With all the “Best Books of 2014” lists out there, I wanted to give a chance to my colleagues, to literary agents to name their best books of 2014.
Last year, Bree Ogden at D4EO put together a list of “Agents Pick the Best of 2013” and posted it on her blog. Here’s the link: https://agentbree.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/literary-agents-choose-their-2013-favorites/
Bree is too busy this year, so I offered to put it together and post it on my blog.
I asked all participating agents to try not to list their own clients books (though some couldn’t help themselves, and I understand that – my clients books ARE the best books, lucky for me, none of my clients have books coming out in 2014, so it wasn’t an issue) – and I also asked that agents try to list books published in 2014, but that was a softer guideline.
I think this is one of the BEST ways to get a feel for what certain agents are looking for, we like to represent the types of books we like to read, so what better way to get a sense for our tastes than to pick our brains for recommendations? Since I work in foreign rights too, I wanted to try and make this as international as I could, so you’ll see some of that too. Also, who doesn’t love book lists? There is no better way to get a list of great books to read than to get it from the EXPERTS! So, without further ado….
Rena Rossner: One of my favorite books of the year was THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER by Leslye Walton – stunning writing, magical realism, bird people, who could ask for more? I also loved THE GOLDEN CITY by J. Kathleen Cheney – an alternate history of Portugal, selkies and sea people, a mysterious underground art installation – I mean, what NOT to like? I also really enjoyed A GIRL IS A HALF FORMED THING by Eimear McBride – I love Ireland and poetry and this book is brave and wonderful. I’ll also give a nod to my favorite picture book of the year: I AM OTTER by Sam Garton (but I’m not sure if that’s cheating or not because I sold it for translation into Hebrew but tough…if there’s any example of everything I love in a picture book, this is it. Adorable. Funny. Classic. Amazing.)
The Deborah Harris Agency
You can find out more about what I’m looking for here: www.renarossner.com
Linda P. Epstein: I had a lot going on personally this past year, so I didn’t do as much pleasure reading as I normally do. But 2014 was the year that I began to finally read Neil Gaiman, starting with AMERICAN GODS in January, THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE in February, and THE GRAVEYARD BOOK in April. I loved all three of those books so much, for all different reasons. But, 2014 was also the year I started to read Andrew Smith! GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE in June, WINGER in September, and 100 SIDEWAYS MILES in October. Awesome, awesome, awesome. Wait, wasn’t the assignment to tell you my SIX favorite books I read this past year? ;-)
The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency
Barbara Zitwer: THE HEN WHO DREAMED SHE COULD FLY by Sun-mi Hwang is my pick for 2014. It is the indomitable spirit of a little hen who bravely sets out to follow her dreams and her heart that shows readers of all ages that they too can find freedom and change the world.
The Barbara Zitwer Agency
Carly Watters: THE VACATIONERS by Emma Straub – This novel was so memorable to me because of the cast of characters. Writing multiple POV well is hard and Emma aced it. I love seeing events through multiple characters’ eyes. It gives such great insight into human emotion of all kinds. This book will live on with you simply because the characters felt so real.
EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng – The novel weaves backstory and current story better than anything I’ve ever seen. The idea that you don’t really know the people you thought you knew is fascinating to me. The complexity of family and the decisions people make to be happy (or unhappy) is strong in this novel. My favorite literary fiction of the year.
THE ONE AND ONLY by Emily Giffin – Emily Giffin can be written off as light commercial women’s fiction, but she brings such depth to her characters and plots that I always find she breaks out of that all-too-straightforward box. Her books are never as simple as they seem. This novel is about what feels right in your gut vs what you think other people are expecting you to do. I can’t recommend this highly enough.
P.S. Literary Agency
Markus Hoffman: Two works of fiction stood out for me this year. The first is Phil Klay’s REDEPLOYMENT. It was one of those books that had been showered with so much praise by the time I got around to reading it that I thought it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. But it did, and then some. Many scenes and images from these incredible, authentic, tough, and nonetheless beautiful stories will stay with me forever. I also loved Emily St. John Mandel’s STATION ELEVEN. I’m a sucker for all things Shakespeare, so I was predisposed to like this novel, which managed to create something unique and moving out of an unlikely combination of genre elements.
Shannon Hassan: I know I am not alone in choosing this one, but ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE really captivated me in 2014. With its gorgeous writing, tight pacing, depth of imagination, and characters that jump right off the page, this novel was a pure pleasure to read.
On the kid lit side, I fell in love with THE MIGHTY MISS MALONE by Christopher Paul Curtis. The singular voice of Deza Malone and the authentic, heart-wrenching tale of her family during the Great Depression stayed with me long after I turned the last page.
Website: Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
Jennifer Weltz: THE MINIATURIST by Jessie Burton – Because the historical detail combined with a hint of magic and the peek into women’s lives and the world of the Dutch when they controlled vital trade was both fascinating and gripping. The author was able to bring such big subjects into a very small and confined world of a new bride. Over all a very satisfying read.
STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel – I am someone who loves the combination of great writing and a touch of the other world and STATION ELEVEN hit those notes. Post apocalyptic with hope threaded through works for me every time!
I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson – A truly beautiful story that is magical even though it is grounded in the real world and deals with real issues of identity, relationship and growth. Young Adult books are so much about voice and this one had strong voices in spades.
ABSOLUTELY ALMOST by Lisa Graff – Touching in a deep way. A book that stays with you about what we value as children and adults and that there are so many varied ways that we can be important people in the world. This Middle Grade was all about voice and heart.
ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven – I cried, I laughed and I stayed up until 2 am in a cramped hotel room in Frankfurt finishing every last word!
