RT Editors’ Best Books of 2014 — Jennifer’s Picks

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — when we look back on all of the great books we’ve read over the past 12 months. All during December the RT editors are sharing their favorite reads of 2014. Won’t you reminisce along with us? (Apologies to your TBR pile.)

The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap by Matt Taibbi — Taibbi is probably my favorite working journalist, and I wouldn’t hesitate to say one of the best journalists of the past 20 years. That said, his books are as depressing as they are important. This, his latest, explores the growing wealth gap as it relates to the way we prosecute crime, and it’s a frighteningly eye-opening read. I read most of it on the bus, passing through a number of the NYC neighborhoods mentioned as hotbeds of false arrests; it made the sadly true tales so much harder to read, but also that much more compelling. I would wager this was the most important book of 2014 — and the most terrifying, too.

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes — I should preface this by saying I hate horror stories. I just can’t handle them. No horror movies, no American Horror Story on my television and definitely no Stephen King-esque books. My overactive imagination plus scary stories equals me being afraid of my own shadow for days on end. Fortunately, I didn’t know Beaukes’s novel was of the horror variety until I’d already gotten several chapters in, and by then I couldn’t quit. I started the book in the evening, and around midnight, I made the executive decision to stay up all night to finish it because 1) I was way too scared to go to sleep, and 2) it really was unputdownable. I’m still pretty spooked every time I see this book on my shelf, and I’m tempted daily to give it away, but I can’t because I know I’ll want to read it again. It’s that good.

Stay With Me by Alison Gaylin — If you’ve been reading the Brenna Specter series, this is the conclusion to the “What happened to Brenna’s sister Clea?” arc, and it’s a doozy. I’m bad at mysteries. I can’t recall a single mystery novel where I’ve solved the mystery before the absolute last page. (My parents, also mystery fans, usually figure them out before the author’s even introduced the whodunit plot, and then mock me.) So the mystery of Clea was, well, a mystery to me. But I loved every minute of trying to guess what the answers were, both to the Clea story and the novel’s one-off mystery, too. I wouldn’t dare give away any spoilers, but if you’re a Gaylin fan and haven’t gotten to this book, do. It’s the best yet in the series.

The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq by Hassan Blasim and Jonathan Wright — Anyone who knows me knows I’m a war junkie. I will watch any war movie and read any book or article that’s remotely related to how and why we fight. Of the many war stories I read in 2014, though, this short-story collection is probably my favorite. It’s a rare look at the Iraq War from the Iraqi point of view, and while this isn’t exactly a book for the squeamish, it is an incredibly powerful anthology and one of the most heartbreaking books I’ve read.

Missing Reels by Farran Smith Nehme — I was expecting something different from this novel, and at first was kind of disappointed by the direction it seemed to be going, but I wanted to like it so much that I kept reading, and it turned out to be so much better than what I’d anticipated. It had a great pseudo-mystery, some completely relatable (annoyingly so) romance and vivid descriptions of both 1980s New York City and early 20th-century Hollywood. Even the absolutely obnoxious love interest was enjoyable to read because I felt like he was someone I could have met at a dinner party and loved to hate in real life, too.

Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer — Violence, gore and cranky loner characters are my guilty pleasures, and this book was the ultimate combination of all those things. It is the most “macho” book I read all year, and it is not for the feint of heart; I felt my stomach roll more than a few times as the men in this book tore each other apart — literally. But each time I got to the point of wanting to close my eyes, Whitmer would drop in one of main character Patterson Wells’s incredibly heartbreaking diary entries, and I’d melt. I don’t think I’d want to live inside Whitmer’s head if this is the kind of book that came out of it, but it was fascinating following Wells as he somewhat passively let himself get wrapped up in the violent drama of his “friends.” Though Wells is far from a “good guy,” I couldn’t help rooting for him.

The Last Magazine by Michael Hastings — Hastings, like Taibbi, was one of my favorite journalists. I devoured his work for Rolling Stone and could read The Operators a thousand times and never get sick of it. When he died in 2013, I feared I’d never get to read him again. And then this, his first — and only — novel, was published posthumously. It’s a fictionalized account of a character, also named Michael Hastings, and his time at The Magazine (a thinly veiled Newsweek). It was absolutely hilarious, and as a follower of media gossip, it was fascinating to see how he turned real-life journalists and editors into complete caricatures of themselves.

Wrapped Around Your Finger: A Story of Submission by Alison Tyler — This was one of the books I vowed to read over Thanksgiving break, and while I had high hopes, I wasn’t expecting it to be a “best of” pick. Even as a longtime Tyler fan, I just don’t usually think of erotica when I think of the best books I’ve read in any given year. But I really was impressed with this one. The relationship between Sam and Jack is complex and difficult, and the sex was steamier than ever, a perfect combination (to me) when it comes to this genre. I loved all the complications that were added in this installment of the series, but also that I still got a Happily Ever After … at least until the next book.

The Martian by Andy Weir — Of all my favorites, this was by far the most enjoyable. It was such a fun read … even though it’s about an astronaut who’s been stranded on Mars and must try to survive in hopes of, maybe, someday, being rescued. It’s been described as a cross between Gravity and Cast Away, and it was — but it was also so much better. Astronaut Mark Watney is relatable and hilarious, and though he’s in dire circumstances, he never stops cracking jokes or finding new ways to amuse himself. Because, really, what else are you going to do if you’re stranded on Mars? If I had to get stranded in space, I’d want Watney with me — or at least a copy of this book.

See any of your 2014 favorites? Sound off below! And stay tuned all this month as we revisit our favorites from the year.

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