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Librarians’ choices of 2014 – the best of the best!

Lots of neat books have been released in the past 12 months, and we’ve rounded up our very favourites of the bunch just for you. If you’re going to read anything from this year, give these a go.

Read right to the bottom for a chance to WIN!

Book cover from SyndeticsGrimm:

Mortal Heart, Robin LaFevers – I have gone on a lot about the assassin nun books, but they are really good, honestly. In Mortal Heart Annith – who has taken a back seat in the previous two books – is desperately keen to prove herself as an assassin, but she’s foiled by the abbess’ plans for her to take over as the new convent seer. Annith must choose between being locked in a room in the convent for the rest of her life, or going against her vows and striking out on her own in search of the truth (which would you rather?).

Book cover from SyndeticsI noticed my favourite book of last year was Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox, so I have a theme going now.

I also liked:

Blue lily, lily blue, Maggie Stiefvater – can’t say a lot about this book without ruining everything and spoiling things, except to say you should definitely read it, having first read The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves. Don’t let the title (which I’m not a huge fan of) put you off.

Book cover from SyndeticsRachel:

I too loved Blue Lily, Lily Blue and I highly, highly recommend The Raven Cycle series as a whole.

I also loved Noggin by John Corey Whaley which I picked up because I loved his first book Where Things Come Back. Noggin is about 16-year-old Travis Coates who dies, but is reanimated 5 years later with his cryogenically frozen head attached to a new body. Sounds goofy, but it’s really rather lovely and insightful.

Book cover from SyndeticsA huge hit for me was Half Bad by Sally Green! I love a good unreliable narrator, and boy was Nathan unreliable. Nathan is a half-black, half-white (good/bad) witch, and is treated abysmally for it by everyone in the magical world. Largely because his black witch father is the most dark and terrible witch the world has ever known. And Nathan must find his father before his birthday, or he may lose his powers forever. It’s the first in a trilogy, and the next book, Half Wild, is due out in 2015.

Book cover from SyndeticsMax:

I really enjoyed Atlantia by Ally Condie! Rio lives in the underwater city of Atlantia, but has always dreamed of leaving. But her sister makes a decision unexpectedly which leaves Rio stranded and forced to find a way to save Atlantia from destruction.

Although it didn’t come out this year, I also really enjoyed reading the Uglies series by Scott Westerfield.

Monty:

Once again, all predictably comics, not that I don’t read other stuff, really, y’know, books with print and all that, but these are some of my favourites from this year!

Book cover from SyndeticsSilver Surfer 1: new dawn by Dan Slott

Gently pokes fun at the po-faced Silver Surfer we know and respect with whacked out illustration by talented iZombie and Madman illustrator Michael Allred . Maybe, we can actually enjoy his silver headed company now?

Afterlife with Archie by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

This particular episode of the Archie stable of stories convincingly combines Riverdale’s famous teens, grubby colours with noir shading and… Zombies. Maybe cashing in on the undead thing somewhat but much better than it sounds.

Book cover from SyndeticsDaredevil volume 2 by Mark Waid

Mark Waid’s recent run on Daredevil has been like taking an uncomplicated step back in time. To when super heroes had best friends named Foggy, where Ant-man might guest star and fight for the brain of a dangerously sick DD and where danger and gloom might appear, but only fleetingly, to be cleverly resolved in an optimistic and rounded conclusion. Ah, old fashioned comic satisfaction.

Book cover from SyndeticsFF Vol. 2: Family freakout by Matt Fraction

“As the kids in the FF start growing apart, their adult supervision seems to be having some issues of their own. And when Dr. Doom ascends and the Council of Dooms girds for battle, it’s the eve of a war between the Future Foundation and Latveriaa. But is it also the beginning of the end for the fractious FF?” (Syndetics)

Check out volume 1 if you haven’t already!

Book cover from SyndeticsThis one summer by Mariko Tamaki

Every summer Rose and her parents go to a beach house, and Rose gets to hang out there with her friend Windy. But this summer Rose’s parents won’t stop fighting, and it’s a good thing Rose and Windy have each other, because this summer won’t be like all the others.

Ligia:

Book cover from SyndeticsBook cover from SyndeticsI had a few favourites this year, including Minders by Michele Jaffe, Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano, The winners curse by Marie Rutkoski, The geography of you and me by Jennifer E. Smith & Nil by Lynne Matson.

