Some Honorable Mentions of 2014

The Day of Lists continues:

Here are the books I wanted to include on my best of, but something kept me from it.

Honorable Mentions should go to (in alphabetical order):

He Drank, and Saw the Spider (Eddie LaCrosse, #5)He Drank, and Saw the Spider

by Alex Bledsoe
My Review
You could substitute Wake of the Bloody Angel here. This series has long-surpassed the gimmick of a hard-boiled detective novel in a generic fantasy setting. Pigeon-hole it however you want, it’s just a good book.
4 Stars

The Lives of Tao (Tao, #1)The Lives of Tao

by Wesley Chu
My Review
Despite the buzz around this, I wasn’t sure I was terribly interested — nor did I really know what to expect. So, so glad I took the chance. A barrel full of exciting, gun-blazing, snarky fun.
4 Stars

Bad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths and Other Tales of Dark FantasyBad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy

by Harry Connolly

My Review
I’m not normally a short story reader, but more collections like this might make me one. Different types of fantasy, all well written, even in the stories that aren’t my cup of tea I found something to enjoy.
4 Stars

The Severed StreetsThe Severed Streets

by Paul Cornell
My Review
Audible.com has provided a sample of the audio book version. Give it a shot, I’m betting 30 minutes won’t be enough.
I was impressed by the first in this series, London Falling, but this kicked it into a different gear. It’s about London as an entity as much as it is about these characters and their opponents — it’s dark, twisted and a little hopeful. Some fine writing here.
4 1/2 Stars

The Intern's Handbook: A ThrillerThe Intern’s Handbook: A Thriller

by Shane Kuhn
My Review
Hyper-violent, comic commentary on corporate cultures with heart. Or something like that.
4 Stars

The HumansThe Humans

by Matt Haig
My Review
Haig’s got this gift for making us look at ourselves with the oddest type of outsider. Ultimately, I realize I’ve read and watched this story before, but I was either finished or nearly finished before I had that insight. Either way, didn’t care, because no one had told it like this.
4 1/2 Stars

The Westing GameThe Westing Game

by Ellen Raskin
My Review is forthcoming
I’ve sat down to write the review of this one I don’t know how many times. I read this dozens upon dozens of times as a kid — loving the characters, the story, the strange little puzzle. And then walked away from it for decades. Reading it this summer was a wonderful blast from the past, and although I felt like I could recite the thing en toto I couldn’t, it still filled me with joy. Not just for nostalgia’s sake, either. This was probably one of my 3 favorite reads of the year, but it felt like cheating to put it on the main list, so here it is.
5 Stars

LandlineLandline

by Rainbow Rowell
My Review
A marriage on the rocks, a career on the brink, a magic telephone and Rainbow Rowell’s charm and heart. What more can I say?
4 1/2 Stars

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette

by Maria Semple
My Review is forthcoming
First book I finished in 2014, and it’s stuck with me the whole year — even as I struggle to write a review. A strange, impossibly strange and entirely believable world, populated with people I’m convinced could exist — and maybe do. I don’t know what else I can say about this (probably explains the year delay). It’s good. Funny, heartfelt, tragic.
4 Stars

The Humans by Matt Haig

The HumansThe Humans

by Matt Haig
Hardcover, 304 pg.
Simon & Schuster, 2013
Read: Feb. 4-6, 2014

A couple of years back, I remember enjoying Haig’s The Radley’s about a family of vampires who’ve stopped feeding on humans, and have (mostly) assimilated into everyday society. It was fun, quirky, and had a lot more to offer than I’d have guessed. So when I stumbled onto this at the library, I had to grab it (and shame on me for not keeping an eye out for more by him).

The concept’s pretty simple: a brilliant mathematician has just made a break-through that puts humanity far, far ahead of where an alien race thinks they ought to be in terms of development based on how emotional and violent we are as a race. So, they send one of their own to kill him, take on his form and eradicate any and all people who might have knowledge of this breakthrough. Along the way, said assassin starts to understand and even appreciate humanity’s quirks and tries to stop the killing. Along the way we are treated to his observations about humanity. For example,

…I was able to work out that what humans may have lacked in physical attractiveness, they made up for in gullibility. You could tell them anything in a convincing-enough voice and they would believe it. Anything, of course, except the truth.

Basically, the key rule is, if you want to appear sane on Earth, you have to be in the right place, wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and only stepping on the right kind of grass.

Or this description of browsing a bookstore:

Understandably, humans need to know what kind of book they are about to read, because time is money and money costs time and there’s no time like the present and all of that. They need to know if it is a love story. Or a murder story. Or a story about aliens. Perhaps the book they have in their hands is a war story. It wouldn’t be a surprise.
There are other questions too that humans have in bookstores. Such as, is it one of those books they read to feel clever, or one of those they will pretend they never read in order to stay looking clever? Will it make them laugh or cry? Or will it simply force them to stare out of the window watching the tracks of raindrops? Is it a true story? Or is it a false one? Is it the kind of story that will work on their brain or one which aims for lower organs? Is it one of those books that ends up acquiring religious followers or getting burned by them? Is it a book about mathematics or — like everything else in the universe — simply because of it? And also, of course, there is the ultimate, all-important questions: does it have a dog in it?

(amen to that last question)

A lot of these observations reminded me of the classic article, “Body Ritual among the Nacirema,” that social science undergrads have chuckled at for decades. And, at a point they got a little tired — but by the point that the book threatened to become an endless series of “here’s another way humans are odd” riffs, the story took over, and the characters became more than a collection of quirks. Which isn’t to say that the alien stopped having the observations, they were just mixed in with enough plot and character development that they became seasoning.

Another danger for the reader is that you could easily get so busy chuckling at things like a partial list of inventions that humans don’t know how to handle: “the atomic bomb, the Internet, the semicolon”; or the observation that a cat “was very much like a dog. But smaller, and without the self-esteem issues.” that you can let the poignant and thoughtful things slip by. This was not unlike Scalzi’s Redshirts in that way (it was on my mind because I was reading this when the news was released about the Redshirts TV adaptation).

Funny, moving, profound (not as profound as it wants to be, I don’t think — but close), look at what it means to be human, what it means to live, to love and why we bother with any of it.

—–

4 1/2 Stars