John Millen's top book picks from 2014

John Millen's top book picks from 2014

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John Millen used to teach English and French in a secondary school in the UK. He believes telling others about a good book is a brilliant thing to do.

This was a year full of The Hunger Games wannabes, with countless titles setting a teenaged hero or heroine against threats in a dystopian future. But our list of the year's brightest and best books focuses on novels that had nothing to do with dystopia or weak sequels.

Vango by French writer Timothee de Fombelle is a brilliant thriller set in the 1930s that is completely original in character and plot. Everything fits together in this outstanding read, and even back in January it was obvious that this was going to be one of the Books of the Year.

Comedian-turned-writer David Walliams continued his bid to become today's Roald Dahl with the grimly funny Demon Dentist. Walliams knows how to hit readers' funny bones, and he was on top form with this tale set in the world of teeth. Who or what is sneaking into youngsters' bedrooms and stealing their teeth? This is Walliams' best book yet, with a high level of humour, shivers and mischief. What more could a young reader (or, indeed an older one) want from a book?

Then to 1940s France. Cameron McAllister's The Tin Snail is a thrilling adventure about the origins of the iconic Citroen 2CV. McAllister's fictional take on how this classic car came to be makes a heart-warming and thrilling read, with some fantastic set-pieces that would work brilliantly on TV or in a movie. 

John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, can always be relied upon to come up with something different and original. The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket is a very funny but thoughtful story of a boy rejected by his parents because he doesn't respond to gravity like a normal little boy should. He floats and has to be tethered down with a rope. But one day, Mrs Brocket severs the rope, and Barnaby floats off to great adventures.

Anthony Horowitz did something very clever with Russian Roulette. Not much was expected from the latest Alex Rider, a series that seemed to be dying, but what a surprise! Horowitz went completely off on a tangent with this one, telling the back story of one of the villains from a previous Alex Rider adventure. Totally gripping.

Author Philip Pullman reworks the classic Brother Grimm stories in Grimm Tales for Young and Old. Pullman is a master of language and story-telling and he brought his considerable expertise to each of the stories in this collection. Think you know the story of Little Red Riding Hood? You don't until you've read Pullman's take on the story in Grimm Tales. This is a book to read and read again because the stories are so rich in detail and plot and character. 

John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Happy reading with some of the best books of 2014

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