Friday, January 2, 2015

Hit List: Best and Worst Reads of 2014

Best Reads: (1 = best; 5 = reasonably pleasant)

Books By Female Authors:
5. Lord Peter Wimsey, Gaudy Night, and Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers--A friend had recommended this author to me late last year, and this year I finally got my hands on at least a few of her dozens of books--and I loved every one of them. Lord Peter is a slightly less reserved Poirot, and higher-class than Sherlock--but no less loveable and entertaining! The mysteries are considerably darker than I am used to, but the pacing is wonderful and it was lovely to have a new crime-solver to follow!

4. Belle, The World Above, Midnight, Wild Orchid, The Storyteller's Daughter, Golden, and Beauty Sleep by Cameron Dokey--Just when I was looking for a straight-up retelling of fairy tales, outside of the modernizations and the sci-fi renderings... I happen upon a book that bears similarity to the tales I knew, but with twists I never saw coming. Belle a woodcarver's daughter? Rapunzel bald as an egg? Cinderella's stepmother actually helps her get to the ball... And it's her father who would really rather her not exist? The other collaborators on this series do fairly well in their own right... But I love Dokey's renditions the best.

3. The Precious Stone Trilogy: Ruby Red, Sapphire Blue (Emerald Green not yet read) by Kerstin Geir--I realize I am including a series on which I am not yet current, but come on! Yes, it was that good. It sits on the shelf among the YA novels and their pathetic tropes of kissing and gossip and jealousy and shallow passions... I have actually eyed this series for about two years now and only just got around to reading it. I was floored. The romance does NOT take center stage, even though that seems to be the main focus of the summary and excerpt on the book jacket (for shame!) and there are plenty of other supporting characters that feature just as much as the "main couple" and are equally (if not occasionally more) as delightful! Definitely a wonderful story--and yes, I will be reading the final installment SOON.

2. The Lunar Chronicles: Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress by Marissa Meyer--Yet another series I constantly passed over. I blame the cover. The images left for interpretation coupled with the way the synopsis was phrased gave me all the wrong ideas about the adventure contained inside. I went in expecting to find something akin to "The Selection with Robots" (for those who remember how much I disliked that novel; if you're new, here's the answer: VERY MUCH) which was not something I felt like worth my time. I checked out Cinder on a whim, and oh man, I could not stop till I had read each one! It was less a "Selection" version of Cinderella, and more like if Cameron Dokey had decided on a sci-fi futuristic adaptation. Meyer (unlike another certain author with a similar name who writes YA) shows the same tact and furthermore builds her own story upon itself in a way that all the little pieces fit, and no "shoe-horning" needed whenever a new detail is revealed (something I detest). I am anxious to finish this series!

1. The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly--But really, I would have to say that the Number 1 spot goes to this book. A friend who loves classic literature (probably even more than I do) recommended it to me, and I duly placed it on hold at my library. I figured, Hey, I liked Little Women, maybe this was kind of a "Jane Austen Book Club" take on it. 
This wasn't any kind of Jane Austen Book Club. It was as if Donnelly was as related to Louisa Alcott as her characters were related to Josephine March. I loved every moment of this book from the first to the last. A brilliant piece of fiction, and fitting homage to the "golden age" of literature.

Books By Male Authors:
5. The Good, The Bad, and The Mediochre by Calum P. Cameron--Downloaded this ebook on a whim because I saw one friend recommend it to another on Facebook and it was free so whatever? Oh boy, I had no idea what I was getting into. Pop references all over the place, dry British wit, DRAGONS, magic, shenanigans--for a relatively young, new author, Cameron packs it all in pretty closely! If Lord Peter was a rambunctious, eccentric character, Mediochre Q. Seth is like a younger version of Lord Peter (or older... I seem to recall something complicated happening to Mediochre's aging process, so he's basically near-immortal and it's difficult to tell exactly how old he is... or something... ) Loved it all the way through. 

4. The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson--If there's one thing I learned this year its, "Leslie, quit dithering and just check out the book!" This is another book that I passed over for about a year--which I learned soon after the first chapter that perhaps I had been hasty in judgment. Sanderson makes geometry exciting--and suddenly chalk drawings are life-threatening. And if the setting and the premise wasn't enough, his characters are compelling and fascinating! Too bad I have another two years to wait to continue this series... but luckily, I know of other Sanderson books on the shelves, so I have something to pass the time while I'm waiting.

3. Wild Storm, Heat Wave, Raging Heat by Richard Castle--Or whoever writes those books. I would not be surprised if it turns out to be one of the writers for the actual show, the cohesion is so remarkable. The Heat novels are, of course, something like "season recaps" for the show--but through the steamy, romantic eyes and imagination of Castle, as established by the portrayal of Nathan Fillion--and it WORKS. These books definitely make the Top 5 List, they were so much fun to read and so well-done as mysteries, themselves. (And I admit I kind of received some private satisfaction when Castle crafted a character, named him "Pi the Fruitarian" and subsequently killed him in a plane crash. I totally agree, Rick.

