My Favourite Things: 2014

It’s time to collect all my favourite things and play show and tell! Highlighted entries point to reviews and rambles on this blog.

Books

BooksI read 292 books this year. That’s a lot. Consequently, I awarded many five-star ratings. 72, to be exact. Narrowing down a list of favourites that wouldn’t make your eyes bleed was really, really hard. In the end, I decided on the books that were the biggest surprises.

Science fiction was the most difficult field to narrow. I read a lot of great science fiction this year. I read a lot of great and surprising science fiction–books that did something different, or took an idea and twisted it. I also read a number of books that could be counted as instant classics. Maybe not so new and different, but just such a wonderful illustration of why I love the genre. Among these would be Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold, The Martian* by Andy Weir and Trial by Fire* by Charles E. Gannon.

But the book that did it all differently makes my science fiction book of the year.

Science Fiction: The Flight of the Silvers* by Daniel Price 

Super powers, alternate dimensions, cosmic cycles and beautifully flawed characters. The Flight of the Silvers has it all, and more.

Fantasy: Sword of the Bright Lady* by M.C. Planck and Control Point by Myke Cole

A tie, in which two authors took fantasy and finally did something new and different with it. In Sword of the Bright Lady, M.C. Planck fictionalised the table-top gaming experience, right down to how XP is earned and magic is used. It’s a damn good story too. In Control Point, Myke Cole militarised magic. Gathered sorcerers under the banner of the United States military and then f*cked with the formula until they bled. Both books feature top notch characterization.

Graphic Novel: East of West, Vol. 3: There Is No Us* by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta

Stunning art work and storytelling: The Four Horsemen are having a difference of opinion. Death’s not ready to continue the cycle of apocalypse that has claimed this world over and over. (My reviews of volume 1  and volume 2 have more detail.)

Non Fiction: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

An audio gem that captured me for weeks. A large part was due to the skillful narration by Dion Graham. He interpreted as he read, adding tone and inflection that personalised this memoir. By the end, I felt I knew Dave Eggers and his brothers. That I had grown up with them. Also, it’s just a damned good story.

Romance: Something Like Autumn by Jay Bell

The entire four part “Seasons” or “Something Like” series is wonderful. A tale of three men whose lives and loves intersect as they come of age and learn to navigate the world as adults, lovers, and gay men. The third book, Something Like Autumn, wrecked me. Even a month afterwards, just thinking about it put a lump in my throat. And yet, I don’t regret reading it because the author managed that ultimate surprise. Despite the ending, I felt hopeful. Despite my tears, I gained a sense of peace. That’s REALLY hard to do.

Young Adult: Red Rising* by Pierce Brown

I generally don’t have a high opinion of Young Adult books, that’s why this one is the surprise. I discovered it in the audio lending library and, because it was new—they don’t add speculative titles that often, I decided to give it a go. I was pretty much blown away by the end of the first chapter. Part of it was the narration by Tim Gerard Reynolds. He voiced every character with depth and emotion and even sang when the book required it. The greater part was that the character of Darrow and his story. It’s epic. It’s also complicated. Darrow makes so many mistakes, and he doesn’t always learn from them first time ‘round. The final part is the plot. It’s harrowing and clever. And it’s NOT bright young things against the crusty old establishment. Actually, it is, but not all the young are bright and not all the old are evil and/or stupid. There’s a good balance. Red Rising is more an illustration of a society that is eating itself from the inside out.

I just finished the sequel this morning. It’s stunning in it’s intensity and scope and I can’t wait to share my review.

(Books marked with a * were published in 2014)

Movies

MoviesIn Theatres: Interstellar

Until I saw Interstellar, Fury could have been my favourite film this year. I’m a fan of David Ayers as a writer and director. Just knowing he had a film coming out put Fury on my “must see” calendar. It’s the story of a five man tank team who complete a heroic mission behind enemy lines toward the end of World War II. It’s blood, gritty and very, very real.

What can I say about Interstellar? How about: at the end, my husband, daughter and I sat silently for about five minutes. We had to digest. Then, when we tried to pick it apart, we figured out a solution for every perceived hole. And they were elegant solutions. At the heart of it all, though, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan told a bloody good story.

The acting in both movies was wonderful.

On DVD: Draft Day, Lone Survivor, The Normal Heart, The Kings of Summer, Prisoners and Rush

Only six five star ratings, so they’re all listed here. Again, it’s a somewhat eclectic mix. 🙂

TV

TVWhile Marvel’s Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. continued to enthrall me, my two favourite shows were watched via Netflix. Strike Back and Marco Polo. Strike Back follows a fictional division of British Intelligence into terrorist hot spots where they kick ass and take names. It’s shocking, violent and twisty, with the script and acting to pull it off. Marco Polo consumed Husband and I for eight days. Twice, we watched two episodes at once because we had to. The show is gorgeous, gripping and probably the best TV I’ve seen in years.

