My Best Books of 2014

the rothko room back coverthe rothko room front cover

Never mind anybody else’s Best of 2014 list. Here are some books I’ve actually read and still want to shout about. Prose works and Poetry. Some of the words below are taken from my Amazon reviews of these works.
The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman
It’s not often I wish Amazon allowed the award of six stars. This is one of those books. I’d award it maximum points for its use of language alone: Ice Cream Star speaks to us in a patois of childspeak, mutated grammar and sophisticated reasoning that is compelling to read. She has a unique voice.

The story itself is a beautifully written realisation of a harsh, unforgiving world. It’s full of hardship and misery, and the kinds of half-baked systems that you would expect to be invented by children left in charge of their own future. The plot is horrifyingly plausible: a brilliantly realised dystopian vision, with Ice Cream Star front and centre; a reluctant heroine we cannot help but love.

Diamonds and Dust, and Honour and Obey by Carol Hedges
From one of my fellow Crooked Cat authors, these are beautifully written and very readable.
Superbly written melodrama with not one but three strong female characters. Diamonds and Dust is grittier than Pullman, darker than Dickens, more amusing than Shaw and drops more names than Debrett’s. I’m reduced to name dropping myself as I can’t come up with adequate superlatives to describe this story. It made me laugh, more than once – it’s clever, funny and very, very good.

I settled down with a pile of biscuits and the first chapter of Honour and Obey, expecting to enjoy it as my evening read for the rest of the week. Three hours later I had to force myself to put it down. I only stopped reading because my eyes were closed and I couldn’t see the words any more.

It’s a grimy, warts-and-all portrayal of Victorian London, with foul deeds galore and a nasty mystery to solve – just another day in the lives of London’s finest at Scotland Yard. As usual there is a cast of great characters, including one of my favourites, Trafalgar Moggs, who appeared in Diamonds and Dust. There are no swooning heroines – simply a number of feisty, clever, capable women sorting out their own lives – which might, or might not, include a little romance. Eventually. I loved every dastardly deed and bout of derring-do.
Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? By Kenneth Koch.
Not new (it was published in 1998) but new to me – by far the most wonderful book I have read on teaching poetry to children. It has a lot to say to any of us who fancy our hand at rhythm and rhyme, and it’s full of the most wonderful verse created by children who worked with the author. And what a gorgeous title!
The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, poetry collection by Kei Miller
Winner of the 2014 Forward Poetry collection prize. I just want to stake my claim – I saw it first! This is a wonderful collection, and it’s even better read in Kei Miller’s own voice – check him out on Youtube. Every now and then I treat myself to a single-author collection of poetry, and this is the best I’ve read in a long time. Here’s my Amazon review, titled ‘A Map on Human Parchment’:
I confess I came to Kei Miller through listening to him online. I wondered if the poems would have the same magic when I read them in my own head, in my own voice. They do. There’s a careless joy in some of these works, mingled with a pain so deep you can feel it. Even when he’s consciously poetic (as an artist may be painterly) it works – putting the construction of his work on display is like laying out the mapmaker’s tools on the desktop before the map is begun. I feel for the cartographer, trying to map his literal way through the human soul. I hope he makes it.
Archer’s Voice by Mia Sheridan
On the face of it this is pretty standard mainstream Romance. However – there’s something different about it. It’s Archer Hale, the heart and soul of this book (though not its protagonist). Sheridan came up with a great idea here, and the book’s all the better for it. Far better than the usual run.
The Rothko Room by Russell Cruse
This is a wonderful, blackly comic fest of action and intrigue that leaves all competitors gasping in its wake. I first read it as a working project on, and rushed out to buy this self-published work as soon as I could. Available in e-book and print versions. By far the most original and enjoyable read of 2014.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
This counts because I read it in paperback, which wasn’t released until 2014. I loved this little gem of a book. Compared to some of Gaiman’s work it’s spare and restrained – and it really works. I’ve always been a fan, but never quite felt he hit the spot (although one or two have come close). The Ocean at the End of the Lane received mixed reviews, and of course it demonstrates Gaiman’s trademark plundering of world mythology for his own uses. For my part, I think it’s the best thing he’s ever written.