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Friday Five: 5 Favourites of 2014 (That Aren't From 2014)

For the past few years, my annual contribution to Smugglivus has been the 'Five Favourite Books of This  Year That Weren't Actually Published This Year'. This year, however, I went in a different direction (you'll see), but I didn't want to waste a good list.

A few caveats: I've left off 2015 titles, comic books and re-reads. Without further ado (and in alphabetical order)...

CoyleKatie Coyle's Vivian Versus the Apocalypse (2013)

The Rapture cometh and Vivian Apple is very much... 'left behind'. As (what remains of) society gets uglier and uglier and the canned food runs low, Vivian grabs a grumpy friend, a cute boy and her car keys - she's off to find some answers. Vivian takes the 'world without adults' YA trope to a new place by mixing it up with, for lack of a better term, contemporary hard-core Christian mythology.

It would be easy to settle for being a dark comedy, but Coyle goes a step further - this is a genuinely powerful, tragic, bittersweet book about good and evil and Good and Evil. If you're a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction (or even a bit of dystopian conspiracy theory), Vivian hits all the right buttons - aided by a disarmingly empathetic heroine. But this is an extraordinary book that hits close to home. It leaves the reader with a lot of questions about how we - as humans - treat one another, and the sacrifices we make for both real people and abstract ideals.

(Reviewed here.)

H. Verner Dixon's The Hunger and the Hate (1955)

Dean Holt has worked himself up the ladder, and he's now one of California's elite vegetable magnates: he is the lord of the lettuce. Yet, despite his flash and his flair, his fancy house and fancier mistress, Dean still sees himself as playing second fiddle to the aristocratic Moore family. He's the nouveau riche, they're the nobility. 

The Hunger and the Hate follows Dean as he sets out on his relentless quest to be the very best - or, more accurately, be respected as such. A brilliant work of noir that creates that sense of claustrophobia as the world, inevitably, chokingly, begins to fragment and collapse. Dixon's a forgotten genius of the genre, and this novel is his longest and most ambitious work. If the setting - lettuce! - seems bizarre, recall that this was published only three years after another novel of the Selinas Valley - Steinbeck's East of Eden

HeyerGeorgette Heyer's The Nonesuch (1962)

I read a lot of Georgian romping this year, and, although credit is due to Courtenay Milan and Eloisa James, I'm going to go back a bit and tip my hat to the queen of the genre. The titular Nonesuch is a peer without peer - a member of the ton who is impeccable in all the manly virtues: riding a horse, dressing elegantly and being able to arch an eyebrow. When he arrives for the season in a remote village, the local aristocracy are all a-flutter... all except for the Miss Trent, the governess, who refuses to be charmed by neatly turned out gentleman and his riding crop. Cue: rom-com bliss.

Heyer's two main protagonists are both lovely and the inevitability of their romance is offset by their delightfully sharp dialogue. In the background, a whole host of minor characters swarm, charm and pair off in unexpected ways. An excellent combination of the familiar and the ground-breaking, presented, well, peerlessly.

Dia Reeves' Bleeding Violet (2010)

The town of Portero has some problems - not least of which are the magical portals that randomly open and close, occasionally disgorging monsters. Fortunately, there's a merry band of highly-trained local Chosen One types that all battle evil and save the day as a matter of routine. Violet's a new-comer, so this is all a bit of a surprise. But she's got her own challenges, and, frankly, compared to being haunted, being thrown out, possibly being a criminal... a few monsters are nothing. And she's definitely not someone that's going to let others decide her fate for her.

On paper, Bleeding Violet sounds like a million other stories - in execution, it is anything but. Violet is a most unlikely heroine, complete with a progressive, 21st century interpretation of morality that would have the Famous Five in conniptions. There's a ruthlessness in here that makes the book real, and a sweeping imagination that rivals anything else in fantasy.

(Reviewed here.)

Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys (2012)

Not totally dissimilar to the above - The Raven Boys is a small town with ancient horrors, plus protagonists that defy all the tropes and traditions. That said, while Bleeding Violet is unabashedly darker, The Raven Boys is equally and wonderfully subversion, and discusses notions of 'belonging' and agency in a completely different way.

In a town divided between wealthy students and working class townies, there's a real tension between the 'haves' and 'have nots'. The big magical doodads only exacerbate the problem: adding another layer of, essentially, privilege into the mix. Beautifully written and strangely forlorn, The Raven Boys elegantly demonstrates that everyone has problems, and, frankly, we should all work a little harder at being on the same side (especially against ageless evil).

(Reviewed here.)

Honourable mentions

Eloisa James' Desperate Duchesses (2007)
Jack Lynch's The Missing and the Dead (1982)
Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy (2007)
Howard Pyle's Rejected of Men (1903)
Jean Webster's Daddy Long-legs (1912)

Favourite 2014 titles of 2014 to come at the end of the month.

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