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MY TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2014

Yes, the time has come to narrow down all the amazing books I’ve read this year and sort them into my Top Ten – and trust me, it’s been a very difficult decision. These books aren’t necessarily all books that were written in 2014, just books that I have read, reviewed and adored this past year – and I would highly recommend each and every one of them.

1. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult (https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/nineteen-minutes-by-jodi-picoult/)

2. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/a-thousand-splendid-suns-by-khaled-hosseini/)

3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/the-kite-runner-by-khaled-hosseini/)

4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2014/05/20/rebecca-by-daphne-du-maurier/)

5. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/one-flew-over-the-cuckoos-nest-by-ken-kesey/)

6. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2014/07/08/and-the-mountains-echoed-by-khaled-hosseini/)

7. Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England by Amanda Vickery (review coming soon!)

8. Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth (https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/bitter-greens-by-kate-forsyth/)

9. Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins (https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2014/08/26/isla-and-the-happily-ever-after-by-stephanie-perkins/)

10. The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory (https://coffeebooksandparis.wordpress.com/2014/08/20/the-kings-curse-by-philippa-gregory/)

So there you have it – after several hours of indecisiveness, my top ten books of 2014! Thanks to everyone who has read my reviews this year, and I look forward to posting more next year. Happy New Year!

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Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “Delia Hopkins has led a charmed life. Raised in rural New Hampshire by her widowed father Andrew, she now has a young daughter, a handsome fiance and a job she loves, finding missing persons. But as Delia plans her wedding, she is plagued by flashbacks of a life she can’t recall. And then a policeman knocks at her door, and her world fractures into something unrecognisable…”

REVIEW: This novel tells the story of Delia Hopkins, a woman with, as the blurb suggests, a life to be envied. She has a young daughter, Sophie, with her fiance Eric, one of her closest childhood friends. Her best friend Fitz is hugely supportive, particularly when it comes to Eric’s alcoholism, she has a warm and loving father named Andrew, and she is praised across the town for the work she does finding missing persons with her beloved dog Greta. However, her father’s sudden arrest leads Delia to discover that she is not actually Delia Hopkins at all; she is in fact Bethany Matthews, a woman whose father kidnapped her from her mother when she was just four years old. This means that the mother that Delia always believed to be dead is, in fact, alive, and has supposedly been searching for her daughter for twenty-eight years. Eric is swiftly dispatched to be Andrew’s lawyer, though his personal affiliation to the case – and his desire not to disappoint Delia – often makes it difficult for him to be objective about the proceedings. The story is told from the points of view of Delia, Eric, Fitz, Andrew and Delia’s long-lost mother, Elise, who seems know much more than she is letting on about Andrew’s motivations for running away with his daughter. These varying points of view give the reader interesting and contrasting perspectives on the story, and allow the judgement we make to be much more balanced and considered. As in the majority of Picoult’s novels, there is a conflict presented to the reader – should Andrew have taken Delia (or Bethany, as she was once known) away in order to protect her from the life of a child with an alcoholic mother? Or should he have allowed Delia to grow up with both parents present in her lives? A conflict for Delia also takes place within the book, not only in terms of which parent she sides with, but also in terms of her personal relationship – as the case begins to put her relationship with Eric under strain, old feelings she once had for Fitz – feelings that he has never lost – begin to resurface and threaten her relationship. This adds a very entertaining dimension to the story, and also gives it additional power to hook the reader. The twist at the end of the novel is brilliant, in true Picoult style, and definitively allows the reader to come to a decision over which parent they believe is right.

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Larkswood by Valerie Mendes

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “Larkswood House is home to the Hamilton children – Edward, Cynthia and Harriet – who enjoy the freedom and excitement of privilege. But in the glorious summer of 1896, with absent parents and a departed governess, disaster strikes the family, leaving it cruelly divided. More than forty years later, on the eve of the Second World War, Louisa Hamilton is sent to Larkswood to recuperate from glandular fever. There she meets her grandfather, Edward, home after decades in India. But as Louisa begins to fall under the spell of Larkswood, she realises it holds the key to the mystery that shattered her family two generations before. Will she find the courage to unravel the dark secrets of the past? And can Larkswood ever become home to happiness again?”

