Friday, January 09, 2015

Best of The Best Fiction of 2014: unsung heroes edition

So you've seen just about all of the "Best of 2014" lists you can handle but you're still a little...hungry? Was there something missing from those lists? Did you notice, like we did, that they all seemed to rave over the same books, over and over and over again? I mean, sure, Fourth of July Creek was OUTSTANDING and also one of our favorites (definitely rush right out and get a copy) but what about the unsung literary heroes of 2014 fiction? Those little guys that may not have been on your radar, or the critics', but should have been lauded? Hunger no longer, readers. We at the blog have discussed and emailed and compiled and debated to come up with this list of a top five picks the critics missed in 2014.*

The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing is a comedic debut from Mira Jacob spanning three decades about an immigrant family’s move from India to Albuquerque, New Mexico and how they transition through the limbo of grief. We follow the deeper transition of Amina and her self-realizations within the lovingly chaotic embrace of family and tweaked traditions. Jacob creates magic from heartbreak in this first-rate, heartily satisfying story.

(*OK, so some critics did pick this book but not nearly enough in our humble opinions. We were shouting from the rooftops about it, and think you will too.)

With her debut novel, Emma Healey does something truly remarkable. Elizabeth is Missing puts the reader inside the mind of a woman who is attempting to solve the mystery of her missing friend while suffering from progressive memory loss. In less capable hands a narrator this unreliable would fall apart; the repetition would feel awkward and the whole device, gimmicky. However, Maud's sleuthing and sliding is riveting. You feel frustrated with her and terrified for her, and as Maud's obsession reveals another unsolved mystery buried deep in her past you'll think: ah, brilliant

The Hundred-Year House would make a fantastic book club selection. It's a bit of a mystery, a bit of a ghost story, a bit of a multi-generational family saga, and a lot of a page-turner discussion generator. Not that it lacked resolution, but the book seemed to leave us all with questions we had to share, and we do love a book that gives us lots to talk about.

(Perhaps worth noting, this novel is the only non debut on our list. It it Makkai's second novel, her first being The Borrower, which I have not read *yet* but it sounds like a bit of a love-letter to librarians. This fact in no way influenced our decision to add Hundred-Year House to our esteemed list.)

Previously raved about on this blog and worth raving over again, The Bees tells the story of Flora 717, a big awkward sanitation worker bee who dares to bee (sorry) more than her prescribed station in life. She is special, somehow not like the other bees, and we follow her on an exciting, suspenseful, unbelievably compelling journey of self discovery. This book, quite frankly, should have been silly, but I haven't connected with an anthropomorphic bug protagonist in such a visceral way since Charlotte's Web. And for the purists out there: people who know far more about these things than we do have reported that the bee science in the book is pretty darn accurate and quite well-researched.
Knee-slappingly, spot on, deliriously hilarious,* How to Build a Girl is Caitlin Moran's first fiction and we hope she hurries up with the sequel to it (allegedly this is to be a trilogy, news of which I accepted as a late Christmas gift). Joanna Morrigan is an awkward teenage girl, but determined and resourceful, shockingly self-aware and honest, she is hell-bent on a mission to create herself in the way she wants to be. 

(*We can show you the bruises from all the knee slapping if you don't believe us.)

Also worth noting: all of our top 5 are authored by women. Perhaps this post should be sub-titled "unsung heroines"?  We hope you find something new to add to your New Year "to reads" from this list. Keep an eye on the blog this year for all of our favorite books.

Happy New Year (reading)!

Your Bloggers,
Natalie, Ellen, and Tonya

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