My Favorite Books 2014

by Sue Heraper, Teacher Librarian, Newbury Park High School

I read 90 books in 2014. Here are my Top 10 YA Fiction, Top 10 Adult Fiction, and Top 3 Non-Fiction, in the order that I read them. I hope that you enjoy them too.

Young Adult Fiction

"The Living" by Matt de la Pena

  • Published: November, 2013
  • Read: February, 2014
  • What: A survival story with plenty of action and an over-the-top plot.
  • What happens: Shy Espinoza is 11 days into his summer job on a luxury cruise line when “the Big One” hits California, hurling massive tsunamis into the ocean. Shy and an unexpected companion are forced to survive in churning, shark-infested waters. The book’s final act involves a conspiracy plot upon a mysterious island.
  • Why I liked it: It's a harrowing, exhilarating ride right up to the cliffhanger ending (a sequel is due May 2015). I loved the novel because it is both a fast-paced page-turner and character-driven literary novel.

"Threatened" by Eliot Schrefer

  • A 2014 National Book Award Finalist
  • Published: February, 2014
  • Read: April, 2014
  • What: An exciting adventure story that offers a poignant demonstration of the connection between chimpanzees and humans.
  • What happens: Luc, a 13-year-old orphan and debt slave, is hired by Prof, and the two venture into the Gabon jungle to study the chimpanzees that dwell within. When tragedy strikes, Luc is left alone, forced to survive by any means necessary. Forging a tentative truce with a small family of chimpanzees, he ekes out a desperate existence.
  • Why I liked it: The setting is vividly portrayed, the action is nonstop, and Luc is a captivating character. I enjoyed it as much as the author's earlier novel, Endangered, which focuses on bonobos in the Congo.

"Son of Fortune" by Victoria McKernan

  • Sequel to The Devil’s Paintbox (2009). It can be read as a stand-alone novel.
  • Published: November, 2013
  • Read: April, 2014
  • What: A beautifully written historical novel about a young man tested by ethical and moral dilemmas.
  • What happens: In mid-1860s San Francisco, sixteen-year-old Aiden gains a hoped-for chance at a change in fortune when he wins a ship in a poker game, but soon he is involved in Peru's savage guano trade and the exploitation of its Chinese workers.
  • Why I liked it: The novel has vivid descriptions of life in San Francisco and on the island, strong characterizations, and a forbidden interracial romance.

"Sunrise" by Mike Mullin

  • Final book in a trilogy. Read Ashfall (2011) and Ashen Winter (2012) first.
  • Published: April, 2014
  • Read: May, 2014
  • What: A coming-of-age survival story about hope and love.
  • What happens: Alex and Darla still have a strong bond as they fight for survival in a post-apocalyptic world. Although there are times of peace, potential catastrophe always looms, and heart-pounding scenes include violence, torture, and cannibalism.
  • Why I liked it: This final novel in the Ashfall trilogy is a satisfying wrap-up, and just as absorbing and difficult to put down as its predecessors.

"The Forever Song" by Julie Kagawa

  • Final book in a trilogy. Read The Immortal Rules (2012) and The Eternity Cure (2013) first.
  • Published: April, 2014
  • Read: May, 2014
  • What: A skillful blend of supernatural action, romance, and questions of morality.
  • What happens: Allie struggles to come to terms with Zeke's death and resurrection as her vampire family heads to the human city of Eden, where they must kill evil vampire Sarren to prevent him from unleashing a mutated virus that will end all life on earth.
  • Why I liked it: I was compelled to keep reading by the heart-pounding action and the cliffhanger chapter endings. A satisfying conclusion to the thrilling Blood of Eden trilogy.

"Midwinterblood" by Marcus Sedgwick

  • Winner of the Printz Award (2014)
  • Published: October, 2011
  • Read: July, 2014
  • What: A dark literary tale composed of seven linked vignettes that unfold on a Scandinavian island inhabited--throughout various time periods--by Vikings, vampires, ghosts, and a curiously powerful plant.
  • What happens:This is the story of Eric and Merle, whose souls have been searching for each other since their untimely parting centuries ago.
  • Why I liked it: The story is beautifully crafted, the prose is evocative, and the concept is imaginative.

"Talon" by Julie Kagawa

  • The first in a series
  • Published: October, 2014
  • Read: August, 2014
  • What: A contemporary star-crossed romantic fantasy
  • What happens: The series revolves around dragons with the ability to disguise themselves as humans and an order of warriors sworn to eradicate them. Young dragon Ember has been sent by the Talon organization to California with her brother Dante to practice being human before their final placement. A run-in with Riley, a rogue who fled Talon, causes her to doubt her place in the organization. Meanwhile, Garrett, a skilled St. George soldier, arrives to hunt dragons and destroy them, only to find that Ember, his chief suspect, is not the ruthless killer he has been trained to expect.
  • Why I liked it: This modern-day fantasy with a splash of romance is an entertaining read. It has wonderful world-building, strong characters, action and adventure.

