Best of 2014: Fiction

Updated: February 2, 2015

The best books of the year, as selected by LAPL staff.  Perfect for holiday gift-giving!

Book cover for 1914 : a novel
1914 : a novel
Echenoz, Jean.

If it is possible to write a beautiful, but truthful and raw book about The Great War, World War I, then Echenoz has accomplished it.

Book cover for Alias Hook
Alias Hook
Jensen, Lisa, 1952-

In this compelling and romantic retelling of the fairy tale villain known as Captain James B. Hook, we learn about his heart-wrenching curse and surprisingly human personality. Stella Parrish, the most recent dreamer to enter Neverland, is Hook’s only hope to prove to himself, and the magical forces of his world, that he may actually be worthy of redemption.

Book cover for All I Love and Know
All I Love and Know
Frank, Judith, 1958-

Also available for download as an e-book.
Matthew and Daniel’s domestic bliss is shattered when Daniel’s brother and sister-in-law are killed in a Jerusalem bombing. The couple are thrust into parenthood when they learn that they have been named the surviving children’s guardians.

Book cover for All the Light We Cannot See
All the Light We Cannot See
Doerr, Anthony

Beautifully written, this story of a young blind French girl and a young German soldier, whose lives collide in France toward the end of the Nazi occupation. Watch their lives intersect in surprising ways as their fortunes are shaped by the people and world around them.

Book cover for Beautiful fools : the last affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald : a novel
Beautiful fools : the last affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald : a novel
Spargo, R. Clifton.
Sensitive, informed fictional account of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s final adventure. Based on a disastrous trip to Cuba that they took in 1939, Beautiful Fools gives the reader an intimate glimpse into the once-golden duo’s doomed attempt to repair their fractured marriage. Hobbled by insanity on her part and alcoholism on his, the trip ended badly and the two of them never saw each other again. Scott died the following year in Hollywood, while Zelda passed away in a 1948 fire that broke out in the North Carolina mental institution where she had lived for many years.

Book cover for Big Little Lies
Big Little Lies
Moriarty, Liane,

What really happened at the local school that night? An accidental death? Or something more sinister? Told from overlapping perspectives, the story follows Jane, Madeline, and Celeste, three ordinary Australian housewives and how fate intervenes to place them at the scene of this mystery.

Book cover for The black hour
The black hour
Rader-Day, Lori, 1973-

Professor Amelia Emmett has returned to her post as sociology professor specializing in the topic of violent crime nearly a year after having been a victim of one. As she is welcomed back to the prominent Chicago campus, she is also under the watchful eye of a newspaper reporter and others who want to know more about her relationship with the now-dead gunman. Told through alternating narrator perspectives, including that of her eager new grad student assistant, this riveting page-turner presents a beautifully flawed protagonist and well-paced plot that culminates in a twist ending, while turning nearly every character into a suspect along the way.

Book cover for The Book of Unknown Americans
The Book of Unknown Americans
Henríquez, Cristina

In an apartment building in Delaware, nine families of immigrants from Central and South America have taken up residence in the hopes of creating new and better lives in America. Told in alternating voices, the many stories center around the budding - and tragic - romance between two teenagers. This beautiful, powerful book is a must read.

Book cover for Boy, Snow, Bird: A Novel
Boy, Snow, Bird: A Novel
Oyeyemi, Helen

In 1953, pale, watchful Boy Novak flees her abusive rat-catcher father, alights in the small New England town of Flax Hill, and warily settles into an almost happy marriage with widower Arturo Whitman. She cannot, however, shake her inherent distrust of his uncannily beautiful gentle daughter, Snow, and after the birth of her own daughter, Bird, she sends Snow to live with relatives in the South. A mesmerizing Snow White reimagining that incisively explores the history of race relations in America, the complexity of parental love, and the mutability of appearance and perceptions. Oyeyemi's writing is assured and natural and her storytelling masterful.

