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Best Books of 2014

Thank you for visiting our “Best Books of 2014” page. We hope you find these books as interesting and entertaining as we have. This year’s books were selected by a group of twenty-five booksellers from across the country. We had the privilege to review 100s of books that were published this year and as always it was very difficult to choose which books made the list. Enjoy!

2014 Book of the Year

All the Light We Cannot See is a gorgeously written novel about beauty, love, courage, and history. Two teenagers – a blind girl in Paris, an orphan boy in Germany – are coming-of-age with the coming of war. When Marie Laure and her father flee Paris, they may be carrying one of France’s greatest treasures (and curses). Werner’s fascination with radios, and his fear of the mines that killed his father, make him a valuable soldier for the Reich. You want to savor every sentence, every image, but the pages fly anyway as the novel follows their paths to Saint-Malo, a walled city on the coast of France under siege at the end of the war. The smallest spark of humanity, a fleeting connection across borders, the apocalyptic devastation of war; in the vastness of time, they almost disappear, but they all matter. It’s not a new subject, but it reads like one: life. –Sara, Atlanta

Best Fiction

Once again, as she did in Loving Frank, Nancy Horan writes a compelling story of love, marriage, and adventure. This book is the fascinating account of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, his passion for writing, and his obsessive love for the older woman Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. Their life together has many twists due to his ill health and Fanny's determination to keep him alive---and writing. They literally roamed the world, always seeking the perfect climate for "Louis" to have a chance to write the stories that spilled from his mind, stories the world will long remember.
After reading this delightful book, the reader will surely revisit with new appreciation some of Stevenson's classics, such as Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You are in for a treat! –Margaret, Pittsburgh
With a love for suspense and horror, Josh Malerman's first novel conducts an original concept in a structure which sways back and forth between past and present alongside a constantly terrifying introduction and conclusion. As the characters perform their actions of survival, their thought process screams from the pages and jerks the reader into full attention filled with fright. Realism becomes prominent as the reader follows descriptions of breaking television news reports, interviews, daily blogs, and websites that are devoted to the unexplained events developing every day. Along with the use of social media, Malerman's depictions of insanity and fear of the unknown is written with a perfected Lovecraftian edge. Exposure to ideas as of the cause of mental illness such as wireless technology, evolutionary leaps, the nearing explosion of the planet, or the simplistic theory that the sun is dying will keep the reader fully invested from the first chapter to the last. When reading this inventive tale of fiction please be advised to follow any curfew that may be mandated, lock your doors, cover all the windows, and above not look outside. -Mike, Albuquerque
Mitchell, the Booker shortlisted author of The Cloud Atlas, writes fantasy novels. Actually, he writes lots of different kinds of books. He’s written a straightforward, deeply researched, historical novel (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob Zoet); he’s written a coming of age “bildungsroman” (Black Swan Green); and he’s written a Murakami-esque fantasia (Number9Dream). He is a critical darling renowned for his lucid flowing prose. And it turns out that he has been writing a fantasy meta-opus the whole time. Or maybe not, maybe he stumbled onto it just recently but that appears to be the plan as of now. And The Bone Clocks, Mitchell’s new book, is where it all starts to come together. Don’t get me wrong, this one is a no problem stand alone and maybe even Mitchell’s most accessible book but the good news is that once you’re in on this there is so much more good reading to come (and already at hand). The Bone Clocks is ostensibly the story of Holly Sykes. We meet her in 1984 at age 15 and by the end somewhere in the not too distant future Holly has reached the ripe old age of 74. This does nothing to describe what happens in between, my bad. So factor in a broad range of colorful characters (some familiar to readers of previous Mitchell books), a battle between good and evil, vampires (not really, but kind of), some literary parody (name that debauched novelist? Amis? or? Amis I’m thinking) a little bit of Less Than Zero, a little bit of David Lodge style campus comedy, how about you want a bleak punch to the gut from Cormac McCarthy a la a post-apocalyptic nightmare? We’ve got that too. Put it all in a blender. Sound weird? Sure it is, but also? It’s really good. -Matt, Los Angeles
Just after the Great War, many formerly genteel English families find themselves sliding toward poverty. Frances Wray and her mother have lost the men in their family to battle and illness and monstrous debt means they must resort to taking in Len and Lilian Barber as boarders – the eponymous Paying Guests. As the household settles into a new normal, a romance begins and then a violent act occurs that changes everything. Sarah Waters gives you enough period details to place you firmly in the suburbs of London in the 1920s without bogging you down. The story, revealed in three sections, unfolds in a slow but steady way and beautifully so. Life in Britain after the War was never the same and Frances was also forever changed by her time with the Barbers. –Sydne, Atlanta
So, I loved this. Loved, loved, loved it. Loved it so much that I am rereading it.
On the surface, one might think that it is run-of-the-mill SciFi. But, it's so much more than that. This poor guy gets stranded on Mars and he makes the best of it. Truly. It's depressing and lonely and scary and colder than Chicago in March, but he really never lets himself get discouraged. Mark Watney is funny and profane and smarter than hell. He makes McGyver look like an idiot. I don't know if the science checks out, because I'm not that much of a nerd, but it feels very believable. And, he is exactly the sort of guy that I would want to be trapped in a bad situation with.
And, if Andy Weir ever comes to ORD, I will fawn all over him like a raving fangirl. –Christine, ORD

