2014 was a good year for me. Not just for various personal reasons (hurray for employment), and not just because it was the year Catherine & I founded Bibliodaze, but because from a literary point of view, it was one of the most interesting years in recent memory. This felt like the year everyone stepped up their game, and even low points were discussed, opposed and analysed with skill, deftness and eloquence. As the year closes, we turn to that great tradition of the best & worst list. Our hot-shot team have come together to share the reads they loved and the ones best forgotten to the vestiges of time.
I read less books this year than in many previous years due to a change in circumstances (having a job
means more money for books but less time to read them) but 2014 still offered up a number of surprises. By far the best new release of the year was Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, which has in a short space of time become a beloved and crucial text for readers from far and wide. A compilation of Gay’s prolific online output on site such as The Rumpus, Bad Feminist offered up some of the sharpest contemporary non-fiction writing, with pieces dedicated to pop culture criticism, politics, Gay’s personal experiences and even a Scrabble tournament. Gay has that enviable gift of being able to say so much with so few words, and she applies it in a manner that’s eloquent yet never overly academic; deeply personal yet wholly relatable. Gay’s thesis may be that she is an imperfect feminist prone to fault, yet her work has never felt more necessary. It’s been many months since I read Bad Feminist yet I still frequently think about it.
After leaving university, my reading choices became a touch less adventurous. The literary classics I’d always promised to tackle remained untouched on my shelves while I settled for comforting familiarity. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but the need to challenge myself filled my mind with a strange urgency, so I bit the bullet and delved into the world of Thomas Pynchon. Pynchon is a writer I’ve been fascinated by for a long time yet put off of reading his work due to its much discussed complexities. I’ve read Ulysses and yet the prospect of tackling Pynchon still freaked me out. I decided to start with the so-called ‘easy’ works then go backwards until I feel brave enough to one day buy a copy of Mason & Dixon. I’m delighted to say that my first two Pynchon books – The Crying of Lot 49 and Inherent Vice – were both utter joys. When people talk about Pynchon, they often focus on his labyrinthine plotting, the recurring theme of paranoia or his impeccable ability to capture a specific moment in time; they never tell you just how funny his work is, and it is hilarious laugh-out-loud funny. I lost count of the number of times I ended up sniggering in public while reading both books, and I’m not an easy laugher when to comes to literature. Now that I feel fully indoctrinated into the cult of Pynchon (complete with paper bag over my head), I’m revved up to start 2015 with a bang. Bring on Bleeding Edge!
2014 didn’t really offer up any truly contemptible books for me. I avoided the usual suspects like the plague and my curiosity for a good old fashioned train-wreck waned somewhat. The book that felt like the biggest disappointment for me was that hotly hyped flop The Queen of the Tearling. This was not a good book. Poorly plotted and paced, nonsensical in its world-building, poorly defined characters and enough exposition dumps to fill a crater, this was a book with big ideas that stumbled at every possible hurdle. Honestly, it’s biggest crime was how forgettable it was. For such a mediocre book, it did nothing to even rouse my irritation. Maybe I’m just getting softer in my old age… Nah!
#5 The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I was initially a little skeptical about this one — given the MC is a man with Asperger’s and it can be all too easy to do a messy portrayal of him — but I ended up really adoring it. Don is a great main character and I loved his relationship with Rosie, and how they eventually came to understand each other.
#4 Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare
This might be one of my favorite romances ever. Yes, it’s that good. Can it be a little cheesy at times? Sure, but that’s the beauty of it. Dare perfectly captures what it’s like to be a part of a fandom. The romance was sweet and I enjoyed Isolde as a protagonist.
#3 Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
My first Sarah Waters! I still think about the plot of this one a lot, but especially the romance between the two leading ladies. As soon as I finished this one I immediately went out and bought more of her work. I wasn’t as impressed by the TV adaptation of this one, which I felt removed too much of the darkness and morally grey areas.
#2 Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
This book is really a love it or hate it one. I can tell you exactly why, too: The romance. So many people have an issue with the main character and her love interest being honestly terrible people who fall in love with each other that it ruins the rest of the novel for them. Me? I ADORE stories about monsters finding each other and accepting each other’s darknesses and loving each other. Add to the fact this was a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and you have verified Miranda catnip.
