|"Bible dam" by Jacek Yerka|
Throughout the year, a cadre of dedicated reviewers wade hip-deep through the ceaseless torrents of upcoming, not-yet-vetted books. Some they love, some they like, and some just aren't for them. But now that the year's coming to a close, the faucet has been somewhat cinched, the torrent's calmed, and a few of our reviewers used the docility of the season to look back at everything they read and hip us to what really stood out.
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By Orlando Figes
For those Russophiles who can’t handle, let alone pick up, Riasanovksy’s 820 page History of Russia, Figes’ Revolutionary Russia is a good place to start. It’s a clear and thoughtful survey of a century of unprecedented change in Russia. Although Figes is too easy on Russia’s current Tsar. A reworking of Orwell’s picture of the future, may apply to Russia: “If you want a vision of the future of Russia, imagine Putin’s boot slamming on a human face – forever.”
China's Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa
By Howard W. French
There isn’t enough land and food on mainland China to feed China’s swelling population. Even with the Chinese government policy of forced abortion for mothers who are about to bear a child beyond the government’s permissible level. In response to a range of restrictions in China, more than a million Chinese are building new lives in Africa. French is an old Africa hand, with a lively writing style. He brings an under the radar story out into the clear light of the dark continent’s sun.
Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt
By Michael Lewis
If you read Lewis’ Moneyball, or saw the film adaptation, or read his The Big Short you’ll remember how enjoyable and informative he can be. Flash Boys looks at the high frequency trading on Wall Street that almost led to yet another financial collapse. One of the colourful people who helped to prevent that collapse was a modest Canadian, modestly named Brad. Yes, Brad, who worked for RBC, the Royal Bank of Canada. You can’t make this stuff up, because nobody would believe you if you did. I couldn’t put this book down!
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
By Atul Gawande
Have you completed your list of end of life requests? No, eh? That means that your loved ones and caregivers will stand around wondering which of the ever increasing end of life interventions they should plug you in to. That’s not fair for them. And its thoughtless on your part. Read Gawande’s compassionate description of many situations where there were no instructions, and family members were left to wonder what to do, with no knowledge of whether or not their decisions honoured the nearly deceased. Being Mortal is the most important book I read in 2014.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
By Elizabeth Kolbert
The Sixth Extinction is an update that follows Kolbert’s 2006 Field Notes From a Catastrophe. The Sixth Extinction is a careful and measured look at the coming end of our world as we will cease to know it. For the latest from Kolbert, see her take on Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, in the New York Review of Books, December 4, 2014.
Read more from James Reid at www.jamesedwardreid.ca
By Michael Crummey
Set on a remote Newfoundland island, Sweetland explores place, memory and familial responsibility. As the island is slowly depopulated, I was moved and haunted by the commitment of the titular character, Moses Sweetland, to stay where, and with whom, he belongs.
The Bone Clocks
By David Mitchell
Without spoiling too much: the book opens with (the hilariously captured 80s British schoolgirl) Holly Sykes as she experiences psychic phenomena and a ruinous encounter with her boyfriend. Spanning seventy-odd years, the novel takes the reader through characters bound to Holly all while exploring what it means to be a person, a person-in-relation-to - what it means to be in time and to be "of" a particular time. Somehow Mitchell manages to convey the beauty of intimate moments that feel inconsequential as you're reading them, only to have these moments reverberate and expand across the sweep of the narrative in a way that broadens the scope of the story from private lives to a sort of ontology of time and ecology.
By Sean Michaels
You’ve probably heard all about the plot by now (espionage, American in the 20s, successful men and the things they can buy, romance-lust-and-longing, war stories and suffering), but in reading Us Conductors you’ll hear fiction in a whole new way. The novel’s use of language to evoke sound and rhythm is extraordinary, but certainly not the most exquisite thing about this book. Instead, look to the nuance in character and the unique narration.
When's she not reading, Erin Aspenlieder is teaching, running or eating cookies (sometimes all at once). She prefers fiction and books made of paper. She blogs at literaryvice.ca
All My Puny Sorrows
By Miriam Toews
Miriam Toews' novel All My Puny Sorrows (the title taken from a Coleridge poem which refers to the loss of his siblings) has received many accolades and as far as I’m concerned she deserves them. Toews' trademark dry humour and exquisite writing skills hammer a tale from the real life experience of her own family. Describing the yin and yang of sisters in a tight-knit family is in itself the craft of writing at its taut best, but Toews drives the family dynamic still further with the haunting parallels between a father who died by suicide and his gifted musical daughter Elf. The fact that Towes’s own family trod this very same despairing road creates a tension and a truth to this literary treat that holds you like that other famous Coleridge character the Ancient Mariner. Whether you have experienced directly or at first hand the dementor-like pull of chronic depression, Toews renders brilliantly the inexorable nature of this devastating disease. It seems strange to revere a book with such a dire subject matter but the warmth of the family relations, the sheer humanness of the sisters Elf and Yoli will bring you to a fresh appreciation for how joy and pain are bedfellows and how a sunny outlook can easily be overwhelmed. What will thrill and delight you is the humour, the craft and the love that shines through. I always imagine Toews to be somewhat disinterested in what reviewers might say about her writing, she sounds like a truth speaker, holding a brave mirror to the world so we can more accurately see the truth of how we live which in turn makes it more bearable to go on despite tragedy and setbacks. This book is inspiring as only great writing can be, it has a music of its own and an inner truth that would indeed have held its own with the romantic poets ideals: “Beauty is truth and truth beauty / that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know”.
