So you read The Martian by Andy Weir (or maybe just saw the movie) and thought that was pretty cool, I should read more science fiction. Or maybe you have never once thought that you should read more science fiction. Who cares about all that outer space and robot nonsense? It wasn’t long ago that I fell into the latter camp, but then I realized I really liked time travel and that eventually lead me down a science fiction rabbit hole and I discovered that there really is something for everyone in this genre.
This annual post combines two of my favorite things: making lists and talking about amazing books. Of course, it is always a challenge to winnow the list down. A quick look at my first draft of my list (yes, there are multiple drafts), tells me that I read and enjoyed a lot of mysteries and memoirs and a TON of YA. That being said, my final draft has more variety. In no particular order, here are some of my favorite reads of 2014:
1. The Secret Place by Tana French. I think this is the third year in a row that Tana French has made it onto my end of the year Top Reads list. She is amazing.
2. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Last year my list included The Husband’s Secret, which was full of family drama, hidden secrets, suspense, with a touch of romance and humor. That pretty much describes this latest offering. The audio is fantastic.
3. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. Are you looking to feel better about your own quirky family? Check out the hilariously dysfunctional Foxmans!
4. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. If someone forced me to pick only one favorite of 2014, I think this would the one.
5. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Nonfiction always surprises me. Who knew a book about rowing would be a favorite?!
6. The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence. Quirky characters and an unlikely friendship!
7. The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker. This French import is a book about a book…and a murder. Plenty of twists and turns. Read the book before it hits the big screen!
8. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Humor and heart! This is another one that is fabulous on audio.
9. Vicious by V.E. Schwab. Superpowers and moral ambiguity abound in this dark and dangerous read.
10. Out of the Easy by Ruta Septys. New Orleans in the 1950. A murder threatens to derail a young girls dreams of a better life. Heartbreaking and lovely.
11. The Storied Life of A.J. Fickery by Gabrielle Zevin. A love letter to book lovers.
12. Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King. The prolific Mr. King takes a stab at a cat-and-mouse police procedural.
13. 10% Happier by Dan Harris. A non-intimidating, practical look at meditation.
14. Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. A new-to-me series full of wizards and magic and good vs evil. And a skeleton detective. LOVE.
I can’t wait to see what all of my coworkers put on their lists. Be sure to check back all week for more fun lists!
Bonus: Memorable Memoirs of 2014
In a bold and adventurous move, we took our book discussion into the uncharted territory of the science fiction section! It could have gone either way -into a black hole of despair or into the sparkly twirl of a nebula, and in the end I think we hit a pretty happy place somewhere near Middle Earth -oh wait, that’s from more of the fantasy genre… How about I get my head out of the clouds and you take a look at what everyone has to say about what they’re reading?
Carol: In Jo Walton’s Hugo-winning novel, Among Others, Morwenna is a 15-year-old Welsh girl and Science Fiction fanatic, who speaks to fairies and practices magic. In this, her fictional diary, Morwenna’s twin Morganna has been killed, and Morwenna has run away from her insane mother and been sent to a private girls’ school in England by her estranged father. There, she attempts to come to terms with her recent loss. This magical coming of age novel is a quick and thoughtful read, that also provides readers with lists of Science Fiction must-reads along the way.
Lauren: The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier takes us to The City—a place inhabited by those who have recently died. People remain in the City as long as they are remembered by the living. Once there is no one left on Earth to remember them, they disappear. We discover that a deadly virus has swept the world, killing off the majority of the population. One day nearly all of the existing City residents suddenly disappear and an influx of new residents arrives, but the population of the City has been drastically reduced. Meanwhile back on Earth we follow the adventures and struggles of Laura Byrd, the lone surviving scientist of an imperiled mission to Antarctica. As the residents of the City convene and get to know one another they discover their tie that binds—Laura Byrd, who may very well be the last living human on the planet.
Emma: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is the story of a young woman captured while attempting to escape from the Republic of Gilead, the former United States, to Canada with her husband and daughter. Her freedom is severely limited when she is forced to become a handmaid and is called Offred. Her job is to bear a healthy child for the Commander, Fred, and his wife Serena Joy. When Offred doesn’t become pregnant quickly, Serena suggests that she have sex with Nick, the chauffeur, and pass their child off as the commander’s child. The reader is left not knowing what happens to Offred – prison or freedom.
Dori: In California, by Edan Lepucki, Cal and Frida have left a chaotic and broken down Los Angeles and are living on their own in the wilderness when they discover a mysterious settlement close by. Frida’s pregnant and the couple decide to join the settlement, though they are not fully welcomed and their presence eventually must be voted upon. Gradually, they realize that something is not quite right: in the settlement, decisions are made from the top down, roles are strictly defined and…where are the children? Lepucki raises important issues about social class and the choice of security vs. freedom, but the ending seems rushed and jars with the character development.
