About Carrie Kellenberger
Canadian expat Carrie Kellenberger has kept a home base with her husband in Asia since 2003. A prolific traveler, Carrie has funded her travels primarily as a writer, editor, travel blogger and photographer, but she has also worked as an educator, voice over artist, model and nightclub singer. She draws upon her 15+ years of travel experience to write about travel-related issues and the countries she has visited on her award-winning web site, My Several Worlds.
Her photography and travel articles have appeared in both print and online publications around the world, including Travel and Leisure Asia, Unearthing Asia and Hip Compass Escapes.
Latest Posts by Carrie Kellenberger
Yilan is magic, and unlike many other Taiwan travel hot spots, Yilan is off the tourist map…most of it, anyway, except for Jiaoxi, A.K.A. the only place in Yilan that most westerners in Taiwan know about. Jiaoxi’s been on the tourist map since Japanese was Formosa’s lingua franca.
Famous for its healing waters, Jiaoxi isn’t just trammeled, it’s downright overbuilt. But hardly without reason. After all, where else can you soak your feet in hot mineral water while waiting for your train? And where else will you find a place like , a semi-enclosed hot spring hotel featuring a fully equipped aquatic massage-pool, a nautical jungle gym, and a three story high hot spring fed water slide?
Hot Springs in Yilan
So despite the crowds (which are still mild compared to other tourist spots in Taiwan), Jiaoxi is a good place to start your Yilan explorations. And thanks to the soothing hot-springs, it’s a great place to end, especially if your explorations are of the high exertion type. But there is more than just hot springs in Yilan.
It also has cold springs.
Though mid-winter isn’t the ideal time to visit the famed cold springs of Suao, summer is the dominant season in our little Tropical-of-Cancer paradise. The springs of Suao – and others in the county – bubble up from underground aquifers and are a great place to cool off after a lengthy hike or a bicycle ride.
On the subject of cycling Yilan – like the rest of Taiwan – has jumped on the bicycle bandwagon, and the county offers more than just a lovely (and in some places slightly harrowing) stretch of Route 11 on the way to Hualien. The county has 77 kilometers of dedicated cycling paths stretching between the mountains to the west and the sea to the east.
Cyclists looking to chase the ocean breezes should hit the 13.5KM Seaside Cycling Road between Zhulan Bird Watching Area and the Dingliao Ecological Park. Other Yilan cycling paths include the 10K Dezikou River path, which passes through fish farms and protected wetland and the 10.5K Lanyang River path, which goes through the Lanyang River Bird Sanctuary and offers great views of nearby Guishan Dao (Turtle Island).
Seasoned cyclists who don’t mind sharing the road will find in Yilan thousands of kilometers of beautiful roads, most all offering beautiful views and some with relatively light traffic. Though on bigger roads you’ll ride beside the usual assortment of scooters, cars and the occasional tour bus (especially on the coastal highway, which is still a must-ride), on smaller inland roads expect to pass many a slow-moving farming vehicle on your ride.
Yilan’s The county’s agricultural roots run deep, and over the last several years Yilan has morphed agriculture with tourism, leading to the creation of several leisure farm, areas consisting of several – in some cases, dozens – farms and agricultural areas that supplement their agriculture output with tourism. In some cases, tourism seems to have overshadowed agricultural output entirely.
One such leisure farm is the Jhentoushan Agricultural Leisure Area, a collection of attractions spread out over several kilometers rice paddies and former farmland east of Yilan city. Jung Lung Jai is a a traditional Taiwanese farmhouse that’s been renovated and brought back to life as as a café serving coffee, kumquat tea and homemade pizza. The café sits next to Wang Long Tang (Dragon watching Pond), an artificial lake that’s home to a multitude of water-birds multi-angled bridge shaped like a lightning bolt leads to an island with a pavilion, as good a spot for dragon watching as any you’re likely to come across.
