Top 6 (+4) of 2014

I read 100 books in 2014. Here are ten of my favourites. This was intended to be a top ten of 2014 list, but I couldn’t compile it without cheating a little.

In no particular order:

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A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

I am embarrassingly susceptible to advertising, and I saw the adverts on the Northern line all the time. Fortunately, A Song for Issy Bradley has more going for it than that lovely cover, as I found out when I picked it up. It is beautiful in its quiet way, a story of tragedy and faith and how the two intersect. It’s also a moving, well-observed account of family life. The Bradleys are each so fully realised you leave feeling like one of the family.

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Sedition by Katharine Grant

“You have to read this,” said my girlfriend. “It’s so silly.” Sedition is an entirely irresistible piece of historical fiction about music and sex. It is one of the most purely enjoyable books I’ve read this year, filled to the brim with entertaining characters doing outrageous things. As well as being fun though, the novel is genuine in both its transgressiveness and its musicality. It winks like a sly diamond in my reading list of this year.

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Solitaire by Alice Oseman

I read Solitaire in one sitting, and it’s not a small book. It’s an absorbingly different take on the teenage experience. It isn’t perfect – the endless cultural references seem dated already, and Tori, while ultimately compelling, is not exactly a dynamic lead – but it is an honest, smart, and assured debut. Tori’s depression is painfully well portrayed, with dramatic plot points providing a bright counterpoint to her dark world view. I’m very excited to see where Oseman goes next.

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How to be Both by Ali Smith

My favourite from the Booker shortlist. I was intrigued by the concept: two stories in one book, in different orders depending on which copy you happen to pick up. There is a lightness and playfulness to Smith’s telling in both stories that makes the whole book a delight to read. The interaction between the two narratives is limited, but effective. I’m not sure how cohesive a whole the halves make, but the result is rich and warmly human.

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Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

In this gorgeous book, Talley takes what could easily have been a Very Special Episode and makes it into one of the best novels of the year. I want everyone to read this and laugh and cry and fall in love with Sarah and Linda. It’s a tough read at times, but only because it is so real and powerful. And – without spoilers – who knew that a story like this was allowed to have an ending like that?

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The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

A new Sarah Waters novel is akin to a second birthday if you’re me. Her deserved reputation precedes her to an extent that I hardly need say what I liked about The Paying Guests. Near-perfect prose and empathy for her nuanced characters and their feelings make Waters one of our greatest living writers, and her newest novel didn’t disappoint. Literary fiction at its best, and it’s about lesbians. Waters is a gift.

To round us up to ten, here are four books I loved in 2014 that didn’t quite come out on time to make this list:

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart – okay, it came out years ago, but Hot Key just released the new edition, and I read it last week. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted from YA. Frankie is a great heroine who wants to crush the patriarchy through pranks. Give a copy to every teen girl you know. And the boys, too.

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando – a light read, but I am a sucker for female friendships, coming of age stories, epistolary formats, and family drama. Roomies has everything, along with charming characters, lovely writing, and the pervasive bittersweet feeling of growing up and leaving home.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride – if you’ve not heard of this book, you haven’t been paying attention. The “experimental” writing style sounds challenging, but the real challenge is in the trauma the narrator goes through. It’s nearly unbearable, but worth the effort, as it is without a doubt a work of genius.

The Bone Dragon by Alexia Casale – this unforgettable book leads the reader down a dark path and offers them no help to find their way back out of the mist. I loved The Bone Dragon, but the ending continues to haunt me. It’s a fantastic character study, and exploration of power and secrets… with a little bit of magic.

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