The Best Books I Read in 2014 – Adult Fiction

adult fiction 2Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – I read Jane Eyre before I could truly understand it. I had seen the movie and I was drawn to the dark, dreariness of it. The unease that permeates throughout. Most of all, I liked Jane. There was also probably a hint of wanting to impress people by the fact that I was reading Jane Eyre. I remember the actual physical book vividly – it was red, leather bound and much nicer than the other books in my middle school library. It had a ribbon bookmark. (An aside: does anyone else remember the way their middle school library smelled? In my memory, most of middle school took place in the library.) I hadn’t revisited Jane Eyre in many years, but it turns out that middle school me and 2014 me have very similar tastes. This time, I listened to the book on audio as I drove around Virginia for my job during the fall. It seems to me that this has been a particularly rainy fall and winter and that was perfect for listening to Jane Eyre on long drives. I am still drawn to Jane and the mystery of it all, the atmosphere, the language, Mr. Rochester and his lying ways. This year, I’d love to watch all the Jane Eyre movie adaptations to compare them and read books that have been inspired by Jane Eyre, like Wide Sargasso Sea.

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland – When I was working in publishing, I didn’t blog about the books published by my company because it felt like a conflict of interest. That was the right thing to do, but I didn’t get to tell you about some really great books. Since I’ve switched jobs, I’m very excited to share them with you. The Transcriptionist is a quiet novel, one that can almost seem like it’s leading to something bigger, but don’t be disappointed when it doesn’t. The book starts out with a mystery, but this is a book that asks questions and doesn’t answer them. And that’s what I loved about it. It’s about a woman named Lena, a mysterious death, newspapers, technology, coincidence, war, life and death and what it means to be alone. Big questions with no easy answers.

The Three by Sarah Lotz – So, I’m really not a great flyer. It seems like it would be a horrible idea for me to read this book, about three plane crashes on the same day that the world believes are somehow connected. And it was! It was terrifying! But what I actually loved about this novel was the structure. It’s a book within a book and uses found documents, like chat and video transcripts, letters, and interviews. I didn’t necessarily expect this book to make my list of the best books of the year, but I keep thinking about the structure months after reading it. It managed to maintain the suspense and use the technique to its advantage. The other book I read this year that tried to do the same thing, The Supernatural Enhancements, let the structure get in the way of the actual story. I can’t imagine The Three being told any other way.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng – I only read Everything I Never Told You a few weeks ago, but I knew immediately that it was going to be one of the best books I read this year. On its surface, it’s a story that’s been told many times in literary fiction and crime fiction: a teenage girl goes missing and her family must deal with the aftermath. But this book takes every cliche from that tired story and turns it on its head. The Lees stand out in their small Ohio town in the 70s as the only interracial family. James Lee, the patriarch, wants nothing more than for his family to blend in. Marilyn Lee hates the homemaker life she has fallen into, so pushes all her medical school aspirations on her oldest daughter Lydia. When Lydia goes missing, James and Marilyn and their two remaining children, Nathan and Hannah, are left to untangle where it all went wrong. I can’t recommend this book enough.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay – An Untamed State is a difficult book to read and it’s a book that’s going to stay with me for a long time. Mireille, American-born and of Haitian descent, is visiting her parents’ estate in Haiti with her midwestern white husband and their infant daughter when she is kidnapped. Kidnappings are common in Haiti and her wealthy father refuses to give into the kidnappers’ demands, leading to a horrific two weeks of brutality for Mireille. When Mireille is finally released, she is shattered physically and emotionally and must somehow heal and learn how to live and love again after this horrible thing has happened. An Untamed State is the kind of novel that makes you feel. Anger, disgust, horror, and grief. But also hope and forgiveness.