The author in a giant pitcher plant at Bo’s Farm – the Living Zen college
Other parts of the Jhentoushan Agricultural Leisure Area include quirky spots like Bo’s Farm – the Living Zen college. Even if you’re not in the market to buy carnivorous flora, its still worth a visit to see the thousands of pitcher plants and Venus flytraps that are Bo’s agricultural output. There ‘s even one you can sit inside, if you’re in the mood to feel like a mosquito. Somewhat more straightforward in nature is the Agrioz museum of Candied Fruits. Part factory, part store, Agrioz earns the right to call itself a museum thanks to the educational tours, complete with courses in DIY candied fruit-making. The museum is run by second-generation candied fruit maker Lin Ding-gang, who enjoys regaling visitors with Taiwanese opera songs about – what else – candied fruit.
Though not in the Jhentoushan Agricultural Leisure proper, the Fang Yue Tea Garden holds its own in the quirky-cool-agricultural department, offering lessons in the finer points of of traditional tea-cake preparation under the careful instruction proprietress Hong Hsou Ing. Though the ingredients are deceptively simple – Green Tea Powder, Green Bean flower, and various fillings made of pomelo & mulberry (with a hint of orange peel) – making the cakes takes a bit of practice. Mrs. Hong promises that all her charges will leave not merely knowing how to make green-tea cakes, but but with a box filled with 15 cakes presentable enough for gifting or eating on the train back home.
If DIY tea-cake making doesn’t bring out your inner child, than a visit to the San Fu Leisure Farm just might – more jungle tour than farm, San Fu’s chief ranger is a jovial, hyper passionate man nicknamed Elephant, who leads tours through the extensive jungle paths while teaching about both the flora and fauna of the area, which include an endless variety of butterflies, spiders and frogs, some of which Elephant (given name Chen Han Ching) will hypnotize for your amusement.
Finally, Yilan offers more adult pursuits, and those with a taste for fine spirits will want to hit the Kavalan Distillery, Taiwan’s first and only whiskey distillery, the Kavalan Distillery is said by some in the high-price booze know to produce the world’s finest single-malt scotch. Tour the factory and learn how Whisky is made from start to finish. If you’re of drinking age you can sample various blends in Kavalan’s tasting room. Underage visitors and teetotalers will have to content themselves with the angels share, the fumes given off by the evaporating whisky that permeate the factory.
And if that isn’t enough to relax you, there’s always The Art Spa.
Contributed by Joshua Samuel Brown, the author of Vignettes of Taiwan and 13 Lonely Planet Guides. Li Cheng-Shu is a Photographer and tour guide based in Yilan..
Long associated with Michelin Stars, high quality local ingredients and some of the best red wines in the world, France’s dining scene is legendary. From simple provincial cooking to indulgent gourmet meals, every visitor on any budget can sample its culinary offerings to get a taste of this scrumptious European country.
Here are ten foods and drinks that you really should try during a stay in France.
Crepes & Cider
Crepes (sweet) and galettes (savoury) are France’s answer to the English sandwich or the American burger. Originally from Brittany, they are now served in creperie stands on many corners of the biggest cities. Fill it with cheese and tomatoes or simply with a shake of sugar. Eat yours with a drink of Brittany cider for a traditional lunch.
Image credit: punchbowl
You might have previously overlooked this soup as a starter but nowhere does it like France does. The sweet, almost caramelised onion mixture is topped with an oozing cheese like a rich Gruyere. Chunky bread is then served with it for you to dunk to your heart’s content.
Ratatouille is a traditional vegetable dish that is prepared and made differently depending on the cook! Some prefer it to have a crunch whereas others like an almost stew-like consistency. However it is served, you will feel full of nutritious, tasty homemade goodness.
Popular in Normandy, mussels are available quite cheaply in coastal eateries. You can normally order moules with the classic white wine sauce or with something a bit different like curry! For a fancy take on fish n chips, get yours with fries. A famous Normandy dessert to finish the meal with is apple tart. Moules-frites is another popular way to eat mussels.
The Italian influences on France’s south-east means that you can get an absolutely delicious pizza in Nice. Always freshly made, with a mixture of cheeses to pick from (Emmantal is a good choice), they give the Italians a run for their money.
Forget the roasties or a pile of mash – eat your potatoes the French way with this creamy and cheesy recipe. Spices like nutmeg and flavourings like vanilla are often added to the mix for extra yum factor. Definitely order this if you are lucky enough to go to a highly rated restaurant.
