January 5, 2019: 2018 Reading Year in Review! January Reads on my Radar!

My final reading tally for 2018:

Fantasy – 25

Horror – 26

Non-Fiction – 49

Sci-Fi – 54

Crime/Mystery/Suspense/Thrillers – 75

General Fiction – 87

Graphic Novels – 89

2018 Releases – 242

It’s unlikely that I’ll equal last year’s impressive count in 2019, but I’m sure as hell going to try.

THESE are the upcoming January releases that have piqued my interest:

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How to Hold a Grudge: From Resentment to Contentment – The Power of Grudges to Transform Your Life by Sophie Hannah (Release Date: January 1st)

Practical, compassionate, and downright funny, How to Hold a Grudge reveals everything we need to know about the many different forms of grudge, the difference between a grudge and not-a-grudge (not as obvious as it seems), when we should let a grudge go, and how to honor a grudge and distill lessons from it that will turn us into better, happier people—for our own benefit and for the sake of spreading good and limiting harm in the world.

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Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (Release Date: January 8th)

In the north of England, far from the intrusions of cities but not far from civilization, Silvie and her family are living as if they are ancient Britons, surviving by the tools and knowledge of the Iron Age.

For two weeks, the length of her father’s vacation, they join an anthropology course set to reenact life in simpler times. They are surrounded by forests of birch and rowan; they make stew from foraged roots and hunted rabbit. The students are fulfilling their coursework; Silvie’s father is fulfilling his lifelong obsession. He has raised her on stories of early man, taken her to witness rare artifacts, recounted time and again their rituals and beliefs–particularly their sacrifices to the bog. Mixing with the students, Silvie begins to see, hear, and imagine another kind of life, one that might include going to university, traveling beyond England, choosing her own clothes and food, speaking her mind.

The ancient Britons built ghost walls to ward off enemy invaders, rude barricades of stakes topped with ancestral skulls. When the group builds one of their own, they find a spiritual connection to the past. What comes next but human sacrifice?

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The Sopranos Sessions by Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwell – with an introduction by David Chase (Release Date: January 8th)

On January 10, 1999, a mobster walked into a psychiatrist’s office and changed TV history. By shattering preconceptions about the kinds of stories the medium should tell, The Sopranos launched our current age of prestige television, paving the way for such giants as Mad Men, The Wire, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones. As TV critics for Tony Soprano’s hometown paper, New Jersey’s The Star-Ledger, Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz were among the first to write about the series before it became a cultural phenomenon. 

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the show’s debut, Sepinwall and Seitz have reunited to produce The Sopranos Sessions, a collection of recaps, conversations, and critical essays covering every episode. Featuring a series of new long-form interviews with series creator David Chase, as well as selections from the authors’ archival writing on the series, The Sopranos Sessions explores the show’s artistry, themes, and legacy, examining its portrayal of Italian Americans, its graphic depictions of violence, and its deep connections to other cinematic and television classics. 

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The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh (Release Date: January 8th)

King has tenderly staked out a territory for his wife and three daughters, Grace, Lia, and Sky. He has lain the barbed wire; he has anchored the buoys in the water; he has marked out a clear message: Do not enter. Or viewed from another angle: Not safe to leave. Here women are protected from the chaos and violence of men on the mainland. The cult-like rituals and therapies they endure fortify them from the spreading toxicity of a degrading world.

But when their father, the only man they’ve ever seen, disappears, they retreat further inward until the day three strange men wash ashore. Over the span of one blistering hot week, a psychological cat-and-mouse game plays out. Sexual tensions and sibling rivalries flare as the sisters confront the amorphous threat the strangers represent. Can they survive the men?

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Looker by Laura Sims (Release Date: January 8th)

In this taut and thrilling debut, an unraveling woman, unhappily childless and recently separated, becomes fixated on her neighbor—the actress. The unnamed narrator can’t help noticing with wry irony that, though she and the actress live just a few doors apart, a chasm of professional success and personal fulfillment lies between them. The actress, a celebrity with her face on the side of every bus, shares a gleaming brownstone with her handsome husband and their three adorable children, while the narrator, working in a dead-end job, lives in a run-down, three-story walk-up with her ex-husband’s cat.

