There never seems to be enough months in the year to read all the books you really want to. That’s what I always think when it comes time to compiling a ‘Favourites’ list, which is as much a look back at the Reading Year That Was.
I always start the New Year with such lofty book ambitions, but while compiling this list I feel like I only achieved a fraction of them. There are still so many 2014-titles in my towering To-Be-Read pile that I wish I’d gotten round to, and I hate to think that some of them would have made this list if only I’d been better – read more!
So for better or for worse, here is my list of Favourite Books from 2014 – in no particular order or genre. Some of them seem funny to include – there are those that I gave a 3 or 4-star rating to … but the stories stuck with me, and I include them here because I’ve found myself recommending them to friends and family throughout the year, and now want to pass those recommendations on to you.
As I said – this list feels small compared to the To-Be-Read pile I’ve still got staring at me of new-release titles. If there’s any books not included here that you think I really should read – please let me know in the comments!
Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King
Does this sound like part contemporary YA, part feminist manifesto? It does? Good. Because it kinda is – a feminist manifesto wrapped in the vastness of time and space, dipped in subversive YA fiction. In other words: it’s freakin’ glorious!
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
This was the finale fans were hoping for. Isla and Josh are the perfect way to finish this series, and fans will absolutely squeal in delight when we get to catch up with Lola and Cricket, but especially Anna and Etienne.
Head of the River by Pip Harry
A compelling and thoughtful contemporary Australian YA sports novel – that it has a brother and sister protagonist who don’t conform to gender stereotypes is also deserving of praise. But ‘Head of the River’ is also compulsive reading – with a plot that catches you like a crab and pulls you under. I loved it.
The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen
Corey Callahan is the real standout in this book, and for more than just her being a point of difference in the romance genre as a heroine with a disability. She’s refreshing because she’s funny and a tomboy, loyal and down-the-line honest, and these are all the things that attract Hartley to her. Bowen writes their rapport beautifully, and rather than boring ‘love at first sight’ clichés, she writes their evolving friendship and attraction with real finesse.
The Hook Up Game On #1 by Kristen Callihan
I was about two chapters into this book when I started recommending it to my romance reader friends – it was that good! (and they concurred). I’m going to call this a favourite book of 2014, which is kind of great considering I bought it on a whim based on the strength of Callihan’s totally different paranormal romance series, and because I was having ‘Friday Night Lights’ withdrawals. This was a wonderful romance and I can’t wait for the next two books in the ‘Game On’ series.
Murder of Crows The Others #2 by Anne Bishop
Anne Bishop’s ‘The Others’ series is certainly one of the most compelling new additions to the urban fantasy realm, and a must-read for anyone who craves fantastical stories … but also for people who are new to fantasy but are not keen on the latest spate of erotica vampires/werewolves etc. Anne Bishop’s world is complex and darkening, her characters are loveable and fascinating, and their relationships are being subtly teased out along with this vastly dangerous and layered universe.
Cooper Bartholomew is Dead by Rebecca James
Another fabulous novel from one of Australia’s favourite YA authors. It’s a slice of ‘Twin Peaks’ noir for young readers to get wrapped up in – and that it hurts so much is part of the novel’s charm and Rebecca James’s talent.
The Infinite Sea The Fifth Wave #2 by Rick Yancey
I loved ‘The Infinite Sea’ – and I’m excited that 2015 will gift readers both a ‘Fifth Wave’ movie adaptation and the finale book in Rick Yancey’s addictive, adrenaline-fuelled trilogy. Bring on the alien-hordes, but pray for the tardy bell!
The Winner's Curse Winner's Curse Trilogy #1 by Marie Rutkoski
Rutkoski has vividly created this universe for readers to get caught up in, and written fascinating characters I can’t wait to get back to. I was also really impressed by the plotting of the story – surprised that this felt like a complete book in itself (though with a juicy cliffhanger) because Rutkoski doesn’t meander with plot, but rather enjoys plunging readers into the thick of action. 2015 seems a particularly long way away, now that I’m pining for book #2.