Book cover for Brutal youth
Brutal youth
Breznican, Anthony.
An unflinching look at the horror that can be high school and the attempts of three students to survive their freshman year. Breznican’s debut novel is harrowing, gripping and insightful.

Book cover for The bunker. written by Joshua Hale Fialkov ; illustrated, colored and lettered by Joe Infurnari. Vol. 1
The bunker. written by Joshua Hale Fialkov ; illustrated, colored and lettered by Joe Infurnari. Vol. 1
Fialkov, Joshua Hale, 1979-
Call Number: 740.9999 F438-3 v.1
When five college graduates go to bury a time capsule, they instead discover a military-style bunker containing notes from their future selves, describing how they will cause the apocalypse. This volume compiles the first four issues of the engaging comic book series where the characters must decide if they’re willing to follow their own personal dreams or heed advice from the future.

Book cover for California: A Novel
California: A Novel
Lepucki, Edan

Frida and  Cal left the crumbling city of Los Angeles and set out on their own, building a home out of the refuse of others’ dross in Northern California.When Frida becomes pregnant, she and Cal set out for the nearest settlement—a place guarded  by its own community’s secrets. Intricately-plotted and suspenseful, this Dystopian fiction asks us to question just how far we will go to protect those we love.

Book cover for The Children Act: A Novel
The Children Act: A Novel
McEwan, Ian,

Fiona Maye, a High Court judge in London, presides over cases in family court. Fiercely intelligent, Fiona's expertise often hinges on sensitivities to culture and religion when handing down her verdicts. However, Fiona's domestic life intersects with her professional life. She is against her husband Jack's offer for an open marriage, and his departure impacts her routine, as she reflects on the meaning of respectability in modern marriage. It's at this point in her life when Fiona handles a complex case that involves a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents, Jehovah's Witnesses, refuse to allow a blood transfusion that might save his life. Ian McEwan's prose takes us deep into this drama that may never let you go, fraught with convergences that touch on jurisprudence, religion, medicine, family and, to a surprising extent, poetry.

Book cover for The cold song
The cold song
Ullmann, Linn, 1966-
Norwegian restaurateur Siri and her writer husband Jon have hired an ethereal new nanny, Milla, to look after their two daughters while Jon attempts to overcome his writer’s block. The family’s relationships are already strained, but when Milla disappears one night, a new sort of tension takes over the family.

Book cover for Dust and light
Dust and light
Berg, Carol,
Part procedural forensic detective story (set in a magic land), part high court drama, Dust and Light follows the story of Lucian, a young man trying to make his way in a changing world. The mysteries he solves working for the coroner and the mysteries he begins to uncover about his past both lead him away from the shelter of his rule-bound life and into danger.

Book cover for Endsinger
Kristoff, Jay.
This final volume of The Lotus War series follows Yukiko and Buruu into the battle that will decide the fates of the Shima Imperium and the Lotus Guild.

Book cover for Everything I never told you
Everything I never told you
Ng, Celeste.

This slender debut novel is deceptively quiet and elegantly restrained on the surface, but packs a knock-out punch. The story of how and why teenager Lydia Lee, the beautiful, brilliant, best-loved child of a 1970's mixed-race Ohio family, meets her shocking death is much more than just a Midwestern mystery. Within her very specific rendering of one family's tragedy, author Celeste Ng illuminates America's poisonous history of racism, sexism, and homophobia, but never at the expense of a suspenseful plot and a compellingly original cast of characters.

Book cover for Florence Gordon
Florence Gordon
Morton, Brian, 1955-
The acerbic, 75-year-old intellectual and feminist for whom this book is named is reaching a new high in her career, with an eagerly anticipated memoir in the finishing stages. However, the story focuses on Florence’s granddaughter Emily, coming into her own, and Emily’s parents. Each family member faces a crisis, and Florence’s blunt and cantankerous character fills the novel with wry humor.

