Top Reads 2014

It’s tough to have to choose one, and all the books below have been excellent reads, but the one standout for me was Prayers for the Stolen, because I haven’t stopped thinking about it all year,  it’s always top of mind when anyone asks me about a good book I’ve read recently, just as I still recommend Caroline Smailes The Drowning of Arthur Braxton from 2013 and Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child from 2012, all outstanding reads.

The Stats

This year I read 57 books, basically one book a week, 79% of my reads were fiction, 16% non-fiction and 5% poetry. I managed to read books by authors from 18 different countries and this year 40% of what I read was translated from another language. 54% of the books I read were printed books and 46% I read on a kindle. 63% were written by a female author.

Outstanding Read of the Year 2014

Prayers For The Stolen by Jennifer Clement

prayers for the stolen This book had a huge impact on me at the time of reading,  a fictional account of a girl named Ladydi growing up in a part of Mexico where it is dangerous to be a girl, so the mother’s disguise them as boys, from the moment of their birth.

An insightful read, about a tragic issue, told with empathy and humour and helping to raise awareness of the plight of so many women and girls unable to speak out for themselves. A must read.

 

And in no particular order, My Top Reads for 2014!

Top Fiction

1.Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin (translated from Russian by James E. Falen)

Eugene Onegin 7 8The epic book length poem Eugene Onegin was my surprise read of the year and pure delight. I avoided reading it for years and years thinking it would be inaccessible. It was hilarious and a riveting read.

I read it two chapters at a time in a read along and was thoroughly entertained by that cad Eugene Onegin and bemused by that reader of far too many romantic novels Tatiana, and broken-hearted at the fate of the poet. Absolutely brilliant and I would quite like to read another translation after some of the comparisons other readers made as we read, what turns out to be not quite the same version. More Pushkin definitely.

2. Nada by Carmen Laforet (translated from Spanish by Edith Grossman)

Nada (2)Nada was being passed around friends all exclaiming its wonder, a book written by the author when she was 23 years old and based on her own similar experience as a young woman moving to Barcelona to study. It takes place in the shadowy aftermath of a traumatic civil war, its effect hanging over her family. Andrea, now an orphan, arrives to stay with relatives, however her stay is not as she’d imagined it, the family are full of eccentricities and Andrea finds more refuge in the gloomy streets and with her new friends than in the oppressive atmosphere of the apartment among her strange relatives. A feverish, coming of age classic.

3. We That Are Left by Juliet Greenwood

We That Are Left (2)A title I was waiting for, having loved Eden’s Garden and this promised to be just as good, set in World War One and featuring a cast of women characters who are changed by the war in ways that will continue long after.

From Cornwall to Wales to France, we follow Elin as her husband leaves for the war and she must assume responsibility for the family estate and is propelled into a dangerous mission to rescue her friend in the thick of fighting. It concerns the changes thrust upon women during the war and their refusal to go back to the more submissive role that was expected of them before the war. They prove they are just as capable of handling a crisis and if necessary will manage on their own. Brilliant, thrilling and unputdownable.

4.The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson (translated from Swedish by Thomas Teal)

True DeceiverThe True Deceiver is the first novel I have read by Tove Jansson, having read three collections of her short stories (The Summer Book,  A Winter Book and Art in Nature) all of which I enjoyed, so this was an interesting departure to stay with the same characters throughout and it is quite a thrilling read, clearly inspired in part by her own experience, facing up to the artist struggle.

It is the perfect winter read, set in the snow bound winter months, while they await the thaw. Anna is an aging artist who lives alone and is content for it to be that way, her contact with the outside world through the many letters from her fans. But someone in the village has other plans and slowly makes herself indispensable to the older woman, preying on her vulnerabilities. And the true deceiver? That is the question that reading the novel reveals.

4. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein)

My Brilliant FriendIf you haven’t yet succumbed to #FerranteFever keep an eye out for this book and the two that follow it, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave & Those Who Stay. They narrate a friendship between Elena and Lila, set in an impoverished neighbourhood of Naples, one tries to escape  her place in society via a university education and a marriage that will elevate her status while the other uses her intelligence in a relentless, fearless and  often ruthless quest to survive. The books are compelling and may be semi-autobiographical, however the author remains an enigma, using a pseudonym and not ready to own up to his/her identity – believing that if a book has any merit, it will find its audience.

5. The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismialov (translated from Russian by Andrew Bromfield)

The Dead Lake

This is why I wait until the end of the year before creating my list, because who knows what special book gems we might discover before the final curtain call. The Dead Lake is part of the Peirene Press coming-of-age series published in 2014 and tells the story of Yerzhan, a boy growing up at a remote railway siding in Kazakhstan, an area where atomic weapon testing is carried out.

There are only two communities where he lives and he adores the neighbour’s daughter and it is to impress her that he walks into that lake at 12-years-old and stops growing. It is a stunning and unforgettable novella and an insightful glimpse into a nomadic culture, that we are privileged to be able to read thanks to the passionate endeavours of our friends at Peirene Press.

