We asked our authors and editors what they'd read in 2014 (not necessarily what came out this year) that had made an impression on them, and which books they'd loved that might not be on the tip of everyone's tongue. So here they are, our top picks from our recent reading!
First to Burn by Anna Richland — An immortal viking serving in the present day armed forces falls in love with the military doctor who is on the verge of discovering his secret. ALL kinds of mayhem ensues. Richland builds the romance slowly in a really enjoyable way. (And her follow-up romance novella is flat out fantastic, though it's missing the paranormal element of FTB. Still. This is an author to watch, for sure.)
The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan by Stephanie Thornton — okay, this is historical fiction, not spec-fic, but it is SO RICHLY WRITTEN that it feels like epic fantasy. The book is Thornton's finest work, and just so beautifully executed I am awed. If you love strong women in any genre, definitely read this book ASAP.
— Amalia Dillin author of Forged by Fate and the recently released Beyond Fate
The Little White Bird by James M. Barrie which can be read online for free at Project Gutenburg
My recommendation: Haven't heard of this title? I hadn't either, but as the official prequel to Peter Pan by the original author, it's a must read! The first story of Pan, beginning at age one week, is tucked within the overarching tale of an old bachelor who grudgingly saves a romance and befriends the resulting child. This child is the first to partake of the imaginary world of Pan, and is based on a boy who, along with his brothers, truly inspired Barrie in his vast imaginings. The tale is humorous, heart wrenching, candid and deliciously creative. The later story of Pan that we are most familiar with pales in comparison!
— Kristina Wojtaszek author of Opal and contributor to Fae and Specter Spectacular
Bewildered by A.B. Harms. This middle-grade novel has all that I love about fantasy and juvenile fiction in general! The characters are unforgettable, the plot well developed, and the setting...well the setting is what makes Bewildered so very enchanting. A. B. Harms has done a phenomenal job constructing the Bewilderness, a world resplendent with imagery.
Description, in my opinion, is where Harms shines brightest, and there were several times while reading Bewildered that I was reminded of Neil Gaiman and his 2013 award-winning The Ocean at the End of the Lane. . The books are different in meaningful ways — Gaiman's story is considerably darker and the author himself has stated that it wasn't intended for young readers— but they share an unmistakable richness of description in their imaginative, fantasyland settings. Harms is Gaiman Good with imagery!
Glamour by Andrea Janes. Janes's debut YA novel reads like a movie and I can totally see it as a big screen production some day. This modern story of the witching world set in the Cape Cod tourist town of Westervelt reminded me in some ways of Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic. Janes certainly knows her setting and I reveled in the "townie"/"summer people" dynamic of the area. I also enjoyed the distinct voice of Glamour's main character Christina. Not without faults, Christina is a girl whose humor and sarcasm ultimately endeared her to me. This coming-of-age story set against the wider backdrop of a contemporary fantasy is a fun read. It also has a gorgeous cover that was among my favorites for 2014!
Jesus Land By Julia Scheeres. Julia Scheeres's memoir is without a doubt the most haunting, powerful memoir I've read. It's the story of the tragic and humiliating abuse Julia and her siblings endured at the hands of her "Christian" family followed by the horrific reform school in the Dominican Republic where she and her adopted African American brother David are sent when their parents decide they need even further "discipline." While reading, I actually felt Julia and David's devastation at each new injustice they suffered. I felt it acutely thanks to Scheeres's exceptional writing.
Jesus Land isn't a book about religion, rather it's a book about what some people do in the name of religion, and it's a powerful one that I think everyone should read. It's sad and disturbing and won't be a book you can breeze through— there will be times you have to walk away from it just to be able to get through the next gut-wrenching chapter— but it's one of those rare stories that has the power to change you, and that makes it worth it.
— Michelle Lowery Combs author of Heir to the Lamp
One of the most memorable books I read this year was Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato. I'm not usually a fan of steampunk as I think sometimes the setting overwhelms the story and characters, but Clockwork Dagger has just the right amount of steampunk, a good dose of romance, plenty of magic, gremlins, and a lost princess. The heroine, Octavia Butler, is a powerful healer who doesn't have a problem putting impertinent people in their place. This is the first book in a two-book series, and I can hardly wait for the second and final installment to come out next year.
— Rebecca Roland author of Shards of History and The King of Ash and Bones
I'd like to recommend Malediction by Lisa Morton, and published by Evil Jester Press. It's a smart horror book, deeply rooted in the little-known history of Los Angeles. I thoroughly enjoyed its sweeping backdrop and cast of diverse characters. Readers who like their horror rooted in place, history and myth, and not just in guts and gore, will very likely also enjoy this independently published gem.
