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Agents Pick the Best Books of 2014!

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:

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….

ava lavender golden city

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:
Twitter: @renarossner

ocean at the end grasshopper

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
Twitter: @LindaEpstein


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

everything one and only

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
Twitter: @carlywatters

redeployment station eleven

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.
Regal Literary
Twitter: @regal_literary

all the light mighty

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
Twitter: @ShannonHassan

give you the sun vampires

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!

VAMPIRES IN THE LEMON GROVE by Karen Russell – Magical realism with depth. You get me every time.
Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency
Twitter: @JVNLA


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

station elevenminiaturist

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.
Zeno Agency
Twitter: @jberlyne

nothing holds back struggle 2

Szilvia Molnar:
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
Twitter: @szilmolnar

flash boys henson

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)
FinePrint Lit
Twitter: @Janet_Reid

ferrantelife drawing

Nichole LeFebvre: 2014 was full of stunning fiction (Merritt Tierce! Helen Oyeyemi!) but the two authors I keep recommending are Elena Ferrante and Robin Black.

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
Twitter: @nickylefe


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
Twitter: @patricianels

half bad firebug

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.
Transatlantic Agency
Twitter: @genuinefi

red rising cats pajamas

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.
Gernert Company
Twitter: @sethasfishman


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
Twitter: @JonnyGeller

magicians  double

Josh Getzler: Adult: THE MAGICIANS by Lev Grossman, DOUBLE DOWN by Heilman and Halperin.
Kids: ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell
Hannigan Salky Getzler Agency
Twitter: @jgetzler

HAPPY NEW YEAR! Here’s to many more great books in 2015!


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Mickey Hart in Jerusalem and the Things You Miss as an Expat

So I haven’t blogged in a while which all sort of boils down to one major thing: life. To say that I’ve been crazy busy is an understatement. I’ve been approving the final proofs of my cookbook: Eating the Bible (available here!) and coming out in November, I spent quite a few weeks editing my novel: Master of the Miracles, before it went out on submission with my new agent, Josh Getzler. A co-worker decided to come back from maternity leave, but in a different capacity, and I’ve taken on all her clients. In short, total madness. And I’ve also been reading non-stop. Queries, submissions, manuscripts, books in Hebrew and English, and I’ve been busy trying to get my author-clients published (but August has been a very quiet month on that front…)

But today I had to blog to talk about something unrelated to books or publishing.


Last night we went to hear Mickey Hart play at the Hebrew University Amphitheater in Jerusalem. Now, I bought tickets to this MONTHS ago, the second I heard it announced, and I’d been looking forward to it all summer. But what I experienced last night was beyond words.

I’m a huge fan of the Grateful Dead. I have been since my sister first introduced me to the band when I was 12. But I’m part of a generation that never got to see Jerry Garcia live. I remember the day he died, I was 16 and working at a science summer camp and I hadn’t gotten the chance to see a concert live yet. It’s one of my greatest regrets in life.

Last night Mickey Hart came to Jerusalem. And I saw his band live, and the second song they played was Chinacat Sunflower – my favorite song. I cried when the song played, not just because it caught me so unexpectedly – the second song of the night – and bam! My favorite song. But because for me, to hear Mickey Hart play in Jerusalem, the city of my heart, and to be standing there, outdoors, overlooking the Judean Desert and hearing my favorite song – LIVE, was more than I could hold inside.

mickey hart 2

Now I know I’m totally fan-girling, which is not something I normally do about something other than books, but I need to explain something deeper and bigger. When you move to Israel (or any other country other than your birth-place,) you give up a hell of a lot. You also gain a lot, which is, I suppose, why we make the move to begin with. But, sometimes you really really miss the things you give up. And while they may not life-or-death types of things, and while intellectually you know that what you gained is way more important than what you gave up, you still miss those things tremendously. Examples:

What I miss: Old Navy (places where jeans cost less than $50, especially for kids, and jeans the actually fit, that are good quality and that are sized for all types of people and kids, specifically, where I can buy “curvy” jeans for me, and “husky” jeans for my 11-year-old and often for only $12), Target (I don’t think that needs elaboration…LOL), American Grocery Stores (that carry all sorts of products I miss, most specifically Crispix Cereal, but also Stonyfield Farms yogurt and a whole bunch of other things I won’t get into right now…), free, beautiful beaches, hotels that charge per room and not per child, cheap vacation options, camping spots with grass, water-front property, affordable cars and real-estate, large bookstores and bookstore cafes, and the list goes on…

What I’ve gained: the history of my people with every step that I walk, archaeology everywhere I go, the ability to bring the Bible to life for my kids with every breath we take, holy sites and cities that are part of my heritage, freedom from certain Western conventions about cleanliness (read: Purell obsessions – no offense to anyone intended) and allergies, basically, my kids get really dirty here and sometimes do non-hygienic things and they live to tell the tale. The freedom to wear flip-flops to synagogue, which really means, a very relaxed attitude to Judaism and religion, as in, it’s just a part of everything we do and so my kids just feel “normal” here, with no need or fear to hide their kippah (yarmulke) or tzitzit. Grocery stores where we can buy anything and everything in the entire store (as in EVERYTHING is kosher!), and we can eat in almost every restaurant in Jerusalem. So eating and ordering out is not something special that we do only from certain places, it’s just a normal part of life. The fact that my kids are fluent in Hebrew and English. The fact that there school textbooks teach them this history and geography of this land first – that geology is first about the rocks of the land of Israel. That my kids are growing up surrounded by a very diverse population base and they think that’s normal (their classes are a mix of Russian, Ethiopian, French, Hispanic, Yemenite, Morroccan and “white” or “Ashkenazi” kids). The incredible plethora of different types of cuisine and the world of Middle Eastern flavors that my kids are growing up with…and so much more.

