47° Good Afternoon
47° Good Afternoon

Best books of 2014

Newsday's books editor and regular reviewers highlight their 10 favorite books of 2014.


Loss and grief permeate this collection,
Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

Loss and grief permeate this collection, "Thunderstruck and Other Stories," by Elizabeth McCracken, a novelist ("The Giant's House") and memoirist ("An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination"). These gorgeous stories are so full of human oddity and surprising emotions that they register as anything but gloomy. A little girl's ghost mischievously haunts her neighborhood in "Something Amazing," while in "Property," a young widower redecorates his rental property by clearing out his landlord's possessions. In the stunning title story, a family is turned upside down by one haphazard summer in Paris. McCracken's book is alive with wit and feeling. (The Dial Press, $26) -- TOM BEER

9. THE ZHIVAGO AFFAIR, by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée

Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

"Dr. Zhivago," the epic novel by Russian writer Boris Pasternak, became an unusual weapon in the Cold War. The book, banned in the Soviet Union, was first published in Italy, where it appeared in 1957. The CIA then got a hold of the manuscript and spearheaded the effort to get the book disseminated in Pasternak's home country. In "The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book," Peter Finn, national security editor of The Washington Post, and Petra Couvée, a translator and teacher at St. Petersburg State University, combine literary history with cloak-and-dagger intrigue to brilliant effect to recount this true story. (Pantheon, $26.95) -- MATTHEW PRICE

8. ALL I LOVE AND KNOW, by Judith Frank

Judith Frank's novel
Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

Judith Frank's novel "All I Love and Know" has two settings: Israel, where the suicide bombing that opens the story occurs, and Northampton, Massachusetts, the home of the protagonists -- a gay couple named Daniel Rosen and Matt Green. Daniel's twin brother has died in the cafe blast, leaving him custody of two Israeli-born children. The many complications that arise from this bequest, both in Jerusalem and in Northampton, are explored with open-mindedness, political acuity and fine psychological detail. "All I Love and Know" is a rare combination of a topical premise and a literary approach, with beautifully developed characters and settings. (William Morrow, $26.99) -- MARION WINIK

7. ON IMMUNITY: An Inoculation, by Eula Biss

Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

In "On Immunity," author Eula Bliss dedicates her timely and elegant investigation of immunization to "other mothers, with gratitude toward mine." Indeed, pregnancy propelled Biss, an essayist and poet, to examine her own hesitancy around vaccination and to turn a self-critique into a social one. Radically compassionate and impeccably researched, "On Immunity" respects its reader with succinctness and insight. Vaccination works, she argues, because it protects the vulnerable: "The elderly, in the case of influenza. Newborns, in the case of pertussis. Pregnant women, in the case of rubella." And the vulnerable, eventually and inevitably, means us all. (Graywolf Press, $24) -- KAREN R. LONG

6. THE PAYING GUESTS, by Sarah Waters

A melodramatic, super-smart emotional thriller set in post-WWI
Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

A melodramatic, super-smart emotional thriller set in post-WWI London, Sarah Waters' "The Paying Guests" is a stay-up-all-night read. Twenty-nine-year old protagonist Frances Wray lives with her mother after the loss of her father and brothers during the war; as the novel opens, the once-wealthy Wrays have been forced to rent out the top floor of their house to a loud middle-class couple. Quickly, Frances is caught up in an intense sexual affair with the woman, and their wild passion leads to unexpected violence. This book just keeps ratcheting up the suspense, even as it calmly lays out a fascinating analysis of the mood in London after the war. (Riverhead, $28.95) -- MARION WINIK

5. LITTLE FAILURE, by Gary Shteyngart

You've never read an immigrant tale quite like
Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

You've never read an immigrant tale quite like "Little Failure," an antic, raw and big-hearted memoir by novelist Gary Shteyngart ("The Russian Debutante's Handbook," "Super Sad True Love Story"), who moved with his parents from the Soviet Union to Queens in 1979. "We are going to the enemy," thinks the asthmatic 6-year-old in a fur hat who worships the cosmonauts. In this country, alienated both from his Old World parents and his All-American peers, Shteyngart will become, by turns, a 10-year-old Republican, a science fiction fantasist, a pot-smoking teen, an Oberlin grad and a successful author who finds his voice. (Random House, $27) -- TOM BEER

4. EUPHORIA, by Lily King

Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

"Euphoria" packs as much narrative power and intellectual energy into its 250 pages as novels triple its size. Lily King's brilliant and moving story is inspired by a real incident in the life of Margaret Mead: her passionate entanglement with two fellow anthropologists, modeled on Mead's second and third husbands. Composed of economical vignettes and journal entries, this lushly imagined trip to Papua New Guinea explores the interplay between character and culture, between the darkness of our natures and the tenderness of our hearts. (Atlantic Monthly Press, $25) -- MARION WINIK

3. REBEL YELL, by S.C. Gwynne

Little-fazed Gen. Thomas J. Jackson earned the sobriquet
Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

Little-fazed Gen. Thomas J. Jackson earned the sobriquet "Stonewall" for his unflinching manner in battle. In "Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson," author S.C. Gwynne brings Jackson ferociously to life. Gwynne has carefully mined primary and secondary sources, and brings a deep humanity to his portrayals of Jackson, his fellow Confederate generals and their Union adversaries. Jackson may have fought for a cause discredited by history, but Gwynne treats his subject fairly, and writes superbly of the campaigns and tactics that made Jackson a feared and respected man of war. (Scribner, $35) -- MATTHEW PRICE

2. AN UNNECESSARY WOMAN, by Rabih Alameddine

Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

"Literature is my sandbox," proclaims Aaliya, the spiky 72-year-old narrator of Rabih Alameddine's marvelous fourth novel, "An Unnecessary Woman." Holed up in her Beirut apartment through the Lebanese Civil War, Aaliya translates the great works of European literature -- Pessoa, Schulz, Sebald -- into Arabic, then stores them away in boxes, never to be published. Hovering over her monologue are large existential questions: What does it mean to be alone? Can we find true happiness in books? And what, exactly, is a "necessary" woman? Playful, brainy and full of zest, "An Unnecessary Woman" is an antidote to literary blandness. (Grove Press, $25) -- TOM BEER


The funny, smart and heartbreaking graphic memoir
Photo Credit: Bruce Gilbert

The funny, smart and heartbreaking graphic memoir "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?" has taken readers by storm. Roz Chast's quavering ink line and mordant prose formulations, beloved by fans of her New Yorker cartoons, operate on a profound new level here. Chast's work has always been about the crazy-making dilemmas and absurdities of modern life, and now she deepens her focus, taking on one of the biggest challenges the zeitgeist has to offer -- caring for aging parents. Her unfailing self-awareness and humor soften the edges of this intensely honest account. (Bloomsbury, $28) -- MARION WINIK


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

More Entertainment