What books have you loved this year? The following lists bring together the cream of the crop of 2014’s books – from the picks of our staff and customers, to the lists published by magazines, newspapers and booksellers.

Have your say – add a link to your booklist, or add your picks in the comments field.

Cover of The Goldfinch  Cover of The Virgin and the Whale  Cover of Dirty Politics

Christchurch City Libraries staff and customer picks


Cover of A place of greater safetyI know it’s been around for a while but one of the most fascinating and chilling books I’ve read this year was Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety. Mantel writes the best execution scenes – they stay in your head for weeks afterwards. I’ve also enjoyed science fiction from Charles Stross and Hannu Rajaniemi, and am currently working my way through James Treadwell’s Advent trilogy for young adults.
Annette, CCL

I have to nominate the Game Of Thrones series this year … while they’re not new, they do still stand out in the fantasy field. Also for sheer reading pleasure, I put a spell on you by John Burnside. It’s a coming of age memoir, and written so well it’s like stepping into a warm room on a cold day. And it made me go and listen to I put a spell on you by Nina Simone, which was also a revelation.
Cover of An appetite for wonderColin, CCL

A few that stick out this year – How Google Works (Eric Schmidt); An Appetite for Wonder; the making of a scientist (Richard Dawkins); The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy). Mostly re-reading new copies of old books this year as I refill my library…Kurt Vonnegut Jr, John Updike, Philip K. Dick, Roald Dahl, Aldous Huxley. You’re never alone with a good book!
Michael, CCC

Goldfinch – Donna Tartt, and Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike is a very likeable anti-hero.
Grace

Cover of TudorTudor, The Family Story by Leanda de Lisle – covers well trodden ground from a new perspective, and sheds a lot of light on the motivations of the principal Tudors. These motivations are often best understood by looking at what less important members of the family were doing. And very readable! For the Scottish side, Crown of Thistles (Linda Porter) is amazingly good but I think it was 2013.
Gordon

I can remember what I didn’t read. I gave up on The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (such good writing that I couldn’t cope with the sadness of the young boy), The Dinner by  Herman Koch, (just couldn’t get to grips with any of the characters and what on earth it was all about); Wake by Elizabeth Knox (I should actually give up on trying to read her novels, I think my brain is differently wired); How to Build a Girl by  Caitlin Moran ( I didn’t enjoy her other books but thought perhaps her novel would tickle my fancy – it didn’t).

However thankfully I did really enjoy The Circle by Dave Eggers, so much in fact that I blogged about it. We are all completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Fowler also managed to get me past the first chapter and well and truly hooked by the 3rd when the identity of the missing sister (a chimpanzee) was revealed.

The Martian by Andy Weir, a story of a man abandoned and left for dead when a trip to Mars goeswrong. The technical details of how he survived were either amazingly clever or just plain stupid, but either way it kept me hooked.
Jane, CCL

Cover of The Circle Cover of We are all completely beside ourselves Cover of The Martian

Cover of The King's CurseI became totally engrossed in Philippa Gregory’s ‘The Cousins’ War’ series this year. The author recreates historical events so skillfully you can smell the lavender-scented reeds on the floors and the hear the swish of petticoats on the flagstones. Generally written in the first person, each title explores the life of a key female historical figure. The writing is so good I felt empathy for Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne Neville et al regardless of their political point of view and sometimes brutal actions. Reading Philippa Gregory is like taking your history with a large spoonful of creative sugar.

Another excellent read came to me via my book group – Riding the Bus with my Sister – A True Life Journey. Cover of Riding the bus with my sisterIn this autobiography, Rachel Simon explores her relationship with her intellectually disabled sister, Beth. The humility of the author and her determination to understand and care for her willful younger sibling who won’t live life by anyone else’s rules but her own, is deeply moving and the book raises issues about how our fast paced, success driven society defines ‘mental health’.

