Top 10 Read in 2014
2014 was an interesting year in reading. According to my Goodreads reading challenge, I read 56 books. Many were read for the “Mysteries From Every State Challenge,” three (Carthage, Shutter Island, The Round House) made it to my top 10. The books are not in any particular order.
Moloka’i, Alan Brennert
This novel was so well written and so completely engrossing that I was surprised that it is Brennert’s debut as a novelist. Moloka’i tells the story of Rachel Kalama, a young girl in 1890s Hawaii who contracts leprosy and is exiled to the island that gives the book its title, where other sufferers of Hansen’s disease are sent to live out their lives in isolation.
Even though the topic is heartbreaking, the novel is uplifting; describing the triumph of the human spirit when faced with seemingly-insurmountable adversity. Despite being separated as a very young child from her family and being thrust into a world where most people have been thrown away by society, Rachel flourishes and shows the reader that life can be beautiful no matter the circumstances.
Rich description and truly stunning moments make this book an unforgettable historical novel.
The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt
I’m not a huge fan of the western genre, but this book was a great read. I loved the plot, the characters, and the dark humor. I also really enjoyed how a seemingly simple story belies a much deeper message and more complex plot that the reader initially perceives. I love books that surprise me and hit me with the unexpected and this book certainly delivers.
Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See , Juliann Garey
Juliann Garey takes the reader inside the mind of a successful studio executive afflicted with bipolar disorder, giving us a stark and intimate look at how a mind can begin to unravel and what happens when it does. The book takes the form of a memoir and is told in between sessions as the main character undergoes electroshock treatment. A powerful novel that leaves the reader with a deeper understanding of the fear, isolation, and sadness that accompanies mental illness.
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Mary Roach
Stiff is a book about what happens to bodies after death. No, it is not about the afterlife. Instead, this book takes a historic and clinical look at what physically happens to a cadaver and the experiments that have been performed on dead bodies for two thousand years in the name of science and knowledge. Far from morbid (even though it is not lacking in morbidity), I found this book fascinating. From using bodies as crash test dummies to medicinal cannibalism, this book was humorous and witty without being disrespectful.
Carthage: A Novel, Joyce Carol Oates
I am a huge JCO fan and this book lived up to my expectations. The novel centers on the upstate New York town of Carthage in 2005, when wounded war hero Brett Kinkaid returns to marry his longtime fiancé, Juliet Mayfield. But Brett is not the same young man the left for war. Brett’s experiences as a soldier and then as a wounded vet transform him. Even though Juliet plans to go on with the wedding, Brett feels misunderstood and isolated. Cressida, Juliet’s 19-year-old sister—a brilliant but immature young woman—, feels like she is the only one who comprehends what Brett is going through. One night, Cressida sneaks out and is last seen with Brett at a town bar. The next morning, she is missing and Brett is suspected of being involved in her disappearance. In her unique way, Oates weaves an unexpected story of the fallout subsequent to Cressida’s disappearance. It is a story that stays with the reader for a long time after finishing the book.
The Round House, Louise Erdrich
This was the first book I read by Erdrich, but I certainly want to read more. The Round House is set in the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. Covering issues from Native American rights to justice, rape and revenge, the novel is beautifully written and expertly told. Joe, the 13-year-old narrator, sees his world change completely after his mother, a tribal administrator, is savagely raped at the Round House, where tribal and federal law prohibit the prosecution of whites for crimes against Indians by tribal courts, no matter how depraved the actions. His mother’s attack awakens Joe to the injustices suffered by Native Americans and forces him to take revenge, despite the possible consequences.
Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane
This book was so good I wished I hadn’t seen the movie. Sorry, Leo. Set in Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane on a Shutter Island off the coast of Massachusetts, the novel, like the setting, makes the reader uneasy from the start. U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels and his new partner have been assigned to the case of a missing patient, Rachel Solando. Solando has disappeared from her room, and there are no clues to her disappearance. As Teddy and Chuck arrive on the island and begin to investigate, they realize that there is something not quite right about Ashcliffe and the island itself. Shortly after their arrival a hurricane blasts the island. Nobody can get out or communicate with the mainland, leaving Teddy and Chuck trapped and helpless amid hints of human experimentation and government secrets.
Lehane weaves a masterful tale full of suspense and mystery, where nothing is what it seems and the reader is kept wondering what is really going on in Ashecliffe and on Shutter Island.
A Dirty Job, Christopher Moore
A Dirty Job is lighthearted book about death and dying. Charlie Asher lives with his pregnant wife in an apartment over a thrift shop that he owns in San Francisco. Charlie is generally satisfied with his life. A regular guy, his fortune takes a dark turn the day his wife, Rachel, gives birth to their first child and dies shortly after. Charlie is left to raise his daughter with the help of his eccentric sister and two elderly neighbors. As people start dying all around him Charlie is dismayed to learn that, for some reason, the universe has picked him for a new job: Death.
Hilarious and well written, I thoroughly enjoyed Christopher Moore’s A Dirty Job. Intelligent, satirical, and well crafted, the story pulls the reader in, despite the outlandish premise. Both the main and supporting characters are comical, entertaining, and especially endearing. Everyone in the book appears to be a little tragic, but they are presented in such a comical way that many end up being unforgettable.
Blindness, José Saramago
Blindness was a disturbing novel that has stayed with me for months. I did not enjoy reading it, but I will never forget it. Saramago’s novel begins when the residents of a city are struck by a sudden epidemic of blindness. Suspecting that whatever is causing the blindness is contagious, the first victims are rounded up and taken to an asylum where they are to be quarantined and left to their own devices. The main characters in the book are among the early arrivals to the asylum, including an eye doctor, a few of his patients and others. The doctor’s wife is the only one who retained her sight, but as society within and outside the walls of the asylum breaks down, she decides not to reveal her secret and enters the asylum with her husband. The novel paints an unflinching and discouraging picture of how thoroughly a society can break down when its members lack something indispensable, like sight. Scary, scary…but I couldn’t put it down.
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
There’s a fine line between pompous and intelligent. While many think Tartt treads this line, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It also made me really look at the painting by Carel Fabritius that gives the novel its title. I don’t think I will ever look at it the same way again.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this book is smart, interesting, and very emotional. Caught in an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum that kills his mother, Theo Decker steals the painting and hides it. After being left essentially an orphan, Theo’s life takes unexpected twists, all of which can be somehow traced back to the painting and his taking it from the museum the day his mother died. Lyrical and touching, The Goldfinch is a book that wraps you up in its carefully-crafted atmosphere and doesn’t let go.