Reader's ChoiceBest reads of 2004

The following titles have been nominated by readers and librarians as books they particularly enjoyed in 2004, although not all of them were published in that year.

Reader’s Choice

‘And that’s when it fell off in my hand’ by Louise Rennison
It was funny, poignant and true to life. It got inside the mind of a teenager. S B
Always the Sun by Neil Cross
Drama/Thriller. Excellent writing. Examined a father son relationship. Well written. Totally unexpected ending which left me reeling in disbelief.
The Amber Spyglass - The His Dark Materials Trilogy. (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) by Phillip Pullman
Until recently I had only read the first novel in this series - Northern Lights - because my English teacher set it for a project in class. I was fascinated by the book but I didn't pursue the series, reasons for which I have no idea. This year, I read Northern Lights for the second time, and enjoyed it so much I bought a copy for myself. Then I proceeded to read the rest of the series - The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass - and realised that these books were amazing. The are so rich in detail and incredible language that it is like chocolate for the brain. The story is so thoroughly original, and the characters are so detailed, this series is slowly becoming my favourite yet, and that is saying something, because I have always been very critical of books. These books are truly masterpieces, and are truly worth a read.
The Animal Ark Series
Because it was full of a dedicated girl saving animals lives
Anything by Alexander McCall Smith
The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series has become a classic all around the world. I particularly like the author's deep love and respect for the people of Botswana. If there is amusement to be had in people's frailties it is portrayed in a very gentle and kindly way. The prose style is deceptively simple, but very elegant, and never gets in the way of the story. Yes, they are "feel-good" books, but profound as well. This man is a star!
Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany and the winning of the Great War at sea
Much like reading a thriller. History of the wars between Britain and the Germans 1914-1918 and 1939-1945.
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
Great story, thought provoking story (i.e. could this be true?), gripping tale - you don't want to put this down.
The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud by Ben Sherwood
The first of two books I read this year by this author. He makes things that are presumed impossible to be possible. I felt moved and really in touch with this wonderful story.
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy
The book captivated me because of its concentration on the spiritual life.
L M (from Nigeria)
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood
Surely one of the most extraordinary memoirs ever written this book tells the story of the author's unbelievable childhood so believably you feel you are there with her!
The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton
I love the Famous Five books because they have a really thrilling, adventurous feeling. They make me feel as if I am in the adventures with them!
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
A wonderful expose of life in India during partition, involving a handful of people whose lives become intertwined.
Good morning midnight by Reginald Hill
This title started me on a Dalziel, Pascoe and Reginald Hill odyssey. The funniest, smartest detective series out.
Goodoo goodoo by Robert Barrett
Has the pulse of todays "Oz" mannerisms jibs quotes and humour right at the tip of his pen (or keyboard). A laugh a page. The most ridiculous storyline... or is it?!
Grace is Gone by Kelley Ana Morey
Wonderful quirky characters set in NZ. Could relate to the setting, lifestyle and characters. Excellent and easy to read writing style. A page turner.
The House: New Zealand’s House of Representatives 1854-2004 by John E. Martin
Fascinating. History, political structure, sociology. Very well written. Should be read by all interested in politics, and those who are not. Essential reading. Got fined for overdue caused by visitors reading it.
London Siege: a fictional story based on real-life events by Jim Eldridge
Because it was so adventurous and it actually happened in America.
Mayada - Daughter of Iraq by Jean Sasson
I could not put this book down. It is the story of one woman’s survival in one of Saddam Hussein's torture jails - every New Zealander should read it, - NO, every person should read this. It is an incredible true story and it just shows what an insane man Saddam is. I recommend it to anybody. I have told many friends and family about it and it has been well read.
My life in orange by Tim Guest
Great biography about being a kid when your parents are into weird cult stuff.
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
It was an ethical and moral dilemma from the very beginning and impossible to make any of the characters wrong for the part they played... great book to get you thinking... and thank your lucky stars you've never had to face such a nightmare
The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillippa Gregory
Vividly written--right in your room! Now I've followed this great book with The Queen's Fool plus The Virgin's Lover. Even if you don't like novels with a historical theme, try these-if you do, get in quick.
I love that era anyway but this book was amazing because it showed so many truths about human nature. It showed the intrigue and secrecy that surrounded court relationships. But was not over-dramatic.
Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance by Iris J Stewart (not held)
An absolutely wonderful and thorough investigation of women's spirituality as found through a myriad of cross-cultural traditions of movement, ritual and dance. Well-researched and beautifully written.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
It was intriguing! It's an oldy but a goody.
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon
Literary thriller, set in Spain, that slowly unravels an author’s life. Couldn't read too much at once as I didn't want it to end.
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Bryson has a relaxed style which makes complicated science concepts easily understood by all, and effectively communicates his awe and passion for this incredible universe
Slave: the true story of a girl’s lost childhood and her fight for survival by Mende Nazer
I would unhesitatingly recommend as one of the Best Reads of the Year. This is an autobiography which would captivate most readers from start to finish and is as topical with its setting in Sudan where genocide has, and probably still is, widespread, as it is interesting.
The author was kidnapped from her village where many fellow villagers were brutally murdered and taken to Khartoum where she was sold into slavery. The story doesn't end there as she is eventually taken as a slave to work in London where she attempts a bid for freedom. The prospective reader will discover whether she is successful or not.
Trickster’s Choice by Tamora Pierce
A brilliant return to the realm of Alanna the lady knight, picking up with her teenage daughter and exploring a different culture. The character of Nawht is a personal fave.
The Usual Rules by Joyce Maynard
A young girl’s account of surviving after losing her mother in the Twin Tower disaster. I loved this book as it was written from the young girl’s perspective.
West Coast Reins by Beverley Bassett Broad
It gave me a really good history lesson about New Zealand and the colonial settlers without feeling like it was a history lesson. Contains all the aspects of a good novel; sex, intrigue and a damn good story. Written by a local lady from Duvauchelle.
The Wright Brothers: the remarkable story of aviation pioneers who changed the world by Ian Mackersey
A brilliantly researched epic of the first true aviators. New Zealand author Ian MacKersey's simple, direct prose style makes for a spellbinding read to the last page.
Even today Orville and Wilbur Wright are still lauded as the pioneers of powered, controlled and sustained flight, being the first to do that signal feat at Kittyhawk sands 17 December 1903. And even though many books have been written about them, this new appreciation provides ample evidence of just what it took for the brothers to surmount not only the technical difficulties, but the commercial realities of selling their wonderful machine to a sceptical world, particularly in the USA.
The portraits of these two shy bachelors, their Presbyterian bishop father, Milton and their devoted but overly-protective sister Katharine are all memorable. The side issue throughout the book of Bishop Wright's ongoing battles with his church hierarchy, one in which the brothers vigorously participated, is astonishing but fascinating.
Ian MacKersey is a fine writer and in the first rank of New Zealand authors. I also recommend his earlier aviator biographies of Jean Batten and Charles Kingsford Smith.