When an interaction with the actress at the annual block party takes a disastrous turn, what began as an innocent preoccupation spirals quickly, and lethally, into a frightening and irretrievable madness. Searing and darkly witty, Looker is enormously entertaining—at once a propulsive Hitchcockian thriller and a fearlessly original portrait of the perils of envy.

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Burned: A Story of a Murder and the Crime that Wasn’t by Edward Humes (Release Date: January 8th)

On an April night in 1989, three young children perished in a tragic Los Angeles house fire. Their mother, Joann Parks, couldn’t save them but did manage to escape with her own life. She was of course bereft. With emotions exploding her husband accused her of abandoning the children at the scene of the fire when he arrived. It was soon determined that a worn extension cord was the cause of the tragedy. But then doubts arose. As firefighters investigated further, they came to believe that the fire was the result of arson, a heinous crime committed by a wicked young woman who, they argued, had never really wanted to be a mother. Joann Parks was tried and convicted and has languished in prison for the last twenty-five years. But now, as certain investigative methods from that era have been debunked, a pair of young lawyers from the Innocence Project have come to believe that Joann was wrongfully convicted, and that the fire might not have even been caused by arson at all.

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An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen (Release Date: January 8th)

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

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Dry Hard by Nick Spalding (Release Date: January 8th)

Kate and Scott’s marriage has always been a lot of fun, with alcohol at the heart of it. After all, what’s more entertaining than a good laugh and a large drink… or six?

But recently, those relaxing drinks have become more crutch than comfort—and the couple have almost forgotten how to talk to each other sober.

Then their teenage daughter Holly uploads a video of their humiliating drunken escapades, which gets picked up by YouTube superstar PinkyPud—and goes horrifyingly viral.

In a last-ditch attempt to prove to the world they’re more than just boozy idiots, Kate and Scott quit alcohol completely. But with Holly’s… er… ‘help’, what begins as a family promise soon escalates into a social media phenomenon: #DryHard!

With the eyes of the Internet upon them, can Kate and Scott stay teetotal—and save their marriage in the process?

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The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker (Release Date: January 15th)

In an isolated college town in the hills of Southern California, a freshman girl stumbles into her dorm room, falls asleep—and doesn’t wake up. She sleeps through the morning, into the evening. Her roommate, Mei, cannot rouse her. Neither can the paramedics who carry her away, nor the perplexed doctors at the hospital. Then a second girl falls asleep, and then another, and panic takes hold of the college and spreads to the town. As the number of cases multiplies, classes are canceled, and stores begin to run out of supplies. A quarantine is established. The National Guard is summoned.

Mei, an outsider in the cliquish hierarchy of dorm life, finds herself thrust together with an eccentric, idealistic classmate. Two visiting professors try to protect their newborn baby as the once-quiet streets descend into chaos. A father succumbs to the illness, leaving his daughters to fend for themselves. And at the hospital, a new life grows within a college girl, unbeknownst to her—even as she sleeps. A psychiatrist, summoned from Los Angeles, attempts to make sense of the illness as it spreads through the town. Those infected are displaying unusual levels of brain activity, more than has ever been recorded. They are dreaming heightened dreams—but of what?

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Hark by Sam Lipsyte (Release Date: January 15th)

In an America convulsed by political upheaval, cultural discord, environmental collapse, and spiritual confusion, many folks are searching for peace, salvation, and—perhaps most immediately—just a little damn focus. Enter Hark Morner, an unwitting guru whose technique of “Mental Archery”—a combination of mindfulness, mythology, fake history, yoga, and, well, archery—is set to captivate the masses and raise him to near-messiah status. It’s a role he never asked for, and one he is woefully underprepared to take on. But his inner-circle of modern pilgrims have other plans, as do some suddenly powerful fringe players, including a renegade Ivy League ethicist, a gentle Swedish kidnapper, a crossbow-hunting veteran of jungle drug wars, a social media tycoon with an empire on the skids, and a mysteriously influential (but undeniably slimy) catfish.

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Adele by Leila Slimani (Release Date: January 15th)

Adèle appears to have the perfect life: She is a successful journalist in Paris who lives in a beautiful apartment with her surgeon husband and their young son. But underneath the surface, she is bored–and consumed by an insatiable need for sex.