"Noggin" by John Corey Whaley

  • National Book Award (2014)
  • Published: April, 2014
  • Read: August, 2014
  • What: An original contemporary tale about letting go of the past
  • What happens: Travis Coates is successfully reanimated (brought back to life) after his head is transplanted onto a donor body five years after his “death”. He tries to drag his best friend back out of the closet, discovers secrets about his parents, and actively pursues his girlfriend, who is now 21 and engaged to another.
  • Why I liked it: The story is full of humor and angst. Looking at life through Travis’ eyes was moving and sometimes heart-breaking.

"All the Bright Places" by Jennifer Niven

  • Published: January, 2015
  • Read: November, 2014
  • What: A contemporary story about two teens falling in love during their darkest days.
  • What happens: Violet and Finch meet on the top of their school’s bell tower, both thinking about jumping. Suicide is often on the mind of Finch, who is bullied by his classmates and abused by his father. Violet, however, has been grieving since the death of her sister in a car accident nine months prior. Although Finch intends to die, he makes it his mission to teach Violet how to live again, helping her overcome her fears.
  • Why I liked it: It is a heart-wrenching story. The emotional turmoil and insecurities of Violet and Finch ring true.

"Wild Rover No More: Being the Last Recorded Account of the Life & Times of Jacky Faber" by L.A. Meyer

  • The 12th and final book in a series. Read the other books in the Bloody Jack series first.
  • Published: November, 2014
  • Read: November, 2014
  • What: Fun historical fiction with a strong female character.
  • What happens: When Jacky learns of a warrant for her arrest on trumped-up charges of treason, she flees Boston and disguises herself, gaining employment at first as a governess and then as a Russian tightrope walker in a traveling circus.
  • Why I liked it: The Bloody Jack series is one of my two most favorite YA series (the other one is Harry Potter). I enjoy Jacky’s humor and outrageous situations, as well as her impressive accomplishments.

Adult Fiction

"The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd

  • Published: January, 2014
  • Read: January, 2014
  • What: A powerful tale of two women living in the early nineteenth century
  • What happens: This well-researched story was inspired by the real life of Sarah Grimke, who was an early pioneer in the abolitionist and women's rights movements. The alternating first-person chapters describe Sarah’s complicated friendship with Handful, a household slave, from their childhood to middle age.
  • Why I liked it: The richly imagined narrative brought this era of history to life. It enlightened me about the lives of household slaves, and the abolitionist and women's rights movements.

"Golden Boy" by Abigail Tarttelin

  • Winner of the 2014 Alex Award
  • Published: May, 2013
  • Read: March, 2014
  • What: A riveting tale of a family in crisis, a fascinating exploration of identity, and a coming-of-age story.
  • What happens: The Walker family seems to be the perfect family, but they are hiding a secret about their son Max. He is intersex-- half male and half female. When a childhood friend named Hunter steps out of his past and abuses his trust in the worst possible way, Max is forced to consider the nature of his well-kept secret.
  • Why I liked it: Max is an appealing character, and his desperate search for identity is gripping and emotional.

"All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr

  • Published: May, 2014
  • Read: April, 2014
  • What: Two intricate stories set during the occupation of France during WWII that intersect late in the novel.
  • What happens: A blind French girl and a German boy both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
  • Why I liked it: Masterfully written and deeply moving, All the Light We Cannot See is one of the best books I read in 2014. The novel was a joy to read because of its phrasing, prose, and details. I think it at also succeeds because of its moving characters whose innate goodness and concern for each other rise above the depravity of war.

"One Plus One" by Jojo Moyes

  • Published: July, 2014
  • Read: May, 2014
  • What: Opposites-attract love story set in contemporary England
  • What happens: Financially struggling (but hard-working and always upbeat) single-mom Jess Thomas and her two children -- tortured goth teenage stepson Nicky and gifted math whiz 10-year-old Tanzie -- embark upon a road trip to Scotland with the help of Ed Nicholls, a technology millionaire whose life is falling apart as he is being investigated for insider trading.
  • Why I liked it: As I was reading I could visualize the story as a movie because the four main quirky characters are so skillfully crafted, and their heartwarming story is one that I could care about.

"Written in My Own Heart's Blood" by Diana Gabaldon

  • Eighth novel in the Outlander series. This series is comprised of one epic story. Read the books in the order they were published.
  • Published: June, 2014
  • Read: June, 2014
  • What: Adventure, history, and romance all meticulously integrated with a wealth of fascinating period details.
  • What happens: Jamie returns from a presumed watery grave to find that his wife, Claire, has remarried, his illegitimate son now knows who his real father is, and that his nephew is trying to marry a Quaker, while Jamie's daughter, Brianna, who is living in twentieth-century Scotland, searches for her son who was kidnapped by a man wanting to know her family's secrets.
  • Why I liked it: The Outlander series is my favorite adult series of all time. It has time travel, adventure, and an enthralling love story.

