As 2014 draws to a close the annual “best of” lists are starting to appear. For the past two years I’ve done a “Best I Read” post (here they are: 2013 and 2012) but this year I hesitated a bit because I took a long break from reading while finishing a complete revision of Carpathia and writing Green Zulu Five One. I reviewed just thirty-one books in 2014 compared to sixty-four last year, and a third of those were traditionally published non-fiction books.
I like to highlight Indie authors when I can, so I decided to go ahead with my version of a fiction best-of list. Given the small pool they are drawn from, and my policy of only writing positive reviews, these are truly the best of the best in my opinion — exceptional works by authors whose skill I envy. Without further prattling on, I give you:
— The Best I Read in 2014 —
1. Yellow Tag by Kep Lagrange. Every year I read a great book in December that ends up on this list, and this year it was Yellow Tag. Everything about this story clicked with me and I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment that Mr. Lagrange assured me he is writing. From my review:
A wonderfully atmospheric and tense sci-fi novella, Yellow Tag (Pervideo Series Book 1) by Kep Lagrange (@KepLagrange) reminded me a lot of the Man vs. Nature elements in some of Jack London’s great short stories as well as the scary showdown with HAL in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. …
… the title refers to a system of designating the safety or usability of equipment. Something with a green tag is safe to use whereas an item with a red tag isn’t. An orange tag means emergency use only and a yellow tag indicates an item should be used with caution. The color palette comes into use on page one as Conroy searches through the ship’s inventory of pressure suits because he has to go outside, into the vacuum of space, to make a critical repair.
… The brutal and unforgiving nature of space provides a great backdrop and even the vastness of the galaxy becomes claustrophobic as the story spirals along and the tension builds.
2. The End Of The City by David Bendernagel. I probably spent more time thinking about this book before writing a review than any other this year. Feelings were stirred. A lot of feelings, and that’s a good thing. From my review:
A multi-layered study of love and loss told through vivid, lively prose polished to a high sheen, The End Of The City is the exceptional debut novel of David Bendernagel (@DLBendernagel). It is a book that I believe has the potential to touch each reader differently, depending on interpretation and individual experience. …
In many ways The End of the City is a study of contrasts, two separate but connected stories told in alternating chapters by narrators a decade apart. Told in a fast-paced “stream of consciousness” style, the thoughts and words of the protagonists are often lightest when the subject matter is darkest and each deals with their problems differently, but at the core both face the same challenges.
3. The Summer of Long Knives by Jim Snowden. I love stories like this that explore a time or place just a bit to one side or the other of more familiar territory. The Holocaust didn’t happen overnight and knowing what’s to come we see the warning signs characters in the story can’t quite make out, adding a level of tension and fear to the proceedings. From my review:
Set in Munich three years after the Nazis assumed power in Germany, The Summer of Long Knives by Jim Snowden (@snowdenlit) is a wonderfully tense murder mystery crackling with political and personal intrigue, and filled with small details that bring the period to vivid life. …
I give Mr. Snowden great credit for picking a fascinating period to set his novel. With Kristallnacht a bit more than two years in the future, the Nazis have been in power long enough for their anti-Semitic and “intellectual purity” programs to have permeated through much of German society but even so many Jews and other “non-desirables” still live and work openly in the country. Still, the seeds of a totalitarian regime have been planted and are sprouting; fear of betrayal and imprisonment for any number of offenses is omnipresent for nearly everyone, creating an underlying tension that affects the most mundane actions.
4. Contract of War by Tammy Salyer. Aly Erickson is a wonderful, complex protagonist who can fight or think her way out of the most dire situations. Some smart producer or studio needs to buy the rights to this exciting trilogy because it would make an awesome movie or TV show. From my review:
Packed with action and edge-of-your-seat thrills, Contract of War by Tammy Salyer (@TammySalyer), is the wholly satisfying conclusion to the Spectras Arise Trilogy. … A system-wide civil war shattered the status quo maintained by the iron fist of The Admin, but freedom comes with a price. A year later rebels and loyalists are still skirmishing as scattered outposts of humans claw and scratch out an existence by any means. …
Contract of War is the unique book that feels both large in scope and intimate at the same time; the author does an admirable job letting the actions of a few individuals inform the bigger story of resolving a galaxy-wide conflict. There are some flashbacks, but I thought the decision to jump in time past the ‘shooting’ war and deal mostly with the aftermath was brilliant. Too often authors focus on blowing stuff up and not on sifting through the debris caused by the blast.
5. Vampire Down by Stephen Montano. No writer I’ve ever read crafts prose as vivid as Mr. Montano’s. Simply put, the man writes in High Def, and I swear even when I’m safely snuggled under the blankets of my bed I feel the sting of a bitterly cold wind or smell the foulness of a days-old battlefield. From my review:
I was of two minds picking up my Kindle to read Vampire Down, the final book in the Blood Skies Series of author Steven Montano (@Daezarkian) … First was bittersweet sadness: I’ve had so many hours of reading enjoyment with the six previous entries, exploring Earth’s blasted landscape After The Black, the cataclysmic event that somehow merged our world with many others. …
But secondly there was a steadily growing sense of anticipation that many Big Questions would be answered. What really is The Black, and can it be reversed, returning the world to what it was? Who or what are the Maloj? The Kindred? What part does Azradayne the spider, bane of Cross throughout the series, play? Who will live and who will die before the journey is done?
… Vampire Down absolutely did not disappoint, either as the finale to a wonderfully complex and engrossing series or simply as a dark fantasy adventure … told in Mr. Montano’s signature descriptive prose.
6. A Time of Traitors by David Lawlor. Truth is I’m terribly biased when it comes to this series: I love the time period, I love the setting — the best vacation I ever had was ten days in Ireland —and I love these characters, who are complex and realistic. From my review:
It’s 1921 and the Irish War of Independence is in its third year. Seeking freedom from British rule, flying columns from the Irish Republican Army conduct hit-and-run raids on Crown forces including the Royal Army and police from the Royal Irish Constabulary and “Black and Tans”— temporary constables known in large part for their violent attacks on people and property…
This is the setting for A Time of Traitors, the third book by David Lawlor (@LawlorDavid) to feature former soldier turned IRA field commander Liam Mannion as protagonist. … Given the circumstances, it is perhaps inevitable that the specter of a turncoat or two in the ranks would rise. When Liam and (his fiancé) Kate are given separate secret missions by Michael Collins, the “big fella” himself, they get caught in the whirlwind, trying to piece together clues that will make sense of it all.