It is my pleasure to present my favorite reads of 2014. Once again I didn’t constrain myself to any arbitrary number of good books – these are all terrific and are listed alphabetically by author within each category. That said, my top three for the year would have to be All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (literary fiction,) Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (women’s fiction,) and Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (crime fiction.) But believe me when I say every one of these books is terrific!
SAVE THE DATE by Mary Kay Andrews: My go to summer beach read; lots of angst, but lots of romance and Andrews’ trademark southern charm make this a terrific fast paced read with warm, fully realized characters, crisp writing, and a terrific storyline.
ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr: Universal themes of love, war, deception, loyalty, impairments and more offers great fodder for discussion. Most of the chapters are extremely short, and even though it is a highly descriptive novel, the story moves and is quite gripping, I couldn’t put it down. Shortlisted for the National Book Award.
THE ICE CREAM QUEEN OF ORCHARD STREET by Susan Jane Gilman: This is a family story about the immigrant experience in America, told with a lot of humor and pathos. The characters come alive on these pages and while you may not always like Lillian Dunkle, you can’t help but cheer her on.
THE SECRET OF MAGIC by Deborah Johnson: Racism is the theme of this fast paced read that tugs at the heart with reminders of how much things have changed, and how much maybe they haven’t. My love affair with Amy Einhorn books continues.
THE GLASS KITCHEN by Linda Francis Lee: Romance never runs smoothly, and Lee does a more than credible job here, even with the touches of magical realism sprinkled throughout the book. This is a charming, sweet and funny story with wonderful, warm characters you can’t help but care about. Foodies will love it.
RUTH’S JOURNEY by Donald McCaig: The Authorized Novel of Mammy from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. I don’t know how this book stands on its own as I am so familiar with GWTW that I have no basis for that understanding. So all I can say is this book brings another dimension to that one, and I ripped through it in a night. I think it’s a great addition to the saga and not to be missed by GWTW fans.
BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty: The way she builds almost unbearable suspense is simply magical, especially as we don’t even know who dies until the end, never mind who did it. Moriarty has become one of my favorite authors and this is a page turner of the finest kind. Don’t miss it.
THE SISTERS WEISS by Naomi Ragen: Ragen goes back to her roots, Ultra Orthodox Jewish family stories, this time using Rose and Pearl Weiss as her vehicle.The characters are well developed, the culture interesting and I learned a lot. This is a fast read, albeit not an easy one. This is a family I won’t soon forget.
DELICIOUS! by Ruth Reichl: Ruth Reichl is well known for her memoirs, including my favorite, Garlic & Sapphires, about her stint as the New York Times restaurant critic. She is also well known for her stewardship at Gourmet magazine before its demise, and her occasional appearances on TV shows like Top Chef. This is her first novel, and it’s a really fun read. Another foodie favorite.
FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell: This is another charming story from this terrific storyteller. The characters are deftly brought to life and their stories are absorbing. I hated when it ended, and I can’t think of a better recommendation than that.
THE BEEKEEPER’S BALL by Susan Wiggs: There are a lot of threads to this story, and Wiggs masterly weaves them all together seamlessly, creating an engaging page turner with historical significance – I learned a lot about about Denmark’s role during the Holocaust. Her characters are skillfully brought to life, and the California setting becomes another character here.
THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY by Gabrielle Zevin: This is an utterly charming book that is sure to make my best books of the year list (and here it is!) It is simply 272 pages of bookseller bliss. All I can say is don’t miss it.
*BEST CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
THE SWEET SPOT by Stephanie Evanovich: This sequel (really a prequel) is another great romance from Evanovich, with a little humor and a lot of kinky sex. Fans of the 50 Shades of Gray trilogy should enjoy this – the writing is far superior.
ONE PLUS ONE by JoJo Moyes: Moyes writes great characters (Me Before You,) and I will not be forgetting these anytime soon. This was a really enjoyable, fast read that should please her legion of fans.
HEROES ARE MY WEAKNESS by Susan Elizabeth Phillips: This book is a bit of a departure for Phillips. Eventually the romance kicks in but the gothic atmosphere is pervasive throughout, an obvious nod to one of the original Gothic romances, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Bottom line? Phillips is a great storyteller and has penned another winner.
*BEST HISTORICAL ROMANCE
THE ESCAPE by Mary Balogh: Survivor’s Club Series, Book 3. This series focuses on a group of men who all sustained injuries during the Napoleonic Wars. This is another terrific story in what has turned into a favorite series.
VIXEN IN VELVET by Loretta Chase: The Dressmakers, #3. A book that starts out with the heroine entranced with a Botticelli painting grabs me from the get go. The love scenes are well done without resorting to cliché, and not too explicit.
THREE WEEKS WITH LADY X by Eloisa James: Desperate Duchesses series. Eloisa James has become my favorite romance writer. She does historicals, this one set in 1799 England. James excels at creating believably complex, well developed characters and richly imagined stories. People magazine said, “Romance writing does not get much better than this,” and I agree.
*BEST CRIME FICTION
NOTORIOUS by Allison Brennan: In this introduction to a new series, investigative reporter Maxine Revere takes on cold cases both in print and on her cable TV show, and works with ex-special forces turned detective Nick Santini. Fireworks erupt on more than one occasion, and it seems like the beginning of an interesting relationship and a terrific new series.
PERSONAL by Lee Child: It’s rather hard to believe that this is the 19th book in the Jack Reacher series, and somehow, this series doesn’t grow stale, doesn’t get tiresome, and the predictability is always enjoyable. It would be simple to say that this is just another chapter in the Reacher series. Personal is exciting as expected, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, but that is no easy feat to pull off. If you read any series, you know how difficult it is to create nineteen books that are really all terrific.
