The Best Books in 2014 + Five Books I’ll Be Reading in 2015

Although we’re a solid three weeks into January, I am still wrapping up all of my lists for last year. I have a flurry of “Best of” posts waiting to be published, with my top ten list of movies post coming out sometime near the end of this month. I’m still holding out to see Selma and Foxcatcher, although I’m unsure if I’ll be able to make both before I need to publish my list. All of that said, let’s get back to the point of this post.

Here’s my ranking of the best five books I read in 2014:

5. Son (2012)
by Lois Lowry

I really enjoyed Lowry’s YA quartet of stories that all started with The Giver, a book that has inspired countless popular dystopian stories today. While I think all four books are well-written, I enjoyed Son the most out of the three sequels because it concluded the stories and tied together all of the primary characters we got to meet in The Giver (1993), Gathering Blue (2000), and Messenger (2004). Lowry intertwines the overall themes of sacrifice and love, with good overcoming evil in the end. I’m thankful that I didn’t discover the series until last year, because I’m not sure how much I would have wanted to wait 19 years for a conclusion.

4. The Giver (1993)
by Lois Lowry

No doubt The Giver is the strongest, and perhaps most thrilling book in Lois Lowry’s quartet of stories that start with a boy named Jonas. Bestowed upon him at the transitional age of twelve, the title and job of being the Receiver of Memories casts a burden on the shoulders of a boy who starts to question the world in which he lives. An unsuccessful and inferior film based on the book was released in 2014, starring Jeff Bridges and a misplaced Meryl Streep. I’d recommend The Giver because its simple plot keeps you thinking after you’ve read the book. After reading multiple popular dystopian YA books over the past few years, I realized that The Giver stands apart from the mass not only for being published in the early ’90s, but also for its unique position in having inspired so many other stories.

3. Ready Player One (2011)
by Ernest Cline

Given the premise, I originally thought Ernest Cline’s first book would appeal more to gamers than the average person. And I imagine that in some sense, it does. But it’s a fascinating story that takes place in a virtual world, yet asks a deeper question that proves relevant for any person today. If you appreciate the pop culture of the 1980s, then I suggest you read Ready Player One immediately. If the past gets you nostalgic, if you have a soft spot in your heart for the Back to the Future films, or if you have a deep love for RPG games, then Ready Player One is the book for you. If you like adventure stories, underdog tales, superheroes, and squeal when the smart guy gets the girl, then you should probably get your hands on a copy of Ready Player One. If none of those reasons apply to you, and you enjoy a good book, then download Ready Player One on your device and start reading it. Need I give you more reasons?

2. Gone Girl (2012)
by Gillian Flynn

“Thrilling” and “dark”: those are the best two words to describe Gillian Flynn’s novel. Most people are familiar with both the title and the story by now, after the novel was adapted into a critically-acclaimed film last year. Having read the book and then seen the movie, I would no doubt admit what most people would: the book was better. The film was good, yes, but there’s something much creepier when you are alone in discovering the mystery behind Amy Elliott Dunne’s death. While I would have preferred less language, and could easily chalk up Gone Girl to a whodunnit mystery thriller starring Mr. and Mrs. Sociopath, what makes Gone Girl so engaging is the order in which Flynn makes her reveals. Not only are we terrified to find out what happens next as we see what happens through Nick’s eyes, but we also have our belief suspended on Ms. Flynn’s impeccably-written order of events. Thanks to her brilliant timing, as readers we get to experience the rush of solving a mystery, only to nervously proceed to find out what’s happening next. Suffice it to say the movie experience did not compare.