It is no myth – you’ll find snails on a lot of authentic restaurant menus. They are often doused in garlic, which makes them taste just like a piece of garlicy chicken! How many will you manage to eat?
In fact, this sub heading should say ‘pretty much everything you can get your hands on at the boulangerie’. You really are spoilt for choice with Paris Brests, Millefleurs and flan abricots. The brioche is a simple, sweet bread bun with a sugary topping that brightens up any morning alongside a cafe au lait.
If you like your meat bloody, you are in the right place. The French like their steaks red, so if you prefer it medium, ask for it to be well done. If you like it well done, you should probably order something else. The steak tartare is served completely uncooked with a raw egg on top, a total classic for those who like their beef walking off the plate.
Cheese and wine
You’re in France so indulge in its very best produce. Finish off an evening (or lazy afternoon!) a good wine like a Chateauneuf du pape wine or a Bordeaux. Popular cheese choices include Camembert, Gouda, a smelly blue and a garlic roulette. Dare yourself to try the smelliest cheese, like a bonafide French citizen.
Et voila, you’ll return from France probably a stone heavier but still hungry for more.
Images by Vanilla and lace and fugzu used under Creative Commons License.
Let’s go where east meets west, shall we? Turkey is the meeting point of two continents where you can indulge in the best of Asian and European lifestyle, culture and food!
1. Foodies can immerse themselves into the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of one of the oldest spice markets in the world, Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar. Peruse the myriad spices, herbs, nuts, vegetables and dried fruits. There are also herbal remedy stalls for the mind, body and soul.
2. It’s not a holiday without a visit to the beach, so head to Turkey’s shores for Mediterranean sun and beautiful waters. Reputable resorts include Alanya, Kalkan, Kaş, Fethiye, Çıralı and Patara. You can even spot turtles on Iztuzu beach! These resorts offer plenty of water sports, diving excursions, beach sports like volleyball and cafes for refreshment.
3. A lot of Istanbul’s museums and galleries are free of charge to enter and they are a great way of learning more about the surrounding culture. The Istanbul Modern is the city’s first modern art museum, Museum of Painting and Sculpture exhibits fine art from the 19th and 20th-century and the Santralistanbul culture complex has an Energy Play Zone!
4. Dare yourself to visit the largest of Istanbul’s ancient underground cisterns, the Basilica Cistern in Sultanahmet Square. Entering the columns that are decorated with Medusa heads, you will be transported back to the 6th-century during Byzantine Emperor Justinian I’s reign. James Bond fans might recognize this from the 1963 film From Russia With Love.
5. If you visit during April, witness the three million colorful tulips that bloom across the parks and gardens of the city. This is to celebrate the International Istanbul Tulip Festival. This particular flower is representative of Turkey’s history because the reign of Sultan Ahmed III was also known as the “Tulip Era”. A free festival of music, art exhibitions and live performances also takes place in Emirgan Park.
Along the way you should also fill up on culinary treats that are influenced by Aegean and Mediterranean diets — you must try a kebab and some Turkish delight! There are plenty of great things to do in Istanbul, so all you need to do is get there.
Images by Moyan Brenn and Brian Jeffery Beggerly used under the Creative Commons License.
It’s the Year of the Goat.
We are celebrating our ninth Chinese New Year in Taiwan. Well, technically it’s our sixth if you count the times we left Taiwan for a beach vacation, but you know what I mean!
Additionally, I’m two years into my first full zodiac cycle in Asia. I moved here in 2003 and saw the completion of my first 12-year zodiac cycle last year. 13 years ago, SARS was just getting started in China when I moved there, and 12 years ago, it was drawing to an end.
Anyways, today is Chinese New Year’s Day. The Year of the Goat officially began last night at midnight. This year, we are staying in Taipei. John’s mom has been with us since early January, and we are going to enjoy her last few days here with some peace and quiet – until the fireworks start, that is.
The Year of the Goat, also referred to as the Year of the Sheep or Ram. Last year was the Horse’s year to speed off and accomplish things, but this year, the goat reminds us to contemplate over what we have succeeded at and to appreciate what we have accomplished. The goat also reminds us to keep looking ahead, remain on a steady path, be generous, and keep the peace.
