Our Best Reads in 2014

‘Tis the season for best-of lists, right? Here at Gun In Act One we are sharing our second annual absolute-end-of-the-year list of our favorite books that we read in 2014. Click here for last year’s list!

Holly

The Golem and the Jinni – this was on Amanda’s 2013 list, and I wish she had made me read it sooner – ha! I loved everything about this beautiful fantasy novel set in turn-of-the-century NYC: the characters, the places, the weaving together of disparate threads, and Helene Wecker’s lovely writing.

Tiny Beautiful Things – I suppose all the current talk about Cheryl Strayed is focused on Wild and Reese Witherspoon, but please disregard the hype and go straight for the good stuff in Tiny Beautiful Things. Take notes on Strayed descriptive abilities, and start dropping some of her phrases in casual conversation. You’re welcome.

The Signature of All Things – I started suggesting this book to people looking for what to read next before I even finished it. Regardless of how you felt about Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, just read this one.

The Poisonwood Bible – okay, I technically RE-read this book in 2014, but, well, I make my own rules up around here. This book is that good. If you have not read this Barbara Kingsolver classic, you need to rethink your life decisions. Can I call a book published in 1998 a classic? Because I just did.

Froi of the Exiles – if you have read any of our posts for more than five minutes, you have heard about the Lumatere Chronicles. Please go read them, starting with Finnikin of the Rock. And then prepare for your heart to be torn asunder, in the best way possible.

Honorable Mentions:

March – this historical fiction/ Little Women backstory by Geraldine Brooks has stuck with me long after I finished it.

Rose Under Fire – Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity was on my best-of-2013 list. I loved this companion novel almost as much.

Amanda

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry.  If you love books you should read this. It made me laugh and cry.  I just loved this curmudgeon’s story.

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld.  This book was so beautifully written and I’m shocked it wasn’t on more lists of best books of the year.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  I can’t even find the words. Just read it.

I know its teenage vampire drama and I just don’t care. Richelle Mead’s Silver Shadows was perfectly what I wanted it to be.  I cannot wait for the finale with The Ruby Circle.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.  Another book that made me laugh and cry and just really made me think about the feminist I am and how I want to teach my daughter.

Honorable Mention: The Queen of the Tearling.  This wasn’t a perfect book, but I cannot freaking wait for this sequel. I’ve already reread this in anticipation.

What’s on your list?  Anything amazing that we missed?

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Our Top Ten Resolutions for 2015

Today we’re hooking up with the Broke and the Bookish for their Top Ten Tuesday, Top Ten Goals/Resolutions For 2015 — bookish, blogging or otherwise!

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Holly

  1. Read these 12 books or bust.
  2. Tweet…sporadically. I know Twitter is like the place to be for bloggers and readers and writers and pretty much anyone, but I just haven’t gotten too emotionally invested over there. And I’m okay with that. But I’ll try to throw out a tweet every now and again. (Yes, I know that goal-setting-for-dummies says goals should be specific and measurable. So basically, I take back everything I have said in goal #2 because I don’t really mean it. But, you can follow me @ampersandpaper for a whole lot of nothing!)
  3. Here’s a real one! In 2014, I got to hear a few author talks, including  Helene Wecker and Karen Abbott. I would be up for more author events in 2015.
  4. Roll out a new look for Gun In Act One, maybe? I know there are things we could do to improve the look of our blog. Maybe we’ll do them in 2015. Maybe we’ll sit on the couch and eat bon-bons instead. It could really go either way, people.
  5. Write for fun and sometimes profundity. Is that a goal if that’s basically what I already do? Maybe that’s my mission statement. I like to review books, but I also like to write posts that are book/reading/life related. December has been kind of a hectic month for reading and writing both, but I plan to continue writing some non-review posts throughout the year. That is, if there is time to post them between all of Amanda’s review posts.

