Best of 2016 – Staff Pickles

Our team of Staff Pickles pick their faves of the year:

Alina

Alina

Alison

Alison

Dan

Dan

Donna

Donna

Joyce

Joyce

Katherine

Katherine

Moata

Moata

Roberta

Roberta

Memoir, biography and non-fiction

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The Villa at the Edge of the Empire. One Hundred Ways to Read a City by Fiona Farrell (Bronwyn’s pick)
100 tiny pieces of perfect writing about the city we live in.

The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts Joshua Harmer (Donna’s pick)
This is the true story of manuscripts gathered in Timbuktu, Mali & how they are threatened when jihadis take over the city. This is an utterly brilliantly told story about brave and bold librarians and citizens. Better than any thriller.

The Seven Good Years Etgar Keret (Dan’s pick)
The best autobiography I’ve ever and am ever likely to read!

Lab Girl: A Story of Trees, Science and Love Hope Jaren (Alison’s pick)
It is an awesome biography about a woman who loves trees, and her science-soulmate assistant Bill who used to live in a hole. They’re both incredible stranger-than-fiction characters, both passionate about science, both with a few tips about how to be very, very poor and still manage to run a lab. Stories of plants echo events in her own life – growth and roots, pollination and sex, endurance and survival. This one’s inspiring, fascinating and very well written.

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Watching and listening

Black Lotus Shogun Orchestra (Music) (Dan’s pick)
Such groove & feel, almost reminiscent of Mulatu Astatke.

45 Years (Film) (Robyn’s pick)
Ultra-jumbo sized box of tissues required but worth the pain.

Orange is the New Black (TV series) (Robyn’s pick)
Came late to it but love it – highly addictive. Great performances, great stories, Piper is mad annoying but perhaps that’s quite accurate. And she’s in the background more as the series progresses.

Fortitude (TV series) (Dan’s pick)
Cool Scandi-Crime drama.

Fiction

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The Vet’s daughter Barbara Comyns (Joyce’s pick)
Written in the 1950s this slim volume is domestic, sinister and soaked in sadness. Alice is the vet’s daughter and a very unhappy creature. As her life takes turn after turn for the worst she literally starts to untether. Weird but wonderful.

My struggle Book Three: Boyhood Karl Ove Knausgaard (Robyn’s pick)
This is my best book of the year so far, just as Book One, A death in the Family, and Book Two, A Man in Love were my best books of the year I read them in. I have to be on holiday to read them because once you start you cannot stop. I am not a man and I am not Norwegian and I am not a genius (and I think I’m a lot nicer person than Karl) but I have felt every emotion he describes, I just wouldn’t be able to express my feelings with such incredible skill.

American Gods Neil Gaiman (Bronwyn’s pick)
Re-re-reading this fabulous tale in preparation for the upcoming TV miniseries (so I can be all showy-offy when it’s on …)

Speak Louisa Hall (Joyce’s pick)
Humanity’s relationship with technology is told through a variety of narrators in this complex but gripping novel. Alan Turing, a Seventeenth century pilgrim girl, a robot and a variety of imagined scientists narrate their hopes and dreams of connection to the past, present and each other. Poetic and profound I so much wanted Mary Bradford travelling across the waves to her new life in the Americas to be real. Beautiful.

The Broken Earth series N K Jemisin (Alison’s pick)
The Obelisk Gate because it was a stunning sequel to The Fifth Season, delving deeper into the way this fantasy world works (or doesn’t work, as the case may be, as this world is intrinsically broken) full of tragedy, hidden histories, desperate grasps at survival, and utterly fantastic powerful women.

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More of the best

Best Reads 2016

What books have you loved this year? The following lists bring together the cream of the crop of 2016’s books – from the picks of our staff and customers, to the lists published by magazines, newspapers and booksellers. Have your say!

Best books for kids and teens

Holiday reading
Librarians select the best books of the year for kids and teens. See also the picks from the Best and worst books event.

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Christchurch City Libraries staff and customer picks

Staff Pickles

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Best of 2016 booklists

Philip Tew’s picks (Fiction selector)

CoverEileen by Ottessa Moshfegh.