I like that!
My birthday horoscope is a goat – I’m a Cappie – so I’m hoping that some of this year’s good goat luck rubs off on me.
Given that this is supposed to be a year of contemplation and reflection, I thought I’d reflect on some of my past holidays celebrating Chinese New Year in Taiwan.
We spent our first Chinese New Year holiday here in 2007 after arriving in Taiwan in February 2006. We spent six days traversing Taiwan’s Central Cross Island Highway by motorcycle. We were still recovering financially from a three month backpacking excursion around Southeast Asia, but we have never been ones to miss a travel opportunity.
Our first day out on the bike was just beautiful. It was sunny with clear blue skies. That first half-day was bliss, but things got much colder when we hit Hehuan Mountain at 4pm. We were warned at the base of the mountain that cold weather was closing in fast, and boy, did it ever!
It was slippery going up the mountain, and it was great to reach the peak – Wuling Peak, which is the highest road in Asia.
But it was COLD coming down and by the time we hit Cingjing, all we wanted was some hot tea and a bed. Our journey that year took us into Sun Moon Lake, and across Toroko Gorge for the first time. We traveled back to Taipei along the Eastern Coast Highway.
This was the trip that convinced us that we needed to stay longer in Taiwan.
We enjoyed our 2007 motorcycle excursion so much, we decided to do it again for Chinese New Year 2008. That year we traversed the Southern Cross Island Highway from west to east. Since we had a limited amount of time off, we decided to put the motorcycle on the train to Tainan.
We arrived in Taiwan at 10:30am, and John had the bike packed and ready to go by noon. We were lucky once again to be blessed with gorgeous weather and our journey took us high up into the mountains. We spent a night at Baolai Hot Springs and headed out the next day for the peak of Meishan in Yushan National Park. From there, we traveled down into the East Rift Valley, famous for its lush, green rice paddies and haunting scenery. We stopped and spent Chinese New Year’s Eve in Hualien.
In 2009, we were still recovered financially from our wedding in Mexico. This was the first year we choose to spend Chinese New Year at home in Taipei.
Chinese New Year 2010 was the Year of the Tiger, which is my animal zodiac sign. We headed to the Philippines for a delightful beach vacation in Puerto Princesa that year. This was one of my first official trips as a freelancer travel writer.
We spent our 2011 Lunar New Year in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo.
The Lunar New Year is the most important festival in the Chinese Lunar Calendar, luring thousands of friends and families to participate in games and watch Lion and Dragon dances, martial arts demonstrations and other fun events. We witnessed no less than three lion dances in various areas throughout Kota Kinabalu.
Our 2012 Chinese New Year celebration was spent in Seoul, South Korea. Seoul is an interesting city, and although I’m not big on Korean food, I really do love the architecture there.
In 2013, we spent our Chinese New Year holiday with friends in Kenting National Park in Southern Taiwan. John and I took off on our own in the car. We met up with my friend Leanne McNulty in Kaoshiung, and from there we traveled to Kenting, where we met up with Rachel and Tamin Wang.
2014 was a quiet year for us. We stayed in Taipei again this year. Having spent close to three months in North America because of trips and family obligations, it was nice to spend our Chinese New Year at home with our Taiwan-family.
Over the years, Ibiza has earned a reputation as the clubbing capital of the world. During the busy summer months, the very best of Europe’s DJs congregate on this gloriously sun-kissed island in the Balearics, drawing revelers from around the world. The destination even attracts celebrities including the likes of P Diddy, Kate Moss and Dizzee Rascal.
The birth of a phenomenon
A premier spot for party holidays on the island is the town of San Antonio, or Sant Antoni de Portmany. It is home to the now world-renowned Café Del Mar, which gave birth to the genre of chill out tunes and set in motion the emergence of Ibizan clubbing. Situated in the beautiful Sant Antoni Bay, this formally quiet cafe quickly became known as the perfect place to listen to music while watching the sun go down. Now, hoards of visitors head to this part of Ibiza to mark the end of the day and the beginning of the night.