#1 The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
This is a very dense, heavy novel that took me a while to get through. But not because I found it boring. Oh no. I found it amazing. In a time when grimdark storytelling is being lauded as better than everything else and is flooding the market, The Goblin Emperor is a breath of fresh, optimistic and hopeful air. Yes, the world Maia inherits is heavily flawed and dangerous and dark, but Maia himself is not, and he’s going to change the world as much as possible. If there was one downside to this one, it was that I would have loved the female characters being a little more fleshed out, especially Maia’s betrothed, but it’s such a small complaint for me in the face of everything else this novel does brilliantly. Seriously, go pick it up immediately and savor every word, especially if you like high fantasy.
I only had one book I rated one star on GoodReads, but I’ll mention it anyway: The Elementals by Saundra Mitchell. The main reason I despised this novel so much is that it had a bisexual main character who is in love with her muse, and together they make films. As soon as the muse finds out, though, she’s horrified and can’t even look at the girl anymore. Then of course she steals the film they’d been making, sells it at a nickelodeon, and the bisexual girl goes on to immediately fall in love with a boy. This infuriated me so much I actually almost threw the book at the wall, which is something I never do. Add to the fact that the storyline itself was just a mess and the ending confusing, and you have my one and only 1 star rated book for 2014. Which, hey, isn’t too bad, really.
Favourite 2014 release: Clariel by Garth Nix. I’ve written a huge, in-depth review for the Lantern on it, but the best thing about this book is how it constantly makes the reader question their own ideas about morality. Clariel, our main character, is not an easy person to relate to, much less like, but the strength of Nix’s writing is that we get invested in her story regardless. At the end of the day, we still may not like her, and we may not agree with the decisions she makes, but we do understand her, and the story feels satisfying for the ride it takes us on. Who knows? By the end, you may even discover something about yourself that you didn’t know. (I certainly did.)
Favourite non-2014 release: This was the year I really started branching away from my strictly-come YA “diet”, (largely thanks to Brain Pickings) so there’s plenty of books I can put here, but I think I’ll go with Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. A collection of journalistic essays is definitely an acquired taste, especially a set that has been written throughout the early 60’s, but what I liked about it was the engaging quality of the writing. Something about these essays just sucks you in – it starts off with a small, seemingly insignificant thing, but by the end, Didion unravels it to get to the real point. And as for the titular essay, I found it oddly comforting to discover how similar the 60s counter-cultural movement was to today’s. Plus ça change… (They even had proto-hipsters!)
Least favourite book of 2014: I did not read as much this year, but it’s a tie between Fangirl and Fury. I have reviewed both, (Fangirl having managed to inspire the most vitriol from me since Halo,) but I think if I had to choose, Fury would be the one I enjoyed the least, purely because of the wasted potential. With Fangirl, I approached it already knowing I wasn’t the biggest fan of Rainbow Rowell’s writing, so it wasn’t much of a surprise I didn’t enjoy it; however, the Mercy series was something I had so many hopes for, and which I adored for the first couple of books. You know how there are these stories that have their flaws, but you forgive them because you know there’s more to come? Well, that was the Mercy series for me, except instead of getting better, the story just unravelled in the last two books, and just fell flat on its arse by the end. Have we gotten to the point where the only decent angels book we’ve gotten will be Angelfall?
Those are my stand-outs, but honourable mention goes to the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer (with some MAJOR reserves for some aspects of the series, I’m withholding judgement until I’ve finished them,) Ocean Sea by Alessandro Baricco for some of the most beautiful prose I’ve read (in wine terms, imagine bottling up Laini Taylor’s “Lips Touch Three Times” and leaving it to mature for 50 years,) and The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes because it’s a fucking joy to read, (while remaining one of the most honest discussions on depression I’ve seen in fiction recently.)
Favourite 2014 release: That is a tie between J. K. Rowling’s – I mean of course Robert Galbraith’s –
The Silkworm and Ben Aaronovich’s Foxglove Summer. The Silkworm had everything I want in a crime novel: an exciting case with many twists and turns and a great main character. Many other crime-series are so full of despair that you wonder why the characters even bother with anything as clearly everything is doomed. The Cormoran Strike novels manage to be dark but with some bright spots in between. I’ve enjoyed the whole Rivers of London series so far and Foxglove Summer also did not disappoint. I still loved the humour and all the geeky allusions and even enjoyed the basic plot a bit more than in the previous volumes.
