LitReactor Staff Picks: The Best Books of 2014 (part 2)
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.
Rob Hart - Class Director
'I Loved You More' by Tom Spanbauer
Any year there’s a new Tom Spanbauer book, it’s going to be my favorite book of the year. No contest. Tom is one of literature’s great living writers, and it’s a crime more people don’t recognize that.
'The Martian' by Andy Weir
I don’t often revisit books. I’ve got too many new ones vying for my attention. This, I read twice. It made me gut-laugh on a plane. One of the funniest books I’ve ever read.
'One Kick' by Chelsea Cain
Such a great marriage of writing craft and pulp sensibility, with a hugely difficult ending that Cain earns the hell out of. Books like this push me to step up my game.
'World of Trouble' by Ben H. Winters
A fitting end to a fantastic trilogy. A wholly unique apocalypse narrative that doesn’t rely on wallowing in the worst of humanity.
'Neverhome' by Laird Hunt
It's hard to believe more people aren’t talking about this book, in which a woman disguises herself as a man to fight in the Civil War. A beautifully-written treatise on the cost of war.
Max Booth III - Columnist
'Bird Box' by Josh Malerman
Bird Box might be the best horror novel I've read in years. It's a post-apocalyptic story sharing atmospheres and poetic dread found in such masterpieces as McCarthy's The Road. There is something in the world that turns you utterly insane once you see it. You attack others and eventually commit suicide. The only way to survive is to never open your eyes. Seriously. Don't open them.
'Lamentation' by Joe Clifford
Joe Clifford is one of the best new crime writers emerging onto the scene. While his previous novel, Junkie Love, was plenty enough proof of his talents, his latest book, Lamentation, goes far and beyond the skills of your average crime writer. Clifford takes a familiar plot and completely owns it with his masterful voice and expert knowledge of the criminal mind. This book will make you miss your hometown and be simultaneously glad you left it when you had the chance.
'The Last Projector' by David James Keaton
This book is going to confuse you. It's okay to be confused. Go with it. Let the current drag you until you drown. The Last Projector is a massive book with many ideas. It's hilarious and disturbing and pretty damn intelligent. I finished this a while ago and I am still having a hard time successfully describing the reading experience. It was definitely unique. It also made me miss drive-ins.
'A Swollen Red Sun' by Matthew McBride
This was my first McBride book and I absolutely loved it. It's a simple enough plot, one you might have seen before. A man finds money that does not belong to him, takes it for his family. The original owners of the money come looking for it in a bad way. But throw in McBride's almost poetic style of describing ugliness and A Swollen Red Sun emerges as one of the best books about meth and corruption and small towns I've ever read. If you enjoy Woodrell, then you must pick this one up.
'The Martian' by Andy Weir
The Martian hooked me from the very first line. Technically, this was self-published back in 2012, but it was picked up by Crown and republished in 2014, which is when most people became aware of its existence, so I'm going to go ahead and count it for this list. Because goddamn does it deserve it. This is probably the funniest book I read all year. It's very smart and actually taught me a few things, which I know sounds terrifying, but trust me. It's packed with science but it doesn't shove it down your throat in a tedious way. It lays it out for the reader in a funny and simple narration from our main character, an astronaut who has been stranded on Mars. Get this one now. Get them all now. Go! Buy some books!
Karina Wilson - Columnist
‘The Fever’ by Megan Abbott
Based on a number of true stories, Abbott’s latest teen-set noir examines the phenomenon of mass hysteria and how it manifests in adolescent girls. When one of the popular girls has a seizure in class, others start to show inexplicable symptoms of – something. It’s a tale as old as Salem, 1692, updated for the social media age.
‘Season To Taste Or, How To Eat Your Husband’ by Natalie Young
I’ve made no secret of how much and why I love this novel. Part recipe book, part mental breakdown, Young flays some delicious meat from the bones of an unhappy marriage. Dumpy, unhappy middle-aged housewife Lizzie is an unlikely but endearing protagonist. After you’ve spent some time in her head your Sunday roast will never taste quite the same again.
‘We Were Liars’ by E. Lockhart
Lockhart nails the angst-ridden, self-obsessed, maudlin teen voice in this lyrical YA novel. The Sinclair family are wealthy, beautiful, batshit crazy and spend summertimes on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. And they’re liars. That is all you need to know.
‘The Secret Place’ (and all the Dublin Murder Squad series) by Tana French
I’m very late to the Tana French party, but have devoured all the novels in the Dublin Murder Squad series this year. French writes vividly of contemporary Ireland, sending her squad of detectives to investigate murders that go beyond the mere discovery of a corpse and veer into decidedly metaphysical territory. Start with the haunting In The Woods, a story of lost children who will never be found, and work your way through The Likeness, Faithful Place, and Broken Harbor to this year’s offering, The Secret Place, another testament to the sinister workings of the female adolescent mind.
Peter Derk - Columnist
'Galaga' by Michael Kimball
Michael Kimball is an author you've got to look out for, and Boss Fight Books is putting out some beautiful reads about video games. I'm not a person who usually claims to feel transported by books, but Kimball's story took me back to the days when video games lived in arcades and rumors about someone's Canadian cousin ruled the day. It's a trip, and one worth taking.