— Elise Forier Edie author of The Devil in Midwinter and contributor to Krampusnacht
Space, Inc. an anthology by Julie E. Czerneda. This story collection features future jobs in space — not the highly publicized explorer jobs, but rather, those of doctor, priest, cook, space rigger, mechanic, bartender, librarian, porter, dance instructor, tour guide, and other professions. Each story begins with a Help Wanted advertisement or other document describing the company version of the job description. The anthology provides an interesting and wide-ranging look at the work-a-day worlds of our future workforce.
My favorite stories included:
Tanya Huff’s “I Knew a Guy Once.” A bartender is hired to improve morale and productivity in a mining station in Jupiter orbit. A wonderful and interesting romp that will leave you smiling. One of my favorite short stories I read this year.
Eric Choi’s “A Man’s Place.” A lonely cook on a lunar mining installation asks the right questions in an emergency. A really nice mix of technology and human interest. Even a cook’s job is highly technical in this environment.
Doranna Durgin’s “Feef’s House.” A space drifter struggles to adapt to the world of permanent residents and their exotic pets as she works to repay her medical expenses. Perfectly juxtaposes the duster’s creed and her vigorously-suppressed desire for permanency. Pleasantly poignant and uplifting.
Blood Chimera and Blood Sin by Jenn Lyons. I’m not a fan of vampire stories but author Jenn Lyon’s approach turns the vampire trope on its ear, weaving history, mythology, and a detective whodunit into readable, and thoroughly enjoyable story lines. As you might expect, I approached the first book, Blood Chimera, with a great deal of trepidation but I was quickly sucked into the story and engaged by the characters. I kept promising myself, “Just one more chapter before I go to sleep.” I didn't get much sleep.
I’m not going to tell you about the story line because mere description pales before the actual experience of reading these stories. I will, however, tell you that these are fun reads for anyone who likes detective novels, action-adventure, and well-considered mythological world-building.
Far Orbit: Speculative Space Adventures. OK, I admit it, I am unabashedly biased in when I recommend Far Orbit. But why not? The book does, after all, contain many of my favorite short stories for 2014. The stories are thoroughly modern science fiction tales, but the tone harkens back to the mid-century SF published by a variety of SF magazines. The hallmark of these mid-century Grand Tradition SF stories were that they were fun to read. Far Orbit stories deliver that in spades. The stories were also selected for their diversity in story styles, tropes, and protagonists. All-in-all, it’s a damn good read for SF lovers.
— Bascomb James editor of Far Orbit and the upcoming Far Orbit Apogee
If I have to narrow my recommendation down to only one book for 2014, it would be GLAMOUR by Andrea Janes.
This book is CAPTIVATING! I was totally charmed from the get go and that's so rare for me as a reader. I flew through this book at lightening speed (also rare) and wanted more when it was over. Andrea Janes writes with an amazing voice, and in first-person point of view, which is often the artistic choice for debut novelists, yet is actually rather difficult to pull off. Janes not only pulls it off, she does so with talent and skill. Her narrative voice reminds me of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE— one of my top ten favorite novels of all time — if Holden Caulfield were a teenaged witch named Christina. I also loved the stylistic choice of sprinkling in third-person point of view scenes throughout the book. This is another writing choice that can flop big time, but Janes makes it work quite wonderfully. Five broomsticks, er, stars, for GLAMOUR!
— Susan Abel Sullivan author of The Haunted Housewives of Allister Alabama and The Weredog Whisperer
The books that made an impression on me this year were Jeff Vandermeer's Annihilation and Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle Vol. 1.
For Annihilation, I loved the mystery and the dread-filled atmosphere, the internecine paranoia of the team, and the fumes of government conspiracy hanging over the whole thing. Plus the all-female team! I also dug the narrator, the Biologist, for lacking emotions in the expected places.
For My Struggle, it came down to the final, epic, cleaning scene in the last third of the book, wherein Knausgaard cleans his alcoholic grandmother's house following his father's death. It is harrowing, and has to be read to be believed.
Oh man, is it too late to add another one? I was just thinking about Penelope Fitzgerald's Means of Escape, new to me in 2014, and home of the best short ghost story ("The Axe") that I read all year.
"The Axe" is, without exaggeration, a perfect short story. Perfect. I won't say any more, just tell everyone to go read it now.
— Andrea Janes author of Glamour and contributor to Specter Spectacular
I'm going to call out our own WWP's Legally Undead by Margo Bond Collins. I really loved this book a lot (and Margo? I want the sequel now please.) I don't necessarily know that I agree with Margo's assertion that the vampires in her book are the non-sexy kind, but it's a violent, horrible kind of sexuality that you definitely wouldn't want to romanticize. That said, I love everything about her protagonist (go Elle!) and allies, and I really look forward to reading more about her world.
No surprise to anyone who's been following my blog, I'll also call out Grumbles the Novel by Karen Faris, which I have to recommend for being such an irreverent and tongue-in-cheek take on dystopian science-fiction — think Terry Pratchett crossed with Cory Doctorow. If James Bond were a woman (and worked for the post office in a world wallowing in environmental disaster,) this would be her story.
