for Parliament in 1962. She won her seat by the largest landslide in the history of democratic elections, confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records. Her story is fascinating, and her descriptions of both day-to-day life and political events are wonderful. I don’t read many memoirs or biographies, but this one was wonderful.
 fortune2 5. The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin. This story is based on true events from the lives of Charlotte Baird, Bay Middleton, and Empress Elizabeth of Austria. It’s a great period piece, and it will satisfy that part of your soul that wants to watch Downton Abbey and drink tea in your pajamas all day. I wrote a full review for NetGalley back in May, if you want more details.

 

So there you have it – my favorite books from 2014. What were the best books you read last year?

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14 thoughts on “Top Five Friday: Best Books of 2014

  1. I value this list and your book reviews and opinions. I have Night of a Thousand Stars that I am excited to read! I am going to a add The fortune Hunter to my wish list along with the Lunar Chronicles series. Actually, I think I will end up adding all of these to my want to read list. 🙂

    I have to look at my Goodreads stats. I think they may make me feel a bit dopey. I have to still make some more organized shelves there. I hope to get some more reading done this year. I do think that I read some very enjoyable books this year. I loved every Lauren Willig book I read, whether it was a re-read or one of her newly published books. I am passionate about the Pink series, and Midnight Manzanilla was so good. That Summer was brilliant.

    I have a difficult time rating books, but I am going to try to be better about it this year. I have difficulty quantifying my total experience reading a book and I tend to sum it up in my mind ultimately with how it made me feel; I am not very academic or analytical, at least on paper. Which leads into one of my resolutions/goals for the year of trying to write more reviews because I believe it helps authors. But writing reviews terrifies me. I feel very inadequate for the task and I am afraid that I can’t do justice to most books or convey how fantastic some of them are.

    Among the books I really liked this year that weren’t Lauren Willig’s were Vienna Waltz, The Rebel Pirate, and Pirates and Prejudice. I just finished Jude Deveraux’s Change Of Heart and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was probably one of my favorite books of the year, admittedly mainly for sentimental personal preference. It was a story that she expanded from a novella she wrote in the past and added to it with the characters of some early teens now being in their twenties. It also combined her beloved Montgomery/ Taggert series with her more recent Edilean series. It was full of the fantastical daydreamy things that readers either love or despise and call “unrealistic.” I don’t know how it would read for anyone not already familiar with those worlds, although it is written as a standalone, but I ate it up. Like, sometimes I want a story where the hero shows up in a helicopter at the leading lady’s house singing. (that does not happen, btw) I also enjoy her writing style. The ending was perfection, particularly having read the original novella.

    I will try to be more aware and keep better track so I can recall better for next year’s accounting.

  2. Congratulations on reaching your goal, Ashley! Since connecting with your blog, I have been watching your reading percentage – awesome! I recently signed up with Goodreads, and my daughter encouraged me to start setting up shelves when she was visiting for the holidays. I just set my own challenge for 2015, so will be looking forward to watching my progress this year.

    I have been keeping my own personal log of books since 2004 (gosh, it’s hard to believe I’ve been doing it for ten years!), so I went back through and selected my favorites, although it was hard to narrow it down to five. I guess that’s because I have several favorite authors and usually am not disappointed in their books. Just as you and Paige stated, this list will exclude Lauren’s books.

    I discovered Susanna Kearsley this year and have loved all 4 of hers that I have read – Shadowy Horses, The Winter Sea, and The Firebird, which all have somewhat of a connection, but especially the last two with the Scottish Jacobite struggle, coincidentally part of Crimson Rose. I love that her books have taken me to Scotland, England, and Russia. Mariana is the 4th Kearsley book and had an intense reincarnation plot. These were all excellent!

    The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen was a favorite. She writes regency romance/historical that usually have some kind of twist or mystery involved. I always get so involved with her characters.

    Syrie James has become a favorite author of mine over the past few years, and I read Jane Austen’s First Love which is so true to Austen style.

    I have to include Mary Balogh, as I am deep into her survivor’s club series dealing with survivors of the Peninsula Wars between England and Portugal. The Escape and Only Enchanting were both released in 2014 – there are 3 more to go. Her main characters in this series have each suffered a trauma and are trying to make their way back to leading a normal life.

    I’ll just mention one more, since I grouped several by author above. All the Queen’s Players by Jane Feather was a surprise find that I thoroughly enjoyed. It begins with the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and then flashes back about 9 months to bring together all the “players”.

    I would rate all of these books a 5, but I tend to lean toward historical, and all of these books deeply involved me emotionally. Thanks, again, Ashley for maintaining this blog and sharing so much. Happy New Year!

  3. I just read Night of a Thousand Stars last week and it was fantastic! I enjoyed the Lady Julia books but I really think Deanna Raybourn’s standalone novels are better. City of Jasmine is another one of hers that was released in 2014 and it was also fabulous.

