2014: My year in books

“Another year over, a new one just begun,” to quote  John Lennon. This year I travelled as far as Cuba and Nigeria, went back in time to 1920s Alaska and 18th century Scotland, soared on the wings of a dragon, and saw forward to a nanotech future. And all through the pages of books.

Ratings

According to Goodreads, in 2014 I read 54 books:2014_books

  • 9 books rated 5 stars, “It was amazing” in Goodreads classification
  • 22 rated 4 stars “really liked it”
  • 17 rated 3 stars, “liked it”
  • 5 rated 2 stars, “it was ok”

No book rated 1 star, “did not like it”, probably because I’ve allowed myself permission to stop reading books that I’m not enjoying, but I don’t feel confident in rating a book that I haven’t finished.

Meeting some old friends

kings_general_dumaurierI took the opportunity to catch up with some of my favourite authors. Some of them are very old friends indeed. In my teenage years, I lost myself in the works of Daphne du Maurier, but after reading an excellent biography (Daphne du Maurier by Margaret Forster), I realised that I hadn’t got around to all of them. In 2014, I really enjoyed The House on the Strand, an unusual time-travel-through-drugs story, and The King’s General, a witty historical romance.

I also read The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which was something of a disappointment compared to his other novels. His short story collection Tales of the Jazz Age was more fun.

wimohb_gabaldonDiana Gabaldon brought out the 8th book in her Outlander series, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. This installment was a definite improvement over the last few books in the series, although not a patch on the originals. Ms Gabaldon really could do with an editor, or maybe another story to work on. Incidentally, 2014 is also the year when the Outlander TV series arrived, and the director and actors are doing an excellent job; Catriona Balfe and Sam Heughan are Clare and Jamie.

skin_game_jim_butcher

Jim Butcher released the 15th (!) book in his Dresden Files series, Skin Game. Very entertaining; Mab the Winter Queen is an able adversary.

I’d enjoyed Dennis Lehane’s police procedurals, but I was even more impressed by his first historical novel The Given Day. It turns out that Boston immediately after World War One was an intense place, with industrial unrest, terrorism, pandemic disease, mistrust of foreigners, and corrupt elites. Not that we’d know anything about that today!

The “two Nea(i)ls” were reliable as always. Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age was a masterful piece of worldbuilding, while Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and The Ocean at the End of the Lane had the usual sweet-but-creepy touches.

Discovering some new ones

snow_child_iveyOddest theme of the year was “Napoleonic era historical fantasy”. I read the first five books on the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik (Napoleonic era with dragons), and the first three in the Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal (Napoleonic era with magic). Both series were entertaining, but I’d give the edge to Kowal’s Austenesque tales, which begin with Shades of Milk and Honey.

Eowyn Ivey’s first novel, The Snow Child, is an achingly gorgeous work set in 1920s Alaska, and I’ll definitely be looking out for Ivey’s next moves.  Graeme Simsion also impressed me with his debut, The Rosie Project. Based on Let the Great World Spin, I’ll be checking out more books by Colum McCann.

My Recommendations

So, what are my recommendations, based on this year’s list?

best_books_2014

In contemporary fiction, I loved The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, the sweetly farcical story about an academic with Aspergers and his search for a wife. In historical fiction, my favourite was The Given Day  by Dennis Lehane, the story of the Boston police strike.

In fantasy, I’d vote for the lovely Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. In science fiction, I’d recommend The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier. Top of the alternate history novels would be Shades of  Milk and Honey and its Glamourist History sequels by Mary Robinette Kowal.

In non-fiction, my favourite  history book this year was Lords of the Atlas: The Rise and Fall of the House of Glaoua by Gavin Maxwell, a grimly entertaining book about 20th century Morocco. In science, I would have to plump for Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach, although any book by Ms Roach is both informative and hilarious. As for biography, I very belatedly read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and if you haven’t done so already, go seek it out now.

The Year Ahead

So, what’s next for the coming year?

snow_crash_stephensonWill this be the year that Scott Lynch releases another tome in the Gentleman Bastard series? Will Jim Butcher’s newest Dresden File (Peace Talks) keep up the pace? Is this the year when I become a Neal Stephenson completeist by reading Snow Crash?

Book four in the Glamourist Histories (Valour and Vanity) was published last year, and book five (Of Noble Family) is due in April 2015. I’m also looking forward to Dennis Lehane’s Live by Night (sequel to The Given Day) as well as Colum McCann’s Transatlantic.

And who knows what other discoveries I’ll make in 2015.

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