Favorite Books of 2014

Favorite Books of 2014I had a really difficult time picking my favorite books this year, so I eventually settled on picking the books I most highly recommend to others, or the ones wish I could still experience for the first time. And because picking was so difficult, I added some runner-ups.

(Links go to my reviews if I’ve written one, Amazon if I haven’t yet)

Velma Still Cooks in LeewayVelma Still Cooks in Leeway by Vinita Hampton Wright

If I had to pick one single favorite book of the year, it would probably be this one. I think I need to reread this one next year, just so I can more fully appreciate the way she wove this story together.

A Tree Grows in BrooklynA Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I was convinced this book would be boring. I was wrong.

Crossing to SafetyCrossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Surprised myself by liking this one as much as I did, and describing it does not do it justice. Wonderful characters who stay with you long after you’ve finished reading the book.

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing GoodBurnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Midwest Family by Kathleen Flinn

I’ve loved Flinn’s other books, and loved how this one brought to life her family’s stories, and led into the events in her first book. Did I like it more because I now live in the Midwest? Possibly, but I don’t think that was the only appeal.

Mastering the Art of French EatingMastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris by Ann Mah

Armchair traveling at its best. Mah allowed me to come along with her as she spent a year in Paris and traveled throughout France experiencing it’s most iconic food. Prepare to be hungry as you read it.

Buried in the SkyBuried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2′s Deadliest Day by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan

The focus on the Sherpas is what makes this book so wonderfully fascinating. If you’ve liked other Everest accounts, don’t miss this one, with its unique perspective on the events of that deadly climbing season.

The Queen of AttoliaThe Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner, from The Queen’s Thief series

I’ve been holding off on reading book #4, because then I won’t have another one to look forward to for the forseeable future. And that’s a very sad thing.

CressCress by Marissa Meyer, from the Lunar Chronicles series

Can’t wait to read the final two in this series!

Etiquette and EspionageEtiquette &Espionage, Curtsies & ConspiraciesCurtsies & Conspiracies (Finishing School Book 2) by Gail Carriger, and Waistcoats & WeaponryWaistcoats & Weaponry (Finishing School #3) by Gail Carriger by Gail Carriger, from the Finishing School series

Super fun series, although book #3 took a more serious turn that I wasn’t completely expecting. The final book come out next year.

The Runner-Ups

Parnassus on WheelsParnassus On WheelsParnassus On Wheels by Christopher Morley by Christopher Morley

Another one where the descriptions don’t convey how enjoyable the book is. Sweet and gentle and very easy to read. I only just read it last week, which is why I hesitate to say that it would have the staying power to be a favorite for the year. I may regret not including it.

The Mislaid MagicianThe Mislaid Magician by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer, from the Cecelia and Kate series

Epistolary + fantasy + historical fiction = my kind of fun.

Women Heroes of World War IWomen Heroes of World War I: 16 Remarkable Resisters, Soldiers, Spies, and Medics and Women Heroes of WWII: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue both by Kathryn Atwood

If you like one you’ll like the other, and if you’re at all interested in brief biographical accounts of fascinating individuals, you should give these a try.

Eiffel's TowerEiffel’s Tower: The Thrilling Story Behind Paris’s Beloved Monument and the Extraordinary World’s Fair That Introduced It by Jill Jonnes

I’m already second-guessing myself for not including it above, but I think it just misses out on being a “must recommend to everyone I know” type book. It really was a great book though.

The Professor and the MadmanThe Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

Like the Eiffel’s Tower book, this is another fascinating look at a small slice of history. I loved it.

The Night Circus
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Another one I may need to reread, to see what clues the author drops throughout the text as to what will be happening later.

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A Scholar of Magic

A Scholar of MagicsA Scholar of MagicsA Scholar of Magics (A College of Magics) by Caroline Stevermer by Caroline Stevermer

I had a lot of complaints about Stevermer’s book College of Magics, and yet still wanted to see where the story went so I had to read the follow-up title.