6. The Bees by Laline Paull

Bees2

The Bees is an extraordinary feat of the imagination, narrated from the point of view of Flora 717 a sanitation worker bee. It is about life in an orchard hive and the threats both internal and external to the hive. Totally convincing, the Hive is like a cult and each bee knows its place, its role and responds by instinct and receives energy from the Hive Mind, the Queen and the collective conscience of the Hive. Flora is different and as we discover why, we begin to fear for her life. A stunning, original work, I was enthralled but the story and love that the author was inspired by a Bronze Age Minoan palace in translating a real beehive into a fictional landscape.

 

Top Non-Fiction

Ex Libris1. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

This was the very first book of the year I read and a special read for booklovers. It contains 18 bookish essays from the bibliophile Anne Fadiman, written over a period of four years, in which she talks about how she became so book obsessed and shares many often hilarious anecdotes. It was also recommended and gifted to me by the talented blogger and world-wide reader VishyThe Knight.

Arctic dreams2. Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez

First published in 1986 and winner of the National Book Award for non-fiction in the US, Artic Dreams is a compilation of poetic nature essays written by a compassionate, scientific, nature loving mind, as he observes those creatures whose natural habitat is the arctic, whether they are polar bears, seals or Arctic people. Some of my best recommendations, as was the case with this book, come from Valorie at Books Can Save a Life.

Vera Brittain3. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

I planned to read this right from the beginning of 2014 when it was republished as an anniversary edition to commemorate the beginning of World War one. Vera Brittain was an intellect and despite it being seen as a waster of time by many ion the provinces where she came from she set of for Oxford to compete with the boys, whom most of her friends were.

One by one, her friends, her brother, her fiance went off to fight and not able to concentrate on something that seemed meaningless in the face of war, she volunteered as a nurse. Testament of Youth is taken from her journals and is an insightful, at times heartbreaking insight into a lost youth, and an attempt to understand humanity and to prevent us from repeating the same mistakes. A brilliant book, about to be released as a feature film.

H is for Hawk4. H is for Hawk by Wendy Macdonald

There haven’t been so many non fiction titles that called out to me this year, but this one did immediately and I pushed it to the top of the pile to read and was riveted by Helen Macdonald’s grief stricken, obsessive encounter with Mebel, he Goshawk she raises, spurning human company and comfort in the aftermath of her father’s death. Great to see it then win the Samuel Johnson prize.

 

Brown Girl Dreaming5. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

What a delightful memoir in free verse from a well-known children’s writer, writing of her childhood spent between South Carolina and Brooklyn, NY tales of family members, a new brother, her passion for words, being Jehovah Witness and making a great friend. Reminds me of the equally talented Margarita Engle and her collection of novels in verse.

 

Voila!

So what was your outstanding read(s) for 2014?

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45 thoughts on “Top Reads 2014

    • A good one to have on the list in my opinion and an interesting author to watch. happy Reading for 2015, I look forward to seeing what gems you come up with and already looking forward to the literary events you’ll be attending. 🙂 Living vicariously.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ha ha! Well I already have Knausgaard lined up. H has just moved to Paris so am commuting over there a couple of times a month too. Hope to attend some Fr events too !!

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  1. I loved Nada, and it was your review that prompted me to pick it up so thank you for putting me onto it! My Brilliant Friend and H is for Hawk will also make my list of top reads whenever I get around to doing it – might be mid-Jan at this rate! Peirene Press always offer something interesting, and The Dead Lake was my favourite of this year’s crop.

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  2. Glad to see that you’ve had such a good reading year, Claire. Prayers for the Stolen has been kicking around my TBR for some time. I’ve been avoiding it expecting a harrowing read but will have to move it up the pile now!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wouldn’t call Prayers for the Stolen a harrowing read. I’ve been thinking about why that is and I am coming to the conclusion that perhaps there are some authors who can take a harrowing subject and handle it through literature in a way that we are able to face up to it without being viscerally affected to the point we can read no further. Jennifer Clements is one of those kind. It’s well researched, a subject she knows very well and handles with compassion and care, without avoiding the truth. And then there are others that make you experience a harrowing subject with a harrowing read. That’s too much like tabloid sensationalism to me, that full frontal shocking kind of imagery that stays with you. Here, it’s the message that sticks, not any gory details.

      Anyway, pick it up and let me know what you think!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. My year in books post comes out tomorrow but I think you might recognise a couple of titles :). There are a few books on your list which really look tempting, but I must re-instate my book buying ban after I have spent my Christmas Persephone vouchers. Still Elena Ferrante does look good as does The Dead Lake and the Tove Janson.

