It’s time for this blog’s favorite posts of the year: the ABC Staff’s Favorite Reads of 2014! We hope these books, magazines, games, and more will help you start your new literary year with a bang. Let’s get started, shall we?
- Shirley: Amsterdam’s Children’s Books buyer and Treehouse booker.
- Daria: Amsterdam’s Girl Friday and Events staffer par excellence.
- Tiemen: Amsterdam’s Science Fiction & Fantasy and Young Adult Books buyer, and Blind Book Date Manifesto scribe.
We want to know about your favorite reads, too. They don’t have to be books published in 2014, just read in 2014. Please mail your Top 5 reads, and your reasons for enjoying them so much, to firstname.lastname@example.org by Christmas Day. Your favorites will kick off the new year for this blog, as they have done for the past 7 years, and you will receive a € 7,50 ABC Gift Certificate as a thank you!
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
I read this book for the second time. A really good read, nice plots, interesting twists, but the end, I found, was a little bit disappointing…
Make Your Own Model: My Zoo – Ellen Giggenbach
Because I do loads of drawing, handicraft-ing and paperfolding with my daughter, this author is a real treat. She makes beautiful handicraft books where you have to pop out paper animals, buildings, people, or even Christmas decorations. You have to fold them and then you can play with these high quality, nicely designed models.
More of Shirley’s favorite reads can be found on Staff Choice: Shirley.
Absolute Beginners – Colin MacInnes
Very entertaining read, the characters are spot-on. Reminds me of my Ska days and trips to London. A bit disturbing that a lot of what MacInnes writes about still rings true today.
Henri Matisse: Cut-outs, Drawing with Scissors – Gilles Neret
Last year my mom and I went on a pilgrimage to the Cote d’Azur to visit the Matisse museum in Nice and his chapel in Vence; it blew my mind. Seeing the surroundings through Matisse’s eyes, what an aesthetic experience! “There are always flowers for those who want to see them” – Henri Matisse
Amsterdam Slavery Heritage Guide – Dineke Hondius and Jennifer Tosch
A very-much-needed addition to the guides on Amsterdam, it highlights the parts of Amsterdam and Dutch history that are at best just touched upon, and at worst left out competely. Featuring over a hundred locations, you will learn things about Amsterdam you never knew.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
A must-read, even if you think you know a lot about this time in history (no spoilers for those of you who don’t know what it’s about). In all its seeming simplicity it really delivers the punch, literally; after I closed the book I felt like I had been punched in the stomach and I fell into a restless, nightmarish sleep.
Ghana Must Go – Taiye Selasi
Follows the trials and tribulations of a Nigerian-Ghanaian family living in the US. Very vividly written, really paints the picture of this family and its surroundings. You want to know all about them, and it left me wanting for more.
Draw Paint Print like the Great Artists – Marion Deuchars
Great activity book for creative children, really draws on their imagination while at the same time teaching them about major artists.
A Left-Hand Turn for the World – David Wolman (currently out of print, but we can order copies through our supplier of second-hand books)
Born as a leftie (or am I ambidextrous?) this was an entertaining read for me. Like the author I always notice when somebody is left-handed.
Too Big To Know – David Weinberger
Fills you in on our acquisition of knowledge in the digital age (the Internet being ‘Too Big Too Know’), and how these times are completely different from the former paper-based knowledge ages.
Hope in a Ballet Shoe – Elaine and Michaela DePrince
What a gruelling journey, yet what a hopeful story. Michaela DePrince’s talk at TEDxAmsterdam last month was soul-stirring and very impressive.
Reading now: Mo’ Meta Blues – Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Ben Greenman
The man, the music and what makes him tick. If you love music take the ride inside Questlove’s head. Very cool to read the musings of a fellow Hip Hop afficionado and overall music connoiseur.
Daria’s favorite reads can be also found on Staff Choice: Daria.
Three Body Problem – Cixin Liu
The Three Body Problem is an astounding hard-SF novel. Cixin Liu manages to evoke the strangeness and beauty of our universe. It’s the story of what would happen if humanity made contact with an alien civilization set in the background of the Cultural Revolution and modern-day China. This book has been an enormous bestseller in China and, finally having read the translation, I can now say it is well deserved. If Stanley Kubrick were still alive this is the kind of story he would have loved to turn into a movie.
The Mirror Empire – Kameron Hurley
Did you hear that sound? That is the bar for epic fantasy being raised by Kameron Hurley. The Mirror Empire has been the fantasy novel I’ve been waiting for this year. Exceed my expectations it did. Hurley knows how to build unique and compelling worlds and weave them together in an intricate and action-packed fantasy saga. Think plant life that would kill and eat you in a second, a magic system based on the position of the stars, lightsaber-esque weapons that sprout from the wrist and an invasion, not from another country or continent, but from a parallel universe. And don’t forget to add a couple of intriguing societies, gender definitions that go beyond the standard binary one, and a character that does not identify with any of them.
Otherbound – Corinne Duyvis
When you read Otherbound you will become aware of how many times you blink with your eyes during the day. What would happen if, every time you blinked, you looked through the eyes of someone else in another universe? That is the main premise in Otherbound, and it sets in motion a gripping fantasy tale that introduces us to a diverse and unforgettable cast of characters. Also, for all Dutch readers, it is fun to read about a fantasy world inspired by the Netherlands.
I raved about Ancillary Justice last year and I’m happy to write that the sequel, Ancillary Sword, is just as good, if not better. With most sequels – especially with Space Opera – everything has to be bigger, larger and explosier (that is not a real word, but it should exist nonetheless). Not so with Ancillary Sword; it is a tightly plotted and intelligent space opera that deals with such issues as colonialism, exploitation, loyalty. It’s a delight to meet the main character Breq again as this time she has to command her own ship and deal with corruption and oppression on a space station in a remote corner of the Radchaai empire.
The Signal and the Noise – Nate Silver
A non-fiction book about the science of making predictions. Not exactly what one would expect to be an exciting read, but Nate Silver manages to tell an engrossing and diverse tale about why it so hard for us humans to make even remotely accurate predictions. From baseball to economic forecasts, the reader is shown the importance of reliable forecasts and the many challenges one faces when trying to make an accurate prediction.
Other noteworthy mentions:
The Shadow Throne – Django Wexler. The second part in the Shadow Campaigns; part one being The Thousand Names. This is becoming my favorite fantasy series. If you like your fantasy with muskets and a diverse cast of smart characters, this is the series for you. (Read Tiemen’s interview with author Django Wexler here.)
The Goblin Emperor – Kate Addison. The ultimate feel good fantasy novel of 2014. Political intrigue set in a byzantine court with an underdog protagonist you can’t help but root for.
Lilith’s Brood – Octavia Butler. I should have read Butler way, way, waaaay sooner. One of the grandmasters of science fiction and now I understand why. Lilith’s Brood is science fiction in a class of its own. A sensual and bittersweet tale with an alien race that attracts and repulses at the same time.
The Red: First Light – Linda Nagata. Excellent military SciFi that portrays a near future that looks eerily familiar.
City of Stairs – Robert Jackson Bennett. This is John Le Carré meets A Game of Thrones set in a magical city where once the Gods dwelled. If you like your fantasy smart and original, this is the novel for you. It also has the most awesome character since Tyrion in the form of the somewhat lugubrious giant Sigrud.
Lock In – John Scalzi. Scalzi is one of my favorite authors so every new book by him must be read at once. This time he tried something new with a near future police procedure and once again it is a original and amusing story. I can tell you some more about the book, or you can read the awesome prequel here.
More of Tiemen’s favorite reads can be found on Staff Choice: Tiemen.