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When given the task of picking the best books of 2014 I didn’t realise how vast and daunting a task it would turn out to be… So I scratched my head for a minute and then decided to enlist the help of some experts… So with huge gratitude to my contributors – themselves some of my favourite people and indeed the authors of some of my favourite books of 2014 – here’s some of the best books of 2014…
Roddy Doyle is an Irish novelist, dramatist and screenwriter who needs very little introduction. In 2014 he wrote what is very definitely my non-fiction book of the year ‘The Second Half’ with footballer – and all round legend – Roy Keane.
I think my favourite book this year was ANOTHER GREAT DAY AT SEA, by Geoff Dyer – an account of his time spent on US aircraft carrier. It’s funny and fascinating and brilliantly written.
Crime writer Louise Phillips is best selling author of three books ‘Red Ribbons’, ‘The Dolls House’ and ‘Last Kiss’ all three of which have been nominated for Bord Gais Energy Book Awards (The Dolls House being the 2013 winner). Louise is currently working on her fourth book ‘A Beautiful Death’ and this will be available in August 2015.
UNRAVELLING OLIVER by Liz Nugent is my book of 2014. It has everything I love in a novel, fantastic prose, great characters, and it was impossible to put down. It was a dark, detailed and beautifully paced story looking at the life of Oliver Ryan through multiple points of view. Fire in the psychological aspect, asking us the question, what makes a successful man, living a comfortable life with his wife, in their perfect house in Dublin, and who to the outside world seems to have everything, turn into a monster. The answer is in the unravelling.
Writer and fellow HeadStuff contributor Orla McAlinden has won or been shortlisted for various prizes, most notably the Fish short memoir contest, Wasafiri New Writer Prize, and Valhall Press Short Prose contest. Her short story ‘The Visit’ published in the Ilanot Review has recently been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and her collection of short stories ‘The Accidental Wife’ is to be published in 2015.
Malcolm Orange Disappears is my pick for 2014.
Malcolm’s story plays out against a backdrop of small-town, rural North American cities and suburbs, coming to rest in Portland, Oregon. This is a wonderful, warm and brave first novel, proving that magical realism is no longer the sole property of exotic authors, but in the right hands can be universal in appeal.
Jarlath is a well-known Irish comedian. In 2013 however he started a series of podcasts called ‘An Irishman Abroad’ which features interviews with ‘famous’ Irish people about their lives and insights abroad in both success and failure. I cannot recommend this series enough, and basically everyone alive should be listening…
Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan is my choice. Easily the funniest book you will ever read on parenting and figuring out why your parents did what they did to make you the way you are today. Essential reading for anyone attempting to be a human being.
Liz Nugent has spent the last 20 years working in Irish film, theatre and television. For the last decade, she has been an award-winning writer of radio and television drama and has written short stories for children and adults. Her debut novel ‘Unravelling Oliver’ won the hotly contested Crime Book of the Year in the recent Bord Gais Energy Book Awards and is indeed, my fiction book of 2014.
The Playground by Julia Kelly was a really unusual take on single motherhood. Beautifully written with Julia’s trademark honesty, it would make the childless think twice before conceiving! The story centres on a neighbourhood playground which subtly reflects society at large with all its ills and asks whether we have really created the environment we want for our children.
Journalist and Ghostwriter, Sue recently co-wrote the number one bestseller, An Act of Love with Marie Fleming. (Hachette Ireland, 2014) about Marie’s extraordinary life, and fight for the right to die with dignity. She is currently working on Whispering Hope, the Real Story of the Magdalene Women, to be published by Orion in 2015. Sue also writes interview-based features for the Irish Independent, the Irish Examiner and many other publications.
2014 has been a bumper year for brilliant books – and sadly, some of the best weren’t in the lists for prizes. Why, I wonder, did neither Tim Winton’s Eyrie make the Man Booker longlist, nor Christos Tsiolkos’s Barracuda? Set in Australia, both are sensational books based on complex characters dealing with difficult situations.
I was blown away by Colm Tóibín’s masterpiece, Nora Webster, a quiet book about a widow and her sons that wields enormous power. Similarly subdued, is Mary Costello’s debut novel, Academy Street, a tale of emigration that will break your heart.
On a lighter note, I adored The One by One, by Jojo Moyes following a dysfunctional family on a bizarre road trip. It’s even better than Me before You. I also loved Some Girls Do by Clodagh Murphy – a real sexy sassy read.
Being the anniversary, there were many books covering World War One. I loved Anna Hope’s Wake, set the week the body of the Unknown Soldier arrived in Britain, but the best of the crop, and indeed my number one best book of the year, is Fallen by the quite wonderful Lia Mills. Telling the story of a family torn between the rebels of the Easter Rising, and loyalty to the British Army, it has everything; impeccably researched new insight into Irish history, a touch of feminism, lots of tension, and a dollop of romance. I simply loved it.
Dave is the Young Adult success story of 2014 – after a bidding war which saw several International publishers fight for the rights to his series, Puffin finally won the honours of publishing his first book ‘The Borrowed Dark’ which will hit the shelves in 2015…
My book for 2014 is ‘Only Ever Yours‘ by Louise O’Neill. This is the book I’ve been talking about the most this year. Viciously honest and very, very sad. Out now!
My favourite book of 2014 has got to be John Boyne’s A History of Loneliness. This book will stay with me for a long time.
I think Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe was my favourite book this year. I also loved We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler.
