Thursday, January 1, 2015

My Best (and Worst) Reads of 2014

Note: Not all of the books on this list were published this year. This list is based on the books I've read in 2014.
Previous Roundups of My Favorite Books I Read in 2014:
Sunday Fun Five: 5 Books You're Most Grateful For (2014)
The Best (and Worst) Reads of My Year (So Far)

I liked my format from my six-month roundup of my favorite books I read in 2014 (telling my faves by genre) so I kept it that way, because that way each genre gets a mention (and a runner-up or two). I've added a few genres because I read more, and added all my reading stats for 2014 at the bottom, if you care to look. I also let a lot of paragraphs be the same as my six-months-into-2014 list.

The Best of Fantasy

Words of Radiance (Stormlight Archive #2) by Brandon Sanderson (the Benevolent)
See My Critique of it Here.
Year Published: 2014
Rating: 5 Stars
This remains the favorite book I've read this year PERIOD. If you're looking for chunkier books with a beautiful fantasy world, fantastic characterisation, and world-hopping characters, you should try the Stormlight Archive.

Honorable Mention (Fantasy)

The Broken Eye (Lightbringer #3) by Brent Weeks
See My Critique of it Here.
Year Published: 2014
Rating: 4.5 Stars
This book caused a lingering case of the Broken Eye Blues. I'm still Broken, and I still want more, even though the series may end up being a tad overlong (that could also be said of the Stormlight Archive- ten thousand-plus page tomes???). Really, if you like epic fantasy, you'll like either of these fantasy series I mentioned, because both have awesome female characters who can probably rule the world(s).

The Best of Urban Fantasy

Magic Rises and Magic Breaks (Kate Daniels #6-7) by Ilona Andrews
No Critiques Yet
Years Published: 2013, 2014
Ratings: 5 Stars Each
If I were to list the series that surprised me most in 2014, it would be the Kate Daniels series. It simply kept getting gradually better, to the point I splurged (and broke my budget) to procure the latest ebook. This series is for those who don't mind romance, kick-ass female characters, and loads of action scenes.

Honorable Mention (Urban Fantasy)

The Wolf Gift (The Wolf Gift Chronicles #1) by Anne Rice
My Critique is Here.
Rating: 4 Stars
I really struggled with where to put this book. It has elements of just about everything I read (Fantasy, Magical Realism, Paranormal Romance), but I decided to put it here due to its content (werewolves in the modern world is the whole plot). People really dislike this on Goodreads, but I tend to like anything with a lot of author-constructed mythology and prose. Some other urban-fantasy-esque werewolves have made me frown, but I really like the werewolves this book has to offer.

The Best of Steampunk

The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter (The Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire #1) by Rod Duncan
See My Critique of it Here.
Year Published: 2014
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Notably, this is the only steampunk novel I read this year, so therefore, it's the best! It should be mentioned I've not finished many steampunk books (the majority of them grind on me), but this one was very entertaining and almost read like a spy novel. Also, cross-dressing. What's not to love?

The Best of the Classics

Embers by Sándor Márai
See My Critique Here.
Year Published: 1942
Rating: 4 Stars
This book and I had a love/hate relationship. You truly loathe the ending of this book when you read it, but as much as it bugs you, it lingers. Irritating, but somehow masterful. I can't explain it well enough without spoiling, but if you hate run-of-the-mill classics, this is one to try.

Honorable Mention (Classics)

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
See My Critique Here.
Year Published: 1897
Rating: 3.5 Stars
This has aged pretty well for a book written in 1897- but although it was entertaining, there wasn't anything that really struck me about it (other than outdated science). I like this book most because you can almost read it in one sitting- and not a lot of classics can keep you in their thrall for that long.

The Best of Historical Fiction

The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama
See My Critique Here.
Year Published: 1994
Rating: 4.5 Stars
Placid, gorgeous, and not (technically) about a samurai, The Samurai's Garden is a novel of pre-WWII Japan, and a young Chinese man who is sent there to recover from illness. Although it's written in short bursts, it isn't choppy, and continues to draw you in for more well past your usual bedtime. Yes, you should read it.