With its impressive new boardwalk terrace, Café del Mar is the ideal venue to go for a cocktail to get the evening’s entertainment underway.
The best clubs
Another top party destination is Amnesia. This legendary club is located inland on the San Antonio Road and it regularly packs in 5,000 people during the high season. You’ll find two huge spaces and a variety of artists. If you can stay on your feet, you can drink and dance there until 6am.
Located in Playa d’en Bossa, Space is a popular club too, attracting some of the world’s top DJs and plenty of partygoers. You can expect a different vibe on each night of the week, and the venue — which modestly describes itself as ‘the best club in the world’ — has a fashionable, fresh look and feel.
Pacha is also well worth checking out. It may be four decades old, but this Ibiza Town venue shows no signs of falling out of favor. With a host of events, it caters to a variety of crowds on different nights. You’re sure to find something you like in its labyrinth of rooms.
Also in Ibiza Town you’ll find La Bodega. This bar, cafe and restaurant may not be as high octane as the clubs, but it’s a great place to enjoy a few drinks and a bite to eat.
Lots more to see and do
Of course, there’s more to Ibiza than just bars and clubs. If you feel as though you’ve had your fill of booze and bars and you want to try something different, there are a host of activities to keep you entertained. You might like to test your skills on two wheels, for instance. Ibiza has 13 all-terrain cycling routes and it’s easy to hire bikes.
Meanwhile, to help your body and mind recover after all that partying, perhaps a yoga lesson on the beach would be perfect. You can also enjoy some retail therapy in the island’s many markets. The biggest take place in San Carlos and Es Caná.
Images by Amnesia Ibiza and David, Bergin, Emmet and Eliott, used under Creative Commons license
Wulai is an aboriginal village in Northern Taipei about an hour outside of Taipei. It is best known for its natural hot springs and Atayal aboriginal culture, and I consider it to be among the most picturesque towns in Taiwan. The town is named after an Atayal phrase that translates to boiling water or hot and poisonous. This is the Atayal’s term for hot springs, and the natural hot spring water that bubbles up along the riverbanks of the river that divides this gorgeous little area are clear and odorless. Home to the second largest indigenous tribe in Taiwan, Wulai boasts various religious and harvesting events throughout the year. You can learn more about the Atayals at the Atayal Tribal Museum, where you’ll be able to learn about things like local customs, handicrafts, traditional clothing and weaponry.
Once a prime hunting ground for the Atayals, the town is now touted as one of Taiwan’s most beloved hot spring areas.
Wulai Hot Springs
Spend your day hiking, swimming, and visiting waterfalls or sit back and relax in Wulai’s hot springs while taking in the gorgeous river, mountains and dense green jungle. It truly is a gorgeous place to visit any time of year. I like Wulai best in December through February, when the real chill of winter has set in, but you also can’t beat relaxing in a hot spring bath while looking at the cherry blossoms that spring into bloom during late January through early March.
The town of Wulai is easily traversable on foot and there are lots of hiking trails in and around the area. There is a good resource center that offers literature in the area in a number of different languages. From there, you can wander along Wulai Old Street and follow Lover’s Path out to the Wulai waterfalls.
You can also learn a little about the formosan aboriginals in this area by taking in the show, which is located next to the Wulai waterfalls. Ride the gondola up to the top of a nearby mountain for a different view of the waterfalls. The 10-minute ride extends across Nanshi River and costs around NT$220.
Wulai’s waterfalls were named as one of the eight most beautiful attractions in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period.
While you’re in Wulai, be sure to sample some of the many Aboriginal dishes that are from this area. My personal favorite is a dish that consists of bird’s nest fern, known here as shanshu, This delectable green mountain green is quick fried in garlic and bean sauce. Other favorites include wild boar sausage and bamboo rice tubes, which consists of rice and seasoning that has been steamed in a bamboo stalk.
There is a wild boar sausage stand on the right just before you cross over the bridge on Old Wulai Street. (see photo) Try it! It’s pretty yummy.
Public Hot Spring Etiquette
Nothing much can beat a long, hot soak in the public hot springs, unless you opt for your own private hot spring experience. I’ll get to that in a minute though. If you choose to bathe at the public hot springs in Taiwan, make sure you thoroughly wash and rinse your body before entering the water.