Stephen James Smith
Stephen James Smith is a Dublin poet and playwright central to the rise of the vibrant spoken word genre in Ireland today. His ABSOLUTE Dublin Fringe play Three Men Talking About Things They Kinda Know About (2011), co-written with Colm Keegan and Kalle Ryan, was shortlisted for the Bewley’s Little Gem Award. Arise and Go!, his debut album with musician Enda Reilly, was selected by Hot Press as one of the best albums of 2011. Stephen’s debut collection, Fear Not, is published by Arlen House with a launch due in spring 2015.
I think my book of the year would be Martin Dyar’s ‘Maiden Names‘ published by Arlen House. As Martin’s delicately chosen words are so destructive is unveiling hidden truths. It’s a scary collection as I see so much of me and the people I know between the lines. Knowing Martin as a true gent, I find the darkness that he touches upon all the more fascinating.
Corbin Addison’s debut novel ‘A walk across the Sun‘ stayed with me for a long time after I’d put it down. It spans three continents and two cultures, and is hugely informative about today’s slave trade.
Nuala Ní Chonchúir
Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1970, Nuala O’Connor is a fiction writer and poet. Writing as Nuala Ní Chonchúir she has published two novels ‘You’ and ‘Closet of Savage Mementos’, four collections of short fiction, a chapbook of flash fiction and three full poetry collections – one in an anthology. Nuala’s third novel, Miss Emily will be published in 2015. Nuala has also been nominated for The Laureate for Irish Fiction which will be awarded in January 2015
My favourite book of 2014 was Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood. I’m a Hem fan and loved this portrait of him from the point of view of his four wives. Each wife tells her story just as her relationship with the writer is about to end. It’s a clever set-up and the book is atmospheric, moving and pacy. I don’t think you’d have to know a lot about Ernest Hemingway or Hadley, Fife, Martha and Mary to enjoy it. It’s a rollicking but deep story, well told.
Margaret Bonass Madden
Margaret Bonass Madden is a foster mother, and book-blogger who is currently returning to full time education as a student of Humanities. She also hosts author evenings in her beautiful home, Bleach House.
My overall favourite was Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healy. A debut novel from an extremely talented storyteller, Elizabeth is missing is a powerful tale of fear, uncertainty and the frustrations that come with dementia. I adored Maud from the first page and admired her daughter for her perseverance and patience, in a very difficult situation. I think this book is something special and should be become an international Bestseller at an alarming rate.
Bestselling author Claire has published eight hugely successful books with Poolbeg Press and is also a journalist with the Derry Journal. Along with fellow writer AM Scanlon, she is currently working on an exciting new project ‘The Mammy Monologues’ which explores the complexities of motherhood, sleepless nights and all…
The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes by Anna McPartlin was my book of 2014. It was simply stunning, painfully honest in places. It was funny, devastating but ultimately hugely rewarding. I don’t think I have ever reacted as emotionally to the end of a book.
I felt as I had sat by Rabbit’s bedside, with her family throughout. A remarkable book.
Lorna Sixsmith’s first book, Would You Marry a Farmer? started life as a humorous post on her popular blog, Irish Farmerette. Her truthful and affectionate take on the pros and cons of marrying into such an all-consuming way of life has touched a chord in a country where nearly everyone had farmers somewhere back in the family tree.
My book of 2014 was Unravelling Oliver, however I also loved The Undertaking by Audrey McGee. It was strange feeling sympathy and empathy for those who have traditionally been viewed as the ‘enemy’. Raw, emotive, and showing characters up to be so cruel and heartless and yet so caring. It also showed the resilience of the human spirit.
Louise Hall is a writer from Dublin, Ireland. Her first non-fiction book titled, Medjugorje: what it means to me, was published by The Columba Press in November 2012. Her second and follow up book, Medjugorje and Me: A collection of stories from across the world, was published in October 2014.
I loved The Housemaid’s Daughter by Barbara Mutch. It is beautifully written with a touching and inspiring story. Told in the voice of Ada, the black daughter of a housemaid to an Irish woman living in South Africa, it is a book that will stay in your heart and mind long after you have turned the final page. It has echoes of ‘The Help‘ and ‘Imitation of Life’. A poignant but magnificient read.
Paul FitzSimons is a film and television writer and novelist. He has worked as a story-writer on the Irish TV Drama ‘Fair City’ and his debut feature film ‘The Gift’ was filmed in October 2014 and is due in cinemas in 2015.
My book of 2014 would have to be ‘Fever‘ by Megan Abbott. It shows us how a closely knit community can descend into panic as a strange illness strikes their teenage children.
‘I was looking forward to us growing old together. Me and you, growing old and dying together.’
‘Douglas, who in their right mind would look forward to that?’
This quote is taken from the back cover blurb of ‘Us’ by David Nicholls, it pretty much sums up the entire story. When Connie announces to her husband Douglas in bed one night that their marriage is over, he is devastated. They embark on a pre-booked holiday around Europe – a modern day version of the Grand Tour with their teenage son Albie. As we travel through Europe’s capitals together with this couple, Nicholls takes us back to when Connie and Douglas, an artist and a biochemist, first met. An unlikely couple, it seems the differences that first attracted them to each other have become magnified over the years and are the very thing driving them apart. The story is interwoven with atmospheric descriptions of Europe’s capitals and their artworks.
David Nicholls is the master of characterisation, he can get inside his character’s heads like nobody else and makes the reader take them to their heart. The novel is funny, clever and also quite sad in parts but never mawkish. Although long-listed for the man-booker prize, this is an easy read with no pretentiousness that will have you turning the pages.