Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Best Books of 2014

My favorite novels have beautiful writing that doesn't distract from the story. I enjoy diverse, quirky characters who see the world from fresh viewpoints or take me to exotic locations. I usually prefer realistic contemporary fiction but there are exceptions. My list includes some of my favorite authors as well as debuts. The title links will take you to my full reviews.


EUPHORIA by Lily King was the best novel I read this year. Anthropologist Margaret Mead's time in New Guinea inspired this fictional story. King is one of my favorite authors and this is her best book so far. Follow the link to my full review and my author interview for the story behind the story.

THE BONE CLOCKS by David Mitchell is impossible to categorize. This ambitious novel follows a woman from her teenaged years in the 1980s into a world ravished by climate change. There's a paranormal plot line too. Read Mitchell and you'll understand why he's another favorite author.

EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng was a strong debut. The central plot is a who-done-it mystery: a half Chinese American teenager is found drowned in a small town. This literary novel delves deep into racial prejudices in the 1950s to the 1980s and examines how family members process grief differently. Everyone sees a different version of the story. The characters were flawed and very human. The only aspect that seemed unrealistic was the family's extreme isolation in a college town. The writing was excellent:

The ten-year-old sister who stole The Sound and the Fury from her older sister:

"Over the past two weeks she's worked her way through it, savoring the words like a cherry Life Saver tucked inside her cheek."


THREATENED by Eliot Schrefer In this Dickensian retelling of Tarzan, an African orphan is recruited by an Egyptian field biologist to study the elusive chimpanzees of Gabon. Abandoned in the jungle, young Luc must befriend the chimps in order to survive. There are venomous snakes, hungry leopards and aggressive, territorial male chimpanzees, but the worst are the humans who set traps for the endangered chimps and chop off the hands of runaway orphans. Starvation and disease might kill Luck first, but he fears loneliness most of all. His hunger for friendship and knowledge keeps him going.
"How would I survive alone? It has been the question of my life, and I'm still no closer to the answer."
This terrifying, literary page-turner gave me nightmares, but I couldn't stop reading. Luc is one of my favorite characters in young adult literature. At possibly thirteen (his birthday was long forgotten) Luc is a young protagonist for teen readers, but he acts more mature out of necessity. The professor, with his aspirations of being an African Jane Goodall, was intriguing too. The apes were as well developed as the human characters but not anthropomorphized, which is hard to find in children's books. The setting felt tactile and real. It was beautifully written too.

Schrefer, who clearly did his research, delivers a strong wildlife conservation message while acknowledging human needs in developing countries. This story is educational but entertaining and would appeal to animal lovers and especially to boys who like adventure stories and don't mind gore.

Schrefer's ENDANGERED (2013) with its female protagonist and a matriarchy of bonobo chimpanzees would be a better pick for a girl. Both of his books were nominated for the National Book Award and have many fans among adult readers. Schrefer is at work on a third great ape novel. I can't wait to read it.

GOING OVER by Beth Kephart is the best book by one of my favorite young adult authors. In this Cold War romance, the Berlin Wall stands between two star-crossed teenagers. The novel brings history to life for teens in this real world dystopia. The literary writing and adult characters broaden the appeal to an older audience.

FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe was a strong debut with an original voice. A car accident leaves Sophie limping and addicted to painkillers, but she won't let her disabilities stop her from finding the murderer of her best friend. It was well written but not easy to read. Teens would love the edgy content. I like this book even better now, months later, on reflection.


BROWN GIRL DREAMING is a powerful memoir in verse by children's author Jacqueline Woodson. Readers of all ages will appreciate her personal reflections on the legacy of discrimination and on the joy of writing. It won the National Book Award for Juvenile Literature.

Reviewer's Disclosure: Lily King's daughters go to school with my daughter and Beth Kephart is a blog buddy, but they did not ask me to review their books. I received free review galleys of Going Over and Far From You from the publishers. The other books I purchased at independent bookstores.

Promising 2014 novels in my To Be Read stack:

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (the historical novel topping most best books lists)

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer (satirical fiction)

The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach (contemporary fiction by a Maine author)

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (contemporary YA fiction on many best books lists)

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (magical realism/contemporary YA on many best book lists)

A Moment Comes by Jennifer Bradbury (historical YA fiction set in India)

Blind by Rachel DeWoskin (contemporary YA debut)

No Surrender Soldier by Christine Kohler (historical YA fiction set in Guam)


Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I've been wondering about The Bone Clocks. Must check that one out! Happy Holidays, Sarah!

A Cuban In London said...

You know that you have whetted my appetite re David Mitchell. I think I'll give his books a go next year.

Thanks for the link to the story about Cuba. Hightime that our governments kissed and made up! :-)

Greetings from London.

Rose said...

I always look forward to your end-of-the-year reviews, Sarah. Euphoria was one of the novels I intended to read, but forgotten about--I'm going to bookmark this page so I don't forget again! Once the holiday rush is over and I finish the baby quilt I've been working on--new grandson is due any day!--I'll have time to curl up with some good books again.

Amanda Summer said...

I am determined to read Lily King's book after your amazing review some time ago - maybe after the New Year.

troutbirder said...

Fascinating listings. I've got Euphoria and Bone Clocks on my Nook and being a life-long practitioner of "deferred gratification" I've been saving them for our winter vacation in Florida...:)

Petra Pavlátková said...

Thanks for your recommendations, Sarah, I'd definitely choose EUPHORIA by Lily King and hopefully I'll lay my hands on it one day. :)

Merry Christmas to you and your family!

Becky Holmes said...

Thanks for this list. I've been wondering a lot about The Bone Clocks. Glad to hear it was good.