'What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions' by Randall Munroe
This is what science class should be. What I would have given to solve physics problems about machine gun jetpacks instead of a level on a fulcrum. More like a full-of-crap-crum.
'Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto' by Steve Almond
The NFL is a tax-exempt organization. And that's pretty much the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this book. Everyone should read it. Whether you're a football fan or not, it changes Sundays forever.
'I Loved You More' by Tom Spanbauer
Tom Spanbauer says that a reader should be brought to his knees by a story, riven by the event. It's a great description of how it feels to finish this book. You just don't know what to do next. You sit there, holding it closed, and it's hard to believe that everything happened in between those covers. The book feels larger, heavier. It's hard to believe, after you read a book like I Loved You More, that these things didn't happen to EVERYBODY. That you can't go up to people and say, "Remember when Ben and Hank went to that book thing in Idaho and...". The book, this book. It felt like the whole world.
The Manhattan Projects, Vol. 4: The Four Disciplines
There's a lot of talk about Saga in the comics world. I'm sure this is sacrilegious, but I've been digging Manhattan Projects way more. It's bonkers, guys. Totally bonkers.
Brian McGackin - Columnist
'Above the Dreamless Dead' edited by Chris Duffy
Far and away my favorite book of 2014, Above the Dreamless Dead is a collection of WWI poems paired with incredible illustrations and graphic sequences. 2014 marked the 100th anniversary of the war, but it's clear that none of its terrifying power has been lost in the century since Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot. The artists cover a tremendous variety of styles, forms, and voices in their interpretations of the poems, many of which are among the best in the English language. One reviewer called the book "almost certainly the most important and innovative work of graphic literature of my lifetime." That reviewer may or may not have been me.
'Sex World' by Ron Koertge
I hate short stories. I've gone on record about how I hate short stories. I think they're dumb. Ron Koertge's collection of flash fiction nearly convinced me that I've been wrong about short stories all these years. Nearly. It's flash fiction, which is much more palatable than regular short stories: get in, get out, go on with your day harboring lingering confusion over whether or not the dog in that one story was Jesus or if Lois Lane really would slip Kryptonite into Superman's cocktail to slow him down in the bedroom a bit. It's a good book.
'The Stonehenge Letters' by Harry Karlinsky
I hate nonfiction. I haven't gone on record about how I hate nonfiction, so you'll have to take my word for it or check my Goodreads or something, but I do. I'm sure there are other people out there who just don't care about reading allegedly true stories. If you know anyone like that, buy them a copy of The Stonehenge Letters. The book is...I don't know what this book is, to be honest. It's a work of nonfiction, but I'm pretty sure all of it is fake, so it's fiction, but it's not a novel. Karlinsky proposes that there is a secret Nobel Prize for anyone who discovers the secrets of Stonehenge, then goes about backing up his claim with historical evidence, most of which is entirely made up. I'm pretty sure. Half the fun of The Stonehenge Letters is never really knowing what's true and what's completely fabricated. It makes reading a fun game of intellectual chicken: do you play it safe and assume it's all fake, or do you stare Karlinsky down as the book's conclusion rushes towards you, refusing to blink?
'The Bear' by Claire Cameron
Ugh, this book. Ugh, ugh, ugh. It bothers me how much I love this book. It's fucked up. There's something seriously wrong with me, I think, because I think this has become one of my favorite books ever. Basically, a little girl and her brother become stranded in the woods when their parents are eaten by a bear, and the girl has to get the two of them away to safety. That's awful, right? Why would you put yourself through that? Especially when it's NARRATED BY THIS POOR LITTLE GIRL??? She's only like five years old, so she has no idea what's going on or where her parents are or why no one is coming to get them and it is DEVASTATING. I am now terrified of bears.
'The Joyners in 3-D' by R.J. Ryan and David Marquez
I didn't want to put two comic books on this list, but TJi3D is too good not to mention. Both inclusions are standalone works, too, which makes them much more fun to read in my opinion. The Joyners in 3-D comes as advertised: it's a graphic novel done entirely in 3-D. It comes with a pair of 3-D glasses and everything! You'd think that a book like this would float by mostly on the gimmicky strength of the 3-D, but it's a great story with absolutely gorgeous art. David Marquez has been blowing up lately on Marvel books like All-New X-Men and Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, but it's stuff like this that I think he'll be remembered for decades from now. It's impossible to explain how perfectly his line work syncs up with the 3-D in the book and how beautiful it all looks because of it. The story is incredibly interesting, too, and is aptly set in the future, although a future that's maybe a bit closer than is comfortable. If you read only one work of graphic fiction this year...then you're the kind of person who limits yourself unnecessarily and we can't be friends, but consider The Joyners in 3-D anyway.
Ed Sikov - Columnist
'The Bend of the World' by Jacob Bacharach
A young corporate cog sees spaceships hovering over Pittsburgh, which (it turns out – who knew?) sits atop a fracture in the time/space continuum.
'The Boy Who Drew Monsters' by Keith Donohue
In a wintery, sparsely populated coastal town in Maine, a boy with Asperger Syndrome draws the ghosts from an 18th-century shipwreck into existence, much to his parents’ dismay.
'Fifty Mice' by Daniel Pyne
A guy gets drugged and whisked away into the witness protection program for reasons he cannot fathom. Do they have the wrong guy? Does he just not remember why he needs protection? Is what he experiences even real?
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