Trying to wrap up “the year in books” is an almost impossible task. Sure, new books come out every week, but let’s be honest unless you’re someone who works in publishing and/or gets advance copies you are probably unlikely to be read up on all the books that come out in a particular year. Reading takes time, and readers aren’t confined to a schedule. A great book can be read the day it comes out or decades later. So the prospect of wrapping up any particular year is a bit dodgy. The best I can do is tell you how my year in books went.
Every year since 2010 I do the Goodreads Reading Challenge. This is by no means a paid ad for them, but I will say it’s possibly the most useful social media platform outside of twitter. I use it constantly. The reading challenge allows you to say how many books you want to read and then keeps a tab on the side telling you if you’re on pace or not. It not only has helped me make more time to read but it has also introduced me to a world of writers I never would have discovered on my own. As of this writing 679,148 participated and 14,791 met their goals meaning the over 19 million books were read.
In 2014 I pledged to read 36 books (up from 24 the year prior). A goal I only completed this afternoon. Below is selected reviews of books that you should definitely not miss. All in all it was a great year of 5-star reviews and absolutely zero books thrown across the room in a fit of rage for having wasted my life (see: 2013 – Night Film & 2011: Breakfast of Champions).
If you’re interested in reading more I’d highly recommend taking on the challenge. Look me up at goodreads.com/kissmyspine as well if you’d like to keep up with what I’m reading & reviewing through the year. I’ve decided that 2015 will finally be the year that I read Crime & Punishment. Here’s hoping it’s good because I fear permanent damage could occur if I have to throw it anywhere.
As further reading incentive for 2015 I’ve just found out that Chapters & SCENE started a partnership this summer. For each of the 30 featured titles from Chapters/Indigo that you buy you get 250 SCENE points. Which means if you buy 4 books you get a free movie. Again, I feel obligated to point out that this is not a paid advertisement, though if either wanted to start I’m sure we wouldn’t be turning it down. In fact if they want to hook me up with the book & a movie so I can do a book-to-movie blog well that’s an entertaining sword I’d be willing to fall on.
That being said, here’s my “Best Of 2014-ish”…
Best Book of 2014
The Son Jo Nesbø published May 13, 2014
If you only read one book from this list, make it this one.
I was on a really big Nordic fiction kick this year, and when I saw this released I knew just from the cover that I would want to read it. It did not disappoint. If you listened to Serial this is a book for you. If you like Sons of Anarchy this is a book for you. If you like crime fiction this is a book for you. If you like revenge stories this is a book for you. If you have a pulse, this is a book for you.
As soon as I finished this book I was desperate for someone to buy the film rights because not only will it make a great movie (fingers crossed starring Joel Kinnaman!) it will also mean more people read this book.
So, in conclusion… READ IT.
Most Challenging Book(s) of 2014
The Southern Reach Trilogy: Annihilation, Authority & Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer published February, May & September 2014
I could tell you what the Southern Reach Trilogy is about but I’d be lying. This is what I wrote after reading the first book (Annihilation):
Having read so many trilogies/series in the past decade it’s refreshing to know that I am excited to read book 2 and yet have absolutely no idea what it will be about. I don’t even know what I want it to be about. Most books immerse you in the characters making you feel as if you know them. Annihilation doesn’t even tell you their names. Instead you have the strange sensation of feeling both immersed in the place and outside of it. Like watching a movie in 3D. You want to reach out your hand and touch it but you know that if you did nothing would be there. My first thought when I finished reading it was a feeling of being haunted by it. But the better description would be to say that it’s hypnotic.
That feeling never stopped. Somehow I read three entire books and I literally could not tell you what the outcome was. I know nothing more about “Area X” than I did when I started, I’m not sure if the characters changed or were just replaced by alternate versions of themselves, and never once did I stop feeling like I was hallucinating.
When I got to the end of it I actually sat, staring at a wall, and thought “Am I not smart enough to understand this?” I think that’s the point. Everyone will have their own interpretation and experience of this series. Much like Area X itself I think that it might even change each time you revisit it.
Was it about our relationship to nature? Maybe. Was it about death? Sort of. Was it about quantum mechanics? Um… I think so?
Read it for yourself and find out. Then let me know. Because honestly, I have no freaking clue.
Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind by Gavin Edwards published October 22, 2013
River Phoenix was both the first young person and first celebrity I remember dying. He was so beautiful and so talented and his short life was so hard. Gavin Edwards not only shines a light on the life of Phoenix and his unusual upbringing (vegan, cult-member, refugee, bread winner) he also places it in context of what else was happening at the time with other stars his age such as Leonardo DiCaprio, his relationship with Martha Plimpton, and the allure of downtown LA. It is absolutely a must-read.
Funniest Book & Book That Every Bathroom Needs
Anchorboy: True Tales from the World of Sportscasting by Jay Onrait published May 6, 2014
This book should be a staple in every bathroom across Canada. I laughed until tears streamed down my face and I had to do Lamaze breathing. But hidden among all the funny is real heart, and the struggle many of us face trying to “make it” in our tiny-but-huge country.
Jay is currently in the process of writing a follow-up that will be out Christmas of 2015.
