Better late than never! This week, all the way through New Year we’re celebrating Best Reads 2014! Guys, the rules are simple: list up your favorite books that you read for the first time this year, and write about them however you like – mostly share what you loved about them, and what about them moved you so that they became a favorite read. Now behold – the #bestreads2014 book lovers list (so far!):
If you too have blogged about it, leave a comment below and I’ll add you to the list. If you don’t have anywhere to write about it, be mostly welcome to just post your list in the comments.
My only regret is I didn’t read any Sci-fi novels. Well, there’s always next year and I’m open to suggestions from your lists!
Here are my picks for this year:
Fiction / Fantasy
“Vicious” by V.E. Schwab
Vicious was a big surprise! I wasn’t familiar with author V.E. Schwab, and I usually don’t often get books with unfamiliar authors to me, but I’m so glad I did this time. It’s such a fast paced, enthralling story about superheroes and supervillains and how we can’t always say which is which. It’s about two friends and their ambitions, and madness for something forbidden; its a story of greed and jealousy, of friendship and betrayal and powers that come with the messed up cold curiosity to test the human limits, to go beyond and discover if EOs – Extra- Ordinary people, exist. And they do and It’s like X-men (sort of)!
It’s amazing how tight this story feels and what a comfortable, though intense, universe it inhabits – all characters have their own problems and it was easy enough for me to get involved in them all. It’s strict, collected, not only in the way it is written, but in the way it guides the reader along; it also never flatters an outside world, suggesting of a pantheon of self-made superheroes. No, it stays put bouncing the reader between two timelines, two pinpointed happenings unfolding in grand, scary scenes. And it shines a big, bright light on humanity.
The story goes back and forth between the present and ten years ago. In the present protagonist (for me) Victor Vale (who’s also a character in my liking with his cool demeanour, pale face and black clothing) is an escaped convict, determined to find his old friend, now enemy Eli Ever, who although I list as antagonist for some may be the hero and not the villain; on a side not that’s the beauty of this book; I think the other novel I had this side-choosing feeling with was Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. Victor and Eli are strange personages who made me endure both their jealousy and admiration for one another; theirs is a complex friendship, and it’s one that burns only with hateful and obsessive emotions – ten years ago I found them to be two bright college students, with somewhat unorthodox ideas, one being the idea to discover whether EOs exist and whether going through a NDE, near – death experience may grant them supernatural abilities. And boy does that insane experiment go wrong…
It’s a rare privilege to find a book such as Vicious that captivates through and through, with both plot and characters – I carry them in my mind when I go mental in a story. Thanks V.E. Schwab!
“Horns” by Joe Hill
I’ve developed an even stronger taste for uncomfortable tales; the more uncomfortable the events, the happier I am. And I still love supernatural suspense. It drives around in my head at night, horrible and exciting. Can’t help but follow.
Ever since NOS4A2 I’m a fan of Joe Hill and to admit with all the fuss going about the movie adaptation of Horns I had to know beforehand the story and months before the movie came out I picked this beauty. It’s a rough one full of perversions so beautifully written they beg for admiration rather than redemption. See what I mean? Uncomfortable tales. It’s also emotionally compelling and painful to read at places – it gets you hooked fast, then kills you in small dozes of negativism. But I handled that, and pushed forth.
I debated whether Horns should have a place in the list, but after some consideration I think it does – if it kept me up at night and reading, if it evoked vivid images and made me churn or grin, I think it does belong here. I read somewhere that the supernatural element wasn’t as scary, but I ask does it have to be, and what does scary supernatural actually look like? At least for me a majority of people, trusted, loved ones who compelled by said infamous horns admit things no one would want to hear is the truly scary part.
Horns is an ambivalent story, both in character development and scenery development; as Ignatius Perrish aka Iggy goes from a good child from a good family with high ambitions and a lovely girlfriend to a grotesque representation of himself, and I quote “Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with a thunderous hangover, a raging headache . . . and a pair of horns growing from his temples.” so does his world and viewpoint.
I’m glad I chose book over movie – the movie felt like skipping stones on a lake with every gap between the stone touching surface a missed something. I also loved the hand in hand with the Devil which takes on a quest to find through ill spoken words, cruel thoughts and love-less, the truth about who killed Merrin. I recommend it – it’s bizarre, perhaps offensive, perhaps tiring or emotionally draining, but exciting and it does evoke an ache to find out everything. It makes you slightly suspicious too…
“1977” by David Peace
Yes. This is one of those reads too – grim, cynic, villanous, utterly compelling and unpleasant cover to cover. It’s a British cop-novel, one of four, second in the Red Riding Quartet, a story of brutal murders and missing children and rotten cops and hookers.
