Best of: Fantasy 2014

As I described in my introduction this Best of list reflects my favorite Fantasy Novels I read in 2014. It is less an awards kinda thing, and more a distillation of my year of reading and a short list of recommendations. Here’s a link to all of my Best of 2014 lists.

Mistborn: The Final EmpireBrandon Sanderson – Mistborn: The Final Empire
Huge complex introduction to a great epic fantasy series which never feels like heavy lifting. Sanderson manages to provide history, culture and magical exposition seamlessly throughout so you never feel overwhelmed.

Skin GameJim Butcher – Skin Game
The Dresden Files prove the axiom: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Each volume is strong and confident, but it isn’t until you step back and look at the series at a whole that you become staggered by the weight of the accomplishment. Dresden’s arc is nothing short of stunning, and Butcher seems to prove again and again how deep this sandbox is. This time we get a top notch, dirty dozen, heist adventure in this fun chapter of a brilliant ongoing series.

Sandman SlimRichard Kadrey – Sandman Slim
Sandman Slim is a Gritty, violent, funny and outstanding anti-hero urban fantasy series. Starting as a basic revenge story and building into epic apocalyptic battle of gods and demons this series has it all. While the template might seem to tread familiar ground, the banter and swagger is uniquely Kadrey’s and he delivers.

Just One Damned Thing After AnotherJodi Taylor – Just One Damned Thing After Another
Time travel fantasy with wry humor and strong female protagonist who would be the match of any other of urban fantasy’s rogues gallery. Max is a great character who seems often clueless but never out of her depth. This has to be one of my favorite narrator voices (both written and as performed in the audiobook) and as an adventure series it is a romp.

My Life as a White Trash Zombie
Diana Rowland – My Life as a White Trash Zombie
The audiobook version is a must listen. Allison McLemore’s interpretation of the marvelous Angel Crawford is perfection, and I honestly don’t know if I can separate the character from the performance, or want to. I love a good paranormal detective story and Diana Rowland has provided an unique voice and perspective into the genre.

Honorable Mentions:
Brian K. Vaughan – Saga, Volume 3, A weird space opera with the most honest characters and gorgeous artwork you are apt to find, Saga is the best graphic novel series running.
Richard Adams – Watership Down, A classic folk tale with empathy and charm.

Best of: Science Fiction 2014

As I described in my introduction this Best of list reflects my favorite Science Fiction Novels I read in 2014. It is less an awards kinda thing, and more a distillation of my year of reading and a short list of recommendations. Here’s a link to all of my Best of 2014 lists.

Red RisingPierce Brown – Red Rising
It has been compared to a lot of other Young Adult Sci-Fi/Fantasy series, but Red Rising stands on it own. Pierce Brown’s phenomenal debut is dark and complex with an earnestness that captivates. The sequel releases tomorrow (January 6th, 2015)

Solaris StanisÅ‚aw Lem – Solaris
This haunting classic story is as thought-provoking and relevant today as when it was written. Intermixing psychological thriller aspects with hard science fiction and exobiology, Solaris has a slower burn and more measured pace than many of the genre.

The Ghost BrigadesJohn Scalzi – The Ghost Brigades
All great Sci-Fi asserts an alteration to reality and investigates the ramifications. Ghost Brigades takes the excellent foundation of Old Man’s War and expands the world building and character development to wonderful depths. The result is a nearly perfect second book in a series which underlines what was great about the original and refocuses our attention to other corners of this well conceived universe.

Ender's GameOrson Scott Card – Ender’s Game
Card masterfully manipulates the characters and the reader alike through the twists and revelations of this character driven classic sci-fi story which depicts the genius of the characters without forgetting that these are children.

Off to Be the WizardScott Meyer – Off to Be the Wizard
Silly, funny and highly enjoyable hard science fiction medieval romp mixed with computer science. Maybe only Terry Pratchett comes close to this in tone, which is fairly high praise.

Honorable Mention:
Andy Weir – The Martian, I chose to acknowledge this as Realistic Fiction rather than Science Fiction, but others will disagree. By which ever criteria or category you prefer The Martian is one of the best books of 2014.

Best of: Short Stories and Novellas 2014

As I described in my introduction this Best of list reflects my favorite Short Stories and Novellas I read in 2014. It is less an awards kinda thing, and more a distillation of my year of reading and a short list of recommendations. Here’s a link to all of my Best of 2014 lists.

The Emperor's SoulBrandon Sanderson – The Emperor’s Soul
Sanderson’s magical systems are always beautifully intricate, and even in this short story it is no different. The worldbuilding, character development and plotting are meticulous and efficient. Everything you want in a Sanderson novel without the kitten-squisher page count.

LegionBrandon Sanderson – Legion
Once again Sanderson provides tremendous world and character building in a small package. This time the magic is mental illness and magical photography. Our hero has multiple personality disorder, but has turned his aspects into assets as he leans on each of their talents to solve crimes.

The Slow Regard of Silent ThingsPatrick Rothfuss – The Slow Regard of Silent Things
Anytime you get something to read from Patrick Rothfuss it is going to be special. This novella is a delicate, poetic peek into the life of Auri and the world of the Underthing beneath the university in Imre. You need not have read the other Kingkiller Chronicle novels to appreciate this haunting story, but you should read them anyway.

Weird Detectives: Recent InvestigationsNeil Gaiman – The Case of Death and Honey
I love Sherlock Holmes stories, but rarely do they add to the cannon in such bold and thoughtful ways. Gaiman plies his considerable talent to describe an investigation unlike any other. Sherlock is old and retired, and Mycroft is dying. In possibly is last and most elusive mystery we see a different, more patient and focused Sherlock in a story told through his own pen.

