My Favourite Reads of 2014

2014 has been a disappointing year for new books. I normally compile two lists of favourites  – one in which all the books were published in the previous year; the other composed of older books.  This year only four books could be included in the former category so I’ve combined the two to produce a single list of the best books I’ve read in the past 12 months.

Here are my favourites: 

Cold Skin 

Cold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol 

Dark, gripping and thought provoking. It makes you think about fear and the instinctive behaviour it creates; but also has an important message about Man’s impact on the environment. There are giant toads too – what’s not to love?!

A Sting in the Tale

A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson 

A witty, accessible book that summaries most of what is known about bumblebees today. I’ve been telling my friends facts from it all year!

The Mouseproof Kitchen

The Mouseproof Kitchen by Saira Shah 

Emotional insight into the realities of having a disabled child. It also includes vivid details about living in France, including mouthwatering descriptions of the food.  

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker 

Gripping thriller set in small town America. It isn’t perfect, but the story is so entertaining I didn’t care.

Alive: There Was Only One Way to Survive

Alive by Piers Paul Read 

Alive isn’t for the squeamish, but it shows the strength of human spirit and the importance of keeping hope alive.

 The Moth: This Is a True Story

The Moth: 50 Extraordinary True Stories 

The Moth is a wonderful collection of stories that show people at important junctions in their lives – it’s inspirational!

After the Bombing

After the Bombing by Clare Morrall 

Rich character development and vivid emotions make this one of the best WWII stories I’ve ever read. 

 The Book of Strange New Things

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber 

Quirky book that adds aliens and religion to a simple story about the difficulties of a long distance relationship.

 Flight of Passage

Flight of Passage by Rinker Buck 

The true story of two teenage brothers who decide to fly across America on their own. Their youthful enthusiasm was contagious and it has done a lot to alleviate my fear of flying. 

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation

Cooked by Michael Pollan 

This book changed my life. It probably won’t change yours, but you might look at food in a slightly different way.

My Book of the Year

The Yearling

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings 

Vivid story about a family trying to survive in the swamps of Florida. It beautifully describes an almost forgotten way of life and should be more widely known. Read it!

Have you read any of these? 

Did you enjoy them as much as I did?

I hope that you have a wonderful Christmas!


2014 Chunkster Recommended books Science Fiction

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

The Book of Strange New Things

Five words from the blurb: missionary, leaving, wife, adventure, worlds

The Book of Strange New Things is an impressive book. It is nearly 600 pages long, but the intensity of the emotion means that it never drags and so seems much shorter.

The book centres on Peter, a missionary who travels to another planet to teach Christianity to a strange new species. He leaves his wife Bea on Earth and the pair communicate via an electronic system. Bea struggles on her own, especially as things on Earth begin to go wrong. The book shows how their strong relationship begins to falter as Peter finds himself increasingly absorbed by his work.

Not much actually happens in this book, but I was completely absorbed by the couple. Having had a long distance relationship I found their shifting emotions scarily accurate.

He sighed, squeezed her hand. What was he going to do without her, out in the field? How would he cope, not being able to discuss his perceptions? She was the one who stopped him coming out with claptrap, curbed his tendency to construct grand theories that encompassed everything. She brought him down to earth. Having her by his side on this mission would have been worth a million dollars.

The world-building was fantastic. The vivid descriptions enabled me to visualise the new planet and I found the quirky differences between our world and theirs entirely believable. The alien species were particularly well observed and I loved the way the human’s interactions with them highlighted the problems within our society.

My only issue with the book was the occasional excess of religious quotation. I thought the discussions on faith were well done, but my eyes tended to glaze over when the bible extracts became excessive. Luckily this only happened a handful of times and I suspect that anyone with an interest in Christianity will find these much more inspiring than I did. 

Overall this was a fantastic book. I loved the fact I didn’t know where the story would take me and found the ambiguous ending particularly satisfying. Recommended to those who enjoy vivid character studies, packed with emotion.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

The real problem, it dawns on you as you read, is that Faber just isn’t that interested in his alien Others. Sibilant Frictive

…one of the best novels I’ve read this year. S Krishna’s Books

In fact, The Book of Strange New Things is a novel that skirts the edge of one cliché after another only to either bypass them or—more impressively—reinvest them with emotional significance. Reading in the Growlery

2014 Non Fiction Recommended books

Cooked by Michael Pollan

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation

Five words from the blurb: food, society, changing, basics, knowledge

It isn’t often that a book comes along and changes the course of your life, but that is exactly what happened when I read Cooked.

Michael Pollen is a journalist with a keen interest in food, especially our relationship with it. Cooked documents Pollan’s journey around the globe as he learns about the way different cultures cook, discovering valuable skills that the Western world are quickly forgetting. Pollan predicts that cooking will soon become a specialist skill and within a couple of generations it will be unusual for anyone to do more than reheat food within their home.

The book is divided into four sections: Fire (food cooked over a flame), Water (boiling), Air (bread and other foods using yeast to incorporate air) and Earth (fermentation of everything from cheese to vegetables). Michael’s passion for his subject oozes from the page. He was so inspiring that I instantly wanted to copy him. I didn’t have easy access to an entire pig and had nowhere to dig a pit to BBQ it so I started with fermentation. His arguments about the health benefits of naturally fermented food were powerful and I became saddened by the way our culture sanitises everything to the extreme, killing all bacteria without stopping to think about the fact our bodies need to work in harmony with it.

To ferment your own food is to lodge a small but eloquent protest – on behalf of the senses and the microbes – against the homogenization of flavors and food experiences now rolling like a great, undifferentiated lawn across the globe. It is also a declaration of independence from an economy that would much prefer we remain passive consumers of its standardized commodities, rather than creators of idiosyncratic products expressive of ourselves and of the places where we live, because your pale ale or sourdough bread or kimchi is going to taste nothing like mine or anyone else’s.

I tried to buy the equipment to begin fermenting food within my home, but realised it wasn’t available in the UK. It was then that I had a light-bulb moment and my life changed.

How My Life Has Changed

For the past few months I have been setting up my own company which will import and sell fermentation products in the UK. It is still early days, but I am loving the challenge of the new project. I hope to launch my new fermentation blog early in 2015 and begin to sell the equipment in April. I’ll let you know how it goes!

The Rest of the Book

The entire book was incredibly well researched and I loved the way Pollan made me think about food in a new light. He does an excellent job of explaining our changing relationship with food and the problems this causes for our society. I found the Water and Air sections slightly less interesting than the others, but this was probably because I am well informed in these areas so much of the information was not new to me.

I listened to the audio book version read by Pollan himself. I think this gave the book even more impact as his emotions came across strongly. His scientific knowledge was impressive and I loved the way everything was backed up with thorough research. My only criticism is that the book is US focused and I’d love to see how the statistics compare with those in the UK.

Overall I can’t complain though. This book has changed my life. My kitchen now smells of fermenting cabbage and I’ve been inspired to change my diet and the course of my life. No other book has ever come close to having that power on me!


Many thanks to Sandy for giving this book to me – it’s changed my life!!