My Top 20 Reads of 2014

Since I restarted posting to LiveAndR3ad on a semi-regular basis this year, I thought it might be fun to do a “year in review” type post. I only actually reviewed a few of the books on this list, as I read a lot of them before last summer. Rather than just a list, I’ll do a mini-review of all the books so you can get an idea if you’d like to read them too J

There were really only two criteria I used to determine my top twenty. First of all, only first time reads qualify. The book doesn’t have to be new, but it does have to be new to me. This was a starting guideline so that Pride and Prejudice, The Hobbit, Dune, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy aren’t on my list every year. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love those books (hence the constant re-reading), but if people want to discover other books putting the same ones up every year would not be helpful.

The other main criterion was that I had to have read the whole book. Thus any books I’m currently working on and those I plan to come back to are disqualified.

A couple of quick notes:

These are in order of category, not preference. I did put each category in a semblance of favorite to least favorite, but I would not have included them in the first place if I didn’t like them.

Also, unlike the regular blog, I did include manga and graphic novels in this list. I read a lot of them and it seemed only right to have my favorites.

Finally, there are a couple of double entries where I read multiple volumes of the same series. This was my way of limiting myself to twenty and still include all the books I wanted.

On to the mini-reviews!

Fiction

Watership Down by Richard Adams – This might be my favorite new read of the year. The writing, the plot, the characters were all spot on. Read my review for a more complete idea of my thoughts, but yeah, everyone should read this if they haven’t.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle – I really enjoy fairy tales. The Last Unicorn has a sense of tragedy within it that few stories I’ve found can match. The themes of identity and memory are examined minutely, with devastating results. I literally started crying at the end of the book.

 

Fantasy

The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear (Kingkiller Chronicle #1-2) by Patrick Rothfuss – these two volumes comprise 2/3 of the Kingkiller Chronicle. It follows the career of Kvothe, a young bard and magician who will become legendary. Rothfuss does a brilliant job of creating a likable, smart and deeply flawed protagonist. If you like fantasy, this is probably my top pick.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman – This is an older piece that I had never gotten around to until this year. I love the authors’ style and sense of humor. The idea is the anti-Christ is born but gets switched in the hospital with another infant, thus growing up as a normal kid. Hilarity ensues. A ver ridiculous and entertaining read.

Red Seas Under Red Skies and The Republic of Thieves (Gentlemen Bastards #2-3) by Scott Lynch – Con men are in a fantasy world. Do I need to say more? If you haven’t, you really do need to start with The Lies of Locke Lamora, the first volume in this series. This series has some of the more comprehensive world building I’ve seen in a while. If you are going to read these, I would suggest spacing them out a bit, as the style can get a bit predictable.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman – Again, a book I just hadn’t gotten around to (I’m sensing a pattern…). This is another fairy tale-esque story. If you like such things, this is a good instance of an author reexamining old tropes and breathing new life into them.

A Natural History of Dragons (Memoir by Lady Trent #1) by Marie Brennan – So, dragons are real. Any they basically live in Edwardian England. So that’s cool. This story follows Lady Trent, a woman who wants to study dragons scientifically, but is prevented from doing so based on the rules of etiquette. I loved the melding of different cultures in this book. I haven’t read any of the subsequent books, but I am planning to do so.

The Promise of Blood (Powder Mage Trilogy #1) by Brian McClellan – The book follows a coup and subsequent war in a fantasy setting, so a lot of intrigue, battle, etc. What sets this volume apart is that the technology is at the level of muskets and cannon, rather than swords and bows. Gunpowder is used by mages to control bullets and other small metal objects. I love the magic system in this book. I am planning on reading the other two volumes in the trilogy this year.

 

Science fiction

The Martian by Andy Weir – In the first long-term mission to Mars, one of the astronauts is stranded and believed dead by his companions. This is the story of his attempt at survival (I won’t tell you if he survives. Spoilers.). There is a lot of ingenuity in the story telling and you really do want the main character to succeed. A note of caution though: if you dislike swearing, this may not be the book for you. There’s not a ton, but it is there.

Lock In by John Scalzi – A pandemic in the near future has rendered a small but significant portion of the world population with total and permanent paralysis. Now these individuals have robotic avatars connected to their minds to allow them to interact with the rest of the world. This is the story of one of them who becomes an FBI agent. Scalzi uses this book to explore the themes of prejudice, disability and fear of the unknown to a large degree of success. It does have that snarky wit that Scalzi is so famous for.

Embassytown by China Mieville – What I love about Mieville is his sheer creativity in world building. Sometimes this ends up working against him, but in this case I found the strangeness of the aliens to fit quite well with the overall tone. There is a decent amount of theorizing on the nature and development of language in aliens cultures, so if that’s not your thing, you are warned. I found it fascinating.

 

Manga and Graphic Novels

Axe Cop: Volume 1-3 by Malachi Nicolle – A five year old and his thirty year old artist brother make a comic. The kid writes, the adult draws. It’s everything that’s brilliant about children.

Durarara!! (Saika Arc) Volume 1-4 by Ryohgo Narita – This is one of those manga that you really need to read the first/main arc to get. That said, I love this manga. It has all of the crazy.

Morning Glories Volume 1-3 by Nick Spencer – Do not be deceived by the title or the cover. This is a very violent series. Students of a prep school are being psychologically modified for some unknown purpose. There are apparently  supernatural powers, clones, time travel, and a lot of murder in play, but it is pretty hard to tell. I’m honestly not sure. It is too early in the series to really know how this will all pan out, but the beginning is promising.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Volume 16-20 by Nagaru Tanigawa – If you are going to read Haruhi, start at the beginning. There is a lot of material to get through and the volumes listed here won’t make any sense otherwise. Haruhi is one of my all-time favorite mangas. It gets kinda weird at points but totally worth it.

Black Butler Volume 1-15 by Yana Toboso – This is what I consider to be the lighter side of manga, in that each story arc doesn’t actually do anything to influence any of the others. I mostly just love the art in this one.

 

Non-fiction

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Monroe – Humor and science should go together more. Then perhaps more people would be interested. If you like xkcd, it’s the same author/artist. Definitely worth a read.

The Lost Men: The Harrowing Saga of Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party by Kelly Tyler-Lewis – This is a rather tragic history book telling of the perils of Antarctic exploration in the early twentieth century. There are extensive excerpts pulled from the journals of the men involved and the trials they went through. I found it very moving.

Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner – I find economics fascinating. It’s less about the numbers and more about the psychology of the individual. Freak takes the information from Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics and applies it to situations. You don’t have to read the other two to get something out of this, but it would be advisable.

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Clay Shirky –Shirky looks at the influence of social media and the internet in general on society and how society is changing as a result. It has a lot of practical information. I would suggest it to anyone who uses the internet on a regular basis.

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