Ana: Hello, I’m Ana.
Thea: And I’m Thea.
Ana & Thea: And we are…BOOK SMUGGLERS!!!!!!!
*play facemelting riffs on air guitars*
We’ve brought you some of our favorite authors and bloggers with their reflections on 2014… We’ve once again proved that the hardest Feat of Strength is to restrain ourselves NOT TO BUY ALL THE THINGS after so many awesome lists… And now it’s finally time to get our own hands dirty! We have scoured our personal libraries, gone through all our reviews for the year, and we are happy to report that we finally have our final picks ready to go.
We Smugglers are proud to present you with our Most Excellent Books of 2014!
MOST EXCELLENT BOOKS OF 2014
Ana’s Most Excellent List:
It was half way through the year when I first thought to myself that 2014 would end up being an excellent year for reading. It was after all, the year of discovering Tana French and binge reading her crime novels. It was the year of Ancillary Sword, the sequel to Ancillary Justice, my favourite book of 2013. There was a brand new Frances Hardinge in 2014….and so much more from debut authors as well as old favourites. So if in my head 2014 felt like the best reading year ever, do the stats back it up?
Well, yes and no.
I read and reviewed only 113 books this year in what is an all-time low and the average grade assigned was 6.8, which is actually lower than last year. I only gave two books a perfect 10 – fewer than the three previous years. BUT I had more books I loved to the point of wanting to have them in my top 10 – for the first time ever, I struggled to make this decision and at one point my top ten list had fifteen books.
With that said, here is the nitty-gritty of stats. Out of those 113 books read, a whopping 88 were by female-identified authors, or 78% of what I’ve read. The vast majority of those 113 books were unsurprisingly, under the Speculative Fiction umbrella. Genre-wise, the most surprising number is: 25% of the books read were Science Fiction. But not as surprising as realising that 45% of the books read were adult fiction, with the rest split more or less evenly between Middle Grade and Young Adult. 70% of the books read were in electronic format.
The stats I am most proud of concern the numbers of books written by authors of colour and books with characters of colour or LGBT as protagonists. After realising how shocking my stats were in this regard last year, I set myself a goal to be more careful about what I read. As such, 18% of the books I’ve read this year featured LGBT characters; 18% of the books read this year, were written by authors of colour – both stats are doubled from last year’s. And here is the best one: 44% of the books I’ve read in 2014 featured protagonists of colour.
And now, without further ado: here is my top 10 of 2014, in no particular order.
10. Wake by Anna Hope
I read Wake all the way back in February and immediately knew it had a safe spot here. Wake is a beautiful, moving book that takes place two years after the ending of World War I following the lives of three different women and how they have been affected by the war. It is incredible how rounded this book is: no character is shortchanged, no story is unworthy to be told, no want or desire or hurt, goes unremarked. The concept of Total War is wholly, deftly explored by the (debut!!!) author.
9. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The Goblin Emperor is a remedy for ailing souls because of its quiet and reflective feel and because it’s a Fantasy novel with a focus on good people. That’s right: the inhabitants of this story are all good and earnest folks trying to do their best as a new Emperor ascends to the throne in what can only be described as a hopeful, feel-good story that reminded me of beloved stories by authors like Terry Pratchett, Diana Wynne Jones and Megan Whalen Turner.
8. Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
A new Frances Hardinge is always a reason to celebrate – my favourite writer of all time, every single one of her books are unique, are marvels of creativity and eternal residents of my keeper shelf. It is no surprise that Cuckoo Song is here because just like all of her books, this one is too, amazing: a mix of horror and fantasy, in a historical setting with a story that made my heart bleed for its characters. I will cheat and quote from my original review:
Cuckoo Song is, just like any book written by Frances Hardinge, a book that works on many levels. In the most elemental way, it is a supremely well-written novel. I’ve said this many times before but it bears repeating: Frances Hardinge’s writing awes me for its creativity, for its sentence structure, for the way she is able to relay so many things in not so many words. Above all for simply making the most of her premise: for taking what’s a story about a girl and making it a story about a family, about one town, about time and about a specific point in time, about women in general and one girl in particular, about differences, about outsiders and about identity, about autonomy and agency. All of this is beautifully woven too, there are no jarring moments to take us out of what is simply put, a very engaging, beautiful, hopeful story.
7. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Ancillary Sword is the sequel to Ancillary Justice (arguably the most successful SFF novel of 2013) and my most anticipated read of 2014. It surpassed my expectations by turning out to be a very different book to its predecessor by being both intimate and epic: it manages to be a deeply personal, emotional book without losing track of any of the larger issues that continue to be explored here. Needless to say, the third book Ancillary Mercy is now my most anticipated book of 2015.
6. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
A memoir in free verse for children, the wonderfulness and importance of this book can not be understated: it is both a historical piece that follows the author through the 60s and early 70s and a deeply moving personal story. That said, its importance as a book aimed at children cannot be underestimated either for everything that it is: a brown girl dreaming. Every single part of that sentence – brown girl dreaming – is vital here.
5. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
Written by Cixin Liu and translated into English by Ken Liu, Three-Body Problem is the first book in an incredibly successful trilogy first published in China and quite possibly, the geekiest book of 2014. It’s an amazing combination of puzzles, gaming, sociology, history and hard science in a clever, exciting story. Also, aliens.
4. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor is a story of first contact, which starts when a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria. Infused with this great energy running through it – both in terms of narrative form and in actual story content – Lagoon’s greatest strength is its all-encompassing snapshot portrayal of Lagos itself, showing different and possible narratives of first encounter in a way that truly lingers.
3. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
The Girls at the Kingfisher Club blew my mind away for its combination of deft storytelling, strong voice, beautiful story and above all, because of its characters, the sisters at the centre of this story. A retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princess in the Jazz era, this is a story about women, sisterhood, love, hope, romance, freedom and agency. The relationship between the sisters Jo and Lou is the most beautiful, heart-wrenching thing I’ve read all year.
2. A Hero at the End of the World by Erin Claiborne
A Hero at the End of the World might not be a perfect book but it was a perfect read for me. It is in fact, the book that made me the happiest this year, the one that hit me in the heart with its unabashed love for all things fandom and how it celebrates diversity in the best possible way: its main characters are people of colour and the central romance is a gay love story that ends happily. It’s an amazeballs, joyful novel that takes a look at Chosen One narratives and subverts them, in what I called in my original review a Satirical Romp With Feels.
1. A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn
I approached A Creature of Moonlight with no expectations, but I ended up loving this underappreciated debut novel when I first read it and the more I thought about it since then, the more it became a favourite read of the year for me. It’s a quiet, lovely, beautifully written coming of age story about identity, choice, gender, family, freedom and love. The highest compliment I can pay it is to say how much it reminded me of the writings by Franny Billingsley.
Thea’s Most Excellent List:
This was a year of change for me. I didn’t review nearly as many books as I usually do – a paltry 102 books, which is an all-time low for me! – but the quality of the books I did read and review were astonishing. My average rate was a 6.85 (versus last year’s 6.7), with THREE perfect 10 ratings (again, unprecedented for me). Of all my books, a whopping 74 titles were penned by authors who self-identify as female, and I hit my goal of exceeding 20% of reviews of books featuring diverse (PoC or LGBTQIA) characters and/or authors. The majority of books were Speculative Fiction in nature (99%), with a strong emphasis on Fantasy (36%), Science Fiction (33%) and Horror (16%).
OK! Enough statistics – and onto THE LIST! (This was agonizing, by the way.) In descending order:
10. Red Rising by Pierce Brown
My feelings for this book, initially billed as a more violent YA science fiction novel a la “The Hunger Games meets Ender’s Game meets The Lord of the Flies”, are complicated. It’s a dystopian novel, yes. I don’t actually think of it as a YA novel, although Darrow is relatively young (as are his cohorts in school). No, to me, Red Rising is more like Spartacus War Games than it is anything else – and I very much enjoyed the bloody ruthlessness of the book. Sure, it’s not without its considerable issues (treatment of female characters, Darrow’s exceptionalism, etc), but there’s something so damn readable and compulsive about this book that I can’t leave it off my list. I fully understand why many readers could hate this book, but personally? I really, really cannot wait for Golden Son.
9. The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
Rin Chupeco’s debut novel is a contemporary re-imagining of Japanese folklore (the story of Okiku and the Nine Plates), as well as it is a literary package of J-horror and YA tropes with a deliciously evil twist. Plus, the book is written in an engaging and effective ergodic style (in which the form of Okiku’s thoughts – changing pronouns, hanging letters, intentional line breaks to create tension and separation – equals function).
8. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
You’re gonna see some overlap here between Ana’s list and my own because we had the immense pleasure of reading some truly awesome speculative fiction and reviewed them, jointly, this year. Case in point: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, which is a deceptively introspective book about the perils facing an unwanted son who ascends the throne as Emperor of a cutthroat, perilous realm. I loved the political intricacies of the Goblin court, but most of all I loved Maia’s relentlessly optimistic determination to be the best possible ruler for his subjects. It’s a shockingly hopeful book, and one I embraced wholeheartedly. I would be surprised if this book did not make the Hugo ballot this year – it’s really, really freakin’ good.
7. Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Emily Carroll has quickly become one of my favorite artists because of this terrifying graphic novel – a collection of horrific fairy tales set in the deep, dark woods. The restraint in words, the boldly colored images, the implied horror (as opposed to graphic horror) is unparalleled – Through the Woods is the scariest book I’ve read in years, earning it an automatic spot on my top 10 list for the year.
6. The Bees by Laline Paull
Accept. Obey. Serve.
If you are yearning for imagination, conviction, and utter originality in your speculative fiction, The Bees is for you. This is the tale of a lowly sanitation worker bee, Flora 717, who defies her caste and fights for the safety of her hive – though she challenges its religion, its hierarchy, its incessant order to accept, obey and serve the queen. Laline Paull’s honeybee saga is a brilliant and heady wonder of a book; I cannot wait to read what she comes up with next.
5. The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman
This was one of the first books I read in 2014, but it has stayed with me the entire year because it is that good. A monster lurks in the woods that surround Nag’s End, and determined, logical Rose Rowan must get to the bottom of the nightmare that threatens to consume her friends, family, and life. A dark horror of a fairy tale (2014 was a year for dark, horrific fairy tales), The Glass Casket is an exquisite book in the vein of Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels or Erin Bow’s Sorrow’s Knot. It’s a book about family, power, and patriarchy – all wrapped in a potent package of magic and bloody, insatiable rage.
4. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
This novel’s predecessor, Ancillary Justice, swept every conceivable SFF award last year and sat atop both Ana and my own Best of the Year lists – so it’s no exaggeration to say that Ancillary Sword had a lot to live up to. But live up to expectation it did, even if it did so in a way completely different than Ancillary Justice. This is a quieter novel than that book; it’s shockingly insular, and for all that readers get to know Breq more as a character it also stresses just how alien Breq is. Though this is very much a middle book, there are many threads seeded in this novel and I cannot wait for Ancillary Mercy next year. Bring it on, 2015.
3. The Martian by Andy Weir
You want to talk about unexpected books? The Martian is one of those. It’s a book about a botanist who travels to Mars as part of a regular NASA mission, who is left for dead, but somehow manages to survive by wit, ingenuity, and Mad Science. Like so many other books on my list, The Martian shines because it is a hopeful and optimistic story – but it’s one that doesn’t skimp on science. Marooned astronaut Mark Watney’s incessant cheerfulness and his will to survive drives this MacGyver-on-Mars-esque narrative and I loved every second of it.
2. The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey
It’s probably no surprise to regular readers here that I’m a fan of zombies. M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts is, fundamentally, a zombie novel (although the z-word isn’t ever used). More than that, it gives a plausible, scientific explanation for the infection, and features two haunting lead characters in Melanie (the eponymous girl with all the gifts) and her beloved teacher Miss Justineau. A story about the end of the world with a triumphant twist of an ending, this book very nearly was my single most favorite read of 2014.
1. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
This is beyond a doubt the most memorable, most thought-provoking, and the all-around best book I read in 2014.
A blockbuster bestseller in China, this masterful English translation introduces the world of Trisolaris and its impact on our own Earth. It’s a moving story about history, about the legacy of upheaval (particularly of the Cultural Revolution), of particle physics, the importance of scientific progress, and, yes, aliens. Dreamlike, bizarre, but utterly engaging and perception-altering, The Three-Body Problem is the epitome of Great Science Fiction.
This earthling bug cannot wait for the next two books in the trilogy to be translated.