Driven less by pleasure than compulsion, Adèle organizes her day around her extramarital affairs, arriving late to work and lying to her husband about where she’s been, until she becomes ensnared in a trap of her own making.

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Golden State by Ben H. Winters (Release Date: January 22nd)

Lazlo Ratesic is 54, a 19-year veteran of the Speculative Service, from a family of law enforcement and in a strange alternate society that values law and truth above all else. This is how Laz must, by law, introduce himself, lest he fail to disclose his true purpose or nature, and by doing so, be guilty of a lie.

Laz is a resident of The Golden State, a nation resembling California, where like-minded Americans retreated after the erosion of truth and the spread of lies made public life, and governance, increasingly impossible. There, surrounded by the high walls of compulsory truth-telling, knowingly contradicting the truth–the Objectively So–is the greatest possible crime. Stopping those crimes, punishing them, is Laz’s job. In its service, he is one of the few individuals permitted to harbor untruths–to “speculate” on what might have happened in the commission of a crime.

But the Golden State is far less a paradise than its name might suggest. To monitor, verify, and enforce the Objectively So requires a veritable panopticon of surveillance, recording, and record-keeping. And when those in control of the truth twist it for nefarious means, the Speculators may be the only ones with the power to fight back.

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Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land (Release Date: January 22nd)

“My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter.”

While the gap between upper middle-class Americans and the working poor widens, grueling low-wage domestic and service work–primarily done by women–fuels the economic success of the wealthy. Stephanie Land worked for years as a maid, pulling long hours while struggling as a single mom to keep a roof over her daughter’s head. In Maid, she reveals the dark truth of what it takes to survive and thrive in today’s inequitable society.

While she worked hard to scratch her way out of poverty as a single parent, scrubbing the toilets of the wealthy, navigating domestic labor jobs, higher education, assisted housing, and a tangled web of government assistance, Stephanie wrote. She wrote the true stories that weren’t being told. The stories of overworked and underpaid Americans.

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The Current by Tim Johnson (Release Date: January 22nd)

When two young women leave their college campus in the dead of winter for a 700-mile drive north to Minnesota, they suddenly find themselves fighting for their lives in the icy waters of the Black Root River, just miles from home. One girl’s survival, and the other’s death—murder, actually—stun the citizens of a small Minnesota town, thawing memories of another young woman who lost her life in the same river ten years earlier, and whose killer may yet live among them. One father is forced to relive his agony while another’s greatest desire—to bring a killer to justice—is revitalized . . . and the girl who survived the icy plunge cannot escape the sense that she is connected to that earlier unsolved case by more than a river. Soon enough she’s caught up in an investigation of her own that will unearth long-hidden secrets, and stoke the violence that has long simmered just below the surface of the town. Souls frozen in time, ghosts and demons, the accused and the guilty, all stir to life in this cold northern place where memories, like treachery, run just beneath the ice, and where a young woman can come home but still not be safe.

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We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin (Release Date: January 29th)

How far would you go to protect your child?

Our narrator faces an impossible decision. Like any father, he just wants the best for his son Nigel, a biracial boy whose black birthmark is growing larger by the day. In this near-future society plagued by resurgent racism, segregation, and expanding private prisons, our narrator knows Nigel might not survive. Having watched the world take away his own father, he is determined to stop history from repeating itself.

There is one potential solution: a new experimental medical procedure that promises to save lives by turning people white. But in order to afford Nigel’s whiteness operation, our narrator must make partner as one of the few Black associates at his law firm, jumping through a series of increasingly surreal hoops–from diversity committees to plantation tours to equality activist groups–in an urgent quest to protect his son.

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Golden Child by Claire Adam (Release Date: January 29th)

Rural Trinidad: a brick house on stilts surrounded by bush; a family, quietly surviving, just trying to live a decent life. Clyde, the father, works long, exhausting shifts at the petroleum plant in southern Trinidad; Joy, his wife, looks after the home. Their two sons, thirteen years old, wake early every morning to travel to the capital, Port of Spain, for school. They are twins but nothing alike: Paul has always been considered odd, while Peter is widely believed to be a genius, destined for greatness.

