Fantasy, Fiction, Humour, LGBTQIA+, Mystery, Science Fiction, Top Picks, Young Adult

Top 5 Fiction Reads of 2014

These are my favourite fiction books read or reviewed (not necessarily published) in 2014. Click the title for links to the full reviews. Check back on Friday for my top non-fiction reads of the year.

All I Love and Know 

ISBN 9780062302878

Cover image for All I Love and Know by Judith FrankDaniel and his partner Matt live a peaceful life in Northampton, Massachusetts. Their quiet existence is torn apart when Daniel’s twin brother Joel, and his wife, Ilana, are killed by a suicide bomber in a Jersalem cafe, leaving behind two young children. Both Joel’s parents and Ilana’s assume they will raise Gal and Noam, but neither set of grandparents knows about the promise Daniel made Joel and Ilana on his last visit to Israel.  Author Judith Frank lived in Israel for several years as a teenager, and her own twin sister still lives their with her husband. All I Love and Know is a complex and challenging novel that deals with not one but two important contemporary issues–gay parenting and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict–wrapped in a love story about a couple struggling to find their way back to one another after a devastating loss.

Categories: LGBT

A Thousand Pieces of You

ISBN 9780062278968

Cover image for A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia GrayMarguerite is an artist, but she is the daughter of two brilliant scientists, inventors of the Firebird, a groundbreaking device that enables inter-dimensional travel. When one of her parents’ graduate assistants murders her father and escapes by stealing a Firebird and jumping into another dimension, Marguerite teams up with another graduate student, and gives chase. Her mission: KILL PAUL MARKOV. With a twist on the idea of multiple universes, Claudia Gray invents a device that projects the consciousness of the user into the body of their alternate selves in other dimensions. While this eliminates the usual trope of accidentally encountering other selves, it creates its own set of moral and ethical quandaries when characters hijack the lives and choices of their counterparts. As Marguerite pursues her father’s killer through multiple dimensions, Gray has a forum to show off her talent with multiple genres, from science fiction, to contemporary, to historical in this fast-paced adventure.

Categories: Young Adult, Science Fiction

I’ll Give You the Sun

ISBN 9780803734968

Cover image for I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy NelsonThirteen-year-old Jude and Noah are twins, but also polar opposites. Jude is popular, outgoing and adventurous, where Noah is shy, introverted, and deeply weird . He is also in the closet. But despite their differences they are like two halves of the same person, both smart and creative. Three years later, the twins are unrecognizable. Noah is normal and socially competent, and Jude has withdrawn into herself, dressing in baggy clothes and shunning social interaction. They are also barely speaking to one another. Told in alternating perspectives, Jude and Noah relate how their family and their bond broke, and the secrets they are keeping from one another that prevent them from repairing their relationship. Poet Jandy Nelson has a beautiful way with words that translates into fluid prose and striking imagery. I’ll Give You the Sun is a dazzling, exuberant work of fiction full of art and passion, jealousy and loss.

Categories: Young Adult, LGBT

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

ISBN 9781250037756

Cover image for Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin SloanWhen the recession shuts down his San Francisco start-up, Clay Jannon finds himself working the night shift at a peculiar 24-hour bookstore. Not only are customers few and far between on the night shift, but they come in not to buy books, but to borrow them, from a special collection Clay is forbidden to read, but must carefully track in a log book. When Clay tries to digitize the process, he  accidentally cracks a centuries old code with his computer and a sense of humour. With the help of a couple of techie friends, Clay turns the power of the digital age on the mystery behind the secret code hoping to succeed where others have failed. Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is  humourous mystery with something for both book-lovers and tech geeks alike. Robin Sloan has written a novel that both embodies the anxieties of the digital age, and shows digital and manual technologies working alongside one another.

Categories: Mystery, Humour

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

ISBN 9780316213103

Cover image for The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly BlackA raging epidemic of vampirism has swept across the world like wildfire, contained only by the invention of Coldtowns, government-run ghettos that are home to vampires and infected humans alike. Anyone can go into a Coldtown, but it is almost impossible to get back out. Inside Coldtowns, the most powerful vampires are internet reality stars, streaming a facade of decadence to the world that draws in human acolytes and misfits. The reality is much darker, as Tana finds out for herself when she and her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, are potentially infected at a party, and she turns them both in. Holly Black tackles the vampire novel with dark humour and a willingness to skewer tropes at every turn, while also acknowledging her debt to her forerunners. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is both a reimagining of the vampire novel, and a tribute to the classics of the genre.

Categories: Young Adult, Fantasy

That’s it for me! What were your favourite fiction reads of 2014?

