Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Salve's Favorite Books of 2014

   And just like that, 2014 is coming to a close! I think that out of all my years on this planet, this one was when I had to make the most life decisions: stay in my hometown university, go off to a Swiss college that offered me a scholarship, or pursue my dreams and go to film school? I ended up choosing the third option (yay!) and I couldn't be happier with my decision. Maybe I missed out on living through European sweater weather, and maybe I had to give up cushy living at home, but my experiences at film school have more than made up for that. 

   What film school didn't give me, however, was ample time to read! Let's be honest, it didn't even give me ample time to sleep. Nevertheless, I read my fair share of novels in 2014, and today I give my list of my ten favorite ones!

Presenting, in no particular order...

1. Prisoner of Night & Fog by Anne Blankman

Naked book because I left its jacket in my dorm. Heh.

   While I love reading historical fiction, I must say I've never been attracted to WWII fiction. I guess it's because I love reading about royalty, and by the 1940s, kings and queens weren't exactly the main players on the global chessboard. However, I decided to remedy that with Anne Blankman's Prisoner of Night & Fog. What drew me to this particular tale was that it was from the PoV of a Nazi sympathizer who eventually turns her back on her old beliefs. I wondered how exactly the author would pull it off, and I must say that I was not disappointed. There was a chapter in the novel where Gretchen (our protagonist) realizes that her Uncle Dolf truly is a monster and that all the things she thought was right growing up were actually inhumane and wrong, and it was masterfully written. I take that back. Not just that chapter, but the whole novel itself is a beautiful piece of literature. #BravoBlankman

2. Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay

   This was probably the first of the ten books on this list that I decided would make it on, no matter what. It's a weird retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and I say weird with all the love in my heart. A science fiction book set on an unnamed planet, the author never reveals which of the two heroes is the "beast" and which one is the "beauty". It's all up to the reader and what he/she finds beastly and beautiful. It's just an amazing, emotional adventure that I fell in love with. 

Side note: Stacey Jay's next fairytale, Princess of Thorns has just been released and I am doing a can't-hold-in-my-pee dance because it's got me so excited!

3. The Mirk & Midnight Hour by Jane Nickerson

   I discovered Jane Nickerson's first novel, Strands of Bronze and Gold, about a year ago, and it was delightful. It was one of those instances in a bookworm's life when you say, "This has been on my TBR list for forever--how come I never picked it up before now?!" I was then happy to find out that a second Nickerson fairytale-retelling would be released this year, which was The Mirk & Midnight Hour. 

  While I do love a regular fairytale retelling, in some cases I feel like the author tries to fit their plot around the fairytale, and not using the source material to create their own story. Jane Nickerson, thankfully, does the latter. She writes an original plot, and then peppers it with little fairytale references, but it's never the main priority, which I like. She also chooses obscure fairytales to retell (reminiscent of Shannon Hale's retellings of Goose Girl and Maid Maleen): Strands of Bronze and Gold is a Bluebeard retelling--okay, maybe not so obscure, but tell me how many Bluebeard YAs we've got out there? TMMH, takes on a rare fairytale as well--Tam Lin-- and a glorious retelling it is indeed. 

4. Flowers In The Attic by V.C. Andrews

Credits to Google Images because, heh, I  left my copy back at my dorm. :)
   This book has the distinction of being the only one on this list I read twice this year, and I loved it both times. I first heard about this book from Melissa de la Cruz's tweets. When the Lifetime movie came out, I watched it, loved it and then went on a hunt for the book. This is also the oldest book on this list, as it came out a good 15 years before I was even born!

   Flowers In The Attic is about four children who are sent to live with their grandparents. Told to stay in the attic for the time being, the time being begins to turn into a month, then a year, then years. They slowly realize that their grandparents (along with their own mother) have no intention of ever letting them leave the attic. I don't want to spoil too much on their motives, because I would love for you guys to discover this novel for yourselves, but, oh, it's just creepy and sinister and all things gothic. I'm not officially giving ranks for this list, but if I were, Flowers In The Attic would definitely be among my Top 3. 

5. The Heiresses by Sara Shepard

   One of the first books I reviewed for this blog, The Heiresses was just the pure fluff + guilty pleasure I was looking for. It's your typical Sara Shepard fare: pretty, rich girls involved in a murder mystery. But I did like how it's written for a more adult audience than Pretty Little Liars, and how she was able to portray the lives of the rich & famous without it being completely ridiculous and over-the-top. For the fans of The Clique who have since grown up, this is the novel for y'all.

6. Trafficked by Kim Purcell

   This is probably the most disturbing book I've read this year--and I've read my share of creep, thank you very much. But what made this book so disturbing is the fact that human trafficking is a reality. I mean, sure, a society that sends 23 innocent children to their death every year as a form of entertainment is terrifying, but fictional. What is very real in our world is innocent children who are sold into slavery because they were falsely promised a better life. That happens. And to read a first-person (albeit fictional, but drawn from experiences of survivors) account of everyday life as a slave in 21st-century America chilled me to the bone. It was an emotionally heavy read, but if you're ready for this kind of material, I really suggest you go for it. It was quite the eye-opener. 