Maureen: Don’t ask me how, but Ready Player One by Ernest Cline combines the bleak, dystopian, energy-crisis future world of 2044 with hilarious flashbacks to video games and pop culture of the 1980s. Teenager Wade Watts is living with his insensitive, selfish aunt in a poor housing development in Oklahoma City called the “stacks” (trailers stacked vertically). To escape his less-than-stellar living conditions, Wade has a hideout in an old antique car buried within the stacks where he logs in for hours with his school-issued equipment to the online immersion of the OASIS, a virtual world created by the famous video game creator James Halliday. After his death, Halliday challenged the world to solve his puzzle called “Anorak’s Invitation” using his love of everything 1980s to find three hidden keys embedded within vintage video games (so-called “Easter eggs”) Whoever finds the keys and solves the riddle inherits Halliday’s fortune. Against all odds, Wade discovers the first key, but then becomes embroiled in a life or death race to finish the contest. Along the way, he meets fellow competitors, faces an evil, greedy corporation and learns that not all is as it seems in the OASIS. A quick read full of fun 1980 tidbits!
Steve: Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry, is the second in the loosely connected The Giver Quartet. Kira, a crippled child in a future society, is left an orphan after the death of her mother. She is accused of being worthless to the society and faces banishment, until the Council of the Guardians defends her and she is soon given a valued position as the caretaker of the Singer’s robe, on account of her immense sewing and weaving skills. The robe illustrates the society’s past, present and soon to-be-filled in future, and is worn at the annual Gathering celebration. Kira’s excitement turns to shock as she discovers dark secrets about the Guardians and her society.
Megan: Ashfall by Mike Mullin is the thrilling first book in a trilogy. When fifteen-year old Alex is left home alone while his parents and sister visit family, he is expecting a weekend full of video games and hanging out with friends. All of his plans are ruined with the supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park erupts hundreds of miles away, plunging Alex’s Iowa town into chaos, darkness, and ash. Alex begins the long and dangerous journey east, in the hopes of reuniting with his family. Along the way he encounters violence and depravity as well as kindness and help. His new travel partner, Darla, is a mechanical genius and could be the key to his survival. Ashfall is terrifyingly realistic. It is an action-packed and riveting series opener that will leave readers desperate (and maybe just a little bit nervous) for more.
Ann: Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper is set in the distant future on a planet named Zarathustra. Jack Holloway is a gem prospector on Zarathustra. One day at his home he encounters a little creature that “yeeks.” He has never seen anything like him before. A passage from the book describes his initial contact. “He turned quickly, to see two wide eyes staring up at him out of a ball of golden fur. Whatever it was, it had a round head and big ears and a vaguely humanoid face with a little snub nose.” Jack calls him a Fuzzy and names this one “Little Fuzzy.” Soon more Fuzzies show up and they all exhibit a sweet, intelligent nature. In fact, it’s quickly believed that Fuzzies are indeed intelligent, sapient beings. But when officers of The Company, which owns the charter for the planet, hear about the Fuzzies, they are distraught because the charter specifies Zarathustra as an uninhabited planet. If the Fuzzies are sapient beings, the Company’s charter will be reversed- and no more profits will be made. This book was written in 1962 and nominated for a Hugo Award in 1963. It’s interesting reading to see a view of the future from over fifty years ago.
Julie: Midnight Riot is the first in the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. The quote from Diana Gabaldon on the cover is what caught my eye, “Midnight Riot is what would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz.” Awesome! It follows detective Peter Grant, who can not only see but speak with ghosts, as he investigates murders involving supernatural elements in modern London.
Stacey: On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee is set in the not too distant future set in the cities of B-Mor (Baltimore) and D-Troy (Detriot) where most of the residents are of Asian descent. The story really starts though when sixteen-year-old Fan, a diver in a fish farm, leaves B-Mor in search of her boyfriend Reg, who disappeared one day without leaving a trace. As Fan travels the path on which hopes to find traces of the missing teen, she must overcome a series of life threatening challenges that reflect the challenges surviving in this harsh, unforgiving world.
Next time we’ll be getting ready for the spookiest genre of all… Horror! If you’re feeling afraid that you won’t find anything to read in this section, don’t worry so much! You just need to find something that includes supernatural or occult ideas that are meant to frighten the reader, including books about the natural world gone awry. It’s time to brew up some coffee and keep the nightlights burning bright -it’s time to read some scary stuff!
Vicious by V.E. Schwab
September 24, 2014
Hardcover, 364 pgs.