- Rosslyn Bently
The String Diaries
by Stephen Lloyd Jones
You’re in a car. Your husband is bleeding out in the passenger seat, your daughter is being hunted by a murderous shapeshifter, and your only defense is a pile of old, leather-bound books in the trunk. What do you do? So begins The String Diaries, a wonderful contemporary fantasy novel published earlier this year. The book is packed with tension and intrigue, and I particularly love the idea of shape-shifting humans living alongside us. A touch of the mystical grounded in reality, so to speak. The book deals with Hannah, a descendant of a special family, being hunted by one of these shapeshifters, and how she attempts to protect herself and her family. Adventurous, action-packed, and intriguing, definitely a top pick of the year.
by Lauren Owen
Vampires have received a lot of attention in recent years; some flattering, some not-so-much. Owen attempts to restore the power and mystique of vampires in a Gothic-style novel that draws on both mystery and legend to create a vivid, powerful story. In this world, vampires operate out of a club in London, hunting down those they believe less than themselves and inviting the more powerful to join their ranks. Into this walks Charlotte, a young girl searching for her brother, whom the vampires took. A gold star is awarded to this book for containing a believable homosexual romance – it makes a refreshing change, and I hope that trend continues. One warning to the reader though – if you get emotional, the ending will wreck you.
Of Bone and Thunder
by Chris Evans
I reviewed this book fairly recently, so I won’t say too much about it other than to give it extremely high praise. War in fantasy is always complicated to deal with, as you can never see it from everybody’s viewpoint. Evans tries to rectify this though, writing from various viewpoints from common soldiers to aeronauts to officers, and everyone in between. The result is a gritty, bloody novel that feels real simply because of the detail and attentiveness that’s poured into it. You know this war isn’t going the way it’s supposed to, you know everything that’s going right or wrong, and that creates a sensation of a real-life event rather than fiction. A hat tip to Evans having several characters die “off-screen” so to speak…having them die meaningless, stupid deaths (as they would in a real war) makes the situation in the novel feel that much more dire and that much more hopeless. Truly a wonderful read.
My Real Children
by Jo Walton
Choice defines us as humans. It defines who we are and who we will become. But what if you could remember what happened to you for either choice you made? In Walton’s novel, this is what happens to Patricia Cowan. It’s 2015, she’s in her 90s, and she fondly remembers raising four children with her husband, Mark. But she also remembers raising three children with Bee. She remembers her friends calling her Trish, and them also calling her Pat… She remembers Kennedy’s death in 1963 and also his re-election in 1964. When she was very young, she was told “now or never.” She remembers choosing “now” and also “never.” This book is a fascinating journey into the realms of choice, time travel, multiverses and self-awareness - all through the eyes of an old woman who doesn’t know what’s real and what’s not. The sensation is carried on through the reader successfully until they don’t know either what’s for certain. It’s a very rare book that can keep you guessing right to the end, and I don’t think anyone’s going to guess correctly. Which is the real world? What really happened to Ms. Cowan? Well, you’ll just have to choose to read the book and find out. Or maybe you won’t….and remember both…
by Jay Kristoff
I love this book. It’s a fantastic conclusion to the amazing Lotus War trilogy that begun with Stormdancer and Kinslayer. It’s a Japanese steampunk novel that details the adventures of Yukiko and her griffin companion Buruu as they attempt to deal with various factions intent on being victorious in wars fought both on battlegrounds and in boardrooms. These factions include everything from would-be sorcerers to technocratic idealists, and the way in which Kristoff shows Yukiko dealing with them is nothing short of masterful. Buruu remains one of my favourite fictional characters…every time his sardonic wit comes into play I cheer a little inside. By combining machines, magic, politics, and blood, Kristoff crafts an amazing novel that has earned the crown of greatest fantasy novel of 2014.
Robert Green is a confirmed bibliophile and aspiring writer whose love of sci-fi has caused him to own many more books than he has physical room for. He is also the owner and creator of the up-and-coming company Verity Books, which can be seen at various cons throughout the year. Any questions or comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/veritybooksanddvds.
The Rise & Fall of Great Powers
by Tom Rachman
by Eric McCormack
by Daniel O'Malley
The year just past was an interesting one, reading wise. I rekindled my love of reading just for me; that’s something that has been with me all my life, but waned as I read more and more for work. The books that particularly stood out don’t come from any one genre, but border on the fantastical and speculative. What is common to them all, however, is that they come at their explorations through the eyes of an intriguing (if flawed) protagonist. Their story becomes yours, and they let you inhabit their world, if just for a while.
Mark Mullaly is an avid reader, sometimes writer, enthusiastic motorcyclist and lover of wine (and endeavours to engage in only one of these pursuits at any given time).