I finally got round to reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and loved every page of it. I also enjoyed The Luminaries for its Victorian sensibilities and fabulous use of language.
Rachel, CCL

I seem to listen to more books than I actually read at the moment. I’ve listened to some that I enjoyed but probably would not have picked up to read. I just finished The Crocodile Bird by Ruth Rendell which isn’t a mystery but the suspense does build. Two others that stand out are People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks and Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult.
Marcia, CCL

Two books published this year which really stood out for me were Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier and The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth.

I was initially attracted to Razorhurst by the striking cover, which sets the scene for a story of 1920s gangs in the slums of Sydney. Set over the course of a day, orphan Kelpie and gangster’s moll Dymphna witness a murder. The book follows their attempts to evade the attentions of the gangs involved. There are minor supernatural elements to the story which add to the atmosphere and add to the main characters’ sense of alienation. This is a young adult book with a cracking narrative and a real sense of history.

The Wake is another historical novel, also with a memorable cover. It is set in the late 1060s and examines the aftermath of the Norman Conquest in 1066. What sets it apart is the way it is written – to tell his story Kingsnorth has created a version of Old English, the language that was spoken in those days. There’s almost no punctuation, several letters of the alphabet aren’t used and some word are spelled unusually. It is a book that you read carefully and it didn’t take me too long to get into the text. For example ‘knights’ are ‘cnihts’. This language helps to convey the otherness of life one thousand years ago. This book appealed to me as it deals with a little-known period of British history when the Anglo-Saxon / Danish was of life was totally changed by the invading Normans.

Two other books I have to give honourable mentions to are the deeply moving We are all completely besides ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, which considers the complexity of family relationships, and We need new names by NoViolet Bulawayo. I’m only a third of the way through the latter but the vivid portrait of life in Zimbabwe has me gripped so far.
Kat, CCL

2014 best book lists

New Zealand

International

See also

This awards ceremony starts with the winners. My two favourites of the year:

Cover of Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen

Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen by Dylan Horrocks. I could have picked any of Dylan’s four covers represented below. The man is a massive New Zealand talent, and deserves all the kudos. Onya Dylan.

Cover of Creamy Psychology

Creamy Psychology
A survey of the work of photographer Yvonne Todd. Artists and photographers – like cartoonists – often have a head start when it comes to good covers. They have the images. And this is hypnotically creepy and yet alluring. Love it, and the title.

Let’s continue the awards ceremony with two strong Christchurch-focused titles. Potently distinctive, and both representing well what is inside.

Cover of Shigeru Ban Cover of Once in a lifetime

Last year I praised the array of fantastic cartoony covers on New Zealand books. I’m pleased to see more goodies this year. I feel like a Dylan Horrocks cover is so damn good, and generally indicative of an excellent book too. Two of them this year are his own collections.

Cover of Wake Cover of Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen Cover of Empty Bones Cover of Incomplete Works

More proof that artists give good cover. As do poets.

Cover of Creamy Psychology Cover of Waha Cover of Cinema Cover of Edwin's Egg Cover of There's a medical name for this

Beautiful fiction.

Cover of Of things gone astray Cover of The Drowning City Cover of Landscape with Solitary Figure Cover of Where the Rehoku bone sings

Some super covers for kids and teens.

Cover of Construction Cover of Doctor Grundy's undies Cover of NZ shore and sea Cover of Dappled Annie Cover of Sage. Cover of While we run Cover of A treasury of NZ poems

Very New Zealand. And evocative.

Cover of Reach Cover of Autobiography

Typographical delights.

Cover of How to be dead Cover of Arms race Cover of Infidelities Cover of Vertical Living Cover of Tell you what Cover of The Bright side

There is a boom of publishing in the area of First World War history. This has an appropriate solemnity and gravitas. As do some others employing black and white photography.

Cover of How we remember Cover of Prendergast Cover of Berry Boys Cover of Deadline Cover of Frank Worsley Cover of Iggy's airforce tales Cover of Patient Cover of The Mighty Totara

I love this one. Love love LOVE.

Cover of Peter Smith

A lineup of stuff can make for an attractive cover.

Cover of Pills and Potions

Book of the year. But though the cover is distinctive and recognisable (it looks a bit like the Shroud in Turin?), I kind of wish it had a Sharon Murdoch cartoon on the cover. She is on Twitter as @domesticanimal and is all kinds of awesome.

