Sunday, December 14, 2014

Five I'm Still Thinking about - Jeffe's picks for interesting reads of the year

Our first real snow hit last night and this morning's sunrise showed in spectacular glory, a promise of the solstice and the turn of the year, it seemed.

The topic at the Bordello this week is the Five Most Engaging/Interesting Books Read in 2014. I like how this one is phrased - not necessarily our favorite books, but the ones that stood out. It can be an important distinction, especially for writers, because we tend to be friends with other writers and, outside of that, personally know many of the authors of the books we read. Reading a book can be infused - positively or negatively - with how we feel about that person. Picking a favorite of the year can be even worse, because which of your wonderful friends do you pick? It's often easier for me to pick a book written by someone I don't know, than to choose from among my friends' books.

That said, I tend to read a lot of my friends' books, sometimes via crit or as a beta reader, or just so I can have nice things to say. In 2014 (so far!) I've read 119 books. Yes, I've been keeping track, because I had a goal of reading at least two books a week, to try to get back into reading again. For someone who used to read about a book a day, that's not much. But I also caught up on a lot of "meaning to" reads.

One of those was Thea Harrison's Elder Races series. I've been hearing about these books for several years, but had never read. I confess it was partly because they're labeled as Paranormal Romance. I should totally know better, how these hairs are split, but PNR has sadly come to mean questionable worldbuilding to me. Not so with these books! Some are stronger than others, but the series is a fantastic take on our modern world, but with the addition of living monsters like gryphons, harpies and dragons. Much like Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series as it used to be, with better romance and way less crazy. In particular I found Serpent's Kiss and Kinked to be engaging stories that have stuck with me.

I also read and write a fair amount of erotic romance. My friend Anne Calhoun came out with Afternoon Delight this year. She's one of those authors I stalked and made be my friend after I read her work. Her books stay with me long after I finish them and this was no different. The recovery from grief, the heroine who runs a food truck, the afternoons of lazy sex...this book lingers in my mind like the memory of a perfect meal in a beautiful place with my favorite person.

I caught up on the last of my Neil Gaiman backlog this year, and read his 2013 release, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and I finally sat down with the box set of his graphic novel series The Sandman: Book of Dreams, which I received for my birthday a year ago.(I SAID I'm behind on my reading, okay??) Both carry Gaiman's trademark dreamy darkness. I thought I was going to say that I didn't enjoy Ocean, which I finished just last night - but by the end he had me as usual.

On the SFWA forums, I met MCA Hogarth, who is self-publishing most of her work these days as, like me, she doesn't write books that neatly slot into genres. I read her Even the Wingless and that book has continued to haunt me. Her voice is also dark and dreamy, the world she created dense and provocative. I love a well-constructed alien society that stays true to its own mores and doesn't bow to the standards of the one we live in. This book is a far cry from a romance and yet got to my heart anyway.

Finally, my go-to when I'm asked to pick my favorite book of the year, I've been saying Magic Breaks, by Ilona Andrews. This is the seventh novel in the Kate Daniels urban fantasy series.
I've been keeping up with that series since book 2 and I think it's one of the best out there. It's not easy to keep a series like that, especially with an ongoing and developing romance, vital and fresh.
This seventh book lives up to its magical number with a searing story and developments that catapult the overall arc into a whole new realm. Amazing accomplishment.


  1. I really should give the Kate Daniels series a second chance. I did read Burn For Me by Ilona Andrews recently and loved that.

    1. I think you'd love it - it really kicks in around the 3rd or 4th book. I didn't read Burn for Me - sounds like I should?

    2. I think you should: it's got a really cool setting: alternate world that feels just a bit apocalyptic
      My review will be up tomorrow
      And I just received Magic Burns as a Christmas present, so looks like I get to try book 2 soon.

    3. Nice! I put Burn for Me on my Christmas wish list.

  2. I knew I liked you before but now I find we <3 the same books! Anne Calhoun's books are all crazy good and the Elder Races and Kate Daniel's series are in my auto buy list.

    It is hard to pick favorite books, I just picked mine for Reading Between the Wines and it took me about 25 Jeopardy theme songs to land on my choices.

    Also, whoo hoo Jeffe! Way to break the 100 book mark for the year!

    1. *shared book love fistbump* :-) And thanks - I was really happy to break that barrier this year. Looking forward to your best-of 2014 list!

  3. I have to add that today Neil Gaiman tweeted me - so that not only made my day but gives him yet another plus in my book. Yay!!!