Consider this part three of my best books of 2014. The following is a list of the best novels by women I have read this past year. All of the books on this list were published in either 2013 or 2014.
Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker
A river that churns with both paper mill waste and a town’s dark secret is really the main character in Baker’s newest novel, a work that recollects a tragic bus accident that bridges both the past and current sins of two families.
While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell
A retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the point of view of a maid who becomes the personal companion to a slumbering princess, Blackwell’s novel maneuvers between gritty life and magical circumstances.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Set in 17th century Amsterdam, Burton’s debut novel introduces 18-year-old Nella Oortman to a new marriage and a world ruled by deep mysteries, glittering wealth and suffocating religious beliefs.
What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell
While visiting her hometown, Olivia must confront her past when her nine-year-old son, recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder, goes missing.
The Mourning Hours by Paula Treick DeBoard
Main character Kirsten Hammarstrom was nine years old when a local girl went missing, and Kirsten’s older brother, Johnny, became the number one suspect in the disappearance. In heartbreaking prose, DeBoard traces the way that a family unravels in time of tragedy.
Out of Peel Tree by Laura Long
Long’s first novel reads like a collection of intertwining short stories, all focusing on characters who leave (or long to leave) their hometown of Peel Tree, West Virginia. A wonderful, lyrical work! See my full review here.
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi
Hashimi’s literary debut intertwines the lives of two women in two different time periods of Afghanistan. Beautiful prose makes both stories intriguing and heartbreaking.
The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett
A coming of age story told within the underground mine fires that plague both the history and landscape of eastern Pennsylvania, Harnett’s first novel explores how family intertwines with place and history and introduces to a plucky new heroine to the coal mining landscape. See my review here.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
I have to admit that I was getting a bit tired of the number of apocalyptic novels on the market, by I was pleasantly surprised by Station Eleven, a work that details life along the Great Lakes after the country’s collapse. Intertwining character stories tells the tales of fighting for both the sanctuary of both art and human life.
The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
Written as a fictional memoir of Dr. Norton Perina, the reader is introduced to the world of Uvu’ivu and its lost tribe where members, upon eating the meat of a local turtle, live much longer than the average population of the rest of the world. A dark read that outlines the inner workings of a twisted main character, Yanagihara’s book is hard to put down although few readers would describe the work as an enjoyable read.
Last year, I was challenged to read 14 books by women in the year 2014. Everyone knows that this is not a big problem for me -- I am more of a reader than a writer and probably read close to 200 books a year. The following is a list of best memoirs by women I have read this past year. All these memoirs were published in either 2013 or 2014.
Mermaid: A Memoir of Resilience by Eileen Cronin
She is three years old when Eileen Cronin discovers that she is not like other children. Born without legs, Cronin has to learn to navigate the world both physically and emotionally all the while challenging the family secrets about her disability.
The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes by Randi Davenport
Davenport’s story tells of her tumultuous journey through the healthcare system to find treatment for her autistic son. Readers will be a bit disheartened to learn how far we, as a country, need to go in the treatment of the mentally ill, yet these same readers will leave the book with admiration for Davenport’s resilience and hope.
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
On the morning of December 26, 2004, Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in the tsuami that killed over. She survived. Her memoir chronicles the years of grief and despair and turmoil that follows her after this tragic event.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Yes, I realize that Roxane Gay’s essay collection is not a pure memoir, per se, yet, this work, which encompasses words about politics, pop culture, academia, and feminism, includes enough of Gay’s life, I feel that I can glimpse much of her personal background. Plus, many of her works are hysterical.
Prairie Silence by Melanie Hoffert
Part coming-of-age story and part coming-out story, Hoffert journeys back home to North Dakota where she explores both the past and the present in order to reconcile sexuality, religion, love and family. See my full review here.
Clear Skies, Deep Water by Beth Peyton
This blurb may be a bit biased as I know both Beth and the place she writes about in her first book, Clear Skies, Deep Water, which is about living on the shores of Chautauqua Lake. Full of lyrical language, Peyton captures the landscape of rural Western New York while delivering personal stories full of hope and happiness without falling into sentimetality too often seen in books that strive to depict the rural life.