Most Honorable Mentions of 2014
As with every year, we have a hard time sticking to just one list. Because we’ve read SO MANY AWESOME BOOKS this year, we feel it’s only fair that we give a shoutout to those titles on our Best of 2013 longlist (all of which have been published in 2014). In no particular order:
Ana’s Most Honorable Mentions:
1. Mistwalker by Saundra Mitchell, 8 (Fantasy)
2. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, 8 (Science Fiction)
3. Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin, 8 (Science Fiction)
4. The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, 8 (Contemporary YA)
5. Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone, 8 (Fantasy)
6. The Secret Place by Tana French, 8 (Crime)
7. Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall, 8 (Science Fiction)
8. Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis, 8 (Fantasy)
9. Everything Leads to You by Nina Lacour, 7 (Contemporary YA)
10. We Leave Together by J M McDermott, 8 (Fantasy)
11. Kaleidoscope edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios, 8 (Fantasy, Science Fiction)
12. Greenglass House by Kate Milford, 8 (Fantasy)
13. City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett, 8 (Fantasy)
14. The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston, 8 (Fantasy)
15. Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry, 8 (Fantasy)
Thea’s Most Honorable Mentions:
1. Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge, 9 (Fantasy, Horror, YA)
2. Expiration Date by William Campbell Powell, 8 (Science Fiction, YA)
3. Bluecrowne by Kate Milford, 8 (Historical, Fantasy, Horror, MG)
4. Earth Star by Janet Edwards, 7 (Science Fiction, YA)
5. Bad Luck Girl by Sarah Zettel, 7 (Fantasy, YA)
6. Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall, 8 (Science Fiction, MG)
7. Authority by Jeff VanderMeer, 7 (Horror, Speculative Fiction)
8. Nightingale’s Nest by Nikki Loftin, 8 (Fantasy, MG)
9. Horizon by Jenn Reese, 7 (Science Fiction, MG)
10. Greenglass House by Kate Milford, 8 (Fantasy, MG)
11. In A Handful of Dust by Mindy McGinnis (Dystopia, YA)
12. Saga Vol. 4 by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples (8, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Comics)
13. Ruins by Dan Wells (7, Science Fiction/Dystopia, YA)
Most Excellent Books Published PRIOR to 2014
Last list. Promise. There are a treasure trove of awesome pre-2014 books – especially now with Old School Wednesdays – we have read this year, and here are a few of our favorites:
Ana’s Most Excellent Oldies:
1. The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M Valente, 8 (Fantasy)
2. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, 9 (Historical Fiction)
3. Lab Rat One by Andrea K Höst, 7 (Science Fiction)
4. Caszandra by Andrea K Höst, 9 (Science Fiction)
5. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina, 8 (Contemporary YA)
6. Selkie Stories Are For Losers by Sofia Samatar, 8 (Fantasy)
7. The Water That Falls On Your From Nowhere by John Chu, 8 (Fantasy)
8. Jaran by Kate Elliott, 8 (Fantasy)
9. Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, 7 (Contemporary YA)
10. Dawn by Octavia E Butler, 9 (Science Fiction)
11. The Waiting Stars by Aliette de Bodard, 8 (Science Fiction)
12. The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, 8 (Science Fiction)
13. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, 9 (Contemporary YA)
14. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E Butler, 8 (Science Fiction)
15. The Edge on the Sword by Rebecca Tingle, 7 (Fantasy)
Thea’s Most Excellent Oldies:
1. Lab Rat One by Andrea K Höst, 7 (Science Fiction)
2. Caszandra by Andrea K Höst, 9 (Science Fiction)
3. The Water That Falls On Your From Nowhere by John Chu, 8 (Fantasy)
4. Jaran by Kate Elliott, 8 (Fantasy)
5. Dawn by Octavia E Butler, 10 (Science Fiction)
6. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E Butler, 8 (Science Fiction)
7. Zahra the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor, 10 (Science Fiction, YA)
8. Kingdom of Cages by Sarah Zettel, 8 (Science Fiction)
9. Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel, 8 (Historical Fantasy, YA)
10. Golden Girl by Sarah Zettel, 8 (Historical Fantasy, YA)
11. Razor’s Edge by Martha Wells, 7 (Science Fiction)
12. The Courtship of Princess Leia by Dave Wolverton, 6 (Science Fiction)
And with that we, your Friendly Neighborhood Book Smugglers, close the books on 2014. Bring on 2015 and don’t forget:
Be Excellent to Each Other, dudes and dudettes!