Dec 30, 2014

2014: The Year in Review

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Time for another one of these posts — unbelievably enough, my eighth. 2014 was a good reading year, full of stories that I feel have always been a part of me (usually the hallmark of a new all-time favourite). I was also lucky enough to stumble upon some of my favourite reads at times when I needed the comfort of an absorbing book the most. Here are, in no particular order, my favourite books of 2014. As always, this list includes things I read in 2014 and not necessarily just 2014 releases.


  • Graceling Realms trilogy by Kristin Cashore: I know that this is kind of cheating, but I can’t pick just one of these novels. I suppose that if I really had to it would be Fire, but I loved this trilogy as a whole and really appreciated how each story built on the previous ones. From my post: “Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue are fantasy novels about young women trying to work out how to exist in a world full of unfair social arrangements and political structures that limit them. (…) In these books I have found a new favourite thing in the world. Isn’t that a lovely feeling?”

  • Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow:Sorrow’s Knot is thematically very rich, but there were two elements that particularly stood out for me: first, how this is a novel about stories and how they shape the world; secondly, how it deals so sensitively with loss and grief and letting go. The two themes are connected, because the stories the Shadowed People tell about the dead give form to their relationship with those they lose and to how they experience grief. I can’t quite do justice to Erin Bow’s sensitivity and nuance when writing about this; suffice to say that I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel whose treatment of grief touched me quite this much.”

  • The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine:The Girls at the Kingfisher Club was perfect, and I don’t even know how to begin to tell you why. What I liked best was probably the fact that this is a very personal story that also explores the systemic roots of gender inequality with subtlety and precision. The Hamilton sisters are prisoners in their own home because they live in a system that makes them dependent on male kindness, and they have the misfortune of having an unkind father. But even if they’d had better luck, their circumstances would still be untenable because the power imbalance would be there nonetheless.”

  • Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge: “Here’s what I can safely tell you about Cuckoo Song: it’s set in the 1920s; it deals with a family grieving for their dead son and with a world that has had ‘its foundations shaken’ and is slowly readjusting to all the social changes WW1 hastened; it combines its historical setting with fantasy and folklore elements in brilliant and unexpected ways; it’s very much about women trying to break free from the narrow roles imposed on them; it portrays difficult family dynamics with compassion and insight; it features a wonderfully complex relationship between two sisters; and it is, for the first third of so, utterly and completely terrifying.”

  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: “Puck’s story is about triumphing where everyone expected her to fail, and along the way proving that “because it has always been so” is a pretty lousy reason to keep the gates barred against women — but that’s only part of it. Her story is also about her fear that trespassing against the rigid norms of expected gendered behaviour could have very real personal and social consequences for her. Her story is about asking herself if she’s willing to risk getting hurt to discover the possibilities for genuine intimacy that could lie beyond such rigid roles.”

  • The Exiles trilogy by Hilary McKay: “Here’s what’s probably the main reason why I loved this trilogy: because I’ll never, ever tire of stories centred on girls and in which they’re allowed the full range of humanity — in other words, where ‘girls are allowed to think dark thoughts, and be dark things.’ The Conroy sisters are indomitable brats one moment and compassionate, rabbit- and lobster-rescuing children the next; they’re smart and bookish and surprisingly perceptive at times, but also rash and capable of coming up with one disastrous plan after the next. Above all, they’re complicated and human and have inner lives that deserve to be taken seriously, even as we spend most of our time with them laughing.”

  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison:The Goblin Emperor is two things: one, it’s a moving story about a lonely teenager who grew up with an abusive relative trying desperately to reach out, but having to contend with all the complications inherent to his position; two, it’s the story of a political conspiracy and of the complicated circumstances that gave rise to it. The mystery behind the previous emperor’s demise didn’t fully capture my attention until later in the novel, but once it did, oh! I was in absolute awe of how skilfully Addison handled it.”

  • We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler: “My favourite thing about this novel is that it never oversimplifies any of the questions it asks. It addresses science (including gender and sexuality and dodgy scientific claims that naturalise patriarchal behaviour, which never fails to make me happy), ethics, and the costs and benefits of animal research; but — as the quote I opened with puts it — it never pretends these issues are easy. Instead, it’s nuanced and unfailingly humane, and it treats not only the issues at hand but its characters (human and otherwise) with the complexity they merit.”

