I wrote this post last year and it proved pretty popular (and, not for nothing, it was fun to write) so there was no way I was passing it up again this year: the Top 10 New Books I Read in 2014, where “new” is described as “I hadn’t read it before this year,” not “came out in 2014.” As one of the books was first released in 1924, this is an important distinction.
Also, don’t take the specific number rankings too seriously past number three or so.
- Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes. I got into a ridiculous conversation on Twitter after reading Beukes’ previous book, The Shining Girls, about whether Beukes qualified as a horror writer or not. I maintained that she was not, at least based on the evidence of that one book. Allow me to be clear: while this book has elements of the crime procedural to it much as The Shining Girls did, Beukes has mad horror chops, and this book is one of a very small subset of books that actually legitimately scared the hell out of me at a couple of points. Broken Monsters is twisted and fucked up in what turn out to be several terribly wonderful ways, and the title itself is wonderfully evocative of what’s going on inside. The two books I’ve read by her have both been great; as Beukes is South African, I’m not sure what percent of her work is actually available in the North American market right now but I can’t wait to dig into the rest of it. I know there’s more out there.
- The President is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman who Dared Expose the Truth, by Matthew Algeo. Let’s be real, here; this book would have made the top 10 just based on the title alone, which is spectacular; the fact that Algeo writes a wonderful, fast-moving, cinematic narrative history based on one of the more insane events in American presidential history is just icing on the cake. With that title it didn’t need to be good. It also has the advantage (at least to me) of being about Cleveland, one of our most obscure and creepiest presidents. Yes, creepiest; Cleveland’s relationship with his wife, Frances Folsom, who he met when she was an infant, is creeeeeeeepy. I won’t give you the details; they’re worth looking up. Good stuff.
- The Blue Blazes, by Chuck Wendig. I read… three books by Chuck Wendig in 2014? I think? Wendig’s work sorta fits into what I’ve always called the “vampires fucking werewolves” genre and what everyone else calls “urban fantasy,” but The Blue Blazes is so gritty and brutal and nasty that I hesitate on including it there. Plus like half of it takes place in Hell. Wendig himself once nutshelled the book as “Man eats meat, fights Hell,” which is only inaccurate insofar as it minimizes the role of drug use in the story. I’d add “takes drugs” in the middle there. I learned what the word charcuterie meant while reading this book. This is one of the better-written books on the list in the sense of the words themselves making me want to eat the author’s brain and steal their powers; the main character is described as looking like “a brick shithouse made up of a hundred smaller brick shithouses.” It’s lovely. You should go read it right now.
- The Bone Flower Throne, by TL Morganfield. I actually reviewed this one when I read it; I read it in May and it is still the only book I have ever read set in tenth-century Mexico. It won’t be for long, though; the sequel The Bone Flower Queen just came out and it’s already in my shopping cart at Amazon waiting for the holiday rush to die down a bit. Everything about this book is fascinating: the culture, the characters, the setting, the plot itself. It’s all so goddamn new that there was almost no chance that I wasn’t going to love the hell out of it.
One tiny warning, though: the names can be tricky. Each character has like four of them, so make sure you’re paying attention the whole way through or you’re going to lose track of who’s doing what to who really quickly, which you probably won’t want to do. This one’s worth the work.
- Revival, by Stephen King. Yes, Stephen King, who somehow wrote something like four or five novels this year and managed to produce his best work in years in this novel. That sounds dismissive; I love King’s work and religiously purchase and read almost every book he releases (I skipped the new Dark Tower book) but the man is a whole entirely different thing unto himself and I don’t know that I expect to be surprised by him any longer. This should be right up there with It or The Stand. Revival blew me away; if it hadn’t been written by King I’d have been knocking people down to tell them about it, but he’s already the highest-selling motherfucker on the planet and I’m not sure he really needs my help. I need his help; Steve (ahem, Mr. King,) read Benevolence Archives, dammit! I was floored enough by this one that I made my wife read it to make sure I wasn’t crazy; she’s been telling people about it ever since. If you haven’t read any King in a while, this one is absolutely the book to come back with.
