As the Goodreads description indicates, this isn't an actual book as such, but rather an invitation to other Goodreaders to describe their reading expAs the Goodreads description indicates, this isn't an actual book as such, but rather an invitation to other Goodreaders to describe their reading experience in the year just past, and a creative way of giving them a forum in which to do it. I like the concept, and am glad to accept the invitation!
By Goodreads' count, in 2014 I read 36 books, of which one was a lightweight child's picture book I read to my youngest grandson. Four more were really just short e-stories, all of them freebies. These were a mixed bag; I gave D. B. Jackson's "A Spell of Vengeance" four stars and Wil Wheaton's "Hunter" five, but Martyn V. Halm's "Locked Room" only got one, and another Wheaton story I didn't rate. (I didn't personally like it, but I thought it would appeal to fans with different taste.)
That leaves 31 actual grown-up books that I read for myself (or read out loud for both my wife and I). Of these, I rated 30 (the other one was a review copy, and I thought giving the author my feedback would be more helpful than a review). Those 30 were almost unanimously liked; only one got less than three stars. (Eleven of them earned five stars and nine more got four; so 2/3 were really liked or better!) Most were fiction; genre-wise, they break down into 17 speculative fiction titles (six science fiction, five supernatural, four fantasy, and two more that are hard to classify) and seven descriptive fiction: four historical, one action-adventure, and one crime fiction. (One more, Robert E. Howard's The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, straddles the descriptive/speculative divide; some stories are one, some the other). A Shakespeare play, a poetry chapbook, and three other nonfiction books round out the total. My liking for action heroines is reflected in the fact that 11 books (in various fictional genres) featured protagonists of this type; and I'm a fan of short fiction, so six collections of stories, by one author or several, made the list. (These also span various genres.) Unusually for me, I read five books (and rated four) as e-books this year, all of them free or review copies.
My friend Jackie and I usually do a buddy read every year; this past year, we continued our read of Stephen Lawhead's Bright Empires series with The Shadow Lamp, the fourth installment. I took part in eight group common reads in six groups; one of these proved to be my favorite book of the year, Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. 2014 also saw me reading an unusual number of review copies from Goodreads or author/friend giveaways (eight that I actually reviewed). Some of my top favorite books of the year were by familiar favorite authors of mine: Robert E. Howard, Manly Wade Wellman, Norah Lofts, and Andrew Seddon. (Another favorite writer, J. R. R. Tolkien, got four stars from me for The Silmarillion, as did C. S. Lewis for The Four Loves.) Other five-star reads introduced me to authors new to me, with series openers for series that I'll be following: David Weber (On Basilisk Station), Suzanne Arruda (Mark of the Lion, and K. W. Jeter (Real Dangerous Girl --at least, I'll follow Jeter's Kim Oh series if he brings it back into print in paperback! Some other happy discoveries this year were freshman author Juliene Lloyd's Operation Angelica (five stars) and Melanie Frances' Anatomy of a Love Affair (three stars --and I don't usually like contemporary poetry). Through a common read in the classics group I belong to, I finally got to read a long-awaited classic, Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor (four stars). Rosemary Edghill's The Empty Crown, an omnibus volume of the first three novels in her Twelve Treasures series, made it into my list of five top favorite reads of the year, and it was a real disappointment to learn that the publisher won't continue the series. :-(
My major disappointment was with the final volume in Suzanne Collin's Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay. I'm one of the many fans who feel the author dropped the ball in that volume, although I still gave it two stars to reflect the fact that I liked it almost up to the end. Two other books, Son of the Morning by Linda Howard (which was a Christmas gift from my wife) and Wayne Reinagle's Pulp Heroes - Khan Dynasty also disappointed, in that I thought that with different execution the potential of the book could have been much better realized; but I still gave them three stars.
Looking ahead to 2015, Jackie and I plan to wrap up our read of the Bright Empires series with the final volume, The Fatal Tree. I'm finishing up my queue of review books, planning to take part in at least three group common reads, and I have some serious nonfiction reading in mind that I feel I need to do. Over and above that, I have a couple more series openers I want to read, and I really need (and want!) to make some effort to read further in some series that I've already started. But I'm always open to any happy surprise that may present itself!...more
Although the accurate Goodreads description for this collection of 12 original stories describes the mission of the TADSAW (Train a Dog, Save a WarrioAlthough the accurate Goodreads description for this collection of 12 original stories describes the mission of the TADSAW (Train a Dog, Save a Warrior, www.tadsaw.org ) organization, it neglects to mention that proceeds from the book sales go to support TADSAW's worthwhile work. My review copy was a no-strings-attached gift from my friend Andrew, one of the contributors. All of the selections are published here for the first time, though not necessarily originally written for this anthology.
T. H. Cragg's contribution here is a genuinely touching nonfiction memoir of the homecoming of his father's "war dog" after World War II. (Dogs trained for combat by the U.S. military were euthanized after the war, unless their former human partners were willing to give them a home; fortunately, in this case, T. H.'s dad was glad to do that.) The other contributors (editor Kyle also has a story included) all are represented by fictional tales. (The titular pun is obvious!) Three of these are mostly descriptive fiction (although one of these does have a supernatural element --but though integral to the plot, it's low-key); the others are speculative, mostly science fiction. Except for one story, the human lead characters are current or former members of the military, or military-like organizations. Their canine companions are mostly dogs, but in the SF yarns, they may be dog-like creatures (and wolves are represented in a couple of stories). These canines may play crucial, even life-saving roles in the story plots, or they may simply be loving companions for their humans. SF genre stalwart Kevin J. Anderson is the best-known author here (though I hadn't read any of his work before), and doesn't disappoint. But veteran anthology editor Kyle has assembled a quality collection here across the board! Every one of the selections is a good, worthwhile read; and all the authors have an accomplished, readable prose style.