  • My Real Children by Jo Walton: “Something else I really liked is how even though the novel is alternate history, it’s very much grounded in the details of women’s lives over the course of the 20th century. We watch how Pat and Trish’s lives are affected by lack of access to contraception, by laws that don’t allow married women to carry on working, by single women being denied mortgages, by lack of basic rights for lgb people, and by how this makes things like travelling abroad with minors or visiting a loved one in hospital infinitely harder and more painful than they need to be.”

  • The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters: “I loved every page of The Paying Guests, but it was the ending that elevated it to an extraordinary novel for me. I suspect that a lot of other writers would have felt the need to dole out narrative punishment to Frances and Lillian, and I confess that I was on tenterhooks about whether or not Sarah Waters would until the very end. Oh me of little faith! Perhaps it’s because she was written truly heartbreaking novels like Affinity, but still, I should have remembered that this is Sarah Waters. It matters to me to see characters like Frances and Lillian ‘make one small brave thing happen’, and I was thrilled that this was exactly what we got.”

  • Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry: “I’ve seen plenty of stories that examine how our definition of masculinity gets in the way of intimacy between men (this is, just to give you one example, why I love the film Y Tu Mamá También), but I’d never seen such an expert examination of how a social context full of misogyny can blindside girls, cause them to doubt their own hearts, and rob them of the glorious road trip into the sunset together they so clearly deserve.”

  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater: Breaking my own one book per author rule again because I can: “I love spending time with these characters, and I love how Maggie Stiefvater makes the space between them practically vibrate with tension and unspoken emotions. I loved that some questions were answered and others were raised. I looooved the Adam and Ronan hangout times, and I loved having my heart destroyed in a variety of ways.”

  • One Crazy Summer and PS Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia: Kind of cheating again, but I can’t pick just one. “Both One Crazy Summer and PS: Be Eleven were reminders of why I have so little patience for ‘children’s literature is simplistic’ type arguments. These novels are historically rich, but in a way that never weighs down the narrative; they’re politically engaged in subtle but effective ways; they’re consistently nuanced; they challenge simplistic narratives about the everyday reality of fighting for racial and gender equality; and they’re immensely fun to read.”

  • Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel: “My favourite thing about Station Eleven is that although it’s far from naive about social collapse scenarios, it doesn’t share certain assumptions about ‘human nature’ revealing itself once the thin veneer of civilization falls away that are common in disaster stories, and which I find questionable at best and harmful at worst.”

  • Wake by Anna Hope: I haven’t reviewed this one yet, but I found it moving and beautifully written. As Victoria said, a synopsis might make it sound clichéd — it’s about the lives of three women who have lost loved ones in WW1, and it’s set in the days leading to the burial of the Unknown Warrior — but the execution very much isn’t.


  • Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny: “I don’t have much else to say, which is mostly a measure of how close to my heart Unspeakable Things is. The fact that feminism is not a monolith means that most of the time, when I read feminist books, I find them useful but also argue with them a bit in my head, or at the very least go “yes, but” at them. This is by no means a bad thing, but Unspeakable Things was more of an exercise in going “yes and yes and yes”, and as much as I find “yes, but” useful sometimes I really need that. That doesn’t mean the book is perfect or that it goes as far as it’s humanly possible for feminism to go, but for me it was the right book at the right time.”

  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson: Another one I hope to review in 2015. Woodson’s memoir in verse deserves all the praise it’s been getting. I had to be careful when reading it in public because I kept tearing up.

  • Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: “Here’s why I love Roxane Gay: she gives herself permission to be human and messy, vulnerable and contradictory. She reminds us that it’s okay to say ‘I don’t know’. She acknowledges that living according to your beliefs is hard, and that we all occasionally fail, and that we get to pick ourselves up and try again. Reading about how a writer and thinker I admire negotiates some of the same issues that keep me up at night, not so metaphorically speaking, made me feel less alone. I’m always grateful for writing that achieves that.”

