Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Of 2014

In case any of you missed it, the 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway is still in progress! Right now War Games is available free until New Year's Day, while The Epic of Reformation is coming up free from the 1st of January till the 5th. If you missed out on the free Rakshasa's Bride novella, that's still available, now for $0.99. Or, email me at rosa (dot) gaudea (at) gmail (dot) com and I'll be thrilled to send you a copy for free!

That aside, it's time for one of my favourite yearly traditions--the year's-end Best-Of post. Without further ado:

I'm still trying, and failing, to beat my previous record: in 2012 I read 89 books. This year I only managed 80, still 7 better than last year. Which isn't doing so badly, given that I spent another good three months in 2014 travelling and working away from home.

2014 was a year with a lot of firsts for me. I decided to open Vintage Novels to a wider array of material: some non-fiction reviews, some contemporary-fiction reviews, and of course, updates on my own writing. This has meant a bit of a dip in the number of vintage books I've reviewed. While I've thoroughly enjoyed making the acquaintance of many, many excellent contemporary writers this year--from KM Weiland and Jennifer Freitag to Andrew Peterson and Anne Elisabeth Stengl--I feel that Vintage Novels is primarily helpful in its own little niche reviewing vintage and classic literature. With that in mind, my aim for 2015 is to post a little less often--once a week instead of twice--and narrow my focus again to older and more obscure books. However, I do expect to continue my voyage of discovery into contemporary literature--if you're interested in keeping abreast of this, do feel free to follow me on Goodreads!

OK, and now on to the "awards":

Favourite Re-Reads

I re-read 11 books this year. The cream of the crop:

Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl, by ND Wilson
Nine Coaches Waiting, by Mary Stewart
Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength by CS Lewis

Favourite New Reads

It's always tough to pick the best new reads of the year, and with all the excellent books I met this year, it was brutal trying to pick out the best. Here are the ones I simply can't overlook:

God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades by Rodney Stark
God's Philosophers: How The Medieval World Laid the Foundations for Modern Science by James Hannam
The War Between the States: America's Uncivil War by John J Dwyer
A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich (review upcoming)

Jerusalem Delivered by Torquato Tasso
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
Plenilune by Jennifer Freitag
Boys of Blur by ND Wilson
Evangellyfish by Douglas Wilson

Non-Fiction of the Year

Argh! It's not really fair to have to pick among these excellent books. Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl is excellent reading for any storyteller. God's Battalions was a brilliant mythbusting of the Crusades. God's Philosophers had medieval philosophy and rhinoplasty. The War Between the States not only made me cry regularly, it also featured contributions from some of my favourite authors and historians and is one of the few books that I entirely agree with and would recommend without reservation. But the laurels go to a dark-horse last-minute entry:

A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich

I aim to give this a more thorough review in the new year. Suffice it to say that this was gripping, well-written, made me laugh, made me cry, made me yell, "Yikes!" about once a page. I had never read any Byzantine history before, so I came to it practically ignorant and spent the following two weeks with my jaw more or less permanently on the floor. Five stars to the Author of History; four stars to Norwich, who tells the story with the relish of a born raconteur.

Fiction of the Year

I was spoiled for fiction this year. I really was. My Annual Epic for 2013-2014 was Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, the epic of the First Crusade, complete with lady knights, wicked but lovely enchantresses, menacing slo-mo Saracen enchanters, and (le sigh) Godfrey of Bouillon. I dipped my toes back into some Tim Powers, and was surprised to quite enjoy The Anubis Gates. I continued my slow march through the Barchester Chronicles with the wonderful Framley Parsonage, which shared some surprising themes with That Hideous Strength. Speaking of which, re-reading the Cosmic Trilogy was one of the highlights of my year. Meanwhile, the Wilsons, pater and filius, made their way to my bookshelves in two of their best books yet. While ND Wilson's Ashtown Burials series sometimes strikes me as a sprawling, chaotic mess, Boys of Blur was a light, tight, smart and epic standalone based on Beowulf. Even better, Douglas Wilson's Evangellyfish, a merciless satire of mega-church evangelicalism, is like an unholy union of Wodehouse, Mencken, and Trollope, with lashings of Bierce, Tolkien, and whoever else he could lay his irreverent hands on.

