Consuelo’s Top Reads of 2014

spinning heart

Consuelo has been with BookPeople long enough that we’ve all forgotten what this place looked like without her. She’s one of our fearless Managers and a member of our non-stop, always shipping, always processing Internet Order team. Consuelo reads a LOT of books, which means that we take a LOT of pictures of her holding them. 

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For the first time ever, I set a goal for myself to read a certain (high) number of books this year…and I didn’t reach it. But that’s okay, because it means I still read a LOT of fantastic books. I’ve seen quite a few best of 2014 lists the past couple of weeks, and mostly, the things I read and loved are not on them. Singing the praises of the following books gives me great pleasure, with hopes they will find homes in the hearts of fellow readers.

On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee

I’m mentioning this one first because I read it in January, and I’m still thinking about it. All the time. Its language is gorgeous and hypnotic. It tells the story of Fan, a sixteen year old diver from B-Mor, a labor colony in a future dystopian America. She is a small, quiet girl who one day leaves the gates of her safe and measured life to try and find her boyfriend who has mysteriously gone missing. Her journeys take her from the unregulated villages of the wilderness to privileged Charter cities. The point of view is from an omniscient third-person “we,” telling the legend of Fan in retrospective, and the lessons B-Mor has learned from her struggles. It is such a fascinating perspective, directly addressing “you”, the reader, and asking you to participate in the story. It lulls you in, so that when you close the pages, you have to blink your eyes and shake your head to come back into the real world. Exemplary.

The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December by Donal Ryan

Both of these books by Irish writer Ryan were released in America this year, and I want to shout his name from these Texas hilltops. Why are more people not talking about him? How is he not nominated for every literary prize? The Spinning Heart is a series of interconnected stories of different characters from the same town facing economic hardship. It does what all great fiction does – tells a specific story to explore what’s universal. Each character has a distinct voice, and what I found most interesting is how each perceives him or herself and one another. These perceptions reverberate to create a whole picture of this Irish village at a very particular moment. Set over the course of one year, The Thing About December tells the story of Johnsey, a young man who inherits the family farm after the loss of his parents and proves incapable of handling the responsibility. He is so full of pain and humor and loneliness. Donal Ryan is a genius at turning human observation into powerful, beautiful, insightful words.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Somehow, this book is perfect if you are in love or out of love. Born with wings, Ava Lavender lives a sheltered life as her mother and grandmother try to protect her from life’s cruelties. About more than just Ava, this is the story of three generations of women and their loves and losses. As I read, I couldn’t help but think that Walton has endured crippling heartbreak, and writing this book was her way of coping. Maybe I’m wrong, but the mere act of reading it was completely cathartic. Fantastical and emotional, it tore up my heart and then repaired it again.

Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce

I admit, I’m including this book on the list mostly because closing of its pages, and because thinking on it has added perspective I didn’t have while reading it. No, reading it was agonizing. Marie, a young single mother and waitress, makes mistake after sex-and-drug-fueled mistake. I started out judging Marie – believing I knew who she is and where her story would lead. Tierce jumps back and forth in the chronology to reveal a portrait of a complicated woman whom I slowly identified with more and more as the novel progressed. I usually pretty well know what I’m getting into when I open a book, but this one definitely caught me off guard. It is gritty, in-your-face humanity not for the faint of heart.

The Quick by Lauren Owen

I hesitate to reveal too much about the plot, because The Quick is full of twists and turns. Just know that it’s set in Victorian London and things are not at all what they seem. Owen refuses to be pinned down to any one genre or follow structured norms, and her story is all the better for it. Each character deserves to be there, leading you through a journey that gets darker with every turn of the page. And that ending – oh, so deliciously sublime.
*Also, grab a copy of BookPeople’s holiday catalog to read up on why I absolutely fell in love with Gregory Maguire’s Egg & Spoon.

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