Amanda

  1. I’m planning to go to ALA MW in January.  Tell me if you’re going! I’m really excited about this and I hope Holly can come too!
  2. I really need to clean out my GR to read shelf which currently has 1506 books on it.  I’m guessing there are a few I can take off.
  3. Finish the 12 books for our 2015 TBR challenge (see Holly’s #1).  I picked up 5 Days at Memorial at the bookstore today and I’m afraid.
  4. Try to start reading chapter books with Babycakes! I am counting down until we can start The Secret Garden or Harry Potter!
  5. This is not a blogging goal or reading, but I really want to learn to make my own pie crust.  I’m afraid but its time to try!

Top Ten Books We’d Like From Santa!

Before you read our TTT you should make a note to check out Holly’s post about holiday birthdays over at WhatSarahRead!

We’re linking with The Broke and the Bookish for Top Ten Tuesday and here are our picks for 10 (or more) books we’d like to see under the tree this year!

cafc6-toptentuesdayHolly

  1. The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta – if you’re asking, “will you guys PLEASE shut up about those books?”, the answer is NO. But I checked them all out from the library to read, and I need to own them. Tell Santa.
  2. Dead Wake the Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson – Does Santa send pre-orders? Please say yes.
  3. Hyperbole & a Half by Allie Brosh – Despite my penchant for ebooks, I would love this one in real book form. I have cracked up at the computer reading her blog, so I am pretty sure this book will kill me.
  4. Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay – I haven’t read it yet. I KNOW.
  5. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple – I have been resisting the urge to buy this at the airport bookstore anytime I’ve traveled in the last 6 months. I can only hold out for so long!

Amanda

We usually split these lists 5/5 but Holly likes to break rules and sometimes I can too!  More books for me!

  1. The Falconer by Elizabeth May.  Scotland.  Fairies.  Sign me up.
  2. The Magicians box set by Lev Grossman.  How pretty is that?!  I haven’t even read the Magician’s Land yet because I’m not ready for the series to be over.  But I need them all.
  3. The Storied life of AJ Fikry.  Everyone should read this! Here is my post loving on this book.
  4. Every Breath by Ellie Marney.  This Sherlock retelling just sounds really fun!
  5. Deadline by Mira Gran (Newsflesh #2)t. I own #1 and #3! Clearly I need this for complete Feed rereads.  The lack of symmetry on my kindle is kind of making me crazy. And if you haven’t read Feed yet, go away and do it now.
  6. Symbiont by Mira Grant.  Yes I’m obsessed.  I own #1, Parasite, haven’t read it yet but still need 2.
  7. Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta.  See Holly’s comments about these.
  8. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.  Yes the National Book Award drama caught my eye, but this sounds excellent.
  9. Sprinkles – Thank you Trish!  They have me at sprinkled cocktail rims!
  10. The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes.  Basically I need all the Jojo in my life. ALL.

What books are you asking Santa to bring?  Merry Christmas to you if you’re celebrating!

Finishing A Bollywood Affair

Today we’re finishing up A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev. We usually post our sister read-alongs in three parts, but this time we’re putting parts 2 & 3 into one post.

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As we read, our texts were flying. Here’s what we were thinking through the middle third:

Holly: Mili says “The entire household does not need to see my chromosomes.”

Amanda: That almost made me snort inappropriately while trying to tell my child to go to sleep.

Holly: That was basically the point.

Amanda: I feel like I’m actually watching a Bollywood movie right now. This is amazing. You should have had an Indian wedding. (Uh, with no offense to your husband or your actual lovely wedding!

Holly: Tell that too [redacted name of former Indian crush]!*  (And, no offense taken, obv). Oh, and I saw on the author’s website that her next book is called The Bollywood Bride.

*And now we shall see if my husband is a faithful GIAO reader.

Amanda: BTW, let’s go for Indian food.

And from there, we forged on through the final third of the book, continuing to laugh hysterically – well, until things got sad for a while..

Amanda: I am going to have to finish this book now.

Amanda: Um wow. It’s getting hot in here.

Holly: Dude, I do not post about the steaminess of books. Posts about steaminess make me mildly uncomfortable.