The others I thought were standouts were:

All of these were highly readable with characterisation and sense of time and place uppermost. I know we are doing “best of the year” so we don’t want negativity but I’d love to see these domestic unease thrillers that dominate the mystery genre now start to fade away. That Girl on the train is responsible for huge numbers of imitations.

Joy’s picks

There are several books which were my favourites of the year. In no particular order they are:

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Rivers Of London Ben Aaronovitch
It turned me from being a rigid non-fantasy reader into a fan of Mr Aaronovitch at least. I like the British humour permeating and ridiculously he makes all the magic seem quite natural.

Bone Clocks David Mitchell
Again fantasy! Very clever writing that hung together well and kept me to the end.

The Invoice Jonas Karlsson
I loved the quirkiness but the slight hint of “is this our new reality”.

Shades of Grey Jasper Fforde
Futuristic with delightful humour and a great storyline. Mr Fforde has kept fans of this book waiting for several years but is promising the sequel in 2017. I do hope he delivers.

Belinda’s pick

The Raven Boy Trilogy Maggie Stiefvater
Because Maggie is just amazing!

Sarah M’s pick

We are the ants Shaun David Hutchinson
It’s raw, emotional, harrowing, and very funny. Henry Denton has been given the power to stop the end of the world by aliens who casually and randomly abduct him. But is the world worth saving? His boyfriend committed suicide last year, his dad left with no reason, his brother has dropped out of college after knocking up his girlfriend, and his grandmother is losing her mind to Alzheimer’s. The he meets Diego, but is 144 days long enough to decide if the world deserves to be saved? Perfect for fans of Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle. Henry’s voice is real and relatable and very in your face from the start; and there’s just the right amount of weird for entertainment.

Buzz D’s pick

The Peculiar life of a lonely postman Denis Theriault
Book written almost entirely in haiku, both the modern shorter version and the ancient 7 line format. A beautiful translation from the French, easy to read and inspired me to write a few haiku of my own.
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Wendy’s picks

CoverMy favourite books were anything written by Elena Ferrante.

I loved all her books I have read so far – I couldn’t put any of them down. My Brilliant Friend, the first in the Neapolitan trilogy, weaves the stories of two women, best friends but with very different destinies. Her voice is so direct and compelling, often violent, making her stories strange but insightful. I’m totally obsessed by Elena Ferrante.

Julie’s picks

An impossible decision – so I simply have to nominate two titles as they both warrant being my absolute favourites of the year so far.

CoverBest selling author, Elizabeth Strout is an old favourite – who couldn’t adore Olive Kitteridge – so I took My Name Is Lucy Barton out with some trepidation and a slight expectancy of being disappointed. But I wasn’t. Her latest novel is what I call ‘one of those little big books.’ it’s A5 size and only 191 pages long, but boy, does it ever pack a punch.

Lucy’s very ill in hospital and her estranged, no-nonsense, mother comes to visit … in the hushed room of the hospital the family’s past comes tumbling out. Little by little, we discover how the past has affected the whole family and particularly Lucy – who is now married and a mother of two daughters.

As a reader, I felt I should have been somewhat distressed by some of the revelations but, quite amazingly, I wasn’t. Somehow this wonderful author draws everything together with compassion, empathy and understanding.

CoverAnd right at the other end of the scale – a huge rollicking rollercoaster of a read. Mount! by Jilly Cooper sees this author totally back on form. This latest novel is equal to the hilarious delight of the very first title in the series – Riders – with all the old favourites back between the pages. The dialogue is supremely funny and the plot rollicks along.

It’s totally audacious, raucous and quite simply a hugely great read about the upper crust horsey world in England. This is a book that you can totally wallow in. Five Stars for sure (and I defy any woman not to instantly fall in lust with Rupert Campbell Black).

Dianne’s pick

CoverThe Black Widow Daniel Silva
I enjoyed this book because although it is a fiction it really hits the mark on what has happened recently in Paris and other parts of Europe. Israel comes into the picture with the wonderful mysterious character Gabriel Allon. This book is an easy read, clips along at a good pace I couldn’t put it down. Thoroughly recommend.

2016 best book lists

International

See also

The Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2016

“I’m not human, I’m a librarian!”  