That ended up being not the best reason to read this one though – there is actually very little plot connection between the two books. Jane, a supporting character in the first book (and one of my favorites) plays a very prominent role in this one, and I loved that. The main character from the previous book appears only briefly, and I found I didn’t miss her at all, thanks to Jane and Lambert.

I enjoyed this one more, maybe because I liked the characters more, but maybe because my expectations for what the book would be were more in line with what it actually was. It’s a crazy tale in an alternate England, where magic plays a role but somehow still isn’t the predominant element in the story. [Read more…]

The Mislaid Magician

The Mislaid MagicianThe Mislaid Magician: or Ten Years AfterThe Mislaid Magician: or Ten Years After (The Cecelia and Kate Novels, 3) by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

The final book in the Cecelia and Kate trilogy that begins with Sorcery and Cecelia, and continues with The Grand Tour.

I am a huge fan of this series, and hesitated to read this one for quite awhile as I was so scared that the book wouldn’t live up to my hopes for it. Book one was so good, and book two didn’t quite match it. How would book three fare?

What I didn’t like so much about the second book is that Cecelia and Kate are together, so the epistolary format seems much more contrived. They’re writing in their journals, or writing an account of events for the authorities. In book one they’re writing to each other, and their voices are much more believable in that sort of structure than the other.

Happily, in book three they’re separated, so they’re writing each other again. New this time is that their husbands are also writing letters to each other. That’s one weakness of the book – their voices aren’t that distinctive, and their writing style didn’t feel “right” for them in the same way it does for Cecelia and Kate.

No matter, I still enjoyed the book tremendously. If you’ve read and enjoyed the previous books, please do read this one – it’s fun to meet back up with them both ten years later. I would highly recommend reading the other books first however – you’ll spoil yourself for events in them, and also miss out on getting to know the characters.

Publisher’s Description:
Now married with children, Cecelia and Kate must face a threat to the wizarding world

It’s been a decade since Kate and Cecelia foiled Napoleon’s plot to reclaim the French crown. The cousins now have estates, children, and a place at the height of wizarding society. It is 1828, and though magic remains at the heart of the British Empire, a new power has begun to make itself felt across England: the steam engine. As iron tracks crisscross the countryside, the shaking of the locomotives begins to disrupt the workings of English magic, threatening the very foundations of the Empire. A foreign wizard on a diplomatic mission to England vanishes, and the Prime Minister sends Cecelia’s husband to investigate. In order to accompany her husband to the north of England, Cecelia leaves her children in Kate’s care. As Cecelia and James fight for the future of magic, Kate is left with a no less daunting problem: how to care for a gaggle of disobedient, spell-casting tots.

Book Details

Title: The Mislaid Magician: or Ten Years AfterThe Mislaid Magician: or Ten Years After (The Cecelia and Kate Novels, 3) by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer
Author: Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer
Category: Fiction / Fantasy
My Rating: 4 Stars

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Twitterature: Recent Re-reads

recent reads, twitterature-style

For various reasons, I’ve reread several books recently. I wrote full reviews of two of those re-reads (Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate PotSorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (The Cecelia and Kate Novels, 1) by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer and The Grand Tour: or the Purloined Coronation RegaliaThe Grand Tour: or the Purloined Coronation Regalia (The Cecelia and Kate Novels, 2) by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer), but the others are getting highlighted here:

Garlic and SapphiresGarlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in DisguiseGarlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl. Day 31 of 31 Days of Great Nonfiction Books / Great Nonfiction Reads by Ruth Reichl

Why did I reread it? It was book club pick’s for October, and I wanted to refresh my memory on the specifics.

How was it as a reread? Excellent.

Our Only May AmeliaOur Only May AmeliaOur Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm by Jennifer L. Holm

Why did I reread it? Trying it as an audio book.

How was it as a reread? Terrific – and it worked really well as an audio book. Highly recommended! Although I have some cautions if you’re considering it for your children – sensitive readers beware. (It’s still a great book, and I’ll spoil events if I explain more.)

