I set a goal of 125 books this year via the Goodreads Challenge, and exceeded. However, there’s nothing like viewing the winning roster of the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards to make you feel as though you haven’t read jack all year. Of the winners, I read two: the Stephen King one and the dirty pigeon kid’s book. While I liked Mr. Mercedes, I voted consistently for The Silkworm to win that category. My write-in votes during the first round amounted to zip, so I just need to remind myself that I’ve often floated a different current. Some people don’t read one book a year, and once I managed to write two within 365 days. Perspective.

Since we’re nearing the end of 2014 and I don’t anticipate reading any more new releases before January, seems like a good time to share my Best Of list. I didn’t think it was a bad year for books – discovery, however, is something altogether different. I didn’t get to BookExpo this summer, and certain bookstores want to skew algorithms to favor the books in which they have a greater stake, so whatever. I tend to find books I want to read either through Goodreads or Twitter these days. I would strongly advise that if you enjoy an author definitely favorite them on store sites so you can keep track of new releases.

My top picks for this year – and they are worth heeding because I’m an Important Industry Person:

Such Sweet SorrowSuch Sweet Sorrow by Jenny Trout

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imagine what would happen if Romeo survived (physically, anyway) the double suicide that took away Shakespeare’s famous star-crossed lovers. Imagine what might happen if a certain Danish prince with his own family problems steps in to assist the mourning Italian, all the while hoping to accomplish revenge on his father’s untimely death. Jenny Trout’s Such Sweet Sorrow takes two Shakespearean heroes out of their element and thrusts them on an otherworldly adventure to save Juliet, and ultimately to save themselves.

The core of this story reminded me a bit of the film What Dreams May Come, where Robin Williams travels the afterlife to retrieve his suicidal wife from her personal hell. Sorrow blends the Shakespearean lore with Scandinavian mythology, prophetic witches, and lots of swordplay. I don’t want to spoil the story, but while it might not have the ending most would want (and it appears this may be the first in a probable series) Sorrow does end on a note of hope. I liked the paranormal twist to the stories and the characterization of the leads. Hamlet is appealingly arrogant, Romeo loyal to a fault, and Juliet is just kickass.

I can’t say how Shakespearean purists will like this, but if you’re looking for a good young adult fantasy it’s worth the read.

City of JasmineCity of Jasmine by Deanna Raybourn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC received from the publisher.

In post-WWI Damascus, aviatrix Evie Starke receives mysterious missives that clue her to the possibility that her husband Gabriel wants to connect with her again. It’s odd, considering that Gabriel died after the sinking of Lusitania, leaving Evie to her own devices (and flying skills) to survive. The transcontinental trip in her private plane with her adventuress aunt, planned for global publicity and income, is set aside indefinitely until Evie determines exactly who is “stalking” her.

The search for answers leads her to a entirely different adventure: the search for a holy relic, skirmishes with thieves, and a second chance at love. I have read Raybourn previously (A Spear of Summer Grass), and while I enjoyed parts of that first book I was a bit reluctant to try again until I saw the premise of this one. I’m glad I decided to give it a read. City of Jasmine is adventurous and witty with a smart heroine. The romantic elements are lightly threaded throughout the story and don’t overshadow the action. Overall, a great story and one I’d recommend to anyone who reads historical fiction.

Please Be with Me: A Song for My Father, Duane AllmanPlease Be with Me: A Song for My Father, Duane Allman by Galadrielle Allman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review also on Books That Rock Us: http://booksthatrockus.blogspot.com/2…

I should know more about The Allman Brothers Band than I do, which (until I read this) isn’t much. I’ve lived my entire life south of Mason Dixon – with half of that spent in areas still affected by Allman influence. Indeed, while reading Ms. Allman’s biography it surprised me to find so many coincidences:

The author and I share a birthday (August 25), though we’re separated by a few years.
Her uncle Gregg received a liver transplant at the Mayo Clinic right around the time my father did.
She lived eleven years in Jacksonville, FL. I lived there for 22.
Duane and Gregg Allman lived very briefly in Virginia Beach as children, not far from where I live now.
In the book’s prologue, Ms. Allman talks about finding a Rolling Stone with her father on the cover in an Athens, GA thrift shop. I lived in Athens for a time, and I have a good idea which store she mentions.
Spooky, eh? Maybe the last two tibits are a stretch, but seeing the birthdate was pretty wild. I also share the day with Gene Simmons and Gopher from The Love Boat.

