The Book Club Cheerleader’s Top 10 Book Club Books of 2014
Since January is almost over, I figured it’s high time I posted my “best of” list for last year. In 2014, I managed to read (listen to/dream about) 73 titles—some for business (I’m a career coach in my other life), some for pleasure, and many others to try to find that perfect book club read. Of course, I didn’t love all the books I read—in fact, a few I wanted to “throw across the room with great force” as Dorothy Parker (or Sid Ziff—whomever you want to believe) would’ve advised… But you’ll have to check out my Goodreads page for that kind of dirt. This blog remains quite positive. And as such, I had fun reviewing my favorite reads of 2014 to see which ones made my tippiest-Top 10.
Silly Stats & List Details:
All of the books were published in 2014, even if a few of them came out in paperback that year. It’s interesting to note that of the winners below, 60% were listened to (Thank you, Audible…), 20% were Advanced Readers Copies (ARCs), 50% are based on true stories, while 20% are Non-fiction. And a full 50% were written by Pulpwood Queens authors (which is a book club I belong to—if you’re a regular Book Club Cheerleader blog reader, you know how fun they are—if not, you need to check them out…) I’ve listed all of my 2014 besties below in alphabetical order by category, with my top winner listed as #1. You may agree with some on my list, may add some new ones to your ‘to be read’ list—and if there are some that I’ve missed, I’m sure you’ll let me know…
Books about Charming Curmudgeons:
I know that’s an oxymoron, but you’ll have to read these two top picks to see what I mean…I especially recommend them for fans of Julia Glass’s The Widower’s Tale and Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.
This is a feel-good book from Sweden about a retired gentleman (that last word could be stretching it a bit) who wonders if life is still worth living after his beloved wife dies. Enter an active family with two young children, and Ove’s world changes. I laughed, I cried—you know how that goes… Backman is a fresh new voice in fiction—and I think you’ll really enjoy this one.
Probably all I need to say is that this is a ‘book about books’…Still want to know more? OK… A.J. Fikry is the owner of a small bookstore, and a widower. A small child is abandoned in his store, and changes A.J.’s outlook on life. Shrewdly written, it contains witty dialogue, humorous literary references, quirky characters and an unabashed love of everything bookish. It’s charming without being cloying; clever without being condescending; an entertaining read, indeed. Months after reading this book, I had the pleasure of meeting the author—and understand why the book is so smart and sassy. I’m so glad this author made the move from YA to adult fiction, and am keeping an eye on her!
I cheated a bit on this book, having read it in December of 2013—but since I’d already penned my top 10 list for that year, I included it in the 2014 list—after all, its paperback release date qualified it … (Whew…) I wrote about the book last January on this blog, so suffice it to say, it’s a story about love, race, friendship, and redemption. Think Five Smooth Stones in 1930’s Kentucky. My neighborhood book club loved it—and you’ll be glad you checked it out.
Of all the books I’d heard about in the pre-pub hype for 2014, this is the only one that lived up to all the hoopla! I loved Wiley Cash’s first novel, A Land More Kind than Home, (you can read my full review here) and his sophomore book did not disappoint! The man knows The South—it’s landscapes, intrigue, family bonds, and racial issues. This gothic thriller gives you the feel of the chase without leaving the characters in the dust. It’s Southern Fiction at its best!
What was life like for Jews living in Yemen in the mid-twentieth century? That’s the intriguing question this novel attempts to answer. Populated with numerous characters (Adela, the protagonist does have at least a dozen brothers, after all) the women are the most interesting in this novel. Spanning the century, we are witnesses to the brutality of the “Jewish codes” in a Muslim-majority country, the Second World War and the holocaust, and finally, the founding of Israel as a Jewish nation. Discussion themes include family traditions, religious practices, friendship, love, betrayal, and forgiveness. One of my book clubs discussed this last week, while another has selected it for next month. I highly recommend it for your reading group—or just for yourself. It’s captivating read!
Beautifully written, this novel is surprisingly a debut for this Afghan-American author. Not surprising, is the rich, evocative detail the author reveals about her native country—their social and political customs—and what it must’ve been like to be a woman in the 20th century and now. Two story-lines weave together flawlessly like an Afghan tapestry. With discussable themes such as family, commitment, abuse, oppression and freedom, your book club will have many topics to chat about.
Books about Strong Women in American History:
While all three books in this category are based on true stories, the first two are actually non-fiction accounts, while the last book, though heavily researched, is historical fiction. These may appeal to fans of Doris Kearns Goodwin, Erik Larson, and Melanie Benjamin.
4) The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II, by Denise Kiernan. (GR: 3.66; Am: 4.2; PB: March 11, 2014; 416 pages)
I had never heard of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. But, that was the idea—we weren’t supposed to know much about it. The site of one of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, a majority of the workers employed there beginning in 1942 didn’t know the big picture—only each person’s small piece of the puzzle. This well-kept secret is completely unveiled as author Denise Kiernan reveals the results of dozens of interviews with surviving ‘Rosie the Riveter’ workers—from scientists to factory workers, to the woman who cleaned the floor. Although painstakingly researched, the author creates a strong narrative and makes us care about every women she has profiled. The result is a fascinating account of the secret work involved in building the bomb that devastated Hiroshima. I could not put this one down!
3) Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, by Karen Abbott. (GR: 3.86; Am: 4.3; HC: July 1, 2014; 528 pages)
An ingenious non-fiction account of four brave women—Elizabeth, Emma, Rose, and Belle (hmmm… That last one, maybe not so brave—but you’ll have to read about them all)—who went undercover to help their own chosen side in the ‘battle between brothers.’ Two spying for the North, and two for the South, each woman works with existing gender stereotypes to gain their advantage. Emma becomes “Frank” and enlists in the Army—and at one point impersonates a man impersonating a woman in a Victor/Victoria sequence that is stranger than fiction. Oddly enough, she gets away with it (along with 400 other women, the author estimates) because no one can imagine a woman wearing pants! The other three women smuggle messages in their hair, bustles and under female-wear to the enemy—what gentleman would check a girl’s garment in the mid-19th century? A page turner, indeed! (For fun, check out Karen’s statement about facts she could not include in her book from a blog post earlier this month—she’s bullet #3…) Oh, and don’t let the page count fool you—you’ll be sorry it’s all over when you turn the last page…
In 1930, Justice Joseph Crater entered a taxi and was never seen again. (Apparently the early-20th-century version of Jimmy Hoffa disappearance—jokes were made, but he man was never found.) Add to the unsolved mystery, a bit of The Godfather, and Tammany Hall and tell the story from the perspective of three women, of course, from title fame: The Wife, The Maid and The Mistress—and you’ve got yourself a page-turner! Since this is historical fiction, the author could play a bit with the facts—apparently the first two women are real, and she created the character of Maria, The Maid, to round out the narrative. And it worked—quite clever, indeed! There’s a fabulous twist at the end—but don’t worry—you won’t see it coming…
…and my #1 book club book of 2014…
This is one of the rare times that Oprah and I agree on our reading choices. This antebellum tale of two sisters and an enslaved girl had me hooked from the very first page! Carefully crafted characters, smoothly-flowing narrative, and a compelling story all add up to a read that will completely capture you.
What made YOUR top 10 for 2014? I can always add a 928th book to my TBR list!