Book cover for His own man
His own man
Ribeiro, Edgard Telles.

A deeply involving look at South America's political turmoil during the 1960s and 1970s, when several nations' left-leaning governments were toppled by the military, with the covert assistance of the CIA, and many people lost their careers and possessions, or simply "disappeared".  In a "Citizen Kane"-style narrative spanning forty years, a Brazilian diplomat obsessively tracks the involvement of Max, his onetime friend, mentor and colleague, in the intrigues that destroyed the lives of thousands of people in Chile, Uruguay, and their own country.

Book cover for How to build a girl
How to build a girl
Moran, Caitlin, 1975-
A young woman’s hilarious and very authentic attempt to remake herself into something better, faster, cooler no matter where she started or what music review she has to publish to make it happen.

Book cover for The invention of wings : a novel
The invention of wings : a novel
Kidd, Sue Monk.

This book tells the tale of two women of the 19th century, Handful born a slave and Sarah born to a slave-owning family. The story follows their trials and tribulations across the early 1800s as Sarah grows into both an abolitionist and a feminist and Handful, horribly constrained by her circumstances, eventually makes the perilous quest for freedom.Handful and Sarah are two young women living in the same household, both desiring to find a place in the world. But these independent spirits have quite different obstacles: they are women in 19th-century South Carolina, and Handful is Sarah's slave.

Book cover for Kamal Jann
Kamal Jann
Eddé, Dominique.

A searing family saga set in modern Syria, Europe and the United States.  All the elements of a Shakespearean historical tragedy are here, where a patriarch's will to power creates generational damage, sorrow and chaos.

Book cover for Landline
Rowell, Rainbow.

Television-writer Georgie decides to break plans with her husband’s family and spend Christmas  in Los Angeles --  never expecting him to keep those plans and head to the Midwest with their daughters, without her. Has the constant stress of her career proven too much for them? At her mother’s place, Georgie plugs in an old yellow landline telephone and turns the rotary dial to Neal’s number… and reaches him, decades ago when their romance first began. Can Georgie and Neal fix what’s been broken in the years since they fell in love? Is it worth fixing? This fast-paced, character-driven novel will capture your heart.

Book cover for Lucky us : a novel
Lucky us : a novel
Bloom, Amy, 1953-

This story begins, “My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.” After being left on her father’s doorstep, Eva and her half-sister Iris make their way through WWII-America in search of fame and fortune. Deeply moving, this character-driven and offbeat coming-of-age novel is about reinvention - and about choosing the family you keep.

Book cover for The magician's land : a novel
The magician's land : a novel
Grossman, Lev.
Most of us cannot muster up the sincere, guileless enthusiasm of the characters who wander through Narnia or Oz or Wonderland. Luckily for us, neither can the characters of Grossman's Magician’s Chronicles. In The Magician’s Land, individuals at least as flawed and human as any you meet on the street get the magic, the quests, the secret land. But will any of these things end up being what they really want?

Book cover for The Martian : a novel
The Martian : a novel
Weir, Andy.

A highly technical and therefore quite believable what-if story about the challenges that would face an astronaut stuck alone on the surface of Mars. At once laugh-out-loud funny and nail-bitingly tense, this story is great for fans of science fiction and realistic fiction alike.

Book cover for Mr. Gwyn & Three times at dawn
Mr. Gwyn & Three times at dawn
Baricco, Alessandro, 1958-

A puzzle comprised of two novellas about a successful writer who abandons his work to pursue another form of art.  Baricco is a master storyteller, like Poe and Lovecraft, as he cleverly lures the reader into a maze of clues without definitively giving us a solution.

Book cover for Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal
Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal
Wilson, G. Willow
Call Number: 741.5 C2547Wi v.1

Kamala Khan is like every other nerdy 16-year-old Muslim girl from Jersey City. That is, until she sneaks out to a party one night and gets caught in a green mist, giving her superpowers that once belonged to Carol Danvers, the original Ms. Marvel! The series follows Kamala as she comes to terms with her powers and the responsibilities that they bring, all the while trying to balance her undercover superhero life with school, her family, and life as a teenager in general.

