Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A TNBBC Twist on "Top 2014" Lists

We've been putting our own little spin on Top End-of-the-Year Lists for three years running. In the past, we had asked small press authors to share some of their favorite reads from the year. This year, we're shaking things up again and asking our review contributors to share theirs....

TNBBC Review Contributor Series: Top Reads of 2014

Lavinia Ludlow (author)

Ludlow’s Top 3 Books Read in 2014

If you’ve been (un)fortunate enough to know me up close and personal this year, you probably know I am lucky on many fronts: to be alive, to be alive with all parts intact, to have been well enough to write this, and to have been well enough to have read some phenomenal books by a few writers I have always respected, and new writers I’ve come to respect just the same.

Rope by Matty Byloos
Full review at The Collagist

A must-read. Unconventional story telling and storyline, and not without Byloos’ notorious dark humor. This book will knock you out, and when you regain consciousness, you’ll secretly be asking for more.

The Collected Works of Scott McClanahan Volume I
Full review at Nailed Magazine

McClanahan’s small-town stories are life-lessons embedded in dark-humored, jaw-dropping tales. You feel sorry for his protagonists (in most cases, it’s McClanahan himself) but you’re also laughing and simultaneously enlightened by the painful yet hilarious conundrums.

Love Songs of the Revolution by Bronwyn Mauldin
Full review pending

Don’t let the title turn you off, this is an amazing and well-written novella about a seventy-year-old man reflecting on his life as a political refugee. A heart-breaking and humbling thriller, and I quote, “Read this story as your passport demands: a love story, a murder mystery, a story of political intrigue. Perhaps by the final page, those stories will converge.”

2015 is going to be a big year. I’m thankful for the opportunity to kick it off in style at The Next Best Book Blog. Thanks Mrs. Hettler for keeping the faith, and for keeping me going. Here’s to many more.


Drew Broussard (Raging Biblioholism)

4 Favorite Overlooked Reads:

* The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero 

A really fun adventure story, using just about every gimmick or affectation it could think of (from things like video transcripts in the text to character tropes like the sassy female sidekick) and somehow ending up super-successful instead of frustrating.  Cantero's imagination just goes bonkers and I can't remember the last time I had so much fun reading a book.

* Tigerman by Nick Harkaway 

Harkaway continues to be relentlessly inventive, writing one of the best superhero origin stories in a long time.  He comes armed with humor, heart, and a savvy geopolitical eye to boot.  And the UK cover is just the most beautiful thing.

* See You in Paradise by J. Robert Lennon 

An excellent collection exploring the malaise of the middle American suburb.  Smart, well-crafted, and just vaguely unsettling - just like the suburbs...

* The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner 

Flying way under the radar comes this well-crafted tale about a clan of lobster-catchers in Maine.  It takes a lot of inspiration from King Lear (down to the names and some of the character traits) but it's also a celebration of local American mythology - both the truly magical and the self-made magic of self-made men (and women).


Melanie Page (Grab The Lapel)

Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life by Tom Robbins

Because Robbins was born long before TV (in 1932), storytelling is a vital part of who he is, and Tibetan Peach Pie demonstrates the oral tradition in a way that makes you want to read the vignettes aloud to those around you. Robbins may be 82 now, but he’s kept up on pop culture just fine. He makes fun of Sarah Palin and e-books (how can his writing be reduced to those tiny 0s and 1s??). This is not a guy frozen in time wishing for “the good old days.” Each day is a new adventure, a new challenge, and I’m not even sure Robbins suggests he’s ready to slow down. Robbins is hilarious, yet slows life down so that you can enjoy it.

Scoot Over Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology edited by Donna Jarrell & Ira Sukrungruang

The editors of this anthology, self-proclaimed “Fat Americans,” choose pieces that explore the love of fat, the disgust and guilt; the essays are written from the perspective of the fat and the skinny; the entries are humorous, serious, and sad. In an ever-fatter America, this collection is great to gain some perspective from all voices.

Off Course by Michelle Huneven

The setting of Off Course is the Reagan-era recession, but how is that different from the 2010s? People study and work hard, and as the end of that schooling nears, reality becomes an abstract thing, a toothless monster that makes moving forward seem impossible and bends adulthood into an undesirable shape. Because Off Course is so long (and the pages are densely packed), there is so much for each reader to take from this book. It’ s a novel that made me look at the pieces, picking each one up and turning it over for inspection.

