With another year nearing its end, we at WPL have been looking back at the year. My highlights included a pair of gold medals in hockey, a fun World Cup, and many great books. After having looked at the best of books with a The Best of the 2014 Best Book Lists (available here) we wanted to share OUR favourite reads of the year. It was a difficult choice for many of us to narrow it down. I got stuck on a top three of: All My Friends are Dead (check out the ebook here) though it wasn’t written in 2014, Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit: An American Autopsy (find it here), and the third book in Lev Grossman’s Magician’s trilogy – The Magicians Land. (Eventually I flipped a coin.) Many of us had some prolonged internal debates and epic coin flipping sessions, and if you read on I hope you’ll enjoy the aftermath – our favourite reads of 2014.
Rob: The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman
While many adults love series like Harry Potter, the books weren’t really written for adults in mind. Lev Grossman seems to have noticed this, and produced a lovely trilogy which reads like a cross between the Chronices of Narnia and Hunter S. Thompson. It’s certainly light reading, but the third book in the Magician’s trilogy was a delight. Following up on the delightful The Magicians and The Magician King, Magician’s Land follows lead character Quentin as he goes back to save the magical land of Fillory (think Narnia with beer and a better sense of humour.) Grossman borrows from a lot of different fantasy series in this one, but explores their myth and magic from an adult’s perspective. I would recommend this series to fantasy lovers, or anyone who wondered what it would be like if Hogwarts started at university age. The Magicians trilogy makes it clear that younger adults can enjoy learning about magic a lot more than those still in grade school.
Angela: Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel (best book of the year)
There was The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner, and it seemed like these books were all people wanted to read. The Post Apocalyptic genre of books is quite popular right now, so I can see people thinking that Station Eleven is just another book in the series, but it is one of a kind and the story remains fresh and intriguing throughout. Nominated for the prestigious National Book Award, in my opinion Station Eleven is deserving of all of the accolades that it receives. I was immediately engrossed in this novel that displays the stories of many people on the eve of the outbreak of the ‘Georgia Flu’. The book circles around the life of Arthur Leander, a Hollywood actor who dies on stage during a performance of King Lear due to a heart attack. Immediately after is when the flu begins to take on a life of its own, nearly depleting all of the world’s population. The book then jumps to years in the future when members of the Traveling Symphony wander around the Great Lakes area, putting on performances for various populations, bridging the lives of people who all somehow had a connection to the late Arthur Leander. Mandel’s book was a true page-turner, and easily managed link the stories of several characters, with wit, tears, and intrigue. I simply don’t want to ruin the plot of the book by saying anymore, but Station Eleven is novel that I highly recommend, and will make for a quite an impressive read.
Nicole: The Last Policeman trilogy by Ben H. Winters (The Last Policeman, Countdown City, and World of Trouble).
If you are looking for a dry informational book about your favorite grain alcohol, this one is NOT for you. Vodka is the main character in this very readable nonfiction title that delves into the history and marketing shenanigans worldwide that have developed in the past century around a spirit that is essentially the same no matter which bottle it is poured into. Don’t forget to read the footnotes where Matus not only gives extra insights, but also a double shot of humour. Cheers to this unexpectedly delightful read, which was my favourite book of the year.
Liana – The Freedom in American Songs by Kathleen Winter
The best book I read this year is a book of short stories by Canadian author Kathleen Winter. “The Freedom in American Songs” released this year by local publishers Biblioasis, was in fact the first book that I have read by this talented author.
Winter’s language is that of a seasoned, mature writer. This collection of stories is rich in memorable characters navigating life through beautifully imagined settings and left me wanting more. I sincerely look forward to reading more Kathleen Winter books!
Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things follows Peter, a priest who answers the calling of a lifetime: the chance to be a missionary to an extraterrestrial race on the distant planet Oasis. The caveat to this amazing opportunity is that he must leave behind his wife, Bea. A large portion of the novel involves Peter and Bea’s exchanges using a type of intergalactic e-mail. These “epistles” start out innocently with Peter sharing the wonders of the alien world and its seemingly friendly native population. However, these exchanges soon turn horrific as Bea begins to describe a series of disasters devastating the Earth. Countries are destroyed and governments collapse. A galaxy away from the dangers his wife is experiencing, Peter is faced by his own impotence to save her and experiences the ultimate questioning of his faith.
There are plenty of plot points explored along the way: an enigmatic corporation, a former linguist on the alien planet gone AWOL, and the tragic fate of a pet cat all play a part in the novel’s proceedings. However, the main focus is on the otherworldly distance separating Bea and Peter as their world, both figuratively and literally, collapses. Compelling, witty, and emotional, The Book of Strange New Things earns its place among the greats of science fiction. Like the best writers of this genre (Vonnegut, Le Guin, early Ballard), Faber creates a story that is utterly more human than alien.
Michael: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
Through the Woods is an incredible journey through the macabre mind of Emily Carroll, an extremely talented Canadian graphic novelist, if this first work is anything to go by. It contains five stories that feel like the Twilight Zone meets Tales from the Crypt: mysterious and dark. They are almost as grim as a 19th century fairytale, but ostensibly without the moral.
If you were to fan through the pages – as I did when I stumbled across it – you would immediately be struck by the vibrancy of the colours and at the same time their simplicity, since only a few colours are actually used. One other note on the colour, it is absolutely used to success at defining the mood of the scenes, and that mood is, in a word, creepy. In a weird way, the way the stories were both drawn and presented reminded me of the work of Mike Mignola, who is most famous for his Hellboy work and has a very distinctive, minimalist style and supernatural subject matter.
I would recommend this book to any teen or adult fan of graphic novels and/or horror.
Nancy – Loretta Mason Potts by Mary Chase
This delightful children’s book by the author of Harvey was first published in 1958 and reissued in 2014. 10-year-old Colin Mason must solve the mystery of his older sister, whom he’s never met, but learns of by chance. His dogged detective work leads to answers neither he, nor the reader, could have expected. Poignant, suspenseful, and thought-provoking.