When Paul goes walking in the bush one afternoon and doesn’t come home, Clyde is forced to go looking for him, this child who has caused him endless trouble already, and who he has never really understood. And as the hours turn to days, and Clyde begins to understand Paul’s fate, his world shatters–leaving him faced with a decision no parent should ever have to make.

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The Plotters by Un-su Kim (Release Date: January 29th)

The important thing is not who pulls the trigger but who’s behind the person who pulls the trigger—the plotters, the masterminds working in the shadows. Raised by Old Raccoon in The Library of Dogs, Reseng has always been surrounded by plots to kill—and by books that no one ever reads. In Seoul’s corrupt underworld, he was destined to be an assassin.
Until he breaks the rules. That’s when he meets a trio of young women—a convenience store worker, her wheelchair-bound sister, and a cross-eyed obsessive knitter—with an extraordinary plot of their own.

Will the women save the day? Or will Reseng be next on the kill list? Who will look after his cats, Reading Lamp and Book Stand? Who planted the bomb in his toilet? How much beer can he drink before he forgets it all?

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The Last by Hanna Jameson (Release Date: January 31st)

Breaking: Nuclear weapon detonates over Washington

Breaking: London hit, thousands feared dead

Breaking: Munich and Scotland hit. World leaders call for calm

Historian Jon Keller is on a trip to Switzerland when the world ends. As the lights go out on civilization, he wishes he had a way of knowing whether his wife, Nadia and their two daughters are still alive. More than anything, Jon wishes he hadn’t ignored Nadia’s last message.

Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city and walled in by towering trees, they wait, they survive.

Then one day, the body of a young girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer.

As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what kind of justice can he hope for, when society as he knows it no longer exists?

What did I miss?

So, which titles are YOU looking forward to checking out?

December 31, 2014: Best Books of 2014!

“Top 25?!”said Paul.  “How many books did you read this year?”

Well, after the paltry 65 I got through in 2013, I decided to make a concerted effort to improve on that embarrassing number in 2014.  My goal was a lofty 120 – which I ended up far exceeding, racking up a very respectable 180 books on the year (and I could have done even better had I not been distracted by this pesky production).

Let’s be real.  Most Best of the Year lists are full of crap, lazily lauding critical darlings or rewarding mere premise over execution (I’m tempted to compile a list of “Top 10 Worst Books That Made Everyone Else’s Top 10 Best Books”).  This, on the other hand, is my diverse list of the books that truly resonated with me this year; books I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.  And do!

So, yeah.  Top 25.  But then, after I started compiling my list, I realized I was excluding some terrific books – and so, I expanded it to a Top 30.  And, eventually, 35.

Many of these books were published prior to this year – but I’ve indicated the 2014 releases with an asterisk (*) and capped my countdown with a mini Top 10 Titles of 2014 list.

All to say – here are the books I most enjoyed reading between January 1st and December 31st (inclusive!) of this year.  It’s a nice eclectic mix covering everything from graphic novels and genre (horror, fantasy, SF, mystery) to general fiction and non-fiction.

What titles made your list?

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*35. BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman

A series of bizarre murder-suicides in Russia pique the media’s interest, but when these horrific incidents begin to proliferate and start striking closer to home, the world descends into a blind panic. Rumour spreads that people are being driven insane by the sight of some mysterious otherworldly entities and, soon, people have retreated into their homes, covering up their windows, refusing to open their eyes if they venture outdoors.  A helluva page-turner.

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*34. THE ROAD TO RECKONING by Robert Lautner

You can almost smell the gun smoke, sweat, and campfire in this gritty Western character piece about a young boy, orphaned after his father’s murder, who enlists the help of an ornery bastard to get him home.  Smart and absorbing.

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*33. FROSTBORN by Lou Anders

Award-winning editor Lou Anders first novel is a Norse-inspired, adventure-fueled tale for young fantasy enthusiasts. Karn, a young farmer-to-be, strikes up an unlikely friendship with Thianna, a half-giantess, to take on undead forces, an ancient dragon, troublesome trolls, an opportunistic uncle, and more! If you’re looking to inspire your child to follow in your Martin/Eddings/Jordan-loving footsteps, then this book is a great place to start.

