What I Read Last Year

Putting this together for 2014 has been a major ordeal, and it's all my fault. I keep a book journal because I'm a weirdo, but thanks to Goodreads, I fell off the book journal wagon all year long, and so not only did I have to compile my list for the blog, I also had to update my journal. Never again. But. I read sooo much this past year, more than I have in a long time (or ever?!), which I'm very happy about!

Top 100 Books

I thought I was doing really well with reading Top 100 books in 2014 compared to 2013, but actually I only read one more, although I have From Here to Eternity in progress (eternally) right now. I'm really excited to get to Zuleika Dobson and Parade's End, though, so I'll use that as inspiration to maybe surge forward in my List progress this year.

Random/Romance Books

I wrote six more random reviews that I'm looking forward to sharing, but apparently much too lazy to type and prepare the posts. Ugh. No wonder no one reads my blog.
  • Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews, 411 pages
  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, 367 pages
  • Hotel by Arthur Hailey, 408 pages
  • The Custom House and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 159 pages
  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, 235 pages**
  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, 858 pages - LONGEST BOOK!

Everything Else

Novels and Other Fiction

I had a major hankering for genre fiction this year, plus I joined a book club. So many novels, so many of them good.  I only had one short story collection so it's grouped in here too.

A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle, 264 pages

I bought a copy of The Last Unicorn from the author at Calgary Expo this year, and got it signed, and I'm looking forward to revisiting it, because it's wonderful.  But I also wanted to try some of his other work, and so I picked up this book at the same time.  It's a story about ghosts and a man who wishes he were one, and of how people find love, and it was really sweet.  I didn't love it completely, but it was a different sort of fantasy, which I always appreciate.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, 419 pages

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, 487 pages

I can only say that I need more Canadian historical fiction in my life.  I pay way less attention to Canada Reads than I probably should, so while I heard that this book was the 2014 winner, I didn't actually care about reading it until I found out that it was historical fiction involving a Huron warrior, an Iroquois girl, and a Jesuit priest in 17th century Canada. Amazing.  I'm not sure how much I actually liked Boyden's writing style, or the confusing implication of the actual existence of magic (??? I know, I am seriously very confused about this), but I really enjoyed the book, and as a plus, the edition I bought was beautiful and delightful to hold.  Seriously.

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, 239 pages

This is a book about a boy's last innocent summer, but it was a bit hard to categorize.  It's not truly a novel but more of a collection of scenes, and Bradbury's introduction implies that there's something of memoir to it, but given that the boy in the book doesn't share his name, I'm just calling it a novel.  It's sweet and thoughtful and has one scary bit that makes me think it's about time I check out some of Bradbury's horror fiction.  Also it gave me an overwhelming desire to try dandelion wine.  Hook me up if you know anyone who makes it.

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan, 334 pages

This book has an eye-catching cover, and I bought it mainly for that reason. The concept is great, but the book is part of a series (which I didn't realize when I got it) and I have an ongoing sense of ennui about series, so although I enjoyed this first book, I didn't love it enough to continue, or at least not to buy the next one. In case the title isn't obvious, the book is about a lady naturalist who studies dragons.  The world she lives in isn't ours, but it's analogous to Victorian England from what I can tell.  I'll be giving Mary Robinette Kowal a try before going further into this.

My Ántonia by Willa Cather, 286 pages

I was going to write a Random review of this book, but then I read it while I was on holidays in California and decided not to bother.  It's not undeserving of a review, I'm just lazy.  I brought it with me because it's about a pioneer woman on the plains, and I wanted it with me in case I got homesick.  The book is pretty great except for this one weirdly racist bit about a piano player who seems to have been inspired by Blind Tom Wiggins.  A sort of grown up version of the Little House, you might say.