Book cover from SyndeticsMinders by Michele Jaffe

“Sadie Ames has been accepted to the prestigious Mind Corps Fellowship program, where she’ll spend six weeks as an observer inside the head of Ford, a troubled boy with a passion for the crumbling architecture of the inner city. There’s just one problem: Sadie’s fallen in love with him. Ford Winters is haunted by the murder of his older brother, James. As Sadie begins to think she knows him, Ford does something unthinkable. Now, back in her own body, Sadie must decide what is right and what is wrong… and how well she can really ever know someone…” (Syndetics)

Book cover from SyndeticsThe geography of you and me by Jennifer E. Smith

“Sparks fly when sixteen-year-old Lucy Patterson and seventeen-year-old Owen Buckley meet on an elevator rendered useless by a New York City blackout. Soon after, the two teenagers leave the city, but as they travel farther away from each other geographically, they stay connected emotionally, in this story set over the course of one year.” (Syndetics)

Book cover from SyndeticsNil by Lynne Matson

“On the mysterious island of Nil, the rules are set. You have one year. Exactly 365 days to escape, or you die. Lost and alone, Charley finds no sign of other people until she meets Thad, the gorgeous leader of a clan of teenage refugees. Soon Charley learns that leaving the island is harder than she thought… and so is falling in love. With Thad’s time running out, Charley realizes that to save their future, Charley must first save him. And on an island rife with dangers, their greatest threat is time.” (Goodreads)

Book cover from SyndeticsBook cover from SyndeticsRaissa:

Although they didn’t come out in 2014, I really enjoyed the Fault in Our Stars by John Green and Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork.

Book cover from SyndeticsRaewyn:

Julie Kagawa is one of my favourite authors and I have just finished reading Talon (could one of your closest friends be a dragon in disguise?). I liked it and would probably say loved it, except that I had read a series by Sophie Jordan about the same subject and similar scenarios (Firelight series) so it already felt a little familiar. Both were very good though!

Book cover from SyndeticsOttilie:

It wasn’t released this year (in fact, it came out in 1989!) but I absolutely adored Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block. It is so dreamy and fairy-tale-like, but so contemporary and doesn’t firmly cement itself in the 80s. The book has such a dreamy, hazy yet vibrant atmosphere and I lived in the haze of it for a few weeks after finishing it!

Debbie:

Book cover from SyndeticsBook cover from SyndeticsI just finished The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey and I thought it was great! Plus, it’s being made into a movie soon, so I’m excited about that. I also enjoyed the Shadowfell series by Juliet Marillier — Shadowfell, Raven Flight and The Caller.

Book cover from SyndeticsBelinda:

I really enjoyed Like No Other by Una LaMarche from this year. Set in Brooklyn, it’s about a comedy/drama about a disapproved-upon teenage romance between a Hasidic Jew girl and a Black boy set contemporarily. There is a history of race riots between the two communities which adds another layer beyond the religious conflict. Both main characters could be described as Manic Pixie Dream Girl/Boys. I’d highly recommend it!

Sylvia:

Book cover from SyndeticsI Am Rebecca, by Fleur Beale was very good. It’s the follow up to her novel I Am Not Esther which came out 10 years ago.

“When she turns 14, Rebecca will find out who she is to marry. All the girls in her strict religious sect must be married just after their 16th birthday. Her twin sister Rachel is delighted when Saul, the boy she loves, asks to marry her. Malachi asks for Rebecca. She believes him to be a good and godly man. But will Rebecca find there is a dark side to the rules which have kept her safe? What does the future hold? Can the way ahead be so simple when the community is driven by secrets and hidden desires?” (Syndetics)

So that’s our roundup of 2014 favourites! It is by no means complete, just some of our faves that sprung to mind. We would love for you to share with us your favourite books of 2014, whether they were actually released this year or not. Let us know in the comments below! We will pick a commenter on this post to win an audiobook of Cassandra Clare’s City of Heavenly Fire so tell us your top picks!

Valkyries and Liars: Book Reviews

There are some good books around at the moment! Here’s a couple I’ve enjoyed recently:

The Strange Maid, Tessa Gratton

If you haven’t read the United States of Asgard books yet then you should! This is a companion novel to The Lost Sun – it’s not really a sequel because it starts before The Lost Sun, then catches up and passes it. You could read this one first; it might be a bit spoilery but you wouldn’t be confused.