Fiction, Short Stories

Ajax Penumbra 1969

Cover image for Ajax Penumbra 1969 by Robin Sloanby Robin Sloan

ISBN 9780374711849

“Your parents are weirdos in the best possible way. They do not celebrate birthdays; never in your life have you received a present on the tenth of December. Instead, you are given books on the days that their authors were born.”

In this prequel to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan takes us back to San Francisco in 1969, where the Summer of Love is winding down, and Mohammad Al-Asmari is still managing the 24-hour bookstore that will one day belong to his protégé. Silicon Valley is starting to take shape south of the city, and the BART is under construction. Visiting this developing city for the first time is Ajax Penumbra, who comes to San Francisco on assignment to acquire a copy of the Techne Tycheon—a lost book of fortunes—for the Galvanic College library where he is employed. When his search leads him to Mo Al-Asmari’s 24-Hour Bookstore, he unexpectedly finds himself entangled with the Unbroken Spine, and the origins of its San Francisco store.

Even more so than in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, the San Francisco setting is a key element of the story, as is the development of the computer age. This short story gives a great feel for late 60s San Francisco, with occasional references back to the city’s origins as a Gold Rush port. Sloan creates neat parallels between Penumbra’s life, the rise of computers, and San Francisco’s development into a tech giant. Ajax Penumbra and Marcus Corvina are introduced, and brought together by a quest very similar to the one that leads to the final fracture in their relationship forty years later. It is easy to see how the two men develop into the characters we meet in the novel. Familiar secondary characters from the novel make appearances as well, though sadly it seems too early for Clark Moffat, author of The Dragon-Song Chronicles, to play any part.

This short story provides an intriguing glimpse into San Francisco’s past, and introduces the rivalry between  Penumbra and Corvina with a fun, fast-paced mystery, but it is not an essential addition to the original story.

Fiction, Humour, MetaBooks, Mystery

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Cover image for Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloanby Robin Sloan

ISBN 978-1-250-03775-6

The shelves were packed close together, and it felt like I was standing at the border of a forest–not a friendly Californian forest, either, but an old Transylvanian forest, a forest full of wolves and witches and dagger-wielding bandits all waiting just beyond moonlight’s reach.”

After college, Clay Jannon worked as a designer for a San Francisco start up that aimed to create the mathematically perfect bagel. But when the recession drives NewBagel out of business, Clay finds himself out of work. Wandering the streets of San Francisco, he discovers a peculiar, three-storey tall bookshop that is open 24 hours a days, and accepts the position of night clerk at this unconventional establishment. The main qualification for this new job is the ability to climb a ladder. The customers on the ten-to-six shift are few and far between, and those that do come in are exceedingly peculiar. Mr. Penumbra, the owner of the book shop, keeps a special collection of books, which Clay is forbidden to look into, which are not sold, but rather loaned to these special patrons, and recorded in detail in a log book. Bored and curious, Clay designs a 3D model of the store that tracks the loans, and in doing so, accidentally discovers the centuries-old secret of the Unbroken Spine. With the help of his Googler girlfriend, Kat, and his tech-genius best friend, Neel, Clay turns the power of the digital age on a mystery that has puzzled scholars for centuries.

Imagine accidentally solving the Da Vinci code with a computer program and a sense of humour. Clay’s efforts to entertain himself on the night shift cause him to stumble over a secret society right under his nose, complete with coded manuscripts, and a mysterious founder who supposedly achieved immortality. If that sounds a little bit cheesy, it is because, to some extent this book is a parody of the fantasy quest, or the code-breaking mystery; Clay makes many joking references to wizards, rogues, and warriors, and is skeptical of the mystery of the Unbroken Spine, even as he finds himself obsessed with it. Robin Sloan includes and uses much of the modern technology that can make mysteries a little too easily solved, from cell phones to Google, and riffs on that simplicity. “Stuff that used to be hard just isn’t hard anymore,” when you have things like Hadoop and Mechanical Turk at your fingertips. Expecting this comedic aspect of the story is important, because otherwise it might seem a bit light and fluffy for a mystery or thriller.

Set in an independent book shop in Silicon Valley, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore embodies many of society’s current anxieties about the role of books and reading in the digital age. But rather than pitting the e-book against the codex, and flogging that dead horse some more, Sloan shows digital and manual technologies working alongside one another, one picking up where the other falls short. Although Clay might never have cracked the case on his own, he is at the epicentre of a group of people who have the varied knowledge and skills needed to solve the peculiar puzzle of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

The current and specific technological references to Google, Apple, Twitter and more may give this book a limited shelf life, but it is a perfect read here and now, and one with the unusual potential to delight computer nerds and book lovers alike.