Allison's Book Bag

2014 Reading in Review

Posted on: January 5, 2015

It’s that time of year again! Below are the highlights of my 2014 reading year. The idea to include covers comes from Head Full of Books. Several of my selection questions originate from The Story Siren. This year, I’ve also tweaked my format. Each book now includes a link to my review and the teaser I originally wrote for it.


  1. Most liked novel I read?
    Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr: When The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr became available at our local library, it became my top pick to read during National Novel Writing Month. Since that time, I have purchased my own copy and it has become my turn-to book whenever I’m in the midst of an intense writing project.
  1. Least liked novel I read?
    Since You Asked by Maureen Goo: Confession time. I’m forty-something, which means that what I like may not coincide with what teens like. Since You Asked by Maureen Goo had high potential because it’s about a teen writer and books about writers generally resonate me. However, the clichés and stereotypes, the snarky attitude, and the abundance of slang and cursing ultimately turned me off. Adolescent girls will however probably enjoy the rebellious Holly and the romantic twists that develop throughout her last year in high school.
  1. Best picture book?
    As Fast as Words Could Fly by Maureen Tuck: Tales which are written as tributes to a family member or a friend are always special, whether or not they are of excellent quality. As Fast As Words Could Fly by Pamela Tuck is based on the memories of her father. What’s more, it has a strong plot, positive characters, and an inspiring message. That makes it a top-notch picture book.
  1. Best intermediate book?
    Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight: This past year I rediscovered Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight. In doing so, I realized it held even more depth to it than my childhood reading of it had revealed. For example, this beloved classic dog story is set in a different time and place than those with whom I am familiar. Even the main character of Lassie is a more complex dog than I remembered, in that she at times like humans wavers between fear and love.
  1. Best young adult book?
    Solace of the Road by Siobhan DowdSolace of the Road is the second novel I’ve read by Irish author, Siobhan Dowd. In telling the story of a foster kid, Dowd in many way ways treads on familiar ground. At the same time, Dowd has incorporated enough twists to make this a memorable story. She has also created an original character, for whom we deeply feel.
  1. Best nonfiction book?
    Grieving the Death of a Pet by Betty Carmack: Years ago, I bought Grieving the Death of a Pet by Betty Carmack because the topic interested me. When I recently lost my cat of eight years, I picked it up again to once again find comfort in it. The first few weeks after Lucy’s death, the personal stories of owners who had also suffered loss filled me with such uncontrollable grief that I had to put the book back on my shelf. Only several months after death have I finally been able to read Grieving the Death of a Pet in its entirety.
  1. Best Advanced Reader Copy?
    Seeing Red by Kathryn ErskineSeeing Red by Kathryn Erskine is deserving of multiple literary awards. It’s that good. There are books that I add to my wish list. There are others that I eagerly recommend to others. This is the first book since I began my book review blog, over two years ago, that makes me think AWARD. For that reason, I’m not going to tell you what I liked and disliked about it. I’m just going to tell you what Seeing Red is about, so I can entice you to read it.
  1. Best award-winner?
    Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip HooseMoonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose is not just your ordinary nonfiction book. It’s not even your average book about birds or endangered animals. Rather it’s on multiple lists of the best books of 2012, which is where I first encountered it. Moonbird is also the recipient of The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal Honor, which is why I first decided to read it. It has even won several awards for best science book.
  1. Best classic?
    Ozma of Oz by Frank Baum: After reading Ozma of Oz by Frank Baum years ago in fifth grade, I knew that I wanted all of the Oz books. What appealed to me about that particular title? To be honest, I don’t know if I have an answer. Sometimes a novel simply captures one’s imagination in such a way that a story becomes memorable and unforgettable. For me, Ozma of Oz happens to be one of those books.
  1. Best popular book?
    Paper Towns by John Green: Hilarious, sad, and deep. The first half of Paper Towns by John Green is so funny that I didn’t care if there was more to the story than two twelfth-grade students invoking revenge on their peers. The second half, wherein Quentin spends more his waking hours searching for a missing classmate, still amazingly caused me to chuckle but also led me to reflect. You see, Margo may or may not be who everyone thought she was, which is one reason it’s so difficult for Quentin and his friends to find her. And the more they clues they unearth, the more they start to also realize truths about themselves and how they look at the world.