The United States of Asgard are an alternative United States where the Norse gods are real and preside over the running of the country, where there are Beserkers, Valkyries and trolls – it’s a bit dystopian (the trolls help here), but also not at the same time. The Strange Maid introduces Signy Valborn, a Valkyrie-in-waiting who has received a prophetic riddle from Odin she must solve (and, in doing so, fulfill her destiny). Signy is a tough customer with a troubled past, and she’s not going to be outdone by the riddle or other people’s disappointment in her. When a strange man tells her he knows the answer she jumps at the opportunity to crack it, even if the solution is dangerous to the point of impossibility.

This is a great read, particularly if you like strong female characters (too busy being kick-ass to be nice sometimes), a lot of action, and a bit of poetry mixed in here and there. It’s also a good introduction to Beowulf. Really recommend it!

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

E. Lockhart strikes again! We loved Frankie Landau-Banks, and have waited ages for this one.

An old, privileged East-Coast American family owns an island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, and every summer they stay there, each branch of the family in their own house. Cadence, a couple of her cousins and a close friend make up the Liars, and they’re inseparable.

That’s as far as I go because I don’t want to spoil things, because the book has big secrets! It might not have important things to say like Frankie does, but, wow, that ending will catch you unawares (unless you go snooping for clues on the internet – but we definitely don’t recommend doing that!).

~ Grimm

Some good books I’ve read lately

I’ve not done any reviews for a while, so here are four quick ones:

The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty – the sequel to A Corner of White, and the middle book of the Colours of Madeleine trilogy, so I’ll try not to give too much away. Elliot lives in the kingdom of Cello, where colours rage across the country with very little warning, causing various degrees of havoc, and where the royal family have mysteriously and secretively disappeared (save for Princess Ko, who is keeping up appearances so that Cello doesn’t fall apart). Madeleine lives in the world, and communicates with Elliot through a parking meter. Princess Ko is convinced that the royal family have been moved into the world, and enlists Elliot’s (and Madeleine’s) help to track them down; the clock is ticking.

This is a really original, fantastic story, written really well. It’s sometimes hilarious, sad, surprising and always entertaining.

Half Bad, Sally Green – this is the first in a new trilogy and it’s been touted as the next big thing by some people. Nathan lives in a world of witches, black ones and white ones; he’s half and half, and because of this he worries the white witches (black witches are, apparently, inherently evil, so will he be?). At the start of the book Nathan lives in a cage in the Scottish countryside, watched over by a white witch prison guard. He needs to track down his father – the mysterious, über-cruel black witch Marcus – before the gifting ceremony on his 17th birthday or face death.

I didn’t find this as Harry Potter-ish as some reviewers (people said Harry Potter was lots of ish also – it’s tough being truly original), and it was an intriguing start to a new series.

Cress, Marissa Meyer – this is the third book in the Lunar Chronicles (Cinder is the first), and they’re very good – don’t let the book covers put you off, they’re not really that girly. They are all cyborg-sci-fi reworkings of fairytales, and Cress is Rapunzel. Cress has been imprisoned on a remote satelite by the Lunar queen, effectively her spy in the sky. Her job is to find Cinder for the Queen, but she might be more intent on rescue. In the mean time, Scarlet and Wolf are also on the run in France. (The next one, Winter, which is Snow White, will be published next year, which is a while away.)

The reason I mention the book covers is these books are action-packed and the female characters aren’t afraid of, well, getting involved in it. They aren’t really the high-heel types. Maybe the covers are subversive? Certainly, having lots of hair is more impractical than glamorous. Anyway! They’re a great read.

We’ve also got this as a book on CD.

Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson – this was published last year, but it’s so cool I thought it was worth mentioning. Epics are humans who have incredible superpowers, some of them are obscure and not so useful, some of them devastating for non-Epics. They also have a fatal weakness (again, some weaknesses are obscure, some devastating), and exploiting this is the only way to destroy an Epic. Steelheart, Chicago’s self-appointed overlord, is one of the worst. Ever since he saw Steelheart bleed (and then kill his father), David has wanted to join the Reckoners, a group who assassinate Epics. He thinks he can kill Steelheart, if he can figure out what made him bleed.

It’s a long wait for the second book in this series, Firefight (due for publication in 2015). Plenty of time to read Steelheart, which is awesome.

