Note: These are not in any particular order, they are just five of the books I most enjoyed reading last year, although they were not necessarily published in 2014.
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
This was one of the first books I read this year, back when I was far too busy for reading but I couldn’t resist it anyway. It is told through the eyes of Maud who is suffering from dementia and cannot remember much at all, except that her friend Elizabeth is missing. As she struggles to solve her friend’s disappearance, her muddled memories also hold the key to solving a seventy year-old mystery.
I love books with unreliable narrators, and I love mysteries, so this was an ideal read for me. Healey creates a unique and very readable voice in Maud, and the two narrative threads of the present and the past are woven together seamlessly. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to read the next big thing in contemporary fiction.
Clairel by Garth Nix
When I first heard that Hot Key Books had acquired a new Garth Nix novel within the Old Kingdom universe I cannot explain my level of excitement. The Old Kingdom trilogy was one of my favourite reads when I was younger, and it’s still something I go back to over and over again to the extent that my paperbacks of the original trilogy are actually falling apart. As well as being excited about the prospect of a new book in one of my favourite series, I was also a little worried about whether it would live up to my expectations. I needn’t have worried because I absolutely loved Clariel. Rather than trying to continue on the story of the main characters, Nix took a minor character (I won’t say who – spoilers!) and developed an entire backstory for them. The result of this was a new story with new characters and places which allowed us deeper into the book-world whilst maintaining the magic of the original trilogy.
The only thing I’m a little disappointed with is the cover… it’s just a little too dull and it really doesn’t draw the eye, which is a shame because the release of this book was a great opportunity to encourage new readers into the world of the Old Kingdom. Nevertheless, I would absolutely recommend this for existing readers of the Old Kingdom trilogy, and for new readers who love magic, adventures, and strong characters.
Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny
One of my goals last year was to read more non-fiction, drawing on interests developed whilst at university (e.g. linguistics, gender studies, digital humanities). I was drawn to this, partly because it was one of the only books in the shamefully small ‘cultural studies’ section, and partly because of the blurb which states that “feminism needs to get braver”. That open, unapologetic attitude captured my attention, and the book itself did not disappoint.
Penny addresses the roles of both men and women in perpetuating unhealthy attitudes about gender roles, and also focuses on the role of feminism in online spaces. A must-read for anyone with an interest in feminism. Or, just anyone, really.
The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
Told through the eyes of a young man called Matthew, this book is an insight into living with mental illness. However, it is just as much about family, friends, grief and growing up. This is one of the books I recommended most often last year. Although I do not remember the exact details of the plot, I do remember loving it – both the story and the writing itself – and it is this feeling that has stayed with me. I know it’s a book I will read again in the near future, and fall in love with all over again. You don’t have to take my word for it though; The Shock of the Fall comes well-recommended by authors, booksellers, and critics alike.
We Were Liars by E Lockhart
If I ever stop going on about this book, it will be a miracle. This was probably my favourite YA book of 2014 – so much so that I read it twice, most recently a couple of weeks ago. The Sinclairs are the perfect family, at least on the surface, and they must maintain that illusion of perfection at all costs – “Be normal, now… Because you are. Because you can be”. Spending every summer together on Beechwood Island, Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat are inseparable, but when something happens during summer fifteen, cracks begin to appear. Whilst struggling to regain her memories of that summer, Cadence learns that things aren’t quite what they seem.
This is a wonderful book with a completely unexpected twist that hit me, hard. I love Lockhart’s writing style, which is almost like poetry in places, and the narrative is perfectly formed to reveal just enough to keep the reader uncertain of the truth right up to the reveal. I would recommend this for fans of the ‘contemporary-realism’ YA novel, and for lovers of well-crafted narratives and beautiful sentences.
These are my top five reads of 2014. Let me know if you’ve read/enjoyed any of these yourself, or if you have any recommendations of great books you’ve read recently.