Anyway. I think you get the point.

And then. Mickey Hart shows up. And, all I can say is that it’s a blessing. I feel blessed. The concert was incredible. And I was grateful that unlike some other musicians who have decided not to come here – from political pressure and perhaps other reasons, Mickey Hart came. And his message was simple: governments come and go, but music stays the same. Music unites. Music transcends boundaries. And I’m not going to get political and talk about why some musicians come and others don’t. All I can say is: when you come, you become a blessing to us.

I had tears in my eyes the whole night. Because sometimes you miss things, and sometimes you think about going back, and other times you don’t miss anything at all, but sometimes…when the things that you give up come to you, you feel like the luckiest person in the whole wide world.

mickey hart

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Guest Blogging about Read With Mother

Hey all!

I’m guest blogging today over at Scott Pack’s Me and My Big Mouth blog. Scott is the editor of both The Friday Project and the Authonomy imprints over at HarperCollins UK. He has me talking about an exciting short story project I got involved in called “Read With Mother” on the Authonomy website.

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How I Got My Agent

I’ve been wanting to share the full story of my querying process and how I got my agent for a while. Reading these types of stories really helped me along the way – I even cried when I read one story…so I wanted to tell mine just in case it helps anyone on their journey…

I starting querying my first novel “Framing the Sea” (originally titled “Blown to Smithereens”) at the end of January 2010. I sent out 10 query letters to my “top” agent choices and got my first full manuscript request 5 minutes after sending my first query letter ever. I burst into tears. I couldn’t believe it! Needless to say, it was rejected – within a week, which I now know was rather quick. One week later I got a full request from a huge agent at William Morris – my fingers were shaking so badly I couldn’t type!!!

35 full and partial manuscript requests later…every rejection I got felt like a stab to the stomach. Why did everyone love my query letter, every partial turned into a full…and then I got rejected? Time and time again. Every agent had very detailed feedback to give me. Every agent said I was a “very talented writer” but nobody offered me representation.

It was very very disheartening. Everyone kept saying “something big is happening here – you have so much interest!!!” but it didn’t feel that way at all…I was so depressed. People weren’t rejecting my query letter – they were rejecting my full manuscript – over and over again. At some point I decided to do a major revision taking into account the feedback from the agents that resonated with me the most.

I actually also received very valuable feedback from some friends on the HarperCollins website (if you connect with the right people it really is a very wonderful community…) my second novel, “Master of the Miracles” received a gold medal and an Editor’s Desk review on the site in December 2011.

Anyway – I cut 30,000 words from my novel and changed the ending. I sent the revision out to 3 agents that had asked for R&Rs and to two agents who had given me the most valuable feedback (even thought the did not ask for an R&R I sent an email asking if they would be interested in seeing a revision as they both had said that were on the fence about the novel). They both agreed to take a second look.

Then I got an offer of representation from an agent. We had an amazing conversation – I was told my novel was perfect and ready to go out on submission. But I still had 11 full manuscripts out with other agents (plus the R&Rs etc.) I emailed everyone telling them I had an offer – 4 came back saying they would only offer rep if I did major revisions first. I was totally torn and not sure what to do. Some of them were really big agents.

On midnight before my deadline – one of the agents who had rejected me but agreed to look at the revision (who was one of the first agents I ever queried) offered rep. too. She told me that my novel was “almost perfect” and she had some small suggestions for revision. Everything she said really resonated with me. And so I signed with Melissa Sarver of The Elizabeth Kaplan Literary Agency about 1 month ago.

It never would have happened without the help of the amazing people on Absolute Write, on, and for the invaluable information I got from the website

After a month of revisions, we went out on submission last week.

May it happen to each and every one of you soon!!!

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Blog Launch: My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors

My name is Rena, I am a writer and avid reader (sometimes called book-monster!). I wrote a cookbook entitled “Eating the Bible” which is currently represented by an agent and seeking a publisher. It is based on two years worth of weekly columns that I wrote for The Jerusalem Post over a period of two years that connected a recipe with a Biblical verse. I am also seeking representation for my first novel entitled “Blown to Smithereens.”

I have  always been a voracious reader and came up with the idea of reading a book a day and blogging about it, only to discover that someone had already beat me to the punch! Nina Sankovitch read one book every day in 2008-2009  and has a forthcoming book called Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading that chronicles this experience. I’m not sure if I’m going to manage to read a book a day, but I’m going to try!

I don’t want to write reviews of books because you can find plenty of those in other places, I want to share my reading experience with you. I am especially interested in how reading some books can often lead us to read other books. In fact, those are my favorite types of books: books that force me to pick up more books!

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