In 2014 I read 42 books. In my previous post I looked back at the first 21 of those, providing links to my Amazing Stories reviews, and brief comments on each title. This time I’m finishing the job, so welcome to a brief overview of the remainder of the books I read in 2014. If you missed part 1, click here.
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier: The classic Gothic thriller. Beautifully evocative of the Cornish landscape, and a masterclass in atmosphere and plotting.
Enchanted Cornwall – Daphne Du Maurier: The author provides a non-fiction account of the county where she made her home, offering insight into the background to some of her most famous works.
Echoes from the Macabre – Daphne Du Maurier: A classic collection of the author’s short horror, supernatural and dark fantasy fiction.
Among the Living – Chris Barnham: That rarity, a modern vampire novel with something fresh to say. Elegant, slow-burning and very British horror, currently only available as an ebook, but crying out for print.
Jamaica Inn – Daphne Du Maurier: A great historical thriller which can be read as a homage to Dracula.
Daphne – Margaret Forster: An excellent biography of Daphne Du Maurier marred by a failure to consider the impact of the film versions of her work on the author’s finances, writing and life.
Captivated: J. M. Barrie, Daphne Du Maurier and the Dark Side of Neverland – Piers Dudgeon: An exhaustive, grueling, necessarily at times speculative exploration of some very dark undercurrents in British literary history. You’ll never watch Peter Pan again without feeling queasy.
Dark Entries – Robert Aickman: A superb collection of strange stories.
Annihilation – Jeff VanderMeer: The thrilling opening volume of perhaps the fantasy publishing event of the year, The Southern Reach Trilogy.
Authority – Jeff VanderMeer: A change of perspective takes the Southern Reach in unexpected directions.
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt: Arguably, accidentally half a science fiction novel. Regardless, it is one great novel.
The Race – Nina Allan: The outstanding debut novel by one of Britain’s finest writers of SF, fantasy and horror.
Paradox – ed. Ian Whates: A strong collection of stories addressing the Fermi Paradox.
The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell: A cracked curate’s egg of fantasy and SF from the usually brilliant David Mitchell.
Marcher – Chris Beckett: Revised UK first edition of a powerful parallel world novel.
Acceptance – Jeff VanderMeer: The excellent final volume of The Southern Reach Trilogy.
Spike Island – Philip Hoare: This non-fiction account of the rise and fall of a military hospital provides Hoare the basis to spin a haunting labyrinth of autobiography, history, the Gothic, medical experimentation, war and the Jonathan Miller film of Alice in Wonderland.
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald: A fine book, obviously, but one of the greatest American novels ever written? Not really.
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini: A moving story of friendship, family, love and war which only suffers in comparison to the hype.
All the Light We Can Not See – Anthony Doerr: WWII epic, beautifully crafted, greatly concerned with the sustaining power of stories, not least 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Central to the narrative is a quest for a jewel which may, or may not, equally confer disaster and immortality. A very fine, multilayered ‘literary’ fantasy novel.
City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett: World-building is the strength of this superior, stand-alone secondary world political fantasy thriller.
A Dark Adapted Eye – Barbara Vine: Astonishingly accomplished psychological crime novel.
Home Run: Escape from Nazi Europe – John Nichol & Tony Rennell: Thrilling, moving gung-ho account of service personnel, mainly RAF, trying to get back home. The real life inspiration for Q in the James Bond books/films is here, working for MI9.
Life After Life – Kate Atkinson: A more mainstream take on the idea explored in Ken Grimwood’s Replay, or like watching someone else read the world’s most sophisticated Choose Your Own Adventure book. but an outstanding piece of imaginative fiction however one looks at it. The cover of the UK paperback casts it as Groundhog Day, but with a fox instead of, er, a groundhog.
And that was the remainder of my 2014 in books. Should I pick a favourite? How should I decide between a non-fiction account of life during WWII with a collection of short stories, against a literary classic, against a literary biography, against modern mainstream literature, against contemporary SF, fantasy and horror? Every book here and in my previous post covering the titles I read last year has considerable merit, often in very different ways to the book which precedes it or follows it. There were several books I gave up on reading last year, as there are every year. With thousands of great and interesting books available that I am never going to have time to read I have long ago stopped reading to completion those books which do not resonate with me on some level. So no, I am not going to list favourites, but suffice to say you will probably not regret spending the time reading any of these titles.
All this does not prevent me from asking what you thought. Did you enjoy any of these books? What were your favourite reads of 2014?