Monday, December 15, 2014

Top Ten Works of Fiction I Read in 2014

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

It's almost the end of the year, and while I plan to read plenty of books over Christmas vacation, I will go ahead and share my favorites from the ones I've read so far this year. I don't think it's fair to try to compare fiction and nonfiction, so this week I'm just going to share my favorite fiction of the year, and next week I will share my favorite nonfiction reads for this year. (Update: Here are my nonfiction picks!)

1. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
You've already heard me talk about this book several times, as my favorite book of October and on my list of favorite new authors. It's like a mix of Terry Pratchett, Forrest Gump, and Ocean's Eleven, with absurd humor, encounters with major historical figures, and a gang of unlikely criminals.

2. And the Mountains Echoed by Khalid Hosseini
I ended up reading this twice this year, and it was excellent both times. It's not as dark as Hosseini's other books, but just as compelling and realistic in its portrayals of life in Afghanistan (and beyond). Each chapter is a different character's story, but they are all linked and circle around a theme of family, in all its diversity and complexity.

3. The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
This one was a surprise. I've picked up a number of recommended middle-grade reads this year and have found most of them lacking, but I found this story solid and enjoyable. Parvana, 11 years old, lives in Afghanistan, with her parents, sisters, and infant brother. When her father is taken by the Taliban, she is the only one in her family who is both old enough to work and young enough to pass for male, so she dresses as a boy to earn money so her family can eat. The conflict is mostly internal, as Parvana overcomes her fears and becomes more independent in her role of provider for her family.

4. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
This book is told in alternating chapters between the daughter of a wealthy white American landowner (Sarah) and a slave girl around her age who is given to her as her personal maid (Handful), set in the early 1800s in South Carolina. I didn't know until I finished the book that Sarah Grimké was a real person and this book was based on her life story. The alternating narration gives voice to both the lack of freedom of slaves and (lesser but still very real) limitations faced by a white woman of that time, eventually leading up to Sarah's involvement with the abolitionist movement and then with the women's rights movement. The writing is beautiful, the story engrossing, and the historical details well woven in.

5. The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
This book skirts the line between fiction and nonfiction, since the "story" that creates the outer framework is more of a conceit for sharing Gibran's wisdom than an actual complex plot line. (There's another book that is both fiction and nonfiction, which I put in next week's nonfiction list.) This book had been recommended to me for a long time, and I finally picked it up. Each chapter contains a short reflection on some area of life -- love, friendship, work, religion -- and while the ideas are perhaps not new, they are all phrased so concisely and beautifully as to make this book a treasure. It's worth reading slowly to make sure you understand and absorb each sentence.

6. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
An unexpectedly sweet and memorable book. Mr. Stevens, a 1950s English butler, is a delightfully unreliable narrator who tries to convey professionalism at all times, even when it becomes clear he's talking about deep feelings of love and regret. Highly recommended as an audiobook narrated by the wonderful Simon Prebble.

7. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
A classic children's book I wish I'd read in school. Like To Kill a Mockingbird, it deals with racism in the American South in the 1930s, but in contrast, it's written by a black woman, narrated by a black girl, and her black father is the hero. Deals well with both the reality of racism and the reality of how black families prepare their children for a racist world.

8. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
I love a good mystery, and I liked this more than the first Cormoran Strike book, The Cuckoo's Calling. For me, the most satisfying mysteries are those where I can't guess the outcome before it's revealed, but when it is, I see how all of the pieces fit together perfectly and where the clues were dropped all along. This book nailed it.

9. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Another book you may be tired of hearing me talk about. The Slate Audio Book Club recently discussed this and I was happy to hear that all of the reviewers loved it as well. It's a quick and funny read but one that tackles all sorts of heavy topics like abandonment and betrayal, animal rights, and difficult family relationships, while continually introducing surprises and plot twists.

10. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
I'm not sure if it's because I'm at the point in my life where Alice (thinks she) is in this novel, but the life lessons Moriarty introduces throughout resonated strongly with me. Although aspects of this book have a touch of the absurd (like the giant meringue pie), I was surprised at how well and with what nuance Moriarty dealt with the details of Alice's memory loss and its consequences.

What are the best novels you read this year?

You can find more lists of 2014 favorites at Modern Mrs. Darcy!

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  1. I want to read the book about the 100 year old man who climbed out a window and disappeared. It sounds like a hoot. I really enjoyed the Hosseini book too.

  2. You've got some great books on this list! I keep hearing how good Karen Fowler's book is and my sister loves Liane Moriarty. I loved Remains of the Day.

  3. Brilliant list! The Invention of Wings and The Breadwinner both sound amazing. :D

  4. They were! I definitely recommend them!

  5. What Alice Forgot was my first Liane Moriarty, but I've already got Big Little Lies on hold. It's worth reading at least one to see if you like her style.

  6. It was! I don't think it's everyone's cup of tea -- I saw on Goodreads the reviews were pretty split -- but I found it quite enjoyable.

  7. I liked Cuckoo's Calling ok, but couldn't get into Silkworm at all. Glad you were able to really enjoy it. Thanks for sharing! Here's my Favorite Books of 2014.

  8. Bloggin' 'bout BooksDecember 17, 2014 at 7:21 AM

    I haven't read any of these, but most of them are on my TBR mountain chain. I'm especially interested in THE INVENTION OF WINGS and WHAT ALICE FORGOT. I read Moriarty's BIG LITTLE LIES this year and absolutely loved it!

  9. I'm looking forward to reading Big Little Lies after enjoying What Alice Forgot so much!

  10. I loved What Alice Forgot too - just finished Big Little!! Have had the 100-Year Old Man for a while - will have to start it soon. Thanks for the great list!

  11. I'm just starting Big Little Lies now. I hope it's as good as What Alice Forgot!