Best Books of 2014 – Fiction

The woman who walked into doorsIn no particular order, here are the novels I particularly enjoyed reading last year.

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is a compelling first-person narrative of a woman whose husband is shot dead by police during a botched kidnapping/robbery. Her haunting story of domestic violence unfolds slowly with Roddy Doyle’s customary gritty humour.

You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz is a car wreck of a story unfolding in slow-motion. The protagonist is a therapist with a potential best-selling book about to drop. Her thesis: that the divorced women who end up on her couch chose not to know what they knew about the men they fell in love with, and married them against their instincts. It is so clear to her from the vantage point of her own perfect marriage. Until…

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the WindowThe 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. A delightfully different story about a centenarian who absconds from his nursing home and leaves a series of corpses in his wake, while narrating his lifetime of adventures. Think, a dark Forrest Gump: so ridiculously unbelievable as to be believable.

I’m a big fan of Jacqueline Winspear’s character Maisie Dobbs, and so was not surprised to enjoy her one-off novel, The Care and Management of Lies. A young woman marries the farm boy she grew up with, and when he heads to the trenches in France during the Great War, she takes on the running of the farm. A tender love story full of drama, narrated through the letters she writes , detailing the exquisite meals she learns to cook for him while he’s away from her. Beautiful.

Mean Streak by Sandra Brown is that increasingly rare book with genuinely unexpected twists in the tale. A female doctor heads out on a training run on the Appalachian Trail and wakes up, injured, in an isolated cabin with a large, verbally elusive man who will not explain how she got there, nor when she will be able to leave. Meanwhile, when her husband reports her as missing, he becomes the local police’s prime suspect. But all is not as it seems…

The GargoyleA porn star/director is horrifically burned in a drink-driving accident and spends over a year in a burn unit in Andrew Davidson’s engrossing novel The Gargoyle. With each successive skin graft the protagonist falls deeper into despair until a woman from the psych unit begins to visit him, claiming that they have known each other for 1,000 years. I came to care for his very unlovable character, and found the story deeply and surprisingly redemptive.

My favourite fictional genre is the detective/murder mystery: the following are four outstanding examples. I devoured the first thirteen novels in Anne Perry’s excellent series following the exploits of Thomas and Charlotte Pitt in Victorian London. She evokes the rustle of silk in high society and the stench of the slums with insightful social commentary and a first-class mystery at the heart of every book. Pentecost Alley is a good place to start.

A couple of hundred rail passengers are stranded in a Norwegian hotel following a winter storm derailing in Anne Holt’s excellent 1222. As supplies and patience begin to run out, two people are found murdered, and a retired, paralyzed detective is reluctantly drawn into an investigation.

Following a harrowing near-death experience, detective Joe Cashion is seconded to a sleepy Australian town in Peter Temple’s, The Broken Shore. When a localThe Broken Shore bigwig is assaulted, suspicion falls on a group of aboriginal teenagers, two of whom are shot and killed in the process of being arrested. With racial tensions running high, his dogged investigation of both the assault and the teens’ deaths unearths decades old secrets, as other dignitaries begin to be murdered. Excellent.

I’m also a fan of Jo Nesbo’s alcoholic detective Harry Hole, but my favourite Nesbo this year was his one-off, The Son.

The_Fault_in_Our_StarsIn Young Adult fiction the stand-out was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. With wonderful dialogue, laugh out loud humour, full of passion without ever falling into sentimentality, this story of two teenagers living with and dying from cancer is just brilliant. I was really looking forward to Allegiant, the final book in Veronica Roth’s dystopian trilogy, but found it confusing at times, and overly long, although it was a satisfying conclusion to the series. And in historical fiction, Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth is an outstanding novel set in Roman Britain, which we read aloud to Maggie and Seth.

Finally, my favourite fantasy novel last year was Dragon’s Blood by Jane Yolen. And Jeffrey Archer served up another page-turner in the Clifton Chronicles series with the family’s fourth outing, Be Careful What You Wish For.

Having seen my list, I’d love to hear your suggestions for novels I might enjoy in the comments section.

(I link to Amazon as a convenience and as a participant in their Associates Program. I encourage you to buy books where you want to see them sold. Or check them out of your local library.)

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5 Responses to Best Books of 2014 – Fiction

  1. Arthur Davis says:

    Thanks for these lists Sean! Here’s my top 5 fiction reads of 2014. My wife Tamie has also reviewed lots of fiction and biographies over the last year.

  2. Tamie Davis says:

    Hi Sean

    I’ll make some recommendations of great young adult stuff by Aussies that based on these you might enjoy:

    ‘The Tribe’ series by Ambelin Kwaymullina (indigenous Aussie). OK, I’ve only read the first one of these, but so far it’s good. Dystopian world with a female protagonist with super powers. Interesting spiritual dimension.

    Laurinda by Alice Pung. An Asian-background girl gets a scholarship to a posh mainly-white school. Its older Italian-parallel ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ by Marlena Marchetta is also worth looking up. Alibrandi is funnier; Laurinda goes deeper.

    An oldie but a goodie with which I used to be able to induce any child to read when I was an English teacher was John Marsden’s ‘Tomorrow series’. (The first one is ‘Tomorrow When the War Began’.) Australia gets invaded and everyone taken into custody except for a group of 6 kids who are out camping in the bush. A more modern one in a similar kind of vein is ‘The Sky So Heavy’ by Claire Zorn, which is about kids in the Blue Mountains in the wake of a nuclear winter.

    Lauren Nicholle Taylor’s series is another dystopian novel (so many young adult novels seem to be!) that starts out a bit like ‘Divergent’, with sorting of people into classes and groups, but its difference is that the aim of the world is to wipe out racism by breeding ‘all kind’ people. The first one’s called ‘The Woodlands’.

    PS How much fun is Jonasson?! I read his ‘The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden’ this year and loved it.

  3. seangladding says:

    Fantastic – thanks so much for the suggestions!

  4. Joel M says:

    If you like detective/mystery then you’ve probably already read The Maltese Falcon. I just read it last year and it was one of my favorites–classic crime noir/hardboiled PI story.

  5. Pingback: Best books of 2016 – fiction | Sean Gladding

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