Closing the final page on the very best books leaves you with a single urge: to share it. We’re talking about the kind of books that make you want to follow strangers down the road, tugging at their elbow and saying “seriously, you’ve got to read this”.
Here then, is our equivalent of doing that. These are the books published in 2014 that our writers felt compelled to share. If there’s one that you feel similarly enthused about, feel free to recommend away in the comments section…
Half A King – Joe Abercrombie
Unless you’ve been living in hermit-like seclusion recently, you can’t help but notice that Young Adult fiction is having its moment. Not even a genre a few years ago, it burst into the public consciousness with a flurry of high profile releases and film adaptations. With acclaimed adult authors now entering the fray, 2014 showed that YA is definitely here to stay. One of those adult authors who knocked it out of the park while writing for ostensibly a younger audience was Joe Abercrombie. Known for his rather more grown-up Third Law fantasy series (which is one of the best fantasy series this century by the way…), Abercrombie proves that you don’t need to compromise to make a YA novel with wide appeal.
His Viking-inspired tale of Prince Yarvi, whose epic quest to regain his throne crosses a continent and gains him a motley crew of companions, works on several levels. It’s both the perfect intro to fantasy for a younger crowd, and a quicker read for more seasoned readers. Brutal when it needs to be, restrained at others, and with a pace to the narrative that will have you devouring it in one sitting, this shows that a switch to YA can reinvigorate writers – while by no means has the quality dropped in his other series, you could sense that he needed a rest and refresh from the First Law following Red Country. Half A King provides that in spades, and the infectious joy of a writer exploring a new world is contagious. You can’t help but get swept up in the tale, and look forward to part two.
By Nick Horton
Ayoade On Ayoade: A Cinematic Odyssey – Richard Ayoade
In a market saturated with autobiographies and biographies of the famous (and not so famous) it’s really refreshing to come across a book that is surreal, informative and most of all very, very funny.
Richard Ayoade is well known for not being a fan of the limelight and rather than tell his story he interviews himself in the vein of Faber’s Directors on Directors series and what follows is an exchange you’ll never forget, with short, sharp interviews, where anything can and does happen. In addition Ayoade makes you leapfrog back and forth across the book to a series of supporting articles, e-mails and appendices which add another level to the hilarity.
Reading this book I found myself laughing out loud at the most random things, as well as the big in your face comedy moments. Ayoade’s fictionalised self is a great piece of satire and odd piece of truth that comes though every now and again is refreshing and informative and very much makes you feel that you’re receiving just the right amount of information that Ayoade wishes to share about his real self to the world. Not only a must for fans of Ayoade’s style of comedy but of cinema too, you won’t read anything quite like it this year, or ever.
By Carley Tauchert-Hutchins
The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R. Carey
It’s difficult, at this point in the history of zombie fiction, to come up with a scenario that feels interesting and different, but with The Girl With All The Gifts M.R. Carey managed to do just that.
Full of allusions to Greek mythology alongside his own unique twists and turns, Carey hits the mark by centring his story on a ten year-old girl named Melanie and the depth of her affection for her beloved teacher. In a story set at the bitter end of the human species, Carey manages to spin a tale of deeply human emotions. It’s well worth the read and a great example of how writers were able to tell new stories in old genres in 2014.
By Kaci Ferrell
Killing Season – Mason Cross
Jack Reacher, Alex Cross, Jason Bourne, Harry Hole. To this list of literary action heroes, we added a new name in 2014: Carter Blake, the protagonist of Scottish crime writer Mason Cross’ thrilling debut, Killing Season.
With his first novel, Cross has succeeded in creating a character that is both engaging, enigmatic and yet shrouded him in the kind of mystery that will hopefully unfold over future novels. Blake is a sort of bounty hunter who specialises in finding people who don’t want to be found, drafted in by the FBI to help agent Elaine Banner catch escaped death row sniper, Caleb Wardell.
Cross spends as much time on his supporting cast as he does his hero. Whilst Banner is undoubtedly a layered female character – a single mother working a dangerous job – not just there to fall in love with Blake, it’s in his villain that the writer’s work really shines. Wardell makes for a very memorable and ruthless adversary for Blake.
The author Cross has been compared to most is Lee Child. The American setting and mysterious lead character make it easy to see why and fans of the Reacher series should love this – it’s fast paced, adrenalin fuelled and big on its violent action. But there’s a bigger question mark hanging over the Blake character than that of Reacher, one which this novel leaves you desperate to find out more about. 2015 follow up, The Samaritan, can’t come soon enough.