CoverThese words had the audience in laughter at the Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2016 evening held Wednesday 23rd November, hosted by the Canterbury Literacy Association and Christchurch City Libraries. One of the speakers at the event, Jane Boniface from Heaton Normal Intermediate, perfectly illustrated a best/worst children’s book when she read this proclamation aloud as the punchline from a passage in Remade. Although the novel, filled to the brim with gory details of a virus on the loose liquefying people, wasn’t her cup of tea, she said it was a real hit with the intermediate age boys at her school who clambered to read it after she told them it was “disgusting, grizzly and grotesque.”

What turns a cringe-worthy story into a ‘best’ book is that it encourages the love and pleasure of reading for a certain kind of reading interest and shows that while reading tastes are subjective, the right book for the right person at the right time is what matters. The books showcased at the event covered the spectrum of wondrous and picturesque, funny and gross, through to beautiful and poignant – including sobering reminders of the realities of social problems facing children today.

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A community of children’s literature enthusiasts, in attendance at the Best / Worst Children’s Books of 2016 evening, held at South Library, 23rd November.

In light of changing times, be they due to earthquakes or bookstores closing, it is heartening to see supporters of children’s literature and literacy continue to come together as a community to celebrate and reaffirm their shared joy of children’s books.

Highlights from the annual Best (& Worst) event, attended by over 70 people, were primary students from several schools speaking about their current favourite books. Alongside this youth voice was book-talking from Mary Sangster (The Original Children’s Bookshop) and even some impromptu book-singing with the audience spurred on by Lynette Griffiths, Families Outreach at Christchurch City Libraries, as part of her picture book discussion.

Best Children’s Books of 2016 as selected by Mary Sangster, The Original Children’s Bookshop

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Picture books

  • Fuzzy Doodle by Melinda Szymanik is a playful children’s story about a caterpillar/butterfly, words, books and the wonder of life.
  • Circle by Jeannie Baker follows the godwit’s incredible flight over awe-inspiring scenes as above such beautiful landmarks as the Great Barrier Reef and China’s breathtaking cityscapes.
  • The Night Gardener by Terry Fan. One day, William discovers that the tree outside his window has been sculpted into a wise owl. More topiaries appear, each one  more beautiful. Soon, William’s gray little town is full of color and life. And though the mysterious night gardener disappears as suddenly as he appeared, William—and his town—are changed forever. With breathtaking illustrations and spare, sweet text, this book is about enjoying the beauty of nature.

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Younger and older fiction

  • Olive of Groves and the Great Slurp of Time by Katrina Nannestad. Starting off in 1857 at Mrs Groves’ Boarding School for Naughty Boys, Talking Animals and Circus Performers, this story goes backwards and forwards in time after Olive is invited to go time-travelling by a strange visitor. Disturbing things start to happen at Groves as a result. Mary felt there was a nice use of language and reckons boys would like it just as well as girls. Time travel books for children in 2016 seem to be popular.
  • The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon. Subhi’s imagination is as big as the ocean and wide as the sky, but his world is much smaller: he’s spent his whole life in an immigration detention centre. The Bone Sparrow is a powerful, heartbreaking, sometimes funny and ultimately uplifting hymn to freedom and love.
  • Lonesome When You Go by Saradha Koirala. Paige plays bass in high school rock band Vox Pop in the tense build-up to the Rockfest competition. This novel, published in New Zealand, is about practising solo, performing like a rockstar and how contributing your best self to something can create a force much greater than the sum of its parts.
  • Dear Charlie by N.D. Nomes. Recommended for older high school students. Sixteen year old Sam is picking up the pieces after the school shooting that his brother Charlie committed. Yet as Sam desperately tries to hang on to the memories he has of his brother, the media storm surrounding their family threatens to destroy everything. And Sam has to question all he thought he knew about life, death, right and wrong. “Absolutely fantastic.” says Mary.
  • Yong: The Journey of an Unworthy Son by Janeen Brian. Thirteen-year-old Yong resents leaving his home in China to travel with his father to the goldfields in Ballarat, Australia.

Best Picture Books of 2016 as selected by Lynette Griffiths, Families Outreach for Christchurch City Libraries

Lynette has been a librarian for all her working life and is passionate about both illustrations and words. “I’m always looking for a resource that creates a surprise and smile to its reader, be that young or old.” She says that what makes a good picture book in her world is: “One that takes me out of my comfort zone; one that pushes boundaries; something I might not of seen or heard before; something familiar but different; something that can cover all ages and something that makes me go WOW!”

