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The following is a compilation of the books I read and liked best in 2014.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (♦♦♦♦): is a splendid example of a gothic novel; the sense of doom, of supernatural forces governing events permeates this timeless classic.
The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B. by Sandra Gulland (♦♦♦♦): the title couldn’t have been different; it pays homage not to a life but to the journey of a woman of modest beginnings who became extraordinary during the times and through suffering she endured…Since the book more or less started with a prophecy I was desperate to see it play out, so much so that when the book became serious […] I felt tempted to leave it aside. It was a history lesson let me tell you, and not the pretty kind. It was ugly and messy and plain terrifying.
Hannah’s Dream by Diane Hammond (♦♦♦♦½): is a book about an elephant and its relationship with its zoo keeper, but it’s also a story about love, loyalty, loss, growing old and infirm, being at odds with God and the reconciliation with Him once the main characters recognized their prayers had been answered.
The Misremembered Man by Christina McKenna (♦♦♦♦½): is a poignant story, bittersweet and tragic as only real life can be. You will laugh out loud and most certainly you will cry, but above all, the story and characters will haunt you.
The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro (♦♦♦♦♦): is a rich, intricate tapestry where snippets of the recent past (three years ago), long past (last years of the nineteenth century) and the present intermingle to make a fascinating detective story come to life. The detective story is anything but conventional, because it’s about what “an unassuming painter”--with knowledge, the right skill set, and a unique perspective—sees when all the experts in the field disagree.
The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett (♦♦♦♦): it opens up sort of dream-like: a spy walking through the desert after losing his last camel. With several pounds of baggage on him and hardly any water, he passes out just before he “believes” he has arrived at the oasis he’s been looking for… It’s not exactly starting a novel with a bang, but just before the first chapter is over, said spy is forced to kill a British officer and the chase starts…It is a very entertaining spy thriller with enough historical background to teach a little about WWII along the way.
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (♦♦♦♦): is compelling, a tour-de-force writing; it grabs you and doesn't let go until the end. It’s a marvelous rendition of a world in extinction thanks to the ubiquitous nature of the internet… The Imperfectionists takes an unflinching look at relationships, personal and in the workforce. The result is neither optimistic nor pretty but real and raw nonetheless.
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (♦♦♦♦½): covers many topics--such as the power of friendship and how people in relationships change for better or worse-- but the love for books and the amazing reach of what science and technology can accomplish… those themes recur and run deep within the fibers of this unique and sparkly story…By the way, the book cover glows in the dark, if that is not cool I don’t know what is!
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley (♦♦♦♦): is historical fiction at its best, drawing from a relatively unknown (at least for me) chapter of Scottish history. Though it’s at its core a love story defying death or time, it’s also a narration about political maneuvering and intrigue.
Rimas (Rhymes) by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer (♦♦♦♦♦): encompasses a variety of topics ranging from love in all its manifestations, disillusionment, and religious and spiritual epiphanies…This Kindle collection is marred by misspellings but they don't manage to decrease the impact of Bécquer's amazing work.
La Ciudad de las Bestias (City of the Beasts) by Isabel Allende (♦♦♦♦): is a passionate narrative for young adults, in which reality and fiction, myth and fantasy coexist. The intricate and little known Amazonian jungle and the legendary city of El Dorado are the lush scenarios in which this magnificent and mysterious story unfolds.
Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down theWorld's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb (♦♦♦♦): reads like something urgent, a message that can neither be ignored nor forgotten. It reads like a gripping spy novel, and it's unclear to me whether that is a blessing or a curse, because the danger of missing the lesson entirely, however unlikely that may be, could prove costly. Furthermore, Hunting Eichmann is a stirring account of the main players’ paths to that time in history—Eichmann’s, the capture team’s, as well as the witnesses’.
