Best books of 2014

>> 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.


Angiegirl 31 December 2014 at 05:38  

I really loved The Luckiest Lady in London as well.

Wendy 31 December 2014 at 15:27  

The Kate Sherwood sounds great - but then I'm a bit of an angst junkie.

I'm going to go through your non-romance list and start requesting some stuff on audio. That Stephen King especially looks right in my ballpark.

Sun,  31 December 2014 at 15:56  

Great list. The Rosie Project and Unbound are my best reads this year too. The others in the Romance list are all in my to-read list next year, except for maybe Mark of Cain (not a fan of angsty books)

The Border of Infinity is perfect and one of the best novellas I've ever read. I still remember feeling stunned at the end of the story.

From your review I decided to pick up Mr Mercedes and I really enjoyed it. Actually I based a lot of my book-buying decisions this year on your reviews. So thank you! Hope to read more next year. Enjoy your holidays!

Marianne McA,  31 December 2014 at 19:15  

I read and properly enjoyed both The Goblin Emperor and Americanah thanks to your reviews, and I've several of the others waiting on my Amazon wishlist.

Happy New Year. Thanks for all the 2014 reviews.


Barb in Maryland 31 December 2014 at 21:27  

I've enjoyed many of the books you listed, but the one I would not have picked up without your comments was The Bone Clocks. I loved it! Thank you for steering me to it.
Thanks for all the reviews.
Happy New Year.

Samantha 1 January 2015 at 00:42  

Great list! I really loved The Martian and The Kraken King as well this year.

CD,  1 January 2015 at 15:54  

Of all your books listed here, I've only read the Thomas and, obviously, the Bujold. It looks like I've got some work for 2015.

And can't wait until you finally finish MIRROR DANCE: you're only 50% through? It gets even better...

Rosario 1 January 2015 at 16:37  

Angieville: It really was great. I love her historicals, but I also tried her YA adventure book last year and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Wendy: I actually listened to several of the books on my non-romance list on audio, and they were all really good in that format. The Stephen King was actually one of them. I was a bit doubtful about the narrator at first, but I really warmed to him. He was perfect for that main POV character.

Sun: Yep, that ending of Borders of Infinity really made the book. It made me look back at all that had happened in a different light, and it all made so much sense. I'm so glad my reviews have been useful to you, thanks so much for telling me! :) And I'd love to hear what else you loved this year, since we seem to have pretty similar tastes!

Marianne and Barb: Ah, you're all giving me a warm glow! :) I'm really glad I helped you both find good books. Thanks for all the really interesting, thought-provoking comments throughout the year!

Samantha: I'm not usually a big adventure reading, but both of those really worked for me!

CD: I went on a bit of a binge listen and finished it today. Oh, wow! Mark, my poor, lovely Mark! I was a wreck for a while after listening to those sections. But I was satisfied at the end that he was going to be ok and was getting and would get some of the help he needed. Please tell me he's a big part of the next few books?

CD,  1 January 2015 at 17:28  

LOL!! I remember when I first read MIRROR DANCE as a teenager, I literally threw my book against the wall when a certain thing happened marking what I thought was yet another change in the status quo of the saga, and a change that I hated with the fire of a thousand burning suns. Suffice to say, at the end of MIRROR DANCE, I was almost disappointed that that hadn't been the case! That is great writing, my friends...

And yes, Mark does show up in later books - particularly in A CIVIL CAMPAIGN where he's actually one of the POV characters. He and Miles are bloody hilarious together - they really need to go on the road as a double act.

Now you have MEMORY [big squeal] to look forward to! God, I'm so envious...

Li 1 January 2015 at 20:23  

Happy New Year, Rosario!

I echo CD's envy about you having the remaining Vorkosigan books to discover for the first time. I love MEMORY.

Also I just finished Kate Sherwood's THE FALL, which I bought based on your review - I really liked it and now have bought MARK OF CAIN. Your reviews are so bad for my wallet!

Rosario 2 January 2015 at 09:17  

CD: Oh, you mean when it looked like the main character of the series might change? Unfortunately, I knew what the plot was before I started (whoever wrote this summary should be shot: Seriously!). But by the end part of me did feel like it wouldn't have been such a bad thing!

