Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The Top Ten Books of 2014

I can't believe this year has gone so quickly and that we're two days before Christmas already. On the bright side, I've read some amazing books this year so it wasn't hard at all the pick out the ten best ones.

As always, I'm talking about the books I read this year, not necessarily books that were published this year. I doubt I read enough 2014 releases to make up even half a list, so why bother?


1) We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

If I had to choose just one amazing book from this list, it would be this one. Normally that's not a question I could easily answer, but this book is unbelievable.

Every person that reads it seems to have a different interpretation of what happened based on their own experiences and moral viewpoints. Ellie and I still disagree on what caused the incident (as much as a 'cause' is possible), but that's a mark of truly great writing. 

'This book is perfect. Well, no, actually it's horrible. But it's perfectly written. It's not just what Kevin eventually ends up doing, it's the little details that really 'get' you and keep you looking over your shoulder for days to come.'
 
2) The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

I ended up going on a bit of a mental health spree this year, completely unintentionally. Three (four, if you count the above) of the books on this list involve some form of illness, but sometimes they make for the most moving books.

Ellie bought me this book and the accompanying DVD for my birthday Christmas Ninja Swap randomly some reason last year, and it's amazing. I didn't feel like I could do it justice in a review, but it's a charming character-driven novel that's remained with me since I finished devouring it in one sitting.

3) The Selection series by Kiera Cass
 
I know, I'm as surprised as you.

This is totally not my usual type of thing and the first book is quite weak, but it ends up being pretty damn good. The pretty-dresses:plot ratio improves with every book and it still keeps popping into my head seven months later. It's obviously quite light, but it's fun and interesting.

'The Selection series has a twee premise but if you can accept that and just roll with it, this is a brilliant series. It steadily picks up power from book to book, resulting in The One which was actually just short of wonderful.'

4) It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini 
 
I bought this totally on a whim while shopping with Ellie and Charlotte, despite being almost put off by the huge font. I'd seen the film but I tend to not enjoy novels about depressed teenagers, so I wasn't all that fussed about the book.

It's actually kind of perfect though. Ned Vizzini spent time in a psychiatric hospital himself before eventually committing suicide, so I guess he knew what he was talking about.

It's good. Read it.

'I spent a lot of this book rather shellshocked. It's astounding how well the author managed the transfer all these thoughts to paper. The funny thing is, it's not even a depressing book... nor is it lecturing. It has quite a light tone, even though it's a first person narrative of a suicidal teenager.'  

5) The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer 
 
Another mental health book. I did warn you.

This one talks about schizophrenia, which is a misunderstood illness and not something usually dealt with in fiction. I cared so deeply about all the characters in this book and needed to know what happened in the past.

'This book really got to me. I sat there with an anxious, tight feeling in my stomach throughout and it persisted long after I'd finished... This is easily, easily going to be one of my best books of 2014.' 

6) The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

This list isn't in any particular order, but it it was, The Song of Achilles would be very, very close to the top. Second place, perhaps. I barely knew what this was about, just that Charlotte was about to throttle me if I didn't read it soon, and that worked out well as I don't think I'd have read it at all if I'd have known.

I cried on a train. It's beautiful and moving and sad and lovely and... argh.

'I don't think this review has actually helped much as I'd have achieved much the same thing by posting a picture of myself with a pathetic expression and a wad of tissue. If you take one thing away from this though, let it be that The Song of Achilles is far more than a dusty retelling of the Trojan War - it's a beautiful and realistic story about a demi-god and a human, and their everlasting love.'

7) The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor

I'm including this series somewhat grudgingly as I finished the final book, Dreams of Gods and Monsters, and was quite disappointed and annoyed. That said, I fell in love with the first two books, so here it stays. I suppose.

I still recommend reading this series though. It's a completely unique concept and Laini Taylor writes with such poetry that I'm glad I picked it up.

'It's obvious to me that what really makes Daughter of Smoke and Bone so great is the world-building. I was hooked before I'd even finished reading two pages just because I was desperate to know what the teeth were used for, how the chimaera came to exist and what those strange handprints were. It's clear than an awful lot of effort and planning went into creating this level of detail, as it was completely engrossing and somehow real.'