  • March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powel:March: Book One is a memoir by Congressman John Lewis, covering his youth in Alabama, his experience of educational segregation, and his initial involvement in activism through lunch counter sit-ins. His story is both historically resonant and very human, and I especially liked the compassionate analysis of the circumstances that make it possible — or impossible — for people to take stances. For example, Lewis’ parents feared the consequences of him challenging the Alabama Board of Education, and this is portrayed as an understandable fear born out of specific circumstances rather than as a personal failing.”

  • How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ: “Russ provides a smart and witty analysis of all the variations of “she wrote it BUT” people fling at women’s creative work, and which intentionally or not erase and belittle it. She lists eight interconnected forms of suppression (bad faith, denial of agency, pollution of agency, the double standard of content, false categorisation, isolation, anomalousness, and lack of models), all of which were familiar as soon as Russ elaborated on them. I felt jolt after jolt of recognition as I read this book, which was both comforting and not. Comforting: this problem has been named, which is an important step towards defeating it. Not: all these years later, here we are still.”

    Honourable mentions: A Tale for the Time Being, We Were Liars, Plain Kate, Giants Beware!, Thorn, Landline, White is for Witching, An Untamed State, Emily of New Moon trilogy, Flora & Ulysses, Harriet the Spy, Liar & Spy, The Little White Horse, Hilda series, Love That Dog, Cracked Up To Be, Jane, The Fox and Me, The Luminaries, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Poisoned Apples, Fair Play, Everything Leads To You. (Phew. That was longer than I thought.)


    Obligatory stats disclaimer: I like numbers. I like my reading spreadsheet, which I fill out throughout the year, and I particularly like how it gives me instant feedback on how I’m doing when it comes to the several goals I’ve set for myself. I like how this makes it easier for me to be deliberate when it comes to my reading choices and readjust my course when necessary. However, I don’t think of reading as a competitive sport, and even though I’m always interested in other people’s stats, I only ever make comparisons with myself. And even then, my goal is not to “beat” whatever numbers I had the previous year but to note how my reading habits fluctuate from year to year and to think about the circumstances that might influence these changes.

    As I’m getting tired of just paraphrasing what I say every year, I’ll resort to quoting instead: “Being congratulated for reading x amount of books always makes me uncomfortable, as does being told that reading so many books is a sure sign I need to go out more. I absolutely don’t buy into the idea that numbers say anything at all about how committed a reader you are, or about your other hobbies or status of your social life. If you enjoy reading, you’re a reader. There’s no secret club you’re initiated into once you cross a certain numeric threshold, and there’s no magic balance that makes your reading healthy as opposed to dangerously reclusive. All this to say: numbers are fun, but only if we don’t take them more seriously than they merit.”

    With that out of the way, here go the numbers. As always, these categories don’t add up to 100% because several of them overlap:

    Total books read: 164 (10% down from last year, which was only to be expected considering I worked full-time for the whole of this year.)
    Novels: 79 (48%)
    Short Story Collections and Anthologies: 4 (2% — booo. Though I did also read some stand-alone short stories this year.)
    Comics aka Graphic Novels: 37 (23%)
    Non-Fiction: 18 (11%. I want to do something to increase this number again next year.)
    Poetry: 8 (5%)
    Classics: 19 (12%)
    By Women: 121 (74%)
    By Men: 31 (19% — I continue not to care about an even gender split for the same reasons as always.)
    By Men and Women: 12 (7%)
    By People of Colour: 35 (22% — An improvement over last year’s shameful 8%, but still not my end goal. I’d like this to be one fourth to one third of my reading next year.)
    lgbtq: 17 (10% — Plenty of room for improvement here.)
    By new to me authors (fiction only): 45 (32% — I wanted to bring this number down, but then again my three favourite books of the year were by new-to-me authors.)
    From my TBR pile: 42 (26% — Boooo. Much more on this number soon.)
    E-books: 29 (18%)
    Library Books: 69 (42% — Fewer than last year, but unsurprisingly still a huge chunk of my reading.)
    Favourite authors discovered this year: Kristin Cashore and Erin Bow. I can no longer imagine my reading life without them.
    Best reading month: April (19 books — the reason being the Readathon.)
    Worst reading month: March (9 books.)

