2014 Year in Books, Chinghaus

It’s been a long time since I have blogged, BUT I WANT TO CHANGE THAT, and since this is the perfect time to embrace one’s OCD by tweaking behavioral shifts to the start of a new year, I am kicking back with a drink called the Bloody Carrie:

From Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist, by Tim Federle.

Aw yeah.

This is my year-end review in books! I read 150 books this year, not counting rereads. I did include some books I did for editing jobs, mostly because I have to read edits twice, so that pretty much counts as a read. I did a quick google for “book memes” and came up with an amalgam meme that I think I like and is actually useful. For me. I mean, really, who reads these? Insert educational self-important masturbation here.

Without further ado, I present, a giant ass thing about books I done read.

Number of books read 150

Male/Female authors ratio: Male: 43 F: 18 😦

Fiction and non-fiction ratio: Fiction—135 Nonfiction—15 Really? It felt like so many more than that.

Number of Graphic Novels/TPBs: 29

Number of re-reads: Too many to count, mostly because they were series.. I reread Harry Potter, the Vampire Chronicles selectively, all of Harry Dresden.

Number of Series Read: 10.

Shortest book title: Snatched, edited by Egnis Jones. Though if we aren’t counting subtitles, then Sum, by David Eagleman

Oldest book read: Both Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and God Bless the Child by Robert B. Parker were both published in 1974.

Newest book read: Prince Lestat, Anne Rice’s newest offering in the Vampire Chronicles was pubbed late this year, in the fall. It was certainly my most anticipated book of 2014, and to tell you the truth, it didn’t disappoint. I listened to it, so I couldn’t skip her text, as I am wont to do, and while I kind of rolled my eyes a lot, there was a lot of rational closure as well. I don’t know if she plans to continue, but I’d like to read it. She finally takes vampires into a scientific area, and even has two vampire scientists who manage to cull sperm from Lestat to make a son. That’s pretty cool. It has the whole cast of the previous books (though not nearly enough Louis for me, I am afraid), including a really great twist for Maharet and Mekare. Winner of the most annoying vampire of the world is: Benji Mahmoud. Benji forever.

Books in translation: Only 4, all from the Japanese. But at least only 2 are manga.

Most books read by a single author: 42. This year I read the whole Spenser series by Robert B. Parker, and though the last 4 or so are by Ace Atkins, it counts still as the longest series of the year. Also probably the best, if I had to consider it as a whole work.

Most unexpectedly good book: The Gun Seller, by Hugh Laurie. I went into this expecting the astuteness of Wooster and Jeeves and the humor of Frye and Laurie. I was not disappointed. The end of the book gets a little over-complicated, but the writing is dry and quite literal, with a lot of in-jokes about the bizarre of language.

Most unexpectedly bad book: Eleven Doctors, Eleven Stories, Eoin Colfer, editor. It was just. I dunno what I expected. I guess better. But no, not so much. Kind of boring.

Title nearest the beginning of the alphabet: Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman. The best thing about this book was the narrator. And the ending. Somehow Gaiman books always seem to have such satisfying endings, but the middles are kind of…meh. I am convinced that because the endings are so good, they get better reviews than they deserve as a whole.

Title nearest the end of the alphabet: Wire in the Blood, Val McDermid. My god, by the way, this was a great series that fizzled out sadly. 😦

Best book of 2014? A Place of Execution by Val McDermid. I know I just said the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan Series was less than stellar, but that’s only because the plots got kind of strained as they wore on. Maybe if I hadn’t mainlined them I 2 weeks I might have a different view. Binging on a series is much like marathoning a TV series—you get a different view of it if you don’t have to wait and mull each ep over in your noggin for 6 days.

A Place of Execution isn’t in the series, though. It’s a one-off set in the early sixties in the city of Scarsdale, somewhere I the Yorkshire Dales. A fourteen-year-old girl disappears, and the scramble to find her is intriguing, a great deal more complicated than anticipated. It’s heartbreaking and satisfying all in one, with an ending ethical dilemma that everyone will take a side on.