8) HHhH by Laurent Bisset

This is a rather odd non-fiction about about the Czech and Slovakian parachutists responsible for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in 1942. It has a really casual, chatty tone and the author talks to you about how he's writing the book, as he's telling you about the Nazis. It just... works, somehow. 

'What I liked most about HHhH is that it's a non-fiction book, but told by a person rather than a historian. It really helps you to understand the atrocities committed because you're not being lectured on it by an expert who's taught 57,000 other people and has become inured to it - instead, Laurent Binet is as shocked about it as you are.'

9) Look Who's Back by Timur Vermes

Crappy title, great book. You do need a certain amount of German political knowledge (past and present) to understand every nuance of this book, but it's perfectly put together regardless. It's completely believable and the tone is perfect.

'I was hooked on Look Who's Back by the end of the third page. Adolf Hitler wakes up in modern-day Berlin and is surprised to discover that his last order, to raze the city to the ground, wasn't carried out. By his reckoning, Germany shouldn't exist at all and he's a little annoyed that it does, actually.'

10) Lady Chatterley's Trial by Penguin Books
 
This is an example that didn't make the list because of the words, but because of how it made me feel and what it made me think about.

It's purely just extracts from R v Penguin Books Ltd, the censorship trial in 1960, and it's published by Penguin themselves so it's likely going to be a tad biased. However, it goes into the history of Penguin - how they didn't believe classic novels just be only for the middle classes, so they began publishing cheap copies for the price of a packet of cigarettes.

It's a very tiny book that you can read in a few hours, but it prompted a lot of conversation with different people about how lucky we are to live in an age where censorship isn't really an issue (however you may feel about 50 Shades of Grey) and where we can actually get hundreds of classic books for free. Very thought-provoking.

What were your favourite books of 2014? 
  

7 comments:

  1. Hooray! Kevin unequivocally got my top spot last year too. I think I bought you Silver Linings for your birthday, so your first guess was right. Probably. And The Shock of the Fall is definitely on my list this year, except I HAVEN'T MADE ONE. I shall do it here, because lazy.

    1) To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
    2) Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs - Jeremy Mercer
    3) Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson
    4) Darkly Dreaming Dexter - Jeff Lindsay
    5) The New Hunger - Isaac Marion
    6) The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer
    7) Lamb - Christopher Moore
    8) Boys Don't Knit - T.S. Easton
    9) Red Dragon - Thomas Harris
    10) Lisey's Story - Stephen King

    Hmmm, not much of a list, and it's not exactly in order either, just roughly - but I think that'll do it. :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's just an amazing book. I had no idea it would turn out that way when you and Charlotte were recommending it in Waterstones.

      To Kill A Mockingbird was one of the best books I read this year as well, only it was a reread so I didn't count it. I loved it so much more than I remember doing the first time, and I LIKED it then.

      I almost read Speak yesterday, only it doesn't seem particularly fesive and also (more pathetically) I was worried I'd WANT to include it on this list and then couldn't...

      Delete
  2. Interesting that you ended up with such a mental health focus on your list! I made my list a few days ago.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was completely unintentional, but did work out that way!

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  3. The Shock of the Fall made my list too, it was so amazing. Great list - you've given me so many ideas for next year :D

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  4. Thank GOODNESS someone finally read The Song of Achilles! Now I just have Ellie to badger into reading it and my work will be done! I bloody love that book.

    I also love that HHhH made the list - it's amazing.

    I have both Look Who's Back (totally agree - ridiculous title) and Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Actually, I'm kind of pre-occupied with the thought of reading DoSaB - you know when you decide you want to read a book but don't do it right away for no good reason and then it becomes sort of a distracting thought? I kind of realise now that that looks stupid - I'm just going to go and read it and have done with it. Although if I love it and it messes up my Top 10, I shan't be happy.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The Song of Achilles made my top ten in a previous year. I hope to get round to HHhH, The Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Look Who's Back this year.

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