- Steelheart, by Brandon Sanderson. I went back and forth on whether I should include this Brandon Sanderson book or one of the other two I read this year; his Rithmatist was a bit on the forgettable side, but Words of Radiance, the second book in his Stormlight Archives series, was also brilliant. I ended up going with Steelheart because I feel like it’s less likely that you’ve read it before, and you ought to have. I just had a conversation with somebody the other day about how superheroes don’t show up in books all that often; well, Steelheart manages to combine superheroes and dystopia in a way that’s pretty damn fascinating, with a clever twist ending and lots of promise for future work in the universe. Firefight, the second book in the series, is out… soon, I think? Definitely next year sometime, and it might actually be in the next couple of months. This is technically a YA book but it’s the kind of YA that adults can enjoy just as easily; highly recommended.
- One Square Mile of Hell: The Battle for Tarawa, by John Wukovits. I don’t know what the deal was with this book; I found out about it somewhere, picked it up, and it sat on the shelf forever. I literally picked this book up and took it places with me on multiple occasions and it ended up back on the shelf unread; I don’t know what the hell was wrong with me or why it took me so long to get to it but the book is amazing. It’s about a single battle in the Pacific theater during World War II; basically an Allied attempt to take over a tiny little spit of land that had a Japanese airport on it, with a bit of detail about the lives of some of the soldiers involved in the battle for color. I find it hard to believe that Wukovits wasn’t at the battle given how detailed his history is– almost as hard as I find it to believe that anyone actually survived the battle. I know I praised Lauren Beukes’ horror storytelling up there and there’s a Stephen King book on the list besides, but for my money One Square Mile of Hell is the scariest book of the year, and the best nonfiction I read all year besides.
- Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. Yep. Goddamn Gone With the Wind. Technically I started this in 2013 but it was after I did the top 10 list for the year, so I figure I can count it 2014 under the ever-present “my blog, shut up” rule. I did a fairly extensive write-up of my feelings about the book right after I read it that I won’t go into huge detail about here; needless to say, while this book is generally about awful people and tries to sugar-coat some of the worst atrocities in American history, it’s still an amazing goddamned book and everyone who reads should make sure they read it. Yes, I know your reasons for not wanting to, do it anyway. Does Scarlett O’Hara’s genuine proto-feminist sensibility help any? The bloody thing is over 1000 pages and still manages to be a pretty fast read. You can spare a couple of days. Read Gone with the Wind.
- Sunshine Patriots, by Bill Campbell. I was starting to worry about the overall quality of 2014’s reading (a fear that proved unfounded once I started thinking about it more) when Sunshine Patriots touched off a hell of a run; four of the books on this list are books I read in the last month. I will reread this book over and over again, guys, and the language of the book is the reason why. I’m attracted to powerful dialogue, and nearly everyone in Sunshine Patriots talks in this proto-Jamaican/Spanglish, slangy patter that was just absolutely a joy to read. The fact that the cover grabs you so quickly– Afro-Caribbean cyberpunk? Yes please— is only additional evidence that the book demands a close look. Of all the books on the list, this is the one I’m going to evangelize the hardest, because I’d never even heard of Campbell prior to Saladin Ahmed randomly doing a promotion for this book on Twitter, and the people I’ve mentioned him to haven’t known him either. I love finding new authors and I love exposing new people to what I’ve found; Sunshine Patriots is really something special and you ought to check it out if you like things that are good.
- The Martian, by Andy Weir. I knew when I finished The Martian that it was going to be the best book of the year. I mean, Sunshine Patriots is a great book, but the challenge of 2014 was to find a book that was close to being as enjoyable as I found The Martian, and it just never happened. I should have hated this book; considering that I also released a book involving being in massive trouble and on Mars this year, and this guy not only was winning a bunch of book awards but apparently has Matt Damon starring in the damn movie already, I shoulda been mad at him. I’m not. His book’s better than mine. You should read Skylights anyway, because Skylights is pretty damn good, but… man, The Martian is an amazing piece of science fiction and you need to go read it. Just read my book first, because otherwise you’ll be all “This isn’t nearly as good!” and that’s not what I want. 🙂 I love this book and I want to hug Andy Weir for letting me read it. It’s the best book I read this year, by a long shot. Write more, dude.
Honorable Mentions: Reamde, by Neil Stephenson; Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest; Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard; The Enceladus Crisis by Michael J. Martinez; Lock In by John Scalzi.
So, what did you read this year?