RUNNER UP: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe. It’s…I skipped parts of it, because Jesus, there’s only so much I can take of reading people’s stream of consciousness, but there was something about the exploration of drugs and enlightenment that rang interesting to me. The book doesn’t hold up as groundbreaking when viewed from the current lens, in fact, there were some things the character said and “realized” that made me roll my eyes. But on the other hand, I wouldn’t feel that way if this book hadn’t been written. So, kudos, Ken Kesey.

Worst book of 2014? Desperate Housewives of Olympus by Saranna DeWylde. I think I was seduced by the title. I knew it was a romance novel, well, porn, blah blah, so, sad to say, I wasn’t going in with high expectations. I wish we had better writing in this genre, but in my best Jeffrey-Jones-pre-pedo-scandal voice, (handwave) “Well. There it is.”

The plot is interesting to some extent—the sexual antics of the Greek gods on Mount Olympus in the modern day. But there was too much stereotyping of gender roles for me to even take it seriously. There was even a new goddess that moved in, which was interesting, as she was some sort of manifestation of modern worship (hunger/denial/starvation, etc), but it wasn’t worth plowing through the book to get to that. So I had to drop it. And that’s saying a lot because it’s an audiobook. I will forgive a lot in an audiobook. But as Tianyu once said after watching a video of the Misfits in a Jem episode, “That’s thirty seconds of my life I will never get back.”

RUNNER UP: Nothing was as bad as this book.

Most disappointing book of 2014? The Good Nurse by Charles Graeber. This book was about the “Angel of Death” Charlie Cullen. Not that I was expecting something more sensational, but if you write a whole fricking book about it, maybe it should be more interesting than “he fooled the Pixis machine”. Just saying.

RUNNER UP: The Office and Philosophy, Jeremy Wisnewski, editor. A whole fucking book wondering if Michael Scott is a good person.

Best Audio Narrator: Jacqueline Eyre’s narration of The Palace Job and The Prophecy Con, both by Patrick Weekes. I wish I could explain why she’s so fantastic, but you just have to listen to her. As for the books, someone else described it as “Leverage meets Firefly meets The Wizard of Oz” or “Oceans Eleven with a horny unicorn”, which is also accurate. But Eyre’s accents and delivery make sure that all the voices are distinct and the humor is dead-on.

RUNNER UP: Roy Dotrice’s narration of A Song of Ice and Fire. He has a massive range of voices. His Tyrion is great, and though I don’t quite get why he’s decided to make Arya an old woman in book 4, I can only assume it’s because it was a rush job and he didn’t have time to go back to the original narration. He changes pronunciations too, but I think it might be because that narration was done after Game of Thrones started to air, and I think some of the names are said differently. EX: He used to say “Bry-EEN”, but now he says “Bree-ENNE”.

SECOND RUNNER UP: I listen to a lot of books, and while I liked the plot, the narrator is what makes the book amazing: Nightwoods by Charles Frazier, narrated by Will Patton. Will has that southern drawl that this book requires. It’s a very physical descriptive narrative, and Patton never hurries. He never seems impatient with the speed (or lack thereof). The book’s plot of pretty as well, so I’d rec it.

Book you recommended to people most in 2014? Probably The Palace Job, by Patrick Weekes. Because “Oceans Eleven with a horny unicorn”, guys. Also, her name is Ululenia. Also a talking Warhammer that says three things in another language.

Honestly, if you can, LISTEN to this one. It’s genius.

Favorite new authors you discovered in 2014? SO MANY. SERIOUSLY GUYS SO MANY: Val McDermid, Kevin Hearne, Diana Wynne Jones, and Patrick Weekes, for sure.

Best Series You Discovered in 2014: Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles. Atticus O’Sullivan is a great hero, and while sometimes the pop culture references get a little precious, the whole long saga is great. I especially like the ongoing thread in which every deity in the world acknowledges that Thor is a major douchebag, to the point that one whole book is about traveling to Asgard to kill his douchey ass. Also black Jesus. This is another series that really gains from being listened to.

Most hilarious read of 2014? Texts from Jane Eyre, Mallory Ortberg. Read an excerpt.

Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2014? Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman. I read a lot of Scientology books, because I think this shit is cray. It’s like a passion for me. This is the best and most comprehensive history of Hubbard, from childhood to death, and it’s an even better chronicle of the rise and fall of Dianetics in the fifties, and then the evolution of Scientology. It covers Miscavige’s ascension, and a lot of scandals that are pretty well known in the press. The only thing it doesn’t really address in detail is the mass shitfest that is the Freewinds. But some the detail of Hubbard’s days at sea with the early Sea Org are INSANE. (The Commodore’s Men, for example)

Most memorable character in 2014? Howl, from Diana Wynne Jones’ series, starting with Howl’s Moving Castle. Actually, pretty much all the main characters from that book are pretty fricking amazing: Calcifer, Sophie, and Michael, especially. I read it with Viola, and we had a good time rewatching the film to spot differences.

Most beautifully written book in 2014? The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa. A short book in which a young single mother becomes the housekeeper for a retired math professor who suffered an accident years before and now has no memory older than 90 minutes. They end up using math as a main communicator. The whole thing is just beautiful.

Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2014? David Simon’s books Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, both of which made me re-examine the way I look at drugs and addiction especially.

Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2014 to finally read? Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. Seriously, how had a true crime junkie managed to know NOTHING about Helter Skelter?

Best oh-I-didn’t-realise-you-wrote-other-good-books moment: Back in April, A colleague convinced me that I would like Jim Butcher’s other work because I still enjoy Dresden, no matter how many nay-sayers it has these days. So I checked out the Furies of Calderon ad gave it a listen. OH MY GOODNESS. There were times that I wished that it would GO FASTER, and of course the main character has a bit of a Gary Stu thing going on (That….that thing we see a lot of these days in which the main character get more and more powerful as the books go on? What’s that called? If it doesn’t have a name, we should call it “Unrealisti-levelling-up”.), and I can see how Kitai is kind of…exoticized in that “Foreign fetish” way, BUT IT HAS A BIG ASS WOLF PEOPLE CALLED THE CANEM WHO LIVE IN…BASICALLY EGYPT. This book is Roman culture tossback like Star Wars was. Emperor PALPATINE? Really?

Worst oh-I-wish-I’d-stopped-with-the-previous-book moment: It takes a lot for me to admit that I have no interest in knowing what happens to Merry Gentry after Laurell K Hamilton’s shoddy A Shiver of Light, given that I still follow Anita Blake, but oh my god you had three kids and they each have three dads. COULD THIS BE ANY MORE LIKE A BAD FANFIC?

Considering the lack of editing in this book that is actually a PUBLISHED THING, no, not it could not get any worse. Laurell, look at Anne. Anne said no more editing, but obviously someone is doing it, because her latest didn’t suck. Please learn from Anne. Please.

The book which looked like it would be brilliant, but ended up having too many twists: After all the verbal fellatio (wait, all fellatio is oral. Uhm, the whatever. I said a lot of good things, that’s what this means.) that I gave The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes, you would think that I would have just as much excitement for The Prophecy Con the second book. Aside from an ending that made me go WTF, It’s just too twisty. It starts out with a simple goal—get a book, and then it just goes into crazy town. People get split up, the come together, there’s a flying elven ship with a poker game, and a dragon. A lusty Dragon. Plus a big fight in which I am not sure what happened in the end. It might be that I don’t understand because we were deliberately kept in the dark, but I can’t escape the feeling that it was just too…overly complicated this time. The Palace Job was good because it had a huge cast, but it never got confusing. This time….just a little too much is trying to happen in every characters arc. I hope this is a set up for the third book.

I will say that there’s a character who fangirls several other characters throughout the book, even squeezing about how she had the action figure of them when she was a child, and that whole thread is amusing.

I had no clue what was going on: Now, I have only read the first two TPBs of Locke & Key, by Joe Hill, but I have no idea what the fuck is going on. Do I need to know more about Lovecraft to understand this? Jesus, am I going to have to read Lovecraft? Or can I just read the Wikipedia page, like I did to get out of reading the Twilight series? There are keys that open doors, and then keys that open skulls, and I imagine that there are gonna be keys that do many more horrible things as I go on.