My favorite of the descriptive stories is Kyle's "Partners," which has really engaging, believable characters; the perfect amount of texture, a nicely done premise and plot, and a skillful resolution. (I could like Blake, Micki and Steele --and Thor!-- as series characters!) World War II aerial combat is vividly evoked (in all its grisliest realism) in L. J. Bonham's "Sancho." And C. R. Asay succeeds as well in "The Greatest" at having an animal narrator, who thinks and feels the way we can actually imagine a dog doing (rather than coming across as essentially a human disguised with fur and four feet), as it's probably possible to within the conceit that a dog can be this verbal.
Andrew's "The Dancing Golden Girls" is in a class by itself among the speculative stories --not because the author is a friend or because I beta read the story several years ago, but because I genuinely like it. Set in 1927 Egypt, it's the first story of a cycle about World War I veteran Sheffield and his dog Baltasar, whose travels pit them against various sinister entities of a Lovecraftian sort, but handled without the existential pessimism that's often tacked on to HPL's own work. (Okay, I'm a sucker for this kind of thing, if it's well-done --and nobody does it better than Andrew!)
That story has a resolution to it, even though it's the start of a series. If the other speculative stories have a flaw, it's that the writers often dump us into the middle of events with a considerable back-story and a partially-built world with all kinds of features hat cry out for more explanation, but not really enough scope in the short format to fill in either; and they often don't have real resolutions, either. If I didn't know better, I could see some of them as novel excerpts. (S. A. Wallin's draconic fantasy "The Commanders Tail" is actually a "companion piece" to her still-unpublished the Dragon's Daughter.) Sometimes this was a bit frustrating, and I might have deducted a half star for this if I could have. But I was usually able to take this on its own terms as a reflection of life, where events often don't have tidy resolutions either. That said, Doranna Durgin's "Just Hanah" is a fine example of a well-done coming-of-age story. Anderson does an excellent job of creating palpable suspense in his near-future dystopin vision, "Dogged Persistence." Leah in Dana Bell's "Pack Rule" was a protagonist who intrigued me, and whom I'd like to have seen more of, or more developed, in terms of what's next.
None of these stories have any sexual content, and they either have no bad language or not an excessive amount of it. Violence is generally not too graphic, and it isn't there unless it needs to be. Darkness and death may be realities in the characters' world; but in any case, the messages are about hope and life. Highly recommended, to any readers who are lovers of hope and life!
Appalachian author Mildred Haun (1911-1966) was a protege' of John Crowe Ransom, whose pupil she was at Vanderbilt Univ. This particular collection waAppalachian author Mildred Haun (1911-1966) was a protege' of John Crowe Ransom, whose pupil she was at Vanderbilt Univ. This particular collection was the only book of fiction she published in her career; it was reprinted in 1968 by Vanderbilt Univ. Press as The Hawk's Done Gone: And Other Stories, with the later "other stories" (mostly unpublished in her lifetime) comprising the second half. My long residence in Appalachia has given me an interest in fiction set in that region, so when I found the later book in the BC library soon after I started working there, it piqued my interest. However, I quit reading after finishing the original book.
Haun was a native of the mountains of eastern Tennessee, where these stories are set; she was thoroughly familiar with the customs, dialect and lore of the area (her master's thesis was on the folk ballads of her native Cocke County). This is reflected in these stories, which are set from the late 1800s up to 1940 and, as the Goodreads description (which I wrote; I added the book to the database just now) notes, form a cycle focusing on the Kanipe family. The narrator of all but one is the Granny-woman (midwife and herb doctor) Mary Dorthula White Kanipe, wife of the family patriarch Ad Kanipe, who lives into his 90s. While I've characterized the tales as general fiction, they often reflect the deep-rooted belief of the mountain people in witchcraft and other superstitions, which the narrator and other characters accept as realities. One story, "Barshia's Horse He Made, It Flew," is actually genuine supernatural fiction, of the type that delivers a supernatural comeuppance to an unpleasant character. (IMO, that's the best story in the lot, and the most memorable.) As far as it goes, the folklore and factual material about Appalachia can be fascinating. (For instance, this book gave me my first knowledge of the Melungeons, a group featured particularly in "Melungeon-Colored.")
However, all regions are home to good, evil and in-between people, and they all have their positive and negative aspects. Writers may focus on one or the other, or seek a balance. Haun's focus here is wholly on the region's darkest side; the Kanipes (or at least the males of the family; the women are often drawn more positively) are definitely among the more unpleasant denizens of the mountains. Running themes in the narratives are things like murder, abortion and infanticide; incest, infidelity and other types of sexual immorality, male chauvinism and misogyny, spousal abuse, and general sexism; vicious racism; family dysfunction; and assorted anti-social behaviors. And Haun's literary vision is darkly pessimistic: bad things happen to good people (and to everybody else), if good things happen, they're so rare I don't recall any, and about the best victory characters can expect over the misery of life is surviving through it. (A certain strand of Appalachian-set fiction historically tended to treat the mountain folk as grotesques, for the entertainment of lowland-dwelling "normal" people; it's probably not too far from the mark to view this book in the context of that tradition.) This wasn't really my cup of tea. (For a more appealing, and more balanced, approach to Appalachia through short fiction, I'd recommend Jesse Stuart's Clearing in the Sky & Other Stories.)...more