2014 was my Year of Reading Avidly. It was a year where I felt my life was on hold while I waited for milestones to be reached that will change the work I do and the country I live in. Books became a refuge for me. I had to stay where I was, doing what I normally do, but my imagination could jump on the back of book and soar away from everything, like Jake Sully astride of Toruk in Avatar. I read / listened to sixty-three books and wrote thirty-seven reviews. My year was much better for it.
You might think that reading more than five books a month would turn them into a blur but I was able to concentrate on all of them. It was like going to the movies whenever I wanted. This being the end of the year, I thought I'd select the top five books and recommend them to you. It turned out that I had to cheat and include a some series in the list because the year was just too rich for me to choose only five. My selection is below. You can go HERE to find my reviews of the books.
Top Five Reads in 2014
The Lily Bard books by Charlaine Harris
These five books are really one extended novel, tracing Lily Bard's progress from a woman barely hanging on to her life, following a truly horrific rape, to a woman who values what she does and who has allowed herself to build friendships and take a lover. In the meantime, Lily solves at least one murder per book and gives the reader an insight into small town life.
I came to these books late and I'm amazed that they don't have a bigger readership.
White Trash Zombie books by Diana Rowland
I didn't think Zombie books would be my thing but I was lured by the clever title and the distinctive cover art and then hooked by the witty prose, the excellent narration and the wonderful creation that is Angel Crawford - White Trash Zombie. These are so much more than Zombie books. They made me laugh and cry and I already have the fourth one in my "Leave your life behind and go somewhere FUN" pile.
Kate Shugak books by Dana Stabenow
The first audiobook I downloaded two years ago was "A Cold Day for Murder", book one in the Kate Shugak series, read by the inimitable Marguerite Gavin, and about a fiercely independent Aleut woman who lives in the National Park in Alaska and who constantly finds herself at the centre of violent events.
If all twenty books had been available as audiobooks two years ago, I'd have read my through most of them by now. Kate's world is completely absorbing and Dana Stabenow is skilled at letting her characters grow, acquire a history and change how they behave so each book tastes fresh on the tongue. Sadly, I had to wait for the books six through ten to be released, months apart. Book eleven still isn't available so I think I'm going to have to settle for the Kindle version so that I can immerse myself in books twelve through twenty which are already published as audiobooks.
This year, I read books eight, nine and ten. Book nine was such a surprise and such a calamity, I couldn't bring myself to write a review of it. I'd taken it along on summer vacation, expecting a relaxing time with an old friend and instead I found myself in tears. Book ten has a very different Kate in it, one that could go in a number of directions. I want book eleven NOW.
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Not only one of the best science fiction books I've read in a decade or more but one of the best audiobooks I've ever listened to . This is a good book made even better by the skill of the narrator and the quality of the production. If you want to try out audiobooks for the first time, start here.
Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult is one of my favourite authors in any format but because "Lone Wolf", a complex story about the relationship between a "Lone Wolf" father and his family, is told with different voices, it is perfect as audiobook. This is beautifully done and extremely compelling. Put your 'phones on and slip into another world.
Top Five most anticipated in 2015
I don't think I'll be reading quite as many books in 2015, given the other things that will be going on, but I've already go several books on my "must read" list so I can't see me surviving on less than forty or so books. Here are the five that I'm already looking forward to.
The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon
I've been waiting for this book since I finish "The Bone Season", the first book in the series, about a year ago.
The Bone Season was Samantha Shannon's first book but, like J.K.Rowling before her, she published it as the first in a seven book series and is rumoured to have received a record advance.
The Bone Season lived up to the hype: original, exciting, though provoking and packing an emotional punch.
Mime Order is scheduled for release on 27th January and I'm delighted to say, is being released as an audiobook on the same day.
My copy is already pre-ordered and I'll be diving in as soon as it's downloaded.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Kate Atkinson never disappoints but often surprises. Her Jackson Brodie books are a fascinating study in the triumph of character over plot and show an insight into people that must make her dangerous at dinner parties.
Life After Life goes in a different direction from Kate's other books in that it follows the life of someone reliving the same events of World War Two again and again.
Normally, I avoid books about this era because so many of them seem to sentimentalize a period that I think of as truly awful.
I'm going to read this one because I'm certain that Kate Atkinson will use the historical circumstance to weave a story about real people around complex themes.
The Girl With All The Gifts by M R Carey
For this one, I'm going with the hype and a short excerpt that whetted my appetite.
This is dystopian science fiction, with a Zombie beat but with a young, innocent girl at its heart.
It seems to be well written and certainly aspires to rise above the normal zombie bad / human good survivalist fare.
And anyway, I'm a sucker for stories about brave women, whatever their age.
Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
This is book two in the A Discovery of Witches series. I read the first one, A Discovery of Witches this year and found it quite entertaining.
Unfortunately, I thought the start was better than the end and that the book didn't finish, it just stopped.
I'm planning to read Shadow Of Night to see what happened next and to decide if the rest of the series appeals to me.
Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch
The Rivers of London series is one of the most refreshing British fantasy series I've ever read. Following the career of PC Peter Grant, a mixed-race police offer with an unusual flair for magic who gets assigned to "The Folly" that deals with all the odd stuff the Met doesn't want to think about.
Each of the first four books got richer and richer. Both Ben Aaronovitch and the reader, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, have really gotten into their stride with the books, which now have a distinctive magical realism feel to them, based on an unusual mix of a realistic British policing, a love of architecture, an understanding of the old gods, and a view of magic that is fresh and intriguing.
After the surprise ending of book four Broken Homes, I'm keen to see what happens to Peter next but I also look forward to settling into his world again. It will feel like coming home.