  1. Best cultural book?
    Gaby Lost and Found by Angela Cervantes: Cute! Fun! Sweet! Inspiring! All these adjectives describe Gaby, Lost and Found, by Angela Cervantes, about a girl who wants to rescue animals but soon finds herself in need of a permanent home. Gaby, her friends, and even the adult guardians in her life make for a realistic and endearing cast. Through the suspenseful plot, readers will learn about shelters and immigration, besides being entertained.
  1. Best regional book?
    Have You Seen Mary?/The Tale of Jacob Swift: From Jeff Kurrus comes two glorious photo-fiction books for animal lovers of all ages. Have You Seen Mary? is about one sandhill crane’s faithful search for his mate. The Tale of Jacob Swift is about the struggles of a fox family to raise their sons in the harsh but beautiful grasslands. Younger readers will enjoy both the adventurous plots and the spectacular images, while older readers will treasure the coffee-style format and the universal themes.
  1. Best special interests book?
    Mine for Keeps by Jean LittleMine for Keeps by Jean Little is a long-time favorite book of mine. Little so perfectly captures the emotions of her characters that all readers will relate to them, whether they’re the intended audience of elementary-school children or forty-something-year-old adults like me. Mine for Keeps, along with Little’s other stories about young people with disabilities, remains among the best fiction out there on the topic. As an additional perk, Little’s books are set in Canada.
  1. Best animal book?
    Mutts Shelter Stories by Patrick McDonnell: Late December of last year I walked into Barnes & Noble with no intention of buying any books and walked out with Mutts Shelter Stories by Patrick McDonnell. I’m a sucker for stories about animals, especially those found at shelters. Granted, this is a straightforward story about animals in needing a home, but it’s also a highly-visual mix of comic strips and photos. And, in the end, it’s an emotive tearjerker that works.
  1. Best series?
    Legend by Marie Lu: Reading the last word of the last book of a great series wrenches at the heart of every book lover. Today I sadly turned the last page of the Legend trilogy by Marie Lu.
  1. Best book that was outside of your comfort zone?
    Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall: An expression that comes to mind about Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall is that “the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts”. The main storylines to this verse novel are the immigration of a Mexican family to America and the death of a parent. Thematically, the story is also about family, friendship, and identity. All of these parts interconnect to make an emotional experience that will have long-lasting impact.
  1. Book which most surprised me?
    The Pye Books by Eleonor Estes: Eleanor Estes is well-recognized for writing memorable family stories, among them the Pye stories. With Ginger Pye and Pinky Pye, Estes adds pets and mysteries to the mix. Although her unhurried style may not appeal to all, I’ve come to treasure these innocent stories of a close-knit family in a small town.
  1. Book which most disappointed me?
    Snub Club by Diane Christiansen: When her son was diagnosed with autism, Diane Mayer Christiansen drew upon her own childhood experiences with dyslexia to become his best advocate. Finding that there are too few children’s books that feature main characters with special needs, she decided that it was up to her to help fill that void. Christiansen’s heart is certainly in the right place with The SNUB Club and I wish I could recommend it. Sadly, it has too many flaws.
  1. Book I can’t believe I waited to read?
    Eleanor and Park by Rainbow RowellEleanor and Park has become one of my favorite teen romances. It breaks stereotypes, depicts realistic situations and characters, and doesn’t shy away from the darker sides of life. In other words, this is neither a fluffy romance nor an overwrought tragedy. It’s as real as they come. Eleanor and Park is a poignant love story.
  1. Best book you reread?
    Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret: When I decided in December to review favorite books, I tried to choose ones that were lesser known. And yet I’ve picked the book that launched Judy Blume’s career: Are You There God? It’s Margaret. You see, among all of her books, it’s the book one that had the greatest impact on me.
  1. Best new author to me? John Green/Siobhan Dowd

As in previous years, there are many wonderful I read books which I didn’t include on this list. I encourage you to check over my reviews from the past year to find other books which you might equally enjoy. There are also books featured which could have fit into several categories, not just the one where I put it.

Your Turn! What books for young people were your favorite reads from 2014?

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