Sunday, January 25, 2015

Happy January!

Hello all, and happy 2015! It has been much too long, dear bookworms and moths! Susan and I have both been immersed in the responsibilities of new jobs for the past few months, thus our diminished online presence since autumn—but we have missed you fiercely, and are looking forward to getting back on the blog train in this year two thousand and fifteen. We hope it has been treating you well so far (the new year, not the blog train), and that you have been snacking on delicious foods and reading wonderful books during our absence! If you follow us on Twitter, you may have caught a glimpse of some of our readings and eatings over the past few months. Graphic novels, SFF, Thai shrimp soup…yums across the board! So, in the spirit of the “Best Of” lists that have come before, I thought I would share a short listing of some of my own 2014 bests. If the books I read last year all went to high school together, this is what the superlative pages in their yearbook would look like…

Alyssa’s Notable Books of 2014

Best New-to-Me Authors

Oh, Elizabeth C. Bunce and Scott Lynch, what was my life before I read your books? Where, oh where have you BEEN my entire life?! Well, sitting patiently on my shelf, apparently. I remember purchasing A Curse Dark As Gold when it first came out in 2009, but didn’t get around to reading it until 2014. And what a treat it was! Brilliant writing, brilliant detail, brilliant insight into people, and perfectly atmospheric. In fact, those words could be used to describe my experience with Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series, as well. The adoration I bear for Jean Tannen and Locke Lamora is an ardent one, and I’m eagerly anticipating the next book in the series. On that note, it hurts my heart a little bit (okay, a lot a bit) that Arthur A. Levine Books doesn’t appear to be publishing the third volume in Elizabeth Bunce’s Thief Errant series. WHY?!? Anyway, I love books with worlds so rich you could just crawl inside them and live there, and the writings of these two authors both fit that bill perfectly.

Best Picture Book

I find myself reading a whole lot of picture books to children these days, and this by far has been the biggest hit (though It’s a Tiger! and Press Here are also contenders). Teachers have told me a month later that the kids are still playing Shark in the Park on the playground at recess. Four months later they’ll come up to me and ask if I brought the shark book today. And what does that tell me? That tells me it’s an awesome, awesome book. So why is it out of print? I don’t know, but I really want to buy a copy for myself on eBay…

Best Graphic Novel (Serial)

This fantasy-tinged sci-fi space opera is really kind of stunning. It is fearlessly imaginative, and creative, and hilarious, and action-packed, and yet still so very real. Our wry narrator guides us through the story, and an extensive cast of weird and wonderful characters inhabiting a weird and wonderful universe grab on to you and don’t let go. Again, this is one of those rich fictional worlds so fully realized that you just want to crawl inside. I just read volume four of the trade paperbacks, and can’t wait for the next installment.

Best Graphic Novel (Standalone)

I’ve talked about this one many times before, and my love for it has only grown stronger with time. Its beautiful art, clever, funny writing, and demonstrated deep understanding of stories and their power make this one irresistible to me. A little odd in the way that all the best things are, and all kinds of awesome.

Best Series I Devoured Whole at a Most Unladylike Speed

I had never read anything by Seanan McGuire before (or anything published under her horror-writing pseudonym, Mira Grant), but she was on my radar as an author that authors I love, love. (Did that make sense…?) I picked up the first October Daye book, and it was all over. These books speak to and nourish the same part of me that Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series does (favorites of mine since high school)—stories of a world both close to, and eons away from, our own. Atmospheric, beautiful, but a little dark, too. Watch out for those teeth. So of course I read the entire series in less than three weeks. More, please!

Book Most Likely to Affect My Enjoyment of a TV Series

Mr Selfridge on PBS is one of my favorite TV shows (sometimes I think I like it more than the recent seasons of Downton Abbey!), so I thought it would be fun to read the book that inspired the show. I’m not a big reader of nonfiction, but this book was quite fascinating. It allows you to see where the show had to fill in information, and where they found some of their inspiration, and it sheds light on a time and a topic (the advent of advertising and merchandising) that I hadn’t thought much about before. And yet, this was kind of the spoiler of all spoilers—knowing what happens to beloved characters and the way things ended up in real life was often quite sad, and now it’s sometimes hard to watch the show and separate it from what I know of the real life people and events it’s based on. I usually get over it pretty quickly, though—the show’s ability to dive into each character in a way not really possible in a book that can’t fabricate where there is nothing in the historical record reminds me that this lovely series is fiction, and a pleasant one at that.

Other Great Books I Read That Haven’t Got a Category Yet

After hearing about the brilliance of The Name of the Wind for so long, I finally took the advice of many friends and read it. I enjoyed it, too, and hurried on to the second installment. Now, don’t get me wrong, they were fabulous books that I recommend to people all the time. But for me…they didn’t have the certain je ne sais quoi that made them into oh-my-gosh-holy-crap-all-time-favorites. However. As they’ve sat in my mind in the months since reading them, I find that they continue to grow in my estimation and to become more powerful. Reading the Bast short story in the Rogues anthology really slammed that home for me. These books are magical, powerful—with complex characters and a rich world (yes, one you can crawl into) that you find yourself personally involved in. And to segue…my first Terry Pratchett experience also introduced me to complex characters I cared deeply about and a world, maybe not so complex on the surface, but certainly complex underneath. Both authors are grandmasters, and both ones whose words and worlds I feel quite privileged to be acquainted with.

So what were some of your top reads of 2014? What superlatives would there be in YOUR 2014 books’ yearbook? What would you like to see from Read This / Eat That this year? Hit the comments and let us know!

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