Amanda: [Tries to think of something that can amuse me and make Holly mildly uncomfortable…]

Amanda: I will say I don’t have a lot of familiarity with Indian culture, so I thought a few things were interesting about the relationships with daughters.   Seeing Mili’s friend’s mother yelling “you stupid cow” to her daughter versus the excitement of a new baby girl to a new generation really stuck out to me.  I loved that Mili wasn’t just trying to empower herself, but that she also wanted more for other women. I just loved Mili and her hope and her naivete, matched against her strength, intelligence and her determination.

Holly:  I loved how Sonali Dev described writing this book in her acknowledgements section: “I would love to say that this book was hard labor, that my path to publication was riddled with sacrifice and tears. But I can’t. Writing Samir and Mili’s story was pure joy, and my path was so riddled with the incredible generosity and support of so many people…”

Amanda: I loved that too! Even though there was some sadness to this book i just loved it. It was a joy to read. 5 stars!!

Holly: I loved it too! Good find, pal. 

Source: Thank Goodness for public libraries where we both found this one!

We’re Reading A Bollywood Affair

It’s time again for another sisterly-readalong, and this time we are diving into A Bollywood Affair, a debut novel by Sonali Dev. We’ve both been reading and chatting, and we’ll share what we think in 3 parts as we make our way through.

A Bollywood Affair opens with a scene of a mass child-wedding in the Indian state of Rajastan.

It is intense. Then, we fast forward twenty-odd years to the present. Our child bride (and heroine!) Mili, is studying in the U.S., while dutifully waiting for her husband to claim her. Unbeknownst to her, her “husband’s” brother Samir, Bollywood film director-slash-model-slash-playboy (Mili loves to talk in slashes), has been sent to finalize an annulment of the arrangement that his grandfather forced the family into years ago. That’s all in the first few chapters. From there, we’ll try to stay relatively spoiler-free:

Amanda: Samir is kind of a dick

Holly: Oh no! I need to catch up.

Amanda: Samir reminds me of Flynn Rider with his “I’m going to turn on the smolder.”

Holly: Who?

[Amanda explains. And sends videos. She is correct. That is exactly what is going on the book. EXactly. Someone get Mili a frying pan!]

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Holly: I was cracking up quite loudly reading this last night. Like, my husband tried to kick me out of the room. This book is killing me. Okay, it is maybe not the best written, most beautifully crafted novel ever, but Mili is fucking hilarious and awesome.

Amanda: She is going to be kicking ass by the end. But I hope Mili knocks him in the face with a frying pan before HEA happens.

Holly: HEA?

Amanda: Happily Ever After, yo!

Holly: If I was a real blogger I’d probably say some shit about shipping but I think that is a stupid verb.

Amanda: And that is why you are my best favorite. Oh, I will start writing this post.

[Amanda did not start the post, so I stole her texts and added them in here. We’ll see if I’m still her best favorite.]

***

Amanda: Holly is always, always my best favorite.  Unless she’s editing my apostrophe usage or duplicative word usage.  

 

 

Review: The Dress Shop of Dreams

The Dress Shop of Dreams, Menna van Praag

Amanda

Expected publication: December 30th 2014 by Ballantine Books

Paperback, 336 pgs

Source: E-ARC from Edelweiss

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From Goodreads…

Since her parents’ mysterious deaths many years ago, scientist Cora Sparks has spent her days in the safety of her university lab or at her grandmother Etta’s dress shop. Tucked away on a winding Cambridge street, Etta’s charming tiny store appears quite ordinary to passersby, but the colorfully vibrant racks of beaded silks, delicate laces, and jewel-toned velvets hold bewitching secrets: With just a few stitches from Etta’s needle, these gorgeous gowns have the power to free a woman’s deepest desires.

Etta’s dearest wish is to work her magic on her granddaughter. Cora’s studious, unromantic eye has overlooked Walt, the shy bookseller who has been in love with her forever. Determined not to allow Cora to miss her chance at happiness, Etta sews a tiny stitch into Walt’s collar, hoping to give him the courage to confess his feelings to Cora. But magic spells—like true love—can go awry. After Walt is spurred into action, Etta realizes she’s set in motion a series of astonishing events that will transform Cora’s life in extraordinary and unexpected ways.

