Now – as we head into the second half of 2014 and readers continue to draw up their summer reading lists – it's the perfect moment to ask: What were the best books to have emerged in the first half of the year?
Amazon recently released its own list of the best books to hit have shelves over the last six months. The company’s picks included a biography of John Updike, a novel about contemporary immigrants in America, and a sequel to a 2011 young adult bestseller.
“We’ve arrived at a list that will fit every customer’s summer reading agenda – whether you’re headed to the beach, traveling the world or enjoying a staycation,” Amazon editorial director Sara Nelson said in a statement.
The Amazon staff compiled a list of 20 of their favorite titles, including a mix of genres. Many of these titles were also appreciated by Monitor critics, with our reviewer James Schiff calling “Updike” by Adam Begley, one of Amazon’s choices, “an insightful, compelling, discreet, and admirable biography.”
Monitor reviewer David Holahan, however, was less enamored of “No Place to Hide” by Glenn Greenwald” than was Amazon, which chose the book as one of its 2014 favorites. Holahan wrote that “even those who agree that having a full-blown debate on the balance between security, freedom, and privacy is healthy may find the book wanting in certain particulars. The author’s advocacy can be relentless and repetitious…. A clear deficiency is the almost total lack of reporting on Snowden’s life, before or after his revelations shocked the world. The truth about him is undoubtedly more complex and interesting than the superficial whistleblower-in-shining-armor portrait that Greenwald conjures.”
However, Monitor fiction critic Yvonne Zipp enjoyed “The Invention of Wings,” which was another of Amazon’s choices, calling author Sue Monk Kidd’s decision to include the character of a slave named Hetty in the story of abolitionist Sarah Grimke “brilliant.”
She also agreed with Amazon’s positive assessment of the novel “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, another book on its "best of 2014" list. Zipp found “Light” to be “compelling” and noted that Doerr’s book has familiar tropes like orphans and a cursed jewel but that the author manages to make his story fresh and does it "with stylistic aplomb.”
Monitor Books editor Marjorie Kehe responded positively to Amazon selection “Savage Harvest” by Carl Hoffman. The nonfiction account investigating the fate of a member of the Rockefeller family is “an intelligent and significant piece of journalism,” she wrote.
Monitor young adult fiction critic Katie Ward Beim-Esche was similarly won over by Ransom Riggs’s “Hollow City: Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children", another of Amazon’s picks. Beim-Esche wrote that Rigg's new book – sequel to his 2011 bestseller "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" – is “a well of backstory sprinkled with enough near-miss danger to get your heart pounding.”
Monitor critic Kendra Nordin enjoyed another Amazon pick, “Delancey” by food blogger Molly Wizenberg, a memoir which chronicled the “messy, explosive, and exhilarating” process of opening a restaurant, according to Nordin.
Meanwhile, Monitor reader, Sue Ransohoff, wrote to tell us how much she enjoyed “Redeployment” by Phil Klay, another of Amazon’s selections.
“If you have not fought in Iraq, nothing will ever allow you to know what it was like – but Redeployment by Phil Klay will get you agonizingly close,” she wrote. “This is a brilliant evocation of war and leaves you wondering if we will be forgiven for entering into it.”
Other books on Amazon’s list include the novel “The Book of Unknown Americans” by Cristina Henriquez, “Euphoria” by Lily King, “In Paradise” by Peter Matthiessen, “Red Rising” by Pierce Brown, “To Rise Again at a Decent Hour” by Joshua Ferris, “The Empathy Exams” by Leslie Jamison, “The Painter” by Peter Heller, “The Fever” by Megan Abbott, “The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair” by Joel Dicker, “Casebook” by Mona Simpson, “Blood Will Out” by Walter Kirn, and “Those Who Wish Me Dead” by Michael Koryta.