Swimwear and clothing is not needed as the pools are segregated by gender. Don’t forget to tie up your hair. Finally, if you’ve got heart disease, high blood pressure, or open wounds or sores, don’t enter the baths.
Riverside hot springs
The Nanshih River in Wulai offers several free hot springs along the riverside. Cross the bridge in downtown Wulai, turn right and walk up the road until you see a stairway that takes you down to the river. You’ll see arrive at an outdoor public hot springs area with a changing rooms and several hot spring pools. You can also enter the natural hot springs that are built right into the riverbank when the water is low.
If you turn left after crossing the bridge, you can wander down the road and find yourself at a riverbank flanked by a parking lot. There are a number of riverside pools available for free in this area as well. You can even make your own hot spring rock pool on the banks of the river.
Hot Spring Rooms and Hotels
There are plenty of hot spring hotels and private hot spring rooms to rent in Wulai. We try a different place each time we visit. Private rooms go from as little as NT$200 to NT$1,200 for a two-hour soak. A stay overnight will set you back for as little as NT$2,300 per night.
Pause Landis is one of the more famous hotels in the area. Their public open air baths offer a gorgeous view of the river and jungle. It is known for its zen decor and modern design.
The Full Moon Spa is a favorite of mine. This beautiful hot spring hotel is decorated in gorgeous natural colors and cypress. Even the hot spring bathtubs are made of cypress! You can sit in the very lap of Mother Nature and relax while looking out at the gorgeous mountain scenery and river. Guests may also make full use of the sauna and steam room, as well as the separate hot springs that are divided by sex.
How to get there
Wulai is accessible from the Taipei MRT Station. Take the MRT to Xindian Station on the red line. From there, it’s a short 40-minute busy ride on Bus 849. Wulai is the last stop on the line and it costs around NT$15 to get there from Xindian Station. You can also get there by taxi from Xindian MRT Station. The trip takes about 30 minutes and it will set you back NT$600.
Of all the exotic vegetables and fruits that Taiwan offers, one of my favorite greens is a mountain green that is known here as shanshu. The rest of the world likely knows it as a common house plant, but I bet most people don’t know that you can eat it.
This lovely green fern is known as Asplenium nidus or the South Pacific Bird’s Nest Fern, and it is typically found in humid environments, like the rain forests of Taiwan and of eastern Australia.
The plant is native to East Tropical Africa, Eastern Asia (Japan and Taiwan), Indo-China, and the Malaysia ecozone, but it is also cultivated elsewhere in the world is an ornamental house plant. In Taiwan, the Shan-su plant is viewed as a type of mountain vegetable and it is served in local Taiwanese restaurants.
These vegetables offer a crisp texture and a lovely taste, and they are harvested from both wild and cultivated plants. I have no idea what the health benefits are from eating this plant, but I can only imagine good things. Shanshu is pretty yummy and it makes a great side dish. I enjoy it as a stand alone dish for lunch.
You don’t want to eat those big outside ferns that you see in the photo to your left, though. The tender baby frond ferns growing in the center of this plant are what taste so good. They are bright green with unfurling fiddleheads that are about the size of a dime.
I cook them fresh in a little olive oil with sauteed garlic. I add a little sesame bean paste to give the dish a little punch.
For me, shanshu is a unique part of Taiwan, as I’ve never seen it offered anywhere else in my travels. I feel lucky that I have cheap and easy access to it. It’s one of those vegetables that cooks so easily, and tastes so great, that I know I will miss it if I ever leave Taiwan.
The only other Taiwanese vegetable I like more than shanshu is a green vegetable known as Dragon’s Whiskers, but I’ll save that for another post.
At the beginning of last year, I started out with a specific reading challenge in mind: I chose to read 35 books in 2014, but at least 10 of the books I chose had to be a five-star book and the rule was that I had to choose from several genres. Otherwise I’d just stick with fantasy and historical fiction, which I adore.