By James Stansfield
The Shock Of The Fall – Nathan Filer
The Shock Of The Fall (or, to use its more darkly poetic US title, Where The Moon Isn’t, which I kind of prefer) is the debut novel from psychiatric nurse Nathan Filer. Winner of the Costa First Novel Award – a richly-deserved accolade – it tells the by turns funny, unsettling and deeply moving story of Matthew, as he deals with schizophrenia and the death of his brother Simon. If that sounds like heavy going, then that’s because it is – but at the same time it isn’t, and I would urge readers to put aside any preconceptions they might have about such a subject and give this stunning novel a try.
Filer’s deft, insightful prose tells what is in many ways a grim and upsetting story in a way that never feels overbearing or sensational. He completely inhabits the character of Matthew, giving him a quirky and engaging perspective that makes the dark subject matter palatable without sanitising it, in the manner of books like Mark Haddon’s classic The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, Brian Conaghan’s sublime When Mr Dog Bites, or Emma Donoghue’s heart-breaking Room. It will leave you feeling haunted and transformed; I cannot recommend it highly enough.
By Stefan Mohamed
Console Wars – Blake J. Harris
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the two-decade cycles these sorts of things tend to go in, nostalgia for the early 90s, 16-bit era of video gaming is at a tremendous high at the moment – and you only have to have a quick glance at the wide range of books detailing that part of gaming history out there to see just how much of an appetite people currently have for finding out more about it. Standing out in that growing genre, though, is Blake J. Harris’ Console Wars, which purports to tell the story of the great Sega vs Nintendo PR and marketing war.
What’s more surprising about Console Wars, however – and what really makes it stand out among its peers – is the tack it takes. Particularly for an American book, it’s unusual to see a piece of games history come down so strongly on the Sega side. It’s true that the book purports to show both sides of the conflict, but in general Nintendo are far more the distant enemy, with Sega – and their new American CEO Tom Kalinske – the plucky underdog that the narrative generally sides with.
The other unusual aspect of the book is that, while being factual, it’s deliberately written in the style of a novel. This attracted criticism from some quarters, particularly whenever it’s reconstructing conversations (and even internal thoughts) that may not have happened – but it’s hard to deny that this approach makes it a breezy, entertaining read that reveals much of the true intrigue that was going on when most of us were just arguing about whether we preferred Sonic or Mario. And it actually makes the prospect of a movie (there’s one on the way) about boardroom-based PR seem like a fascinating one.
By Seb Patrick
Fool’s Assassin – Robin Hobb
Back in 1995, The Author Formerly Known As Megan Lindholm started a new series under a new pen-name, and Robin Hobb introduced FitzChivalry Farseer and his childhood friend the Fool to the world. The majority of Hobb’s books have been part of her Realm of the Elderlings series, but since they tend to come in trilogies (and one quartet) you can never be sure whether or not she’ll return to a particular character or setting, and many readers had reluctantly accepted that they’d probably seen the last of Fitz in 2003’s Fool’s Fate.
You can imagine the collective delight when it was announced a new Fitz-centric book would be coming out in 2014. The character has aged with the story, so those who have been reading since the mid-1990s have been able to watch the plot unfold in real time across twenty years. While Fool’s Assassin is a little slow-paced, and takes the unprecedented step (for a Fitz book) of introducing a second narrator, all the things that make us love Hobb’s writing are there; rich world-building, agonising emotional and physical torture, characters who are endearing and infuriating by turns, and Fitz acting like a complete and utter moron whose intelligence levels are, at times, just below those of Baldrick from Blackadder. It’s why we love him.
By Juliette Harrisson
Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz
Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales are a generous trove for readers; with fifty-six short stories and four novels, they’re a plentiful discovery to make. They are, however, finite, and that’s where Anthony Horowitz comes in. He’s a salve to bereft Doyle readers.
2011’s The House Of Silk was Horowitz’s first Sherlock Holmes novel, a story “too shocking to be revealed” until after the Great Detective’s death according to narrator Watson. In it, Horowitz pulled off a remarkable homage to Doyle, with wit, fluency and a tight grasp of character, style and narrative.
With this year’s Moriarty, he repeats the same impressive turn. It’s a pacey Sherlock Holmes adventure, brimming with cliff-hanger chapter-endings, twists, revelations and delightful nods to canon. More than that, the action scenes are – dare we say – even more gripping than anything in the originals. Horowitz, who made his name with the hugely popular Alex Rider series of YA books, is writing a Bond novel next, but let’s hope he keeps the Sherlock Holmes stories coming. Doyle addicts need our fix.