1. Cuckoo’s Calling
by Robert Gailbrath

It is for books like Cuckoo’s Calling that we have a list of inspiring characters and stories to thank, and in this case, I would start with Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Multiple adaptations and inspiring and visionary TV shows, films, and characters have been crafted from Conan Doyle’s best known crime solver and detective. Cormoran Strike, the protagonist of Cuckoo’s Calling, is not much like Detective Holmes, but the similarities in both what they do is apparent in reading the first of J.K. Rowling’s crime fiction novel series. As Rowling peels back the layers of the man who is Cormoran Strike, I found myself sympathizing with his personal circumstances and curious about the case surrounding Lula’s death. Rowling has a way of drawing in readers and keeping them compelled the entire time. I haven’t read The Silkworm, the first of multiple sequels in the works, but I’m planning to in 2015. Truly, the credit has to go to the creative mind of the author, because it is with explicit detail that Cuckoo’s Calling is fashioned, and it unfolds much like a TV mini-series would, where you can’t help but watch the entire series in one sitting. Whether or not one is a fan of the Harry Potter series, which made Ms. Rowling a household name not only in her home country, but also across the globe, one who enjoys an intense and thrilling crime mystery would have a hard time putting down Cuckoo’s Calling. Of course, I speak from my own experience. I found Cuckoo’s Calling to be the best book I read in 2014. It stayed with me long after I finished reading it.


A week and a half ago, I wrote a few New Year’s Resolutions posts for 2015, one of which is to read more books. I read only ten books in 2014, so I mentioned how I’d like to improve on that number by reading twenty-five this year. I picked twenty of them, and then I asked the rest of you for suggestions for my last five. Per your recommendations, these are the five I chose:

5. And Then There Were None
by Agatha Christie

4. The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern

3. High Fidelity
by Nick Hornby

2. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
by Stieg Larsson

1. The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

To view my entire reading list for the year (twenty-five books total), or to see an update on where I am in my reading, check out my New Year’s Reading post here.

Stay tuned for the “best of” in music, TV, and movies this week and next. Thanks again to everyone who offered recommendations for my reading list this year! 🙂

What were the best (and worst) books you read in 2014? What are you planning to read this year?

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From Page to Screen Review: The Giver (2014)

Book Review

In 1993, Lois Lowry wrote and published The Giver, a book that has sold over 10 million copies and received critical acclaim, winning several awards including the Newbery Medal the year following its publication. Over the next twenty years, Lowry penned three books within the same era. The Giver isn’t beloved by all its readers, and certainly not all of its critics, but regardless, it is considered successful based off its sales alone.

Most of the people I have asked about The Giver told me they read it in middle school or high school. The rock I must have been hiding under was huge, because I hadn’t heard of the The Giver until I saw the first teaser for the film adaptation. In June, I read The Giver, along with its three counterpart sequels. Personally, I would consider The Giver the strongest read out of the quartet, although I enjoyed all four books.

What I appreciated most when reading The Giver is how simple the plot is. Jonas is about to turn twelve years old, reaching the age where his childhood is complete and his life job is assigned to him. Pills are administered to each inhabitant of the area, where people speak with limited vocabulary, live in a colorless world, and are void of emotion. The Giver‘s universe strives for utopia, but the book’s setting is dystopian in nature as the plot builds and Jonas comes to terms with his assigned life position, Receiver of Memories. The Giver transmits memories of the world’s history to Jonas, who discovers color, experiences feelings, and understands that more exists beyond the borders of his small, limited world.

Comic by Brian Warmoth

Unity is what Jonas’s world consists of. Uniqueness, self-identity, and love are all new concepts he learns from the Giver’s memories. Lowry was onto something as many other future authors, including Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games), Veronica Roth (Divergent), and James Dashner (The Maze Runner) have all been informed and inspired by her work to pen their well-received dystopian book-turned-film series.

I would give the book The Giver 

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Have you read The Giver? If so, what did you think of it? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts!

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Film Review

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) brushes his teeth with a certain number of strokes. He walks a precise number of steps to the bus each morning. He combs his hair, dresses himself, and carries his life in a predictable nature not because he is a creature of habit, but because habit conclusively defines his life. His existence is based upon following his strict code of patterns that he has fully succumbed to.