Librarian’s choice

Case histories by Kate Atkinson
Wonderfully intriguing. So many threads and strands are woven through this edgy novel that has Atkinson's unique style stamped all over it. We have a whole host of off-beat wonderfully eccentric and compelling characters who lead us through their own lives, relationships and tragedies only to inter-connect at the end. It's an absolute masterpiece of story-telling and best read in one sitting.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Yes it’s an absolute door- stop at more than 800 pages, but once you get started you just can‘t stop. Funny, compelling, bizarre – this combination of fantasy and the Victorian novel is just not like anything else and it’s all the better for that.
Ill-equipped for a life of sex: a memoir by Jennifer Lehr
I think I picked up this book to laugh at the title and to have a look at its cool collage-y looking cover. But as soon as I opened it... I can't think of any memoir I have read that is so bone-shakingly honest. More than any self-help book or relationship guide, Jennifer's story cuts to the essence of human relationships. We learn all about her life, her family, early laughable romantic entanglements, and her troubled relationship with the man she loves:
What did I want? I wanted more love. What did John want? He wanted more space. And what is the one thing that will keep someone who wants more love from someone who wants more space from getting the love they want? Not giving the one who wants more space, more space. By that time in my life I certainly understood that basic relationship equation shatters the ideas of romantic love and happily ever after, yet somehow arrives at something real and raw and beautiful.
Just A Boy: The true story of a Stolen Childhood by Richard McCann
The author has written a truly moving and frank account about his life following the murder of his mother by Peter Sutcliffe (aka "the Yorkshire Ripper" ).
We need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
A beauty - disturbing but well written. A mother trying to come to terms with the fact that her son is convicted of a Columbine style murder. Is it her fault, as she was ambivalent about having a baby in the first place and found it almost impossible to bond with him, or was he indeed born bad? The mother is an honest and unsympathetic character who grows on you as the book progresses. Very riveting in a voyeuristic kind of way.
White Gold: the forgotten story of Thomas Pellow and North Africa's One Million European Slaves by Giles Milton
Compelling true story of Thomas Pellow who in 1716 was kidnapped by slave traders and kept captive for an incredible 23 years.

Lisa’s list


Non fiction