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A moving true story, a Martian adventure and a M/M romance: three books I loved in 2014

Happy New Year to you!

Today I received an email from Goodreads entitled “Do you want to read more in 2015?” What a question! Do they not know me by now? Does a bear not poop in the woods? There’s nothing I’d like better than to read more books, and if 2015’s selection is as good as 2014’s, then personally I can’t wait!

I read a ton of books in 2014, and listed quite a few of them on Goodreads. (By the way, if you’d like to friend me on Goodreads, please do! I’ve loved meeting people there.)

Here are three of the books I’ve loved the best this year:

separated@birth, helena fairfaxNumber one on my list is Separated @ Birth: A True Love Story of Twin Sisters Reunited by Anais Bordier and Samantha Futerman. This is a moving and incredible story of identical twin sisters who were adopted from South Korea. Anais was brought up in France and Samantha was brought up in the US. They only discovered each other’s existence in their twenties, when Anais saw a video of her actress sister on Youtube. How incredible to stumble across your mirror image in this way! You can imagine all the emotions that when through this girl’s mind.  The rest of the story is beautifully described, taking turns between Samantha’s point of view and Anais’s. Despite her shock, Anais is convinced from the start that this is her twin, and so she gets in touch. This is the 21st century and so  yes, you guessed it: their first point of contact is through Facebook.

This story made an impression on me on so many different levels. First of all, there is the power of the internet. There is a lot of talk about the internet’s power for evil – a hotbed of trolls, paedophiles and identity thieves, etc – but here you have an example of how the internet can literally transform people’s lives in the most magnificent way. Without Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, these sisters may have spent their entire lives in ignorance of each other’s existence.

Secondly, there is the way people throughout the world have all the same hopes and dreams and the same capacity for love, despite differences in culture.  Three world cultures come together in this book. First of all is Anais, who is European; then Samantha is introduced, who is American; and then the two girls take a trip to South Korea, to meet their foster mothers. It was fascinating to witness the differences in culture, and see the great love the foster mothers had for these girls as babies (they remembered everything about them, down to the outfits they were wearing when they were given up for adoption), and that the girls have for each other, despite their differences in upbringing. The two girls had much in common, but also many differences of course, as they were brought up on separate continents. I found I could identify more with Anais, which I feel sure is because I’m British. Samantha lives in LA, which is probably as far as you can get from my way of life here in Yorkshire. You could probably write a whole essay on the differences between European and US culture. The whole thing was fascinating to me, and one of the reasons I loved the book so much.

One of Samantha’s initial reactions to the amazing news of her sister’s existence was to want to hire a film crew and turn the whole thing into a documentary. Again, this was another example of a clash of cultures. Anais and her family have reservations about this, but the US has always been the leader in social media and communications, and the younger generation in particular are used to living and documenting their lives in the full glare of Instagram. Since I’m of the generation who grew up writing letters and other retro means of communication, I found this a little hard to understand, but I had to admire Samantha’s resourcefulness and determination in starting a Kickstarter campaign, persuading Anais’s family to join the project and raising enough money to get the whole thing off the ground.

This leads on to another fascinating part of the girls’ story, which is that, despite the fact they’ve grown up worlds apart, they both show the same hard work and determination to succeed in their own careers, they are both creative and they both have their feet on the first rung in fields that are extremely hard to get into: fashion in Paris (Anais) and acting in LA (Samantha). The similarities between the two girls far outweigh the differences, and they are the subject of a study on twins by a leading professor in the field.

I made some notes as I was reading this book on my Kindle, and here are some of the quotes I either loved or that stick in my mind:

Anais: “[If Samantha was really my twin] the dynamics of my entire family would change.Theoretically, my parents would suddenly have another daughter. Wait a minute…that would mean I had two sets of parents. Would I have to explain to four people that I wanted a tattoo? Who would everyone be to one another? I adored the set of parents I had. Would I have to share them with Samantha now?”

Anais on first meeting Samantha and her family: “I wish everyone could experience the degree of happiness I felt that day..That pure happiness, joy and love could never be replaced…I had been hit by indescribable happiness, and it started changing me in all the best ways possible.”