The Heist by Daniel Silva (♦♦♦♦): though convoluted, The Heist is another great entry in the Gabriel Allon saga, a satisfying ride with lots of learning on the side. Silva remarks that stolen art serves as underground currency for all sorts of criminal transactions and that the more famous the art piece, the better the odds are of finding it.
Mariana by Susanna Kearsley (♦♦♦♦): is utterly absorbing: I was a captive by page 20. The plot is atmospheric, otherworldly, with lavish narrative and fascinating characters. I enjoyed both the modern day story as well as the 17th century one, but I liked Mariana’s subplot the best; there was more drama, romance, and more chemistry in Mariana’s life than in Julia’s.
Exiles by Ron Hansen (♦♦♦♦): I have read sad (and inspiring) books in my day, but Exiles by Ron Hansen is in contention to take the cake in both categories. I felt moved by the life of Gerard Manley Hopkins, his convictions, the desertion of friends and family when he abandoned the comfort of his faith for a stranger (and poorly perceived) one, desertion that felt to him like betrayal because in the most important moments of his life the people closest to him weren’t present. That hurts! He remained, as the nuns, an exile until the end.
The Night Is Forever by Heather Graham (♦♦♦♦): I suspected the identity of the killer from early on but there was enough misdirection to confuse me for a while, so no damage done. The plot was intricate and the history involving the Battle of Nashville and other battles from the Civil War on Tennessee soil were fascinating and absorbing. It was a great touch on Graham’s part to include a ghost hero and the history surrounding him. The other two ghosts were interesting as well, though they didn’t have much to contribute to the investigation and I found that so frustrating.
Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture by Ross King (♦♦♦♦): provides a fascinating portrayal of the times and the professional and personal life of Brunelleschi. The result is a vivid, absorbing tale of intrigue and genius, of turbulent times and the men who shaped them.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (♦♦♦♦♦): Wow! That’s what I said when I finished it. I went through so many emotions while reading this book: I laughed a great deal in the beginning; I cried with the death of Mrs. Dubose and Jem’s reaction to it, I was on the edge-of-my-seat during the trial, and when the book ended I felt a hole in my heart, but also the knowledge of having been through a unique experience.
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (♦♦♦♦½): The story of Dinah reinvented by Diamant is one of great sorrow, laced with amazing interludes of female bonding, devotion and deep love. From The Red Tent emerges the image of loving, strong, resilient women who, in spite of living in a world governed by men, shape their lives and those whom they share them with.
Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult (♦♦♦♦): although it has a slow development, I was so invested in the story that I wanted to finish fast to know how it ended, and what an ending it is! It reminded me of at least two well known movies that I’d rather not mention for fear of spoiling it. Suffice it to say that I didn’t see that coming in a million years, a testament of powerful storytelling.
La Casa de los Espíritus (House of Spirits) by Isabel Allende (♦♦♦♦♦): is an enthralling narrative in which oracles and the paranormal coexist with the reality of daily life and the hallucinating political landscape that takes shape between the pages. The story is timeless because it isn't constrained by dates, nor it is constrained to a specific country though no doubt Allende is alluding convulse political changes that Chile underwent in modern times.
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman (♦♦♦♦♦): By reading it I've had time to think what makes a family what it is, and also what defines parenthood: biology or rearing a child with love... Intense and heartbreaking, The Light Between Oceans is a profound reflection on the meaning of motherhood, and the bond between a mother and her child.
Stay With Me by Alison Gaylin (♦♦♦♦): Since it started I knew it was different from its predecessors in the series because it grabbed my attention faster and never let me go. It was easier to read and harder to put down. Also, the suspense was toned down and the thriller factor upped. The plot and subplots were also more realistic and current.
The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley (♦♦♦♦½): It has all the elements that made The Winter Sea a success: parallel stories in time, meaty and believable characters, great chemistry between the protagonists, and paranormal elements. It helped a lot that The Firebird was a continuation of sorts of The Winter Sea, and some of the most likable characters of the latter, reappear in the former to enhance the story and bring it full circle.