Favorite Reads 2014

2014 Fav Reads Banner

I received complimentary copies of most of the books I mention here from the publishers in exchange for honest reviews, which you’ll find in the posts I’ve linked to.

At last! I’ve been anticipating this post since I started book blogging earlier this year. As this blog is all about hope and inspiration, these are the books that most fit that bill for me in 2014 and that I highly recommend to fellow readers. I’ve purposely listed them in an eclectic order. Here we go!

Keeping Quiet with Medal________________

The Fine Art of Keeping Quiet by Charity Tahmaseb

Young Adult Fiction

 from me

If I had to describe all the places this book took me as I read it, it would require a book’s-worth of space for me to make it plain. Here’s a brilliant novel that can do a world of good for any reader around twelve-years-old and up, a story that shows us what happens when you lose your voice as a person. How are you going to get it back? This is the kind of beautiful work I can see myself reading over and over again.

2014 Fav Reads

The Butterfly and the Violin with Medal_________________

The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

Christian Fiction

 from me

Utterly life-affirming. I’m convinced that Cambron tapped into a place invisible and eternal to write this powerful piece of World War II fiction, as it tapped into something invisible and eternal in me, the place where the hope of glory lives, as I read it, and I doubt I’m the only reader who’s experienced it that way. What a debut for this author! I can’t wait to read the sequel in 2015, which I absolutely intend to.

2014 Fav Reads

Harvest of Rubies with Medal________________

Harvest of Rubies by Tessa Afshar

Christian Fiction

 from me

New-to-me historical fiction by a new-to-me author. This amazing novel brought the heroine’s life as a scribe (at the time, a man’s job) down to earth without at all removing the true feel of the period. (Well, no–I wasn’t around during the time of the ancient Persian empire, but Sarah is so relatable, I might as well have been in Persia right there with her and her heartwarming friends…and challenging husband.)

2014 Fav Reads

The Almond Tree with Medal_________________

The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti

World Literature

 from me

Written by a Jewish American author, here’s a book that’s garnered all kinds of attention and was the first such trip I’d ever taken to Palestine–a political novel, I’m sure, but I wasn’t caught up in the politics of it so much as I was gripped by its humanity. It’s a tragic but optimistic story simply told with the feel of a memoir, a novel I’ve deemed to be fuel for hope and compassion for humankind.

2014 Fav Reads

Prelude for a Lord with Medal________________

Prelude for a Lord by Camille Elliot

Christian Fiction

 from me

What? A lady in Regency England playing the violin, of all instruments during the period? Simply scandalous! I was pleasantly surprised at the mix of action and suspense in this novel of artistry, romance, and questions of faith, and there’s nothing thin or forced in the development of these intriguing characters. Even if my physical ears couldn’t exactly hear Lady Alethea Sutherton’s music, my soul did.

2014 Fav Reads

Elderberry Croft with Medal_________________

Elderberry Croft: The Complete Collection by Becky Doughty

Women’s Fiction

 from me

An altogether refreshing find for me, a collection of twelve deftly intertwined stories in what I call an Anne-of-Green-Gables-Avonlea-type place. The months progress from a warm, feel-good tone to something appropriately darker as more of Willow’s story is revealed, but not too dark to still, ultimately, feel good. I was absorbed throughout this tough journey of faith, grief, and love.

2014 Fav Reads

Just Mercy with Medal_________________

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Nonfiction/Autobiography

 from me

I don’t read as many biographies and such as I do novels. Still, I was honored to get an early look at this timely narrative by Stevenson, the Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice that defends the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children in the criminal justice system of the United States. This is an important book for Americans of all races and classes.

2014 Fav Reads

Thief of Glory with Medal_____________

Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer

Christian Fiction

 from me

Heartrending. Raw. Superb. Another World War II novel and a masterfully written piece of fiction, exposing a side of the war that I’d never visited before through a novel, in the Dutch East Indies, or Indonesia. This book’s back cover copy hardly does it justice, and the age of the woman on the front is more reminiscent of where the novel doesn’t linger than where it does, but those outside factors aside, the novel itself hits its mark profoundly.

2014 Fav Reads

Heidi Grows Up with Medal________________

Heidi Grows Up by Charles Tritten

Children’s Fiction

 from me

Okay, so, Heidi doesn’t look like that. She has dark, curly hair according to her original author, Johanna Spyri, if my memory serves me correctly. And this rather YA fiction-looking book cover isn’t, admittedly, the cover of the old copy I procured this year. But this cover does tell us a little more than Tritten would’ve expressed outright to the kiddies, and if someone must write a sequel to another author’s work, I’d say Tritten’s way is the way to do it.

2014 Fav Reads

Black Bubblegum with Medal___________________

Black Bubblegum by Lewis P. Bryon

Inspirational Poetry

 from me

Bryon (not “Byron,” mind you–Bryon) is a multiracial author and spoken word artist whose poetry should be read aloud, if the reader’s reading situation allows. While this is evidently a Christian collection of work from a man of faith, I wouldn’t at all call it syrupy or super-sanitized. Bryon’s words are honest, real, poignant, and they hit you where they hit you. And I dare you not to want to pop in a few pieces of gum to chomp when you read this.