*Also, the author mentioned in her afterword that she would be donating 20% of the book's earnings to organizations that help stop human trafficking. When I read those words, my heart skipped a beat and had a serious case of goosebumps. Whenever you think that all humanity is lost, there are people like Kim Purcell. Bless her heart.

7. The Young Elites by Marie Lu

   I'm sure that a billion other people have this on their 2014 list, and as you should! This book showcased Marie Lu's excellent storytelling skills, as well as her knack for complete worldbuilding. I remember when I first heard about this book, I assumed this was a dystopian series, and I was pleasantly surprised when I found out it was a high fantasy series instead! I also love the fact that Lu decided to tell a villain's tale. In the world of The Young Elites, there is a lot of gray areas; the good guys aren't all that good, and the bad guys aren't all evil. It's the way that Marie Lu veers away from clichéd plotlines in her novel that make this a solid addition to Salve's Favorite Books of 2014.

8. Spirit's Princess by Esther Friesner

   I've loved Esther Friesner's novels since I was 13. Her books are timeless, in the sense that I can read her books at 13 or 20, and I have yet to grow out of them. Spirit's Princess was a typical Friesner book, and by typical Friesner, I mean it was typically EPIC. Her motto must be "go big or go home", because her historical fiction novels are just that. With Spirit's Princess, she leaves her usual mythology hunting grounds of Greece & Egypt and heads over to Asia. I enjoyed reading about feudal Japan, which is not an era I knew much about. The way she paints the picture of ancient Japan...just, give her all the awards. I could fangirl for another ten paragraphs, but I won't put you through that. For those of you who want to hear more though, I wrote a review on it which you can see here.

9. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

   If you have not read Crazy Rich Asians by now, you're doing this whole bookworm thing wrong. It's a hilarious book that explores the world of--yep, you guessed it--crazy rich Asians. We usually read books about the Hiltons and Trumps of the fictional world, but Kevin Kwan gives us an all-access pass to their Asian counterparts. I enjoyed it because as much as I love reading about shopping on Fifth Avenue as much as the next girl, there's something about a book being set in your neck of the woods that drives up your curiosity in it. I enjoyed reading about characters that come from almost-kinda the same cultural backgrounds as you did. I don't mean in the financial sense, although wouldn't that be nice. No, I mean in the sense that there's a certain Southeast Asian culture that otherwise-different countries share. Like, one of the big hooplahs in the beginning of the book is when Nicky brings home a girl from the US, sending all his relatives into a tizzy. His mom calls up all her relatives, from her network of spies  friends in Singapore to Nicky's cousin in Paris, all to dig up information about this girl. I can so imagine a few of my friends' mothers doing that! Also there's a scene where Nicky's mother, Eleanor, has all her friends over for "Bible study" but really, it's to gossip. I can't tell you how many times I've walked downstairs to see my mom and her friends gathered around the dining table, making chica, which is basically a nice Filipino slang word for catching up on gossip. 

Side anecdote: One time this happened, and I quickly said hi, then went and ran errands. Hours later, after finishing all my errands, I came home to find, I kid you not, that they were all still sitting in the same place, chatting it up! I then blurted out, "Oh my gosh, you guys are still here?!" Not one of my classiest moments, I gotta say.

   The icing on top of the cake, is that Kevin Kwan is working on a sequel!! *happy dancing* I'll bet my left pinky nail that Book #2 will make my top 10 for 2015!

10. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, The Throne of Glass Saga by Sarah J. Maas, Leslie Carroll's Royal Anthologies

But I got a blank space, baby, because I loaned one out to my aunt.
   The tenth and final spot on my list is dedicated these wonderful series I discovered in 2014. Both Meyer and Maas have crafted stunning plots that do not hit the typical Sophomore Slump. The sequels (and in Maas' case, her prequel) are just as engaging as the first book. For those who have been living under a rock, Meyer's Lunar Chronicles are sci-fi fairytale retellings, and Maas' Throne of Glass is a high fantasy series that I like to call The Hunger Game of Thrones. Also, for said people living a Patrick Star-like existence, what are you doing?! Get out there and get these books! 

   In Carroll's case, all four were a delight to read. Each book is a collection of royals who fall under a category: those who engaged in affairs or notorious marriages, or who were just a pain in the butt. Leslie Carroll doesn't write in boring, staid prose like so many of her fellow historians. Her books are hilarious and sometimes downright irreverent, and I love it. 

     These three series have been such a huge part of my 2014 that I couldn't imagine putting together a list and not including them. Their only fault? Each book in each series is a work of art in itself, and if I tried to individually add them to the list, we'd have a top 20 instead! But that is the best kind of fault to be had.

   And that is my top 10 for 2014 and with it, I challenge you all to post your top 10 for 2014! It was a great reading year for me; I think I branched out more this year in terms of genre than I ever did before. I discovered new series, watched my share of YA film adaptations, and of course, started this blog. Before 2014 ends, I want to give you all a big virtual hug and thank you for supporting Cuckoo For Books! 



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