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32. ANCILLARY JUSTICE – Anne Leckie

The mysterious Breq is much more (and less!) than she appears. Once a military starship possessed of Artificial Intelligence, she now exists as merely one of the thousands of former ancillaries (a.k.a. corpse soldiers) that live as extensions of her former self. Reduced to a single fragile human body, fueled by the memories of her powerful past, she sets out on a seemingly impossible mission of vengeance. Sound cool? Well, it is. And smart. I haven’t read an SF novel this engrossing in quite a while.

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31. A CALCULATED LIFE By Anne Charnock

In the late 21st century, society has stratified into the haves (genetically-enhanced individuals who live comfortable lives free of addiction and crime) and the have-nots (drudge workers who live in segregated, crime-ridden communities). Our protagonist, Jayna, is a hot up-and-comer at a corporation that track global trends. She has the perfect job, the perfect life and yet, she can’t help but feel that something is…off. Perfection aint all it’s cracked up to be and when Jayna decides to inject a little unpredictability into her ordered existence, things take a turn for the dangerous.

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30. SCHRODER by Amity Gaige

In the heat of a custody battle, a desperate father takes his daughter on an ill-advised extended road trip. It’s one of several big errors in judgement that lead our protagonist down an inevitably heartbreaking path. The fairly straightforward premise belies a surprising complexity in this touching and tragic tale. On the surface, not “the type of book” I’d enjoy – but I was thoroughly engrossed.

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29. THE INVERTED WORLD by Christopher Priest

A city moves along a railroad track in constant, laborious progress, attempting to keep up with something called “the optimum” – or risk losing pace and falling victim to a gravitational field that has warped space and time. This is a truly bizarre work of science fiction that jumps between multiple narrative styles in telling a story that is both grounded in its characters yet intellectually and creatively provocative in its conceit. At times, I felt like I was reading Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow – on acid.

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*28. TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR by Joshua Ferris

Online identity theft turns a middle-aged dentist’s life upside-down in this wickedly dark novel about self, faith, and the inherent dangers of not flossing.

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27. The Circle by Dave Eggers

Our young heroine lands a job working for The Circle, a cutting edge internet company that is Google, Facebook, and Yahoo rolled into one. Before she knows it, she is at the forefront of a wave of technological advancements that will revolutionize social interaction. But at what price? A smart, scary book that explores the potentially insidious consequences of our increasingly “connected” lives.  Delivers a powerful message on our increasing willingness to relinquish privacy and freedom in exchange for convenience.

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26. Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie has distinguished himself in a fairly crowded field, delivering gritty, visceral, yet darkly humorous tales that fly in the face of established high fantasy conventions. His world-building is as unique and richly textured as the colorful characters who battle and banter their way through his stories, and I list him among my very favorite authors. Period. Beginning with his first book, The Blade Itself, and continuing through five subsequent novels, I can honestly say “I’ve never read an Abercrombie book I haven’t loved.”.  Red Country is Joe at his consistent best, a story about a young girl, Shy South, who sets off to rescue her younger siblings from a group of murderous outlaws. She is aided in her quest by Lamb, her (seemingly) spineless soft-spoken stepfather, and the unlikeliest of allies in a group of risk-averse mercenaries. A hell of a lot of fun.

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*25. ANNIHILATION by Jeff VanderMeer

A team of four women set out to explore a mysterious region known as Area X. By all accounts, they are the twelfth group to journey into the bizarre amazon-like territory. All of the previous expeditions have ended badly, marked by murders, suicides, disappearances, and, in the case of the eleventh, the inexplicable return of its members, sickened and psychologically broken by their experience. Our narrator, a biologist, apprises us of her team’s progress as they venture deep into Area X, making strange discoveries and unearthing hidden agendas, all the while dogged by a creeping suspicion that all is not right…

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24. The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

A great near-future thriller that follows Detective Henry Palace in his investigation of a suspicious suicide – amidst the backdrop of societal breakdown as the world prepares for the apocalyptic arrival of Asteroid 2011GV.  While the clock ticks down toward an extinction level event, suicides abound and people abandon all to pursue their bucket lists, but Henry demonstrates single-minded focus.  The first book in a three part series, each focusing on a different investigation – and the continuing erosion of civilization.

