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?

A Carnation by Any Other Name

What’s an author to do when her book stubbornly refuses to fit easily into one genre? I think it’s safe to say that this is definitely the case for The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. Lauren posted on her website a few years ago about the marketing changes that Pink I went through before it hit the shelves for the first time. Originally, NAL wanted to market the book as chick lit, but they made a last-minute decision to drop that angle and concentrate more on the historical fiction aspect.

Off the top of my head, I would have called Pink I “historical fiction.” The other genres that seem to pop up most frequently are romance, suspense, mystery, and chick lit (or “women’s fiction” depending on your philosophical bent). Some people might say, “What does it matter? It’s just a good book!” But we just love to LABEL things, don’t we? If you are like me, it probably makes your little heart flutter to be able to put something in its appropriate box – to know where it belongs. I know I’m not alone here. If you take a look at Pink I on GoodReads, you’ll find a list that is 26 pages in length (not kidding – check it out) that shows how other readers have categorized it. You get everything from “dual-story” and “cultural>France” to “books going to college with me” and “holy historical fiction batman.” Readers love to categorize their books, even if those categories don’t make sense to anyone else.

With so many different genre angles to choose from, I can only imagine the struggle that the art department experienced trying to create a cover for Pink I. On that note, I’ve put together a little gallery of the different covers that have been considered or used for publication, both here in the US and abroad:

Pink Chick Lit first ed  mass market
 Original “chick lit” cover  US first edition  US mass market paperback
 large print  original uk  British pb
 US large print edition  Original UK cover  UK paperback cover
 german  turkish  japan
 German cover  Turkish cover  Japanese cover


Which cover is your favorite? And, if you were describing Pink I to a potential reader, how would you label it?

Bird with the Heart of a Mountain


Thanks to a GoodReads giveaway listed by Amazon Publishing, I had the chance to read Bird with the Heart of a Mountain by Barbara Mariconda.

Set in the 1930s in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, this is the story of a sixteen-year-old girl who loves flamenco. Drina lives with her mother’s gypsy people in Andalusia, but she is not accepted by them because her father, whose name Drina has never known, was Spanish. All that Drina can envision doing with her life is dancing, and she cannot understand why her mother tries to discourage her. When tragedy strikes, Drina puts her desire to dance on hold in order to take care of her mother, but the situation spirals so quickly out of control that Drina finds herself in an impossible situation – rejected by her mother’s clan and unable to find a place to call home while the country around her rages with a war she does not understand. Entirely by accident, Drina stumbles into a situation where she is united for the first time with her father. Suddenly, rather than feeling she has nowhere to go, Drina has several difficult choices to make. She can return to the gypsies, travel with her father to Barcelona to perform, pursue a grueling formal dance education in Sevilla, or go to her grandmother in Cadiz, where she will be loved and welcomed, but there will be no opportunity to dance.

Drina was a great protagonist. Mariconda does a great job walking the reader through Drina’s struggle with her identity. It’s really satisfying to watch her transform from the person who felt so much doubt and uncertainty in the beginning of the novel to a confidant woman who isn’t afraid to tell people that “I can no longer be half of who I am.”

This time period is not one that I’m very familiar with, but I thought Mariconda did a great job of giving readers enough background to understand what was happening without dragging us through a history lesson. You feel so much sympathy for the gypsies, who are nobody’s side in the war for the simple reason that nobody is on their side. They are attacked by Republicans and Nationalists, even though the majority of the gypsies don’t even understand who is fighting who or why. When Drina finds her father’s people, she sees that even among family, there can be division about which side is right and wrong. It’s unnerving to watch how quickly fear can turn friends, neighbors, and brothers against each other

I thought the most beautiful parts of the book were Mariconda’s descriptions of Drina dancing. I know absolutely nothing about flamenco, and I have no idea what any of the steps or movements would be called. The other characters talk about how Drina has the same “darkness” that her mother had, and the ability to bare her soul through her dancing. When Mariconda describes Drina’s movements, she also describes what inspires her, and that helps me to picture it more clearly. Here’s an example: “The music, raw and sharp. Rough, but smooth. I throw myself into it. Surrender. My heels hammer the floor like the roll of a machina. My head, I throw back. Arms become wings of a bird. I fly. Soar. The tocaor rakes his guitar. Slashes strings with furious fingers. I am here, but not here. There, the crack of castanets. I dance, sense my daj watching in the shadows… In my mind I see Marisol, then my father. My fingers curl and blossom like lilies. Chin up – Felipe. Down – Isabel. My body dips and swings with the Arroyos dangling from their balustrade… The threads of my heart, woven through the dance.”

I did feel like there were some loose ends left hanging when I finished the book. The primary reason that Drina runs away from her mother’s gypsy clan is to reclaim her mother’s baby. About a third of the way through the book, that plotline just drops away, and there is no resolution for it in the end. Also, Drina has two potential love interests in the book, and that situation is left unresolved. And I had to re-read the last few pages about three times before I understood what happened in the end of the book. I wonder if Mariconda is keeping a few things open-ended in order to write a sequel.

Overall, this was the best ARC I’ve won from GoodReads in the past few months.