Favourite character encountered this year: Spenser. That we don’t even know his first name is a testament to the kill that Parker has, since the series is in its 44th book. Spenser goes from an ex-boxing college graduate gumshoe to…an ex-boxing college graduate gumshoe. He gets things along th way (notable more and more friends, and the lovely Susan, and of course, Pearl, the trusty shorthaired German pointer who is afraid of guns), but he never surpasses reality in a way. The books started when he was in his mid-thirties back in 1969, and they have that meandering freetime flow so that Spenser has been with Susan for 20 years (he says), and it’s been close to fifty since the first book, and so it’s easy to believe that Spenser is in his early fifties. His friends come back again and again, but not so frequently that you hate them. You get excited when Chollo shows up after a ten book absence. But Spenser, the man, is a great guy who makes mistakes, but still manages to do the right thing. The Godwulf Manuscript, published in 1969, is notable for its liberal attitudes towards women, especially in the detective novel genre. And later books tackle race and gender relations in other introspective ways.

In other words, I love Spenser. May you never stop eating donuts secretly behind Susan’s back, and may Susan never stop cutting her meals in half before she eats them.

Misnomer of the year: Helter Skelter: Fashion Unfriendly by Kyoko Okazaki. Confession time: I wanted to see the movie Helter Skelter after I read the book, but Netflix didn’t have it. SO. I looked around the interwebs and acquired a copy. But when I went to watch it, it was an UNSUBBED Japanese movie called Helter Skelter. Research led me to wiki, which told me it was a manga from the nineties that was made into a live action movie. It’s about the fashion industry and the societal push to look younger and younger. And while the manga, which I then bought and read, does reference the Beatles song towards the end, I’m still not quite sure how that works completely with the theme of the book in general. So serious misnomer all around.

Title where I learnt a new word: One word: Sherlockian, (The Sherlockians are people fond of Sherlock Holmes and his universe. They are playing The Game called the Sherlockiana. They like to think that Sherlock Holmes was a real person and do some serious studies like he was an historic personality). Phrase: Judas goat (A Judas goat is a trained goat used in general animal herding. The Judas goat is trained to associate with sheep or cattle, leading them to a specific destination. In stockyards, a Judas goat will lead sheep to slaughter, while its own life is spared.)

Other assorted supernatural/fantastic things which happened in novels this year (ask if you want to know the books!) in no order:

1. There’s this dude, and he apparently knows nothing. Also WARGS.
4. Quor’toth
5. Arrogant apple, babbling brook.
6. He comes back in his kid body! SCORE!
7. So hey, that’s what a St. Andrews Cross is.
8. It has been revealed that nothing actually gets done honestly in Washington. I know we joke about it, but it was proven this year.
9. Tara Chase retired. Sort of. Not really. AND I AM SAD TO SEE HER GO. ::CERYS::

So to 2015, I say, BRING IT.

About Amanda Ching

I write. Fo' you.
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3 Responses to 2014 Year in Books, Chinghaus

  1. c says:

    “Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2014? David Simon’s books Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and , both of which made me re-examine the way I look at drugs and addiction especially.” and what? AND WHAT? I neeed to know!!!! Also hello, amazing list. I thought I did good reading 35 novels this past year. Also – I need to get a blog going again. I have plans to but then real life just makes me not. But I want to. Keep going. YOu are interesting.

    • Amanda Ching says:

      Sorry, C! Open html tag! It was The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. I fixed it now.

      Reading about how heroin addicts have stripped all the useable scrap metal from their own homes and the buildings they can access really drove home the destructive nature of addiction. You get attached to the people in the book, and when bad things happen, you die a little inside. It’s worse knowing that they’re real people. You can see where Simon got the material for The Wire.

  2. RaeWhit says:

    I’ve written down some books to read on your rec. I feel the same about Spenser; I’m going to take a look at the Ace Atkins books, and read the Val McDermid you recced. I’m always interested in year-end reviews, and yours is appreciated.

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