The Winter King Weathermages of Mystral #1 by C.L. Wilson
I really – surprisingly – enjoyed this fantasy romance of a conquered Princess finding her way and love in the Kingdom of her victorious husband King. C.L. Wilson ensured I’d be coming back to the world of ‘Weathermages of Mystral’ having enchanted me with this sexy, thoughtful fantasy romance instalment.
Midnight Crossroad Midnight Texas #1 by Charlaine Harris
Midnight is definitely a town with enough secrets and intriguing residents to fill a (long-awaited!) new series from Charlaine Harris. Reading this as someone who is a bigger fan of her backlist than HBO-adapted Sookie, ‘Midnight, Texas’ feels like a hark back to the cozy mysteries she excelled at writing early on – the cherries on top are Manfred and Bobo, fan-favourites who are being given a chance to shine all on their own.
Written in My Own Heart's Blood Outlander #8 by Diana Gabaldon
‘Written in my Own Heart’s Blood’ marks a fever-pitch in the ‘Outlander’ series. One of the longest waits between books (five years!) and released the same year as first book in the ‘Outlander’ series is coming to the small-screen – there was a lot resting on the release of MOBY, and I’m happy to say that Diana Gabaldon delivers ten-fold with this, the eighth book in a series that doesn’t appear to be wrapping up anytime soon.
Not a book, obviously – but I want to include the TV adaptation of one of my favourite book series because it’s so damn good (so good, in fact, that I’m even willing to let slide the 6-month “mid-season break” horror). I mean, I’d love the ‘Outlander’ TV series for gifting us Sam Heughan alone, but Starz’s faithful adaptation has really outdone itself – even in regards to representing sex and female sexuality on screen (which I got to write about … including referencing Sam Heughan’s bum. So that happened). Basically, it’s too good not to include in this list of bookish things that made me happy in 2014.
Pack up the Moon by Rachael Herron
‘Pack up the Moon’ is a wonderful stand-alone novel from Rachael Herron. I hope she writes more of the like, with moral conundrums at their heart, because I think she’s an interesting voice in women’s fiction.
Losing Kate by Kylie Kaden
This was a book that I rushed to get back to; immensely readable and a great blend of romance and ‘suburban-gothic’ mystery, where past meets present to prove that secrets can’t stay buried forever.
El Deafo by Cece Bell
At the end of her author’s note, Bell summarises what it took so long for her younger-self to learn: “Our differences are our superpowers!” This is a favourite new book for me – an absolutely stunning semi-autobiographic graphic novel that middle-grade readers will love, but everyone should read!
Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler
I loved this book. Nickolas Butler writes with such a steady, assured voice that is at once tough and lyrical. He doesn’t sound like a debut author, but a rather accomplished storyteller.
… and sometimes that is what forgiveness is anyway – a deep sigh.
I loved that this book, first and foremost, is about the love between four grown male friends and the fractures and fights that would threaten to tear them apart if they weren’t so damn dedicated to one another. I want to read anything and everything else that Nickolas Butler puts his name to.
Like No Other by Una LaMarche
I loved this book, and it’s going down as a new favourites. It’s a tough book, even while cloaked in the very romantic story of Devorah and Jaxon - from opposite sides of their Brooklyn street. LaMarche is writing a deeper tale of star-crossed lovers, one that discusses racial and religious tensions, feminism and independence – an absolute triumph for Una LaMarche.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
This was such an enjoyable read. One moment I’d be cackling manically and then when I finished reading a chapter I’d think on the events for hours afterwards, for all the controversies Moriarty had raised. I loved this book, it really does cement Liane Moriarty as someone who is very deserving of her new literary fame (though I say that reservedly, she’s always been beloved in Australia – it’s mostly America who is suddenly taking notice of her).