We’ve also got this as a book on CD.

Braveheart

Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein.

“I AM A COWARD,” begins Verity. “I wanted to be heroic and I pretended I was. I have always been good at pretending.”

“Verity” has been captured in a town in France because she looked the wrong way crossing the road, crashing into a truck right outside Gestapo headquarters in 1943. So, she’s not the most talented spy the British have ever seen then, or is she? Tortured by Gestapo Captain von Linden and his underlings, Verity has cracked under the intense pressure, and agreed to give up British war secrets in exchange for her clothes (“The warmth and dignity of my flannel skirt and woolly jumper are worth far more to me now than patriotism or integrity”). She tells her story on recipe cards, music scores and doctor’s prescription forms, gradually revealing the truth about herself, the British espionage effort, and her best friend Maddie – who flew her across the Channel to begin her short-lived mission – all the time loathing herself for her cowardice, and being loathed by her fellow prisoners. Her story reaches its stressful conclusion about half way into the novel, and I shall say no more!

Except, Code Name Verity is an awesome World War II espionage novel. “Verity” is a wonderfully unreliable narrator (would you trust a spy?), and her story is of two heroic young women who throw themselves headlong into the war with unexpected and frightening consequences. Bring your hankie, or two.

Elizabeth Wein has said this novel was inspired by her research into female pilots in World War II (as a pilot herself – cool! – she wondered what role she could have played), and you can read about her other literary inspirations for the story in this Book Smugglers post here.

If you’re also interested in reading more about women’s participation in World War II (the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, for example), then here are some titles.

Also, Flygirl by Sherri L Smith is about an African American woman who pretends to be white in order to be accepted into the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

~ Grimm

It’s not easy being queen

Bitterblue is the third book by American writer Kristin Cashore (blog here), and acts as a companion to Graceling and Fire.

Bitterblue has been Queen of Monsea for eight years when the novel opens. Being Queen of Monsea, in practice, means struggling under a great weight of paperwork supplied by her trusted advisors, who assure her that it is indeed essential to the running of her kingdom. It also means she is isolated from her friends (who are busy overthrowing kings in other countries), and increasingly frustrated by how little she knows about Bitterblue City and Monsea. It is hardly surprising then, when one night she snatches the opportunity to escape the castle and explore the streets in disguise, finding herself drawn to a pub where a storyteller has his audience enthralled.

This begins an intricate journey of discovery for Bitterblue and the people of Monsea, who have been kept from the truth first by Leck (Bitterblue’s heinous father, as seen in Graceling and Fire), and then by a misguided assumption that sweeping things under the carpet and quietly moving on is the best way of dealing with attrocities. Bitterblue is about secrets, lies, and the truth that slowly wangles its way out of hiding. (And also adventure and romance.)

Bitterblue is a quiet, page-turning read. There’s a large cast of characters, all with strengths and weaknesses – it’s hard to separate the goodies from the baddies, which is mostly the point. Bitterblue herself differs from Kristin Cashore’s other two heroines (Katsa and Fire), in that she doesn’t have a special power and isn’t (she thinks) particularly beautiful (describing herself as being built like an eggplant), but she does have a large amount of pluck and courage and wit, proving that you don’t have to be magic to be strong, and being strong is an admirable quality in a heroine.

Apart from being a great story, Bitterblue has some other features:

  • – Cyphers! I never really understood how cyphers work, but now I do! Just don’t ask me to explain.
  • – Illustrations – some nice pictures by Ian Schoenherr, including of Monster Bridge, Winged Bridge, Winter Bridge.
  • – “A Who’s Who of the World as We Know It” (a list of characters) – compiled by Bitterblue’s excellent royal librarian, Death (which rhymes with teeth, you see).

You can read the first couple of chapters here. There’s also a website with extras.

~ Grimm

A review from Raewyn!

A Confusion of Princes, Garth Nix

Imagine knowing you are one of ten million princes throughout the Empire! Imagine knowing you could die twenty times and be ‘reborn’! But you can only be reborn if you are connected to the Imperial Mind, so the first task for Prince Khemri is to dodge any stray bullets and explosive devices to get to a base where he can ‘connect’! He becomes a naval cadet and a target for his fellow cadets, as he seems to be privileged with 12 priests and a senior Master of Assassins assigned to him. His first death comes during a raid by their enemies the Sad Eyes, whilst stopping the invaders from blowing up the base. More adventures follow but will he accept his Imperial-chosen destiny or change it for himself? Good sci-fi adventure by a favourite author.