Coincidences aside, I still acknowledge I should know more about The Allman Brothers. While not a Jacksonville-based band like Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet, the ties the brothers had to the music scene there shaped the legend. Perhaps for a long time, Ms. Allman knew as much about her father as I do – she was only two when Duane Allman perished in a motorcycle accident in the early 70s, a few years shy of the mystically unlucky 27 that stalks troubled musicians and shortly after the band’s grand commercial breakthrough. Please Be With Me is the culmination of her journey to meet a man everybody else (even strangers) knew and loved.

To complete the puzzle, Ms Allman relies on the memories of colleagues, family friends, and relatives to recount Duane’s life story in vivid, lyrical prose. You can taste the salty air of Daytona Beach, where Duane picked up chords through his adolescence, and follow the scents of bougainvillea, whiskey, and weed all the way to Macon and back. When you read stories of rock legends, however, you wonder about the accuracy of detail when everything comes to you second and third-hand. One reviewer on Goodreads of this book voiced some skepticism that Ms. Allman’s book holds 100% accuracy. I don’t know if this opinion is based upon further research on Duane and the Allmans, or just conjecture. I say, sometimes an urban legend holds a kernel of truth. Did a brother really arrange to severely injure himself to get out of the draft? Were there tensions with the Grateful Dead and in Clapton’s Layla sessions? Chances are, you’d learn of different opinions as these events happened.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Allman’s book, which is partly a biography and partly a tribute not only to her father but the family that surrounded them. The strength of the narration carries you deep into the story that, for a moment, you almost forget the tragic outcome and want to remain where the music plays.

The Tyrant's DaughterThe Tyrant’s Daughter by J.C. Carleson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

15-year-old Laila comes to Washington, DC with her mother and younger brother following the deposing and assassination of her father, an unnamed dictator of an unnamed Middle Eastern country. Moving from the grandeur of a luxurious palace to a cramped apartment with bare cupboards takes some adjustment, but Laila comes to adapt to life in an American high school while young Bastien dives headfirst into cartoons and toys. Life remains restless, however, with a CIA agent shadowing the family during clandestine meetings with people from her country – who may or may not be allies. Laila’s mother carries her regal air and drinks as though disillusioned with this new life, but Laila suspects her mother is more enterprising than she lets on.

When I receive pre-approval for this title on NetGalley, I didn’t expect The Tyrant’s Daughter would be marketed as YA. It’s a riveting story about a young woman, an Invisible Queen of another land who learns how others have viewed her life and people from afar. Laila is not shunned by her new peers but earns sympathy despite her heritage. I enjoyed the work right up to the ambiguous ending – we may not know Laila’s definite future in a country where her younger brother may last in a puppet regime, but we sympathize with her desire to take control of her life.

The Pink SuitThe Pink Suit by N.M. Kelby

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A lovely story, partially based on actual events, about the people responsible for creating the First Lady’s iconic suit. A good mix of romance and introspective drama surrounding Camelot.

Citizen Hollywood (Hollywood's Garden of Allah #3)Citizen Hollywood by Martin Turnbull

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve looked forward to this book for some time, and I wasn’t disappointed. The third Garden of Allah story takes us out of the GWTW era and deep into the intrigue surrounding Orson Welles and Citizen Kane. The lives of the three friends – Marcus, Kathryn, and Gwendolyn – have dipped professionally for various reasons as each deals with a frenemy of some kind.

Really, if you enjoy old Hollywood, pick up this series. Only disappointment is I have to wait for Book four.

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I enjoyed The Silkworm more than The Cuckoo’s Calling because this book centers on familiar ground – the publishing world. A notorious but not necessarily famous writer is missing and Strike is hired to find him. It’s a case he takes on despite the dubious chances of getting paid – beneath his surly exterior you see hints of a person with heart. With the second book we’re more comfortable with regular characters and the promise of more rumblings in personal lives to come.

Just a solid detective procedural.

PerfidiaPerfidia by James Ellroy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have so few auto-buy authors these days. I used to have many, but one by one I drop them when the stories turn predictable and the writing stale. One actually died, but anyway…

Ellroy is heavy reading, and his dirty staccato style is what makes the scenery come alive. If you’ve glommed the rest of his catalog you know several players here – Perfidia is a prequel of sorts to his other series. It begins just before the attack on Pearl Harbor with the murder of a Japanese family in LA. Throughout the investigation the story peels away layers to reveal corruption within the police force, sympathies for opposing forces, and a lot of bad language. Ellroy doesn’t write rainbows and unicorns.

The only problem I have with Ellroy’s books is I have to go back and read the others again to jar my memory. One day I’ll sit and have a good binge.

~

Okay, 2015. Don’t disappoint me.