2014 Fav Reads

Magnolia Market with Medal______________________

Magnolia Market by Judy Christie

Christian Fiction

 from me

I confess–reading Christie’s novel that precedes this one might have helped me to keep the beginning information on the characters straighter, as I wasn’t aware that this book is a sequel until after I got a copy. But, was my enjoyment of this novel with small-town drama and classism, romance, and humor diminished by that? Not in the least. My being a Seattleite also gives it extra points, but it’s a good novel no matter where you’re from.

2014 Fav Reads

Somewhere Safe with Medal____________________

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon

Christian Fiction

 from me

So. With this novel, I’m totally guilty of knowingly jumping into an ongoing series without having read any of the books before it. In this case, the nine books before it. But, alas, I found this novel’s title irresistible. And when I tell you that I immediately felt right at home in Mitford with Father Tim Kavanagh and his supporting cast of neighbors, and I could easily see why Karon is a New York Times bestselling author, I so mean it.

2014 Fav Reads

Me and Georgette with Medal____________________

Me & Georgette by D.B. Schaefer

Historical Romance

 from me

I’ve simply never read another novel like it. I mean, Jewish and historical English culture mixed with humor, romance, and time travel? How could Schaefer pull that off? Yet, pull it off she does in an entertaining Regency novel that takes some unusual chances and is all the better for it. I hear tell that fans of Georgette Heyer novels will especially like it, and though I’m not personally familiar with Heyer’s work, I especially liked this novel anyway.

2014 Fav Reads

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So, there you have it! If you wish to share this list of great books and are inclined to do such things by way of video, here’s one for that purpose. I hope you’ll enjoy some of these reads as much as I did. :-)

Christmas Book Picks 2014

Christmas Book Picks

I received complimentary copies of most of the books I mention here from the publishers in exchange for honest reviews, which you’ll find in the posts I’ve linked to.

Yes, so, I initially planned on posting my Christmas Book Picks right after Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. on the 27th, but I figured posting a little over a week early wouldn’t hurt, in case any of my dear blog readers would like to procure and read a title or two from this list, which I hope you will! Consider the extra week to be more reading time. :-)

The 20th Christmas

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The 20th Christmas by Andrea Rodgers

Christian Fiction

 from me

A serious-but-still-Christmassy novel from a debut author. Really, how could I not read this book after coming across this beautiful cover that effectively and accurately speaks volumes about the story? Hopefully Rodgers has got more books up her sleeve.

lit-advent-candles-hi

From Dishes to Snow

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From Dishes to Snow by Kathy M. Howard

Christian Fiction

from me

Another serious read from a debut author here, and, okay–this isn’t technically a “Christmas” novel. However, there’s quite a joyful holiday theme that runs through it from Thanksgiving to Christmas, and with the snow and all to boot, I feel this book is wholly worthy to be on this list.

lit-advent-candles-hi

Clara's Wish

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Clara’s Wish by Beth Shriver

Amish Romance

★ from me

Nope, I still don’t read much Amish fiction, but yes, I’m glad I read this. It has pretty much everything a good Christmas novel set in modern times in an Amish community should have. (I may not be the ultimate authority on that, on account of my limited experience with this subgenre, but I know when a book leaves me with a nice Christmassy feeling. :-D )

lit-advent-candles-hi

Where Treetops Glisten

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Where Treetops Glisten by Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman, and Sarah Sundin

Christian Historical Romance

 from me

With all of the World War II fiction I’ve read (and still plan to read) this year, of course I had to include a holiday-themed one in the mix. Here are three romance novellas by three authors that tell the story of one family, the Turners, in a smooth flow from one novella to the next. The second, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, is my favorite of the three.

lit-advent-candles-hi

A Christmas Carol

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A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Classic Literature

 from me

I finally got to see why this story is such a classic! Well, I’ve seen why by watching its best film adaptation, Scrooge (1951), countless times since my childhood, but I’ve read the book at last, and it’s a delight of a tale. Admission: this isn’t the cover of the edition I read, but the Puffin Classics copy I have pictured captures the story’s delightfulness so very well. God bless us, every one!

lit-advent-candles-hi

Merry Christmas Darling

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Merry Christmas, Darling by Denise Devine

Sweet Romance

 from me

This book was the biggest surprise for me on this list. It’s exceedingly rare for me to pick up a book with an animal so prominent on the cover, especially if there are no people accompanying the animal, as that makes it come off as an animal tale–which this book, despite the cat, is not. I found this in a collection of sweet Christmas romances; while readers’ expectations of sweet/clean romances vary, nothing here made me blush, personally. Good holiday fun!

There, now. I believe I’ve officially kicked-off Christmas!
Publicly, anyway. I’ve been having Christmas myself since October…

Starry Night by Debbie Macomber

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.
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Starry NightStarry Night by Debbie Macomber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Hey. It was a windy night here in Seattle, power blew out, so I did what any sane person would do when the neighborhood’s electricity is taking the night off. I set aside electronics, grabbed a hardback, and devoured the Christmas story in it from beginning to end by the beam of a flashlight.