— Jenn Lyons author of Blood Chimera and the new release Blood Sin
Restoration. Tremain's book was published many years ago, but I've never read a book that more lovingly delves into England after the Restoration. It's raunchy, sad, hilarious and richly imagined.
An Everlasting Meal. You don't need to love cooking to enjoy this book. But the recipes and advice about cooking are incredibly useful. It's a highly practical book that encourages cooks to use what they have. The writing style is clear and readable.
— Kate Wolford editor of Krampusnacht and Beyond the Glass Slipper
I've read several books that impressed me over the past year, nearly all published a couple years back. Two that I particularly liked:
The Purpose of Fantasy, by Philip Martin (Crispin Books, 2013), a succinct discussion of 12 great fantasy novels offering insights into the core values presented in each. A great exploration of fantasy writing and the depth of meaning that can be found in such works.
The Singular Adventure of Charles Goodfoote, a self-published novel by Thomas Hanratty. I was surprised how well done and polished this mystery was. Charles Goodfoote is a Pinkerton agent working in the western United States. A Blackfoot Native American by heritage, raised in Boston high society, Goodfoote is assigned to protecting the life of a teenage Sherlock Holmes in a western town as wild as can be imagined. A great page-turner. Hanratty is a retired forensics investigator.
— David J. Rank author of the forthcoming Alien Ways
I enjoyed Rhonda Parrish's anthology A is for Apocalypse, which I blurbed. She assembled some great writers and let them imagine apocalypses of every kind, so every entry gives you a good story plus the delight of figuring out the setting.
I'll make my second pick The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin. I devoured this epic fantasy in one evening, from dinnertime to three in the morning. Big scope, neat magic, and compelling characters. Who can resist a holy assassin?
— Amanda C. Davis co-author of Wolves and Witches and contributor to Specter Spectacular
It's always difficult to choose one or two favourite books from a year, and even more so when you're trying (as I am) to pick titles everyone won't already have heard of. I'm afraid I'm going to fail at the latter.
I really enjoyed Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood. It's a short story collection, not a novel, but it was a fantastic one with many of the stories interrelated. I devoured the stories in no time, and I'd like to re-read them all again sometime soon to find out what I missed the first time though.
The best book I read this year, though, was Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It was magical and replaced The Last Unicorn as my most favourite book ever. The Ocean at The End of the Lane is incredibly imaginative and creative, but so honest that it spoke to me on a very deep and personal level. It gave me nightmares, it made me laugh, and it made me sob. If you have to pick only one book to read in the coming months, make it this one.
— Rhonda Parrish editor of Fae and the forthcoming anthologies Corvidae and Scarecrow
Written in Red by Anne Bishop rocked my proverbial socks off. I had heard Bishop read the opening chapter at the 2012 World Fantasy Convention. At the time, I thought it sounded nice enough. But I was really there to see in the flesh the woman who had written Daughter of the Blood, first in the Black Jewels Trilogy, which I fell in love with more than a decade ago. To this day, Daemon Sadi, Jaenelle, Lucivar, and Saetan SaDiablo remain some of my favorite characters of fantasy. But I had not been enamored of the interceding books, so I took her foray into urban fantasy with a grain of salt. No salt needed, people! I loved Written in Red. Yes, it's "urban fantasy" in that there are many of the modern day conveniences— indoor plumbing, the internet . . . what else do you need?— but Bishop has so thoroughly reimagined the world's past that the world-building is on an epic scale akin to that of any good second-world fantasy, except this is primary-world . . . sort of. I could spend an entire blog post explaining the world, so instead I will say simply: go read it.
Salvage by Alexandra Duncan kept me up all night reading. Imagine a community that teeters between religious commune and religious cult out in the isolation of the American desert -- now imagine them in the isolation of a generation ship. That's where the narrator, Ava, grew up. As the novel opens, Ava thinks she's getting everything a teenage bride could want, but a series of cruelties and misunderstandings instead make her an outcast who tumbles to Earth. Earth, as it's been portrayed to the girls growing up on the generation ships, is a horrific place where no woman (ahem) has the skills or strength to survive, not the society nor the gravity. And that's what really sums up the attitude of these communes: They're supposed to have everyone leave the ships from time to time and train for greater, earth-like gravity, but only bother to do so for the men, because the women should not be of the world, they should float above its baseness like angels. Yet in spite of her many struggles on Earth, Ava finds herself thriving there in ways she never could have imagined. I'm not someone who's crazy for YA lit most days, but Salvage shows the beauty of young adult sci-fi that isn't dystopia.
I'd also like to recommend all WWP titles. Let me be completely honest here: if I didn't love these books then I wouldn't have published them.
— Eileen Wiedbrauk, Editor-in-Chief
What were your favorite reads this past year? Tell us in the comments, because there's no such thing as "too many" when it comes to books on your to-be-read list.
World Weaver Press
Publishing fantasy, paranormal, and science fiction.