Everyone’s doing this “Best Books of 2014” thing, and I thought some readers might be interested in mine. This is a personal post, rather than a representation of VC in general, and if you’d like to do a similar list of your own feel free to get in touch with us!
I succeeded in ready 137 books in 2014. Weeding out the ones I hated, or just read as fluff to try and meet my goal of 140 books, here are the titles I consumed last year, sorted by genre, with commentary. Must-read titles are in bold, and if you don’t have time for the entire post scroll to the bottom for a recap. I apologize for not providing Amazon/Goodreads links for all titles, but that’s far too time consuming, so I’ll just assume you are all proficient with search engines.
Leading off with this to get them out of the way. These are books that are impossible to categorize, or only have one or two to a genre.
The Fault in Our Stars (John Green)
Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen)
Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell)
Drowning Mermaids (Nadia Scrieva)
All of these books were excellent. The Fault in Our Stars is exactly as good as you’ve heard, if not better. Ditto for Water for Elephants, which was much more emotional than I was prepared for. Cloud Atlas was not as good as I expected and, when I figured it out, I was rather underwhelmed. Drowning Mermaids makes the list despite being nothing but fantasy romance because, in spite of that, it was really good fantasy romance and I actually enjoyed it enough to read to the end. (Very rare for me and anything in the “romance” genre.)
Aside from the occasional Ellery Queen or Perry Mason novel, the only new mystery I read in 2014 was the rest of the Flavia de Luce series. I cannot recommend this series highly enough, especially after finally getting my hands on the last book. The last book is to the series what the series is to most historical mystery. Which is to say–doesn’t even bear comparison. Just read them. Now.
Free Culture (Lawrence Lessig)
Seeing Red (Halton C. Arp)
Content (Cory Doctorow)
Clearly I need to read more non-fiction books in 2015. Of these three I recommend them all, although Seeing Red is very academic and unless you’re really, really interested in redshift then you probably won’t get much out of it. I was reading it as a supplement to a book I never actually got around to reading: “The Big Bang Never Happened.” So stay tuned for more on that next year.
Free Culture and Content, however, are must-reads. Especially Free Culture. Free Culture is #1 on the must-read list for 2014. Both books address the issues of copyright and how it’s restricting our ability to create. This is about more than just piracy, people. Become educated. Read the book.
A Confusion of Princes (Garth Nix)
Nexus (Ramez Naam)
Firmament: Machiavellian (J. Grace Pennington)
Fool’s Run (Patricia A. McKillip)
Fourth Mansions (R.A. Lafferty)
Past Master (R.A. Lafferty)
Steelheart (Brandon Sanderson)
Slaughter House Five (Kurt Vonnegut)
Nightwings (Robert Silverberg)
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope (Ian Doscher)
I Am Legend (Richard Matheson)
Starship Titanic (Terry Jones, Douglas Adams)
Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson)
This Mutant Life: Bad Company (various)
Delirium (Laruen Oliver)
Oh, where to start? Turns out I like Garth Nix as a scifi writer much more than as a fantasy writer. A Confusion of Princes was a dollar store find, and a very compelling, if not best-selling, story about clones brain uploads and assassins. Nexus is cutting edge near-future hard science fiction from an upcoming author. It has two sequels I’m looking forward to with eagerness. Fool’s Run is a surprise coming from an established fantasy author, but it’s quite possibly the best thing by McKillip that I’ve ever read, and that’s a huge statement coming from me.
2014 marked my introduction to RA Lafferty, thanks to a desperate panel in need of participants at LonCon3. Both of his novels were excellent, but Fourth Mansions was more than excellent. His work is an acquired taste for most, however, and not all may be as strongly affected as I was. Steelheart is about supervillains taking over the earth in the absence of superheroes. (Sound familiar?) Slaugterhouse Five was seven parts historical fiction, three parts war stories, and one part science fiction. It hurt like a kick in the stomach and I was not prepared for it. It’s an amazing book, but not one to be taken lightly.
Nightwings was a good story, but not overwhelmingly so. A nice warning about pride going before a fall and the dangers of climate control. Verily, A New Hope is a riot and I want to read the others as well. Heck, I want to produce the stage version. I Am Legend is a classic that I picked up expecting zombies, and got vampires instead. I think this should be a bigger issue, people. It’s vampires, not zombies. Starship Titanic was, as expected, hilarious.
