Ten Books I Would Recommend – 2014 edition

I’m a sucker for lists so I thought I’d join in the year-end fun. The criteria is that I read it in 2014, not necessarily that it was published in 2014. Oh, and I had to enjoy it and want to recommend it. This year I read plenty of books were fine but I wouldn’t rave about them. The 10 books below deserve to be raved about.

In alphabetical order:
I’ve been invested in this series from the beginning. Harkness writes a paranormal thriller for adults that is intelligent and romantic. All three books in the trilogy deal with the ill-fated love affair between a witch and a vampire. In the final installment, their relationship is tested to the highest degree, as well as the lives of those who surround them and love them. It is always good to be reminded that love can conquer all; the fight can be difficult but it’s worth it.
Cop Town by Karin Slaughter
A female cop in 1970’s Atlanta during serial murders of cops? Done! Slaughter keeps the pages turning and the characters complicated. Placing them in a difficult time and place doesn’t hurt – the stakes remain real and high throughout the novel. A fantastic thriller that also makes you think about race and gender and power dynamics.
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
Do you have to like the protagonist in order to sympathize with her? Donoghue, known for writing about outlier women, pushes the envelope in her most recent novel by asking the reader to root for Blanche, a fallen woman who abandoned her child and makes many mistakes as she tries to get her child back. My book club just about unanimously didn’t like the protagonist so didn’t enjoy the book. I found Blanche fascinating and wanted to see if she would be successful.
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann
I don’t read a lot of non-fiction (I should probably read more) but this is definitely my preferred style – the author as narrator and involved in the journalism/history/storytelling. I have seen this book many, many times in bookstores and always thought to pick it up but something from fiction would yell louder and I’d wander in that direction. I’m so glad I finally buckled down and read The Lost City of Z. Adventure, obsession, history – everything I love in a story. Layering in Grann’s attempt to retrace the route to the Lost City created a nice parallel. Ultimately, we modern people still want to explore and find things and stake our claim. And we can get just as obsessed.
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

I listened to the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Neverwhere last Christmas and fell in love with the story. So much so that even though I knew what would happen, I wanted to read the book to discover all the interesting bits that couldn’t be included in the adaptation. Neverwhere is a story about a world under (within? next to?) our world called London Below that Richard Mayhew stumbles into due to an act of kindness. He is embroiled in a quest to help Door that results in several challenges and obstacles and some icky encounters with Messrs Croup and Vandemar. Gaiman pursues themes of expectations and desires and the difficulty of discovering our true selves.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book was so damn well written!! From various articles around its publication, I read about all the research Gilbert did before writing the novel. While the research definitely pays off – it feels so rooted in reality that I found myself looking people and place up thinking she had worked in real life events only to discover they were made up – it is her writing that kept me turning the pages. The style felt of the time (think 19th century novels) which was immersive. I was with Alma Whittaker at her Philadelphia home. I was with her on the boat to the Pacific and in Amsterdam. Alma is a fascinating woman who very well could have existed without any record of her life. I hope an Alma existed. Elizabeth Gilbert made her so real and inspiring.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

By now we all know that Robert Galbraith is actually J.K. Rowling. The only reason I bring that up is that I think writing under a pseudonym freed Rowling in a way that took her style to another level. The Silkworm and its predecessor, The Cuckoo’s Calling, are excellent mysteries of the British flavor. I love detective stories and I love British detective stories and these two are fantastic. Our detective has all the elements necessary: a distinctive name (Cormoran Strike), a sad person life (bad breakup with a woman who gets swiftly engaged and married to a rich man), a fraught past (ex-military with a limp to prove it), and a sassy assistant (for the fun romantic subplot). These basic elements are stirred into a wonderful soup of a story. 

Another book that deserves a ‘Damn, that was so well written!!’ Part biography, part history, Unbroken personalized World War II in a way I haven’t encountered before. The Greatest Generation gets that title for a reason and Hillenbrand explains why through an account of Louis Zamperini. He is an Olympian, then a military man, then a prisoner of war, then a survivor and a forgiver. His story alone will rivet you to your chair. Hillenbrand’s exacting prose will glue the book to your hands. She provides context for everyone, including the ‘villains’ (quotes because it always depends on your point of view). She is gentle and still very honest. Read it and then go see the movie.

Under the Dome by Stephen King

I picked up Under the Dome at a bookstore in Bar Harbor, Maine while on vacation this summer. It seemed appropriate to buy a Stephen King book while in his home state and I love a door-stopping book. The very literal title sets the stage – an inexplicable dome descends over a town, slicing in half anything in its path and preventing any movement in or out. A social experiment that no one signed up for begins. There is so much to say about this book but it would be easy to give important facts away. Suffice it to say, things get paranormal and the theme of bullying makes complete sense by the end. Don’t bully!

Where’d you Go, Bernadette? By Maria Semple

Have you ever avoided something because everyone else around you says it’s so awesome? That was me and Where’d you Go, Bernadette? for some time until my book club selected it. I was stupid to avoid the book. It was such a fun and fast read, surprising for an epistolary novel. (I’m thinking of you, Dracula.) The emails and notes and invoices and medical records are amusing and illuminating and paint a picture of a broken woman trying to keep things together. The titular mystery is pursued by Bernadette’s daughter and I found myself rooting for her. I honestly didn’t know if the book would end happily. And I won’t tell you. You have to read it to find out for yourself.


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