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieThe Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce NovelThe Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley by Alan Bradley

Why did I reread it? Book club’s December pick, and I read it so long ago that I’m a bit shaky on the details.

How was it as a reread? Great, and I listened to the first quarter or so, before having to return the audio book. It was a wonderful audio book with a fantastic reader!

Murder in the MaraisMurder in the Marais: An Aimee Leduc Investigation, Vol. 1Murder in the Marais: An Aimee Leduc Investigation, Vol. 1 by Cara Black by Cara Black

Why did I reread it? Trying again for a novel set in Paris. Not a fan.

How was it as a reread? I shouldn’t have bothered, or stuck with it.

Simple Scrubs to Make and GiveSimple Scrubs to Make and and Give by Stacy Karen

Why did I reread it? Skimmed it as I got ready to write about a package deal of which it’s part.

How was it as a reread? Fine – it’s hard to get as excited about a nonfiction book like this one, but I do like it and think it’s got good information.

For more peeks at what people are reading, head over to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s link-up!

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A College of Magics

A College of MagicsA College of MagicsA College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer by Caroline Stevermer

If you pick this book up and fall for the cover blurb – touting the book as “a large step up from Harry Potter,” it may lead you to believe the book will be different than it is. There really isn’t much to compare the two books, other than the broadest of outlines, and thinking you’ll get a book with the general feel of Harry Potter is a recipe for disappointment. All I can imagine is that the publishers were trying to grab any part of that audience possible, in any way possible.

So, why did they even attempt that ridiculous ploy? Well, it’s a fantasy book. There is magic, and a boarding school, and an orphaned main character. Beyond that however, I have no clue (other than that tempting built-in audience they couldn’t resist).

These complaints may make it seem like I hated the book, and I didn’t. It’s just so wildly mis-targeted as a Harry Potter readalike. In the Potter books, the school itself almost becomes another character, it’s such an important location. You become a part of the schooling the characters are undergoing. In Stevermer’s book, the school is only a small part of the story (almost 3 years are covered in maybe half of the book), and then the main character leaves, never to return. Classes are not mentioned, and other than a general “they had a lot of work to do” it’s all ignored in favor of other details.

There’s a sequel, A Scholar of MagicsA Scholar of Magics (A College of Magics) by Caroline Stevermer, and I would like to read it, to see where Stevermer goes with the story. I generally like alternative history/fantasy mish-mashes, so the setting and time frame worked for me. I’m hoping the plotting improves, as it was a major weakness, but it’s a quick enough read that I don’t mind spending some time on the second book.

Not recommended, unless you’re a die-hard fantasy fan, especially ones that are set in imaginary European countries in a vaguely Regency time period. Maybe book 2 will blow me away enough that I’ll revise this to slightly recommend it if only so you can read and appreciate the sequel, but we’ll have to see about that.

Find the book: Print | Kindle | Goodreads

Publisher’s Description:
Teenager Faris Nallaneen is the heir to the small northern dukedom of Galazon. Too young still to claim her title, her despotic Uncle Brinker has ruled in her place. Now he demands she be sent to Greenlaw College. For her benefit he insists. To keep me out of the way, more like it!

But Greenlaw is not just any school-as Faris and her new best friend Jane discover. At Greenlaw students major in . . . magic.

But it’s not all fun and games. When Faris makes an enemy of classmate Menary of Aravill, life could get downright . . . deadly.

Book Details

Title: A College of MagicsA College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer
Author: Caroline Stevermer
Category: Fiction / Fantasy
My Rating: 2.5 Stars

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The Grand Tour (Kate and Cecelia #2)

The Grand TourThe Grand Tour: or the Purloined Coronation Regalia (The Cecelia and Kate Novels, 2)The Grand Tour: or the Purloined Coronation Regalia (The Cecelia and Kate Novels, 2) by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Another re-read, to refresh my memory before reading the final book in the series. When I read it the first time, I loved it almost as much as book one, Sorcery and Cecelia. This time, I felt it didn’t measure up quite as strongly next to the series introduction.