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
See My Critique Here.
Year Published: 2003
Rating: 4.5 Stars
*drumroll* Most diverse book I read in 2014- Moloka'i! Although not written by a diverse author, the story draws you into a world full of different cultures and characters. I read this in late summer, and it is almost meant to be read during that time. During my reading of this book, I learned more about Hawaii and leprosy than I had known previously.

Honorable Mention (Historical)

Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong
See My Critique Here.
Year Published: 1988
Rating: 4 Stars
Set in Russia, but firmly anchored in memories of Vietnam, Paradise of the Blind is an evocative, if more than a tad melancholy, book. It was one of the more unexpected reads I had picked for my pile- I remember picking it up mostly because the cover said it was "banned in its own country". It was, and still is, but deserves to be read by anyone looking for an inside take on Communist Vietnam.

The Best of Science Fiction

The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke
See My Critique Here.
Year Published: 2013
Rating: 4 Stars
This is one of only a few sci-fi books I read this year, and it's a robot romance. However, it's a really good robot romance, with lots of sci-fi elements and an intriguing look at a futuristic society (that isn't all rosy). The Mad Scientist's Daughter truly excels in its genre by adding a human element, as well as a robot one.

The Best of Fairy Tale Retellings

(The cover for this book must be used only with permission- and I'm too impatient to get it)
Entreat Me by Grace Draven
See My Critique Here.
Year Published: Late 2013
Rating: 4 Stars
A Beauty and the Beast retelling done just right- the plot wasn't predictable, and the Beast was anything but tame. With witty banter and a hero/heroine pairing that isn't sickly sweet, this is one of the best Beauty and the Beast renditions I've come across.

The Reflections of Queen Snow White by David Meredith
See My Critique Here.
Year Published: 2013
Rating: 4 Stars
It isn't very often you come across a retelling of Snow White, and this was an excellent one. While not an action/adventure sort of book, The Reflections of Queen Snow White is exactly as its title says- an older, aging version of our beloved Snow White looking back at her past- the lovely memories as well as the terrible ones. Once past the first fifty pages, this book is almost impossible to put down.

The Best of Horror

Poe by J. Lincoln Fenn
See My Critique Here.
Year Published: 2013
Rating: 5 Stars
I read this in October because I thought it would be the perfect Halloween read- and I was right. Immensely quoteable and slyly humorous, I wasn't quite scared of this book, but I loved it anyway. Whenever I think of this, I think of Odd Thomas and how well Dimitri and he would get along. This is my favorite standalone of the year- an honor very few standalones receive.

Honorable Mention (Horror)

Interview With the Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles #1) by Anne Rice
See My Critique Here.
Year Published: 1976
Rating: 4 Stars
I really can't see vampires being that popular without the help of this book (and also the tv soap my mother used to watch: Dark Shadows). Who thinks of vampires when they look at a Shirley Temple-esque little girl? Clearly Anne Rice does. Anyhow, if you haven't read it, it's definitely worth your time- if you like vampires.

The Best of Paranormal Romance

The Scribe (Irin Chronicles #1) and The Singer (Irin Chronicles #2) by Elizabeth Hunter
Critiques: The Scribe and The Singer
Years Published: 2013, 2014
Rating: 4.5 Stars for Each Book
When I read the first book of the Irin Chronicles, I wasn't expecting it to be good. I was expecting it to be a clinical case of cover lust, with the same old paranormal romance thrown in on the pages. I was wrong. I was so incredibly wrong about these books. They're an awesome angel-centric paranormal romance, and you can really judge these books by their covers.

Honorable Mentions (Paranormal Romance)

The Lycan Hunter (A Gardinian World Novel) by Kelsey Jordan
See My Critique Here.
Year Published: Originally 2013
Rating: 4 Stars
This is a paranormal romance with a mythology so vast that the book could almost be called urban fantasy. It really exceeds the genre in an age where what passes as paranormal romance could be almost considered a contemporary romance with fangs involved. If you're looking for a romance with an interesting take on werewolves (and a whole new world of mythology) consider this for your next read.

