2014's must reads

In the last books pages of 2014, our regular ODT reviewers share some of their "must reads'' from the past year.

As people's response to books is so subjective, we have aimed to give readers an idea of some of our most recommended books of the year, rather than a definitive "best books'' list.

Don't miss our Summer Times pages from December 27 to January 10 for more in-depth recommendations of some of these titles, plus some fantastic book giveaways.

FICTION

POETRY

YOU FIT THE DESCRIPTION, by Peter Olds (Cold Hub Press).

YOU FIT THE DESCRIPTION:<br>The Selected Poems of Peter Olds<br><b>Peter Olds</b><br><i>Cold Hub Press</i>
YOU FIT THE DESCRIPTION:<br>The Selected Poems of Peter Olds<br><b>Peter Olds</b><br><i>Cold Hub Press</i>

Dunedin poet Peter Olds gives us a deluxe version of his earlier collection It Was A Tuesday Morning: Selected Poems 1972-2001 (Hazard, 2004). Over 130 poems are placed in random order. Times, seasons and feelings mix together.

- Recommended by poetry reviewer Hamesh Wyatt.

 

 

 

 

 

GENERAL

THE CHILDREN ACT, by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape).

THE CHILDREN ACT<br><b>Ian McEwan</b><br><i>Jonathan Cape</i>
THE CHILDREN ACT<br><b>Ian McEwan</b><br><i>Jonathan Cape</i>

The plot involves a British Family High Court judge, and a case about a teenager who has leukaemia, but doesn't want a life-saving blood transfusion. Several other cases provide food for thought as well. The judge makes her decision, but then must live with the effects, and the outcome packs quite a punch.

- Recommended by Rachel Gurney.

 

 

 

 

 

LAMPLIGHTER, by Kerry Donovan Brown (Victoria University Press).

LAMPLIGHTER<br><b>Kerry Donovan</b><br><i>Brown Victoria University Press</i>
LAMPLIGHTER<br><b>Kerry Donovan</b><br><i>Brown Victoria University Press</i>

Lamplighter is a little gem of a book that heralds the arrival of a new and talented young New Zealand author; a beautifully written, produced and presented coming-of-age fable about a boy and a town that you will quite literally not want to put down.

- Recommended by Cushla McKinney.

 

 

 

 

 

THE LIE, by Helen Dunmore (Huthchinson).

THE LIE<br><b>Helen Dunmore</b><br><i>Hutchinson</i>
THE LIE<br><b>Helen Dunmore</b><br><i>Hutchinson</i>

The Lie is a beautifully written book about the effect on one man's life as he returns home after serving in World War 1 to face living with the horror of what he has experienced. A powerful and sensitive reminder of war's futility and madness.

- Recommended by Patricia Thwaites.

 

 

 

 

 

THE MOUSEPROOF KITCHEN, by Saira Shah (Random House).

THE MOUSEPROOF KITCHEN<br><b>Saira Shah</b><br><i>Random House</i>
THE MOUSEPROOF KITCHEN<br><b>Saira Shah</b><br><i>Random House</i>

Based on a true story, this novel about a couple's struggle to care for their severely disabled baby while aspiring to an idyllic lifestyle in a remote Frenchvillage was a page-turner. It successfully combines tales of rustic charm and local eccentricity with a life-and-death domestic situation.

- Recommended by ODT subeditor Caroline Hunter.

 

 

 

 

IN BETWEEN DREAMS, by Iman Verjee, (One World).

Iman Verjee's prizewinning debut novel is the pick of the bunch for me. Detailing an eerie childhood for one troubled Canadian girl, this novel is entirely gripping. A 10-hour reading marathon still did not get me through this substantial and highly disturbing work. Verjee writes compassionately, convincingly and subtly about how easy it can be for relationships to go devastatingly awry.

- Recommended by Jessie Neilson.

 

 

 

 

THE LAST ILLUSION, by Porochista Khakpour (Allen & Unwin).

THE LAST ILLUSION<br><b>Porochista Khakpour</b><br><i>Allen & Unwin</i>
THE LAST ILLUSION<br><b>Porochista Khakpour</b><br><i>Allen & Unwin</i>

Exquisitely deranged characters, Persian mythology and the fall of the Twin Towers are blended to perfection. Complex and flawed, Zal is born discoloured in a rural Iranian village and raised as a bird. In New York he befriends an anorexic paranoid artist, her abused and freakishly obese sister, and a ridiculous, flamboyant illusionist.

- Recommended by Rosie Manins.

 

 

 

 

 

CRIME & THRILLERS

NO REGRETS, COYOTE, by John Dufresne (Allen & Unwin).