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  4. And thanks to you I spent many an hour reading wonderful books as well, although not quite as many as you did. Almost a book a week! Wow. All the best in the New Year, Claire. Hope it’s filled with peace, good times, good friends, loving family and more terrific books! And the odd glass of wine, of course :). Sante!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fortunately I scheduled this post as I’ve been away for 5 days and offline, so great to come back to everyone’s comments and lists, albeit dangerous! Ok, off to read yours now. All the best for 2015, can’t wait to see your book on the shelves Julie!

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  5. I read Nada a few years ago and absolutely loved it, it’s nice to see other bloggers reading it! And yay for Yevgeny Onegin, I finally got around to it a few years ago as well and found it all sorts of intriguing and heartbreaking. I really need to read Elena Ferrante soon-ish, lol.

    Happy New Year! 🙂

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  6. I’m intrigued by the Bees now that I see you liked it. I almost bought it this summer when I went to Shakespeare & Co. to see Zadie Smith. I’d also like to try Eugene Onegin. Maybe it will get me on the Russian reading track. I didn’t read one Russina book the entire year. sigh! You’ve had an extraordinary reading year as usual Claire. Hope 2015 brings you even more interesting adventures….

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was planning to join that challenge too Didi and so started out with Eugene Onegin and sadly that was the only one I read, unless I include Hamid Ismailov’s The Dead Lake which was translated from Russian, although I don’t know if it was Russian literature or Kyrgyzstan literature or whether there is a difference! You should defintiely read Onegin, it’s not a difficult read and hugely entertaining, I loved doing the readalong and writing about it in 2 chapter bites.

      Have a good reading year you too Didi, look forward to seeing what gems you find for us!

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  7. Congratulations on being such a prolific reader. That’s inspiring, Claire!I remember our discussion on Prayers for the Stolen and I appreciate the fact that you mentioned it here because it is a book I want to read. Nice reminder. And thank you for sharing this list!

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  8. So many books I need to add to my list, thank you for summing up your year in books as i fear I missed way too many of your reviews throughout. The Snow Child really was great and I appreciate you encouraging to me to get the book those two winters ago so I could enjoy it this time around.

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  9. Well, I’m completely with you re: Elena Ferrante. Would have to put ‘Bel Canto’ by Ann Patchett as another top read of the year, along with ‘A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing’ and ‘The Goldfinch.’ Looking forward to all the wonderful insights you’re bound to bring my way in 2015.

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  10. I am late in commenting, Claire (but as one of the movie characters here says, ‘I am late, but I am the latest’ :)) Wonderful list! After you recommended them, I got ‘Nada’ and ‘The Snow Child’. I hope to read them this year. I will add ‘Prayers for the Stolen’ too to my ‘TBR’ list. I loved your review of Vera Brittain’s ‘Testament of Youth’. I hope to read it sometime. So glad to know that you liked ‘Ex Libris’ so much and it is one of your favourite reads of the year. Valorie always gives wonderful recommendations – I remember her review of the Barry Lopez book. I loved the stats you have mentioned – 40% translations and 63% women writers, that is awesome!

    Hope you have a wonderful reading year in 2015! Happy reading!

    (P.S. : I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Marlen Haushofer’s ‘The Wall’ :))

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not late at all Vishy, I’ve been away 5 days and so only just seeing all the wonderful comments now. I can’t wait to hear what you think of Nada and The Snow Child in 2015. Even though I didn’t read nearly enough non-fiction, I do like to highlight the best of them, there are some wonderful collections of essays out there and I hope to hunt more down this year. Yes, Valorie does has wonderful recommendations, and a good source for Christmas gift ideas too.

      The Wall coming up very soon, waiting for the right quiet time, once kids are back at school. 🙂

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      • I am looking forward to reading ‘Nada’ and ‘The Snow Child’, Claire. Hope you get to read some wonderful essays this year. I can’t wait to read your thoughts on ‘The Wall’.

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  11. Testament of Youth is such a powerful book. I read a fascinating article about her yesterday and how she couldn’t believe that her Oxford professors just carried on teaching as if there was no war

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    • Yes, she had a tough time returning to her studies and especially from the younger students who hadn’t had involvement or were perhaps too young to have lost brothers or a fiance. It certainly changed her and the focus of her studies and life direction. A brilliant recollection, I really recommend it.

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  12. I vowed to pare down my Goodreads list but this isn’t helping.

    I agree wholeheartedly about Eugene Onegin. I “forced” myself to read it when the ballet was coming up on my schedule and was thrilled to discover it was not nearly as difficult as I had imagined. I write a bit about the translation issue (and ballet) here: https://slywit.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/ballet-101-onegin/

    Catch the ballet if you ever get the chance. Along with Neumeier’s La Dame aux Camélias, it is one of my absolute favorites.

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  13. Thanks for some great additions to my future reading lists. And I liked your comment about how some authors can write about harrowing events without being harrowing. So true. And so hard to know beforehand.

    And thanks for liking my reviews. Somehow I hadn’t tracked you back and started following you. I look forward to read more here.

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