Cora and Etta are all the family each other has.  Cora’s parents died in a fire when she was a small child. She knows she was deeply loved, but has basically shut down her heart and emotions since that time. Cora is determined to be a part of scientific research that will save lives, just as her parents planned to do. Etta just wants to see her granddaughter’s happiness and so she makes just one nudge to help.  One nudge is more than enough!  With that one nudge, Cora is knocked out of her academic bubble, which leads to both her and her childhood friend Walter meeting new people.

I wish I could go to Etta’s magical shop and find the perfect dress for myself!  Parts about this book definitely exemplified what I love about magical realism.  There’s no magic wands or magic spells, but just a “feeling” of what’s possible or what’s true-and it’s fun to sometimes believe in magic like that.  Etta’s magic gowns give the wearers confidence and lead them to believe in their own beauty -that’s the kind of magic I think we all need sometimes!  The voice that makes us feel love, the priest who hears confession without words, a cop that can see truths – all kinds of magic that are almost believable.

I really liked Cora; and Etta too despite the meddling. Etta’s push sets Cora on a path to feel everything she’s been missing-both good and bad. I thought van Praag did this so well, because you can’t appreciate joy in the same way if you don’t also know sorrow.  I liked Walt as Cora’s friend and then as her love interest. I thought his deep love over the years was maybe a bit too far fetched, but it was still sweet.  I also loved that there was more than just one romance happening- but those didn’t always feel as real to me either. Still, I really enjoyed the variety even if I didn’t love all the couples.

I don’t know how to quite sum up what I didn’t like about the Dress Shop of Dreams without spoilers, but so I’ll just say that the Cora under great stress was not who I felt I had been reading and I didn’t like that so much. I didn’t think she’d face her problems like that.  Once we got past that confrontation I felt we had the same Cora back and I was overall happy with all the resolutions.

I do not like that every book with magical realism has to hold itself out as “just like Sarah Addison Allen!”  I get it, SAA is wonderful and I love her books.  But don’t hold yourself out to be just like her because its just kind of a bummer when your book isn’t The Sugar Queen.  That being said, if you like magical realism I would definitely give this a chance.  If you haven’t tried magical realism I do recommend this as a sweet introduction.

3 stars

Thank you to Ballantine Books and Edelweiss for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

2015 TBR Pile Challenge

Being the ambitious readers that we are, we decided to participate in Roof Beam Reader’s 2015 TBR Pile Challenge – motivated both by literary satisfaction AND the possibility of winning a $50 gift card. We like winning. And books.

The idea is to make a list of books that you’ve been meaning to read for at least a year – and then read them.

Seems simple enough, eh? So here goes:

HOLLY’S LIST

  1. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2008) (Completed 10/28/2015)
  2. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (1990)
  3. Persuasion by Jane Austen (1818) [this is for you, Paperback Princess. Actually, I think several of these books are] (Completed 3/19/15)
  4. Little, Big by John Crowley (1994) [for shame, circa 1996(Completed 2/15/15)
  5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1970) (Completed 12/24/2015)
  6. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (2012) (Completed 4/1/2015)
  7. Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson (2000) (Completed 11/21/2015)
  8. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott (1871) (Completed 12/12/2015)
  9. The Emperor of all Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee (2010)
  10. Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (2006)
  11. When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins (2009)
  12. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2001)

Alternates: I don’t need no stinkin’ alternates.

AMANDA’S LIST

  1. Primary Colors by Anonymous (1996) [this has been sitting on my bookshelf taunting me for at least 10 years]
  2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)
  3. Feed by MT Anderson (2002)
  4. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)
  5. Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (1997) [What was I thinking buying this on my honeymoon all those years ago? Not light beach reading]
  6. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer (1197)
  7. The Sandman Vol: 1 Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman  (1991)
  8. The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte (2006)
  9. Persuasion by Jane Austen (1818) [What can I say I want to be like my sister]
  10. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink (2013)
  11. Lipstick Jihad A Memoir of Growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran by Azadeh Moaveni (2005)
  12. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy (1903)

Alternate 1. Swamplandia by Karen Russell (2011)

Alternate 2. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Mary Russell #1) by Laurie R. King (1994)

Are you participating in this challenge?  Any recommendations of where we should start?