Jessica Green is a book addict and library card holder since the age of 3. She’s a librarian at the Ottawa Public Library and currently the Apartment613 Librarian-in-Residence, sharing a compendium of literary thoughts and tips.
Once again, I’ve rounded up my favourite books for this year. [Editor’s note: See Jessica’s 2013 and 2014 picks as well!] These will be in two separate posts, one for adults and the other for kids and teens. It’s not exhaustive and I likely forgot many other gems I read this year. Funnily enough, I ended up doing the adult books in pairs. So I have two sci-fi books, two fairy tale inspired books and so on. Here are ideas for great reads over the holidays:
- Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Seveneves was one of those books where I kept thinking “Spare moment: I can read a few more pages” which was probably a good idea as it clocks in at 867 pages. I found this tale of what happens when a catastrophe hits the Earth which results in trying to figure out how people can escape the planet to keep the human race going to be gripping, both in terms of the science and the characters.
- Station Eleven by Emily St.John Mandel
The story begins in contemporary times when the lead actor dies on stage in a play, and then catastrophe hits via a flu that kills off most of the world’s population. Years later, we follow many of the characters we met on stage and as the world imploded, trying to preserve the old culture in various ways. It’s the type of book where the characters are all intertwined somehow, like Cloud Atlas, but not quite as dense.
Fairy Tales for Adults
- Bitter Greens by Kate Forsythe
It’s a tale that winds together a story within a story; the first is about Charlotte-Rose de la Force who is exiled to a convent from the court of Louis XIV for her scandalous affairs. Charlotte-Rose is told the second story by Soeur Seraphina about Selena, a model of Titan, who is imprisoned by a witch desiring eternal youth. This retelling of Rapunzel is very well done, especially when you discover that de la Force is the writer whose version of the fairy tale is the one we know today.
- Charlie Glass’s Slippers by Holly McQueen
Charlie Glass has just lost her father, and been named the heir to his shoe empire in the will, much to the dismay of her step mother and sisters. Charlie makes over her life to try and fit into her new role, and mayhem ensues. This fractured fairy tale for adults is pretty funny and although you can see the end of the story a mile away, you wondering how Charlie is going to reach it.
- Yo Miss: a Graphic Look at High School by Lisa Wilde
This is a really engrossing tale of a high school English teacher in New York City who works at a second chance high school for students who need alternative approaches to class. You get wrapped up in the stories of the teens as they work towards their high school diplomas, with much drama along the way. It’s both funny and heartbreaking.
- Trillium by Jeff Lemire
A trippy tale of time travel and romance as a botanist from 3797 and an English explorer from 1921 meet via what seems to be a temple in the Peruvian jungle or perhaps, a remote space station at the edge of the known universe… Lemire is a genius at these offbeat tales, and it shows here once again.
- Eating Viet Nam: Dispatches from a Blue Plastic Table by Graham Holliday
Not having left the UK much in his life, Holliday decided to move to Asia to teach. He spends some time in South Korea before his move to Viet Nam, where he ultimately becomes obsessed with street food. I liked the combination of memoir with analysis of some of the dishes he came to love. This is armchair travel at its best.
- The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell
When Russell’s husband lands a job working at Legoland in Denmark, she decides to give up the busy life they were leading in London to work freelance in a rural part of the world’s happiest country. It’s a fun look at the expat life where Russell looks at everything from being “hygge” in winter, pastries, childcare, design and how happy Danes feel about their life in Denmark: a really fun read.
Mental Health & Self-Improvement
I was thrilled to find this zine here at the library, having read about it on a few blogs, and it’s a great little book that reminds you to fight to be happy, but also that you are not alone in your journey. I highly recommend this for anyone struggling with their emotions as it offers solid, no nonsense advice. Anytime you feel overwhelmed, you can find little snippets of advice n the book.
- Art Before Breakfast by Danny Gregory
This is a really fun book all about how to inject more creativity into your day. Gregory offers advice and exercises to jump-start your art. There’s even a whole website and online art school that are an offshoot of the book. I found it inspiring and practical; the lessons were not intimidating like I have seen in other books where you needed special equipment or pigments.
- 90 Degrees of Shade: Image and Identity in the West Indies by Paul Baker and Stuart Gilroy
I did not expect such a stunning coffee table book when I ordered this in. The photographs span the last 100 years and feature scenes from life on many Caribbean islands. The photos are gorgeously replicated and feature everything from celebrations to the working day to the diaspora of people from the West Indies in other countries. This is a real gem.
- Spineless: Portraits of Marine Invertebrates, the Backbone of Life by Susan Middleton
Middleton does really unique photography of animals against either a light or dark background that shows off both the beauty and uniqueness of the animal in question. This book features spineless invertebrates, which make up most of what is found in the oceans. It’s a stunning coffee table book for the science nerd in your life.
I love police procedurals so it was really interesting to hear this real life account of what it is like to be a real forensic pathologist. Melinek takes on all sorts of cases, which she explains with humour and empathy. Sometimes they find their answer to the deaths and other times, there isn’t an answer to be found. This comes into play especially in the section where she describes what it was like working post 9/11.
Bed bugs have come back with a vengeance into the world and after a few close encounters of her own, Borel takes a deep look into these insects to discover why they have come back to infest. She examines everything from the scientist who studied bed bugs almost exclusively to what is available to combat these pests. It’s not for the faint of heart, especially if you hate insects, but very engrossing.