The Finite CanvasBrit Mandelo – The Finite Canvas
Short stories can sometimes invite us into intimate moments too small for novels. The depth of the world is skillfully implied while keeping our focus firmly on each of these two very different women at the edges of society.

Honorable Mentions:
Park, Paul – Ragnarok, A post-apocalyptic heroic poem in the style of Beowolf.
Butcher, Jim – Love Hurts, A stand-alone story from the Dresden Files series.

Best of: Historic or Realistic Fiction 2014

As I described in my introduction this Best of list reflects my favorite Historic Fiction or Realistic Fiction books I read in 2014. It is less an awards kinda thing, and more a distillation of my year of reading and a short list of recommendations. Here’s a link to all of my Best of 2014 lists.

The MartianAndy Weir – The Martian
This debut novel is funny, smart, thrilling and among my favorite books I read this year in any genre. Andy Weir’s adventure is set in the near future during a manned mission to mars that goes disastrously wrong. What follows is some of the most scientifically accurate and engaging science fiction you are apt to read.

Everything I Never Told YouCeleste Ng – Everything I Never Told You
I don’t read as much contemporary fiction as I should, possibly because I am too soft-hearted for the emotional pummeling this book put me through. It is both absolutely heartbreaking and beautiful. Like The Martian, this is a debut novel for Celeste Ng. She tackled a tremendous amount of sensitive social issues in this novel with equal grace and authority.

Looking for AlaskaJohn Green – Looking for Alaska
Looking for Alaska was my introduction to John Green’s writing although already a fan of his youtube series Crash Course (which you should definitely check out). His young adult novels never talk down to the characters or audience. Looking for Alaska is a bildungsroman which yanks away each vestige of childhood from our young protagonist, Miles Halter. Through Miles we have some of the most frank and raw discussion of innocence lost and a reminder how vulnerable we all are at that age.

The Fault in Our StarsJohn Green – The Fault in Our Stars
John Green’s tremendous year includes the cinematic release of this young adult best seller. My reaction to this novel was very personal and affecting and only loosely in response the the actual character drama within the book. In my mind that makes it no less effective or resonant. We all have or will be affected by cancer in our families, friends or selves. John Green has made a thoughtful story which attempts to reflect the many and diverse relationships we have with the disease and those living with the cancer.

A Cold and Broken HallelujahTyler Dilts – A Cold and Broken Hallelujah
Detective Danny Beckett is practically the opposite of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. He is thoughtful, diligent and fully engaged in his investigation. Unlike Sherlock Holmes it isn’t an intellectual interest, or the love of the game. The game is killing him and he cares for each of the victims of the crimes he is unraveling. It may be odd to describe him for what he is not, but this was unlike any detective story I had read before. It is personal. The answers don’t come easy and the process takes a toll. It is a counterpoint of melancholy and hope and a great read.

Best of: Non-fiction 2014

As I described in my introduction this Best of list reflects my favorite Non-fiction books and lectures I read in 2014. It is less an awards kinda thing, and more a distillation of my year of reading and a short list of recommendations. Here’s a link to all of my Best of 2014 lists.

A Short History of Nearly EverythingBill Bryson – A Short History of Nearly Everything
The title says it all. Bill Bryson uses his travel guide background to establish a foundation for physics, chemistry, biology, and much more with a light and adventurous tone. For anyone beginning their journey into scientific thought, or wanting to see an interconnected timeline full of personality and fun asides. Good for friends, family, kids, adults, everyone; it is worth remembering science is the culminating effort of generations of dedicated and intelligent real people. It is a community with a history, culture and heroes.

Einstein's Cosmos: How Albert Einstein's Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and TimeMichio Kaku – Einstein’s Cosmos
The science here will likely not be very new to anyone who would seek this book out, but the focus on Albert Einstein as a person, with his foibles and faults, ego and genius gives us a humanizing insight into one of science’s great geniuses. The descriptions of each of Einstein’s foundational principals though simple thought games and images aides in understanding the process and product of his contribution to physics.

Language A to ZJohn H. McWhorter – Language A to Z
Linguistics is a fascinating field and John McWhorter is just the guy you want to walk you through the bazaar and beautiful world of spoken words. Some of the most basic concepts were mind blowing to me; variations in correlation of spoken and written language, alphabet, phonetic development of language, and the many contemporary examples of changes in usage and grammar. I am making this sound terribly dull, which is exactly why you need to listen to this 26 part lecture series for yourself.

The History Of World LiteratureGrant L. Voth – The History of World Literature
This opened up new worlds of literature to me, and made me rethink several I already knew. This is a great lecture series from someone who is passionate about literature. Each movement, author and book get thoughtful attention and most importantly interconnection to preceding and subsequent works which influence.

The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic AgeNathan Wolfe – The Viral Storm
This book doesn’t have the benefit of being written by a notable travel writer, lecturer like my other selections, so the narrative aspects are not delivered with the same storyteller ease and effect, but this book gets its message across. Told by a leading virologist working on the fringes of society, Nathan Wolfe knows his stuff, and his stuff is scary.

Best of: 2014 Index and Introduction

Introduction:
All lists are subjective, but this is exceptionally so because my list is not a list of books that came out in 2014, although many did, but that I chose to read in 2014. So this isn’t necessarily like other people’s lists. This is not an end of year awards kinda list. It is an end of year reflection on a year in reading. I have read and listened to over 130 books, short stories, and published lecture series this year and reviewed a little over 100 of them. I am taking a moment to sit back and sift through the reviews and select a handful in a variety of categories to single out as recommendations.

Index of Best of 2014:
Best of: Non-Fiction 2014
Best of: Historic or Realistic Fiction 2014
Best of: Short Stories and Novellas 2014
Best of: Science Fiction 2014
Best of: Fantasy 2014

This is a complete list of all books reviewed and considered for 2014.