Starry Night is the third book I’ve read by Debbie Macomber and the one I enjoyed the most, both for the pacing of the characters’ interaction that built up to what was inevitably coming and also for some interesting elements that I haven’t seen in every other romance I’ve read. Plus, it included a shout out to the Seattle Seahawks (12th Man, here!), and I never imagined I’d see the city of Kent, Washington mentioned in a New York Times bestselling author’s novel, so, hey again–thank God for temporary power outages that allow for delightful detours!

The Patmos Deception by Davis Bunn

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Bethany House provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.
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The Patmos DeceptionThe Patmos Deception by Davis Bunn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

The island of Cyprus was full of lies. Even the map failed to tell the truth.

Excellent novel, though I’ll say up front that I’m rating it on a measure of faith: faith that there’ll be a sequel or series to complete this story that makes a riveting ascension, heads toward a landing, and stops with an almost maddening mixture of loose ends.

After reading nine of the novels Davis Bunn authored with Janette Oke as well as two legal thrillers of Bunn’s, The Great Divide and Winner Take All, I knew I was in for remarkable writing with The Patmos Deception, and I was not disappointed. Roman, Greek, and early Church history (as well as samples of cuisine that must be delicious) are weaved into this romantic suspense tale regarding the “alarming disappearance of invaluable Grecian antiquities,” and Bunn shapes his engaging characters’ thoughts, emotions, and motives with a nuanced hand. The issue of one character’s womanizing ways and his resulting emptiness comes close to being driven into the ground, perhaps, but avoids crossing that line.

So, five stars for what I read with the hope that it’ll still be excellent when I keep reading the story, once there’s more story to read.

Yes, I’m a Reader. Yes, I’m an Author.

Reader and Author

A man, Tom, has a son, Ben. Ben grows up and has a daughter, Sue. Does Ben cease to be Tom’s son, now that Ben has Sue? No. Ben is now both a son and a father, and being a father will likely expand, not diminish, Ben’s perspective as a son.

That’s just an example.

I’ve heard folks in the book world speak of readers and authors as if they’re completely separate or opposing entities, or as if once a reader writes and publishes a book, that reader is no longer a “real” reader or one whose voice as a reader should count as much among the reading populace (unless, perhaps, it’s the voice of a famous, bestselling author endorsing another author’s work.)

For instance, if Midlist or Independent Author Jill says she read and loved someone else’s book, it’s just because Author Jill wants fellow authors to say, in return, that they love Author Jill’s book. So, Author Jill’s word isn’t quite legit. Or, if she says she read but didn’t enjoy someone else’s book, Author Jill is trying to beat down the competition to make her own book look superior. Hence, again, Author Jill’s word lacks legitimacy.

So assumptions go, at times.

Now, I won’t say that I’ve never heard of authors who neglect reading once they start writing. Unfortunately, it happens. “Whew. I’ve been working and writing so much, I hardly have time to read anymore.” And, I won’t say that there aren’t authors who praise others’ books chiefly to receive praise for their own books in return, or who criticize others’ books due to pride or out of fear of the “competition.” I’ll bet those things happen as well.

But, that doesn’t mean it’s happening with all authors everywhere.

I didn’t stop being a bookworm when I started writing books. Just like a person can be someone’s child and another’s parent at the same time, I’m now a reader and an author, and being an author has expanded, not diminished, my perspective as a reader.

I can’t get away from what I am. Just as readers all over are my fellow readers, authors all over are my fellow authors, whether I personally know them or not. Whenever I read or share my thoughts on a book I didn’t write, I, consequently, am reading and sharing about a fellow author’s work, doing so with the heart of an author from the perspective of a reader.

I’m not one or the other. I’m both, and glad to be so.

Therefore, I would encourage my fellow readers not to assume someone is no longer a real reader with a genuine reader’s voice because that someone has now written a book. I’m as much of a bookworm as I ever was, if not more so, with honest reader’s views, as I’m sure is the case for an untold number of other book-loving authors.

The 13th Gift: A True Story of a Christmas Miracle by Joanne Huist Smith

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Blogging for Books provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.
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The 13th GiftThe 13th Gift: A True Story of a Christmas Miracle by Joanne Huist Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

“There is life after a death, if you’ve got the guts to live it.”

In The 13th Gift, a memoir in which author Joanne Huist Smith recounts the experience leading up to her and her three children’s first Christmas after the death of her husband, compassion and the giving spirit of the season shine through in an inspiring, down-to-earth way.

There are moments like those with a man named Charles and with a furniture store manager that are touching, as well as other moments that are reminiscent of a Christmas movie with some comedy and light suspense as Jo and her children try to discover who their “true friends” are. I might have preferred a somewhat different ending if this were a novel, but the fact that it’s a true story adds greater weight to the gentle call to action at the conclusion.

A rather quick and, again, inspiring holiday account–and, oh, how about that great front cover?

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Note to my blog readers: this book contains a minimal amount of profanity.