Favourite non-2014 release: I re-read The Three Musketeers and read the sequel Twenty Years Later for the first time this year and I loved both. The Three Musketeers has been one of my favourite books for a long time but I hadn’t re-read it in quite a while. And I either forgot that it had sequels or was unable to get my hands on a copy. Now I finally could (blessed be e-readers and Project Gutenberg) and I loved it. It’s a bit darker than the first one but still funny enough and the way the friendship between the four is described is beautiful.
Worst book of 2014: Queen of the Tearling. Most of my friends who had read it were already less than enthusiastic about it (to put it mildly) but nothing quite prepared me for how bad it was. I hated everything about this book. From the nonsensical world-building to the plot-induced stupidity in every single character. Everything.
Best New Release of 2014.
Perfectly Good White Boy by Carrie Mesrobian: If books were people, Perfectly Good White Boy would be the kind of guy I always crushed on in high school, mixed up and misunderstood. This book is like the anti-romance, not that there’s anything wrong with romance, but here we see teen relationships in a raw, unforgiving light of reality. We see how sex complicates the already tumultuous landscape of adolescence and how when we use love or sex to try fix or distract us from our problems, it only makes things worse. Perfectly Good White Boy is more of an experience than a story, as is Carrie Mesrobian’s pitch-perfect writing.
Best Book I Read This Year.
What Kills Me by Wynne Channing: Talk about a pleasant surprise. I got What Kills Me free, in ebook form, while shopping for a birthday present for my 9 year old niece. While it’s a little violent for her, it did pass the other two requirements I had: No sex or profanity. Despite the fact that the absence of those two things usually means I wouldn’t like a book What Kills Me proved you don’t need either to tell a compelling and entertaining story. It is everything I’ve been wanting from a YA vampire story, like Underworld without the guns and men hogging the spotlight. Axelia is earnest, and relatable. Her story takes every YA and fantasy/horror trope and turns them on their heads. It is fast paced, suspenseful and engrossing. I could not put it down. Then there’s Lucas, cue me swooning. He also subverts all the alpha male YA tropes, secure in his masculinity he is empathetic to others and a perfect match for Axelia. The UST between these two had me flopping on the floor. I recommend this to YA fans who enjoy vampires, ethnic diversity, and stories that pass the Bechdel test with flying colors.
Worst Book I Read This Year.
Wildefire by Karsten Knight: This one is easy. I wrote a review for Bibliodaze for Wildefire, which you can read in detail. It can be summed up in saying that Wildefire everything you shouldn’t do when writing a diverse book. It has two dimensional characters, painfully cliche dialogue, and pacing slower than a constipated turtle. All that aside it is also sexist, re-enforces racist stereotypes about women of color being violent, and misrepresents Polynesian culture. Ashline, the female lead, is a classic example of tokenism, serving as little more than a thin layer of brown face on an otherwise recycled white fantasy story. This isn’t diversity, it’s exploitation. Don’t waste your time or money on it.
For me, 2014 was a year of change. For example, I started a new job in January that began with a bang by taking up so much of my dear, sweet reading time. I also found that my reading tastes were changing, something that surprised even me as I began to move from YA novels back into the world of adult literary fiction (with a twist most often) that I had left behind in graduate school as I searched for books that were short and engrossing to fit in between classes or while commuting on the train to my internship. Maybe it was a slow wonderment if YA was transforming into one cliché after another, or maybe it was my desire for adult characters having adult situations (jobs! marriage! babies!).
Maybe this is why it boiled down to my favorite book being adult literary fiction in the form of the amazing Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, and my least favorite being Defy by Sara B. Larson. Where Station Eleven was breathtaking, Defy was insipid and reductive. Defy held women as incapable of saving themselves and living without romance, living in a world of “breeding houses” and where the heroine is caught on deciding which boy to choose that nothing else happens. Clearly I had some strong feelings on this.
We at Bibliodaze wish you all a very merry Christmas and all the best wishes for 2015! We hope you stick around to witness our expansion, changes and general awesomeness!