Games

GamesA lot of fun was had as the family continued our co-op play through of Borderlands 2.  We’ve started the Prequel-Sequel. The game I wanted to break into tiny little pieces was Assassin’s Creed III. I’m so scarred, I’ve yet to play Assassin’s Creed IV. I enjoyed Thief up until the end. I still don’t understand what happened at the end, but this game called to the loot hound inside me. DMC Devil May Cry has one of the most tightly encapsulated plots I’ve ever seen. And it’s freaking gorgeous. The most anticipated game was Dragon Age: Inquisition, and so far, it’s living up to the promise of all those years of waiting. Likely, it will top my personal chart in 2015. For this year, however, my favourite game was another surprise:

Favourite Game: Saints Row IV

Downloaded on a whim over a free preview weekend. Ten hours later, I was totally hooked. The surprise was everything I didn’t expect: story, heart and soul. And fun. Tank Mayhem FTW. I had an idea the Saints Row games were all about pretending to be a “gangsta”. They’re not. While some folks might think the inherent violence in the game is an issue, really, it’s a hell of a lot more tame than may others I’ve played. And there are plenty of quests that have nothing to do with being the fastest draw. But, let me just say that after a long day of edits, running a tank over a few pixelated souls is good therapy.

Music

MusicI didn’t listen to a lot of music in 2014. I spent a lot of time writing and I don’t listen to music when I write. Not usually. Listening to audio books while doing chores and driving also cut into music listening time. But I did discover a new artist and an album I was able to rave about.

Favourite Album:  Hozier by Hozier

If you haven’t listened to “Take me to Church”, click through and give it a listen. Then come back and tell me if that voice gave you chills.

Favourite Song: “A Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay

Like a lot of Coldplay songs, this is one I will be able to listen to for years without getting bored.

Food

A trip to New Orleans served up the best burger, ever.

Favourite Dish: Tableau Cheeseburger

Three 2 oz. grass fed beef patties from Gonsoulin Farms. topped with American cheese, housemade pickles, and sliced onion on an onion bun. Served with Housemade ketchup. Crystal aioli and pommes frites. Served by Tableau Restaurant, French Quarter, New Orleans.

Activity

When not tweaking my blog theme, I read a lot and wrote a lot. Both continue to be my favourite activities, because both take me on a journey. Also, this year, for the first time, my writing interfered with my reading. While writing the male-male science fiction romance series I’m co-authoring with Jenn, I found I couldn’t read any other male-male romance because my head and heart were consumed by our own story and characters.

So, I could say writing was my favourite activity, but instead, I’m going to dig a little deeper.

Favourite Activity: Collaborating with my co-writer, Jennifer Burke.

Chaos Station is not the first book we’ve written together, but this is the journey that’s taken us the farthest so far. We live and breathe these boys, their lives and their story, and I can’t wait to share it with all of you.

Chaos Station is available for pre-order and is due to be released on March 2, 2015. We just handed in the final line edits for Lonely Shore (book 2) and that is scheduled for some time in May 2015. Up next is developmental edits on Skip Trace (book 3).

I also wrote two solo novels and two short stories, all of which feature romantic themes. I’ve a few projects in development for next year. Jenn and I need to write books 4 and 5 of the “Chaos Station” series. I also want to delve into a world I’ve been putting together for a while now, start developing and telling stories there. I have a couple plotted out, I just need to see which set of characters starts talking the loudest.

That’s it, my list for 2014. I hope you all had a great year. 2015 has a lot of exciting stuff in store for me (three scheduled book releases and a bunch of conventions!). I hope it’s a good one for all of you.

Book Expo America 2014

One of the perks of being a reviewer is a ticket to Book Expo America. You can attend as a reader or blogger; in fact, they have a convention just for you, BookCon on Saturday. I prefer to go on the professional days because it’s a little quieter. New York’s Comic Con fills my yearly quota of INSANE and my last experience of PAX East brushed pretty close. There’s something much more civilised about BEA. It could be the lack of cosplay…

But, there are books. Lots and lots of books. Not that I need any more books. When a random package arrives in the mail for me, it’s usually a book, and my kindle is about to explode. My visit to BEA has only worsened that problem. But it’s a good problem to have. There are also many authors to meet. Many more than usually attend the Comic Con. This year there wasn’t an overwhelming number of speculative authors, but I was more than content with who I did catch up with.

Read more about my visit to BEA at SFCrowsnest.

