Sunday, December 28, 2014

Not Another Top 10 Books of 2014, oh yes it is!

Okay, so I haven't done one of these since 2010. I have kept an internal list going in my journal, however I have not written a blog piece about my list, but this year is different. I felt like I read a wide selection of great books. I have not even read half of the books I wanted to, but who ever really does?

The books on this list were published in 2014, I left out the 2013 that I finally caught up to and I took out any 2015's that I was able to read early. So, here is the list:

10. The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman
If you have not read Christopher Buehlman, and you like very well written horror novels, do yourself a favor and run, don't walk, to your local bookshop and purchase all of his novels.  They are all brilliant and he keeps getting better. If you only want to choose one, go with Those Across the River, his first novel. Creepy.

However, this is about The Lesser Dead, specifically Joey Peacock. Joey is a vampire living in New York's underground in the 1970's. He has been a vampire for 45 years, and Margaret has been taking him under her wing all these long years. She is the law. Joey's life, and the life of the other vampires he lives with, chugs along in a pretty routine manner. Until one day the children show up. Tiny child vampires that creep into their turf and shun all their rules. I know, you are thinking tiny child vampires, big deal...oh yes, very big deal. Buehlman's writing flows, the dialogue is meant to be read aloud as it has a rhythm that speeds up during times of great suspense and it slows down during contemplative moments. Did I mention this book is also funny and not just dark? Funny thing is, the humor enhances the darker elements. You'll know what I mean when you finish this one.

One last thing, if you ever have a chance to go to a Christopher Buhleman reading, do it. The man is a master performer and it shows.

 9. One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Not a book that was on my radar this year, however being in a book club really helps sometimes, and it became one of my favorite books as soon as cracked open the first page. Everything hinges on a scene in the beginning, where a group of teenagers form a club called the Fatal Romantics Club, and then there is a shooting in the middle of city. Two of the teenagers end up dead. Those two are part of families that are held up in very high regard, so the secret police are brought in to sift through the evidence and find the guilty parties. Though, the parties involved may not be guilty and they may have nothing to do with the shooting, they are scrutinized and questioned. To quote Simon himself, this is not "a novel about power, but about private life-above all, love." The lack of anything private in the Stalinist era is paramount to this novel.

8. The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore
Pocket of Dog Snogging is back along with his sidekick Drool (don't forget about his pet monkey Jeff!). Christopher Moore has now taken this Fool from Britain to 13th Century Italy, and the results could not be more hilarious. There is a lusty sea monster, a ghost, Marco Pollo, and characters from Shakespeare plays scattered throughout, rather quite liberally. Venice will never seem so fraught with peril and so humorous as a...well, a Christopher Moore novel.

7. The Martian by Andy Weir
I actually read this book in 2013, but the official publication date is that of 2014, so it seems like I have been rambling on about this book for quite sometime. It quite deserves it too! Mark Watney is part of six-man missions to Mars. There is an incident where they all need to get off world quick. Mark is left behind, believed to be dead, but, of course he is not. Left with potatoes and a quick wit, Mark decides to attempt to survive until NASA can send a rescue. First thing to do: figure out a way to let NASA know that he is still alive!

6. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North 
Harry August lives his life over and over again. When he dies of old age or jumps off a building at age 20, Harry ends up in back being born in the same place and time with all the knowledge of past lifetimes. He belongs to a subset of humans who have this ability, and are living throughout time over and over again. There are rules for these humans to follow, one of them is to not mess with the major events that happen in their lifetimes. As he lays dying at the end of one of his lifetimes, a young girl approaches him and tells him that the future is changing and some of their kind is dying, that he must find who is doing this in his next lifetime. I got chills reading this book, so
5. The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer 
Okay I think I have cheated a few times on this (the next one happens with my #1 favorite book(s) of the year), but FSG even put all three of these brilliant books into one volume called Area X. This is a book that has to experienced and then talk about at length. The basics of The Southern Reach Trilogy are: 1) a part of our world has been cut off by some barrier in which we have lost all control of; 2) there is a single known entry point into this land; 3) the Southern Reach was establish to study this phenomenon but has collapsed into chaos as progress stalled years ago; 4) expeditions that venture into the land are either never heard from again or are transformed when they come back. In Authority, we follow the twelfth expedition into the area, it is made up of all women. The psychological thriller aspect of this book kept me perched on the edge of the couch as I read these books, so good. So good.
4. The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones
A creature that can live for centuries is haunting a certain family down through the generations. The other problem this creature, who appears as human as we do, is his ability to shape change. It causes all kinds of problems for Hannah and her family. The book starts off with Hannah driving like a bat out of hell, with her husband bleeding from a knife wound in the seat next to her and daughter strapped into the back seat. The shape shifter has found them and they are on the run, it could take the shape of anything. Through this clever book, we find out the history of this haunting from the 1800's Hungary to 1970's Oxford to present day. With a sequel on the horizon for 2015, this was one amazing book and I can't wait for more.
3. In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides
First thing not to do: Don't go on-line and look up what happened to this expedition. It is a breathtaking tale of the USS Jeanette, led by George De Long, as they attempt to find the North Pole. At the time of this adventure, the North Pole was another Manifest Destiny facet the U.S. wanted to get to first. And De Long had been struck by Arctic Fever and needed to make a valiant attempt. While the journey started out with extreme enthusiasm, it wasn't long before ice blocked their path and made life harrowing. Hampton Sides is unrelenting in his narrative approach, and I could not stop gripping this book during the last 100 pages!
2. Colorless Tsukuru and His Years of Pilgrimmage by Haruki Murakami

Tsukuru, now 36, is forced by a potential new love interest to reevaluate events from sixteen years ago, when a group of friends banished him from their circle. He is a self-proclaimed colorless, empty shell with nothing to offer. Can Tsukuru delve back into all the depressing events of his life, the missed opportunities and misconstrued circumstances, as he follows the trail of lost camaraderie? I loved the melancholic atmosphere that Tsukuru had to fight through on his journey--this is classic Murakami gold.
Okay, here is where I am going to do a bit of cheating. I could not decide which book to make my #1 book of  2014, so I split it between my top non-fiction book of the year and my top fiction book of the year. Don't look at me like that! This is my list and I will do what I want!
1B. Rebel Yell by S.C. Gwynne (top non-fiction)
I loved this book! Okay, that is out of the way. I do not consider myself much of a reader of the American Civil War, it has never really interested me in the least, whether it be fiction of non-fiction. But, I started this book and was hooked immediately. There is so much to like about Stonewall Jackson. He knew so much about what it would take to win the war, however nobody else wanted to take that bloody route. In the end, we know it would cost thousands and thousands of more lives than it would have in the beginning. Stonewall Jackson needed a war like the Civil War to leave his mark on the world. He was not just a General in the Confederate Army, he embodied the soul of the American spirit. He came from obscurity and ended as a legend.
1A. Tigerman by Nick Harkaway (top fiction)
I am going to cheat again...I am going to use my old quote for this book. Easily my favorite novel of 2014, by leaps and bounds. If you have no idea why, and the quote does not convince you below, just read any of Nick Harkaway's brilliant novels or just talk to ex-Boswellian Hannah about him. You'll be convinced!
Lester Ferris, sergeant of the British Army, is in need of rest--in the worst way possible. They pack him off to an island called Mancreu that is doomed to be bombed into oblivion, due to an environmental disaster. So, he is the last British citizen left in the colony, and has been told to cast a blind eye on all the illegal activity going on. However, when a friend ends up getting murdered, Lester feels he needs to help out somehow to catch the killer. There is one person there, a comic-book-reading nerd of a boy who helps Lester find himself, and whom Lester wants to protect and perhaps adopt when the island goes off for the final time in a mushroom cloud. This book hits all the notes of a great novel; there are hilarious moments, followed by some somber tones, followed by a thrill ride action event, and then just keep repeating till the end. Now the hard part comes--waiting for another Nick Harkaway novel.

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