Anais on her feelings regarding her real (unkown) mother: “I guess I used to need to know why I had been abandoned. Now, Sam is here, and nothing else matters any more. We found our way back. We lived the same story once, and now we can go ahead and live happy lives together. We don’t really need to look backward. That was their story, not ours.”

And lastly, as you can imagine when these two bright sisters got together, the chatter and laughter was incessant. It was lovely and really moving at the end of the book to get the points of view of the two fathers – who otherwise didn’t get much chance to get a word in! :)

Anais’s father: “When I held Sam in my arms to greet her, my heart fainted…” (What a lovely French expression!)

Samantha’s father: “In the days that followed our first meeting, I quickly learned to love my other daughter with such love that no one could imagine. My two daughters are beautiful, smart, lovely, charming, funny, and the most that any father could hope for.”

And now I’ve written so much about this book (because I loved it), there’s just time to mention two others that have also stuck with me from 2014.the martian, andy weir, helena fairfax

First of all, something completely different! The Martian: A Novel by Andy Weir is a gripping sci-fi read about a man left for dead on Mars, who survives against all the odds. You can tell it’s a page-turner, because there are loads of physics and engineering facts in it and I (whose nearest claim to being a scientist is a scraped pass in O level maths) was gripped to every page. I thought it was a really clever book with enough drama to make your heart pound. It would make a great film, and I think was also voted Goodreads top novel of 2014.

Finally, something different again! Think of England by KJ Charles is a historical M/M romance set in a country home in the English countryside, featuring spies, drama and all think of england, kj charles, helena fairfaxsorts of dastardly goings-on from a set of chilling villains. It was well-written, the characters of the two heroes were well-defined and a great contrast to one another. I loved the idea of the military man and the spy/poet. (They reminded me a little of Aubrey and Maturin in Patrick O’Brian’s sea-faring series of novels.) This is an X-rated read with plenty of explicit gay sex scenes, so if that isn’t your cup of tea – in fact, if you’d sooner have a cup of tea – then this book probably isn’t for you. I really enjoyed it, though, and of all the many, many romance novels I read this year, this was probably my favourite.

How about you? Have you read any books in 2014 that stayed with you? Can you recommend any more great reads to add to my growing list for 2015? If you have any suggestions, or any comments at all, please let me know. I’d love to hear from you!

Wishing you a Happy New Year of reading!

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12 thoughts on “A moving true story, a Martian adventure and a M/M romance: three books I loved in 2014

  1. As a big fan of the programme Long Lost Families I’m fascinated by the book on the twins – must get it.
    And with reference to a recent post, Helena, I must try the Ritz biscuit/saltine recipe!

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  2. Just for reference, one of my favourite novels is also set on Mars. THE SWORD OF RHIANNON was written by Leigh Brackett, who was asked to write the screenplay for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK just before she died.

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    1. Thanks for that, James. I hadn’t heard of The Sword of Rhiannon. I checked it out on Amazon and it looks amazing. Sadly it’s quite expensive at £20-odd. I’m not sure it’s still in print. I’ll scout around for a second-hand copy.
      I think you’d enjoy The Martian. Happy New Year to you!

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  3. The twins’ heartwarming story sounds like a winner! I would love to see the documentary when it comes out. Facebook does bring connect friends and family. It happened in our family. I imagine the Internet does more good than bad, but the media only touts the bad. Enjoyed discovering your favorite reads.

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    1. Thanks, JQ! That’s interesting that FB brought your family together, too. It’s helped me stay in touch with family all over the world. I’d love to see the girls’ documentary, too. Their story is incredible. Thanks very much for dropping in!

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    1. Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Victoria! Thanks very much for coming to let me know – it’s much appreciated! I’m so happy you also enjoyed these girls’ incredible story.
      The other two books are very different in style. The Martian is a great adventure that I hear is going to be made into a film with Matt Damon. Think of England is a romance with a lot of explicit gay sex scenes (just to warn you in case that’s not your thing), but it’s also a good love story and full of suspense. I enjoyed all three of these books very much.
      Thank you so much for your comment!

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