Snow Crash. Snow crash deserves its own blog post. Read my review on Goodreads and you’ll begin to understand why it’s on the must-read list. Like Lafferty, however, not everyone will appreciate the bizarre form of storytelling that I find so refreshing, so proceed with caution. Bad Company was actually a follow-up to the first anthology that I read in 2013. Not as good as the first one, but still an excellent collection of superhero short stories from a variety of authors. Delirium was a good, if fairly typical, YA dystopian dealing with the concept of banishing love/emotion. As you might guess, this doesn’t go over well with the teenage population.
We’re going to divide into subcategories here, starting with:
Ever After High: The Storybook of Legends (Shannon Hale)
Cinderellis and the Glass Hill (Gail Carson Levine)
Five Glass Slippers (various)
Princess of Glass (Jessica George Day)
Princess of the Midnight Ball (Jessica George Day)
None of these were favourites. Princess of the Midnight Ball and the sequel were the best, and I look forward to the rest, but they rank as merely “enjoyable.” So much for the 2014 fairytale scene.
Rosemary and Rue (Seanan McGuire)
City of Bones (Cassandra Clare)
The Dresden Files–#8-15 (Jim Butcher)
The Dresden Files continue to be brilliant, not only among Urban Fantasy but among speculative fiction everywhere. I wish I knew how Butcher does it. I just wish I knew. City of Bones is way overhyped and I could barely finish the book and have no desire whatsoever to read the next one. It’s not the plot, it’s the overdone exceedingly uninteresting characters and their ceaseless love triangles. Rosemary and Rue was like a lame version of the Dresden Files, just like every other Urban Fantasy series I’ve picked up this year. You just can’t top Jim Butcher and everything else is pale and tasteless by comparison.
Harry Potter: The Complete Series (J.K. Rowling)
The Changeling Sea (Patricia A. McKillip)
Wonders of the Invisible World (Patricia A. McKillip)
The Book of Atrix (Patricia A. McKillip)
The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss)
The Wise Man’s Fear (Patrick Rothfuss)
Canticle (Ken Scholes)
Heart (Simon Morden)
All these make the must-read list. Basically anything by McKillip is brilliant beyond compare. Harry Potter starts out really slow but makes up for it halfway through. I still marvel that anything with that many plotholes and blind characters can make me cry. But she does something right, and we should all put our efforts into figuring out what.
If I’d read anything by Patrick Rothfuss before going to London, our meeting would have been very different. He brings new life to the wornout genre of vengeance questing and somehow gives a contemporary feel to a fantastical setting. Nothing is impossible in his world, and he’s literally spent eight hundred pages doing setup. When will we get the next book? Nobody knows.
And finally, I said all of these were must-read but only bolded two. This is because they deserve to stand out even higher than the others. If you only read two books out of this blog post they should be Free Culture and Heart. Both of these books have the added advantage of being available as free ebooks, so you have no excuse. Canticle is actually the sequel to Lamentation which you should read first–and discover the amazing world of fantasy-science fiction mashup that Scholes creates. It has no comparison except, perhaps, the Lost Art by Simon Morden. Want to know how to invent new things and abandon old tropes? Ken Scholes is the way to learn.
The Assasin’s Curse (Cassandra Rose Clark)
The Pirate’s Wish (Cassandra Rose Clark)
Seraphina (Rachel Hartman)
The Blade Itself (Joe Abercrombie)
Taliesin (Stephen R. Lawhead)
A School for Villains (Ardyth DeBruyn)
Throne of Glass (Sarah J. Mass)
The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman)
And topping the “recommended” list is the Assassin’s Curse and sequel by Cassandra Rose Clark. A delightful fantasy about pirates and assassin’s and true love that I enjoyed much more than I thought I would. Seraphina is just plain brilliant and includes dragons and music as well as complicated romantic entanglements. The Blade Itself was a tantalizing introduction to a world almost as convoluted and creative as one created by Rothfuss or Scholes, and I cannot wait to read the rest of the series.
A Throne of Glass was YA Dystopia meets fantasy assassin’s. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t a favorite either. A School for Villains is more middle grade, but a hilarious topsy-turvy take on typical fantasy tropes. The Graveyard Book was touching and beautiful. Taliesin is one that I’d been looking forward to for a very long time and ultimately didn’t enjoy. The writing was stilted, the history way off, and the plot a little too convenient.
So to recap this monster of a book post, here are the books I recommend as must-reads from all the titles I read in 2014:
Fourth Mansions (RA Lafferty)
The Flavia de Luce series (Alan Bradley)
Nexus (Ramex Naam)
Lamentation (and Canticle) by Ken Scholes
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
Have you already read any of these books? Feel free to share your thoughts, and your own must-read titles! Here’s to another year of reading!