~ Raewyn

Starters by Lissa Price

Set after a war where most adults have been killed by a biologogical weapon, the people remaining are mostly either children or teenagers (Starters) or the elderly (Enders). The Starters are unable to work and if an adult doesn’t claim them they can’t get accommodation, and can be arrested if they are caught. Enders are at the other end of the scale. They have health care to keep them alive until well into their hundreds, near limitless wealth and live in huge mansions.

Callie lives in an abandoned building with her friend Michael and her younger brother Tyler. Tyler is only seven, and unwell but they have no access to any kind of health care and no way of getting help. However, Callie has heard of one way she might be able to earn enough to get them a house and some safety. Prime Destinations run a body bank where Enders can rent the bodies of Starters, be young again, play sports, all that sort of thing. Callie should be asleep while the Ender is having fun being her, but the chip used to control her is defective and she wakes up to find out that the Ender who hired her wasn’t just planning on playing tennis or going dancing – she wants to use Callie’s body to kill someone.

 

Starters is a really good read, highly recommended if you are looking for more dystopia, and especially if you liked Scott Westerfelds Uglies trilogy.

Lissa Price’s blog is here.

A Disappearance, A Woodpecker and A Missionary

Where Things Come Back, John Corey Whaley

I can’t remember the last time I got so much enjoyment out of a book!

Where Things Come Back is made up of two separate narratives which eventually come together in a way I never expected. The first narrative is that of 17 year old Cullen Witter, whose widely-liked younger brother suddenly disappears. While his brother’s disappearance is in the forefront of his mind, the people of the small town he lives in are obsessed with the alleged sighting of a Lazarus Woodpecker, a bird not seen in the area for more than 50 years. The other narrative follows Benton Sage, a young university student who takes up a position as a missionary in Africa but loses his faith and any sense of meaning in his life along the way. It’s very well written and the multiple storylines are interwoven carefully. One issue I had was the narrative perspective change towards the end which came out of the blue. It took me four pages to click to what was going on before I realised it was something clever. There are a lot of smart, witty and heartfelt observations throughout the book as well as a lot of elements to the story, so I look forward to reading it over again.

I really can’t recommend this book enough!

~ Rachel

From turnip eating peasant to assassin nun

Grave Mercy, Robin LaFevers

Ismae is a peasant girl living in 15th Century Brittany. Just after her wedding to a violent pig farmer, Ismae is rescued by the herbwitch who tried to poison her before she was born (but you wouldn’t quibble: the pig farmer is horrid) and whisked away to a mysterious convent. The sisters of the convent of St Mortain aren’t your average nuns. Mortain is merely masquerading as a saint: he’s an ancient god; Death, actually. Ismae is, she learns, a daughter of Mortain; immune to poison and with a natural gift for killing, and the sisters are assassins, using their skills to ensure the Duchy of Brittany remains independant from the looming, malignant France.

That’s basically the background to Grave Mercy, the first book in the His Fair Assassin series, which is getting great reviews from the lofty New York Times to blogger-reviewers, like here or here. I read the whole book in pretty much a day. It’s an action-packed historical novel with some romance, mystical magic, and a few gory endings, and I liked it!

Best of 2010: Andrée’s and Lucy’s Pick

Manstealing for Fat Girls, Michelle Embree

A great book for older teens, characters are not your usual beautiful mall rats but interesting people with quirks, family issues and are just trying to get their rubbish together.

~ Andrée

(Set in St Louis (in the US) in the 1980s; the goodreads.com description says this is an “off-kilter” novel, which we like.)

This is also favourably reviewed by Lucy Longstockings!

Based in the 1980’s and published in 2006, Manstealing for Fat Girls came to our library this year and the odd title and pretty cover intrigued me. Warning though: this book is RAW. This messed up account of Angie aka ‘Lezzylard’ is not your typical tale of high school romance with football jackets and promise rings. Angie’s crowd are the outcasts, the dealers, the kids who wag school and get wasted on whatever. I highly recommend this, and, although the setting might be different and the music and the slang are way 80’s, the angst of being a teenager, frustrated and bored, is timeless.

~ Lucy

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