Interesting about this dark, violent and vicious novel is that it reads like a written nightmare – it’s a rampage through self-doubt, unhealthy obsessions and surreal nightmares narrated by one sergeant Bob Fraser and a veteran reporter named Jack Whitehead. The story develops in the seventies in a time in which in the North of England a very particular monster ravaged – the Yorkshire Ripper.
It’s a bit difficult to explain as the story follows events from the first book which I adored, but lost when my original mobi was corrupted – I never read the end of it. But without confusing a whole lot to you – 1977 is a harsh story. It talks through the cynical, often lyrical and poetic voices of its two tormented characters – Jack living with his visions of murdered women in his room, a sweaty reality vs dreams, struggles and fought battles, and Bob with his obsession with a prostitute whose life might be in danger, and who’s his silent sin. It’s a story of police brutality and corruption, torture investigations, fear, piss, demons, darkness, depravity, self-pity, self-destruction, fucked up humanity (pardon my language). If one is looking for something different and challenging, this book in a series be the one.
“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs
This book got me very excited when I learned it mixes very rare and peculiar (har har) vintage photography with fiction. I began reading expecting ghosts to be honest, because look at the cover – a creepy little girl floating!, but it turned out to be an adventure book, although at first creepy, a light one in terms of reading and experiencing, which entertained without a problem my stormy nights in bed. I know it was originally intended to be just an almanac of these vintage photos, in their edited or original state, but I’m actually glad it was turned upon suggestion into a book. I think it offers some interesting concepts to the YA genre – there are time loops, tentacle monsters called hollows who raid loops and attack peculiar children and their protectors called ymbrynes, in order to eat them and become wight, the full scary white-eyed monsters. The peculiar children belonging to different time zones have amazing abilities – the sad part is how they need to stay hidden inside those time loops, forever, some repeating the same day over and over again, never aging, never leaving unless they want to age forward and crumble in ashes.
The story opens with Jacob, who is an ordinary American boy surviving through the untimely death of his grandfather and the nightmares evoked by the glance at something supernatural. In order to battle his demons, Jacob goes to a remote island off the coast of Wales, a place his grandfather has often told young Jacob about, a place he calls home with people he calls family. That’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children which I admit had me thinking ghosts even more with its crumbling facade, empty bedrooms and echoing hallways; it’s a bombed home in the middle of a misty bog covered island, still keeping remnants in both looks and atmosphere of 1941. The giggle of children and the footsteps though turn out to be something else – a group of peculiar children who still live in 1941, in the day the bomb on their home fell. And Jacob goes with them on a journey to save their kind.
The photos work great for the story, although the story is written around them, but then again some fail in a way – it feels as if they try too much to fit where they don’t belong. Don’t understand me wrong, it’s still a good adventure book through mist and bogs, with nightmarish monsters following closely, and I enjoyed it, in fact I’m currently reading through the second part called “Hollow City”.
If you’re feeling like something peculiar I say try this.
“1Q84” by Haruki Murakami , Part I
Complex and intriguing characters. Whoever said this book is a slow read forgot to look around and see how much it resembles our lives – slow, get-to-know, mysterious. Murakami has a divine interaction with the world – he has the ability to demonstrate how a very common object, or a conversation might be disguised to prevent us from seeing its true purpose.
I stood in a bookstore for about an hour choosing my next read and had the trilogy 1Q84 in hand the whole time. I ended up buying it, remembering a good review a friend had given some time ago. I wasn’t disappointed. I was amazed at how different from my general reading list this book was.
1Q84 is a strange book. It’s full of parallels and surrealism. I’ll allow myself to paraphrase a sentence from some Goodreads review I memorized. It said reading Murakami is like diving into the ocean only to find out you’ve always been a fish – it somehow makes sense, all of it, everything, but not in a way you can explain to others. Such weird power. The story with its timid development happens in the real world, no doubt about that, but in that real world there are things that shouldn’t be there, or explainable – there are two moons in the sky. Tengo and Aomame guide, each with his own chapter, through their lives, which in many ways are intertwined. Something dangerous is happening, changes are made and no one has noticed, and a strange girl called Fuka-Eri, who asks her questions without the proper intonation and speaks only when she finds need to do so, comes to Tengo – a teacher inspired to be a writer. He is offered to rewrite her oddly written, but winning submission manuscript Air Chrysalis. She grants him that and the birth of her strange world, and afterwards Tengo goes on to find through her guardian, the story of her family disappearing in a commune. Aomame, the female protagonist, is a gym instructor by day and an assassin for sexual abusers at night; she names her world 1Q84 for all the differences from 1984, where in her private, solemn life and history changes appear.