But my favourite novel this year? No contest (and no surprise).

Plenilune by Jennifer Freitag

I had the pleasure of reading this sprawling and lavish plantary fantasy novel several months before its release in October. I've been raving about it ever since. Its atmosphere, setting, writing style, and characters were all intense, vivid, dramatic, and (to me) irresistible. Since the book's release, I've had the pleasure of discussing it further with some friends who found its flaws more problematic. Schuyler of My Lady Bibliophile and Christina of Baehrly Reading have both provided helpful critical reviews which I'd encourage you to investigate. I think they both identify some real shortcomings (which I, gulping the story with stars in my eyes, did not see), and for the sake of those who rely on my recommendations, I wish I'd benefited from their insight back when I wrote my review.

Nevertheless Plenilune remains the most compelling, enjoyable, spectacularly gorgeous book I've read in a good long time. If its faults are serious, its strengths are titanic. It gripped and thrilled me as a reader; it challenged, awed, and inspired me as a writer. I look forward to the next offering from this authors pen.

And finally...

No celebration of 2014 would be complete without noting a few personal milestones. I had published my first little ebook, The Epic of Reformation, in 2013. May 2014 saw the publication of a much longer book, War Games: Classic Fiction for the Christian Life (free on Amazon for just a couple more days! Grab it!). Schuyler was kind enough to give it a rave review which you can read here.

August 2014 was the month I finally revealed the existence of Pendragon's Heir, my upcoming Arthurian fantasy novel! Just a couple of weeks ago, I was able to reveal a release date: March 26, 2015, just three months short of the 10-year anniversary of the first draft. I am terrifically excited about this. Those who've already read the novel have responded with great excitement and enthusiasm. Meanwhile the novel's currently off getting a final polish under some different eyes than mine, and meanwhile a friend has offered to help with various aspects of the cover and interior design--which I couldn't be more thrilled about, since I'm a big fan of his work.

Finally, a few weeks ago I had some time off Pendragon's Heir, and used it to knock together something new--a fairy tale novella, The Rakshasa's Bride, which became my fiction debut when I published it as a surprise on Christmas Eve. (Feast your eyes on Pinterest). The free period is over, but you can either get it on Amazon for $0.99, or shoot me an email (rosa[dot]gaudea[at]gmail[dot]com) with your preferred format and I'll get it to you.

Well, I am officially on holiday until after I've read my Annual Epic, so I'll push off and bury my nose in that, wishing you all the best for the New Year!


Lady Bibliophile said...

I love year-end lists. Your sheer volume of books continually amazes me.

I've enjoyed your commentary on a wide variety of books this year, and look forward to your continued reviews on Goodreads. It's been neat to see all the authors you've discovered, and I always appreciate your perspective--which, since you read 80 books or more a year, is much deeper than the average reviewer.

May the Lord bless you richly with another year of good reading!


Mary Ronan Drew said...

Nine Coaches Waiting was a delight, one I would have missed if I hadn't tripped over it on your blog.

Happy New Year to Vintage Novels!

Suzannah said...

Schuyler, I think I'm a comparatively fast reader, something I try to make the most of! I DIDN'T manage to read many longer books last year, but I hope to next year.

Mary, I'm so thrilled you discovered NINE COACHES WAITING! Mary Stewart's novels are a delight; the more I try to locate other novels of similar quality, the more I appreciate how unique she was.

Kim Marsh said...

My late wife was a fan of the author Ann Bridge. She wrote two sorts of novels, the more serious based on her experience as a diplomatic wife and another more light hearted featuring a protagonist called Julia who like Mary Stewart's heroines gets involved in adventures in exotic locations. I don't know how similar they are otherwise. There was also a writer called Helen MacInnes who wrote thrillers with female heroines in th 60s and 70s. This is not a recommendation as such because I have not read either lady myself but may be useful in your search.
regards Kim.

Suzannah said...

Oh, thanks for the recommendations, Kim. I've read a little Helen McInnes, but never heard of Ann Bridges. I'll look her up!

Luana|Mexican Timeshare Solutions said...

I really enjoy reading your blog, it's always so interesting every article you post! Thanks for sharing it!

darrenfictionuk said...
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Unknown said...

I hope to find some of these great books as PDF books to read.


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