Best of 2013

Looking back at everything I read in 2013, it’s hard to pick favorites.  There are obvious trends in my reading that I never noticed until I started shelving books on GoodReads.  I knew I liked historical fiction, but I had no idea how many historical mysteries I read until I saw the numbers.  Evidently I really gravitate towards those!  Also, I’ve discovered that the half-modern, half-historical mystery/adventure hybrid books that I could never find a name for do, in fact, have a genre.  They are evidently called timeslip novels.  So it seems to me that the easiest way to narrow down my best books of 2013 is to pick my favorite book from each of those 3 categories.


Historical Fiction: A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

From the publisher’s description, I was expecting a book about a spoiled little rich girl who is exiled to Kenya for bad behavior, and falls in love with a man who is different enough to make her settle down. I probably would have enjoyed that book. But what I actually got was SO much more, and so much better. Yes, Delilah starts off the spoiled little rich girl, but she is infinitely more complex than that. Every time I thought I had Delilah all figured out, I learned something that forced me to think again. Delilah is a walking contradiction, and it’s impossible to put any sort of label on her. This isn’t a trite story about a bad girl with a heart of gold. Delilah is damaged and difficult, and I hated her and loved her in turns.  I really enjoy a heroine who keeps me on my toes, and Delilah certainly delivered.

Deanna does a great job with her description of 1920s Kenya. She dips into a little of everything – politics, culture, the white “club” society, the tribal dynamics, and life on safari.  Loved it, cover to cover.

Historical Mystery: The Paris Affair by Teresa Grant

Picking up almost immediately where Grant’s previous book, Imperial Scandal left off, The Paris Affair drops Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch in the midst of post-Waterloo Paris, where political intrigue and danger abound. Grant doesn’t waste any time setting up her story. Before the end of the first chapter, Malcolm and Suzanne have blackmail, a hidden child, a foiled assassination plot, and a corpse on their hands.

One of Grant’s biggest assets as a writer is her ability to place you seamlessly into her setting.  She also has a gift for making her readers feel like they are participants in the story, working right alongside Suzanne and Malcolm. And on a more trivial note, good GRIEF do her dress descriptions make me wish I lived in the early 1800s.  Some of my favorite characters in the first and second books were back again, and I enjoyed watching Grant expand on their backgrounds, their relationships, and their hopes for the future.  My personal favorite, the incomparable Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan, is back in all her glory.  You don’t have to read the first two books in the series to enjoy this one, but I would recommend them simply because they’re great stories!

Timeslip: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

There are two stories at the heart of The Firebird. In the modern-day story, Nicola Marter is a woman who has the gift of psychometry. She can touch objects and see glimpses of people who owned them in the past. When Nicola touches the wooden figurine of the firebird, the tug of its past is so strong that she has an inadvertent vision of its history. This vision sets her off on a journey to discovery the truth about the firebird’s origins. Nicola also reaches out to Rob, a former flame whose power of psychometry is more practiced than her own, for help with her journey.

The historical story involves Anna, a child whose family is so entangled in Jacobite politics that, for her own safety, she is sent from home to an adopted family, to a convent in Ypres, to France, and eventually to Russia. As a child, Anna learns some hard lessons about who she can trust, and she grows into a young lady who is well-adjusted and well-mannered but guards her heart ferociously. When Anna meets Edmund O’Connor, she begins to wonder if she’s truly the good judge of people and their motives that she considers herself.

Kearsley is a fabulously talented writer.  I’m very particular (and sometimes unfairly judgmental) about books that have supernatural elements, but I enjoyed reading about psychometry. I found the concept interesting, and Kearsley’s way of moving between time periods felt fluid to me.  When I finished this book, I had the feeling that I can only describe as “book catharsis.”

Several of the other books I read in 2013 are worthy of an Honorable Mention (doesn’t THAT sound official?), but more on those later.  I’ll share two final things before I close for the day.  First, Joshilyn Jackson’s newest novel Someone Else’s Love Story is on sale for $1.99 today on both Kindle and Nook.  Let me tell you, that is a bargain.  As someone who already owns the hardcover, I might just buy the e-book too!  And lastly, I saw a good Buzzfeed book list today that got me excited about a few books that are coming to the big screen in 2014.  Gillian Flynn is on here TWICE.  I may have to read Gone Girl.

New Year, New Project

I’ve decided that 2014 will be the year I stop thinking and talking about writing a book blog and start actually writing it.

I love books.  I’ve done the math, and I will never live long enough to read all the books I want to read.  But I’m going to try anyway.  Thanks to GoodReads and their awesome yearly challenges, I read 100 books in 2012, and 100 again in 2013.  This year, I’m scaling back a bit to accommodate a new job and this new blogging thing.  So, in 2014, I’m set to read 85 books.  I love GoodReads challenges like this, because they appeal to my inner compulsive list-maker.  They also motivate me to put down the TV remote and pick up a book when I’m wondering if it’s a terrible decision to watch a fifth episode of Big Bang Theory.

What I’d like to do on this blog is talk about what I’m reading, author/book events I go to, books I’m excited about, and other reading-related topics as they come to me.  So tomorrow, my first “real” blog post (since I don’t know if you can count “Hey, I thought I’d write a blog!” as an informative post) will be about the best books I read in 2013.  As Flavia de Luce would say, “Yaroo!”  Let’s do this.