I spent some time in advance getting my reading list worked out. As luck would have it, I spent a lot of time in bed this year from painful arthritis flares, and I also did quite a bit of traveling and long-haul flights, so I had plenty of time to crack out some long-count novels and business books that I’ve been wanting to read for ages. Between the real travel journeys I embarked on this year and the fantasy travel that I completed with my reading list, I feel like I really got to see the world this year.
By the end of 2014, I had 61 books on my list, and I relied on my grandmother’s tried and true technique of going back through my notes and book reviews to remember which books were the best and why.
Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time.
—Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
My favorite books of the year include:
My Favorite EPIC FANTASY and LONG COUNT Novel of 2014
1. A Memory of Light (Wheel of Time #14) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.
This was a Goodreads Choice Awards Best Fantasy winner. At 912 pages, A Memory of Light was also the longest book I read in 2014. (Number 10 was a close second, and it was also part of a large epic fantasy series that I began many years ago.) I was really sad to say goodbye to these beloved characters that I’ve known since childhood. One of the coolest things about this book is that the original author Robert Jordan died before he was able to finish the series. He hand-picked a young up-and-coming fantasy writer to finish his series for him, and that is how I became a Brandon Sanderson fan.
This leads me to book two on my list…
My Favorite NEW-ISH FANTASY Author of 2014
2. The Well of Ascension (Mistborn #2) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
I read the first book in this series in 2013, and I enjoyed it, but Sanderson’s The Well of Ascension blew my mind. I’ve never read fantasy like this before. His battle scenes are completely believable and entirely riveting, and the way he writes about magic is just incredible. The magicians in this book are not naturally gifted with magic. They gain their magic through Allamancy. If you’re into fantasy, this is one series you won’t want to miss out on. Judging from the reviews on GoodReads, Sanderson’s writing gets better and better as the series moves on. I’ve been holding on to the right moment to start Book Three, but trust me, it’s going to happen in 2015!
My Favorite Chinese-American Book of 2014
3. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
This was fantastic tale about a young girl named Kim who moves from Hong Kong to America with her mother to work in a Chinese sweatshop in Brooklyn. Kwok’s descriptions of a young immigrant girl that is caught between two cultures is captivating.
Kim and her mother arrive in New York with big dreams of making a fantastic new life for themselves in the USA. Instead, they end up working in her aunt’s illegal clothing factory where they earn 1.5 cents for each skirt they complete. Kim was the best English student in her class in Hong Kong, but in America, she is overlooked, misunderstood and taunted mercilessly every day.
My Favorite Italian Author for 2014
4. The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani
This story is set in the Italian Alps, and it follows the lives of Ciro and Enza, two young village friends who both end up chasing their destinies on the far and distant shores of America. Ciro and his brother Edward are left at a local nunnery at a young age, and they are brought up by the nuns. Just a few villages away, Enza’s family struggles to make ends meet. They meet when Enza’s young sister passes away. This is a story of star-crossed love, but it also provides a tantalizing glimpse into what life was like as a new immigrant in America at the turn of the century.
My Favorite Non-Fiction Book for 2014
5. Salt, Sugar, Fat – How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss
I read quite a few non-fiction books this year, but this one really sticks out in my mind because it has made the biggest impression on me to date. Salt Sugar Fat offers an in depth look at the food industry, and how companies like Nestle, Kraft, Coke, Pepsi and so many other food giants deliberately load their foods with salt, sugar, and fat to encourage people to eat more.
It’s no wonder that North America is suffering from an obesity problem. The amount of sugar, salt, and fat that we are ingesting these days has TRIPLED since the 70s. It’s clear that the processed food industry can’t exist without these things. What’s not clear is where we’re going with all of this, and what will happen to the millions of people across the world who are developing serious health issues because of this.
The bottom line is that you have a choice, and the first step in educating yourself on what your food contains is to start reading labels and paying better attention to what’s grabbing your eye on your grocery store shelves.
My Favorite Travel/Autobiography Book of 2014
6. How Not To Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness by Joshua Samuel Brown and David Lee Ingersoll
I am slightly biased about this book because I consider the author to be a good friend, but the reason WHY he’s my friend is because I have always admired his writing. How Not to Avoid Jet Lag & other tales of travel madness is a collection of 19 stories written during Joshua Samuel Brown’s 10+ years on the road as a travel guide writer.