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Lynette Griffiths

Lynette’s top 3 picture books of 2016

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  • A Tree in the Courtyard: Looking through Anne Frank’s window by Jeff Gottesfeld. The tree’s version of the girl in the window (Anne Frank).
  • Armstrong: The adventurous journey of a mouse to the moon by Torben Kuhlmann – Kuhlmann’s picture book transports readers to the moon and beyond! Here, dreams are determined only by the size of your imagination and the biggest innovators are the smallest of all. The book ends with a brief non-fiction history of human space travel from Galileo’s observations concerning the nature of the universe to man’s first steps on the moon. Lynnette loved the superb clever illustrations and says there’s so much information that it is nearly non-fiction.
  • Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers. A lyrical picture book about a little girl who sails her raft ‘across a sea of words’ to arrive at the house of a small boy. There she invites him to come away with her on an adventure where they can journey through ‘forests of fairy tales’, ‘across mountains of make-believe’ and ‘sleep in clouds of song.’
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A selection of some of the best picture books this year as selected by Lynette Griffiths, Families Outreach at Christchurch City Libraries, at the Best (& Worst) Children’s Books of 2016 evening.

Other picture book titles showcased by Lynette

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  • A Well-Mannered Young Wolf by Jean Leroy. A young wolf must fulfill his prey’s last wishes before he devours them.
  • They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel. In simple, rhythmic prose and stylized pictures, a cat walks through the world, and all the other creatures see and acknowledge the cat.
  • Little Red by Bethan Woolvin. A twist on the classic fairy tale.
  • Colin & Lee, Carrot & Pea by Morag Hood. Lee is a pea. All of his friends are peas; except Colin. And so begins the deliciously funny story of two very different friends.  
  • Shhh! This Book is Sleeping (board book) by Cédric Ramadier.  A mouse puts a book to sleep by covering it with a blanket, reading it a story, and giving it a big hug.

Lynette concluded by singing to the picture book version of Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind and it was heartwarming to have the audience join in in song.

See Lynette’s list of recommended Best Picture Books for 2016.

Older Fiction and Young Adult Reads of 2016 as selected by Jane Boniface, Heaton Normal Intermediate School

Jane has a wealth of knowledge of intermediate age and young adult great reads for tweens and teens. Jane is well-recognised by the National Library and School Library Association (SLANZA) in her position as the Learning Resource Centre Manager at Heaton Normal Intermediate School. She is a leading light at the school in promoting the culture of reading and provides a variety of seminars for classes in the skills required in today’s use of libraries and accessing information.

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Jane Boniface, Learning Resource Centre Manager at Heaton Normal Intermediate School, shares a great read.

Jane’s 4 ‘Best Books’, in her own amusing made-up categories, were:

  1. Best laugh-out-loud read-aloud with short chapters:
    Charlie & the War Against the Grannies by Alan Brough. Charlie just wants a paper round but he has to battle for it against the local hostile grannies already doing it. Fans of David Walliams would enjoy this funny story set downunder. Bite-sized chapters make for an easy read. “This book is not for the erudite or sophisticated reader” says Jane, “it includes how to say ‘fart’ in 10 different languages.”
  2. Most poignant tear-jerker where one character must be a dog:
    When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin. Like a The Fault in Our Stars for 12-year-olds. Ben, always an outsider, is led into a deep friendship with Halley, who is being treated for cancer, by the special dog he and his adoptive mother take in. “It is well-written, about humanity and themes of friendship and love. It is beautiful versus morose,” says Mary. “If you liked Wonder you’ll like this.”
  3. Book with the most potential to spark the most meaningful enquiry questions:
    Gorilla Dawn by Gill Lewis. Deep in the heart of the African jungle, a baby gorilla is captured by a group of rebel soldiers. Two children also imprisoned in the rebels’ camp. When they learn that the gorilla is destined to be sold into captivity, they swear to return it to the wild before it’s too late. But the consequences of getting caught are too terrible to think about. Will the bond between the gorilla and the children give them the courage they need to escape? Jane says: “Thought-provoking and disturbing,” It covers the not much heard about mining of coltan, used for mobile phones, and incorporates child slavery and child soldiers, climate change and gorilla habitats being destroyed. Uniquely told from different points-of-view: of both the children and the baby gorilla.
  4. Best/Worst book:
    The aforementioned Remade by Alex Scarrow. Leon and his sister have moved to London from New York and are struggling to settle into their new school when rumours of an unidentified virus in Africa fills the news. They witness people turning to liquid before their eyes and run for their lives. Great for reluctant intermediate readers.