Shimmer The Rephaim #3 by Paula Weston
I think ‘Shimmer’ is setting up much more of the Angel politics and the long-game ending for book four. There’s also plenty of action (fist-thumping, lip-splitting, sais-wielding action!) but I really loved the down-times in this book too, when we get to know the secondary characters better and see Gaby and Jude handle themselves in this new/familiar environment. And, of course, it wouldn’t be ‘The Rephaim’ series without some seriously sizzling romance. You guys – I can’t even with this book. I’ll only say that the fans will be very, very happy indeed. Paula Weston has done it again. ‘Shimmer’ is another stellar instalment in this, the best Angel-themed paranormal series I’ve ever read, and it’s so much heart-palpitating fun that I don’t even mind being led back to that cliffhanger rock-face again for the ending.
The Minnow by Diana Sweeney
This books sticks with you – is it too much of a cliché to say ‘hook, line and (golden) sinker?’ Here is a book unlike any other on the YA shelves today. On the one hand it is dark and bush gothic, but also with a sense of whimsy and lightness. Tom is a protagonist too young for such tragedy but all the more interesting for how she has survived, and is still surviving, in the wake of it. Diana Sweeney carries you under with this story that is full of death and ghosts but with a deftly surreal touch and haunting prose … I want to read more from her, and soon.
Every Word by Ellie Marney
Ellie Marney really has to be commended – there’s no resting on laurels with this follow-up. I praised Marney for her debut; “this isn’t ‘crime-lite’ because it’s for a younger audience. It’s crime, full stop.” And in this second instalment she further cements the ‘Every’ series in the crime genre and lets the ‘YA’ tag fall away. She ups the stakes and the violence in this second book – Rachel and Mycroft don’t just have a brush with death, they stare it in the face. Marney doesn’t pull on the brakes or lessen the intense pace she set from the onset with ‘Every Breath’ – in ‘Every Word’ she goes bigger and darker, the overarching storyline gets more complex and the while the finish line is in sight, it’s also filled with obstacles.
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
Here is a novel full of cutting tenderness, quiet reflection interspersed with a young woman’s rage and crippling inability to help her suffering father. It’s beautiful and haunting, as all Laurie Halse Anderson books tend to be.
P.S. - Laurie Halse Anderson is going to be in Melbourne next year for Reading Matters 2015. I've already booked my ticket, and intend to make a fan-girl fool of myself when I get my book signed :)
Us by David Nicholls
‘Us’ does read like a coming-of-age novel, even though Douglas is 54-years-old when he starts having these cataclysmic revelations about his wife and life. And the book is a bit like reading a car crash in slow motion, as readers reach the inevitable conclusion far quicker and easier than Douglas ever does. But for all that this is a sad subject to be exploring (and a somewhat pedestrian one – how many marriage end in divorce now, and late-in-life divorce is also on the rise) it didn’t feel like a sad book. I laughed so much while reading, and I admired Douglas as a quiet everyday-hero who is doing something so ordinarily admirable in his life. I loved that this is really more a father-son relationship book, and that it felt like the resounding BOOM! of echoes from Nicholl’s ‘One Day’, and even ‘Starter For Ten’ which explored the absence of a father in protagonist Brian Jackson’s life. I love David Nicholls, I’ve missed him and am quietly thrilled that despite a five-year absence, I count his triumphant return to bookshelves as a new favourite.
We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
I adored this book, and as I said – I’ll now count it as an all-time favourite. I experienced savage emotions of sadness, disgust and joy while reading – and by the last page my whole body felt tender as a bruise, such was the emotional impact of Karen Joy Fowler’s novel.
*Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery. Written By: Kurtis J Wiebe, Art By: Roc Upchurch
I’m obsessed with ‘Rat Queens’, and I can see why this comic series has taken off in such a big way (it was voted for best new series in the 2014 Eisner Awards). It’s rowdy and rude, heartfelt and gory with four lovably riotous female protagonists who I both want to be best friends with, and would recommend crossing the street to avoid.