"A Sudden Light" by Garth Stein

  • Published: September, 2014
  • Read: July, 2014
  • What: Both a historical novel and the story of a multi-generational contemporary family.
  • What happens: In the summer of 1990, fourteen-year-old Trevor, having traveled to an old family mansion with his father in order to relocate his ailing grandfather to a nursing home, discovers a spirit lingering in the house and realizes he must face the dark past of his forefathers to help his family's future.
  • Why I liked it: Trevor’s narration has humor and wit. The atmosphere of the single setting at the estate in the Pacific Northwest, the small cast of characters, and the supernatural elements provide drama.

"The Book of Life" by Deborah Harkness

  • The third book in a trilogy. Read A Discovery of Witches (2010) and Shadow of Night (2012) first.
  • Published: July, 2014
  • Read: July, 2014
  • What: The All Souls Trilogy follows the story of Diana Bishop, a historian and reluctant witch, as she solves the mystery of Ashmole 782, falls in love with a mysterious vampire named Matthew Clairmont, and learns how powerful it can be to accept who you are.
  • Why I liked it: The series weaves elements of magic and science around a passionate love story. It is a combination of Harry Potter, Twilight, and Outlander, with its action, magic, romance, and time travel.

"Natchez Burning" by Greg Iles

  • Although this is the fourth book in the Penn Cage series, it can be read without reading the first three books. It is the first book in a planned trilogy.
  • Published: April, 2014
  • Read: September, 2014
  • What: An emotional story of racial hatred, redemption, family, and honor.
  • What happens: Southern mayor and former prosecutor Penn Cage investigates when his father, a beloved family doctor and pillar of the community, is accused of murdering Violet Davis, an African-American nurse with whom he worked in the dark days of the early 1960's.
  • Why I liked it: It is both a history lesson of racial tensions in the Deep South and an entertaining thriller. It is an absorbing read, with sharp characterizations and skillful plotting.

"The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah

  • Published: February, 2015
  • Read: December, 2014
  • What: A moving tribute to the brave women who fought in different ways in occupied France during World War II.
  • What happens: In this tale of two sisters, bolder Isabelle enjoys her life in Paris, while older Viann lives peacefully in the country with husband Antoine. Their bond is tested when war comes and their father sends Isabelle to help Viann as Antoine marches off to battle. As Hitler's forces invade, both sisters face challenging choices that will show where their loyalties lie.
  • Why I liked it: The author skillfully depicts the horrors of war through the eyes of the two sisters. I found the story absorbing, moving, and a page-turner.

"The Rosie Effect" by Graeme Simsion

  • Sequel to The Rosie Project. Read that novel first.
  • Published: December, 2014
  • Read: December, 2014
  • What: The Asperger's syndrome hero is back, and is as socially inept as ever.
  • What happens: Don Tillman, a genetics professor, is now married to Rosie and living in New York City. When Rosie announces she is pregnant, Don’s carefully balanced life is uprooted and his relationship with Rosie is in danger.
  • Why I liked it: Don’s analytic voice and exceptionally observant narration is one of the strengths of the novel. The awkwardness that results because of Don’s difficulty in reading people and taking logic to the extreme is hilarious.


"Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II" by Mitchell Zuckoff

  • Published: April, 2013
  • Read: January, 2014
  • What: A gripping true story of endurance, bravery, ingenuity, and honor set in the vast Arctic wilderness of World War II and today.
  • What happens, In 1942, valiant airmen fight to stay alive through 148 days of a brutal Arctic winter by sheltering from subzero temperatures and vicious blizzards in the tail section of the broken B-17 until an expedition headed by famed Arctic explorer Bernt Balchen attempts to bring them to safety. In present-day Greenland, Zuckoff joins the U.S. Coast Guard and North South Polar on a dangerous expedition to recover the remains of the lost plane's crew.
  • Why I liked it: This is an exciting account involving characters of enormous courage and stamina. Zuckoff made me feel as though I was right there with the crash survivors, fighting against the bitter cold.

"A House in the Sky" by Amanda Lindhout

  • Published: September, 2013
  • Read: April, 2014
  • What: The dramatic memoir of a woman who survived fifteen months of harrowing captivity in Somalia.
  • What happens: In August 2008,Amanda Lindhout traveled to Somalia. On her fourth day, she was abducted by a group of masked men along a dusty road. Held hostage for 460 days, Amanda converts to Islam as a survival tactic, receives "wife lessons" from one of her captors, and risks a daring escape.
  • Why I liked it: Amanda Lindhout has been accused by some as being naive and reckless in traveling to such a dangerous location, but what I most admire is her courage under such horrific circumstances, and her decision to make meaning from her suffering by dedicating her life to humanitarian work in Africa.

"The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics" by Daniel James Brown

  • Published: June, 2013
  • Read: November, 2014
  • What: The dramatic story of the American rowing team that stunned the world at Hitler's 1936 Berlin Olympics.
  • What happens: This is the story of the University of Washington’s 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic games in Berlin, 1936.
  • Why I liked it: With evocative and cinematic prose, Brown offers a vivid picture of the brutal socioeconomic landscape of 1930s America and the relentlessly demanding effort required of an Olympic-level rower. I especially enjoyed the exciting come-from-behind race scenes.