Horns by Joe Hill, 397 pages

My first Joe Hill novel, featuring what TV Tropes calls a Lost Lenore but I've started thinking of as simply The Dead Girl, aka a girl who is dead at the beginning.  Ig wakes up one day with horns on his head that make everyone want to tell him their darkest thoughts.  He's the prime suspect in the rape and murder of his girlfriend Merrin, a year prior, and decides to use his new power to find out who actually committed the crime.  Overall I liked the book a lot, except that I think either this book or its film adaptation are what finally drove me over the edge when it comes to fictional Dead Girls.  I still haven't seen Twin Peaks yet, though, so hopefully I can get over my trope exhaustion.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, 214 pages

Holy fuck I can't even believe how good Shirley Jackson is.  This is a book about two sisters who have lost most of the rest of their family, living together in a house.  I read it in one sitting and it blew my mind.  I love Shirley Jackson so much.  I will own this eventually and read it again and aaaaaaaaaaaaa.  Don't read anything more about it other this right now, then get it and read it and have your mind blown.

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King, 387 pages

My annual dose of Stephen King, in the form of this addition to the Dark Tower series.  Really this is just King working within the same universe as that series, although he does frame the story such that it's technically book 4.5.  I'll be the first to admit that King has numerous writing tics and thematic obsessions, but I love him a lot and it seems as though he's having a bit of a renaissance lately (this book is two years old, and was a fun, quick read).

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, 624 pages

Everyone laughed at me when I brought four books with me on a week long holiday, but I finished all four and had to buy this one in the airport. Fortunately it didn't disappoint and I read a huge chunk of it on the way home.  It's the story of a woman who ends up caught up in a battle between old souls.  The different parts of the book take place in different stages of her life, with a really intriguing ending stage.  I didn't think it was particularly special within the fantasy genre, but I liked it quite a lot.  More than anything it moved David Mitchell's other work up a little higher on my list of stuff to check out in the future.

Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian, 408 pages

Some of you may remember the film by this name (with "The Far Side of the World" appended to it) from about a dozen years ago.  Well, this book is the first of a long series featuring Jack Aubrey (the Master and Commander of this title) and his ship's doctor and friend, Stephen Maturin.  Set during the Napoleonic Wars with a whole lot of nautical terminology that goes down much smoother than I ever expected it to, Master and Commander is apparently the beginning of something very beautiful (I say apparently only because I haven't read any of the other books yet, this one was great but I hear they only get better), and the next book in the series is something I'll definitely be seeking out soon.  I realize how hilarious this is in light of my comments about that dragon book series.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, 408 pages

An unexpectedly dark contemporary Gothic story, about a woman with the best job in the world (she works in her father's bookstore, which he runs on proceeds from dealing rare books) who is hired to write the biography of a mysterious best-selling author named Vida Winter.  I enjoyed this book a lot, although the ending was a bit unsatisfying for various reasons.  Fun themes plus a few gross, creepy people.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, 230 pages

I had heard way too many good things about this book by the time I picked it up.  I think maybe I was expecting Jane Austen plus a monster or something, and anyway I got something more amorphous instead.  There are places where specificity would be nice, but instead there's vagueness. There's good stuff, like how the monster lives in a shed spying on people for months on end, which is sooo creepy.  And then there's Victor Frankenstein, literature's greatest idiot.  Seriously there has never been such a tool, and Frankenstein's ongoing ridiculousness is the novel's greatest weakness.  I liked it, but not as much as I'd been led to expect I would.

Mrs God by Peter Straub, 185 pages

Ugh.  I was at the library one day picking up some books on hold (List books maybe? I don't quite remember) but I usually browse a little if I have time, and I was in the mood for horror.  I've been really wanting to read Straub's Ghost Story, but my branch didn't have that book available, so I settled for this because it sounded like it had a good haunted house thing happening.  Not so much.  A dude goes to some big manor house where there are creepy things and a really special library, but then the book spins its wheels for the most part.  I have absolutely no idea what was supposed to be going on with the dollhouses that he finds in the basement, although I got the impression that it was supposed to be obvious.  In terms of horror I read this year, you can stick to Shirley Jackson for making your skin crawl off your body and never ever read this.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, 394 pages

I read this book with my book club!  It was hilarious in numerous bizarre ways, with a core of sadness not only caused by the fact that Toole committed suicide before it was published.  I can't wait to read a biography about him, because the mind that came up with this definitely lived in an interesting person.  Ignatius J. Reilly is the main character, a real character, traipsing around a New Orleans filled with other characters.  I don't think that this book is for everyone, but I really loved it.

