Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My Best and Worst Books of 2014

I love Best Of and Worst Of lists. December is a magical month for me when every media outlet compiles lists of everything that was awesome or terrible in the previous 11 months, from pictures of cats on Roombas to bullshit gluten free recipes for cronuts. I'm really only qualified to rank books. And by qualified, I mean I have a big enough ego to think I can tell other people what they should and should not be reading.

Disclaimer: These are all books I have read in 2014. They didn't all come out in 2014. This list also doesn't count books I re-read this year. And finally, it doesn't include books I couldn't finish. I don't feel right completely judging a book I didn't finish because maybe it got awesome in the parts I didn't read. Probably not, but it's a possibility - a Schrodinger's Cat kind of thing.

Best Books of 2014

5. Reality Boy by A.S. King

This book spoke to me. I hate saying corny shit like that, but it's true. When Gerald was 5, his family was on a reality television show called Network Nanny. Gerald's original problem was punching holes in the walls when he got mad. Then he started crapping on things. Like the kitchen table and his sister's bed. Gerald is a teenager now, and boy is he angry. King goes back and forth, trading Gerald's current narrative with stories of his life as an unwilling reality television star. It's one thing to know in your head that reality television isn't real and quite another to be able to peek behind the scenes. Gerald's life is a lot more complicated and tragic than Network Nanny ever let on. Gerald is one of the most sympathetic characters I have ever read without crossing into the pathetic, minus the sym. I understood his anger and frustration. There were times that I thought this book was written specifically for me. I know that's silly, but if an author can make you feel that, they've gone above and beyond good writing.

4. The Stand by Stephen King

This book was definitely not written in 2014. I'm super late to the game, but I'm glad I decided to give Stephen King a chance this year. I spent a lot of time hating on King because my brother liked him and my brother has shitty taste. I also dismissed him as a hack because anyone as prolific as King can't possibly be good, right? The Stand was awesome. I went into it without spoilers and while I thought the ending was a little anticlimactic, the journey was everything.

3. Noggin by John Corey Whaley

You can indeed judge a book by its cover. Look at that. It's genius. Who wouldn't want to read that? I had a few moments of doubt with this book early on because I'm tired of books about sad cancer kids being sad. 2014 was the year of terminal illness romanticism. Stahp. Please. But Noggin is different. Travis does die of cancer but comes back to life five years later with his head attached to a healthy donor body. His girlfriend might be engaged to someone else, but she and Travis never technically broke up, so they're still together, right? Even though she's 21 and he's still 16? This book really made me think about time and how we take it for granted. Five years can feel like a blink or a thousand lifetimes. It also forced me to think about death. What if it didn't have to be permanent? How hard must it be to say hello again to someone to whom you've already said goodbye forever? This book also made me laugh. And cry. A lot.

2. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This book was so much fun. I'm really fascinated with online alterna-worlds. Yeah, I play Warcraft. There's so much to MMOs beyond shooting orcs in the face. Whole political systems and economies grow in a good MMO. Ready Player One takes the MMO to the next level. Most people these days operate in OASIS because the real world is so awful. Wade Watts aka Parzival is one of these people, but he also has a mission: to crack the clues left by OASIS's creator and win more money than he could ever use. This book is a love letter to 80s pop culture but you don't have to get all of the references to enjoy what is also a super fun adventure story. I am so looking forward to Cline's next book, Armada, which isn't coming out soon enough, dammit.

1. The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

I read this book back in February and spent the rest of the year reading everything in comparison to it. The one word I think of in regard to this books is "refreshing." I read a lot and sometimes feel like I'm reading the same thing over and over again. Silvers was like a high voltage zap in the ass. Yeah, alternate realities have been done before but not quite like this. Price provides readers with a plot that starts with the end of the world and never slows down. There is also a cast of characters that are unique but still easy to relate to. I kind of have a crush on Zach Trillinger, but don't tell Amanda Given... Price walks that fine line between accessibility and wtf just happened? with his plot. This first book in what I hope is a long and engaging series answers just enough questions to keep readers satisfied but asks many more that will make your head explode with awesome. Silvers was my favorite book not just of 2014 but of several years before that. I talk about it so much that I think my coworkers are ready to beat me to death with a copy.

Worst Books 2014

5. Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

This book goes on the list for having so much wasted potential. The gimmick of this book was so clever, but that's all it was - a gimmick. The book is physically designed as a mock IKEA catalogue, complete with furniture diagrams that get more and more upsetting as the book goes on. It's worth a read through, but beyond the idea of a haunted IKEA-like store, there really isn't anything there. Hendrix's characters are forgettable and the plot was neither particularly funny or horrifying. I also got tired of Hendrix explaining every single reference and joke. Have some faith in your readers, man.

4. Dangerous Women ed. by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

There's not much to say about this collection of stories except that it was a hot and bloated mess. I mostly bought the book for the Lev Grossman story and the George RR Martin story, but figured I would get some exposure to other authors as well and maybe discover a few that could become new favorites. No. Many of the works included in this volume were just boring, with a few bordering on offensively bad. The Grossman story was good but I later felt cheated when I read it as part of The Magician's Land. The Martin piece was like an exceptionally dry textbook. I say that having read the Song of Ice and Fire books multiple times. I also found the definition of dangerous women as presented by this volume a little off-putting. I thought I'd be reading a lot of Strong Female Characters, but mostly the women here just had axes to grind against men who wronged them in the past. This collection was just really not good and I'll be ignoring the second volume.

3. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

It hurts me to put this book on the list. A lot. The first two in this series were incredible. Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight are superb. I still love them. I refuse to let the conclusion of the trilogy ruin the first two books. Angels, demons, artists, blue-haired girls, wishes made real, puppets, and Prague - freaking Prague! This beautiful series succumbs to teenage melodrama in the third book. What started as an engaging and epic story of family, war, and betrayal turned into 500 pages of Karou trying to figure out if she could still love Akiva after he murdered what was left of her entire race. I don't know... I feel like the answer should kind of be "no."

2. Deathnote by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

This was my attempt to get into manga. A lot of the teens who come into my library like it and I figured I would make an attempt at connecting by reading it. I just didn't get it. Teenage sociopath with supernatural powers vs. teenage detective with preternatural powers of deduction. Death Note got boring and repetitive really fast. Maybe I would have liked this series better when I was younger.

1. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Ugh. Ugh. I'm going to spoil this entire book right now in the review, so if you don't want spoilers, stop reading. Spoiled rich girl and spoiled rich cousins are tired of being used in their family's spoiled rich politics and drama. Spoiled rich kids get the brilliant idea to burn down spoiled rich racist grandpa's house to teach him a lesson. But spoiled rich kids don't understand how fire works and all but one of them die. And the family dogs die too. The one kid that survives is still spoiled and rich but now she is sad because her cousins are dead and grandpa is still rich and racist. There was nothing sympathetic or relatable about anyone in this book. I didn't feel like I learned anything after reading this book. I finished it and was only sad that I spent time with it. And yet, people love this damn book. It's won a bunch of awards and will likely be a 2014 Printz contender. Ew. Why? No, really, why? Someone please explain to me why this is a good book.

What's on your best and worst of 2014 lists?