Like floating, this book, this first part. I often recommend it to friends who talk to me about wanting to write books with parallels and rebirth and sense of moments in life that are special. It helps, I guess. It’s like a guide in a way.
I love how I still am not quite sure of that world – I know it real, but can it be? Weird.
Short story collection
“Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” by Haruki Murakami
Murakami appears twice in my list and it’s for a reason. I suppose it’s good I became curious with his work that I ended up having this collection of 24 stories which offer a great range of emotions and interpretations. Again I admire his ability to write fiction about how the surreal finds itself in our ordinary lives as a natural presence.
Reading each story takes time, or rather makes you take your time; it’s no rush. They are like dreams, that are being described, but not explained, beginning here and ending there, maybe with no relation between the two points, maybe a story within a story. It delves into sickness, death, society, loneliness, family, marriage, sex, love, guilt, dreams – a wonderful plethora that anyone can corresponded with. I did. I took ideas and insinuations, I took atmosphere and a viewpoint to charge up a lonely work in progress, grant it with that sense of surreal in ordinary. I trusted what I learned from Murakami’s many curious and willing to share protagonists.
The story collection is both like life and like dreams; it mostly makes sense, but it’s satisfactory and offers a different view-point and grasp if reality. It breaks into pieces emotions and tries to understand them. It does what Ligotti has also spoken about – it tries to portray a world were things happening cannot be explained.
If I have to choose one story that stood out and to this day feels close that’ll be the title one, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. It tells of a 25-year old man returning to his hometown after a five-year absence. He accompanies his 14-year-old cousin to the hospital, where a new ear specialist will perform a procedure on the boy’s ear – the cousin’s hearing has been ruined and this procedure offers a new hope for the damage to be removed.
Now I sat at a similarly described hospital cafeteria waiting on an ear inspection of my little sister and watched the sunlight play through the jungle illustrated windows. It was as surreal and dreamlike as in the story. And I hadn’t even met with Murakami then.
“Smoke and Mirrors” by Neil Gaiman
It wouldn’t be a list if there’s no Neil Gaiman in it!
I adore Gaiman’s short story collections – “Fragile Things” was a brilliant read that introduced fables and myths in a modern way, almost presented as a gift to fit the generation, to fit the times, and I loved every bit of it. Smoke and Mirrors is the previous one, and it was published in 1998. If I was to make a comparison between the two, it’s without a doubt that Smoke has the bolder approach, the more violent and sexual representation of myths and fables and folklore. But in any other aspect it’s pure Gaiman in his fabulous imagination and gripping story-telling.
It was hard finding the book in its original English print, and after years I finally came across it and it has come into my hands through someone else who was generous, or bored, or desperate, or happy, or whatever enough to give it away. Anyways I spotted it in a bookstore bringing in English second-hand literature of all kinds, and I quickly gave the book a second life – it sits on my desk even now.
The collection is diverse and it includes stories influenced by Lovecraft and Moorcock; there is a writer struggling through a screenplay whilst in LA in a story about Hollywood old and the new movie studios titled The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories which I loved so dearly; there is a folklore tale of a man-eating fox in disguise, a story of a lonely man spending his life Looking for the Girl, who is always 19, even in the distant future; there is a story about sex changes due to a disease curing drug; there is the charming Innsmouth visited by a backpacker and Lawrence Talbot, the werewolf investigating sea creatures; there are angels and demons and trolls and knights seeking the Grail from an elderly lady. It’s quite the experience, a shivery and jittery and futuristic and mythical experience. To those who know how much I respect and admire Neil Gaiman I needn’t say more – I’m in awe, completely swooped away by his stories. And get this – there’s even a hidden story in the introduction. Never skip that when reading Gaiman!
“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson
My NaNoReMo choice definitely deserves a place here! The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a remarkable story that left its marks on me and ever since the beginning of the year I’ve thought back to it.
I enjoyed the traumatizing experience of a very sensible man chased by very real and agonizing doubts about his dear friend and an upcoming peril, and I undoubtedly loved the carefully sewn bizarreness of this misshapen and unearthly personage that is Hyde, and the ungodly secret that unfolds by the words and the witness of a friend, and friendship is a mighty powerful thing. I was and am excited about the novella. I dramatize over it still, long after that unsettled feeling of uncertainty and unsure horror that filled the atmosphere and brought the scenes a-live. Even when Henry Jekyll was himself, that was a brief occurrence, rapidly pushed aside by a new attack of solitude and nightly weeping and I love that, because even with the few let-us-know paragraphs of Jekyll’s usual nature and connection to other parties, it was still enough for me to get the idea in my head that whatever is happening to this man is brutal and disturbing in every possible way and it should seek solution, which I as the reader want as well. Or not, because oddly I devoured those scenes of changing and studied them closely. Hyde is spectacular, for he is in pain whenever and he is in suffering. If you’re looking for a NaNoReMo choice for 2015, I highly recommend, no I insist this novella to be chosen!