Reading Challenges: 2014

Reading challenges are a great way to motivate oneself to read more, or read differently. I rarely need the motivation to read more, but I’m all for diversity, and my ‘To Be Read’ shelf is actually a bookcase housing close to three hundred books. So, when I stumbled across the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge on the blog of a friend, I had one of those light bulb moments. I tracked it to the source, and then, with mixed horror and delight, discovered there are blogs devoted to listing reading challenges. I recognised the symptoms of mania before I got to the second page, but by then I had already chosen five challenges to participate in. Three of them will work together, using the same selection of books. The last two are something new.

2014 TBR Pile Challenge

Hosted by Roof Beam Reader, this challenge is the lynch pin of my project. The goal is to read twelve books from my “TBR” pile over the course of twelve months. The challenge stipulates that the books must be at least twelve months old—released prior to 2013. Two alternates are allowed, just in case one of the twelve ends up in the “DNF” pile. Sign me up!

My selections:

Destiny’s Road, Larry Niven

Embedded, Dan Abnett

From This Day Forward, John Brunner

Gauntlgrym, R.A. Salvatore

Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri

King of the Outback, Bill King

Revelations, Carol Berg

Ship of Magic, Robin Hobb

Sundiver, David Brin

The Heroes, Joe Abercrombie

The Shadowed Sun, N.K. Jemisin

Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin

My alternates:

Fire Study, Maria V. Snyder

Stories I Only Tell My Friends, Rob Lowe

The fact that I only had to whittle three titles away from this list should tell me something (like the bulk of my TBR shelf is wishful thinking). It’s a start. I did actually remove about seventy books from the shelf this summer. Maybe by next summer all of them will fit.

For more details regarding participation, check-ins, mini challenges and giveaways, visit Roof Beam Reader.

Vintage Science Fiction Month

This is a no brainer for me. I love old science fiction and I have a lot of it on my TBR shelf, waiting for me to revisit the glory days. January is the month and the cut off is 1979. Vintage Science Fiction Month is hosted by the Little Red Reviewer and they are looking for guests posts. For details and participation guidelines, click through the above links.

My selection:

From This Day Forward, John Brunner (1972)

13 tales of dystopia, science fiction and horror. I love short stories and I’ve heard John Brunner writes a good one. I have  vague recollection of having come across one of his stories in another anthology and of being impressed enough to pounce on this collection when it passed through the library donations.

Diversity on the Shelf

This challenge is about reading books that are written by a person of colour, or that feature a main character who is a person of colour. I consider myself an indiscriminate reader. I choose my books based on story rather than inclusion or exclusion of certain elements. I don’t really care who wrote it, unless the author is one of my favourites, and I don’t care what race or species the main characters are, so long as they make sense and provide an engaging reading experience.

That being said, I had a number of books to choose from on my TBR shelf.

My selections:

Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri

The Shadowed Sun, N.K. Jemisin

For details and participation guidelines, visit My Little Pocketbooks.

The Sci Fi Experience

This one spans two months, December and January. Though tempted to double up and use From This Day Forward, I decided instead to include one of the titles I have chosen for review. Something new! I’m going to read A Darkling Sea by James Cambias. What enticed me to pick this novel, to read and for review, was the premise. It’s a first contact novel, which is always an interesting story, and the aliens live on the ocean floor, which is something new. Conflict between species isn’t necessarily new, but it’s something I haven’t read for a while. In addition, the cover art is really nice.

My selection:

A Darkling Sea, James Cambias

“I’ve Always Meant to Read That Book”

Hosted by Books & Movies, this is the challenge I’ll likely rue. Who hasn’t had this thought? It knocks me on the skull every time I scan my TBR shelf and every time I wonder if my diet of books is worthy (that’s another blog post entirely). For a while, I tried to read one ‘classic’ every year and I always found it a struggle, until I started using science fiction classics. I’ve read my share of considered classics, both during school and afterwards. I haven’t always enjoyed it. I think part of it is accessibility. A lot of books that are considered classics are just damned hard to read. The other part is reading something because you think you should. There are classics out there I would like to read, though. It’s a matter of making the time to do so. Hence, the inclusion of this challenge.

This one works a little differently. I don’t get to choose the book. Instead there are a list of titles that will be voted on throughout the year. Participants are not required to read all of them. Reviews and discussion of each title are welcome.

For a complete list of eligible titles, visit the site. It’s a surprising mix of contemporary and classic books and I’ve actually read a good number of them, which will allow me to participate in some good conversations.

My selections: (Books I voted for. * Denotes books already on my TBR shelf)

Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger*

A Passage to India, E.M. Forster

The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood*

Small Island, Andrea Levy

Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt

All in all, these challenges encompass a minimum of fifteen books. Given that I read about ninety books during the course of 2013, I should be able to knock these out with ease.

Image featured on the front page is the Google Library by Vladstudio. Looks something like my TBR shelf. 😉