2. The Broken Empire Trilogy: Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns (Emperor of Thorns not yet read) by Mark Lawrence--Yes, I know, another incomplete trilogy that I haven't finished--but by golly, I put it on my Top 10 anyway! I would have never picked something like this, but someone recommended it to me, and I couldn't stop thinking about it... then I read it... Once I got past the shock and the violence and the antihero--it's really the setting of this novel that is blowing my mind at every turn. I likened it before to watching a man display a collection of venomous snakes: it's kind of revolting at first glance and I don't want to look--but I can't stop watching! I have to find out what happens! 

1. The Winner, The Finisher, The King & Maxwell Series, and The Will Robie Series by David Baldacci--I have yet to encounter a Baldacci novel that did not deliver. Fantastic characters, great mystery, superb action--even his attempt at a children's novel ("The Finisher") was great in its own way, and still carried that same level of skill, albeit in a fantasy-type world. Definitely the best male author I read this year--and there are still more that I haven't read!

Worst Reads: (10 = Worst; 1 = Not so bad)

10. Disney after Dark by Ridley Pearson--Not what I was expecting, cliche characters, and lame-as-heck sequences of senseless peril with a not-very-compelling villain. Epic fail.

9. Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley--Again, flat-out denied my expectations, giving me tripe when I expected something so much more. Heck, I could have made it better--maybe it's my fault for expecting a higher level of rationality from a "kid's book" but still... that's no excuse for forgetting How To Book!

8. Raven's Gate by Anthony Horowitz--It's not the author, I know this for certain! I have read other books that were really good by this author, but this series was just dark and the "magic spell" was just the Lord's Prayer typed out backwards (he didn't even bother to make it pronounceable, just spelled backwards!) and the "squickyness" was all off-kilter (evil with no balance of virtue) and I disliked the book when I finished it.

7. Silkworm by Robert Galbraith--Supreme disappointment, as I regard J.K. Rowling (she's writing this series under a pseudonym) as one of my favorite authors. The first book, "Cuckoo's Calling" was delightful, but this--this was just NASTY.

6. Along Came A Spider, 1st to Die and 2nd Chance by James Patterson--Read it because of Patterson's appearance on Castle... figured they had to be on par... Not even close. Patterson's main characters are flat and cliche (ESPECIALLY the female characters... I resent that....) and the mysteries are just high body counts and sadistic serial killers and cheap thrills with not a lot of substance to the book.

5. Uglies by Scott Westerfield--This was recommended, but when the book didn't turn out like I thought it should, I left disappointed.

4. Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie--I had high hopes after the well-played introduction in the first book, but really, after that the whole situation just went downhill as far as narrative and plot arc went, and once again, a serious disappointment.

3. Triologia Victoriana: Map of Time and Map of the Sky Felix J. Palma--This one wasn't so bad--at least, the second book nearly made up for the bad taste in my mouth after the first one. It's definitely lush, but reading these books feels like looking at a tapestry from the back: you can tell where the colors start and stop most of the time, and if you stare long enough, you can discern most of what the picture is intended to show--but at the same time you see all the frayed ends and the loose tails of the threads that were used to make the picture.

2. J is for Judgment by Sue Grafton--Too bad the representation for the not-awful and rather-creative "ABC Mystery" series had to make the "Worst" list, but I did need at least 10 books, and this I regard as the "worst" installment of the series so far, namely for its apathy.

1. Water Song by Suzanne Weyn--This was one of the fairy-tale re-tellings that I raved about before--but an altogether tame one, compared to the vivid life and color of the others. It held promise because of the surprisingly "modern" setting (World War II), but Weyn did not apparently have the skill of Dokey to craft compelling characters while maintaining the integrity of the original fairy tale. Instead it just felt like one big rip-off. It wasn't a bad story--just poorly told.

Top 5 Featured Reads:

Grave Beginnings by R. R. Virdi--It was really hard to decide, out of the ten great new indie releases, which ones to include in my five... but I knew which one was definitely going to be there! I seriously loved everything about this book so much. It's the sort I would read over and over again for the same reason people rewatch their favorite TV series: to relive the excitement that never gets old.

Starlight Proverbs by Darren E. Barber--This was the latest Featured Read, but oh man, was it good! This definitely wins the "Fantasy" category. It had everything: strong dialogue, fantastic setting, wonderful plot, and a hum-dinger of a conclusion. 

Domechild by Shiv Ramdas--As the first Featured Read, this one set the bar for all of the rest... and set it high! As with "Grave Beginnings" this is definitely a title I could reread whenever I am in the mood for some great dystopian lit with a colorful cast of unique characters--and to pass the time while waiting for the sequel! 

Chronicles of Steele: Raven by Pauline Creeden--One would think choosing between two items would be easy, but when faced with choosing between the two steampunk novels I read, it took me a really long time to decide! In the end, I decided to go with "Raven" because I knew that I definitely enjoyed its pacing and the fantasy-like magic aspect of it. If this had been a Top Ten, I know that "First Light" would have been either 6 or 7... but in the interest of narrowing it down to 5, "Raven"
 wins out.

Disenchanted by Kelsey Garmendia--Number 5 of a Top 5 list is always a challenge. I selected "Disenchanted" because I felt like, out of the six that remained, this one set itself apart with the unique nature of the novel and the development of the characters. I really enjoyed this adventure and I would love to see more from this author, and so this book fills the last spot in my Top 5.

It's been a great year for reading. Here's to the books of 2015!  
What were your favorite reads in 2014? What would you recommend for this year? Let me know in the comments!

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