NO REGRETS, COYOTE<br><b>John Dufresne</b><br><i>Serpent's Tail</i>
NO REGRETS, COYOTE<br><b>John Dufresne</b><br><i>Serpent's Tail</i>

This book has all the hallmarks of 1940s suspenseful detective fiction that's at once dark and funny. I've read it twice now and I'll probably read it again. It's one of those books where you miss things the first time around or you want to savour once again the seeming improbabilities. ''Five bodies, one weapon, one suspect, much blood.''

- Recommended by Ted Fox.

 

 

 

 

 

SKELETON ROAD, by Val McDermid (Little, Brown).

My best thriller this year was one by this UK writer. It features DCI Karen Pirie finally visiting Croatia to solve the mystery of an old skeleton discovered on top of an Edinburgh building. There was dirty work involved; forensics (that McDermid had just researched) provides some interesting keys.

- Recommended by former ODT editor Geoff Adams.

 

 

 

 

 

SHORT STORIES

THE RED QUEEN, by Gemma Bowker-Wright (Victoria University Press).

THE RED QUEEN<br><b>Gemma Bowker-Wright</b><br><i>Victoria University Press</i>
THE RED QUEEN<br><b>Gemma Bowker-Wright</b><br><i>Victoria University Press</i>

Each of these stories in this first collection from a New Zealand author is a small gem of insight and the lyrical style encourages reflection. She presents a series of people in transition and change, running fast to stay on top.

- Recommended by Willie Campbell.

 

 

 

 

 

THE FAMILIES, by Vincent O'Sullivan (Victoria University Press).

THE FAMILIES <br><b>Vincent O'Sullivan</b><br><i> Victoria University Press</i>
THE FAMILIES <br><b>Vincent O'Sullivan</b><br><i> Victoria University Press</i>

It is a pleasure to read stories by an experienced writer who has something to say and says it with great and unobtrusive craftsmanship. The 14 stories in this collection, O'Sullivan's eighth in 50 years, focusing on communication and understanding (or their lack), provide just that pleasure.

- Recommended by Lawrence Jones.

 

 

 

 

CHILDREN'S & YOUNG ADULT

OI FROG!, by Kes Gray and Jim Field (Hachette).

OI FROG!<br><b>Kes Gray, illustrations Jim Field</b><br><i>Hachette</i>
OI FROG!<br><b>Kes Gray, illustrations Jim Field</b><br><i>Hachette</i>

When Frog doesn't want to sit on a log, Cat must explain the rules to him. Mats are for cats, chairs are for hares and sofas are for gophers etc ... Oi Frog! is a clever story and the illustrations of the animals and the crazy things they sit on are brilliant.

- Recommended by Laura Hewson.

 

 

 

 

CONRAD COOPER'S LAST STAND, by Leonie Agnew (Puffin).

CONRAD COOPER'S LAST STAND<br><b>Leonie Agnew</b><br><i>Puffin</i>
CONRAD COOPER'S LAST STAND<br><b>Leonie Agnew</b><br><i>Puffin</i>

Leonie Agnew tellingly entwines 10-year-old Conrad's personal watershed in standing up to his overbearing policeman stepfather with the infamous Bastion Point standoff between Maori landowners and the Government. It's a battle between David and Goliath, and you know David is in the right . . .

- Recommended by René Nol.

 

 

 

 

 

NON-FICTION

GENERAL

THE CATCH: how fishing companies reinvented slavery and plunder the oceans, by Michael Field (Awa Press).

This is a well-researched and comprehensive account of the ecological and human costs of exploitation in New Zealand's and the global maritime sector. Michael Field pulls no punches in this book, which is investigative journalism at its best.

- Recommended by Victor Billot.

 

 

 

 

 

RICHARD SEDDON: King Of God's Own, by Tom Brooking (Penguin).

RICHARD SEDDON: KING OF GOD'S OWN<br>The Life and Times of New Zealand's Longest-Serving Prime Minister<br><b>Tom Brooking</b><br><i>Penguin</i>
RICHARD SEDDON: KING OF GOD'S OWN<br>The Life and Times of New Zealand's Longest-Serving Prime Minister<br><b>Tom Brooking</b><br><i>Penguin</i>

Otago academic Tom Brooking's biography of our longest-serving political leader was my highlight. Big, meticulously researched and sensitively written, the book paints Seddon in a more liberal and sympathetic light and strengthens an overdue re-evaluation of the Liberal era and of the people whose social and economic policies still influence our modern society.

- Recommended by Gavin McLean.

 

 

 

 

 

THE SIXTH EXTINCTION: An unnatural history, by Elizabeth Colbert (Bloomsbury).

THE SIXTH EXTINCTION<br>An Unnatural History<b>Elizabeth Kolbert</b><br><i>Allen &  Unwin</i>
THE SIXTH EXTINCTION<br>An Unnatural History<b>Elizabeth Kolbert</b><br><i>Allen & Unwin</i>

Erudite, well-researched and written, this important book summarises all the dangers of increasing climate change, with emphasis on the speed of the current environmental catastrophes already at work. A must read for anyone having doubts about climate change.