Book cover for One plus one : a novel
One plus one : a novel
Moyes, Jojo, 1969-

Single mom Jess Thomas struggles to make ends meet, while nurturing tortured goth teen Nicky (her ex’s son) and his gifted mathematician sister Tanzie. In a moment of empathy and guilt, tech millionare Ed Nicholls – whose vacation home Jess cleans - offers to drive the family a few hours up the island so that Tanzie can compete in a math Olympiad.  During the offbeat journey, Jess and Geeky Ed find more than they thought in common… and a connection that will change all of their lives forever.

Book cover for The Paying Guests
The Paying Guests
Waters, Sarah

In the early 1920s, the newly-widowed Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter begin to quietly take in lodgers to make ends meet. The working-class newlyweds, Lilian and Leonard, are their paying guests—and will completely alter their lives forever. Intensifying and richly-detailed, this novel will appeal to fans of historical and LGBTQ fiction.

Book cover for The queen of the tearling : a novel
The queen of the tearling : a novel
Johansen, Erika.

Spirited away from her home as an infant, Kelsea has spent her life in hiding, studying to be Queen of a nation torn apart by a distant war. But nineteen years may not have been enough to prepare her for the dangers at hand. When everyone in the kingdom of the Tearling seems to want her dead, can Kelsea survive the animosity of her own people in order to save them? Riveting and fast-paced, you won’t be able to put this one down!

Book cover for Redeployment
Klay, Phil.

 If you want to know what it is like to be in our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to be among other soldiers, to feel threatened, angry,confused and to try and return to civilian life, suffering from PTSD, then Phil Klay will tell you through these compressed, brutal, heartbreaking, raw short stories. 

My Life as a Foreign Country by Brian Turner is a non-fiction biography from another veteran of these wars, and it is on the Best Non-Fiction List, 2014.

Book cover for Saga
Vaughan, Brian K.
Call Number: 740.9999 S1295

This is the second part of a multi-volume graphic novel of war-crossed lovers trying to live and raise their daughter in a universe torn apart by a war between their people. The universe this story is set in is rich, strange and familiar. The characters are believable, charming and surprising. It’s a strange, wild ride.

Book cover for Seconds : a graphic novel
Seconds : a graphic novel
O'Malley, Bryan Lee, .
Call Number: 740.9999 O54-1

Are you always trying to open a new and wildly successful restaurant, cause your ex-boyfriend to fall wildly back in love with you, make new friends, save friends from  horrible accidents, say the right thing, and make the best choice? It’s easy if you have magic that lets you correct your past mistakes. These sorts of massive rewrites to your life can’t possibly have any negative consequences...right?

Book cover for The severed streets
The severed streets
Cornell, Paul.

In the follow up to last year’s London Falling, Cornell continues the story of a team of London police detectives now able to see the paranormal underpinnings of their city. While they are still learning to adjust and adapt to this power, a series of murders, that strongly resemble the work of Jack the Ripper, will push the team to their very limits.

Book cover for Shirley : a novel
Shirley : a novel
Merrell, Susan Scarf.
A troubled young woman, Rose Nemser, reflects on the year (1964-65) she spent living with novelist Shirley Jackson and her family in Bennington, Vermont, while Rose's grad-student husband assisted Shirley's husband, professor and critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, with his classes at Bennington College.  There are many beautifully written scenes in this novel, and the portraits of Shirley, Stanley, and their tempestuous marriage are believable and fascinating.  

Book cover for The Silkworm : a Cormoran Strike novel.
The Silkworm : a Cormoran Strike novel.
Galbraith, Robert.
Call Number: M
P.I. Corman Strike returns to investigate the disappearance of novelist, Owen Quine. What begins as a wandering husband case turns gruesome when Quine is found murdered in a hideous and bizarre fashion that's lifted straight from the pages of the author's last unpublished manuscript.