By Louisa Mellor
Sand – Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey came out of nowhere to become one of the most exciting new names in science fiction with the success of his Silo series. If such a thing is possible with writing, he’s an overnight sensation, going from self-publishing on Amazon to film deals and distribution by Simon and Schuster. The easy part might be breaking through; the harder part is capitalizing on that success. He does so with the Sand Omnibus.
Sand presents the world as cataclysm. Humanity huddles in scavenged buildings, constantly buffeted by howling winds and omnipresent blowing sand. Sand-divers in electrically-powered suits are the source of all treasures, the only thing keeping people clothed and housed thanks to relics from a lost humanity buried miles beneath the dirt. Four children of various ages face an uncertain future, a cloudy past, and a mystery that threatens their very lives in the lost city of Danvar.
Dealing with survival, environmental catastrophe, rebellion both political and familial, broken homes, and broken people, Sand is a step forward for Howey. In reading Silo, you can witness his development as an author. With Sand, he’s a proven, confident writer with something to say and the tools to say it: pulse-raising and thought-provoking in equal measure.
By Ron Hogan
Night Film – Marisha Pessl
Ashley Cordova is beautiful and dead. Before she came to be the latter, though, she charmed, confused, enchanted, even bewitched everyone she touched in her short life. Ashley is, of course, the daughter of the infamous and elusive film director Stanislas Cordova, whom you’ve no doubt heard mentioned among other enigmatic greats – Kubrick, Lynch, and Polanski, to name a few.
Oh, you’re not familiar with Cordova? Okay, so maybe he never actually existed, but that’s a minor technicality in the meta-realm of Marisha Pessl’s Night Film. Though solving the mystery of Ashley’s death is the pivotal narrative, the whole of the story is a dizzying exploration of myth, magic, fear, personal demons, and the ways we layer them all to cushion our own realities. Scott McGrath, our narrator, does eventually find the solution…but only debatably solves the mystery.
Night Film is an experience, with newspaper clippings and magazine articles and internet screenshots providing further disorientation along the way. It’s an obsessive journey, one that feeds all kinds of obsessions – movies, books, the occult, the macabre, and yeah, beauty, truth, and love. All of it. Naturally, then, it should fit quite nicely on the bookshelf of just about anyone who tends to become obsessed with such objects of fascination. Thus, in recommending a book on a website for the obsessed, it seems a more than appropriate choice.
By Holly Hogan (NB: This refers to the paperback edition.)
Fives And Twenty Fives – Michael Pitre
I happened across Michael Pitre’s Fives And Twenty Fives completely by accident. I was at an event at Edinburgh International Book Festival to see one of my favourite authors: Willy Vlautin. The event showcased several other authors (Craig Davidson, who you might know for Rust And Bone was one of them), but I couldn’t get past Pitre’s vivid passage from Fives And Twenty Fives where he described a bomb disposal mission in Iraq.
What really drew me to Fives And Twenty Fives was the fact that Pitre is an Iraq War veteran, and it seemed pretty apparent that a lot of the book drew on his experiences. The narrative is very tightly woven, and the chapters are split between three protagonists: two US Marines and an Iraqi translator. What makes the book even more interesting is that it switches between the platoon removing bombs from the roads in 2006 and what happened to them when they returned home in 2011.
Whilst there have been other books on this conflict from a soldier’s viewpoint (Evan Wright’s Generation Kill is non-fiction, but is similarly brilliant), Fives And Twenty Fives isn’t quite like anything else I’ve read this year.
By Stu Anderson
The Beauty – Aliya Whiteley
The Beauty is a bonafide “strange tale”; a genre-defying crossbreed of body horror and dystopian fairy tale, in which all women have been wiped out by a mysterious sickness. While the older men remember what women were like, many of the young ones have no experience at all. Nate, the narrator, is part of a primitive male community living in The Valley Of The Rocks. As their “storyteller”, it’s his job to keep the others placated and hopeful with whimsical tales of women past and happier times. One night in the forest however, he discovers a mushroom-like lifeform that’s bizarrely feminine and its emergence from the darkness will change the Valley forever…
The Beauty explores gender roles in a developing society from an existential standpoint and never flinches from asking tough allegorical questions. It’s a lean, smart modern fable that’s as grotesque as it is entertaining. The characters are convincing and the prose is beautiful even in its darkest moments. And, boy, does this get dark. Aliya Whiteley seems to take joy in finding ever-imaginative ways to provoke the reader and it works splendidly. I was provoked, shocked, disgusted, touched and, ultimately, I emerged feeling wiser. A brilliant, haunting original.
By Craig Lines
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