Best Reason to Go Dutch
The Dinner by Herman Koch published February 12, 2013
Set over the course of one evening at a fancy restaurant in Amsterdam I figured this book would be something a bit Linklater-esque. Conversations of life and family punctuated by food. Please note the jacket cover: a burnt tablecloth. Spoiler alert: this is no reflection on the food. Never has a book made me really love characters and firmly take their sides in a petty family drama only to turn the table, then knock it over, douse it in gasoline and do a slow-mo walk away into the night. I remember closing the book and thinking “Am I a monster for enjoying that?”
Completely worth having goodreads now continually recommend Dutch-language novels to me every month.
Best Book Soon To Be On TV
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty published July 29, 2014
I don’t like “chick lit”. In fact the fastest way to make me disinterested in a book is for the main character to be a mother. So when this was recommended both by Lainey & the Social Chapter I sighed and braced myself to hate it. A whole book about kindergarden Moms? I was picturing Gossip Girl with minivans.
Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised. Told from shifting perspectives and interspersed with interview quotes about “the incident” I kept coming back for more. What started out as playground politics quickly switched into conversations about how women treat each other and themselves.
The rights have been obtained and Reese Witherspoon & Nicole Kidman will star in a limited series version of the novel adapted by David E. Kelley.
The Next DaVinci Code
Seven Wonders by Ben Mezrich published September 2, 2014
If Indiana Jones and Robert Langdon had a love child it would be this book. Secret societies, ancient civilizations, female warriors, unlimited resources & murder. Perfect for the next time you need to be on a plane.
Book That Most Feels Like a Sundance Film
The Vacationers by Emma Straub published May 29, 2014
Family. Drama. Mallorca. Rich people doing rich people things with their rich liberal jobs in a borrowed villa from their rich friend. Of course they’re miserable. So they eat, and play tennis, and maintain their pleasantries on the outside all the while each chapter is told from a different perspective of their individual ennui.
Best American Crime Novel (tie)
Personal (a Jack Reacher novel) by Lee Child published September 2, 2014
While I love crime stories, I’m also fairly picky about which authors catch my interest. I noticed the cover of this book first (it’s rather loud), and then saw it was a Jack Reacher novel, a movie I had just seen. I was convinced there was more meat to the character that I had missed out on and decided to jump right in at the 19th book, continuity be damned.
I was shocked at how easy it was to fall into. Not once was I made to feel like I couldn’t “get into” the character’s world, nor did it do any annoying back story info-dumps of things I would have missed earlier in the series. It was full of action but spared any extraneous noise. Like Hemingway & Fleming smashed together but less booze-soaked.
The Skin Collector by Jeffery Deaver published May 13, 2014
I’ve read all of the Lincoln Rhyme series, so I’ll be up front and say I’m heavily biased having invested almost two decades in the character. That said, this was one of his better novels. Not only did it keep me guessing, it also was scarily plausible in the context of current events.
Best International Crime Novel
Where Monsters Dwell by Jørgen Brekke published February 11, 2014 (Norway)
The perfect book if you’re into crime novels but are really tired of reading about the FBI/CIA/etc. Not only does it do the rugged small country crime story that the Nords seem to do so well, but it also jumps back to the 16oos for a touch of history and over to modern day Virginia for a dash of compare/contrast. It’s a crime book for book lovers and an Intro to the region.
Best Author by Another Name
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) published June 24, 2014
Generally when I figure out who the killer is in a book I become disinterested in finishing it. Not so, with the Silkworm. Yes, I figured it out much earlier on than I probably should have, but it didn’t make it any less enjoyable to watch unfold.
Rowling’s writing inspires a certain greediness in the reader. A desire to make it last forever while not wanting to put it down. The characters feel all too real, and the world so fleshed out it’s as if I’ve visited Strike’s offices myself.
There’s definitely some five dollar words throughout the casual reader will want to keep a dictionary handy for, but if a new Strike novel is issued each summer forever I will look forward to reading it.
All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill published September 3, 2013
If I could go back in time and give this book to my 15 year old self I’m sure I would have loved it.
Even as an adult it’s interesting to think about how the choices we make at the height of emotional turmoil can ripple through the rest of our lives. The questions of technology’s application for both good and evil are ones that humanity has always struggled with. As younger generations develop surrounded as they are now by ever changing tech this book might lead to useful dialogue about the consequences of rapid evolution.
In short, get this book into the hands of the young people in your lives. Who knows what sort of effect it could have. Or has had already.
Best New Independent Publishing Fiction
The Bookseller* by Mark Pryor published October 9, 2012 *first in a series of Hugo Marston novels
Murder. Mystery. Sex. Paris. Literature. What more could you want from a book?
I’ve read a lot of mysteries and thrillers in my time, a lover of Sherlock Holmes from a very early age. Of late I’ve found many of them retreading the same old tired paths. For once I was pleasantly surprised after taking a chance on a book I knew nothing about from my local library.
While there were twists, they weren’t at such angles to seem unbelievable nor were they predictable. The characters felt very real, if slightly more British (like the author) than Texan (like the character) at times. Still they bloomed in my brain and their little idiosyncrasies will stay with me until the next novel in what I hope turns into a great series.
I’m a sucker for all things French, so perhaps in this I am biased, but I would definitely recommend this to anyone who loves a good murder mystery and is looking for something different.