January 25, 2015

Books Read in 2014--Wrapup

I read 39 books last year. (I actually read more than that, but I didn't get the reviews written in time.) Here are the highlights.

Best Nonfiction: Dinosaurs Without Bones: Dinosaur Lives Revealed By Their Trace Fossils, by Anthony J. Martin. Whodathunkit? A science book with a sense of humor? Martin takes this obscure and complex subject (I'd never heard of "trace fossils"--footprints, claw marks, eggs, nests, and burrows, to name a few--before I picked this book up) and makes it clear, understandable, and fun. This book had me laughing out loud throughout.

Worst Nonfiction: Out of the Vinyl Deeps, by Ellen Willis. This book is the polar opposite of Martin's, as its droning seriousness absolutely weighs it down. Sorry, Bob Dylan is already pretentious enough without Willis' painstaking (and painful) analysis adding to it.

Best Fantasy: Libriomancer, by Jim C. Hines. I'm not particularly into high or epic fantasy, not when gems like this are available. This is a booknerd's dream come true--the magicial ability to reach into your favorite books and pull stuff out (mostly weapons, but occasionally people). Also a nice contrast to the usual heteronormality, with the polyamorous relationship the hero embarks on at the end.

Worst Fantasy: Splintered, A.G. Howard. This is one of three books I could not finish last year; at least I got all of them from the library, so I didn't lose any money. A lot of people on Goodreads seemed to like this, but I couldn't get into it at all. When you hit the halfway point of a book and realize you don't give a crap how these characters will solve their problems, it's best to move on to something else.

Best Urban Fantasy: Skin Game, Jim Butcher. Fifteen books in and Harry Dresden is rolling right along, better than ever. This entire series is a master class in plotting.

Best Young Adult: These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. The tightest category by far, as I read a number of good (and not so good) YA novels last year. While trying to decide on a winner, I finally asked myself: "Which young-adult book have you thought about the most since you read it?" This one. This book is just wonderful: it's a science-fiction thriller, planetary mystery, sweet and realistic romance, young-adult coming of age, and an alien contact story all rolled into one.

Worst Young Adult (tie): Restoring Harmony, by Joelle Anthony; and Stung, by Bethany Wiggins. These are both absolute stinkers; the first I didn't finish, and the second, unfortunately, I did. The first suffers from cutesy, too-wholesome-to-be-real characters (seriously, we're deep in "Little House" territory, which did not mesh with the rest of the book at all) and a completely unrealistic plot; and the second suffers from an even stupider plot and a dumb, unlikable heroine. Avoid these two books at all costs.

Best Science Fiction: Blindsight, Peter Watts. This is the best SF book I have read in years. It's a stunning gut-punch of ideas, extrapolation, and characterization, all wrapped in a unique first-contact story that reads like a combination of the Alien Queen/Cthulhu Mythos, with a chewy side meditation on the nature of consciousness and self-awareness. Also: Non-sparkly, hard-science vampires! Needless to say, this is not light reading, but it's absolutely worth it.

Best Horror: Maplecroft, Cherie Priest. This is the only book I read last year which would qualify as "horror," but it's a doozy. Another take on Lovecraftian monsters, blended with the legend of Lizzie Borden. This sounds like an unlikely combination, to say the least, but it's creepy and spooky and wonderfully done.

Most Disappointing Book: The Trap, Andrew Fukuka. The first two books in this trilogy are highly recommended, and the good points of those books are still here: the breathless pacing, the slam-bang action scenes, and some interesting character work. Unfortunately, it's all undone by one SHOCKING PLOT TWIST too many, unraveling what I felt was a perfectly satisfying explanation in the second book. And the ending is just...awful.

Book of the Year: Blindsight. Seriously, do not miss it.

Worst Book(s) of the Year: See Worst Young Adult. Bah.

I've challenged myself to read 40 books again this year. If I'm a little more prompt with my reviews, I should make it.

No comments: