Thursday, 18 December 2014

Best reads of 2015 and some reflection

Last time I did one of these (two years ago) I tried to branch out beyond just five star books to also highlight other books that had done something great. This year, looking back over my spreadsheet, it really is mainly the five star-rated books. Have I become more jaded? Have books been doing less interesting things?

Actually, I think the biggest factor is my shift in reading since I started blogging. 2012 was the year I started blogging and only about 30% of the books I read in that year were sent to me for review. That means most of the books I read I chose to read because I (mostly) knew they would be interesting to me. In the two years since, more than half of the books I've read have been review books. While most of my review books are books I genuinely want to read and would probably read anyway, I probably wouldn't read them quite so promptly without the reviewer obligation. And that invariably means that some books that I want to read but that aren't review books get pushed back (and put off and pushed back some more), which tends to narrow my reading. You may note that all my favourite 2014 reads were published in 2014 except for one, which is starkly indicative of the fraction of 2014 publications that made up my reading (67% of all the books I read were published in 2014, a further 20% in 2013 meaning that recent releases came close to making up 90% of my reading).

This bothers me and I really, really want to reduce the number of review books I take on next year. It's going to be a busy year for me outside of book blogging, so I'd rather feel more relaxed about my reading. In the end, what's the point if I'm not enjoying the whole process? I don't need an additional source of stress in my life.

All that doesn't mean that I didn't absolutely love some of the books I read this year. Here are the highlights in the order I read them:

  • Carrier by Vanessa Garden was the first stand-out book I read in 2014. It's a short novel in the post-apocalyptic Australian outback, a setting I don't think we see enough of in plainly-written novels. (The only other examples I can think of employ somewhat experimental/literary writing styles that just aren't as accessible.)
  • The Lascar's Dagger by Glenda Larke is the first in a new fantasy series by one of my favourite authors. My loving it is hardly surprising. Any fantasy fans who haven't read any Glenda Larke really should, and this is as good a place to start as any.
  • North Star Guide Me Home by Jo Spurrier was the conclusion to the Children of the Black Sun trilogy. All three books were excellent, but this was my favourite. It was less violent, making it more palatable and relaxing (and happier-ending) than the prequels.
  • Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld surprised me with it's unputdownability. I picked it up on a whim long before the release date and accidentally read it all in two days. Told in chapters alternating between a young writer with an exciting YA book contract and her actual spec fic YA book, it's a very meta examination of the YA genre.
  • The Year of Ancient Ghosts was the first thing I read by Kim Wilkins and it made me fall in love with her writing. Not for nothing did the titular story win the Aurealis for Best Horror Short Fiction.
  • The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne came out of nowhere for me, and is a perfect example of an excellent book that I would not otherwise have been exposed to were it not for reviewing. It's a near-future book that unapologetically drags you into its world and forces you to experience a different perspective.
  • Razurhurst by Justine Larbalestier is set in 1930s Sydney, not an era I knew a huge amount about before reading. As well as being an engaging story, it struck me as a very well researched setting with a lot of local flavour. Also ghosts.
  • Kaleidoscope edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios is an anthology of diverse YA speculative fiction. Most anthologies are a mixed bag with a range of good and less good stories, but Kaleidoscope somehow manges to take "consistently good" to the next level.
  • Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis first drew my eye because of certain diversity aspects and because I read a couple of the author's short stories and they were pretty great. This is a very excellent book, split between our world and a very different fantasy world, that I urge all fantasy fans to read.

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