    1. An excellent year, I think - broad and thoughtful choices and such a lot there to tempt me (that could be good or bad, depending on how I feel about the state of my TBR!). Here's to a great year of reading in 2015 - Happy New Year!

    2. Oh dear ... now I'm going to have to add even more titles to my to-read list. I can't resist your descriptions of some of these books.

      I like what you said about Station Eleven, which I am reading now. After re-reading The Lord of the Flies with my teens this fall, as part of my homeschooled son's high school "curriculum," this offers a nice balance. While there are darker elements at play here, they don't seem to dominate the scenario. And I love the way people strive to keep the best of the old culture alive -- complete with Shakespeare performances and an orchestra -- because "survival is not enough."

    3. Oo, I should track what percentage of my reading is library books. I bet it will be like, 85%.

      So many good books this year! If I had a drink in my hand right now, I would toast to an equally awesome 2015. And I would also toast to my library getting more books by Frances Hardinge so I can read those, especially Cuckoo Song which sounds amaaaazing.

    4. Vicki: Thank you and likewise! Here's to a great 2015, when it comes to reading and everything else.

      Irene McKenna: Sorry (but not really) :P And yes, absolutely. I loved that and the novel has really stayed with me,

      Jenny: I found out just the other day that Cuckoo Song is only being published in the US next year! Hopefully that means your library will get it and that lots more people will read it :D And yes, here's to an equally great 2015!

    5. Love looking at your stats and the books you loved .... I think this is going to be the first year I didn't do a year-end review. I may change my mind in the next few days.

    6. Yay for Exiles :) All your choices look great. You'd put most of them on my radar already but there are a couple I haven't investigated yet.

    7. I really want to read the new Sarah Waters book. I'm sure I will love it! I'm glad to see it as one of your faves. I love doing end of year stats mainly to see where my reading has taken me and where I hope to go to in the following year. Thank you for sharing yours! Wishing you a great reading year ahead!

    8. So many of my favourites! And books that I've been meaning to read for awhile - hope I get to some of them next year. Bad Feminist is still on my desk, waiting to be bought... (same with Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Boys.)

    9. What a productive reading year you've had! I've been really intrigued especially by "We are all completely beside ourselves" and also by "Unspeakable Things". "Bad Feminist" is already on my shelf waiting to be cracked open :)

    10. What a great reading year! So many books I have loved (Graceling... oh how I wish I could read it for the first time again!) and that I want to read.

    11. A really good reading year! You did much better than I did reading from your TBR piles. Most of the books I read came from the library, a few of them I bought copies of afterwards so I guess technically I read them from my TBR pile. Happy New Year Ana!

    12. I didn't read a lot of these, but have to say I like your disclaimer about the stats. Very good to remember...although I want to be a member of that secret club. ;)

    13. I agree with your thoughts on what it means to be a reader and stats. Like you, my numbers are all about me and my goals and thoughts on reading. The question of reading old favorites or new-to-me authors is on my mind often; I never make a goal about it though as I can't figure out which way I want to go - more books by authors I loved or more new authors?

    14. As always, I want to read every book on your list, with the exception of the ones I've already read. Those ones made me nod and say, "Yes. Ana has excellent taste. I must explore the other things she loves."

    15. The Paying Guests and Bad Feminist are both on my must list for 2015!

    16. Please forgive me when I laughed when I saw you read 164 books and it was a drop because you were working full-time! I wasn't laughing at you, just at this ridiculous idea we all have that how much we read should be an indication of how much time we give to books. Of course I had that year several years ago, with the two younger kids when they were toddlers, when I read 35 books :-)

      I loved reading about what you loved, which is a post I still have to do. I did my yearly summary post today, which eeek revealed an embarrassing flaw in my reading last year. I have The Goblin Emperor on request at the library, am hoping to pick up book 2 of the Maggie Stiefvater series this week, and have to get to Graceling soon. I've had it for a few years on my shelf now. I love that you picked them for your best reads of the year!

      Happy 2015, Ana, and may we both read many books we love this year.


    Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.