Choosing just ten books to recommend to readers from the treasure trove that was 2014’s book publishing season was nearly impossible. We have chosen a mix of literary fiction, magical realism, straight up magic and some superpowers, as well as a little cultural critique for you to sink your teeth into as another year draws to a close. These reads will keep you guessing, engaged and begging for more.
THOSE WHO LEAVE AND THOSE WHO STAY
by Elena Ferrante
If you haven’t taken the time to sit down and read your way through Elena Ferrante’s epic Neapolitan Trilogy, you’re missing out. This entry on the list of best books may not grip you like the others as it is well into the story of what will become a decades-long friendship fraught with all problems years of familiarity bring, but Ferrante’s delicate handling of the intimacy shared by two women in tumultuous political and socio-economic times in Italy is beautiful and worth every page.
THE BONE CLOCKS
by David Mitchell
If you’re unfamiliar with Mitchell’s uniquely musical style of narrative, Bone Clocks may be disconcerting. Know that he weaves storylines, timelines, and characters together to create gorgeous and complex symphonies of story. Just sit back and enjoy the ride he will take you on over the course of Holly Sykes’ story.
ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE
by Anthony Doerr
All the reviews tout a blind French girl and an orphaned German boy meeting during World War II, and while the characters alone are worth the read, the beauty of Doerr’s novel accentuates his characters. His attention to detail and texture within the narrative will keep you reading and completely immersed in this world.
BOY SNOW BIRD
by Helen Oyeyemi
Race and cultural identity are woven together with the European fairytale Snow White to great acclaim in Oyeyemi’s newest novel. There are evil stepmothers, mirrors from which we perceive judgment whether it is truly there or not, and examinations of self throughout this story that you won’t be able to put down.
by Emily St. John Mandel
A quotation from Star Trek is tattooed on Kirsten Raymonde’s arm, and its human truth — that we must be more than simply animals seeking food and shelter to survive — shines through a story told by a traveling troupe of Shakespearean actors after the apocalypse. You will get to see the story before the deadly flu and after, and you will meet a prophetic grave-digger alongside our actorly bunch who might just not let them continue on their merry way.
by Roxanne Gay
It’s not often you get to read true cultural critique in the time period to which it pertains, but Bad Feminist will have you analyzing pop music right alongside Sweet Valley High. Gay’s understanding of how we react to personal events alongside culture phenomenon will engage your mind while her astute observations and recognition of the human condition will having you laughing and nodding right alongside her.
HANSEL & GRETEL
by Neil Gaiman
Go read a few things by Neil Gaiman, and then tell us you haven’t fallen in love with the way the man puts words together. Then imagine a beloved childhood story told through that lens and imagine all the things that he can do with a story about hunger, family, and siblings. That’s Hansel & Gretel, and you should be reading it if only to remind yourself that Disney has only been around since 1923 — and these stories they tell have been around for centuries. Plus, it’s gorgeous.
THE MAGICIAN’S LAND
by Lev Grossman
Grossman has created a world part-Narnia, part-Hogwarts, and in this final book of his trilogy, is tying together storylines, characters, and the modern world to take readers on another quest with the protagonist, Quentin Coldwater. You will love his imagination, the touchstones you recognize from the pantheon of fantasy writing, and the completely unique take on magic in the 21st century.
THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS
by Cristina Henríquez
Families woven together by guilt and love are at the center of Henríquez’s novel. Between the love story around which these families revolve and the many other stories of recent Latin American transplants to the US, there are beautiful moments of character, community and understanding. You will root for these characters as they struggle and be inspired by their souls.
by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
In the media firestorms that have risen up around the representation of women in media, body image, and equality this year, Marvel Comics and G. Willow Wilson have given us the gift of a young female superhero who copes with cultural identity, religious and family pressures, and the challenges of being a teenager in America…all while handling a new superhero power. She is an inspiration.
Rachael Berkey is a reader, writer, and curator of all things entertainment. She has written and created content for pop culture, entertainment, literary, and nonprofit websites for the last four years. She tweets at @bookoisseur