Saturday, December 27, 2014

2014 - The year in books

It's that magical time of the year again: Time to look at my Goodreads list and see what all I consumed over the course of 2014. The challenge I set for myself was 52 books (one per week) - not counting school readings and an industrial amount of comics, I still made it by this week. Here are some of the highlights:

Something old, something new
Cress, the next installment of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, came out this year, and it was everything we wanted it to be. Lovable characters, both old and new, exciting action with the fate of the world in the balance, and delicious Easter eggs for folktale-savvy people. In addition, the free short story The Little Android was also posted by the author online, and this is the first and only incarnation of The Little Mermaid I actually liked.
My favorite discovery for the year was Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories series. I am currently on book seven. I am a sucker for quality historical fiction, and this series has everything going for it: A little known yet crucial part of English history, Vikings, Saxons, epic battle scenes ("SHIELD WALL!"), a likable and complex protagonist, and - going against the worn stereotypes of the "dark ages" - strong, independent, and likable female characters. It combines the epicness of history with characters you really care about, and none of the corny mushy romance that flooded the internet this year thanks to the Outlander craze. Also, it will soon be a BBC show!
Another good reading experience was some of the books by the Strugatsky brothers I discovered for myself this year. Monday Begins on Saturday is pretty much the Russian take on what would have happened if Terry Pratchett wrote Harry Potter. Delightfully sarcastic, and surprisingly applicable to modern-day bureaucracy (and, khm, academia), the book and its sequel, Tale of the Troika, was a very entertaining read for someone like me who likes folklore, magic, and sarcasm.
My end-of-the-year Christmas reading also brought a discovery: Lesley M. M. Blume's Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins and Other Nasties was a treat. I don't usually like people writing fakelore, but this book captivated me for many reasons: One, the author obviously knows her fairy folklore really well, and applies it ingeniously to the setting of modern day New York City. The stories are enjoyable and whimsical, but they don't shy away from the dark corners, and the one with the mermaid especially delivered some emotional punch. It is exquisitely written, and proves that fairies do live on in the modern world.

Folktales and Legends
As a storyteller, it is part of my job to read a lot of these. Instead of an all-inclusive list, I'll just mention some of the highlights.
One of the topics I got into this year was the folktales of minority cultures in China (see my previous post for an example). There are not many collections specifically on the topic in English, but I managed to find some good ones; The Seven Sisters was my favorite, with a lot of exciting and surprising stories.
Another area that I dug into was Bavarian folktales, on the occasion of the "500 new fairy tales discovered" Schönwerth collection has been finally partially published in English. The Original Bavarian Folktales volume is a treat (and bilingual), and there is an upcoming book from the same selection titled The Turnip Princess that I can't wait to read.
The series of the year for me was the World Mythologies Series. The first volume, one I found by accident in a used book store was Fabled Cities, Princes & Jinn, the Arabian installment, and it was love at first sight. Lots of original materials, stunning illustrations, captivating stories. I put the rest of the series on my wish list, and I already received the Central American and the African volume. Yay!
Another reading and research craze of mine this year was Caucasian Nart sagas. Some of them have been published in English, while others I found in Hungarian translation at home over the summer. I now have a serious soft spot for Ossetian Nart sagas.

In Spanish
In order to prepare myself and my vocabulary for the Tenerife storytelling festival, I spent most of my year alternating between English/Hungarian and Spanish readings. I did not only improve my language skills, but I also discovered a great many new books, and got to dive into Spanish historical fiction, a genre they are clearly very fond of. Some of the best were Antonio Soler's Boabdil and Eduardo Mendoza's Pomponio Flato - the latter a very entertaining murder mystery involving a Roman philosopher and a snotty little brat called Jesus.
I also read a ton of Spanish language folktale collections, and all of them were enchanting. I dug into Basque folklore (Leyendas de Euskal Herria), myths of Costa Rica (Las semillas de nuestro rey), the legends of the Canary Islands (Cuentos antiguos de Gran Canaria), and Spanish historical legends (Leyendas españolas de todos los tiempos). I plan on reading more of all of those. I especially recommend the Gran Canaria collection (by my friend Ana Cristina Herreros and María Jesús Alvarado), because it was such a fascinating collection project.

I read a lot of them. Without going into much detail, here are some of the series I really enjoyed this year:
Fables - always and forever. Breaks my heart that it's ending, but it is going out with grace and good storytelling.
Fairest - see above
Hawkeye (or, rather, Hawkguy) - for artwork and for storytelling
Ms. Marvel - for cultural commentary, teenage antics, and adorable artwork (WINGED SLOTH!)
All-New X-Factor - for character design, colors, artwork, and classic X-men team banter
X-Force - solid story, dark places, and a team that involves both Domino and Doc Nemesis, what's not to love?

What I could have done without
Divergent and Maze Runner were both meh, and they both made better movies than books (although I gave up after the first volume in both). The new Bridget Jones was better than the previous two (it did good to Bridget to care for people other than herself sometimes), but still nowhere near as good as Adrian Mole was. R.I.P. Sue Townsend.

All in all, a year rich in discoveries and great reading adventures. I wish all of you the same for 2015!


  1. Bernard Cornwell is a fab writer...try his Arthurian trilogy next. Derfel, the narrator, is a slightly more gallant Uhtred. And then there is the whole Sharpe series, Napoleonic Wars, great protagonist & interesting women.

  2. He is an amazingly productive writer, isn't he :D

  3. I love historical fiction. I'm making a note of this series.

  4. That's a pretty impressive reading list. I'm managed maybe a fraction of what you read over the year. Rarely am I able to finish a book in a week's time.

    Tossing It Out