It seems like a list of staff picks for the year should include a lot of books published in 2014, but what can I say, we are all slowly (hopelessly) playing catchup with the last few centuries of English Lit!
I’ve included in the list which sections we file them in at Pegasus; though some of these aren’t terribly common, so, as always, if you can’t find it on our shelves, please ask and we’ll order it for you! And if you don’t live locally, please remember to support your favorite independent bookstore.
Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee. SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY
The stories in this collection are a strange and unique mélange of math, honor, magic, music, Asian mythology, war, genocide, lexicography, weaponry, time travel, and spaceships. Lee’s style is poetic and almost-but-not-quite surreal and, sometimes, beyond my comprehension: in the good way, the way that promises that I will enjoy the second and tenth readings as much as the first. And yes, there will be a tenth reading, someday, because this is now one of my favorite books.
Graceling by Karen Cashore. YOUNG ADULT FANTASY
Katsa has the killing Grace, discovered when she killed a man with her bare hands at age eight. Now imagine how that would mess you up. Yeah? I love so many things about this book. I love that Katsa is not nice, I love the way she struggles to understand other people, I love the way her love interest is handled, I love the fact that she flatly refuses to get married and have kids like every other fantasy heroine ever. You can think of Graceling as Tamora Pierce upgraded.
Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. LITERATURE
I’m a Steinbeck fangirl. I am however glad I waited until the mood struck me before reading The Grapes of Wrath; I don’t think I could have appreciated it as a teenager. Here is my advice regarding this book. If you have not read it, read it. If you have read it, read it again. It may not be a pleasant read but it is a great one.
The Time Roads by Beth Bernobich. FANTASY
What? Steampunk that is actually well-written? Oh my. The first line of the acknowledgments immediately made me perk up—”Twelve years ago, I sat down to write a story about mathematics and murder and time”; and then I could not put the thing down until I finished at 12:45am. It delivered on its promise: with mathematics, and murder, and fractured time, and a beautifully understated bittersweet love story, and politics and spy intrigue in a fascinating alternate history.
Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little-Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life by Kate Rhéaume-Bleue. HEALTH
A fascinating book, if you’re into this sort of thing. In short, it explains the newest research on why taking calcium supplements for bone health increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. The science is fairly simple, the data is well-presented in this book, and the conclusion is convincing. Eat the butter, people. Eat the butter.
The Western Lit Survival Kit: An Irreverent Guide to the Classics, from Homer to Faulkner by Sandra Newman. LITERARY CRITICISM
If you are considering getting an English Lit degree, why not just memorize this instead? You’ll save time, you’ll laugh more, and you’ll still be able to chat knowingly about Restoration Drama when it comes up (as it does). I sometimes strongly disagree with Newman—and you probably will too—but I prefer literary criticism with personality rather than some ridiculous pretense of objectivity.
White House Interpreter: The Art of Interpretation by Harry Obst. LANGUAGES
The author is German-English interpreter who worked with seven U.S. Presidents. He does a brilliant job of mixing on-the-job anecdotes with non-technical descriptions of what an interpreter does, while throughout making the clear and illuminating point of why it is one of the most important jobs that is both desperately important and thoroughly overlooked (especially by Americans).
Wise Children by Angela Carter. LITERATURE
The sort of book which 99.9% of readers will find incomprehensible; the last .01% will adore. The “Wise Children” of the title are Nora and Dora Chance, twin sisters from a family of famous Shakespearean actors. The book is bawdy, hilarious, sad, gorgeous, crazy, nonlinear, wonderful.
Writing on the Wall: Social Media – The First 2,000 Years by Tom Standage. TECHNOLOGY
This is not, of course, really the history of what we think of when we say “social media”—MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. More accurately it’s the history of all pre-centralized media. Highly recommended for anyone who wants an unputdownable book of social history.
The Zaanics Deceit by Nina Post. SUSPENSE
When asked if I’d review this, I read the blurb and first page before agreeing. Hmm, I said to myself. It takes place in Istanbul and San Francisco, concerns a manuscript in an invented language, makes direct nods to King Lear, and begins with a heroine with an anxiety disorder remotely managing a diamond heist. Did the author peek inside my head and write a book just for me? Do I want to read more? YES PLEASE. This is The Da Vinci Code for people who like books that are well-written and witty.
Longer reviews of all these books, and many others, are available on my blog, This Space Intentionally Left Blank. –Emma
All the Rain Promises and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms by David Arora. FIELD GUIDE
Simply the best field guide for identifying mushrooms I have ever come across.
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by John Krakauer. MOUNTAINEERING
I usually do not stay up past my bedtime to finish a book but this was such a powerful story that was so well told that I had to.
The Long Earth / The Long War / The Long Mars by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. SCIENCE FICTION
Two very different authors write one very beautiful series together.
Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska by Jim Pojar. FIELD GUIDE
Clear photos, great descriptions, info on lookalikes…some of the reasons why I have four copies of this book.
Revival by Stephen King. HORROR
True to the King philosophy of enjoying the ride of life without worrying about what happens after death.
Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore. FANTASY
The author restored my faith in his work (after “Fool”) with this fantastic retelling of “Merchant of Venice” blended with “Othello”.