THE BURNING ROOM by Michael Connelly: This is the latest Harry Bosch novel, and it is another excellent addition to the series and frankly, I’m running out of superlatives to describe Connelly’s work. And for me, seeing Harry so close to the end of his career is bittersweet; I can’t imagine the series ending, so I’m hoping it takes a turn in some way.
THE GODS OF GUILT by Michael Connelly: This is the latest entry in the Lincoln Lawyer series, but fear not, Harry Bosch is lurking around the fringes. Mickey Haller is a great character, and I loved the tongue-in-cheek references to the Lincoln Lawyer movie. This was fast reading, one night, as I couldn’t put it down. Another excellent read from the master of crime fiction.
ORDINARY GRACE by William Kent Kruger: This family deals with death, with God and faith, with community and the long term repercussions of war in this beautifully written, soul searing novel. If I had to sum it up in one word it would be – unforgettable. Don’t miss it.
A CIRCLE OF WIVES by Alice LaPlante: I loved LaPlante’s first novel, Turn of Mind, and it took two years to get the second – but it was worth the wait. The writing is crisp and the characters well developed. All the varied relationships are explored and themes of trust, love, passion, jealousy and more will give book groups lots to discuss. This is another excellent literary thriller from LaPlante.
AFTER I’M GONE by Laura Lippman: Lippman returns with a brilliant standalone novel that includes a nod to her series heroine, Tess Monahan, and is set in her hometown of Baltimore. This is a genre bending novel; mystery for sure, but women’s fiction readers will love it too, as will book groups. After I’m Gone is a truly wonderful read and I was very sorry to have to turn the last page.
RUIN FALLS by Jenny Milchman: Paul is a professor who is determined to live a green, postconsumer lifestyle. How far Paul will go to live his politics and how a determined mother can seemingly overcome almost any obstacle is at the heart of this tautly written page-turner. Milchman proves her chops with her sophomore effort and she carves out a new niche with this unusual environmental family thriller.
BETRAYED: A Rosato & Associates Novel by Lisa Scottoline: Scottoline writes terrific legal fiction with warm, smart characters and lots of humor and heart, adding additional depth to her stories. This is one of my favorite series and she never disappoints. Her legion of fans will be happy with Betrayed, and should find her new readers as well.
DEAD TO ME by Cath Staincliffe: This book is actually a prequel to a popular British TV series, “Scott and Bailey,” now in its fourth season in the UK and airing on some PBS stations in the U.S. Much more than just a murder mystery, these characters are well developed, idiosyncratic and likeable, and that extends to their families and co-workers as well. Most reminiscent of the Cagney and Lacy TV series, this should appeal to readers who enjoy female buddy books.
MOVING DAY by Jonathan Stone: Con men preying on the elderly is nothing new, but in Stone’s hands seems brand new, especially with a Holocaust survivor main protagonist. Well developed characters, interesting settings and tautly written suspense make this a true page turner.
*BEST CRIME FICTION DEBUTS
BONE DUST WHITE by Karin Salvalaggio: Rural Montana’s frozen tundra is the setting for this literary mystery debut. The icy winter itself becomes almost another character in this dark, brooding whodunit filled with sharp twists and idiosyncratic characters.
EAT WHAT YOU KILL by Ted Scofield: Main protagonist Stoess is a sympathetic character despite his murderous ways, making this financial thriller an emotional rollercoaster of a read. Fans of Christopher Reich and Joseph Finder will love this debut.
THE ANDY COHEN DIARIES by Andy Cohen: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year. Andy mentions another possible title, “Namedropping,” which certainly would have been appropriate as well. Andy kept a journal for 2013, and kept track of everyone he ran into, dined with (and where), topics discussed, guests on his show, shows where he was the guest, parties attended, events that he emceed, and so forth. This was seriously fun reading.
SOUS CHEF by Michael Gibney: 24 Hours on the Line. Everyone has eaten in a restaurant but do you have any idea of what’s involved in getting your food to the table? Kitchens can be very competitive, and indeed Gibney describes competitions he has with himself in putting together his mise en place. But it is serving the customer that is at the heart of this kitchen. The pacing is relentless, the writing superior, and all in all this is just a fascinating read.
HOW ABOUT NEVER–IS NEVER GOOD FOR YOU? by Bob Mankoff: My Life in Cartoons. This is a memoir of sorts, from the cartoon editor of the New Yorker. Often laugh out loud funny and always interesting, I really enjoyed this and highly recommend it to New Yorker fans and those who’ve even never picked up the magazine as well. When you need a break from heart pounding thrillers, thought provoking literary books or dystopian nightmares, this light, fast, funny read is the perfect respite.
CONGRATULATIONS, BY THE WAY by George Saunders: George Saunders gave the commencement address at Syracuse University in 2013, the New York Times published it, someone posted it on YouTube, and the rest, as they say, is history. That speech has been turned into this adorable little book, only 7 x 5.1 x 0.6 inches, 64 pages, yet packs an enormous, powerful wallop. Right on the chin. It’s a knockout.
*BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL
STARLING by Sage Stossel: I don’t read many graphic novels, probably one a year on average, so if I do manage to read the whole thing, that already says a lot. I liked the premise of a young woman superhero who is essentially a flawed character. The illustrations are good and add to the story, but it’s the story that really pulled me in. This is a fun read and a good bet for fans of Sex and the City and any young women in need of a superhero like themselves.