REVIEW: Any long-term followers of this blog will know that I particularly enjoy this style of novel, which combines history with deep family secrets and new romances, and I did thoroughly enjoy this one. The novel flits between the year of 1896, and the year of 1939, and tells two different stories of family strife that combine together at the end of the novel to reveal a shocking secret. In the 1896 chapters we are introduced to the three Hamilton siblings – Edward, Cynthia and Harriet. The story is told from the point of view of Harriet, the youngest sibling, who feels overshadowed by her glamorous elder sister and adores and admires her elder brother. All three siblings are hurt by the indifference and disdain that their parents feel towards them, and have learnt well enough to only rely on each other. This is why, when their parents go travelling abroad and Cynthia reveals that she is pregnant, the siblings must work together in order to keep Cynthia’s condition a secret and find a workable solution for a situation that will forever ruin her reputation. The father of the child remains unknown, and although the reader is led to suspect many different characters, when the father is revealed it proves a great shock both to the reader and to the character of Louisa Hamilton, who uncovers the identity of the father in the 1939 section. Louisa narrates these sections and is much like Harriet, overshadowed by her older sister Millicent and desperate to avoid the high-society life of balls and courtship. Upon retiring to Larkswood to recover from a bout of glandular fever, Louisa begins to not only build up a loving and affectionate relationship with her isolated grandfather, the Edward of the 1896 section, but also to discover who she really is and forge her own identity away from the societal expectations of her mother and sister. Louisa also finds love in the form of young gardener Thomas Saunders, and a mission in trying to find out the story of what happened to her grandfather’s beloved sisters, whom he believes to have died of Scarlet fever many years previously. As the barriers between past and present begin to unravel, Louisa uncovers secrets she could never have anticipated, and realises that she is the only hope they have of saving and reuniting the Hamilton family. Although parts of the writing can sometimes seem rushed and abrupt, particularly during Edward’s narrative (though this may have been done deliberately, of course), this book is gripping, engaging and offers a brilliant twist near the end that both scandalises and fascinates the reader. I would recommend this novel.

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself. But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in the way, and only by believing in each other – and the power of their friendship – can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side”

REVIEW: This book was both easy to read and difficult to put down, and deals brilliantly with the issues surrounding self-discovery, family and sexuality that are often the most questioned in the minds of teenagers. Although the characters of Aristotle and Dante are extremely different, both boys are in the midst of a struggle to discover who they are and want they want to get out of life. As the friendship between the two boys begins to blossom into something more, deeper and darker issues begin to emerge that threaten to tear them apart for good – for example, when Ari saves Dante from a near-fatal car accident or when Dante is beaten by a homophobic gang of boys. Despite their rocky relationship, Ari and Dante are constantly helping each other to see different ways and forms of life, and their bond is sealed with the friendship that develops between their parents and by the love that they both develop for Ari’s adopted dog, Legs. What I enjoyed most about this book, however, is the fact that it deals with something that the majority of books for teenagers often skirt around – homosexuality. It is refreshing to read of something other than a heterosexual relationship developing in YA fiction, and although this has become more popular lately with works such as those by David Leviathan, it is still fantastic that authors like Saenz are trying to make homosexuality and more acceptable and topical norm in teenage society. For this reason alone I think Saenz deserved all the credit he received from organisations like the Stonewall association, and am very proud to be a part of spreading the word about this angst-filled, but also humorous, novel.

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The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult

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RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “There is more than one way to lose a child. Daniel Stone had thought it would never happen to him. How could it, when Trixie’s face lit up every time she saw him, when for her whole life he’d been the centre of her world? But it recently it seems, without him noticing, his daughter is gone, and in her place is a stranger. Until the night fourteen-year-old Trixie comes home from a party claiming she was raped, and suddenly she needs him more than ever. Because the whole school knew Jason Underhill broke Trixie’s heart, but that doesn’t make him a rapist, does it? For Daniel, there is no doubt: his daughter is innocent. He has failed to protect her once. Now he will do anything to save her”

REVIEW: Like the majority of Picoult’s books, this novel deals with an extremely harrowing and sensitive subject – rape – and explores not only the horrific impact it has on the victim, but also how those around the victim react to and interpret the situation. Trixie’s rape by her ex-boyfriend Jason, whom she was trying to win back at a party thrown by her best friend Zephyr, is something that many people in the small-town community find difficult to wrap their heads around. Jason is the star of the school football team, on track for a scholarship at a prestigious college and all set to move on to an illustrious career – because of this, he is worshipped not only by everyone in the school but by everyone outside of it too. When news of Trixie’s rape begins to spread, she becomes a victim all over again – her best friend initially believes that she is making the whole thing up to get revenge, as do most of the other students in the school, who disgustingly refer to Trixie as a slut – a problem that is all too familiar to us in society now. The teachers of the school band behind Jason and insist that he is both innocent and a good student, who could never commit such an act. Even the detectives involved in Trixie’s case seem to have a difficult time in believing her story. Yet, throughout the novel there remains only a tiny shred of doubt in the readers mind that this is the truth, and this is probably because of the certainty of Trixie’s father, Daniel, whose constant faith in his daughter shines throughout the novel and greatly influences the perspective of the reader. The difficulties that Daniel and his wife, Laura, are experiencing in their marriage make an interesting addition to the plotline and the slow but steady healing of the marriage adds a more cheerful element to such a tragic story. Everything changes, however, with the death of Jason Underhill – Daniel and Trixie in turn are suspected of his murder, and the reader begins to question everything they thought they knew about these characters. The revelation at the end of the novel regarding Jason’s death is a brilliant twist, one of Picoult’s finest, but keeps the reader hanging on even after the book is finished. Definitely one of my favourite Picoult books to date.