I want to get to A Civil Campaign NOW!!

Li: Memory does seem to be most people's favourite. I can't wait! All these books feel like they would be great to reread, so I see myself doing it for the rest of my life!

Hope you like Mark of Cain. Sherwood is a real hidden treasure!

Sun,  2 January 2015 at 15:14  

Some of my 2015's favs are ORACLE'S MOON - Thea Harrison and THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS - M.J. Carey. I also loved READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline but it's probably too geeky for some XD;

Can't wait to hear what you think of MEMORY and A CIVIL CAMPAIGN. (another envious reader here)

CD,  3 January 2015 at 02:48  

"Oh, you mean when it looked like the main character of the series might change? Unfortunately, I knew what the plot was before I started (whoever wrote this summary should be shot: Seriously!). But by the end part of me did feel like it wouldn't have been such a bad thing!

I want to get to A Civil Campaign NOW!!"

That is a horrible blurb: it basically summarized the whole bloody story - who writes blurbs like that?!

And hold your horses: you have two FANTASTIC books ahead of you with MEMORY and KOMARR. You've only read the first of the best four books in the series (with the possible exception of BARRAYAR) so enjoy them while you can. They'll be over before you know it and then you'll be reduced to countless rereads and cyber-stalking VORKOSIGAN newbies...

Rosario 3 January 2015 at 10:24  

Sun: Oh, thanks! I loved Ready Player One, and my book club are doing The Girl With All the Gifts in January, so I'll be starting it soon. I read the first in Thea Harrison's series and liked it, but didn't really continue. I really should go back to her!

CD: I guess people who've reread the series again and again and think everyone has? Some of the people writing reviews on amazon seem to be like that. I remember reading mentions of Mark (as in "of course, in this book Miles doesn't yet know he has an X") in reviews of books much earlier than Brothers in Arms!

I'm getting really, really excited about the next books! Memory is now on my mp3 player, and I'll probably be tempted to start it on my flight back. I know you think I should start it NOW, but I enjoy series a lot more if I space them out at least a tiny bit *g*.

Darlynne,  4 January 2015 at 16:59  

I'm late, sorry. So many great books and, finally, a bunch I've read and loved. And re-read.

Welcome back! I look forward to your reviews.

Marianne McA,  6 January 2015 at 00:00  

Just to add, I read the Fowler yesterday and really enjoyed it as well. Thanks for the recommendation.

meljean brook 8 January 2015 at 03:22  

After my "Hooray!"

I think a ton of my reading comes from your blog, as well. I haven't been going for a lot of romance (I'm just in a slump + not a lot of reading time) and some of my favorites this year have come from this blog. Station Eleven, Mr. Mercedes (I like Stephen King, but I think I was going to pass this one over until I read your review.) I also really enjoyed The Martian.

I have Americanah, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, and The Wake on my Kindle thanks to you, as well. Also another one -- I'm blanking on the title, but it was a mystery set in Hole (I think? You'd mentioned in the review that the setting practically breathed.) I'll probably also pick up The Bone Clocks and The Goblin Emperor, but hold off on reading them for now, just because my head isn't in the right place for them.

Others I enjoyed: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith and The Girl With All The Gifts (the secondary female characters both irritated me in their own ways but overall I really liked it).

meljean brook 8 January 2015 at 03:26  

Ugh, HULL. And it was David Mark :-D

Rosario 8 January 2015 at 09:31  

Darlynne: We do seem to enjoy the same things :) I'm still on holiday (this post was kind of mostly written already, but I waited to post while I read like crazy till the end of the year), so the reviews will start coming in a couple of weeks!

Marianne: You're very welcome; I'm glad you enjoyed it. I hope you managed to avoid the spoilers and got the full effect! :)

Meljean: I'm so very glad to see your and the other commenters' remarks. I've sometimes wondered, as I've started reading more and more outside the romance genre, whether my my reviews of those books were of interest to my visitors, who are mostly from the romance blogosphere. I know I'm more likely to trust reviews of non-romance books by romance readers, so I kept writing them. It's good to see they've been useful!

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