Sunday, January 25, 2015

Best of 2014

Best 2014

I didn't read near as many of the books that I wanted to read over the last year. My TBR (to-be-read) list grew by leaps and bounds. A lot of the books were in the thriller genre, but I found a few surprises along the way in others when I made myself step out of my comfort zone. The following list are the books that I enjoyed the most and reviewed in 2014 (in no particular order).

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock

In 2011, Marie Claire magazine published a profile of Janet Mock in which she stepped forward for the first time as a trans woman. Those twenty-three hundred words were life-altering for the editor, turning her into an influential and outspoken public figure and a desperately needed voice for an often voiceless community. In these pages, she offers a bold and inspiring perspective on being young, multicultural, economically challenged, and transgender in America.

Welcomed into the world as her parents’ firstborn son, Mock decided early on that she would be her own person—no matter what. She struggled as the smart, determined child in a deeply loving yet ill-equipped family that lacked the money, education, and resources necessary to help her thrive. Mock navigated her way through her teen years without parental guidance, but luckily, with the support of a few close friends and mentors, she emerged much stronger, ready to take on—and maybe even change—the world.

Why I liked it:
This memoir hit all the switches for me - truth, honesty, and above all, empathy for herself and others in the same position. The author did not sugarcoat the dark periods of time in the early part of her life, but she didn't make them seem worse than the way she experienced them either. It was her journey of acceptance and self-discovery that kept me turning the pages. The amount of courage to admit that she didn't fit into a box society created for her was beyond measure. I know that there are many other people who share a similar, yet different journey. I was happy to see the spotlight not on the fact that the author is different, but that she is the same as anyone else. She has dreams, experiences success and failures, and yearns to live, love and be happy.

The Sundering Series - The Companions by R.A. Salvatore, The Godborn by Paul S. Kemp, The Adversary by Erin M. Evans, The Reaver by Richard Lee Byers, The Sentinel by Troy Denning, and The Herald by Ed Greenwood

Comprised of six novels by six different authors, The Sundering series told the tales of people who were chosen by several Gods within the two worlds which were joined together. As the two worlds separated from one another, their separate existences depended upon the success or failure of the particular Chosen in each book. If any of the missions failed, the entire existence of both worlds could  have been wiped out completely.

Several of the actions in one book directly affect the lives of those in the books coming after. From sword-wielding mercenaries to stealthy assassins to magic users drawing their energies from the very shadows around them, these books cover so many battles, trials and tribulations that it is hard to list them all at once. Read as a whole series or each on their own, the books do not fail to hit the right marks in this adventure series. 

Why I liked it:
I played NeverWinter Nights alongside others when it was first released, but had no idea that there were a number of books written within the realms of the game. When I saw that the series was going to be offered over the year, I jumped at the chance to begin reading them. I found plenty of entertainment for nearly everyone in each of the six novels. Sword fights, magic flying around, cities that also flew with shadowy agents filling them, and so much more await the reader in these books. I loved how not every main character in this series was a definite good man/woman. Layers of conflict within the pages kept me entertained until the next book in the series was available. Though this particular story arc is complete, I'm certain we will see quite a few of the characters again in the future. 

 Fire-Heart (Tales of Alterra, The World That Is #2) by C.S. Marks

Following the battle at the end of the first book in the series, Gaelen and her companions find their mission has taken a turn that they least expected. She puts her vow to end the Elfhunter's life on hold to help Rogond fulfill his life quest to find the answers of his family's history. Clues and whispered rumors led them to a desert filled with new adventures, people and unexpected dangers.

In the midst of this new territory, the elves are a wonder rarely seen and draw unwanted attention to themselves by upstaging more than one tribe in the desert towns. Fighting their way toward their destination meant dealing with the problems of the land, its people and the lingering threat of the Elfhunter following them. What began as a way to fulfill her promise to Rogond had become much more of an adventure than any of them could have anticipated.

Why I liked it:
Honestly, I read both Elfhunter (Book 1) and Fire-Heart (Book 2) this year. I enjoyed both of them very much, but I really liked the second book more. In the world of Alterra, legends came to life as the long-forgotten races of elves, dwarves, men and more fill the various parts of the land. While the first book in the series laid the groundwork for the world, this book truly explored regions that even the elves had not dared to adventure. But promises and vows mean more than whatever the unknown dangers might have done to them. That's one of the many things I liked about the book. There's a sense of companionship and deeply connected bonds throughout the entire book. It provided an exciting backdrop against the battles and search for one's family history.

 Spear Hunter (Northland Chronicles #2) by Henry J. Olsen

North America was devastated by the effects of Desolation - the name given to the whatever caused people to die off across the land by the survivors. Along the way, John Osborne found his life changed by much more than losing loved ones. Now being more than human drove him to ride into danger in the search for answers.

His destination very well may be a trap, but John had no choice but to seek answers where he was directed. While he searched for the answers to help him survive another day, another month or even another week, others wanted the answers for their own personal gain as well as his destruction. Could he find what he needs before time runs out? Will the rest of the world pay for his failure?

Why I liked it:
This book was my first introduction to the world in the Northland Chronicles, but it won't be my last. I became invested in John's quest early in the book because the character interested me with his decisions and the way he interacted with others around him. At first he appeared to be stand-offish. Then he showed signs of compassion and empathy that belied the wall he built to surround himself. Also the novel presented a scenario for the destruction of our society that might come to pass should certain events happen or decisions made. It was simply a very interesting look at what might be in our future - and not the distant future either.