The Spirit Guide by Elizabeth Davies
See My Critique Here.
Year Published: 2014
Rating: 4 Stars
You really can't predict much with this one- and I love that it blends historical and paranormal aspects, which are my favorites in terms of romance. I kept trying to place this book in a box with other stories (and using those stories to predict this one) and it never quite worked. If you're looking for paranormal/historical romance that keeps you guessing, this is it.

The Best of Nonfiction/Memoir

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
See My Out of Orbit Critique Here.
Year Published: 2009
Rating: 4.5 Stars
I read this just before the hubbub with The Interview and Sony Pictures erupted, which was perfect timing on my part. You don't hear of many memoirs coming out of North Korea, and in this case, an American journalist who covered the news of the Koreas gathered interviews with those (North Koreans) who had escaped. Some of the stories are shocking, some are to be expected, and some make you want to cry. If you have any interest in North Korea and its secrets, this is the book to read.

Honorable Mention (Memoir)

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung
Alternate Title (I Made Up): The Actual Hunger Games
See My Out of Orbit Critique Here.
Year Published: 2000
Rating: 4 Stars
Book I cried (my eyes out) the most while reading in 2014? This one. Loung Ung decided to write her memoir in first person, present tense from her childhood perspective, because it lost much of its impact otherwise. About the Cambodian Genocide- which I knew nothing about prior to reading this- it truly breaks your heart that this happened. Read this book only if you're equipped with sufficient Kleenex.

The Worst

I really hate to do this category, but it's based on my honest (and very verbose) opinion. Keep in mind that other people have loved these books. I clearly did not.
(This category hasn't changed in six months. I obviously had better luck choosing books after I wrote this.)

House of Bathory by Linda Lafferty
See My Critique Here.
Rating: 1.5 Stars
Writers should write about what they know. What they really love, and are a part of. Linda Lafferty has made a bad mistake when she wrote a main character as a Goth, and butchered it. The author is very lucky that Lisbeth Salander is not an actual person, or she would hack this book and delete it. The weird historical and modern stories colliding only works well when both stories make sense together, and much of their collision in this book was so unremarkable that it would've been better if the author had stuck to only Countess Bathory's story. I'm sure this author worked very hard on this book, but in the end, her hard work didn't show through for me.

The Color of Light by Helen Maryles Shankman
See My Critique Here.
Rating: 2 Stars
In a rare twist of fate, if I could rate halves of this book, I really would. The first half is four stars. The second half ruins the beauty of the first half. I can't go into detail without getting spoilery, but the heroine goes back and forth with her love of the hero, as if she's pulling petals off a daisy. There are more plot happenings in the second half than this book needs.

2014 Reading/Book Stats:

Total Books I've Read in 2014: 105 Books (That I've documented on Goodreads).
Total Pages Read in 2014 (According to Goodreads): 37.331 pages
My Goal For 2014: Changed from 50 books, to 88 books, to 100 books. I was shooting for 111 books, and may have gotten there had I documented some of the inane freebies I read.
Ratings Numbers for 2014 (some are rounded up on GR due to half stars):
5 Star Books: 5
4 Star Books: 31
3 Star Books: 43
2 Star Books: 24
1 Star Books: 2
Most Read Genre: Probably Paranormal or some other variety of Romance, because before late 2013 I hadn't read any. I'm finding the best of Romance are indie books- non formulaic and much less predictable.
Most Read Format: Ebooks- I've only read a couple physical books this year.
Favorite New Series I Started in 2014: the Kate Daniels series.
Favorite Standalone: Poe by J. Lincoln Fenn
Number of Book Copies Read for Review: 12
Number of Re-reads: Many- mostly for the blog. I'd say 30+, but I never count rereads for my challenges.

Reading Goals For 2015:

Total Books I Want to Read in 2015: 111 books, which may change like last year's challenge.
Total Pages I Want to Read in 2015: It would be cool if I could get 45,000 pages, but I don't expect to.
Read More: Nonfiction/Memoirs as I have an entire shelf-full of unread ones. Also, Science Fiction, because I don't read enough of it, yet.
The Main Goal of 2015 is...

Buy Less Books

I currently have 105+ unread ebooks and 231 unread physical books. I really have plenty to choose from. I don't need any more. I'm just trying to convince myself of that.

Happy 2015, everyone!!!

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