My favourite books of 2014

Has it been a year already? Must be time for one of those rare treats… A blog post! I’ve spent the year tweeting photos of the books I’ve read, with a short comment each time, but I’ve found it a bit frustrating to limit my views to the characters allowed by Twitter. I don’t have the time to blog regularly but I would have liked to have had the space and time to explain comments that may have seemed dismissive or flippant; it’s rare that I really hate a book, that I don’t see any value in it at all, but it may seem that way from my tweets.

But now’s not the time to dwell on those books I haven’t enjoyed. Let’s focus on the good stuff.

My 2014 reading stats before we start:

  • I’ve read a total of 40 books (that’s ten more than last year, in case you weren’t concentrating at the back) but still Not Enough
  • Of these, two were audiobooks – this rather enhanced one book for me (Bernadine Evaristo’s delicious Mr Loverman) thanks to wonderful casting
  • Over half (22 books and two aforementioned audiobooks) were borrowed from my beloved local library
  • Precisely 75% of the books I read were written by women
  • I read seven books on my Kindle
  • I finished all of them, even when I wasn’t really enjoying it. I know this is a problem.

Like last year, these are books I’ve read and enjoyed in 2014, not necessarily books that were published in 2014 (I’ve got too much of a TBR pile backlog for that). Unlike last year, you’re getting pictures in this blog post because some of the book covers were glorious.

Here are the five books I most enjoyed in 2014:

evie_wyld2All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

Jake lives alone (but for her dog, Dog) on a remote sheep farm on an unnamed British island. She’s hiding a secret – one that led to the deep scarring on her back – and, as someone or something starts to kill off her sheep, Jake fears that her past is catching up with her. Jake’s secret is revealed in reverse chronology and it’s a genuinely shocking. Dark and beautiful, thrilling and disturbing, ultimately a story of redemption, this was probably my favourite book of 2014.

hawthorn-and-childHawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway

This novel opens with two London detectives – Hawthorn and Child – investigating a shooting that may or may not be linked to an unusual vintage car that was seen in the vicinity. What follows is not a standard police procedural. In fact, no crimes are solved and there is no plot, as such. But who needs a plot when you have a whole chapter that really rather effectively switches back and forth between a character policing a riot and partaking in a gay orgy? Another chapter – Marching Songs – was so good, with such a strong voice, I kept going back and reading it again and again.

1.Jim Crace-HarvestHarvest by Jim Crace

If you’d told me at the beginning of the year that I’d particularly enjoy a book about the impact of the Inclosure Acts (that enforced legal ownership of land previously considered common land) on a 16th century English village, I’d have laughed in your face. It just isn’t my thing. But Harvest gets under your skin. It is so wonderfully written that the villagers’ fear of the strangers that appear nearby is palpable and the actions they take to defend themselves is both terrible and inevitable.

51N9Q7S021L.jpgMan at the Helm by Nina Stibbe

This novel made me laugh more than any other this year. (It made me laugh more than most novels ever have, to be honest). Lizzie and her brother and sister move to a Leicestershire village after the breakdown of their parents’ marriage but village life doesn’t really suit them and it certainly doesn’t suit their mother: “a menace and a drunk and a playwright”. The siblings decide to rectify the situation by finding an appropriate man for their mother from the village’s selection of mostly inappropriate men, with mostly disastrous consequences. Brilliantly funny and sharply sad.

panopticonThe Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

If Man at the Helm was the funniest book I read this year, The Panopticon was the bleakest. 15 year old Anais is in care, having been abandoned, abused and exploited throughout her short life and having – possibly – put a police officer in a coma. What could be a story too bleak to bear is made just about bearable by an intelligent, compelling, tough and vulnerable protagonist with a voice that keeps driving the reader through this debut novel.

2014’s runners up were:
Resistance by Owen Sheers
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
There But For The by Ali Smith
Mr Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo
He Wants by Alison Moore