* I feel the need to add a note here about Rat Queens illustrator Roc Upchurch’s Domestic Violence arrest. It’s awful on so many levels, including that he was being celebrated for his work on this empowering, female-driven comic series. Mary Sue articulated it best: “It’s always difficult when someone who creates content you love does things with which you just can’t align yourself.” And I’m really happy that series creator/writer Kurtis J. Wiebe came out with a strong statement that Upchurch will no longer be illustrating the comic, and that Rat Queens will now be entering into a transitionary period. I welcome this change. And I’m thrilled that Wiebe knows why fans are so sickened by the news, but also desperate for this series to continue. As Wiebe said: “I want to write stories about women that I see in my everyday life, about friendship and to make comics that include and embrace diversity.”
Through the Woods stories by Emily Carroll
Emily Carroll is a storyteller, in the most primordial sense of the word. All of her illustrated gothic/horror stories feel like a conjuring of campfire tales told with a dash of folklore, urban legend and heady doses of fright.
Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff
I loved ‘Guy in Real Life’. It’s the first YA book I’ve ever read (though I’m not claiming there are none others out there) that so beautifully explores these fantasy-created worlds that many people live in, and the disconnection between who we are online and who we wish we were offline. Brezenoff touches on sexism and misogyny, and through Lesh’s creation of Svvetlana he really excels at having his male character walk a mile in a woman’s shoes. Outstanding.
This One Summer written by Mariko Tamaki illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
This is a beautiful coming-of-age-story about being on the cusp of everything. I've no doubt that next summer at Awago Beach, Rose will more than ever feel the differences between her and Windy and they’ll never again enjoy a summer like this one. ‘This One Summer’ feels all the more special because, as readers, we probably know that it will be looked back on by both girls as they grow older as the last memories they have of a truly carefree friendship. There's also a beautiful mother-daughter story in here, as Rose learns more hard truths about growing up. It's so subtly drawn out, the story between Rose and her mother, but once it's all out in the open the enormity of the summer settles over the reader in a very profound way. Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki have created a truly gorgeous graphic novel. I hope everyone finds their way to this one.
To All The Boy's I've Loved Before by Jenny Han
‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ is the first book in a duology, with second book ‘P.S.I Still Love You’ set for 2015 release. I’m totally invested in the Song girls dramas now, so will definitely be coming back for more. ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ is just plain fun, a YA contemporary that’s good for the soul and had me up until 2AM to finish reading.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
haunting and visceral,
full of poignancy and sugary sweetness
everyone should read this.
Funny Girl by Nick Hornby
I adored ‘Funny Girl’. And I really can’t think of higher praise than simply reiterating what a joy it was to read – often the best part of my day was spent with Sophie, Tony, Bill, Clive and Dennis. Nick Hornby certainly hasn’t lost his Midas touch – in fact, much like the crew of ‘Barbara (and Jim)’, he only gets better with age.
Laurinda by Alice Pung
It’s Heathers meets House of Cards by way of Mean Girls.
Nona and Me by Clare Atkins
Clare Atkins’s debut novel is a triumph: a coming-of-age tale that celebrates friendship and loyalty, family and community. Here is a striking new voice in Australian youth literature, and her story is one that will surely leave its mark.
The Boy's Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew by Eli Glasman
Eli Glasman is a daring new author who is much needed in Australia’s youth literature scene, and ‘The Boy's Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew’ should be on everyone’s must-read list. Here is a gutsy coming-of-age story that tackles internal and external battles of faith and sexuality with infinite tenderness and witty aplomb. Trust me when I say you should meet Yossi, and keep an eye on Eli Glasman.
Serial Podcast, created and hosted by Sarah Koenig
This, much like the Outlander TV show, is not a book. But I'm including it here because as a spin-off of This American Life it has bookish enough connections ... and was one of the most intriguing bits of investigative journalism that I've ever encountered. I didn't have any favourite crime novel this year, but I feel like Serial is taking that place on my favourites list. I'm going to write more about this season of Serial, but for now here is a brief summary of what it is: 'Serial is a podcast where we unfold one nonfiction story, week by week, over the course of a season. We'll stay with each story for as long as it takes to get to the bottom of it.'