My best reads of 2014

In the annual tradition of useless best of lists, I hereby present my best reads for 2014. As per my reading habits, this does not mean books that came out this year, only books I read for the first time over the past twelve months.

As I reviewed my reading list for the year, a couple of generalities jumped out. First, I enjoyed a number of shorter works. I also started a lot of crap novellas and short stories that weren’t worth finishing. Second, there are some terrific books appropriate for middle schoolers out there. Gail Carriger, Rebecca Stead and Nick Bruel are far more age level appropriate than was the Stephen King I devoured at age 11–which was about the age I was when I first read The Shining. What goes around, comes around…

Without further ado:

10) Bad Kitty Drawn to Trouble – Nick Bruel – Once again, Bruel takes a complicated subject (in this case story craft) and breaks it down into easy to understand components all while engaging in a battle of wills with Bad Kitty. I will read his Bad Kitty books even when my kids outgrown them.

9) Fiend – Peter Stenson – Audio book read by Tom Haberkorn. I specify audio book, because I understand some people take issue with the grammar. The narrator, Tom Haberkorn brought a manic energy to Peter Stenson’s tale of a zombie apocalypse. The survivors are all meth-heads who will succumb to the zombie disease if they don’t get their fix. This book is as close as I wish to get to the urgent crush of addiction.

8) Austinland – Shannon Hale – plenty of authors have tried to write a regency and played with the tropes of Jane Austin’s books and life with varying degrees of success, but Hale’s view of Jane Austin theme park flaunts the anachronism and absurdity of an obsession with all things Austin. I picked this up because of the publication backstory. The content beat my expectations and kudos to Hale for sticking with her vision.

7) The Boys of Summer – Sarah Madison – The historical M/M romance read as part of 2014’s January Project stayed with me all year. I read a handful of other M/M historical in literary and romance categories. John Boyne’s The Absolutist got more attention, but Madison’s was the superior book both in character and story execution.

6) Gulp – Mary Roach – I’ve said it before and I hope I will say it again, I will follow Mary Roach anywhere her curious mind takes her. I laughed and learned, even through the squeamish bits.

5) Dr. Sleep – Stephen King – The man is the master. And I expect a sequel featuring the grown up Abra Stone in about twenty years.

4) Marshlands – Matthew Olshan – In this slim volume of a story told in reverse order hides beautiful language, history lessons and thoughtful meditations on colonialism, otherness, dictatorships, war, brutality, torture and forgiveness. This book deserves a wider audience.

3) Etiquette and Espionage – Gail Carriger – Is it literary sacrilege to say I’d rather attend Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality than Hogwarts? This steam punk adventure follows young Sophronia’s as she and her mechanimal navigate the floating school, avoid Picklemen, and learn how to kill someone with a handkerchief.

2) Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn – It lives up to the hype and is better than the movie.

1) We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson – this book has been around since 1962. HOW DID I NOT KNOW OF ITS EXISTANCE PRIOR TO 2014!!!!! An instant all-time favorite.

Honorable Mentions:

Fun for the whole family edition: The Sasquatch Escape, and The Lonely Lake Monster both Suzanne Selfors, When you Reach me – Rebecca Stead

Short Story edition: Bug Stuff – Vicki Batman – for a quick laugh, La Llorona – Leslie Garcia – a haunting ghost story.

Other contenders: Lost in Shangri-La – Mitchell Zuckoff, Bad Traveler – Lola Karns, January Thaw – Jess Lourey, Shine, Shine, Shine – Lydia Netzer

Any suggestions for next year’s reading? Post them below.

My top reads of 2012

Since the year is coming to a close, it’s time for all those top ten lists. Once again, I’m adding to the noise.  As per last year, this list does not reflect the best books released in 2012 (although there are several 2012 releases and two debut authors in my list).  I’ve limited my choices to the best books I’ve read this year.  I still haven’t picked up Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, so you won’t see it here.  I do realize that the year is not officially over yet, but I can tell my current read is not a contender. Given its length, it’s likely the last book I finish this year.  My choices are eclectic. Rather than giving you a plot review, I’ll tell you why it made my list.

10. Winter Fairy by Lola Karns (2012) – Some of you know exactly why I have to include this debut author’s book as one of my favorite reads. The characters in this holiday romance, Carson, Penelope and young Eloise stayed with me long after first meeting them.   I wish this author much success.

9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011) – This book is tremendous fun for those of us seeped in 1980s pop culture.  The premise of a treasure hunt in  virtual reality world created by an 80’s obsessed loaner allowed Cline to incorporate song lyrics, early video games, dungeons and dragons and Ladyhawke.  It’s not deep. It’s a beach read that makes you glad you spent so much time singing New Order and Depeche Mode tunes while playing Pac-Man.

8. The Iron Queen and the Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa (both 2011) – The Iron Queen brought to an end the story of the Iron Fey from the point

Don’t judge this book by the cover!

of view of Meghan Chase, a half human, half summer fairy creature who is impervious to the iron (read technology) destroying the fairy worlds and along with it creativity and passionate emotions including love and anger.  Don’t be fooled by the Harlequin Teen publishing label and the covers. The female driven books ask if technology and creativity can co-exist.  The Iron Knight, narrated by the male fairy prince Ash, addresses the very essence of humanity.  One day, I’ll get around to writing a more in-depth review of the latter and explaining why it’s a great companion piece to Will Self’s Great Apes.

7. The Irresistable Henry House by Lisa Grunwald (2010) – Set in post-war America, Grunwald’s story of an orphan raised as a “home-economics house baby” explores the radical shifts in gender roles as both men and women adapted to the rise of feminism and changing ideas of child rearing.

6. The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (2012) – the second debut author on my list and another one I wish much success.  This book has a terrific hook. The idea of waking up in a stranger’s skin is equal parts disgusting, frightening and liberating. The clever use of letters allows the author to deliver relevant back story without it ever feeling like an “info dump” and lets the two Myfanwys be distinct characters.

5. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (orig 1992) – I feel cheated that I did not discover this series sooner because it is a whole bunch of crazy (time travel, sassy modern heroine, virginal Scotsmen) that shouldn’t work but some how does, largely due to the distinctive author voice and excellent writing skills.  I am angry at all my friends who never told me about this book. How do you live with yourselves?

4. Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason, trans. Bernard Scudder (orig 2001) –  You’ve finished Larson’s “Girl” series and Jo Nesbo’s Henry Hole mysteries so now what? Some seriously bleak Icelandic Noir.  The author captures both the desolate, haunting landscape and the interconnectedness that occurs when the national population is under 320,000.   Good news – it’s a series!

3. Your House is on Fire, Your Children are Gone by Stefan Kiesbye (2012) – The more I think about it the more I like this book.  If I did this list in January 2013 instead of now, it might make the top of the list.  I blogged about it here.

2. The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (orig 2011) – The masterful use of language reminded me of Umberto Eco. The author layered realism and magic, horror and hope to create a world worth visiting again and again.  I came away reaffirming my love of books and the transformative power of a good story.

1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (2012) – I’ve written about this book before. I debated where to put it on this list, certainly somewhere in the top five. It’s not the best book I’ve read all year.  I have enjoyed others more, but Susan Cain’s provocative book has never been far from my mind. The more I considered my list, the more I realized this is the book I’ve most passionately recommended, talked about and thought about.

Honorable mentions: Love of her Lives by Sharon Clare, Gone with a Handsomer Man by Michael Lee West, The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs, Salting Roses by Lorelle Marinello and The Book of the Dead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

For more of my reading habits, you can find me on Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/lyratn