Limber by Angela Pelster

A whole book of essays about trees; how is that even possible? Angela Pelster makes it happen in her sleek collection containing 17 essays, usually around 5 pages each. With titles like “Temple” and “Ethan Lockwood” and “Artifacts,” you may not immediately get the connection to trees. More so, you may not have a sense of direction with the content. But Pelster leads readers along and takes us to unknown territory that opens up like the door through which Dorothy crosses from black-and-white into a color-filled world in Oz.

Her Own Vietnam by Lynn Kanter

A young woman volunteers for Vietnam to go in her brother’s place in the hopes that being a nurse will be awful, but not deadly. Kanter captures the brutal details of war, including the graphic descriptions and unimaginable feelings. She craftily sidesteps clich├ęs and predictable territory and instead focuses on the female perspective, one that is sorely underrepresented.


Lori Hettler (TNBBC)

The Best Small Press Books I've Read in 2014

Above All Men - Eric Shonkwiler

It's a bleak tale of the beginning of the end of the world. Of a family man who feels the weight of everyone's worries on his shoulders. Of this man who, regardless of consequence, is determined to make sure everyone is alright, even if it means hurting the ones he cares about most. It's a tale of survival as much as it is one of destruction. And Shonkwiler pulls it off effortlessly. It's a killer read. It does all of the things you want it to and some of the things you don't. And that's what makes it so powerful. That's what makes it THE one.

The stories in Elegantly Naked in My Sexy Mental Illness, Heather Fowler's fourth collection, hold a scalpel to the brain of each of its protagonists, in an attempt to differentiate true mental illness from what is natural and normal. When does a simple crush become an obsessive desire? At what point do we decide that these paranoid thoughts in our head are no longer innocent, no longer healthy? After you read her stories, your guard will be up. Your eyes will turn their suspicious gaze left and right, left and right, all day long. You'll automatically diagnose everyone around you, and begin to keep your distance. But I promise it won't last long. Because the unease will wear off. The routine will suck you back in. And that's ok. Because it's the norm. And because sometimes, we find mental illness a little thrilling, a little sexy.

Deep Ellum - Brandon Hobson

Brandon Hobson's Deep Ellum is very much a sentimental look back at that broken childhood, at family relationships gone bad (and getting worse), at why they say "you can't go home again", and rightly, who the fuck wants to? It also details, more specifically, a reluctant last-gasp attempt to pull the pieces back together when three siblings are called back home after their mother's most recent failed suicide. Hobson is at his best when creating wholly uncomfortable familial situations and is also a master at word economy, expressing only what's necessary and trusting, or simply allowing, his readers to infer the rest. He isn't afraid to hold a mirror up to all the ugly shit families are famous for pulling on each other, either. Whether you've lived a similarly messed up life or not, you certainly know someone who has, or can relate to some of the circumstances here.

Apocalypticon - Clayton Smith

A post-apocalyptic novel that makes fun of itself and every book or film that's ever come before it? Uh, yes please! Clayton Smith knocks it out of the park - The Magic Kingdom's parking lot, to be exact - with this hilarious tale of two BFF's who've managed to survive the apocalypse (which was brought about by Jamaican 'Flying Monkey Missiles' if you can believe it) by apparent sheer dumb luck. Time and time again I found myself wishing I could hop inside Clayton's world and tag along with these guys. Their "laugh in the face of danger" attitude and incredibly poorly timed curiosity made APOCALYPTICON an edge-of-your-seat fun house ride. Sprinkled throughout with pop culture references and served with a heaping dose of well written dialogue, I'm naming APOCALYPTICON the must-read book for fans of post-apoc literature.

Hold the Dark - William Giraldi

Set in an Alaskan village so far off the map you'd never know it existed unless you were born there or beckoned there, during the teeth-chattering and snot-freezing dead of winter, Hold the Dark is a twisted, chilling thriller of a story. It is an extremely dark and violent, slow moving, tension-filled tale that's meant to mess with your mind. William Giraldi's careful prose and simplistic world-building go a long way to pulling the reader in, despite it's slow place. His willful withholding is actually part of the book's charm. And the near-tender descriptions of his characters' violent acts render them almost beautiful. Kudos also to Blackstone Audio, for finding a reader capable of conveying the quiet fierceness of Giraldi's words.

Honorable Mentions:

Suckers - Z. Rider
Winterswim - Ryan W Bradley
Starship Grifters - Robert Kroese
Romance For Delinquents - Michael Wayne Hampton

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