Columns > Published on December 22nd, 2014

LitReactor Staff Picks: The Best Books of 2014 (part 3)

Another year has come and gone. You know what that means, don't you? Time for a bunch of strangers to tell you what was good! And why should you care what the LitReactor writers think are the best books of the year? Trick question! You shouldn't. But what they have to say might interest you nonetheless, because they are good-looking and knowledgeable and they read like the wind. So for those who care, we submit for your approval/derision some of LitReactor's favorite reads of 2014.

* Not all of these books were published this year. We figured if someone read a book for the first time in 2014, they deserved the opportunity to crow about it.

Phil Jourdan - Co-Founder, Contributing Editor

'Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked' by James Lasdun

I found this memoir mesmerizing, perplexing and pretty damned sad. Lasdun’s personal life gets various sorts of screwy when a former creative writing student of his, with whom he had entertained a very mild email flirtation before turning down her advances, decides to ruin his reputation. Antisemitic hate mail, harassing online reviews of his books, allegations of sexual misconduct and plagiarism, and general unpleasantness go on for years. I found Lasdun’s reflections on his own role in the story interesting, and a bit infuriating.

[amazon 978-0099572312 inline]

'The Heart of Zen' by Jun Po Denis Kelly and Keith Martin-Smith

If you can ignore an alarming number of typos (which, I’m sure, is a skill required for spiritual enlightenment) then you’ll find a lot of interesting stuff here about the link between growing up — like, really growing the fuck up — and Zen meditation.

[amazon 978-1583947647 inline]

'Memoirs of My Writer’s Block' by Jake Chapman

One of the funniest, creepiest books I have ever read. It deserves to be read, but nobody deserves that amount of WTF.

[amazon 978-0956356208 inline]

'Make It Stick' by Peter C Brown

I’m a little obsessed with the psychology of learning, expertise, mastery, and all the rest. If it mentions the 10,000 hour rule, I’ve probably read it. But this book is by far the most interesting of the books on learning that I’ve read this year. It practices what it preaches — it is intentionally repetitive, a bit loopy, disjointed — and you’ll come away with a fresh enthusiasm for LEARNING STUFF IN GENERAL.

[amazon 978-0674729018 inline]


Leah Dearborn - Columnist

'The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq' by Hassan Blasim

An important and unflinching work from the pen of an Iraqi author. Read it even if it makes you queasy— you’ll thank yourself in the end.  

LitReactor Review

[amazon 978-0143123262 inline]

'Beautiful Darkness' by Fabien Vehlmann

This was the most frightening graphic novel that I’ve ever read. The delicate imagery draws you in, then holds you down and feeds you atrocities. Think Lord of the Flies, but with fairies.

[amazon 978-1770461291 inline]

'The Supernatural Enhancements' by Edgar Cantero

A purely fun read stuffed full of ciphers, puzzles, and ghosts. I couldn’t have picked a better title to sit down with by a campfire this summer.

LitReactor Review

[amazon 0385538154 inline]

'The Weirdness' by Jeremy P. Bushnell

Deals with the devil, writerly angst, weed, and a healthy dose of slapstick humor. What’s not to love?

LitReactor Review

[amazon 978-1612193151 inline]

'Thrown' by Kerry Howley

Thrown made the New York Times list of 100 Notable Books of 2014, and it was definitely deserved. An intellectual literary nonfiction about MMA that doesn’t spare the gritty details. Prior interest in mixed martial arts is by no means necessary.

LitReactor Review

[amazon 978-1936747924 inline]


Daniel Hope - Columnist

'The Martian' by Andy Weir

It's Robinson Crusoe on Mars, but without the horrible racist undertones. Or maybe it's Apollo 13, but even more desperate and bleak. One of the first men to step foot on Mars gets marooned and must survive through what one could charitably describe as "inhospitable circumstances." It's harrowing, respectful of scientific principles, and compelling even though there's effectively one character.

[amazon 0553418025 inline]

'Ancillary Sword' by Anne Leckie

Last year, the first book in this series (Ancillary Justice) won several well-deserved awards, and the sequel continues to deliver everything that was great about the first. It's got massive spaceships, shared consciousness, living computers, betrayal, and action. It's more than good commentary on what makes us human. It's also fun.

[amazon 0316246654 inline]

'Annihilation' by Jeff VanderMeer

It's about a place called "Area X"; what's not to love? This book is a sort of science mystery with dark edges. An expedition of scientists is tasked with exploring a place that has killed several previous expeditions. It gets weird, and there are sequels. Get on board.

LitReactor Interview

[amazon 0374104093 inline]

'Lock In' by John Scalzi

Scalzi branched out from the military/space opera sci-fi he's known for, and it worked. Lock In takes place in the near future, but it feels very current. A virus causes some people to become trapped in their own minds, unable to use their bodies, so they are forced to communicate through a sort of virtual reality social network.

[amazon 0765375869 inline]

'Cibola Burn' by James S. A. Corey

Just when you think the Expanse series has run its course, the fourth installment takes us to new places and opens up a whole new set of problems. It capitalizes on all the plotlines that were developed in the last three books, and keeps the wonderful characters and thrilling action. If you like spaceships and firefights, you'd better be reading this.

[amazon 031621762X inline]


Ryan Peverly - Columnist

'No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State' by Glenn Greenwald

On the real, this is the most important book of 2014. There are better books that came out this year, both fiction and nonfiction, but to exclude No Place to Hide would be doing Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald’s respective nutsacks a disservice. And you don’t disservice the nutsack, people.

[amazon 162779073X inline]

'The Martian' by Andy Weir

First published as an eBook in 2011 and then as an audiobook in 2013, The Martian made its print debut this year and wowed me with both its science fiction plot (an astronaut stranded alone on Mars) and its wit (“Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. ‘Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.’”).