Book cover for The son
The son
Nesbø, Jo, 1960-
Normal life ended for teenager Sonny Loftus when his father chose to hang himself, after being exposed as Oslo’s most nefariously corrupt cop. Now Sonny languishes in a maximum security prison, willingly doing time for a crime he didn’t commit in exchange for an endless supply of top quality heroin. But when a dying inmate reveals that the death of Sonny’s father just might not have been a suicide, the previously pathetic junkie is transformed into an avenging angel. And no one - from the depths of the criminal underworld to the heights of Norway’s legal system - is safe from Sonny’s lethal wrath.

Book cover for The story hour : a novel
The story hour : a novel
Umrigar, Thrity N.
Psychologist Maggie meets Lakshmi, a young Indian woman on the verge of suicide, and is overwhelmed with the urge to treat her for free. As their relationship builds beyond professional lines, the relationships between Maggie and her doting husband and that of Lakshmi and her oppressive husband start to change. The close female friendship at the heart of this novel raises emotions that drive this story in a thought-provoking direction.

Book cover for Summer house with swimming pool : a novel
Summer house with swimming pool : a novel
Koch, Herman, 1953-

Fans of psychological suspense will quickly become engrossed in this Dutch import about doctor-to-the-stars, Dr. Marc Schlosser. Everyone is a suspect in this tale of crime and ego, as the story centers around one of Schlosser’s high-profile patients, famous actor Ralph Meier. How he winds up dying, and what happened with Marc’s daughter are questions that carry the reader to the end.

Book cover for Those who leave and those who stay
Those who leave and those who stay
Ferrante, Elena.

This is the third volume in the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante, with a spoiler alert for those who have not read My Brilliant Friend and Story of a New Name. These books must be read in order. The give-and-take friendship of Elena and Lila continues as the women deal with marriage, children, and careers.  Ferrante's writing style and insights are penetrating, sensitive and wise.

Book cover for An unnecessary woman
An unnecessary woman
Alameddine, Rabih,

A tour de force novel about a flinty, reclusive 72-year-old woman who lives in modern-day Beirut.  Aaliya spends her days thinking about books, art, music and what, if anything, they have to do with real life, especially with her beloved city.  However, once a year she takes on the self-assigned task of translating a book that she deems significant.

Note:  This book has a copyright date of 2013, but was published in 2014.


Book cover for An Untamed State
An Untamed State
Gay, Roxane

 Roxane Gay levels a breath-taking punch with the story of Mireille Duval Jameson,  who is kidnapped and held for ransom where she is beaten, raped and mentally abused.  When released, she is in severe shock and suffering from PTSD, all of which brings up unspoken family issues.  Without sensationalism and with great truth, the novel is a response to the notion of closure and complete healing for victims of PTSD, but also about a type of healing that allows a victim to have a life.  A therapist tells her that she will get better, but she will never get over what happened.

Book cover for The weight of blood : a novel
The weight of blood : a novel
McHugh, Laura.
Treated like an outsider by Ozark Mountain neighbors who regard her mother's disappearance years earlier with suspicion, 16-year-old Lucy is further haunted by a friend's murder, which compels her to investigate family secrets and sacrifices.

Book cover for Wolf in white van
Wolf in white van
Darnielle, John.

Sean Phillips suffered a disfiguring accident when he was 17, and ever since, he’s lived as a recluse, making a living off of a role playing game called Trace Italian that’s conducted entirely by mail. When two teenagers’ obsession with Trace Italian turns fatal, Sean is drawn back into the world and forced to contend with some unsettled questions from his past. Like Ready Player One and Mazes and Monsters married together in a fever dream, Wolf in White Van is both imaginatively conceived and emotionally devastating.