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23. House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III

A clerical error sparks a property dispute between a former Iranian Air Force Colonel and a recovering addict, a conflict fueled by desperation and pride that eventually leads to tragic consequences. Dubus does a masterful job of presenting us with the very real and very sympathetic people on both sides of the issue. This one will stay with you.

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22. Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

Herman Koch excels at developing fascinating morally ambiguous, occasionally sociopathic characters – and his books are the opposite of feel-good summer reads.  So, with that warning in mind, prepare to be thoroughly engrossed by this novel about a physician to the stars who faces some serious legal consequences after one of his celebrity patients dies following a botched medical procedure.

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21. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

After a series of horrific child murders casts suspicion on the local Jewish community (a valuable tax source for the English court), King Henry II brings in a brilliant coroner, educated at the school of medicine in Salerno, to lead the investigation.  The only hitch – she’s a woman.  Operating at a time in England when female doctors are about as prevalent as tennis rackets, our protagonist, Adelia, must feign assistantship to her own assistant in order to solve the murders.  A great historical mystery.

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*20. We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

A story of two sisters and their incredible bond. Nell and Layla are inseparable, the best of friends, drawn even closer by their parents’ divorce. But Nell begins to notice a change in her sister. Layla becomes withdrawn and secretive, and Nell suspects it may have something to do with a popular high school teacher. Restrained and real.

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*19. Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?  by Roz Chast

At times reminiscent of Art Spiegelman’s brilliant graphic novel Maus in its depiction of the relationship between aging parents and their middle-aged offspring, this bittersweet memoir traces artist Roz Chast’s struggles to care for her increasingly infirm mother and father as they deal with their loss of independence, their health and, eventually, each other.  At times very funny and at times heartbreaking, it’s an eye-opening account of the realities that await us all.

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*18. Afterlife with Archie (Escape from Riverdale) by Roberto Aguire-Sacasa

Archie Andrews and the gang from Riverdale face a zombie apocalypse when their high school dance is crashed by the undead, forcing them to take refuge at Lodge Manor. Surprisingly dark, this grim take on the hitherto silly comic is shockingly effective. Right up there with The Walking Dead and World War Z.

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17. N0S4A2 by Joe Hill

Hill finally comes into his own with an unsettling story about missing kids, a dark fantasy land, and a creepy yet surprisingly nuanced villain. A standout read.

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16. Going Clear by Lawrence Wright

A history of scientology and its frighteningly far reach. Terrifying.

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15. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

I generally hate blog books but this one is the exception.  Incisive, engaging, and very, very funny, it’s complimented by some perfect and perfectly hilarious illustrations.

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*14. Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

Jason Fitger writes a lot of reference letters.  A lot of woeful, meandering, passive-aggressive, unintentionally offensive reference letters that, if nothing else, offer tragic-comic insight into the world of their author, an embittered professor of creative writing at a small liberal arts school.  The book, a hilarious collection of his (un)professional missives, will have you carefully reconsidering the next time you ask someone for a professional recommendation.

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*13. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Many will no doubt draw comparisons to Kate Atkinson’s much-hyped Life After Life given the similar premise – a protagonist is continually reborn after death, reliving his/her life over and over – but whereas Atkinson’s heroine has no knowledge of her past experiences, North’s hero does and this makes for a completely different and (in my opinion) far more interesting narrative.  Armed with the memories of what came before, Harry August discovers others like him, time traveling kalachakra, who hold the secret to saving the world – and ending it.

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*12. In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

Historical documents, journals, and personal accounts are used to reconstruct the ill-fated polar voyage of the USS Jeanette and its 33 man crew who are forced to undertake a grueling thousand mile journey across the frozen Arctic when their ship goes down in icy waters.  Harrowing.

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11. Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer

When a young American backpacker turns up dead in Capetown and her friend disappears, Detective Benny Griessel is tasked with the politically-charged job finding the missing girl.  The narrative jumps back and forth between the official investigation and the young woman on the run in this highly suspenseful, immensely captivating page-turner.  Impossible to put down, I read this novel in a single night, staying up until 2:00 a.m to finish it.

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*10. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan

It’s an going series, so I’m including it as a 2014 release.  Two former soldiers, deserters, and star-crossed lovers from opposing sides of an interplanetary conflict attempt to put the war behind them and raise their daughter with the help of some unlikely allies.  But their pasts come back to haunt them in the form of some even unlikelier enemies – and otherworldly complications.  The comic book version of an intricately plotted, character-driven cable drama.  Fiercely original.

