Sunday, 4 January 2015

My Top Five Reads of 2014

At the turn of a year, it is fun to look back at everything that you've read over the past year. The nice statistics offered by Goodreads tell me that I read a total of 76 books - including traditional novels, but also graphic novels and one or two short stories that were published on their own.

Picking out my five tops reads is not such an easy task, since quite a few of them ended up receiving 4 or 5 stars from me - and I also have an urge to avoid the obvious choices and pick out the ones that surprised me in a good way. So, although the books below are hereby selected as my 5 top reads, they are not necessarily the 5 best books that I read. If that makes any sense...

1. The Wolf's Hour by Robert McCammon

This is the best werewolf novel I've read, but it is also one of the best stories I've read in general and should not be allowed to be stabled as a 'mere' werewolf novel. The story takes place at two levels: one in an unnamed forest in Russia where the protagonist takes his first steps as a werewolf, and the other during World War II, mainly in France and Germany, where the protagonist acts as a British secret agent. The stories intertwine only slightly - the past having less effect to the "present" than one would expect, but both stories would suffer if they existed without the other. They both show their own share of drama and tragedies, but also include lots of action and adventure.

2. El Cazador by Chuck Dixon, Steve Epting

El Cazador is a pirate themed graphic novel and one of the best depictions of the golden era of piracy that I've read. The story begins with a pirate captain Blackjack Tom attacking a Spanish galleon and killing most of its crew. The heroine, beautiful Donessa, hides away in the prize ship and seizes control of it as soon as possible - vowing to hunt down Blackjack Tom and rescue her mother and brother. The novel is very beautifully drawn and the detail of the era is infused in every image. The only downside is that the series was never finished, but it is still worth a read.

3. The Truelove by Patrick O'Brian

No year is complete without a novel by Patrick O'Brian. He is the master of character-driven storytelling and the Age of Sail and his fifteenth novel in the Aubrey/Maturin series is no exception. Captain Aubrey is in a foul mood after what happened in a penal colony (previous novel) and his mood is not helped when he finds a stow-away, a convicted woman who was smuggled aboard by Midshipman Oakes. The bulk of the novel is devoted to the stow-away and how her presence affects the crew morale and relationships between Surprise's officers. Clarissa Oakes' influence aboard the ship, her history and discussions with Stephen Maturin is what keeps the story going and she is another great example of Patrick O'Brian's ability to draw utterly interesting characters.

4. House of Corruption by Erik Tavares

House of Corruption is a great find to any fan of werewolves or the horror genre in general. Set in the 1890's, the protagonist is Reynard LaCroix, a werewolf, who has been able to avoid his curse for the past few years with the help of a silver bullet that is lodged inside his chest. Erik Tavares builds the sets very nicely and it becomes clear that he's done his research in each of the locations as they were in the late 19th century. His writing style reminds me of classic adventure stories, including Bram Stoker's Dracula, and there's even a classic travel scene that is related through the diary notes of one of the characters. The writing is also very evocative and, at times, beautiful. Action is mixed very well with characterisation and descriptions of the environment and atmosphere.

5. Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman

This is a great "What if?" storyline in the Marvel universe. Set at the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign, we discover a version of Europe where characters familiar from the Marvel universe have born our of their own time and place. Nicholas Fury is the Queen's eyes and ears, Mr Murdock is an accomplished spy and Peter Parquagh is but a servant boy for Nick Fury. Unlike many other "What if?" stories of similar nature, Neil Gaiman's version manages to be different enough from the core comics to offer a genuinely fresh look at some of the characters. They are not carbon copies of the mainline characters, but products of their own time - the early 17th century. Unfortunately, the series went downhill after this excellent beginning as other writers did not grasp what Gaiman had achieved and resorted to the usual carbon copy characters.