>> Wednesday, December 31, 2014
2014 was a really good reading year for me. I read almost 170 books and found some I really loved.
It wasn't a great year for romance, though. I've been finding myself less and less interested in what's out there in the romance genre, so much so that for the first time since I started tracking my reading, over half of what I read was non-romance.
And also, while finding truly excellent non-romance books to include in this post was really easy (so much so that I've included a top 13, rather than a top 10, and there were several that narrowly missed out being there), I struggled to get enough romance novels I thought were good enough. I've ended up doing only a top 6!
Preparing this, I realised there are quite a few of these books I haven't yet reviewed. I find it hardest to review books I loved.... to write something that does these books justice, I guess! I've got half-written reviews for all of those, and I'll try to finish and post them early in the new year.
Best romance read in 2014
The Kraken King, by Meljean Brook
Of course there will be a Meljean Brook on this list. The Kraken King is a wonderful adventure romance. Fantastic world-building and great characters. It was a serial, so I've linked here to my review of part 8, which includes links to all the other parts. The serial format didn't quite work for me, but the story was more than strong enough to overcome that.
Mark of Cain, by Kate Sherwood
A romance between an ex-con and the brother of the man he killed, so very angsty. Sherwood develops it slowly, so it works. And in addition to the great romance, there is a real exploration of themes of redemption and forgiveness, as well as a hero who's an Anglican minister and is struggling with how his church deals with gay priests like him. Loved it.
The Countess Conspiracy, by Courtney Milan
This is about women being suppressed, all those who wanted to do things that society didn't approve of for women and had to hide behind a male someone else to be able to do them. The heroine is a scientist, and the hero her friend, who's providing the male front. Beautifully satisfying, even if I had some doubts about the believability of the ending.
The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion
This was a charming comedy romance, hilarious but also affecting. It's about a man who has some issues with social interaction and who comes up with a plan to find himself a wife. He ends up co-operating with a woman called Rosie, who's exactly wrong according to everything on his list.
Unbound, by Cara McKenna
Cara McKenna can make me like anything. This one includes BDSM, which I usually avoid, but managed to make me feel completely engaged in the relationship. I couldn't stop reading.
The Luckiest Lady In London, by Sherry Thomas
I really loved the story of two people seen as perfectly proper by all of society, but who immediately recognise hidden, darker depths in each other. Thomas is one of the few historical romance authors I've got left.
Best non-romance read in 2014
The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison
My first A+ in a very long time. It's the story of a young half-goblin who unexpectedly comes to the throne of the kingdom of the elves and is completely unprepared. The way he comes into his role and becomes an excellent Emperor is just beautiful. It's a long, dense read, and I adored every second of it.
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Americanah follows a young Nigerian woman as she moves to the US and then, a few years later, back to Nigeria, where she again encounters her old boyfriend. I don't often feel the visceral recognition I felt when reading this book. Ifemelu's experiences echoed mine in many ways... things like discovering the completely different implications of your race when you move to a new country and how it all interacts with class and privilege. I read this one for my book club, and it generated the best discussion we've had in the 5 years we've been running.
The Wake, by Paul Kingsnorth
The Wake tells the story of the resistance after the Norman invasion of 1066, written in what the author describes as a shadow version of Old English. This was a book that completely wowed me on all fronts. Its use of language is incredible. I wondered when I started it whether the whole shadow 'Old English' thing would be a bit of a stunt, but it really wasn't. It was essential to achieve a great recreation of a time and place and a fascinating character who felt completely of his time.
The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell
The Bone Clocks was a fabulous read. Mitchell does his usual thing here of having a book composed of a group of novellas, six here. There is a strong narrative thread, though, as we have Holly Sykes in whose point of view we are in the first and last stories, and who's very present in the middle four. There's also a big fantasy Good vs. Evil-type element which is mostly in the background but pops up periodically in the different sections. I'm not describing it very well here, but it's great storytelling, with really interesting characters I cared about intensely and done with Mitchell's gift for mimicking different genres. I didn't want to leave this world when the book finished, and it will definitely be one I'll reread, probably soon.
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
There's been a bit of a backlash against The Goldfinch, but I still really enjoyed it. It's a big, fat book about a young man whose life is blown apart when his mother is killed in a terrorist attack in a museum. The effects of that continue to be felt in his life, not least through a painting he takes with him after the explosion and neglects to return. The protagonist is really not a nice character, but he was interesting, as were all the supporting characters. I was absorbed, and even liked the final, controversial 30 pages.
And All The Stars, by Andrea K Höst
This excellent sci-fi young adult novel has an ensemble cast fighting off an alien invasion. The characters are wonderful and diverse and the plot unfolds in ways that feel fresh and different. My first novel by this author was a DNF, so I'm really glad I decided to give her another chance.
The Circle, by Dave Eggers
A satire about a scarily believable Google-like company that is taking over the world. Eggers sometimes hits you over the head with his metaphors, but on the whole, I thought this was great. Familiar and surprising at the same time, and it made me think about debates that are actually going on (e.g. would requiring real identities on-line solve the problem of trolling?) in different ways.
Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King
A burned-out retired detective teams up with some unlikely people to hunt down a mass murderer. Great, tense storytelling and characters I really cared about. I hadn't read King for quite a while, and I'd only read some of his classic horror, so this surprised me, in a very good way.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler
This is about a woman who grew up in a family that was unique in a very interesting way. When we meet her we know that the family has pretty much disintegrated, and we explore why. The book looks at themes like how families work, the nature of sisterhood, the treachery of memory, animal rights, and activism, but it does this by telling a wonderfully engaging story and doing so in a way that was really interesting structurally. I really enjoyed it.
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
A post-apocalyptic novel that manages to be positive and optimistic about humanity and the value of our current lives. It was a huge surprise, and I loved it. The characters were great, and the structure of it was wonderfully handled. Just fantastic.
The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber
This is about a missionary selected to go to a remote planet and preach for the people there, who have been demanding someone is sent to tell them all about this "Book of Strange New Things", i.e. the Bible. This was a very unexpected book, full of fascinating characters who emotionally engaged me.
The Martian, by Andy Weir
An astronaut is accidentally left behind in Mars when his team suddenly need to evacuate their camp in an emergency, and he must apply all his considerable knowledge to survive. Brilliant, gripping stuff.
The Borders of Infinity, by Lois McMaster Bujold
I'd cheat by nominating the entire chunk of the Vorkosigan series that I've read this year, but I wouldn't know which cover to put up *g*. This is probably the most perfectly formed and put together entry. It's a novella featuring Miles being sent into a Cetagandan prison camp for a mysterious mission. This is Miles at his most Miles-ish, and it's great. I should mention I'm currently listening to Mirror Dance and so far it's even better, but I'm only about 50% in.