 

Harold Crick would fit well within the The Giver‘s universe, but unfortunately his character exists only in the lovely 2006 film Stranger Than Fiction. It is not until Crick hears his life narrated by the author, horrified to find that she is killing him off, that Harold chooses to stray from his pattern-formed life. Unfortunately for the movie The Giver (2014), the characters stray far from their built-in nature, and not for any reason that would make sense within their universe.

I have learned that when I see a movie based off a book, I have to accept that certain licenses will be taken, whether it’s to fit into a film narrative better, or perhaps certain dialogue or actions would be communicated better on screen. In the case of The Giver, I think all of the wrong liberties were taken with the source material. Given its star-studded cast, led by Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges, it’s certainly a disappointment that The Giver went off the rails almost immediately, failing to get back on the rest of the film’s short runtime.

Other than a very short explanation opening the film, the universe of The Giver was never well-established. From the get-go, we don’t care about rooting for Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), even with all the charisma the young actor put into the role. The film pushes on, forcing viewers on a ride that fails to pause on important moments, defining dialogue, or pressing exchanges between characters. Even when the Giver (Jeff Bridges) is transmitting his memories to Jonas, the memories lack the warmth, terror, or joy in which they are described very earnestly in the book. Chicago film critic Richard Roeper described the memories as “something you’d find in an Apple commercial,” appearing to look more like stock photos or video footage you could find anywhere on the Internet.

The screenplay stumbled over itself, and no matter what came out of the Giver’s or the Chief Elder’s (Meryl Streep) mouths, the words felt forced to move along with the screenplay, because that is what they were written for. I found myself asking constant questions throughout the movie, like the following:

Why did Fiona (Odeya Rush) stop taking her pill if she was programmed never to question the idea of taking a pill?

Why did Asher (Cameron Monaghan) suddenly choose to trust Jonas and not kill him when he had never experienced an emotion?

Why would the Chief Elder select Asher to hunt down and kill Jonas if he was only a first-year recruit?

How could the Chief Elder be able to use words that didn’t exist within their world to converse with the Giver?

How did Taylor Swift weasel her way into the movie in the first place?

The answer to all of these questions deals with the poor screenplay of the film. In a fictional universe, there is an established set of rules. Once you start breaking the rules, the writing falls flat, and the story implodes. This was the fate of The Giver and the reason it performed so poorly with both critics and fans alike. The point of The Giver is lost on viewers, because the movie wanted to be something it wasn’t, losing both its focus and viewers’ attention.

I feel generous in giving The Giver 

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It’s your turn. Did you see The Giver? If not, do you plan to? If so, what did you think of it? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts!

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Compare/Contrast THE GIVER’s Book and Film

Which did you hear of first, the book or the film? I actually heard about the film first, but I read the book before seeing the movie.

What was your favorite and least favorite parts of the book? I loved the simple plot, and I liked how the Giver introducing Jonas to history changed Jonas – and made him want to change the way things are too. I didn’t really have a “least favorite” part. I didn’t think it was a perfect book, but I thought it was very well-written. It was definitely a page-turner.

Do you think it was inspired by any other books? Definitely – I kept thinking of Fahrenheit 451 the entire time I was reading it.

What was your favorite and least favorite parts of the movie? One thing I appreciated about the movie was the B&W in the beginning. I think they could have done more with it, like drawing out the color of the apple in the book when Asher and Jonas were tossing it. The screenplay was certainly my least favorite part. It really destroyed what could have made a great movie.

Do you think the movie was inspired by any other movies? I thought it had a similar universe to Equilibrium (2002). Very devoid of emotions.

Will the book, movie, or both forms, stand the test of time? Definitely the book. The movie fell short, and it’s sad, because Jeff Bridges had wanted to make the film for years. If he had had the chance earlier, perhaps more time could have been spent on the screenplay.

I answered fewer questions for the compare/contrast section, considering how short both the book and film were. Which form will stand the test of time to you – the book, the movie, or both? Please join the discussion below, because I would love to know your thoughts!