A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Nonfiction by Terry Pratchett. FANTASY (ESSAYS)
Learning more about Alzheimer’s and fedoras were just some of the benefits from reading this raw collection.
Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life by Tom Robbins. MEMOIR
We thought we knew everything about Tom Robbins from his fiction but this autobiography shed a whole new light on a very interesting life.
Tiger Shrimp Tango by Tim Dorsey. MYSTERY
The 17th Serge A. Storms book is on par with some of the best in the series. Accidental virgins and Mentos galore!
Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival by Joe Simpson. MOUNTAINEERING
The author is only alive today because of his stubbornness, skill, strength, and a huge amount of luck.
Cave and Cosmos: Shamanic Encounters with Another Reality by Michael Harner. SHAMANISM
This book on contemporary western neo-shamanic practices made me realize that shamanism was an open-ended system that could include Catholic saints as much as the spirit of a tree. I started shamanic journeying in earnest after reading this.
Coyote Medicine: Lessons From Native American Healing by Lewis Mehl-Madrona. SHAMANISM
A classic work on integration of modern medicine with Native American community healing. Full of beautiful and very funny stories, and very inspiring. I’m gradually getting all of his books.
Emissary Of Love: The Psychic Children Speak to the World by James F. Twyman. METAPHYSICS
Some believe that a new race of humans is developing on this planet, and this book makes a good case for it—as well as being an exciting travel story.
The Healing Light by Agnes Sanford. METAPHYSICS
Agnes stands right smack between Pentecostal Christianity and New Thought, too Christian for one and too New Age for the other. No one will own up to her, despite the fact that she was a powerful healer of bodies and souls. That’s why I like her.
Intuitive Self-Healing: Achieve Balance and Wellness Through the Body’s Energy Centers by Marie Manuchehri. ENERGY HEALING
One of many energy healing books written by western medical professionals, this is the best in class for this sort of book, giving practical exercises for changing your energy field. It was also a joy to read. I took two workshops with Marie as a result.
Lame Deer Seeker Of Visions by John (Fire) Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes. NATIVE AMERICAN HISTORY
Intense, mystical, ribald, deep, and very funny, this is no doubt the best book I’ve ever read written by a Native American.
The Magdalene Version: Secret Wisdom from a Gnostic Mystery School by Stuart Wilson and Joanna Prentis. METAPHYSICS
I have a strong focus on the Divine Feminine and this is the best of several books on Mary Magdalene that I read this year. It is a channeled book, but the teachings are coherent, powerful, and nicely placed half way between eastern and western traditions.
Pranic Healing by Choa Kok Sui. ENERGY HEALING
The first book that convinced me that energy healing could be learned out of a book. Detailed, but not too complex, written in a logical step by step style, this is one of my favorites on the subject.
Shamans of the World: Extraordinary First Person Accounts of Healings, Mysteries, and Miracles by Nancy Connor (ed.). SHAMANISM
A great introduction to many powerful shamans around the world, with much of the book told in their own words. I learned about many amazing teachers through this book, and proceeded to get more books on each of them.
You Are Psychic: The Art of Clairvoyant Reading and Healing by Debra Lynne Katz. METAPHYSICS
The best psychic development book I’ve read, giving simple exercises that when practiced do actually amp up your clairvoyance and other perceptual abilities. Full of common sense tips and interesting stories, it is a very good read even if you don’t want to become a ‘reader’.
Fred didn’t give me a note about these since he considered his spiritual reading more important, but he also read every single one of Susan Mallery’s Fool’s Gold romance series. –Emma
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. LITERATURE
A book that blends its humor and tragedy so well you don’t know which parts you should laugh or cry at, or both.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. LITERATURE
I love Murakami. Even though this story might be less grandiose or surreal than most of his others, it packs a discrete wallop none the less.
The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester. SCIENCE FICTION
Timeless, classic science fiction at its very best. A futuristic cat-and-mouse chase showcasing Bester for all he’s worth.
Joyland by Stephen King. HORROR
Hearkens back to vintage King of the early fifties. Oh wait… He wasn’t writing then. Oh wait again… Maybe it was his doppelgänger.
Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. HORROR
A tense vampire story set in Sweden. It’s eerie and disturbing without verging into gratuitous territory. There will be blood.
The Necromancer’s House by Christopher Buehlman. HORROR
A tale full of darkness and wonder by an emerging new voice in the horror/fantasy genre.
The People in the Trees by Yanya Hanagihara. LITERATURE
One of the only books I actually read from 2014. I’m a sucker for books with unlikeable protagonists and beautiful descriptions. Check and check.
Y: The Last Man Volumes #1-10 by Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra. GRAPHIC NOVELS/SCIENCE FICTION
Multi-volume, post-apocalyptic, neo-soap opera-ish, globetrotting, medical thriller. One-sitting reading for sure.
The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2014 by Paula Guran (Ed.). HORROR
Catch up with some of the best writers in the genre working today. Standouts include: The Prayer of Ninety Cats, The Soul In The Bell Jar, The Good Husband, Phosphorous, and Termination Dust.
Magic for Beginners: Stories by Kelly Link. FANTASY
Emma read this first, then brought it in to work and foisted it on Jimmy and Eric insisting that they would also love it. We all do. Kelly Link will blow your mind over and over. If you like beautifully written, endlessly creative fantasy, check her out.