The Best Novels I Read in 2014

I somehow failed at this exercise last year, but I managed to pull it off for 2014. Phew, starting the year off with one in the Win column! Before we get to The Best of, if you’re really curious, here’s a list of every book I read in 2014.

While compiling the best, I started with what I’d rated 5 stars — just 11 novels. I could take just the best 10 of those — piece of cake, right? Wrong. There were titles I expected to see there that weren’t, and a couple that I was surprised to see listed. So I looked at the 4 and 4½ books — and had a similar reaction.

Now, I stand by my initial ratings — for honesty’s sake as much as laziness. But I did put some of my lower rated books in the best, knocking some 5-star books out. They might have been impressive workds, doing everything I wanted — but some of these others stuck with me in ways the 5’s didn’t — emotional impact, remembering details/stories in more vivid detail, that sort of thing.

Eh, it’s all subjective anyway, so why not? I did try to account for recency bias in this — and pretty sure I succeeded, but I may owe an apology or two.

Later today, I’ll post the Honorable Mentions list and the Worst of List — as well as what I’m looking forward to most in 2015. The Day of Lists, apparently. With one exception, I limited these lists to things I hadn’t read before (it shows up in the Honorable Mention post). Enough jibber-jabber, on to the Best Novels I read in 2014:

(in alphabetical order)

Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy, #1)Red Rising

by Pierce Brown
My Review
This was exciting, compelling, devastating, thrilling, and occasionally revolting. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve recommended this one to this year.
5 Stars

Skin Game (The Dresden Files, #15)Skin Game

by Jim Butcher
My Review
It almost feels like a cheat to put this on the list, but I don’t know if any of the books since Changes would’ve made a year end list, so it’s not like Butcher/Dresden owns a spot here. I laughed, I got pretty darn misty a time or two, I’m pretty sure I audibly reacted to a victory also. Best of this series in awhile.
5 Stars

The Girl With All the GiftsThe Girl With All the Gifts

by M.R. Carey
My Review
This probably would’ve gotten 5-star rating from me if it hadn’t had to overcome genre/subject prejudice. Still, freakishly good.
4 1/2 Stars

Robert B. Parker's Blind SpotRobert B. Parker’s Blind Spot

by Reed Farrel Coleman
My Review
Coleman knocked this one out of the park, erasing the bad taste that his predecessor had left, and making me look forward to reading this series in a way I hadn’t for years. As good as (better in some ways, worse in others) Parker at his best.
5 Stars

Those Who Wish Me DeadThose Who Wish Me Dead

by Michael Koryta

My Review
Not the best Koryta book I’ve ever read, but something about this one has stuck with me since I finished it. Solid suspense, exciting stuff.
4 Stars

Endsinger (The Lotus War, #3)Endsinger

by Jay Kristoff
My Review
I knew going in that this was going to be a. well-written, b. brutal and c. a good conclusion to the series (well, I expected that last one, expected tinged with hope.). It didn’t let me down. I admit, I shed a tear or two, felt like I got punched in the gut a couple of times and didn’t breathe as often as I should’ve while reading. Such a great series.
5 Stars

The Republic of ThievesThe Republic of Thieves

by Scott Lynch
My Review is forthcoming
Can’t believe I haven’t finished this review yet — it’s 80% done, I just can’t figure out how to tie the paragraphs together in a way to make it coherent and (I hope) interesting. A lot of this book is a prequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora and yet there was genuine suspense about those parts. Lynch had a big challenge introducing us to a character here that had achieved near-mythic status, and she ended up living up to expectations. Just a gem of a book.
5 Stars

The Winter LongThe Winter Long

by Seanan McGuire
My Review is forthcoming
Again, I’m not sure how I haven’t finished this review yet. McGuire takes a lot of what Toby’s “known” since we met her (all of which is what we’ve “known,” too) and turns it upside down and shakes the truth out. Every other book in the series has been affected by these revelations — which is just so cool. There’s also some nice warm fuzzies in this book, which isn’t that typical for the series. McGuire’s outdone herself.
5 Stars

WonderWonder

by R. J. Palacio
My Review
Heart-breaking, inspiring, saved from being cliché by the interesting narrative choices Palacio made. Yeah, it’s After School Special-y. So what? Really well done. I have no shame saying this kids’ book made me tear up (even thinking about it know, I’m getting bit misty-eyed).
5 Stars

The MartianThe Martian

by Andy Weir

My Review
Very science-y (but you don’t have to understand it to enjoy the book); very exciting; very, very funny. Only book I’ve recommended to more people than Red Rising — I think I’ve made everyone over 12 in my house read it (to universal acclaim). Not sure why I haven’t made my 12-year old, yet.
5 Stars

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The Martian by Andy Weir

The MartianThe Martian

by Andy Weir

Hardcover, 369 pg.
Crown, 2014
Read: July 7 – 8, 2014

Also, I have duct tape. Ordinary duct tape, like you buy at a hardware store. Turns out even NASA can’t improve on duct tape.

Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.

More than just a love letter to duct tape (although I could’ve come up with more than those two quotations), The Martian is a taut survival thriller, filled with laughs, science, and attitude.

And attitude is the key — Mark Watney is full of it. From what I can tell, how you react to his attitude, his sense of humor, his personality directly correlates with your enjoyment of the book. When the book was first released, I read plenty of lukewarm or negative reviews that were about Watney as a character more than they were about the book as a whole. And that’s fair. Some times you can deal with a protagonist that you don’t like because you like the story, or the world, or the author — whatever. But The Martian‘s not built that way. It rises or falls on your appreciation for and attachment to the abandoned astronaut. By the end of chapter two, if you don’t like the guy, put the book down and move on to something else, because it won’t get any better.

Me? I liked the guy almost instantly — his self-deprecation, his sarcasm, his temerity, his MacGyver-esque abilities, his hatred of disco. Coupled with the severity of his situation, and the refreshingly original premise, I was hooked but good from the get-go.

We do eventually meet other characters — NASA executives, NASA non-executives, the rest of Watney’s team, and so on. We don’t get to know them as well as we do Watney — but what we do get are well-rounded characters working as hard as Watney is to help him survive. Racing against the clock — with the eyes of the world on them (think of the media coverage of Apollo 11’s landing — but in a 24-hour news cycle in the Internet age), these people are in a situation almost as extreme as his is.

Not only do the character moments work — and work very well — but the details are spot-on. The book is chock-full of scientific detail and explanations. Would you appreciate more of Weir’s work if you actually followed the details of the Chemistry and other science? Probably, but you can get the gist of it without really understanding it all. Jesse Pinkmans of the world can enjoy this book, not just the Walter Whites. Unless his science is wrong, I guess — in that case we liberal arts types are better off — but I’m betting he knows his stuff.

The plot moves along quickly — but not too quickly. Plenty of ups and downs, successes and failures, steps forward and steps back. There were times in this that the tension was so high I wondered if I should get back on my blood pressure medication. But then, like a seasoned professional, Weir would have me chuckling. A near-perfect balance of tension and release, enough to keep you on the edge of your seat without falling over. There’s some good emotional moments, too — particularly as things start to come together on the rescue mission, and more-so as the mission gets into trouble — even some inspirational moments. Weir put together the whole package — story, characters, style, and heart.

Do yourself a favor and grab this one.

Note:I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review. Which was generous and cool of them, but didn’t impact what I said about the book.

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5 Stars