Perfectly Miserable by Sarah Payne Stuart
Perfectly Miserable follows the author's move back to Concord, Massachusetts, her childhood home. Intertwining her personal history along with the family histories of such literary figures as the Alcotts, the Emersons, and the Hawthornes, Stuart explores New England's relationships with money, religion, identity, and mental illness.
Quench Your Thirst with Water by Nicole Walker
Nicole Walker’s Quench Your Thirst With Salt is a collection of lyrical essays that explore her life growing up in the state of Utah. Read my full review here.
A Generation of Insomniacs by Anthony Frame (Main Street Rag) Frame’s first full-length collection of poems traces a bewildered persona’s coming-of-age story in the Ohio Rust Belt of the early 1990’s. See my full review here.
Basin Ghosts by Jesse Graves (Texas Review Press ) Graves returns to the rural South in his second full-length collection of poetry, where he recounts stories of the past while navigating the present landscape.
Lessons in Ruin by Justin Hamm (Aldrich Press) Hamm celebrates the landscape of the Midwest through lyrical narratives that embrace both childhood memories and adult observations of a world rich in history and memory.
The Rusted City by Rochelle Hurt (White Pine Press) In a collection of lyrical prose poems, Hurt explores an American Rust Belt City telling stories of a broken world through elements of fantasy and fairy tales. See my full review here.
The Name Museum by Nick McRae (C&R Press) Full of folklore and spirit, the poems in McRae’s first full length collection introduce readers to a world struggling with history, religion, and memory.
All the Wasted Beauty of the World by Richard Newman (Able Muse Press) In his latest collection of poetry, Newman explores the beauty in landscapes that are usually discarded as debris, whether it’s an alleyway with a possum, a trailer park yard, or an overpass complete with drunk boys urinating into the night.
Misery Islands by January Gill O’Neil (Cavankerry) In her followup to Underlife, O’Neil’s latest collection navigates the rocky world of divorce, while still finding kinship in the women in her life and experiencing joy in the confusing world of motherhood.
Fat Jersey Blues by John Repp (Akron Series in Poetry) Full of rhythm and music, Repp’s poems celebrates life through song-like narratives that explore the past and how this past intersects with the lives we lead now.
American Galactic by Laura Madeline Wiseman (Martin Lit) Little green men take center stage in Wisemen’s collection that presents a world where alien visitors both frighten us with their presence and educate us about our own role in the world. A fun (and wise) work of speculative poetry!
In the Permanent Collection by Stefanie Wortman (University of North Texas Press) Winner of the 2013 Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry, Wortman’s first collection explores the disorder of life through historical records, works of arts, and personal narratives. A wonderful tour of lyrical poetry.
Final grades have been posted, last minute Christmas presents have been purchased, and now, I am reading through the latest issue of Arsenic Lobster which features two of my poems, along with work by Carol Berg, Deborah Gang, C.C. Russell, and Jill Khoury (There are also some great "horridscopes" posted by Susan Yount, Editor and Publisher of Arsenic Lobster!)
As I prepare for the holiday festivities, I am hoping that we will miss the winter ice storm that seems to be coming our way. But, if we can't travel, maybe Anthony and I will sneak off to watch the final Hobbit movie at the nearby movie theater. Regardless of the weather, I do see a hobbit in my future as Anthony is a huge fan and I can never talk him into waiting for the movie to come out on DVD.
Stay tuned! After the holidays, I will be posting a recap of my best reads of the year including a list of best poetry collections and a list of best novels written by women.
May everyone have a safe and happy holiday!
Winter has seemingly come early this year, and I have been battling cold weather and a cough that doesn't want to go away. This weekend, I will be hiding indoors and grading creative writing portfolios and next week at this time, I will be celebrating the end of the school year. Tonight, however, I am celebrating my publication of my piece "The Muskrat" which is in the most recent issue of Waccamaw: A Journal of Contemporary Literature. Take a look at this great issue, which also features work by Lauren Camp, Lisa Ampleman, Charlie Clark, and Sara Backer.
I am a poet and professor from rural Pennsylvania. This page is dedicated to my publishing news and events; for book reviews published online go to the Reviews tab above. For my own personal reviews, explore the Book Picks tab.