What it’s about:
From YA author Victoria Schwab (Near Witch, 2011, The Archived, 2013), comes a new adult science fiction novel. When Victor and Eli first meet in college they are both ambitious and arrogant and slightly socially awkward. During their senior year a shared interest in near-death experiences and super human powers lead them to pose an interesting hypothesis. They believed that under the right circumstances it was possible for certain people to gain extraordinary powers. This was interesting as a theory, but deadly during the experimental phase. Ten years after that fateful semester Victor has escaped from prison and is hunting down his former friend. Fortunately for Victor, Eli is also on the look out for Victor as part of his crusade to eliminate ExtraOrdinaries (EOs) from the world. Both men are fueled by rage, armed with terrible powers, and dead-set on revenge.
Why you might like it:
Though marketed as an adult novel, I think high school readers would probably enjoy this book, so if you are a fan of Victoria Schwab, you might want to check out Vicious. If you like enjoy stories where the lines between good and evil are blurred, you will probably like the moral ambiguity in this book. If you are intrigued by the idea of having superpowers, you should probably read this book. It might change your mind! Are you a fan of revenge tales? That’s Vicious! Looking for complex friendships, unlikely heroes, and strange friendships? Look no further! If you like your reading deep, dark, and dangerous you will find all of that here. Bottom line: this book is fabulous! I found the cover off-putting, so this is a perfect opportunity to NOT judge a book by its cover!
Want more like this?
The first book that comes to mind is Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. Both tell the story of extraordinary powers corrupting people. I’ll have to think about more readalike!
If you are a reader of graphic novels you don’t need me to tell you how wonderful they can be. There is something refreshing (and maybe just a bit nostalgic?) about reading a story told in both words and pictures. But don’t dismiss graphic novels as fluff or kids stuff just because they are illustrated. I have found many graphic novels that are entertaining, powerful, and moving. I personally love a series, but I have also found a number of enjoyable standalones. My introduction to graphic novels was Bill Willingham’s Fables series, and it not only remains a favorite, but it is also a series I love to recommend. Here are some more of my favorites:
1. Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley is a charming memoir that is sure to delight all you foodies out there.
2. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh is a hilarious and heartbreaking glimpse into the world of depression. The book is a compilation of new material as well as material previously published on the author’s blog.
3. Little Fish by Ramsey Beyer is a coming of age story about a girl moving away from her small town and finding herself in a big city. This is the perfect gift for the high school graduate in your life.
4. The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam by Ann Marie Fleming is a biography of her great-grandfather, China’s greatest magician. This is a fascinating look at Chinese culture and the early world of vaudeville. Definitely worth picking up.
5. The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston is a novel told in pictures and tells the story of a young girl coming of age in the 1920s. Her dream is to be a writer, but life seems to have other plans for her, until she is swept off her feet by a handsome young man. Loaded with vintage postcards, magazine ads, letters, and fashion spread, this book pairs perfectly with The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
6. 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth, How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You, My Dog: The Paradox, and Why Grizzly Bears Should Wear Underpants by Michael Inman are all ridiculous, irreverent, and absolutely hilarious. Inman is the creator of The Oatmeal.com, the internet home of his comics. His humor isn’t for everyone, but if it IS your style, these books will leave you in tears!
7. Chi’s Sweet Home by Kanata Konami will make a cat lover out of even the staunchest nay-sayer (I should know, I was one of them!). These tiny, darling books chronicle the author’s adventures in adopting a street kitten.
8. Locke & Key by Joe Hill follows the Locke family as they move into their family’s ancestral home, a Victorian mansion called Lovecraft. Bad things happen. The story is dark, disturbing and utterly addictive. Joe is certainly giving his father, Stephen King, a run for the title of King of the Macabre!
9. Y: the Last Man and Saga by Brian Vaughan are two offerings from a Cleveland native. Y: the Last Man follows Yorick, the lone survivor of a plague that kills all the men. Saga is his newest offering and it is just plain bizarre, in an awesome way! Interplanetary wars and star-crossed lovers!
10. The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman…do I really need to explain this one? Actually, I gave up in the show after the first season, but the books are fantastic. They are so much more horrifying than the tv series and after the first book, they books and television show are two entirely different things. I think it’s safe to read and watch simultaneously.
And just so that I am not ending on that horrific zombie note, here’s a nice bonus:
Eric Shanower’s Oz series is a must-read! This graphic adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s classic Wizard of Oz series is one of my favorite discoveries. The story is fresh and illustrations are amazing. Every time I look at them I want to take them apart and frame the pages. I encourage you to venture to the Children’s Department and rediscover Dorothy and her band of misfits as they have adventures in the land of Oz.
This year I made an effort to expand my reading horizons and in the process I discovered some amazing books! I read or listened to 200 books in 2013 and picking 13 favorites was nearly impossible, but after much fretting, I am finally satisfied with my 2013 “Best Of” list.
1. Favorite Nonfiction:
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I found this book fascinating. The case studies and anecdotes are compelling (and in some cases a little creepy). I found the suggestions and techniques for changing habits to be useful in my own ongoing quest to make healthier choices.
