Favorite Novels of 2013 and 2014

I began writing when I was a kid for the same reason that most authors begin writing - because I loved to read. Unfortunately, I have less time lately to enjoy that favorite pastime. Where I used to spend an entire day in my reading chair or stay up until 3 A.M. to finish something unputdownable, I now squeeze in a bit of reading time just before bed and mark my spot around midnight. As a consequence, I've gotten really selective about how I spend that precious time.

The following were either recommended by a close reading friend or self-discovered (mostly the latter) rather than sent from authors, agents or editors requesting blurbs or feedback. Although I loathe shopping for clothes, I've never fallen out of love with shopping for a book! I generally buy online after perusing covers, descriptions and samples, whether that means a one-click digital purchase or waiting on snail mail if I must have something in paper.

Note: Many of my most-read authors are also critique partners (or I beta-read for them, or my son did their audiobooks), which prevents me from adding their books here, though I may chat about them online. For the purposes of this list, these are the Wholeheartedly Recommended books I purchased and read during 2013-2014 (although a couple were published prior to January 2013):

The Ivy Years (series) by Sarina Bowen - This New Adult series is the epitome of strong writing and solid storytelling. All three novels and the novella (each novel is a stand-alone - I actually read them out of order) are fabulous. The biggest surprise to me was the last of the series (The Understatement of the Year), which is M/M in an otherwise M/F romance series. Having grown up with (and lost) a gay brother, I'm often let down by the story in M/M books. Not so here.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr - My best literary fiction purchase of the past two years. Exceptional, unusual WWII story set in Nazi-occupied France. The story begins with a blind French girl of six and a brilliant German boy of eight (pre-war) and alternates between them as they move closer to the point their paths cross and their lives will change course due to each other. Brilliantly, poetically written. I bawled.

First Comes Love by Katie Kacvinsky - I loved Gray, but I fell so effing hard for Dylan. Quirky, independent and honest to a fault, she's one of my favorite female leads ever. Think Stargirl goes to college - that's Dylan. (Ignore the cover if it throws you off - it doesn't fit the book, IMO.) This is a trilogy - the second and third books are indie published and I loved them, too: Second Chance and Finally, Forever.

Flat-Out Celeste by Jessica Park - Another favorite, quirky female MC! Celeste is genius-level smart, awkward in social situations and flat-out adorable. (If you haven't read Flat-Out Love, it's not required - this novel stands alone.) It's my hands-down favorite J-Park book.

Making Faces, Infinity + One and The Law of Moses by Amy Harmon - I narrowed down to these three. Amy knows how to craft an emotionally weighty, ultimately uplifting story. After discovering her work earlier this year, all I can say is that this author is now an auto-buy for me.

All of You by Christina Lee - I was offered an ARC by Christina's editor and was too busy at the time to accept, but I couldn't get the uncommon premise out of my head (a girl who's determined to enjoy college to the fullest extent and a boy who's determined to remain a virgin until he finds love and fidelity). I added it to my wish list and bought it when it released. Bennett instantly became one of my favorite NA boys ever.

The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks - Amazing dual-storyline romance, half of which is a New Adult story, the other half a poignant lifelong-love story. This is the third NS book I've purchased but the first I finished (though I enjoyed the corresponding films of the first two: The Notebook and Safe Haven). I read this in one sitting on a cross-country flight because I couldn't put it down.

Love Show by Audrey Bell - A realistic romance between characters who have goals beyond each other and their quest to decide where - or if - love fits in the picture. Discovering this little gem made me so happy. This is the sort of New Adult I want to read and write.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell - a Young Adult novel set in the 80s, just like my adolescence? Yes, please. (This is why I really hate book classifications. A good book is a good book.)

The Lumatere Chronicles (trilogy) by Melina Marchetta - I actually read these as they released (2010-2013 in the US). Now available in a digital set. I'm rarely a fantasy reader, but I adored this romantic, redemptive, love-heals-all trilogy. The world-building was intricately crafted and so well done that I had no problem following the various settings and characters.