My favorite reads of 2014

I am a compulsive list maker, so it has been difficult to wait as long as I have to compile this list. Also, I’d intended to only list my top five books, but then I realized I had read a lot more great stuff this year than could fit in only a top five. So here’s my top ten books of 2014 (or thereabouts) and why. Starting with my withoutadoubt, I’ll brook no disagreement, favorite of the year:

1. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

Although some have compared the reverse-chronology narrative to Memento, I think it bears more resemblance to the back-masked messages that give the book its title. I’d like to write a lot more about this, but as it’s a slim book that’s more about depth of character than action and I’d hate to spoil the end. Suffice it to say that I was very moved by the idea of the healing role that fantasy worlds and personal creativity have on people who feel alienated and alone.

2. The Garden of Last Days by Andres Dubus III

Yeah, I know. This book is OLD! But I just read it this year, and it would have been my favorite this year if it weren’t for Wolf in White Van. I was skeptical about Garden (and waited to read it) because of both the public hype and the 9/11 subplot. But it was remarkably well done and created a subtle yet profound link between personal tragedy and public disaster as well as giving a nuanced perspective on the nature of self-delusion and wishful/magical thinking. Absolutely brilliant!

3. The Fever by Megan Abbott

Like a mix of The Crucible and The Plague written by… well, Megan Abbott. Whatever her influences may have been, this book is perfectly unique in its voice and direction. She has a wonderful sense of character without losing sight of the story. No one writes like Megan Abbott and this book proves it.

4. The Bitch by Les Edgerton

The Bitch is almost Greek in its sense of unavoidable fate and the sins of the past guaranteeing a tragic future. The title refers to the life sentence staring Jake Bishop in the face if he is found guilty of being a “habitual offender.” Edgerton subverts the “ex-con-gone-straight-who-easily-falls-into-crime-again trope by drawing a character who has actually been rehabilitated, however. He takes the familiar heist novel and elevates it to thrilling character study of a man under extreme duress trying his best to duck fate. Jake Bishop’s life is a bitch!

5. Gravesend by WIlliam Boyle

This book is haunting. Boyle takes the concept of the Thomas Wolfe title, You Can’t Go Home Again, and drives it into your heart like a railroad spike. Almost everyone in this book is trying to come to terms with their past in some way, and everyone in this book suffers because of it. I wish I could say more, but you really just have to read this one. You’re better off not knowing anything going in.

6. Snowblind by Christopher Golden

You might think that Christopher Golden’s Snowblind is about restless ghosts and the skeery ice monsters that live in whiteout snowstorms, and it is, but it’s also a meditation on loss and how love is what really survives after death. Golden asks, what if you had a second chance at that love? And answers, that would mean you also had a second chance at that crushing kind of loss because, sadly, nothing is forever.

7. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Another old one. Whatever. This book is almost perfect. Great characters with real lasting damage from traumatic events and parallel story-telling that works flawlessly. The only thing I didn’t like was a final reveal at the end that felt a little over the top given the tone of the rest of the piece. This is what I wanted Galveston by Nick Pizzolatto (which, you’ll notice, is not on the list) to be.

8. The Last Safe Place by Rob Hart

Reading Hart’s slender book has definitely guaranteed I’ll be buying his next, New Yorked, the very damn second it comes out! Safe Place has an engaging main character who makes tough moral decisions and has to live with them, a great setting, and a breakneck pace that is perfect for the size of this novella! I don’t care what you think of zed books, you NEED to read this if you like damn fine writing!

9. The First One You Expect by Adam Cesare

The First One You Expect is everything you’d expect from Cesare: gripping tension and splatterpunk sensibility driven by the great characterization, wry humor, and deep knowledge of classic horror cinema that is his signature style.

10. Wild Fell by Michael Rowe

When it comes to building slow suspense while carving out fully-realized human characters, Michael Rowe is a master craftsman. This isn’t a breakneck book. This novel pulls you along at a luxuriant pace, letting the tension build like a room that’s slowly having the air sucked out. You won’t notice you’re out of breath until it’s way too late to open a window. In both character construction and setting, Rowe reminds me of Thomas Tryon. He gets the sense of alienation and otherness that is the lifeblood of small town horror. In the way Enter, Night was about (reluctantly) going home again, Wild Fell is about the alienation of not fitting in and trying to find a place where you can truly be yourself — If that place really exists and will let you move in.


HONORABLE MENTION: The Counselor by Cormac McCarthy. Yeah, the movie was not great. But I loved this screenplay. I only wish he’d written it as a novel instead. This has some of the best lines I’ve read this year (subsequently half-assed by god damn Ridley Scott). “The world in which you seek to seek to undo your mistakes is not the world in which they were made.”

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~ by poǝןɔɐɯ uǝʞɔɐɹq on 18/12/2014.

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