Best Non-Fiction

The third memoir by a person who hasn’t made headlines by doing miraculous or spectacular things would seem to be an exercise in repetition or vanity. Gail Caldwell’s newest book is anything but. After losing her parents, her best friend, and her beloved dog companion in the span of a few short years, she gets a Samoyed puppy and a doctor’s diagnosis in short order. She has always had a slight limp from the polio she contracted as a child and she thought that was the source of the pain she was experiencing. It was actually a hip replacement she needed and a rambunctious puppy was not conducive to rehab and recovery. Her life is reconfigured as she learns to rely on her network of friends to help her through this difficult time. By the time you reach your sixties, you would think as an uncoupled adult you would have this life thing sorted out. But sometime you have to rely on the kindness of others to rebuild, refresh, and move forward and you make up your instructions as you go along. This is beautiful, touching, and hopeful. -Sydne, Atlanta
Actual patients and illnesses are combined in a collection of stories that illuminate the struggles of a young doctor faced with life and death situations. He treads the fine line between detachment and compassion while enduring exhaustion and bewilderment from patients who may be lying and who are certainly dying. As a resident, he knows he needs help but asking for it can be a sign of weakness. A hospital is full of bureaucracy and egos and people working at cross purposes to move patients through while they receive care. You don’t need a doctor to be your best friend, you need him to be qualified and capable. People skills and healing skills sometimes intersect but not always and a traumatic moment for a family is just one moment in a doctor’s crowded day. Holt’s stories show us moments of grief and grace. –Sydne, Atlanta
This collection of essays examines pain – physical as well as psychic and emotional pain – and compassion in ourselves and in others. The title essay is about volunteers who act as patients to be examined by medical students to assess their diagnostic and interpersonal skills. Among other disparate topics she looks at are the Memphis Three, a crazy ultramarathon, (is the use of the word “crazy” redundant here? I think so!), and people who suffer from Morgellons disease -- a belief they are infested with hair or fibers. There is a degree of voyeurism here but Jamison examines herself as carefully as she does others. “I think, therefore I am” is not all there is to being human, according to Jamison. One must feel, and try to feel what others feel. –Sydne, Atlanta
Reminiscent of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, Peter Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read is a consideration of how the human mind interacts with the written word physiologically, psychologically, and intellectually. How do we process language? What are our minds actually doing as they scan the words on the page? What acts of imagination do our minds perform when we create and inhabit the fictional landscape we encounter when reading a novel? Using various quotes from world literature, vivid illustrations and striking graphics (Mendelsund is the Associate Art Director at Knopf) What We See When We Read is an enjoyable and thought provoking exploration of the act of reading. –Matt, Los Angeles
I was ecstatic when I heard Amy Poehler was writing a book. She is a good writer, great actor, and hilarious comedian. Yes Please is a cross between Tina Fey's Bossypants and Bob Saget's Dirty Daddy but in a style all Amy's own. Her stories of growing up in suburbia will sound comfortably familiar to many of us. And you will find yourself rooting for her as she makes way through the Chicago and NY improv and comedy scene. Poehler gives us an inside look at the ups and downs of becoming a TV celebrity. It is reassuring to know that it is possible to have success in the entertainment industry and still be a "normal" person. –Justin, Atlanta
Deep Down Dark is a fairly remarkable achievement. Granted exclusive access to 33 miners trapped underground in Chile for 10 weeks, the narrative that Tobar spins is suspenseful without being sensationalistic. It is a model of restraint, sensitivity, and balance, both in style and in subject. He connects the reader to each of the individual miners, but also the local, national, and global cultures (including the media response to the event) which impacted the men’s fates before and after the collapse. Deep Down Dark doesn’t yield to the temptation of ending at the triumphant rescue of the miners, but pursues their story through its aftermath, and is all the richer for it. –Sara, Atlanta

