Best of 2014: Fiction

It’s that time again. While it seems like only yesterday, 2014 is about to leave us and enter the history books. While there is no denying the passage of time, here at the library we like to make the most of it by reflecting on all the great items we have purchased and sharing our favorites with you. Since we order a lot of material, our list of favorites is pretty long. To make it more manageable for you to digest, here at A Reading Life we are going to publish a post a day this work week conveniently divided by topic.

First up, enjoy this listing of staff fiction favorites from 2014.


The Boy Who Drew Monsters | Keith Donohue
Ten-year-old agoraphobic Jack is housebound and only has one friend, Nick. He lives in a remote and mostly deserted seaside town. It’s frigid December when he begins drawing monsters, which soon begin to haunt the family.

The eerie setting, emotionless characterization, fumbling parents, and Nick’s inability to escape from Jack’s grasp all build to make this quite a page turner. I was reminded of reading The Shining as a teen…and imagining noises in the night!  -Elizabeth

Horrorstor | Grady Hendrix
After strange things start happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, three employees volunteer to work an overnight shift to investigate, but what they discover is more horrifying than they could have imagined.

Orsk is a knock-off Ikea, and that idea is reinforced by the fact that this book’s designed inside & out to look like the iconic Ikea catalog. Anyone who has ever gotten lost inside the maze that is Ikea will be chilled and enthralled by this book. -Carol & Joyce

The Invention of Wings | Sue Kidd Monk
On her 11th birthday, Sarah Grimke is gifted with a slave called Hetty Handful. In this story spanning 35 years, both women become determined to rise above the injustices of their day.

This historical fiction came to life as the author gave voice to both women weaving a wonderful story. -Margo

Karate Chop: Stories | Dorthe Nors
This collection of brief short stories, the first translated into English from this Danish author, feature characters and settings that at first seem mundane. Keep reading and you will discover the extraordinary in the ordinary.

I found the streamlined structure of the stories very appealing. Not a word is out of place as the author explores the odd nuances of everyday human interactions and the often disturbing motivations of those involved. -Richard


On Such a Full Sea | Chang-rae Lee
Set in a dystopian future America, in a world beset with environmental disasters, Chinese workers raise fish and produce for the elites. Fan, a diver in the fish tanks, disrupts this carefully ordered world when she embarks on a search for her boyfriend.

I’m both intrigued at disturbed by near-future dystopian novels. Lee adds another level, as he explores the nature of myths and legends. -Eileen

Shovel Ready | Adam Sternbergh
A dirty bomb explodes in Times Square. The city empties. Spademan, a not-so-lovable protagonist, turns from garbage man into assassin. Rich people plug into virtual reality to avoid reality. Grit, noir, perversion, corrupt religious leaders.

This is one of those rare books that is extremely dark but still seems to contain light. -Ron

Station Eleven | Emily St. John Mandel
Arthur Leander collapses onstage while acting in King Lear. Jeevan tries to help, then gets a call from a doctor friend that a horrific flu pandemic is sweeping the country. Twenty years later we follow a traveling theatre group in the primitive new world

This is not run-of-the-mill predictable dystopian fiction. Artfully switching between past and present, Mandel takes us on a journey of relationships, failures, hopes, and dreams among the characters connected with Leander. -Elizabeth

Summer House with Swimming Pool | Herman Koch
A cabin fever story of a doctor and his family spending a week at a famous star’s extravagant summer home on the Mediterranean. Joined by a rich supporting cast and with hints dropped throughout, the tragedy isn’t long to uncover itself.

The author’s “The Dinner” was a deeply disturbing psychological novel and an international hit. This appeals to the dark side of our nature and is impossible to put down. -Alan


The Free | Willy Vlautin
Award-winning author Willy Vlautin demonstrates his extraordinary talent for confronting issues facing modern America, illuminated through the lives of three memorable characters looking to escape their financial, familial, and existential problems.

I love Willy Vlautin’s spare, poignant, humanistic style. Warning: there’s disturbing stuff in here, but it’s not exploitative. And to a thinking person, the irony of the title is the most disturbing aspect of the book. -Alan

The Painter | Peter Heller
Jim Stegner is a successful artist who appreciates the beauty of the land. He is also plagued with a recurring problem with violence. While trying to stay out of trouble, he witnesses an act of cruelty which causes him to spiral back into his anger.

As in The Dog Stars, Heller really captures the beauty of the western landscape. The lasting impression of this book however, was how he so expertly compels the reader to alternately empathize fully with Jim and then despise him. -Elizabeth

The White Magic Five and Dime : a Tarot Mystery | Steve Hockensmith
Alanis inherits a tarot business in tiny Berdache, Arizona from her estranged mother. She goes to the town in hopes of finding how her mother died, but stays while slowly getting pulled into the world of tarot. Mystery and romance round out this tale.

Hockensmith’s writing style is delightful, the story is filled mystery upon mystery, very fun start of a series. -Ron

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