Much of that may simply have been timing – I read them back to back, and what seemed so fresh and inventive in book one was less so the second time around. Perhaps I’ve also become a more discerning reader though, and could recognize some of the structural limitations of the format. In book one the main characters are separated, and they tell the story through letters to each other. In this book, they’re journeying together, and the narrative is related through journal entries and a written testimony after the fact. It doesn’t work quite as well as the back-and-forth letters.

However, if you liked book one, I do think it’s fun to continue their story, and I’m still looking forward to reading the third book. I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read the first, which I highly recommend to fantasy fans.

Publisher’s Description:
Kate and Cecy and their new husbands, Thomas and James, are off on a Grand Tour. Their plans? To leisurely travel about the Continent, take in a few antiquities, and–of course–purchase fabulous Parisian wardrobes.

But once they arrive in France, mysterious things start to happen. Cecy receives a package containing a lost coronation treasure, Thomas’s valet is assaulted, and Kate loses a glove. Soon it becomes clear that they have stumbled upon a dastardly, magical plot to take over Europe.

Now the four newlyweds must embark on a daring chase to thwart the evil conspiracy. And there’s no telling the trouble they’ll get into along the way. For when you mix Kate and Cecy and magic, you never know what’s going to happen next!

Book Details

Title: The Grand Tour: or the Purloined Coronation Regalia (The Cecelia and Kate Novels, 2)The Grand Tour: or the Purloined Coronation Regalia (The Cecelia and Kate Novels, 2) by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Author: Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Category: Fiction / Fantasy
My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Sorcery and Cecelia

Sorcery and CeceliaSorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate PotSorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

This is not a new read for me – I first read it in 2005, but I reread it this month as I’m finally going to read the third book in the series and wanted to refresh my memory as to events in books one and two.

Plus, I just love the book that much. I even own my own copies of the books, and considering how rare that is for fiction books, that’s saying something.

I think I’ve mentioned before my love – maybe even an obsession – with epistolary books. This has that. It’s historical fiction which I love, set in 1817 England. It’s also a fantasy tale – this Regency England includes sorcery and wizards and spells. The beginning of the book is fantastic too, with a seemingly ordinary historical book and then suddenly there’s a mention of a Wizard and you realize this is NOT just another historical tale.

My copy of the book includes some details at the end of how the book was created, and I enjoyed that tremendously, so don’t skip reading that if it’s included in a copy you read. The dual author format work so well here, as each author takes on the letter-writing of one of the main characters (Kate and Cecelia), and I especially enjoyed noting differences in voice and personality as they came through in the letters.

Highly recommended, if it at all sounds appealing to you (i.e., if you loathe fantasy and think it sounds ridiculously silly, don’t feel compelled to push past your reservations). It’s technically a YA book, but this definitely-not-in-that-age-group reader found it compelling and interesting enough to be enjoyable no matter the target age range.

Publisher’s Description:
Two girls contend with sorcery in England’s Regency age
Since they were children, cousins Kate and Cecelia have been inseparable. But in 1817, as they approach adulthood, their families force them to spend a summer apart. As Cecelia fights boredom in her small country town, Kate visits London to mingle with the brightest lights of English society.

At the initiation of a powerful magician into the Royal College of Wizards, Kate finds herself alone with a mysterious witch who offers her a sip from a chocolate pot. When Kate refuses the drink, the chocolate burns through her dress and the witch disappears. It seems that strange forces are convening to destroy a beloved wizard, and only Kate and Cecelia can stop the plot. But for two girls who have to contend with the pressures of choosing dresses and beaux for their debuts, deadly magic is only one of their concerns.

Book Details

Title: Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate PotSorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Author: Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Category: Fiction / Fantasy
My Rating: 5 Stars

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!