Book Reviews

2014 Books in Review Part Two

Better late than never! …Right?

Back in December of yea olde 2014 I wrote up the first part of my 2014 Books Of Awesome. I first put off the second half because I thought I might have a chance to finish a few more books before the end of the year, but then Life Happened and now it’s February. So without further delay, here are my 2014 Books of Awesome, Part Two:

by Chimamanda Adichie

“A story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.”

A lot more literary than my usual tastes, yet SO GOOD. This is definitely a character-driven story more than anything and it really holds no (or very few) punches when it comes to race in not only the US but also Nigeria and England. It’s funny and witty and thoughtful and entertaining, all rolled into one.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

“Evie O’Neill has been shipped off to the bustling streets of 1926 New York, filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls, and rakish pickpockets. When she goes to live with her occult-obsessed uncle Will, she worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realizes her gift could help catch a serial killer.”

I listened to this as an audiobook and goodness, the reader did an excellent job with that crazy 20’s slang. It was just delightful – and kinda hilarious – whenever she would mention “the cat’s meow” etc. Oh, and the plot and characters were intriguing, too. The narrative switched back between the MC’s point of view and several minor characters which was sometimes a bit confusing, but might work out if there is (and there probably is) a second book.

Sahara: A Natural History by Marq de Villers & Sheila Hirtle

“In the parched and seemingly lifeless heart of the Sahara desert, earthworms find enough moisture to survive. Four major mountain ranges interrupt the flow of dunes and gravel plains, and at certain times waterfalls cascade from their peaks. Even the sand amazes: massive dunes can appear almost overnight, and be gone just as quickly. We think we know the Sahara, the largest and most austere desert on Earth—yet it is full of surprises.”

So I read this for purely research purposes (along with a ton of other Sahara- & Tuareg-related books), but it was so fascinating that I just have to share it. Living in a desert, I’ve come to appreciate how delightfully diverse and beautiful deserts can be, so I wasn’t too surprised by some of the ecological side of the book. But the history, wow. It’s a good read and a thorough overview of the region and its history.

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

I don’t have a summary for this one because you would have to read the first in the series, Way of Kings, to even remotely appreciate/understand this sequel. Basically, all the things that get set up in the first book come to fruition, and then things get epic, keep getting epic, and basically get so Epic you have to capitalize the “E” and spend a week after finishing the book in a wordless fugue vacuum. If you like epic fantasy, read this series. That’s all I have to say.

The Rhesus Chart by Charles Stross

“Bob Howard is an intelligence agent working his way through the ranks of the top secret government agency known as ‘the Laundry’. When occult powers threaten the realm, they’ll be there to clean up the mess – and deal with the witnesses. There’s one kind of threat that the Laundry has never come across in its many decades, and that’s vampires. Mention them to a seasoned agent and you’ll be laughed out of the room.
But when a small team of investment bankers discovers an arcane algorithm that leaves them fearing daylight and craving O+, Bob gets caught right in the middle.”

Latest in Stross’ the Laundry Files series, this one is probably the darkest and close to my favorite. It’s absolutely ridiculous while at the same time completely sober, a very fine line to walk. This is also the first one to end with a sort of cliff-hanger, which I’m not sure I quite forgive Stross for yet.

If you like ridiculous, faintly British, Lovecraftian humor, go start at the beginning with the Atrocity Archives.

The Secret Place by Tana French

“Detective Stephen Moran has been waiting for his chance to get a foot in the door of Dublin’s Murder Squad—and one morning, sixteen-year-old Holly Mackey brings him a photo labeled “I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM” from the Secret Place, a board where the girls at St. Kilda’s School can pin up their secrets anonymously. The board is normally a mishmash of gossip and covert cruelty, but today someone has used it to reignite the stalled investigation into the murder of handsome, popular Chris Harper. Stephen joins forces with the abrasive Detective Antoinette Conway to find out who and why.”

Tana French is one of those authors who can fill pages and pages with exquisite description without the plot actually advancing and you just don’t care because it’s that on-point and perfect. She is an artist when it comes to painting characters and places, turning everyone (and everything) into something three-dimensional and relatable (sometimes terrifyingly so). Her plots are good, too, although I have less ground to judge those seeing as how hers are the only mystery books I read these days. But goodness – if you love well-crafted sentences and deliciously dripping words, read her. This is the fifth in a series, but they all stand alone, so start anywhere.

Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

“Darcy Patel has put college and everything else on hold to publish her teen novel, Afterworlds. Arriving in New York with no apartment or friends she wonders whether she’s made the right decision until she falls in with a crowd of other writers who take her under their wings. Told in alternating chapters is Darcy’s novel about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the ‘Afterworld’ to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most.”

This book is not for everyone. You will either love it or hate it. I gave it only a handful of stars on my initial review, but it stuck in the back of my mind like an angry weasel. I realized the only reason I wasn’t giving it a fair shake was that initial premise, which struck a nerve with me, but the rest of it actually worked really well. I would love a sequel, or even more novels woven together like this from other authors, preferably from their own experiences.

The Third Plate by Dan Barber

“At the heart of today’s optimistic farm-to-table food culture is a dark secret: the local food movement has failed to change how we eat. It has also offered a false promise for the future of food. Our concern over factory farms and chemically grown crops might have sparked a social movement, but chef Dan Barber reveals that even the most enlightened eating of today is ultimately detrimental to the environment and to individual health.”

I’ve read a lot of books about food and health and sustainability in the last few years, but this one is the Bee Knee’s. If you read no other book about food, read this one. The author is open and honest about his own mistakes and assumptions and I think his conclusions are finally truly sustainable, not just a quick patch like organic or even the eat local movement. Plus it’s something that could happen someday… although I highly doubt it.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

“It is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their home on the Mississippi River. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media–as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents–Nick parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter–but is he really a killer? “

I guess this was a wildly popular book wot turned into a movie?All the feminist tumblrs were so delighted with it that I decided to step out of my genre comfort zone. I listened to this one, too, and the readers were both amazing. It’s… really, really fun. And so wonderfully dark and awful. Nick and Amy absolutely deserve each other and I appreciate that the ending wasn’t tied up all neatly.

But be careful: there’s a lot of casual rape talk and some pretty bad misogyny, even if it was purely in character.

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

“Part manifesto, part revelation, this is the story of an artist struggling with the new rules of exchange in the twenty-first century, both on and off the Internet.”

I feel like this is a good way to end the year. I ❤ Amanda Palmer for how incredibly open and vulnerable she’s been for her entire career, and this book only keeps on going with that. It’s more of a memoir of the last decade or so, chronicling a lot of the stuff that has happened to her, that she’s done, and that she’s overcome. It’s beautiful in a lot of ways, and not just because it takes Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly and goes one step further, but because of gems like this:

“When you’re an artist, nobody ever tells you or hits you with the magic wand of legitimacy. You have to hit your own head with your own handmade wand. And you feel stupid doing it.”

Which I feel is a perfect note to end this post. ❤

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