“On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” by Stephen King
I’ll keep this short – I felt a bit scolded and I felt a bit overwhelmed. I took a lot in and worked on it and stared out the window of the train angry at myself, then angry again for being angry at something I can fix, something I can learn from and change. And I took mental notes. They helped. I paid attention. I agree, it’s a must read for people writing. It’s frank and practical and doesn’t lose time pretending with banal rules. Its honest – King tried and truly gave pieces of advice that work, that have been tested. Those adverbs! You know what I mean….
But I greatly enjoyed the get- to -know Stephen King better, and I’ve always wanted to do that. Why did I wait so long?
I’m ever thankful Stephen King wrote this book, which I put into my autobiography shelf, because to me in a way it is; his memory and his life have flown into mine and I have imprinted in my head these flashbacks of his childhood, and family, and meeting his wife, that he constructed vividly and told honestly. Having an inside look into his life and the stories behind creating some of his most famous works was a remarkable experience – take Carrie for instance. King worked as a janitor at a high school. Cleaning the girls’ locker room he noticed a little metal dispenser box and upon asking what was that the other janitor told him – it was for “pussy pluggers.” Research and that information granted, the opening pages of Carrie were written.
The King I had in my head suddenly became a very real person who not only build up rules and pointed out mistakes and wrote DO NOT DO examples, but he offered his personal story. It amused me King saying how he hated it, writing it, thinking it. It amused me how much I didn’t know about him and his addiction and his family and how he pinned those rejection letters on a nail.
This book is a good friend and a worthy traveling companion.
“The Art of Asking” by Amanda Palmer
I have a hard time asking for help, or advice, especially regarding my writing. I’ve hardly spoken about how dear to me writing is with family or friends – they know I sometimes do it. And what it is, no one asks. And I never ask to be asked. See what a loop I’ve created? Anyhow…
The Art of Asking found its place in my list very quickly and I’m still going through it. I know, I overstep the rules, but since the hype around it is still warm and what is written inside it is warm in my heart right now, I decided to add it.
It’s a very honest book, a raw written story about art and living with the passion for it. It’s a book about how to ask for all those things we find not worthy of having, or asking for, all those things that makes us feel like we’re begging, rather than emanating a cry for help. We expect rejection and fear other people. We try not to embarrass ourselves. And all along help might have been there. But trust wasn’t. Pride and shame were.
It can either make you laugh or cry, sometimes both. Every page is as honest as it can get, Amanda Palmer describing her time as a living statue, her interaction with people, her greatest success, worst fears, bad boyfriends, good boyfriends, her songwriting, her marriage (to Neil Gaiman, but that’s not the reason I bought the book – I know of Amanda Palmer long before she and Neil Gaiman knew each other – I was and still am a fan of her band The Dresden Dolls). It’s a very human book if I can say so, very messy and lovable, and heartbreaking a bit, because it contains a soul that explodes in those pages, and if you trust it like I did it may give you something very precious. Maybe a way to ask. Maybe a journey.
Graphic novels/ comic books
“Preacher” by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
The late 1990s were great! Look what they gave birth to and nourished – a very graphic and violent comics about the American skies, gasoline stained roads and gory VIP parties that load on craziness and drugs; but it’s also about the meaning of life, the price of death, the price of love and redemption; it also comes along with lots of sex, booze, blood, firearms, Nirvana, demons, angels, vampires, ghosts, God, and other freaks and psychos, and perverts.
Reverend Jesse Custer isn’t your typical holy character – he rolls up a cigarette and goes fist first through all the above crap. All the more he has a special monster inside of him called Genesis – the power of “the Word” aka that of God; his will is a command, his command often ends up someone self-harming themselves. The small-town minister is a very badass character and his crusade is a violent and riotous one – he seeks an answer from God, but the deity is nowhere to be found.
What I really loved about Preacher is that it allowed itself a lot of things and they work really fine for the story – all the weirdness was justifiable and I wasn’t bored even once in all 66 issues, 5 specials and 4 issue mini-series. Bring it gory! Most importantly it has a solid story, an even with road diversions it keeps going, keeps adding elements that bring a closer closure. It’s a holy wow, and if the movie manages to bring at least a little of the essence of the comics, that’ll be great…
“The Wake” by Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy
As a lover of sea tales and sea creatures taking over and transforming the land into whirlpools – I loved every bit of this 10 part story. I enjoyed the ending which most people call weak, because hints throughout weren’t explained and a great deal was left to self- interpretation, but I expect such a plot development and appreciate the open to interpretations end; I think its transcendental and begs for a speculation whether it wasn’t all an insinuated dream, or an alternate dimension. I’m down with all! Also the art is great, equally dark and beautiful – I especially loved the colors in the first part.