Someone by Alice McDermott – This was one of the first books I read in 2014, for my book club, and I just knew it was going to stick with me. It has. It’s about the life of one ordinary woman named Marie. It’s a portrait of her and her life, her sadnesses and triumphs, that moves forward and backward in time with a beautiful fluidity. It’s one of the few books I reviewed this year, so I talk about it in a lot more detail here. Also, do yourself a favor. If you’re going to buy this novel, please buy the hardcover. It’s so understated, it’s hard to tell online, but it’s one of the most beautiful books I own. The buildings and text on the cover and the spine are this lovely metallic copper color and it’s just lovely.

21 thoughts on “The Best Books I Read in 2014 – Adult Fiction

  1. Hmmm. The Transcriptionist sounds intriguing. I might have to look that one up. Maybe it seems intriguing because I used to work for newspapers.

    I must not have been to your blog in a little while because I haven’t seen the new design but I like it. I like how you always keep it simple. I try to do the same, not get too cluttered or cluttered at all.

  2. I really enjoyed this post, especially as you gave us a little background on your reading history with each. Of those you mention, Jane Eyre is a favourite and I have The Three on my TBR shelf. I’ve seen mixed reviews of it, so it’s encouraging that you liked it so much.
    I really need to get my hands on An Untamed State too.

  3. Oh, Jane Eyre. I never tire of Jane Eyre. I read it for the first time when I was a girl, and I have only come to love it more and more every year I’ve gotten older and older. The good adaptation is the one with Ruth Wilson! Watch that one!

  4. Jane Eyre! One of my favorites! I should reread that this year. And yep, reading An Untamed State with Andi shortly. I’m looking forward to it, even if it does rip my heart out.

  5. I distinctly remember my first copy of Pride and Prejudice, which I also checked out of the middle school library. It must have been from the same publisher as your copy of Jane Eyre because it was red, leather bound, and had a ribbon bookmark, which I had only seen before in the fictional diary series Dear America. It’s one of the few books where the physical copy has stuck with me as long as the story.

  6. I too read Jane Eyre when I was way too young, enjoyed it very much, nonetheless. I haven’t read the other books in your list. I will probably skip The Three. It would totally put me off flying.

  7. I’m at the same time tempted and scared about The Three. I’m also not a tranquil flyer, especially after there’s as crash (like lately), but I’m intrigued!

  8. I’ve only rad Jane Eyre from your list, but several of the others are calling me. ‘Everything I Never Told You ‘ keeps cropping up so I am definitely going to try that soon. ‘The Transcriptionist’ also sounds like something I’d enjoy – thank you for pointing it out! Have a wonderful 2015!

  9. I’m planning on doing the Celeste Ng on audiobook soon. I feel like that one popped up EVERYWHERE on best of lists this year. It feels like it may be a tough read but a rewarding one.

  10. I think I’m overdue for a re-read of Jane Eyre. And glad to see your thoughts on The Transcriptionist. I received it for review (unsolicited) but haven’t been sure if it’s worth the time or not. Think it’s one I should at least check out. And Untamed State and Everything I Never Told You are on my TBR shortlist for 2015! Happy new year Lu. 🙂

  11. I started The Transcriptionist in December, but got pulled away by some other books that had been calling my name. I am going to get back to it though! I appreciate the comment about not being disappointed at where it goes — it feels like a quiet book, and I’m kind of glad to know it stays that way.

  12. I’m also due for another Jane Eyre re-read. I read it (very unwillingly) in high school, but I always like the movies and keep meaning to revisit the book. An Untamed State is high on my list for this year. I actually bought it ages ago, but my mom took it. lol

  13. The Transcriptionist and Someone both sound great! And Jane Eyre… for me it was a late discovery that I loved when I finally read it. I don’t really remember the smell of my school library, but I do remember the feeling I got when I went there to read or study, quiet and surrounded by knowledge.

  14. Yes to An Untamed State!!

    I heard about The Three and was instantly intrigued but kind of nervous, because I don’t normally read thrillers. I didn’t know if it would be any good. I keep renting the ebook from the library, but I haven’t actually read it yet. I hadn’t heard about the structure! I love stuff like that, so I’m sold now.

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