- Recommended by Margaret Bannister.

 

 

 

 

 

HOW DOES IT HURT? by Stephanie de Montalk (Victoria University Press).

De Montalk has deftly grappled with the subject of chronic pain from a personal, academic and poetic point of view. In the hands of a lesser writer it could have been a tedious disaster, but this is a beautifully written, fascinating and insightful work.

- Recommended by Elspeth McLean.

 

 

 

 

 

TRAMPING: A New Zealand History, by Shaun Barnett and Chris Maclean (Craig Potton Publishing).

TRAMPING: A NEW ZEALAND HISTORY<br><b>Shaun Barnett and Chris Maclean</b><br><i>Craig Potton Publishing</i>
TRAMPING: A NEW ZEALAND HISTORY<br><b>Shaun Barnett and Chris Maclean</b><br><i>Craig Potton Publishing</i>

Tramping's ingrained in the New Zealand way of life. This first comprehensive history is well-researched, beautifully illustrated and eminently readable, using the social context of New Zealand over the past one and a half centuries as its framework.

- Recommended by David Barnes.

 

 

 

 

 

THE SENSE OF STYLE: the thinking person's guide to writing in the 21st Century, by Stephen Pinker (Penguin).

Style isn't just about splitting an infinitive, or using who when you mean whom, or misusing the passive tense. It's about writing that actually makes clear sense to your readers. There's a huge amount to enjoy here for anyone who delights in words, writing, and the use of language.

- Recommended by Mike Crowl.

 

 

 

 

 

SEXTANT: A voyage guided by the stars and the men who mapped the world's oceans, by David Barrie (William Collins).

Surrounded by ocean stretching as far as the eye can see, finding your way needs a good theory and a good instrument. David Barrie explains both with the authority of experience, showing how epic voyages of history, many in the South Pacific, depended on the sextant and its early predecessors.

- Recommended by Clive Trotman.

 

 

 

 

 

WAPITI HUNTING IN NEW ZEALAND, by Simon Gibson (The Halcyon Press).

WAPITI HUNTING IN NEW ZEALAND <br><b>Simon Gibson</b><br><i>The Halcyon Press</i>
WAPITI HUNTING IN NEW ZEALAND <br><b>Simon Gibson</b><br><i>The Halcyon Press</i>

Soooo much more than a simple hunting book. This is a meticulously researched ''how to'' on human nutrition, fitness and survival. Compelling reading about the author's own stalking adventures after his revered quarry and also retelling the historic hunts which secured champion Wapiti heads.

- Recommended by Stephen Jaquiery.

 

 

 

 

 

NEW ZEALAND & THE GREAT WAR OF 1914-1918, by Christopher Pugsley (Bateman).

NEW ZEALAND AND THE  GREAT WAR  OF 1914-1918<br><b>Christopher Pugsley</b><br><i>Bateman>/i>
NEW ZEALAND AND THE GREAT WAR OF 1914-1918<br><b>Christopher Pugsley</b><br><i>Bateman>/i>

This is the best brief introduction to New Zealand's involvement in World War 1. It is well-written, well-illustrated, beautifully laid-out, perceptive, and a great way to learn about who did what, and what it meant. Nothing of importance has been omitted.

- Recommended by Oliver Riddell.

 

 

 

 

 

HOLDING ON TO HOME: New Zealand stories and objects of the First World War, by Kate Hunter and Kirstie Ross (Te Papa Press).

New Zealanders, often fighting in the most wretched conditions imaginable, risked their lives every day in the Great War. On the home front, civilians were shouldering a burden. This book is a superb inventory, with illustrations, of the comforts and essential items provided for troops.

- Recommended by Clarke Isaacs.

 

 

 

 

 

TOMMY'S WAR: The Western front in soldier's words and photographs, by Richard van Emden (Bloomsbury).

This masterfully written and illustrated book looks at the war through the eyes of the average soldier. With more than 300 pages of first-hand accounts and photographs taken by the soldiers in the field, this is one for those wanting to know more about life in the trenches.

- Recommended by Doug Anderson.

 

 

 

 

 

SPORT

CYCLE OF LIES: The Fall of Lance Armstrong, by Juliet Macur (HarperCollins).

CYCLE OF LIES The fall of Lance Armstrong <br><b> Juliet Macur</b><br><i>HarperCollins<i>
CYCLE OF LIES The fall of Lance Armstrong <br><b> Juliet Macur</b><br><i>HarperCollins<i>

It certainly wasn't all about the bike. This is the definitive story of the downfall of American cyclist Lance Armstrong, arguably sport's biggest cheat. Macur's reporting is first-rate, her writing gripping, and the result is a startling piece of work.

- Recommended by ODT sports editor Hayden Meikle.

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