I Hunt Killers (Jasper Dent #1) by Barry Lyga 

Jasper Dent looks like your garden variety teenager living in small town America. He goes to high school, has a girlfriend, and takes care of his grandmother. The only thing that sets him apart from everyone in his town is the fact that his father was the worst serial killer in the country's history. Not only that, but Jasper was groomed to be his successor.

When it becomes clear that another killer is on the loose, Jasper is the only one who is convinced there's trouble. He tries his best to convince the Sheriff, but soon realizes that he's the only one who sees the pattern. His unique insight could prevent more people dying. Can it keep him and those he loves alive in the process? 

Why I liked it:
Hands down an unique way to present a serial killer book, I really enjoyed looking through Jasper's eyes during this novel. I read a lot of murder mystery, true crime and horror books. In each one they present the killer (or killers) and then go into exploration of the killer. The people who make up the killer's family are rarely given a thought. To see the impact of living with a serial killer was intriguing. Add to that a dash of teenage angst, a heaping cup of murder and a whole lot of conflict and you've got a good recipe for an interesting, entertaining novel. As this was the first in the Jasper Dent series by Barry Lyga, I am looking forward to the others as they venture into the literary world.

Essence of Betrayal by Damien L. Malcolm

A young girl went missing in a close-knit Australian town and private investigator, Jack Mullens, found himself pulled into the investigation when his case took an unexpected turn. After years doing manual labor, Jack focused on helping those around him with simple matters such as finding a cheating spouse or discovering the secrets of a friend or loved one. When a friend feared her husband had a hand in the girl's disappearance, Jack must do his best to keep an unbiased mind while gathering all the clues he can.

It soon became clear that there was much more going on in their town than he anticipated. More people were involved with the disappearance and some of the names shocked Jack to his core. As he delved deeper into the mystery to help save the girl from certain death, he became a target for those who didn't want their secrets uncovered.

Why I liked it:
This book was definitely set in Australia as the slang, descriptions and interactions between people emphasized throughout the chapters. Yet as much as the book had an Outback flavor, it didn't take much away from the story or the characters. I enjoyed the many layers of mystery that the author had Jack uncovering. Some of the twists I didn't see coming at all, a welcomed surprise for me after reading a number of different murder mysteries. Jack's flaws and quirks made his conversations enjoyable and gave the book many of its comedic moments. With all this and much more, it was an excellent way to debut a series.

Maxine Wore Black by Nora Olsen

Jayla dreamed of being in relationship with the perfect, but never seemed to find someone who wanted to deal with her awkwardness, her quirks, or the secrets she hid from nearly everyone. That was until Maxine walked into the room. Cultured, confident, and everything Jayla wasn't, Maxine was the girl Jayla wanted, but there was one big problem. Maxine was already in a relationship with Becky.

All the complications, worries and confusions went out the door the moment that Becky went missing. With Maxine free, Jayla could have the relationship of her dreams and reveled in the excitement of newly-found love. The moment Becky's body was found changed Jayla's world completely, taking away the blinders that love placed on her eyes. Could she figure her life out before it was too late?

Why I liked it:
At first I wasn't sure that I was going to like this book once I began reading it because I was afraid that some of the actions taken by a certain character were going to be ignored or glossed over. Thankfully, the author didn't ignore them and sought to rectify the situations. I liked the fact that the author did a lot of research into the LGBTQ community and the struggles that people endure because of our society. It was a really well-written look at a young person's life as she tried to navigate a world that doesn't separate identity from sexuality. She cast a light upon their struggles as well as the domestic violence that can go unchecked throughout the community at times. Throw in the insecurities of a young adult, tribulations of love and the suspicion of murder and you've got an exciting mix that kept the pages turning until the very end.

A White Wind Blew: A Novel of Waverly Hills by James Markert

Dr. Wolfgang Pike spent his days caring for tuberculosis patients at Kentucky's premier facility, Waverly Hills sanatorium. At night he toyed with finishing the requiem that he began shortly after his wife's untimely death. Whenever his medical knowledge failed to ease the hurt and pain of his patients, Dr. Pike turned to his harmonica or violin to soothe their aches and pains. In 1920s Louisville, there wasn't much more he could offer many of the men, women and children who suffered.

When a new patient with a penchant for the piano arrived at Waverly Hills, Dr. Pike attempted to use the power of music to heal on a larger scale. To do so would cross racial lines and put him at odds with the superintendent of the hospital, but Dr. Pike's belief in the healing power of music drove him forward. The decision changed everyone's life - not always for the better.

Why I liked it:
Historical fiction is quickly becoming one of my new favorite genres to read. This book combined my natural curiosity about Waverly Hills and the power of positivity to override the ills of society. A number of heavy themes were explored in the book. Racial segregation, the Klan, unwillingness to change, loss and the early medical practices all combined to create a world where the reader can easily join. The descriptions of the city, the buildings and the characters are richly written and filled with details that bring the book to life in one's imagination. I really thought I could see the book as a movie in my mind as I read at times.

There you have it. My top picks for the year of 2014 reviewed books is complete. I'm excited for all the wonderful books that 2015 has to offer. Have you read any of the above-mentioned books? What did you think of them?

Until next time,
Kay B


  1. Hey Kay, I just wanted to let you know that I'm honored to be featured on your Best of 2014 list! I hope you discover many more great reads in 2014, and continue to make progress on your writing project.

  2. Thank you so much for the mention. I'm simply over the moon and very humbled that you liked my book. Hope you're feeling better in 2015 and have a great and productive year.