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See the list of highlighted older fiction and young adults reads discussed by Mary Sangster and Jane Boniface

Youth voice: Christchurch students pick their favourites for 2016

Viewpoints from young Christchurch readers were represented by 4 students Years 3 -6 from Heathcote Valley School, Waitakiri School and Halswell Primary School.

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This Best/Worst evening was a opportunity for these students to hone their book reviewing and book-talking skills in a nurturing environment.

Teachers, librarians, parents, booksellers, writers and illustrators cater for a wide variety of children’s tastes, interests and needs and for all types of readers (from the enthusiastic to the reluctant). The audience will have taken away a lot of new and varied book suggestions, not to mention some great book prizes in the book raffle draw. And if you want to hear about the couple of ‘worst’ books chosen, you’ll have to come next time. Chatham House Rules and all that.

Speaking of reading…

Holiday Reading List 2016 Launch
The evening also saw the launch of Christchurch City Libraries 2016 Holiday Reading List for kids. Categories include picture books, younger & older fiction, young adult and non-fiction.

Summertime Reading Club 2016 / 2017 Announced
At this event, Christchurch City Libraries also announced their annual Summertime Reading Club competition for 2016 / 2017 – this summer it will be a passport of reading activities to complete to be in to win some fabulous prizes.

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Thanks to the Canterbury Literacy Association for their organising of this annual event. The purpose of the New Zealand Literacy Association is to encourage literacy learning.

Best fiction of the Year and otherwise – fiction selector Philip Tew

Cover of The girl on the trainYou’d think that the only novel published this year was The girl on the train and next year, when Emily Blunt has taken the train into town, it should continue dominating bestseller lists everywhere. There is, however, some murmurings in the publishing trade that “domestic no bliss at all” is starting to slow down.

Otherwise with fiction it was business as usual as Lee Child was way up there, along with all the old faithfuls from James Patterson who has cleverly cornered the adult, YA and children’s markets and must now have a houseful of writers turning his ideas into bestsellers.

Cover of The golden age of murderOne interesting trend is the republishing of old mysteries. It began with the British Library reprinting old Golden Age British mysteries. It would not have worked so well if they hadn’t been so well produced. English writer Martin Edwards provided interesting forewords and, if you are interested in the genre, we have his book The golden age of murder in the collection. Collins have now jumped into the market and are reprinting old mysteries from the likes of Edgar Wallace and Francis Durbridge (once a radio and television favourite).

Best reads of 2015

Widows and orphans Michael Arditti
A man who is trying to be good in a venal world is the main focus of this tale of the editor of a local newspaper in a seaside town and his nemesis, a greedy and coarse developer. Moral issues in a world where they are seen as irrelevant makes for a thoughtful and readable novel.

Cover of the real JustineThe real Justine Stephen Amidon
This American author is pretty good on the how we live now novel and this one combines this with a mystery plot involving a strange girl whose life is all over the place. Good social observation and a gripping plot.

Cover of Two acrossTwo across Jeffrey Bartsch
Two teenagers meet at a spelling bee in this first novel which is a likeable and droll tale about difficult parents, adolescent angst and creating crossword puzzles.

Cover of The year of fallingThe year of falling Janis Freegard
If you have lived in Wellington, you’ll love the atmosphere and background of this excellent novel. The story moves from Wellington to Iceland and the characterisation of two sisters, a child and an elderly neighbour is very well done and makes for an interesting and satisfying read.

Cover of GorskyGorsky Vesna Goldsworthy
The world of the obscenely rich Russian oligarchs in London and the story of a young bookseller who comes into this world when he has to assemble a library for one of them is the theme for this unusual and highly readable novel.

Cover of ChappyChappy Patricia Grace
This is a fascinating and touching novel where a young man learns the story of his Maori grandmother and Chappy, his Japanese grandfather. Beautifully written and my pick for the best New Zealand novel of the year.