Anneli Høier: For me, the work that made the greatest impression on me in 2014 was: Edward St. Aubyn’s five novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother’s Milk, and At Last, i.e. The Patrick Melrose Novels. They are based on the author’s own life, growing up in a highly dysfunctional upper-class English family, dealing with the deaths of both parents, alcoholism, heroin addiction and recovery, and marriage and parenthood.
Powerful, heart-breaking, brilliant, a true literary masterpiece.
Leonhardt & Høier Literary Agency A/S
John Berlyne: Two books, outside my immediate agency reading, were stand-out titles for me this year, and both were débuts. I picked these up to see what all the fuss was about and, significantly, both are Picador titles. Emily St. John Mandel’s Station 11 is literary, post-apocalyptic science fiction. Indeed it’s a premise that I’ve seen many times, but here it is executed with an elegance and a precision that really is a cut above. Beautifully written, it’s a haunting, time-line jumping narrative that has stayed with me. The other book was The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. The buzz built early and quickly on this one and I managed to score a proof copy before it was published. How nice to encounter something that so clearly lives up to the hype! The Miniaturist has gone on to become a critical and commercial hit and has sold all over the place. It’s well deserved success for this super-tense and supremely atmospheric historical – a very classy book indeed. Hat’s off to Picador.
1. NOTHING HOLDS BACK THE NIGHT by Delphine Vigan
A brave and heartbreaking autobiographical novel that explores the complexities of memory.
2. EMPATHY EXAMS by Leslie Jamison
Jamison just oozes brilliance in all of her well-crafted sentences.
3. MY STRUGGLE BOOK 2 by Karl-Ove Knausgaard
A brooding hot Norwegian writer writing about domesticity while never forgetting to be self-loathing.
Sterling Lord Literistic
Janet Reid: FlashBoys by Michael Lewis–any agent will tell you that thrillers set in the world of high finance are a hard sell, but this non-fiction book is pretty close to a real thriller. Set in the world of high frequency trading, this book is largely about why the rest of us no longer have real access to the stock market (because HFT trade in literally the milliseconds of time before anyone else sees the offer.)
Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones You don’t even have to know what a Muppet is to appreciate this hugely readable biography of a master artist. Even knowing Jim Henson died years ago, I wept during the scenes of the last day of his life feeling like the world was now a much sadder colder place without him. Beautifully written and utterly charming.
Get Carter by Ted Lewis Published this year but written in the 60’s, Paul Oliver of Syndicate Books embarked on a campaign to secure the American rights and publish the book. We knew the outline of the plot from the Michael Caine movie, but this is the real deal. I’ll bet you a nice crisp twenty dollar bill that Lee Child read this book and loved it because it reads like a Reacher novel before there was a Reacher. (That is my highest form of praise by the way)
THE DAYS OF ABANDONMENT & The Neapolitan Novels
I’m full-on infected with Ferrante Fever, the best sort of sickness. I read THE DAYS OF ABANDONMENT on a quiet beach in California, the opposite of Olga’s rage-filled apartment, and was wowed by how Ferrante’s characters nearly vibrate off the page with their passion and fury. I’d like to always have a new Ferrante novel on my nightstand.
Here’s a book where you know what’s going to happen from the very first line, but you have to read to fill in the gaps of how and why. It’s a stunning portrayal of the messy grudges and jealousies that often accompany a life devoted to art and love, and Black forces you to feel the sorrow her main character Gus tries to ignore. Black had me silently sobbing in Amtrak’s quiet car.
The Friedrich Agency
Patricia Nelson: On the adult side, by far my favorite of the year was Ariel Schrag’s debut novel ADAM. Schrag has been on my radar since she published four graphic memoirs of her teen years in the 1990s, but ADAM blew me away as a completely unique take on the coming of age story. In the novel, the titular character, an awkward teenage boy, travels across the country to stay with his older sister in New York. There he finds himself on the outside of his sister’s queer, radical circle of friends – until he decides to try to pass as a trans guy to fit in. The book is hilarious without being gimmicky, and Schrag writes with wonderful insight and sensitivity. I cannot recommend this novel enough.
On the YA side, the book that I’ve found myself thinking about most this year actually released at the tail end of 2013: Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando’s ROOMIES, which masterfully captures the feeling of that last summer at home before leaving for college. Sweet, delightful contemporary YA often gets overlooked in “best-of” lists, but this dual-narrated novel deserves more attention: both voices are pitch-perfect.
Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
Fiona Kenshole: My favorite was HALF BAD by Sally Green, which kept me guessing and squirming. It’s everything I look for in a debut – poised, confident, characterful writing. Shout outs also to FIREBUG by Lish McBride and BELZHAR by Meg Wolitzer because I love an unreliable narrator.
Seth Fishman: Knowing, of course, that my own client list and my own book (heh) is off limits, I’d have to say my favorite books of 2014 were RED RISING by Pierce Brown (Hunger Games meets Enders Game but with all the original excitement and intenseness), I AM PILGRIM by Terry Hayes, a great thriller, and 2AM AT THE CATS PAJAMAS by Marie Helene Bertino (Tom Robbins style intelligent fun). Oh, also, THE BEAR SNORES ON, a board book my 5 month old loves.
Jonny Geller: I will be very honest and only nominate books in which I had no involvement!
I loved SAPIENS by Yuval Noah Harari
Ben McIntyre’s A SPY AMONG FRIENDS was a brilliant tragi-comedy about class and spying
I was introduced to the world of Elena Ferrante and enjoyed MY BRILLIANT FRIEND
I’m reading three brilliant books in proof – DISCLAIMER by Renee Knight
HITLER’S FIRST VICTIMS by Timothy Ryback – up there with Hanns & Rudolph for thriller feel
Mario Vargas Llosa’s new novel THE DISCREET HERO is just wonderful
Curtis Brown UK
HAPPY NEW YEAR! Here’s to many more great books in 2015!