When family and friends are thinking about purchasing books as gifts I am often asked for recommendations and this year, more than most, there is plenty to choose from. Here are ten of my favourite fiction reads of 2014.
I started the year reading Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, a historical novel set in Iceland during the 1820s and based on the true story of the last woman to be executed in that country. This is one of those books that draws you in from the first page and utterly holds you all the way through to the end. My biggest regret is that I didn’t buy a beautifully bound edition with blue-edged pages that was in stock in my local bookshop last year. If you like suspense and historical fiction and good writing, Burial Rites is one that I definitely recommend.
From Iceland to Ireland for my second choice which is Colm Tóibin’s Nora Webster. Tóibin writes with tremendous authenticity about ordinary people and has the gift of making the everyday profound. To me, he is at his best when he writes about his native County Wexford and this new novel finds him back in the village of Blackwater as he explores the impact of a father’s death on his young widow and family. I preferred Nora Webster to Brooklyn and The Testament of Mary. If you’ve read Toibin before, it’s probably more like The Blackwater Lightship.
From Blackwater to Boston for my third choice which is The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant who is perhaps best known for her novel, The Red Tent. The Boston Girl tells the story of a Jewish girl, born in 1900 to immigrant parents. It takes the form of a conversation between an 85-year old grandmother and her 22-year old granddaughter — an easy and enjoyable read that many grandmothers, daughters and granddaughters will relate to.
From grandmothers to grandchildren for my next choice. Usually young adult fiction wouldn’t cross my radar however I stumbled upon E Lockhart’s haunting mystery We Were Liars in Time magazine’s Best Books of 2014 and because I love books set off the coast of Massachusetts, I decided to give it a go. This is a coming of age story about family secrets and jealousies concealed behind an apparently perfect facade and was one of the reading highlights of my year.
One of the most talked about books early in the year was Donna Tartt’s long-awaited The Goldfinch. Donna Tartt is probably best known for The Secret History. This new novel, The Goldfinch, is old-fashioned story that is strong on plot with a good cast of believable characters and occasionally brilliant writing. Put that together with some interesting themes about life and art not to mention a ‘moral of the story’ and it all adds up to a pretty satisfying read of Dickensian dimensions.
Not surprisingly, quite a few novels this year tackled the first world war theme and although none of the ones that I read equalled Pat Barker’s fabulous Regeneration trilogy or even Sebastian Faulks’s Birdsong, one that did appeal to me was Helen Dunmore’s The Lie which explores the long term psychological impact of war. It’s not an action story by any means — instead it focuses on the interior life of its hero, Daniel Branwell.
For action, you can’t beat a good thriller and among those that caught my eye this year were The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins — an absolute page turner told from the perspective of three different women — each of them utterly believable as characters and deliciously unreliable as narrators. If you liked Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, you will LOVE The Girl on the Train. I couldn’t put it down and it had my heart racing.
Another thriller that I enjoyed was Chain of Events by Fredrik T Olsson. In this one, journalist Christina Sandberg’s ex-husband disappears from hospital while being treated for a suicide attempt. A cryptologist with expertise in military code breaking, William Sandberg has special skills that a top secret international organisation urgently requires. But who is behind the organisation and why are they so intent on withholding the contextual information that might help William crack the code? And how is William Sandberg’s experience linked to the killing of a homeless man in a fake ambulance in Berlin?
I started this list in Iceland and my second last choice heads back into Northern waters and the Faroe Islands for a taut thriller by Craig Robertson. The Last Refuge opens with John Callum lying on a stone slab on Torshavn’s harbour, unable to remember how he got there. Callum, who is in Faroe Islands to escape from an incident in his past, is a former teacher from Glasgow haunted by terrifying, violent dreams about an incident involving one of his former pupils.
My last choice is a quirky one for readers who remember those scary movies on television in the 1970s that featured variations on the curse of the mummy’s tomb, Lesley Glaister’s Little Egypt is a captivating tale of twins abandoned by their egyptologist parents, now aged in their nineties having spent a lifetime together trapped in their childhood home by circumstance and a terrible secret.
So, there are my ten suggestions based on what I’ve read myself in 2014. If you enjoyed this list and would like to connect with me for more book suggestions, you’ll find me on Twitter and on Goodreads. Happy reading!