Cover of High DiveHigh dive Jonathan Lee
Taking Irish terrorism and mixing it in with the Brighton bombing in the Margaret Thatcher era makes for a historical novel from the very recent past. The careful recreation of the time and place is beautifully handled. Especially good is the portrayal of the hotel staff, ordinary people who become caught up in big events.

Cover of Children of the masterChildren of the master Andrew Marr
The journalist and political commentator with his second satirical slap in the face for British politics. It’s set in 2018 where the Labour Party is in power and there are two candidates for the top job. Machiavellian in the extreme, this is an often funny and way over the top political black comedy. Of course we don’t believe ruthless opponents would use murder to get to the top but it makes for a good story. The Master, incidentally, has to be someone not a mile from Tony Blair.

Cover of The IlluminationsThe illuminations Andrew O’Hagan
Why this one didn’t get on the Man Booker Prize shortlist is a real puzzle. It’s a superb novel about Britain. Part of it is set in Ayrshire with an elderly lady who was once a leading documentary photographer in the 1960s. Her story is intercut with that of her grandson who has returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. A strong, forceful and moving book.

Cover of The Party LineThe party line Sue Orr
The author of some very good short stories made her novel debut with this story, set in the Hauraki Plains, where the arrival of a sharemilker and his outspoken (for this community) daughter question the assumptions of the place. The title is a clever one as it is the chief means of communication and also the way the community thinks.

Cover of I saw a manI saw a man Owen Sheers
A reporter whose wife has been killed returns to London and befriends the people next door. Through a misunderstanding something terrible happens, Moving from the affluent lives of the upper middle class to what happens when a tragedy occurs, this is a timely and gripping novel.

Cover of Mobile LibraryMobile library David Whitehouse
This excellent and underrated British author is remembered for Bed, his story of an obese man. The new novel is about a woman who cleans the mobile library and what happens when she takes to the road with her disabled daughter and a lonely boy. It is a bit far fetched but quite engaging.

Cover of My sunshine awayMy sunshine away M.O. Walsh
Down the Deep South tale in which a thirtyish man remembers his younger days and the whole suburban network of secrets and lies around the rape of a teenage girl. It’s a convincing portrait of a time and place and a very promising debut novel.

Visit our Best Reads 2015 page for more picks, and the chance to have your say.

My best fiction reads of 2014

This is a purely personal list in that there are a lot of very good books which I should read and maybe could read but I haven’t. I haven’t read the Man Booker Prize winner, for example, as there is a long waiting list and it may be sometime next year before I get round to reading it.I am looking forward to the latest by Richard Ford and Colm Toibin but they haven’t turned up for me to read yet.

So here goes…

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The planner Tom Campbell

A picture of what it’s like to be young and vaguely ambitious in London where a young town planner is uncertain whether to go for a job back up north or stay in London where he’s mixing with a fast set who have much more money than he does in their world of designer drugs, flashy lifestyles, expensive restaurants and strip clubs.The characters ring true and the novel is as entertaining as it is believable.

A dancer in the dust Thomas H. Cook

Cook is one of the best thriller writers around and has been sadly underrated for his first-rate and credible psychological thrillers. In this strong and quite sad story about a murder in New York linked to an African country mired in corruption, he has created a strong female character in a woman who loves the country she is in and tries to stand up to the enormous corruption around her.

Cataract City Craig Davidson

You may know him from his earlier novel Rust and bone which was made into an excellent film with Marion Cotillard.This later novel is about two childhood friends growing up in the Niagara Falls area and going separate ways. It’s a gripping story of a dark world of dogfighting, bare knuckle fighting, prison and tough lives, a world where the biggest undercover crime is cigarette smuggling across the US border. It’s an alien world to most of us but it is hugely readable if grim.

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To rise again at a decent hour Joshua Ferris

This year the Man Booker was opened up to American authors and this novel was on the shortlist. It’s a real oddity, clever and quirky and unusual enough to get on the shortlist but possibly too quirky to win! It’s about a dentist who finds someone has set up a fake website for his practice, followed by a Facebook page and a Twitter profile linked to a fringe religious sect, a worry for an avowed atheist. A weird and often very funny book with a serious core to it.