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*9. The Troop by Nick Cutter

A field trip to an isolated island takes a horrific turn for a group of young boys when their scout leader welcomes an emaciated stranger into their camp. It’s a horror version of Lord of Flies that is at turns harrowing, humorous, and thoroughly engaging. Wonderfully written. It’s heads and shoulders above most novels in the genre.

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8. Super Graphic by Tim Leong

This visual guide to the comic book universe uses pie charts, venn diagrams, bar graphs, maps, and trajectories to highlight fun facts. Whether it’s a rundown of DC’s alternate Earths, the pizza particulars of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the alliances and connections of the denizens of Sin City, a Walking Dead kill counter, a map of Tintin’s travels, or a taxonomy of animal-named characters, there’s something here for most every fan to geek-out over. LOVED it!

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7. The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

Moorish Spain (or a fictional version thereof) is the backdrop of this sweeping historical fantasy involving sieges, warfare, diabolical plots, courtly intrigue, crosses, double-crosses, friendship, and romance. At heart of it all are three protagonists whose backgrounds and alliances lead them on intersecting paths both heroic and tragic. Brilliant world-building and wonderfully nuanced characters. My introduction to the works of author Guy Gavriel Kay novel. Highly recommended.

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6. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

When his wife goes missing, family and friends rally in support of her distressed husband – until evidence surfaces suggesting he may have had a hand in her disappearance.  As suspicion mounts and the onion is peeled on a less than ideal marriage, the reader discovers that appearances can be very deceiving.  Replete with twists and turns, a compelling read.

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*5. Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

Young Prince Yarvi is son to the King of Gettland.  Born with only one good hand and no aspirations to the throne, he has grown up in the shadow of his older brother.  But when his father and brother fall in battle, it falls on him to avenge them.  His scheming uncle has other plans, however, and Yarvi is betrayed and sold into slavery.  And so, it’s from his lowly position as a galley rower riding the Shattered Sea that his quest for revenge begins, one that will see him forge alliances with reprobates and renegades, battle fierce adversaries, and, ultimately, reforge himself into a force to be reckoned with.

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4. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

To honor the memory of his recently deceased father, Judd Altman learns he must sit shiva, spending the week in mourning with his fractured family.  Disparate personalities clash as unresolved issues resurface in this wickedly humorous novel.

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3. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman, a brilliant but socially inept professor of genetics, comes up with the optimal means to finding his ideal companion: a sixteen page questionnaire designed to weed out unsuitable candidates and zero in on his perfect match.  His scientifically sound approach to love yields unexpected results in this touching and thoroughly charming novel.

1*2. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Inspired by an experiment in the 1930’s in which a husband and wife research team raised a baby chimp in their home as a member of their family, this novel offers a fictional account of a similar experiment run some sixty years later – and its heartbreaking effects on those involved. Our narrator is Rosemary, a woman who reflects back on her childhood, growing up with a human brother and chimpanzee sister – until the dark day her sister, Fern, was taken away. The loss of their beloved family members has far-reaching consequences for all of them. Some fifteen years later, Rosemary attempts to learn the truth about her sister’s fate.  Humorous and poignant.

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1. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The book opens with our narrator, Jeannette, on her way to a New York City function, when her cab stops beside a homeless women rooting through the trash. Upon closer scrutiny, Jeannette realizes that homeless woman is, in fact, her mother. And so begins one of the most amazing books I’ve read in recent memory. The blurb on the back of the jacket does it an enormous disservice, painting it as a bleak autobiographical account of woman growing up in an abusive family. It’s actually quite touching, uplifting – and incredibly funny, reminiscent of David Sedaris at his very darkest. One of my Top 10 books of all time. Go read it!

MY TOP 10 BOOKS OF 2014

#10 – We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

#9 – Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

#8 – Afterlife with Archie (Escape from Riverdale) by Roberto Aguire-Sacasa

#7 – Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

#6 – The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

#5 – In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

#4 – Saga by Brian K. Vaughan

#3 – The Troop by Nick Cutter

#2 – Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

#1 – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Happy New Year!