City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer, 700 pages

I was most of the way through this before I finally realized that it wasn't a novel, it was a collection of novellas, short stories, whatever.  The stories I think fall into the so-called New Weird genre, and take place in the bizarre city of Ambergris. Initially I was just very confused by the whole thing, finding it a bit too vague for my tastes, but now that more time has passed, I find my curiosity is piqued.  I'll be reading the next Ambergris book.

The Chronicles of Amber: Corwin cycle by Roger Zelazny

  • Nine Princes in Amber, 119 pages
  • The Guns of Avalon, 135 pages
  • Sign of the Unicorn, 110 pages
  • The Hand of Oberon, 111 pages
  • The Courts of Chaos, 96 pages - SHORTEST BOOK!

I am utterly perplexed by a world in which these books exist, were published, and are enjoyed.  That would seem to imply that I hated them, but really I'm just baffled.  This is fantasy, but it's intensely plot driven, and merely sketched rather than exhaustively developed like the vast majority of modern fantasy that appears in series.  It's about parallel universes in an interesting way, with Amber being the one true world, and all the others being shadows.  There are various machinations that happen between the sons and daughters (but let's be honest, mostly the sons, they're right there in the title of the first book) of Amber's king, Oberon, as well as a fight with some mysterious dark forces (they're not so mysterious by the the end of the series, but I won't spoil it in case my rambling inspires anyone to read this).  I don't think this would ever have been published today, I can't tell whether I liked it, and I'm not sure whether I'll read the next five books, the Merlin cycle, or not.

Graphic Thingies

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, 369 pages

At the risk of sounding like an asshole, the internet at large seemed to discover Allie Brosh when she wrote about being depressed, but I'd already been following her since her perfect articulation of why she (and I) would never be an adult.  Honestly, though, she'd been kicking comedy ass and taking names long before that.  This is a collection of a bunch of her best blog posts, and some new material.  While I love her work, though, the fact is that I've seen a lot of this stuff before, so it doesn't feel quite as fresh and hilarious in book form.  I'll be happy to pick this up and page through it after the eventual destruction of the power grid, though.

Clover by CLAMP, 508 pages

One of my high school friends was a big fan of all things Japanese at a time when I had no patience for anime or manga or anything in that style except for Princess Mononoke.  She would sometimes have copies of manga magazines, and there was a chapter of Clover in one of them, and I never managed to get the image of a girl with mechanical wings out of my head, so I finally gave in and bought the whole thing.  Sadly, the reason I was able to do that is that the series was never finished, so there aren't like 500 volumes of it like so many other manga.  It was just getting good at the end and the art is beautiful.  Sigh.

Locke and Key series by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

  • Welcome to Lovecraft (Volume 1), 158 pages
  • Head Games (Volume 2), 144 pages
  • Crown of Shadows (Volume 3), 140 pages
  • Keys to the Kingdom (Volume 4), 147 pages
  • Clockworks (Volume 5), 153 pages
  • Alpha and Omega (Volume 6), 192 pages
I read most of this series last year (and for some reason didn't mention the artist?! oops!?), and then picked up the last volume and (re)read the whole thing on Free Comic Book Day weekend.  It was pretty great except that somehow I have no memory of how it ends except for a couple of small things.  I wish that didn't sound so awful.  I really liked this series, though. The art is great (disturbingly gory in places), the interplay between the siblings is good, and Kinsey has terrible hair.  Her hair is my least favourite thing about these comics.


I thought I hadn't read much non-fiction, but then it turned out it was just a bunch of different kinds of non-fiction.

Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein, 335 pages

Somehow this guy got to be a reporter in Japan, and he saw a lot of interesting things, and the yakuza are even scarier than I realized.  The biggest problem with this book is the timeline.  I don't think Adelstein jumps around, but it eventually becomes really confusing how long he's been working where, and when things are happening.  A fun read, though.

Frozen in Time by Owen Beattie and John Geiger, 255 pages

When the HMS Erebus was found very shortly before my vacation, and this book was sitting on my sister's bookshelf, of course I had to bring it with me into California's October heat wave.  I didn't regret that at all.  The narrative flow in this book is great, plus there are pictures of the exhumed bodies of some 19th century sailors, which is eerie and wonderful and awe-inspiring.  This book was so good.

The Last Plague by Mark Osborne Humphries, 195 pages

For a book less than 200 pages long, this took an eternity to read.  It's about the Spanish flu and Canadian public health, and it was really interesting, but it was just a chore to get through for some reason.

John Barleycorn by Jack London, 288 pages

This book got me to go to the Sonoma Valley.  You may remember (I doubt it) that The Call of the Wild mostly gave me a huge crush on Jack London. When I found out that this was his memoir and that it was on Project Gutenberg, I immediately downloaded it.  It's specifically an alcoholic memoir, though, and dude was an alcoholic in a big way.  The whole thing is framed as his experiences with alcohol, beginning with a statement that he voted for woman suffrage almost exclusively because he believed women with the vote would bring in temperance laws.  This sounds kind of ridiculous, but overall the book is fascinating.  I'm actually planning to give it its own post, so I won't say much more.  Next up is The People of the Abyss.

Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes by Cory O'Brien, 287 pages

Cory O'Brien writes Better Myths, which I've never read, so this was all fresh and new and very amusing.  It's not just Greek myths (although those were the ones I was most familiar with).  It even has some myths about Americana, which I appreciated.  So yeah, not exactly non-fiction, but whatever.

In the Flesh edited by Kathy Page and Lynne Van Luven, 223 pages

A collection of essays by writers about their bodies/bodies in general.  Each writer got a body part to write about, and they were by turns heart-warming, goosebump-inducing, and some other word that evokes a body part.  I heard about this collection on CBC Radio.  Worth a read if you are someone who thinks about your body.  Not to be confused with this book.

Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez, Vicki Robin, and Monique Tilford, 303 pages

I've read a few purely informational books over the years and usually I don't mention them because they're sort of irrelevant and often I skip around and don't read them in their entirety.  This book is really good, though, and if you're someone who isn't literally living life on the edge of poverty, the principles it describes are really great.  Get the newest edition, though.  I haven't implemented a ton of the advice in it yet, but I have concrete plans to do so.  The main idea is not to kill yourself by working too hard and spending all of your money, but rather to value what you already have more, save as much as you can, and do things that make you happy, because we only have so much time before we don't have anymore.

Canadian Professional Engineering and Geoscience: Practice and Ethics by Gordon C. Andrews, 392 pages 

Practical Law of Architecture, Engineering, and Geoscience by Brian M. Samuels and Doug R. Sanders, 272 pages - WORST BOOK! :( :( :(

Further to my comments above about "purely informational" books, I'm including these because I read them cover to cover while studying for the test I wrote this year.  It's a cheat to call the law book the worst one I read this year (Mrs God would get that honour if not this one) but I discovered while reading it that I have no patience whatsoever for the whims of the law.

Total pages in 2014***: 15 427
Total pages per day: 42 (five per day more than last year!)

Did you read any really great books in 2014? What's on your list for this year?

* This is a highly qualified rating this year, because I reread the four books I usually call my favourites, and I also read more Shirley Jackson, who owns like no one else. But Of Human Bondage is a book that I keep thinking of in the context of my own life, months later, and so it won out as the best book I read for the first time this year.

** You may remember that this also appeared on the Random/Romance list for 2013. I read it again this year. I made my book club read it. I made a friend buy it. I am obsessed.

*** Excluding books that I hadn't finished before the end of the year.

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