Nychtophobia Christopher Fowler

Fowler is the author of the highly entertaining Bryant and May mystery series and a couple of droll autobiographies. He’s a fan of horror movies and has written some horror tales for a small British imprint and this novel is one of these. It’s a genuinely strange story of a woman whose well-off husband buys a large house in Spain. Weird things occur and they seem to be linked to the history of the house and what happened in Spain in the time of the Civil War. Past and present combine in a novel which brings a new twist to the haunted house genre.

Fourth of July Creek Smith Henderson

If you’re looking for something cosy don’t go near this first novel about a social worker in a small depressed American town in the 1980s. The main character is trying to help a rural family with a paranoid survivalist father. At the same time his private life is falling apart with his marriage breaking up and his teenage daughter becoming a runaway. A screwed up central character who’s trying hard to do the right thing in a world that shouldn’t be this difficult makes for a gripping and powerful novel, one of the best debuts for some time.

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A pleasure and a calling Phil Hogan

Imagine a real estate agent who makes a copy of all the keys for properties he markets and generally behaves in a way that the Real Estate Institute wouldn’t sanction. What he learns about clients he uses for good ends (an older lady who is ill treated by a blowhard is punished in a wonderfully apposite and funny way) but things become darker and his invasion of private lives turns sinister. A terrific and original read.

The road to reckoning Robert Lautner

A literary western in the tradition of writers such as Charles Portis and even Cormac McCarthy. It’s the story of a twelve year old boy and his father in the 1830s who leave New York to travel west to sell the Samuel Colt reloading gun. Father and son are separated and the boy has to survive on his own until he meets an ex-ranger and the two set out bent on revenge. A tough tale with a heart but little sentimentality, it would make a terrific movie.

Sleep in peace tonight James MacManus

Britain during World War II before the Americans enter the war is seen though the eyes of Roosevelt’s envoy to Britain. This is a vivid and detailed portrait of time and place with strong portraits of Roosevelt and Churchill and cameos by many real people of the time. A gripping tale of a time of great uncertainty as Churchill stood alone while Roosevelt wavered as isolationists called the tune in the U.S.

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The assassination of Margaret Thatcher Hilary Mantel

Naturally the title story catches the eye immediately and it is a droll tale of an assassin getting ready to do the deed in a flat of a woman who is bemused by the situation she finds herself in. Other stories deal with domestic disharmony and women who finally crack under social pressure and one deals with expat life in Dubai and another a tale of a drive home in a farm vehicle which may have hit something en route. Only in the last words do you realise what.

Head of state Andrew Marr

Marr is the well known broadcaster and journalist and he wrote this novel during recovery from a stroke. It’s an outrageous comedy about politics and what happens (in 2017) when a referendum on the EU is looming. Venal politicians, foul mouthed newspaper editors, a female US President, the death of the P.M. kept secret, murders…it’s all wildly over the top but very funny.

The restoration of Otto Laird Nigel Packer

A television company is making a documentary on the Dutch architect of a postwar London tower block which in its day was seen as a bold social experiment but has since fallen into disrepair. The man himself was an émigré to Britain, having been brought up in hiding during the Nazi occupation. A fascinating tale that takes in the life of the man, his wife and family.

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Fives and twenty-fives Michael Pitre

The Iraq conflict seen through the story of a platoon whose job it is to clear potholes on the Western Iraq highway, potholes that will usually contain some kind of explosive device. The author joined the Marines in 2002 and was deployed twice to Iraq. An excellent novel, the best war novel for some time, it gives the feel of what happened to the ordinary soldier in the conflict.

Family life Akhil Sharma

An Indian family come to America and life is going well until the golden boy of the family has a terrible accident and what happens from then on cripples the family financially. I didn’t realise when I read this novel that it was based on real and terrible events that happened to the author and his family. A really powerful and moving piece of work and all the better for its unsettling and sad story being told with such quiet power.

Jam Jake Wallis Simons

What would happen if there was some sort of accident on the M25. Nobody knows what has happened and there is no mobile coverage to find out why. A disparate cast of characters – an arguing family, a bunch of racist yobs, a Waitrose driver who must guard the contents of his van, an expert on bugs, a history professor, university students – wait the situation out in this clever and unnerving novel.