We have a very quick beginning when Marine Biologist Lee Archer is summoned by the Department of Homeland Security to help with a new threat. Her declines fall deaf and she plunges herself into the depths of the Arctic Circle where a very badass oil rig awaits, and inside it a discovery that would change history forever; heck a discovery that would alter the future. After short things go wrong and what was caught gets loose.
Part two takes us some two hundred years in the future, where the world is sunken, people trade and killing the creatures who inhabit the waters and drive people to extinction is a forbidden black market stock. The new protagonist is called Leeward- a blue-haired woman able to communicate with her pet dolphin Dash. Leeward hears a radio transmission of Dr. Archer last words as their escape shuttle is destroyed. Finding a way to preserve mankind, or to heal Earth is suddenly all based on small hopes heard in a transmission two hundred years in the past.
Sci-fi horror and dystopian get connected in the last parts. No more spoilers!
“Kingdom Come” by Mark Waid and Alex Ross
If you love superhero comics this is absolutely, 100% a must read for you. What Mark Waid wrote and how Alex Ross brought it to us is amazing, beyond me – such beautiful, majestic depiction of beloved heroes. Definitely ground breaking artwork. Without a doubt a storyline with much gravitas – the issue of the decisions superheroes make and how they reflect on society.
The story takes place in the future, in an alternate dark one, where a well-known and appreciated superhero universe is tilting towards chaos. The ones we know – Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Arrow, Flash and almost every other DC character you can imagine – have grown old and some have retired. But in the wake of a civil crisis, new heroes breaking the rules, the code after most villains are wiped out; they turn on each other, meta-human vs meta-human, the old heroes have to come forth once more in a final battle. New heroes clash with the old ones and everyone must choose a side in the world to come. Sacrifices are made. Friends are lost. Some must remember what it’s like to be a hero.
Read, please read. If you’re a fan of graphic novels, read this gem!
“The Crow” by J. O’ Barr
I loved the movie and enjoyed catching in on telly as I grew up. This is even better. It’s so dark and heavy it bleeds through the pages with the sorrowful music our Crow plays on rainy rooftops, and it composes poetry that sheds no tears when the Crow bathes in the blood of meth addicted goons. Such unforgiving world!
I assume the story is well-known – Eric returns from the dead, driven by the hate he was buried with and the need to take revenge on those who killed him and raped and then killed his beloved Shelly.
I was captivated with Eric’s transformation as he becomes The Crow – he leaves out every feeling except one, his love for Shelly, turning it into a driving motivation, into hateful fuel. He doesn’t squirm or blink away from the corpses he leaves behind him and begins to interpret the world around him as a place where dead people live, people who are allowed no fantasy, but only the brutal reality of their worthless lives and short existence. I find it sad that the only happiness in the Crow’s world can be found in the afterlife. Before it nothing is peaceful, nothing is worth dying for or living for and everyone abandons all hope, all humanity. The graphic novel is a standalone experience and comparing it to the movie is pointless. It’s a poignant story that won’t leave you joyful or relaxed. I suppose in a way it acts as a reminder. O’Barr lost his fiancée when a drunk driver killed her, and working on The Crow was a way of dealing with the personal tragedy. I believe the pain of that loss resonates within the art he used, the poems he wrote, the voice he gave to the iconic character. It’s a powerful story and its visually compelling.
On a quick note, although this post turned out way, way, way too long I want to offer you this great anthology called “Collapse Volume IV: Concept Horror”. It features a series of investigations by philosophers, writers and artists into Concept Horror. Contributors include Kristen Alvanson, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman, Michel Houellebecq, Oleg Kulik, Thomas Ligotti, Quentin Meillassoux, China Miéville, Reza Negarestani, Benjamin Noys, Rafani, Steven Shearer, George Sieg, Eugene Thacker, Keith Tilford, Todosch, James Trafford. Each of the address the existential, aesthetic, theological and political dimensions of horror and interrogate its peculiar affinity with philosophical thought.
It’s a great read, not at all dull and poses some very reasonable questions about horror. What’s great about it is that it’s free – if you’re interested go ahead, enjoy https://archive.org/details/CollapseVol.IvConceptHorror
P.S. Sorry for the long post!