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 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.
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.
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.
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.