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Man at the helm Nina Stibbe

How many novels have there been about terrible parents? In this lively novel it’s an irresponsible gadabout mother who breaks most of the rules of parenting and runs though a succession of unsuitable men. The title refers to the necessity (seen by others) of women having “a man at the helm.” The book is narrated by the children who don’t really understand what’s going on and there’s a strong Nancy Mitford quality about the book.

Completion Tim Walker

If you liked state of the nation novels like John Lanchester’s Capital, try this excellent British novel. A house in an expensive part of London (well, all of London is expensive, this is just top end) was the setting for a series of children’s books by the mother of the family. The parents are no longer together and members of the family live in Dubai, East London and France. What happens to them makes for a highly readable story.

Hotel Alpha Mark Watson

Big hotels have been the background for many novels as well as television series such as Hotel Babylon and movies like The Grand Budapest Hotel. Perhaps the appeal is that hotels are somewhat removed from the everyday world. Certainly the hotel in this one is – the owner is something of an idealist but not a conventional one. He interacts with an interesting cast of characters while hiding secrets. The changing world of technology and how it alters the hotel world is part of this highly readable novel.

Boxer handsome Anna Whitwham

An excellent first novel inspired by the grandfather of the author who’d been a boxer In London’s East End. The novel is set in Hackney where a third generation boxer falls for a preschool teacher from outside his world. It’s a strong novel about some tough and troubled people but it gripped me throughout and it’s actually quite moving.

Into the trees Robert Williams

A couple sell their house in town for one in a forest (seems to be somewhere like Lancashire) where they hope for a calming of their small daughter who won’t stop crying. Things improve until a violent incident invades their safe place. Characterisation is superb as the other characters – even those that act violently – are understandable. I found the novel completely gripping.

Philip Tew
Fiction selector

Best reads 2014

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.

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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

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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

Have I read the best book of the year already?

I was at a meeting yesterday, where we were discussing some of the things that the library will be focusing on in the next few months.  This kind of discussion always tends to make me feel a bit nervous, owing to my inability to even think about the next few days, let alone the end of the year.  To make matters worse, when I returned to my library, there were a set of posters advertising the very popular annual Best & Worst Children’s Books event sitting on my desk.

Now, to be fair, this event isn’t until November, but the combination of the posters and the discussion, and the (not unreasonable) fear that one day soon I will step into a mall and there will be tinsel for sale, and Snoopy’s Christmas playing, all combined to make me think that I really need to be starting to think about my own best and worst reads of the year.

Is it too early to be picking favourites? I hesitate to say this, but I think I may already have found my best read of 2012.  Even worse, I read it in May. Can it really be that everything else is downhill from this book? Or should I be optimistically believing that there are even greater reads just around the corner?  Looking at my holds list, I am thinking maybe not – the list is full, but it seems to be a conglomeration of sequels, regular favourite authors, and things I’ve seen come by at the returns desk.

And what happens if I DO name my picks for 2012 now, and then at the very last minute I come across something even better?  Can I retract my choices and start again, or is that like saying “Til death us do part (or until someonething better comes along)”?

Perhaps I should just stop angsting about it and wait for serendipity, for someone to recommend something, for a book to just catch my eye on the shelf. Or should I instead throw myself into feverishly reading the blog, hunting down reviews, trawling the bookshops, working my way backwards through previous years’ lists, all in search of that most elusive of things – the best book ever.

Your thoughts, please, avid readers?

“I’m looking for a book for my husband/son/brother…what can you recommend?”

Cover image of book "What could he be thinking?"Are men as hard to find library books for, as they are to buy presents for?

In a female-dominated workplace such as the Library, I often look at our book displays and recommendations, and wonder if we are doing enough to cater to the needs and wants of our male readers. What else can we be doing to make the library more “guy-friendly”?

As we review the best reads of 2010 and prepare displays brimming with good books for you to take away on holiday, we want to know what authors and titles you blokes have enjoyed and would recommend to the other fellas out there. Tell us what kinds of books you want us to have ready for you to grab and go. And if you are not a man but go hunting for library books on behalf of one, tell us what has been a successful find.

Do men have more sophisticated tastes than we give them credit for, or will a pile of action-packed thrillers and mysteries suffice?

I’ve read two, how many have you read?

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.

Simply the best books of 2010

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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