Best Business Interest

Do you wonder what people really think? Christian Rudder does. He is the co-founder of OkCupid, an online dating service, and he seems to know an awful lot about us. Here human behavior is dissected in the age of social media, where every like and friend request says something about us - but it’s not always what we think it says. Christian tells us what we really think, based not on what we say, but how we swipe. The data he uses from OkCupid and other social media is different from data collected by the Pew Research Center or Gallop, because it is using data not based on questions, but on our behaviors. Our private thoughts become the reader’s guilty pleasure, and this is a very interesting big data read. -Rosa, New Jersey

Best Young Readers

In the YA field, there are very few books that stand out as being different, but Half Bad is one of those few. Nathan is half White Witch, which is supposed to be good, and half Black Witch, which is supposed to be evil. The two sides have been at war with each other for as long as anyone can remember, and being the only half breed in existence has made Nathan a target for both sides. Half Bad examines the nature of good and evil, and how fear and prejudice can shape not only society’s thoughts, but how you see yourself. This has been my favorite young adult book so far this year. –Jennifer, Atlanta
“There once was a king, and he had three daughters…” Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat, known as the Liars, spend all their summers at the Sinclair family estate on Beechwood Island. But two summers after Cadence’s accident, a rift has formed between her and the others and she sets out to repair her relationships. As family tensions rise, Cadence has to figure out the truth behind her accident. Haunting and lyrical, e. Lockhart’s latest is a gripping tale that you won’t want to put down until the very end. –Laura, Pittsburgh
Heir of Fire is my all time favorite of this series so far. The world building was incredible, the characters memorable, the creatures were slightly frightening. In Heir of Fire Celaena Sardothien has proven her skills in order to become the King’s personal Assassin. This means her life will be spared and allow her certain freedoms. But when her heart is shattered, she quickly escapes, only to find herself confronting her darkest secrets. The truth about who Celaena Sardothien is will change her life forever. Can Celaena overcome her inner demons and save an entire kingdom? –David, Boston
A wonderful collection of biographies for children. This series introduces children to some wonderful historical figures like Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein and Amelia Earhart. Written in a simple, easily accessible manner featuring beautiful illustrations by Christopher Elipoulou, Melter brings history alive for young children. With lessons like perseverance from Amelia Earhart and courage from Rosa Parks, he exposes children to the everyday heroes of history. This series invites children to explore history before they learn it in school, creating a gateway to learning at a young age. It makes a fantastic gift for any young child in your life. –Rosa, New Jersey
Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava-in all other ways a normal girl-is born with the wings of a bird. In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, sixteen-year old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naive to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the summer solstice celebration. That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo. First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human. –Anne, Atlanta

Author's Note
Q&A with Leslye Walton
Excerpt from The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
Discussion Guide for The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender



"Best of" Flashback - Page to Screen


We were excited to see many of our previous picks for best books of the year turned into movies this year. It gives us the opportunity to recommend them again to a whole new audience.

Bookseller Favorites

Anne - Atlanta


Christine - Chicago


David - Boston


Jennifer - Atlanta


Justin - Atlanta


Laura - Pittsburgh


Laurie - Boston


Margaret - Pittsburgh


Matt - Los Angeles


Mike - Albuquerque


Ron - Los Angeles


Rosa - New Jersey


Sara - Atlanta


Sydne - Atlanta


Valerie - Cleveland