[amazon 0553418025 inline]

'The Book of Strange New Things' by Michael Faber

You ScarJo freaks out there might have recently partaken in a viewing of Under the Skin, but did you know it was also a book by one Michael Faber? No? Well, that’s fine, neither did I until I read The Book of Strange New Things. I highly recommend it. So does David Mitchell, if you’re into celebrity endorsements or people who can explain the brilliance of it better than I can.

[amazon 055341884X inline]

'Tigerman' by Nick Harkaway

Speaking of celebrities, did you know Nick Harkaway’s father is John le Carré? That has no relevance here, because Harkaway is well on his way to being as much of a success as his father, albeit in a different genre. This is Harkaway’s third novel, and it’s as good as his previous two. Just as imaginative, as well: part superhero yarn, part complex emotional tale, all page-turner. Think Vonnegut hooking up with Stan Lee to make a literary baby.

[amazon 0385352417 inline]

'The Peripheral' by William Gibson

Listen: William Gibson could smear shit for 400 pages and it’d be mesmerizing.

LitReactor Review

[amazon 0399158448 inline]


Christine J. Schmidt - Columnist

'Piano Stories' by Felisberto Hernandez

Earlier this year, New Directions published an edition of this short story collection with an introduction by Italo Calvino. Hernandez breathes life into inanimate objects and paints images more vivid than anything else I've read this year. This collection is just so good.

[amazon 9780811221801 inline]

'The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards' by Kristopher Jansma

Jansma takes the unreliable narrator to the extreme, and I love it. I tore through this book in a night. I especially recommend this book to my fellow writers.

[amazon 9780143125020 inline]

'How Best To Avoid Dying' by Owen Egerton

Do you want to get dark and creepy? These stories will help.

[amazon 9781593765224 inline]

'The Year of Reading Dangerously' by Andy Miller

The only thing better than a book is a book about books. I fell in love with reading all over again.

LitReactor Review

[amazon 9780061446184 inline]

'Not That Kind of Girl' by Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham is her refreshingly honest self. One of my favorite moments of 2014 was listening to her read one of these essays out loud.

[amazon 9780812994995 inline]


B.H. Shepherd - Columnist

'Rudolph! He is the Reason for the Season' by Mark Teppo

The classic children's tale reimagined as a sci-fi action adventure. Definitely the strangest thing I've read all year, and in all the best ways. It never occurred to me that a Christmas story could be so awesome.

LitReactor Review

[amazon 1630230057 inline]

'F: A Novel' by Daniel Kehlman

No novel made me feel more conflicted this year. While it was a stylishly crafted character study built on beautiful prose, its chronicle of the failed dreams and crushed hopes of three interwoven lives was almost too well told. Even recalling the story now saddens me.

LitReactor Review

[amazon 0307911810 inline]

'Endangered' by Jean Love Cush

The tragic tale of a fifteen year old black boy being brutalized by police and put on trial for a murder he didn't commit, while his young, single mother has to fight tooth and nail against a justice system determined to send an innocent boy to prison for life. Sadly, this story only seems to become more relevant as the year winds to a close.

LitReactor Review

[amazon 0062316230 inline]

'Federales' by Chris Irvin

A down and dirty noir adventure full of all the corruption and violence Mexico City has to offer. A debut novel that has me looking forward to Irvin's next work.

LitReactor Review

[amazon 0615916546 inline]

'Will O' the Wisp: An Aurora Grimeon Story' by Tom Hammock and Megan Hutchinson

A great graphic novel for young readers with a clever, well-written female protagonist who doesn't need to be rescued. Full of interesting fragments of old folk tales and hoodoo magic, Aurora Grimeon is a welcome addition to the pantheon of pre-teen heroes.

LitReactor Interview

[amazon 1936393786 inline]

Phew! That's it for this year, folks! Here's to even more great reads in 2015!

About the author

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor. He is the author of The Paradox Twins (CLASH Books), the story collection Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape, and the parody Kanye West—Reanimator. His short fiction has been published by Vice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Broken River Books, and more. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @jaceycockrobin. More info at and

Similar Columns

Explore other columns from across the blog.

Book Brawl: Geek Love vs. Water for Elephants

In Book Brawl, two books that are somehow related will get in the ring and fight it out for the coveted honor of being declared literary champion. Two books enter. One book leaves. This month,...

The 10 Best Sci-Fi Books That Should Be Box Office Blockbusters

It seems as if Hollywood is entirely bereft of fresh material. Next year, three different live-action Snow White films will be released in the States. Disney is still terrorizing audiences with t...

Books Without Borders: Life after Liquidation

Though many true book enthusiasts, particularly in the Northwest where locally owned retailers are more common than paperback novels with Fabio on the cover, would never have set foot in a mega-c...

From Silk Purses to Sows’ Ears

Photo via Moviegoers whose taste in cinema consists entirely of keeping up with the Joneses, or if they’re confident in their ignorance, being the Joneses - the middlebrow, the ...

Cliche, the Literary Default

Original Photo by Gerhard Lipold As writers, we’re constantly told to avoid the cliché. MFA programs in particular indoctrinate an almost Pavlovian shock response against it; workshops in...

A Recap Of... The Wicked Universe

Out of Oz marks Gregory Maguire’s fourth and final book in the series beginning with his brilliant, beloved Wicked. Maguire’s Wicked universe is richly complex, politically contentious, and fille...

Reedsy | Editors with Marker (Marketplace Editors)| 2024-05

Submitting your manuscript?

Professional editors help your manuscript stand out for the right reasons.

Reedsy Marketplace UI

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy. Come meet them.

Enter your email or get started with a social account: