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01 January 2015

Best books of 2014

I read so many good books this year that it was difficult to make a choice of the best ones so  I decided to expand the list to 16 because I couldn't make up my mind which ones to drop. This year I read and reviewed about 140 books (plus a few more which didn't justify the effort of writing a review). Last year I read about 170 which included a few short e-novellas which I stopped reading this year as many of them are really quickly written promos for a forthcoming book. I also slowed down a bit towards the end of the year pending a (very successful) cataract operation.

At the beginning of the year I made a resolution to try and read some books outside my comfort zone of thrillers and historical family and action fiction. While I failed to keep my resolution some of my selections of "feel-good" books most certainly deserved to be included in this list. I have also tried to revisit some books that I read years ago, but I have deliberately excluded them from the list, despite really enjoying most of them once again.

While you will see that my favourite genre is thrillers (marked *) I have still read some outstanding books from other genres. The books are listed timewise, not in order of preference - that would be too hard.

Graeme Simsion: The Rosie Project
THE ROSIE PROJECT is an entertaining and amusing feel-good story that made me laugh, and sometimes cry and looked at love, personal relationships and self-discovery in a very different way. Don Tillman is obsessive in his need for precise information so he starts up his own "Wife Project" by designing a multi-choice internet questionnaire to identify someone who completely meets his specific requirements for a wife.

Christina Baker Kline: The Orphan Train
This is a memorable feel-good story - a coming of age tale about two young girls faced with similar situations, albeit about 80 years apart. The background to the story is the so-called "Orphan Trains" that carried thousands of abandoned children from the US East Coast to the Midwest from mid 1800's to 1929. The children faced the possibility of being adopted by a kind and loving family, or facing a childhood of hard labor and uncaring servitude.

 Mark Gimenez: The Abduction *
I thought it would be hard for Mark Gimenez to match his debut novel "Color of Law" which was in last year's list but IMHO he has done that with his second novel "The Abduction". I expected that this would follow the pattern of Gimenez's other books which are mainly legal thrillers, but this is a no holds barred complex thriller which again puts him at the top of my favourite author list.

Jo Nesbo: The Son *
Most people will know Jo Nesbo's books through his very popular Harry Hole series. This time Nesbo has written a standalone thriller "The Son" (Sonnen in Norwegian) which IMHO equals if not surpasses his best Harry Hole thrillers. It is a pretty long and complex read and some of the violent parts may not be to everyone's taste.

Karin Slaughter: Cop Town *
Karin Slaughter steps out with a stunning, powerful, gritty, emotional and very different stand-alone novel set in Atlanta in 1974, then one of the most violent cities in America. While the story is stunning so is Slaughter's character building, especially with Kate Murphy, a rookie female cop from a privileged background facing the macho dominated Atlanta PD of the time.

This is a modern morality story about good and evil in life seen through the eyes of Weldon Holland who grew up in Texas during the Depression, fought in WWII and returned home to try to make his fortune. It is written by a master storyteller whose prose, as usual, is remarkable and atmospheric. In places it is a thriller but in other parts it is just great literary historical fiction and a touching love story.

Geoffrey McGeachin: St Kilda Blues  *
This is possibly one of the best Australian police crime thrillers I have read. One reason is pretty simple - this book doesn't include any of the over the top unbelievable rubbish that so many thriller authors use to attract their audience. It is written in clear and mostly simple prose, with great characterisation, solid police work, good intertwining of police and personal plot lines, well researched historical background and above all lots of plot twists which come together with an amazing emotional impact.

Taylor Stevens: The Catch *
This is Vanessa "Michael" Munroe at her/his best - one of the most complex, violent but compelling characters in modern adrenaline-filled action packed adventure fiction. IMHO Michael's complex and dangerous character eclipses that of  Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander. In her youth Munroe experienced extreme violence which has left her with demons but with violent survival skills second to none. She is a polyglot who speaks many languages and quickly picks up others, is extremely intelligent and has an almost eidetic memory. Michael is tall and slim and can become androgynous, changing her sex to survive in different environments, especially where females are treated as second class citizens.

Stephen King: Mr Mercedes
This is a humdinger of a thriller which starts with a bang and continues to hold you on the edge of your seat till the very end. Everyday we drive automobiles that could be as dangerous as an automatic assault rifle. Driving a stolen Mercedes sociopath Brady Hartfield mowed down a crowded line of desperate job-seekers including a young baby. Brady was the only person who enjoyed that day. The power of the slaughter excited his sociopathic mind and everyday he re-lived the excitement of the slaughter, especially the death of the baby.

Fredrik Backman: A Man called Ove
This is a gem of a feel-good debut novel about A MAN CALLED OVE by Swedish author and blogger Fredrik Backman. It will make you laugh and make you cry and you will remember Ove for a long time. Some would call Ove a curmudgeon, a lovely word meaning a bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person. His wife called him the most inflexible man in the world - he borders on being obsessive compulsive but is generally a grumpy man who doesn't tolerate fools and likes things to be done that way he wants them. While many think that he is  just a rude and grumpy man, at heart you will find out that he is one of the kindest persons you will ever know.

Chris Carter: An Evil Mind *
This is a great psychological thriller about a serial killer who not only enjoys killing but gets a kick out of torture before death and dismemberment of the body before and after death. A freak accident when an elderly man has a heart attack and crashes into a parked car opens the trunk of a car containing a couple of savagely tortured heads. When the police arrest the owner of the car, Liam Shaw, he refuses to tell them anything and will only talk to Robert Hunter, a college friend who is now lead detective with the Ultra Violent Crime Unit of the LAPD . This book is not for the faint-hearted - I can't say that I enjoyed but it is so well crafted and absorbing that it deserves a spot in this list.

Candice Fox: Eden *
Last year I included Candice Fox's debut thriller HADES in the list. This year I had to include the next book in the series EDEN which is quite a different story but just as gritty, heavily based on savagery but showing some signs of humanity that was missing from her first book. This is not a book for the faint-hearted. It is a story about an imaginary savage underworld that most people cannot envisage - murderers, rapists, peodophiles and even a cannibal.

Adrian McKinty: In the Morning I'll be Gone: Sean Duffy 3 *
This is a marvellous mixture of fiction with actual history - "The Troubles" in Northern Island in the 1980's. The story is a mixture of fascinating insights into the minds of IRA terrorists and a clever police procedural investigation into an accident/possible murder of someone related to the escaped terrorist. McInty seamlessly mixes IRA terrorism with a murder plot and directs Duffy's investigations towards  one of the IRA's major bombing campaign. Look out for #4 GUN STREET GIRL to be released in Australia in early January 2015.

Michael Robotham: Life or Death *
This is an action-packed, adrenaline-charged, absorbing, wonderfully written and surprisingly sensitive story from Australian author who is not only one of the world's best writers of psychological fiction but is at the top of his form. On the day before he is about to be released from jail Audie Palmer escapes. Why would Audie want to escape when he could have walked free the next day? How is he going to survive a huge manhunt? While Audie wants to avenge his punishment and the corruption, money and treachery that put him in jail he also wants to be part of the life of someone precious to him.

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