    Another favorite author of mine is Beatriz Williams and her latest, The Secret Life of Violet Grant, was great. She also writes romance novels as Juliana Grey and those are so much fun.

    I have enjoyed every one of Susanna Kearsley’s books, but this year’s release (which was a re-release) was a tad disappointing. It was Splendour Falls, which I had really been looking forward to, but wasn’t quite up to the standard of her newer books. I do have to agree that Every Secret Thing is her best. I really hope she writes more like that one.

    Finally, I love everything Lauren Willig writes. Both The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla and That Summer were great! I’m sad that the Pink Carnation series is ending, but I’ve really been enjoying her standalone books as well.

    • Christine – I’m starting The Splendour Falls soon. Sorry to hear it didn’t quite live up to her others! It is one of her older books, just republished this year in the US by Sourcebooks. I think it’s similar to “The Splendour Falls” in that way. I’ll let you know what I think!

      • Okay, I am going to state the clearly obvious but without fail everyone who reads and enjoys books mentions Susanna Kearsley, Deanna Raybourne, and Beatriz Williams, in addition to our beloved Lauren Willig, right?! I know there are a couple of other current authors that I could include, but it seems like people who love stories and words and language all read and enjoy these same authors; they are who the authors I like read. I am not getting that out quite right. I hope it makes sense. It catches my attention and makes me want to read their books! I consider you all to have excellent taste and recommendations! I have Splendour Falls on my kindle to read, but may not get to it for awhile.

      • Paige, I’ve noticed this about Pink fans too! I’ve only read “A Hundred Summers” and “A Lady Never Lies” by Beatriz Williams. What would you recommend next – “The Secret Life of Violet Grant” or “Overseas?”

    • Betty, I have read a few Mary Balogh and a few Syrie James – I enjoyed both. I think the Peninsular War is a really interesting setting – what is the name of the series you’re reading?

      • Mary Balogh’s Survivor’s Club is her current series about survivors of the Peninsular Wars – 6 men and 1 woman who have met at the estate of the Duke of Stanbrook who has offered his home for their recovery. Each survivor’s situation is explained in the first book, The Proposal, which is really Hugo’s story. Mary inserted a short e-book, The Suitor, as a prequel to the second book, The Arrangement, Vincent’s story. The next 2 were released last year, and I waited to read both when the 2nd was released in October – those would be book 3, The Escape, Ralph’s story, and Only Enchanting, Flavian’s story. I love Mary’s ability to work with flawed characters and get the reader emotionally involved. Can’t wait for the last 3 to be released – there may be two in 2015, as Mary changed publishers last fall.

    • I don’t know! 🙂 I think that probably A Knight In Shining Armour is the book that is the one most people seem to like. It is an older one and there is a time travel element to it.

  4. Paige – I understand exactly what you mean! I like to read those same authors, and a few others, over and over again because, in addition to liking the genre they all write, I know what I’m going to get from them. Even a book by any of them that’s disappointing is at least 3/5 stars. I think part of my issue with Splendour Falls is that I had set the bar pretty high and had been waiting several years for the re-release.

    I don’t have a ton of time to read so I don’t like taking gambles on books that are just going to be a waste of time in the end (I hate giving up part of the way through a book(. That happened several times this year – I absolutely HATED “Life After Life” but read it all the way through and had to give up on the newest Outlander about 50 pages in (I keep going back to that series out of loyalty to what it was once but the last few have just sucked). I was also really disappointed in the last book of the Discovery of Witches trilogy but I keep trying to justify that one in my head because I loved the first one so much (the second one was ok but not as good as the first).

    The other authors that are always on my to-read list are Anna Lee Huber, Tracy Grant, Kate Morton and Lucinda Riley (though I didn’t like the first one I read of hers, but I kept going back anyway and I was glad I did). I’m also looking forward to more Bee Ridgway because her “River of No Return” was fantastic.

    • Christine, what are you favorite Lucinda Riley books? I started “Midnight Rose” last year and had to put it down. I love books about India, so that really surprised me. I enjoyed “The Girl on the Cliff,” and I thought “The Lavendar Garden” was good. Do you have a favorite of hers?

      • I actually skipped “Midnight Rose” because I usually don’t like books about India haha. I also loved “The Girl on the Cliff” and liked “The Lavender Garden.” “The Orchid House” was the one I found disappointing, though I can’t remember quite why. It was a couple of years ago. I think those are actually all her books that have been released, but I’m really looking forward to “The Seven Sisters.”

        In response to your Beatriz Williams question above (I can’t seem to respond directly to it), I’ve found that her books have gotten progressively better, though I’m separating the Williams track from the Gray track. Overseas was good, A Hundred Summers was better, and Violet Grant was better than that, but I enjoyed them all. I don’t think you can really compare the Williams books to the Gray ones. I liked all her Gray books as well, but I liked the first trilogy better than the second.

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