2. Favorite Picture Book:
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt. My nephews, ages 7, 8, and 9, think that they are getting too old for picture books, but I say you’re never too old for a charming and hilarious story! The letters from Yellow and Orange are my favorite!
3. Favorite Audio:
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. Don’t let the gorgeous cover fool you, this is not fluff. This story has it all: family drama, hidden secrets, suspense, and even a touch of romance and humor. It was this book, more than anything else, that motivated me to walk the dogs in the recent blizzard-y weather.
4. Favorite YA:
Reality Boy by A.S. King. Considering that the majority of my reading is YA, picking just one book for this list was a little painful. I must admit that I have become slightly obsessed with A.S. King’s books. Her books are full of heart-breakingly dysfunctional characters and the their struggles to have better lives. Her stories are powerful and empowering, and not just for teens.
5. Favorite Middle Grade:
The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy. This is the hilarious sequel to The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. The League of Princes is off on another (mis)adventure and once again their leading ladies are there to save the day. Fans of fairy tales, fractured or otherwise, won’t want to miss this series.
6. Favorite Debut:
In the Shadow of the Blackbird by Cat Winters. I had to sneak another YA book on the list, but I think it will appeal to a wide range of readers. Fans of historical fiction will appreciate the old photographs and vivid descriptions of life during the great Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Readers looking for fright will find a devilishly delightful ghost story!
7. Favorite Historical Fiction:
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. This book covers the life of one woman, Dorothy, from her youth in pre-WWII England, through the war and into the present day. As she lay dying her daughter makes a startling discovery about her mother’s past. Full of twists and turns, I was guessing right up until the surprising end!
8. Favorite Graphic Novel:
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. Not sure about the whole graphic novel thing? Ease into them with the delicious memoir! Give this to your favorite foodie (but be sure to read it before you wrap it)!
9. Favorite Science Fiction:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. 80’s pop culture collides with future dystopian America. Virtual reality is the new reality and gamers are battling out for chance to win billions. This book was so much fun and the audio was narrated by Wil Weaton!
10. Favorite Book Recommended by Fellow Librarians at RRPL:
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. This is a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter with a futuristic science fiction twist. Fascinating!
11. Favorite Mystery:
Broken Harbor by Tana French. This is the fourth book in the Dublin Murder Squad series. I love everything about French’s police procedural novels. The setting is vivid, the characters are well-developed and perfectly flawed, and the mysteries are suspenseful without being gruesome.
12. Favorite Funny Book:
The Last Word by Lisa Lutz. This is the last book in the Spellman Files series and I suggest you start at the beginning. The series stars a highly dysfunctional family of private investigators. Hilarity ensues.
13. Favorite Fiction:
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. This is my current favorite book. It is a charming coming-of-age story with lots of family drama, humor, and a sweet romance. This book is like a cozy blanket on a chilly day: you want to dive in and not come out. I realize that sounds cheesy, but I found this book to be so comforting. I have lots of love for Rainbow Rowell.
….and a last minute addition for luck! I promise, no more.
Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. This is superhero science fiction. With a twist. Imagine living in a world with only super villains. In Steelheart, ordinary humans develop superhuman talents and use them to enslave and terrorize ordinary people. All but a small handful of people submit. The resistors call themselves The Reckoners and their only goal is to rid the world of Epics. This series opener is amazing!
Winter is coming…but book six in A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin is not. At least not any time soon. I know I am not alone out here, wondering what to do with myself while I wait. On the one hand it’s actually a relief to not have most of my time and brain cells being monopolized by a complicated epic fantasy. On the other hand, I got used to lugging an enormous book around with me at all times. I kind of want that feeling back. So I took another look at my Goodreads “to read” shelf and found some titles that should keep me busy while I impatiently wait for G. Martin to get busy and give me a new book.
1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. This may be the perfect choice for me. Historical fiction+time travel+some steamy romance=Win! Another thing that it has going for it is the fact that there are already seven books published. It looks like an eighth book will be published in 2013. There will be no hand-wringing or teeth gnashing as I anxiously anticipate the publication of a new title. There really is something to be said for starting a series once it is complete (or almost complete).
2. The Map of Time by Félix J. Palma. Ok, it looks like I have an overwhelming desire to get lost in a time travel series. Who knew? This one has the bonus element of Steampunk, which is trè chic. Look at those gorgeous covers! I am sold.
3. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. This supernatural thriller series comes recommended by a coworker. Quirky characters, suspense, and horror. Works for me. There are currently five books in the series and book six is due out in 2013.
These are my top three contenders for my next epic series. Of course, if I was practical I would hold off on starting a new series until I finished or got caught up on my current series. *Cough* Stephanie Plum *Cough* I am not sure I will ever catch up with this woman!
I am also open to recommendations! What do you think I should read while I am waiting on The Winds of Winter?