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Favorite reads of 2014

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My love for the written word is well-documented. Over the course of 2014, I have read and reviewed nearly 50 books, books that span all manner of style and genre.

And I've derived real pleasure from just about every one of them. However, there are always a few that stand out. Certain books have stuck with me some because they were brilliantly written, others because they spun compelling stories. Some elicited laughter, others tears.

This is not a Best Books list; even as a critic, I hesitate to use that term (though many of these books certainly warrant 'Best Of' consideration). This is very much a list of favorites a compilation of the reads that resonated strongly with one particular reader.

Here they are, in no particular order.

Mr. Mercedes' and Revival' Stephen King (Scribner)

We'll start with our only double dip. Stephen King has been remarkably prolific recently, putting out books at a pace of two per year. However, his two 2014 offerings, while markedly different from one another, share at least one common quality their excellence.

'Mr. Mercedes' is a straight thriller and a good one starring retired detective Bill Hodges as he engages in a game of cat and mouse with a never-caught mass killer. Stylistically, it evokes last summer's 'Joyland' with a liberal sprinkling of King's early work as Richard Bachman thrown in for good measure. The groundwork is laid for an ongoing series featuring Hodges, and if the subsequent books are as good as this first one, expect big things.

'Revival,' on the other hand, is classic King. The story of one man's destiny as entangled with a slowly-deteriorating former preacher explores many of the dark themes that tend to permeate King's work. It's a slow build with extensive character development more creepy than scary - but the ultimate payoff is an ending that is as unsettling and thought-provoking as anything King has written in years.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage' Haruki Murakami (Knopf)

If I were to succumb to the temptation of naming a 'best book' for 2014, this enthralling work by Haruki Murakami might well take the prize. The story of Tsukuru Tazaki and his quest to find meaning through exploring the circumstances of the past isn't necessarily typical of Murakami the fantastical elements that often mark the author's work are largely absent here but there's no denying the novel's sweeping power. It's a thoughtful deconstruction of the nature of interpersonal relationships and the power they can hold over us long after they have faded from our lives.

The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy' Jacopo della Quercia (St. Martin's Griffin)

Fans of humor and history will find a lot to like in this hilarious, deftly researched tale from Jacopo della Quercia. The year is 1910. President William Howard Taft operates in a world of secret zeppelins and Edison-designed automatons. He's also the world's underground bare-knuckle boxing champion. But when Robert Lincoln son of Abraham shows Taft his father's pocket watch, adventure ensues. From Alaska to the Congo to the Titanic, Taft and company stampede through an alternate history that will appeal to anyone who has ever considered the comedic possibilities of 'what if?'

The Serpent of Venice' Christopher Moore (William Morrow)

Christopher Moore might well be the funniest writer working today. 'The Serpent of Venice' a sequel to his brilliant 2009 novel 'Fool,' a delightful riff on 'King Lear' does nothing to disabuse us of that notion. Moore offers up the continuing adventures of the foul-mouthed fool Pocket, who goes on a hilariously profane journey that revisits Shakespeare, incorporating elements of 'The Merchant of Venice' and 'Othello' while offering a nod to Poe's 'The Cask of Amontillado' and other literary masterworks as well. If you've got passion for the Bard in your heart, you're going to love Pocket.

Stone Mattress' Margaret Atwood (Nan A. Talese)

The nine stories contained in this volume explore a wide variety of ideas. The trio of stories that lead off the collection explore the present by way of the relationships of the past; the tales that follow are meditations on ideas such as perception versus reality and creativity versus commercialism, as well the pros and cons of revenge. But each of Hoffman's intricately crafted, beautifully written stories is powered by the passage of time the inescapability of age is omnipresent.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things' Alice Hoffman (Scribner)

Alice Hoffman weaves yet another beautifully intricate literary tapestry with 'The Museum of Extraordinary Things.' This historical romance paints a vivid, intricately researched portrait of the New York City of the early 20th century. It's the story of two young people coming together against a backdrop of freak shows and labor unions, confronting tragedy at every turn. Hoffman's evocative prose brings these star-crossed lovers to life.

(Other notables: 'The Flight of the Silvers' Daniel Price; 'The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man' W. Bruce Cameron; 'In the Kingdom of Ice' Hampton Sides; 'As You Wish' Cary Elwes; 'The Hundred-Year House' Rebecca Makkai; 'The Rhesus Chart' Charles Stross; 'The Rise and Fall of Great Powers' Tom Rachman; 'The Noble Hustle' Colson Whitehead; 'How to Fight Presidents' Daniel O'Brien; 'A Slip of the Keyboard' Terry Pratchett.)

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