It’s packed full of funny travel stories, quirky observations, and amusing inner monologues. In typical JSB fashion, it’s the type of book you can laugh out loud to, and it is just as absurd as I expected it to be. This isn’t your average travel novel. JSB has an insatiable lust for travel and adventure, and he always manages to find a little bit of trouble to get into. He also has a gift for making the average, mundane experience into a story that is utterly unique and completely unforgettable
My Favorite Historical Novel about the South
7. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
At 11 years of age, Sarah Grimke receives ownership of her first slave, an 11-year-old girl named Handful. The only problem is that Sarah abhors slavery. She doesn’t want to own a slave. She wants to stop slavery. Despite their skin color, Sarah and Handful discover that they aren’t so different after all. Handful is bound in a life of slavery, while Sarah is bound by gender. The two girls eventually become friends and allies, and their relationship goes on to span thirty-five years.
My Favorite Historical Novel on the Tudors
8. The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir
I am obsessed/fascinated with Tudor history. I’m also obsessed with literature about strong women in history. In an age that had no reverence or respect for women, I think it is simply fascinating that Elizabeth Tudor was able to rise to power. She is one of the longest ruling and best known English monarchs of all time.
Queen Elizabeth has always been one of my favorite women in history. I’ve read many stories about her reign as Queen, but this is the first story of her childhood that I’ve read. Weir does a tremendous job of showing Elizabeth grow from a young and precocious child of two to a young women on her way to becoming Queen of England. As a young child, we learn of Elizabeth’s respect and adoration for her father, the gruesome death of her mother, and the endless line of stepmothers.
As Elizabeth turns into a young lady, she very nearly destroys her name and reputation, she endures a complicated relationship with her sister Mary, and she faces imprisonment in the Tower of London. From all of this, we see the Virgin Queen emerge. A cunning woman who forges herself into the ruler of the Golden Age, Elizabeth presided as Queen of England for 45 years.
My Favorite Young Adult Fiction – TOSS UP!
9. The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I know it’s a bit of a cheat to name two novels, but these novels were strikingly different and just so…good!
The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey combines my love of post-apocalyptic science fiction with teenage drama. When an alien race takes over Earth, only a very few survive the four alien waves that wipe out most of the world’s population. The dawn of the 5th wave has arrived, and we find young Cassie on the run. The aliens are now impersonating humans and the only way for her to stay alive is to stay on her own. Then she meets Evan Walker, and he might be her only hope for rescuing her little brother.
John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars was a winner in the 2012 GoodReads choice awards. There is a reason why John Green is known as one of the biggest pop culture icons of this decade. He writes so eloquently about the hopes, fears, and dreams of his teenage characters, it’s almost impossible to believe that he isn’t a teenager himself. If you’re looking to experience a range of emotions in your literature, look no further than The Fault in Our Stars.
My Favorite Horror Novel
10. Wizard and Glass The Dark Tower #4 by Stephen King
I started Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series over a decade ago, but it took so long for him to come out with each book, I decided to put the series down until it was complete. This year I rekindled my romance with one of my favorite authors of all time! I thought Book 3 was the best book in this series – up until I read Wizard and Glass, that is.
There are so many great things about this book, I don’t even know where to start! For one, there is a heavy nod to The Stand, which is one of my favorite books of all time.
In Wizard and Glass, we meet 14-year-old Roland and we learn about how he becomes a gunslinger. We also find out what sets him on his quest to find the Dark Tower. Young Roland and his friends, Alain and Cuthbert, have been sent to the town of Hambry in the Meijis, where his father Steven believes Roland will be safe from Marten Broadcloak.
Instead, Roland finds his one and only true love, Susan Delgado, and he also crosses paths with the Big Coffin Hunters and a nasty old witch named Rhea the Coos. Roland and his friends soon discover that the town isn’t what it seems, and they uncover a secret that threatens the whole Affiliation. At the center of it all is a pink glass ball, which is known as Maerlyn’s Grapefruit – a wizard glass – and it is one of the most evil things in existence.
So there you have it. These were my top reads for 2014, but I assure you, I have many other great books on my list so stay tuned.