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Emma Brown by Clare Boylan

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “When Charlotte Bronte died in 1855, she had written the first two chapters of a new novel, which introduced a lost girl and signalled the author’s most compelling work since Jane Eyre. Now, almost 150 years later, Clare Boylan has returned to this intriguing beginning and turned it into an astonishing story of mystery, atmosphere and page-turning suspense. The arrival of Conway Fitzgibbon at Fuchsia Lodge with his daughter Matilda is a source of delight to the headmistress, Miss Wilcox. The unsuccessful ladies’ school is eager for new pupils, particularly one so finely dressed and boasting a father who is ‘quite the gentleman’. Bus as Christmas approaches, and Miss Wilcox inquires about arrangements for the holidays, she is in for a shock. Conway Fitzgibbon, like the address he left behind, does not exist…”

REVIEW: A love of Charlotte Bronte compelled me to start this book by Clare Boylan, which aims to complete a long-lost tale that Bronte left behind upon her death. The book often reminded me, in terms of its plotline, of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s ‘A Little Princess’, particularly when the character of Matilda is cast aside and poorly treated upon the school administrators discovering that she is, in fact, an orphan with no way of paying her tuition fees. The story of Matilda – or Emma, as we later come to to know her – is interlinked with the story of Mr Ellin, a local bachelor who forms a fatherly attachment to Matilda upon visiting her at Fuchsia Lodge, and the story of Miss Chalfont, a lonely widow who desperately longs for a child. When Mr Ellin removes Matilda from Fuchsia Lodge and places her in the care of Miss Chalfont, a friendship begins to blossom between the two women that becomes very similar to a mother-daughter relationship, and greatly improves the life of both involved. However, whenever Matilda attempts to remember her life with the fraud who deposited her at Fuchsia Lodge – or, indeed, her life beforehand  – she finds she can remember nothing at all. The pain she feels upon not being able to remember leads Matilda to run away in pursuit of her past, and leads to a number of dark twists and turns in the poorer parts of London that continue to amaze and surprise the reader. We grow extremely attached to Matilda/Emma, but also to the minor characters in the novel like Jenny Drew, the homeless child that Matilda/Emma soon befriends. The tragic unveiling of Matilda/Emma’s is beautifully balanced out by the uplifting nature of the ending, which truly seems to mimic the form of ending favoured by Bronte herself, and is therefore a brilliant tribute.

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Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “Jack St.Bride was once a beloved teacher at a private girl’s school – until a student’s crush sparked a powder keg of accusation and robbed him of his career and reputation. After a devastatingly public ordeal that left him with an eight-month jail sentence and no job, Jack resolves to pick up the pieces of his life. He takes a job washing dishes at Addie Peabody’s diner in the quiet New England village of Salem Falls and slowly starts to form a relationship with her. But a quartet of teenage girls harbours dark secrets – and they maliciously target Jack with a shattering allegation. Now, at the centre of a modern-day witch hunt, Jack is forced once again to proclaim his innocence; to a town searching for answers, to a justice system where truth becomes a slippery concept written in shades of grey, and to the women who has come to love him”

REVIEW: This book may be one of my favourite Picoult novels yet, beaten only by the brilliant Nineteen Minutes, which I have previously reviewed on this blog. The story of Jack St. Bride is one full of sacrifice and fear, and instantly grips the reader from the moment the book is opened. As Jack falls in love with Addie, a woman traumatised after a childhood rape and the later death of her young daughter, his world is turned upside down by the accusations of a teenage girl named Gillian Duncan. Daughter of the richest man in town, Gillian is both beautiful and accustomed to getting what she wants – and what she wants is Jack. When he turns her down and the truth about his past conviction emerges, Gillian uses her talent for witchcraft, as well as the three other members of her coven – Meg, Chelsea and Whitney – to create a tangled web of lies that makes Jack the target of the entire community within Salem Falls. The book flashes between past and present, giving us a glimpse of Jack’s earlier life and his relationship with the girl he was falsely accused of raping, Catherine Marsh. Much like in ‘Sing you Home’, this book presents much less of conflict for the reader than other Picoult works; the reader knows of Jack’s innocence and guesses at Gillian’s manipulative actions and therefore supports Jack all the way through the book. In this sense, I found it a little less enjoyable as it did not quite present the moral dilemma that I am so used to and fond of in Picoult’s works. However, the addition of witchcraft into the book made for an absolutely fascinating narrative, and gave it an air of spirituality that was both unnerving and entertaining. I also thoroughly enjoyed seeing the relationship between Jack and Addie develop, and learning about the girls in Gillian’s coven also added extra depth and interest to the novel. Once again, I would highly recommend this book.