Cover of Dirty Politics

For more book cover and design, see the PANZ Book Design Awards.

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You love me, but love Lee Child even more ...

Here’s Christchurch City Libraries’ top 100 items from last year for adults.

Factoids and observations:

  • Road Code – number 1. Essential stuff.
  • Wow –  check out the number of James Patterson titles in the list (7?)
  • Passion for Scandinavian crime is so not melting away
  • Oldies like Wilbur Smith can still cut it with the new fellas
  • Looks like people do want to know about Paul Henry, as his memoir What was I thinking is the top NZ book (after the Road Code) … but closely on its tail is The Conductor by Sarah Quigley
  • About 15 out of the 100 are New Zealand books

Any observations or surprises?

Gavin Bishop speaking at Best and Worst 2011
Gavin Bishop’s best picture books

The Best and Worst Books for Children evening was attended by over 70 book lovers last night. Held at South Library, the audience keenly followed the advice from experts such as local author, Gavin Bishop, to enjoy the delights of picture books. He gave special mention to Grandpa Green by Lane Smith which uses topiary as a metaphor for memory loss to help children understand Alzheimers.

Heather Orman, a teacher from Thorrington school shared what works well in the classroom. One of her favourites for encouraging wonderful visual art and story writing was Tell me a Dragon by Jackie Morris.

Sheila Sinclair of the Children’s Bookshop waxed lyrical about the beauties of Northwood by Brian Falkner and Covershared her store’s best sellers for the year. No one guessed the Auckland top seller, which was Curly from Shirley by Emma Pullar. Sheila felt this expressed in a very tangible way the positive wishes of other New Zealanders for Christchurch’s recovery.

Louise Easter, children’s literature expert from Christchurch City Libraries shared her selection of books that were perhaps not at the top of her Christmas list and you can read the  full list of the libraries’ recommendations for good holiday reading for children and young adults on the library website.

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I’ve just had a peruse of the latest The Listener (December 11-17 Vol 226), which has their annual list of Top 100 Books, over my morning porridge – don’t knock it until you try it!

First thought was, what have I been doing with my year, as there were so many I hadn’t even heard of let alone read, but then I actually found two I had read and they were both highlights of my reading year.

coverRoom: a novel by Emma Donoghue has been acclaimed world wide and for good reason.

Jack, our narrator and hero is turning five when we first meet him. He lives in Room with his Ma, the only space he has known since being born there. It is a garden shed that measures 11 feet square and they are locked in by the man who abducted Jack’s mother seven years ago.

Jack’s view of life is revealed slowly, and he is the sole voice, you only get a glimpse of how his mother copes with this horror through his naive eyes. The daily life she has developed for him, the fear they both have of the man who keeps them imprisoned and the suspense that builds throughout this slim but powerful book will want you to read it all in one sitting. It’s a must read!

CoverIn a Strange Room by Damon Galgut was nominated for the Booker Prize and is a curiously written book, the style of which may drive some crazy, but persevere and you will be rewarded. It is written in the third person, with the narrator recounting walking trips through Africa and travel in India.

The narrator is observing himself as if he was travelling alongside at some points, then switching to the first person to explain his feelings or reactions to what his happening to him. It is odd to start with, but you soon fall into the lovely rich prose, and the descriptions of Africa in particular were such that I got out of bed at 11.30 to hunt out an atlas to follow his progress.

So, check out the list, see how many you have read, and maybe resolve to read a few more.

Tell us what you thought of the ones that you have read from the list.

Every year since 2000, we have been compiling the favourite reads of the year – from staff, customers and those great ‘best of’ lists that we spot.

Our Best reads of 2010 list has just been launched, and we’ll keep adding to it as we spot lists (The New York Times 100 notable books of 2010 has just been published) and we want YOU to have your say too via our short survey.

What’s on the list already? Here’s a wee tasty sampler to whet your appetite:
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Read more about Cornelia’s picks of top NZ non-fiction for 2009

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