Favourite Books of 2016

These are in no particular order, and are not necessarily published in 2016, but my favourites of those I read. I read 133 books, and ended up with 16 that I thought really stood out.

  1. The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss

This was the first book I read in 2016, and a great one to start with. It’s a pretty big fantasy novel, but really engaging and character-led. It doesn’t have the best female characters, I have to say, but was a really enjoyable read and I’d definitely recommend if you’re a fantasy fan.

2. Reasons to Stay Alive – Matt Haig

This is a fairly short, non-fiction book about Matt Haig’s experiences with severe depression and anxiety. It’s ultimately got a hopeful message though, and I found it really helpful.

3. Girls Will be Girls – Emer O’Toole

This is all about gender as a “performance” and how we feel that certain things are free choices, but when examined further, maybe they aren’t so free after all. This is one of the best feminism/gender books I’ve read, and finally one that didn’t make me constantly angry and upset and the horrible state of the world.

4. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte

I’d been meaning to read Anne Bronte for ages, and I think with this book she became my favourite Bronte. It’s a fantastic novel about a woman dealing with a horrible abusive husband and is so ahead of its time. I liked it so much more than Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre.

5. We Were Liars – e. lockhart

This is a YA book about a girl whose family stays on an island each summer. Something is obviously wrong, you get that from the start, but her family won’t tell her what. I didn’t guess the twist at all, and after this have gone on to read e. lockhart’s other books, which I also enjoyed.

6. The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan

A beautiful modern fairytale with a bear, a circus, and a world made almost all of water. Just wonderful.

7. Nobody Told Me – Hollie McNish

This is poetry and prose about Hollie’s experiences of pregnancy and parenthood. Made me feel so many different emotions, and was just wonderful. I highly recommend it to everyone, especially if you have kids.

8. The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge

A gorgeous children’s book about Victorians, science, magic, and feminism. Brilliant, I couldn’t put it down. This won the overall Costa prize too.

9. The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

Probably my fiction book of the year. Cora Seaborne, the main character, is wonderful. It’s sort of similar in theme to The Lie Tree, but an adult novel. Science, religion, mystery, relationships, feminism, socialism, beautiful writing. Can’t go wrong.

10. Bodies of Light – Sarah Moss

I discovered Sarah Moss this year – her writing is beautiful, her books are full of things to make you think. This one is set in the Victorian era about a woman training to be a doctor when women weren’t really allowed to do such things.

11. Vive La Revolution – Mark Steel

A history of the French Revolution written by comedian Mark Steel. I loved this. Funny and informative and really easy to read.

12. Fellside – M.R. Carey

A fantastic follow-up to The Girl With all the Gifts, this is a more supernatural sort of book, set inside a women’s prison. Kept me gripped from start to finish.

13. Gossip from the Forest – Sara Maitland

Non-fiction about Sara visiting various forests around the UK, interspersed with her re-tellings of fairytales. Atmospheric and wonderful.

14. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

Beautiful writing, horrible happenings. Also some moments which made me laugh out loud, which I didn’t expect. A really important book about the horrors of war.

15. The Tidal Zone – Sarah Moss

Another Sarah Moss. This is pretty much a perfect book. Gorgeous writing.

16. Christmas Days – Jeanette Winterson

Short stories with a Christmas theme, alternated with recipes and thoughts about her own Christmas traditions. She writes beautifully, as always. The ghost stories were my favourite, I think.

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My Bookshelves

I have quite a few posts percolating in my mind at the moment, as I haven’t written for a while. In the meantime, go and have a look at my bookshelves, as I’m featured in Simon’s current “Other people’s bookshelves” post over at Savidge Reads.

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Injury Time

I haven’t been able to type much as I fell down some icy steps and hurt my arm. So instead, here’s a photo of the books I’ve read over the last four days.

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Crime Spree

I’ve been spending a lot of evenings/weekends reading recently, partly because of the constant snow and cold weather, and have got through quite a few books. I’ve always been a fan of crime novels, and have read three really good ones lately.

The Echo Man – Richard Montanari

I got one of his books out of the library a while back, a series with a male detective, and really didn’t like it much. The main character wasn’t very likeable, and I felt there was an undercurrent of misogyny going through the whole book which may have come from the character or the writer, I was unsure. But then I tried a different series, where he has two detectives working together, Jessica Balzano and Kevin Byrne. It was so much better – more readable, the characters were interesting and likeable, and the plot was brilliant. I won’t give it away, but I really like crime novels where the crimes/murders are part of a complex plan done for a reason by the killer, and where the motives go back into the past. This had both, and once I got into it I couldn’t put it down. I’ll definitely be reading more of this series in the future.

Camilla Lackberg – The Hidden Child and The Drowning

I’ve been a fan of Camilla Lackberg ever since I read The Ice Princess, the first in this series. I really like my Scandinavian crime novels and hers are brilliant – well written plots that draw you in slowly, and her main characters are actually generally well-adjusted, decent people, unlike the cliched alcoholic detective. I read The Hidden Child which was really gripping – the plot goes back to the second world war, and Norway being occupied by the Germans, and how this has impacted on various characters in the modern day setting. I also really liked how the mystery was related to the main character’s own family, and what happened to her mother, as this has always been hinted at in previous books but never explained until now.

The Drowning was also excellent – I really enjoy how Camilla Lackberg’s books have a narrative in the present, and an interlinking narrative in the past, and as the novel progresses you find out how they interlink. I did guess the ending, but only a chapter or two before the reveal, so I got to feel smug but not that it was really obvious. If you’re into crime, I highly recommend Camilla Lackberg’s books.

What are your favourite crime novels? Which writers would you recommend?

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Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

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I’d always thought I “should” read Dickens. Which is maybe why I never had. I thought he’d be difficult to read, and tedious, despite having enjoyed various film and TV adaptations over the years. So I was thinking it was about time I read something of his anyway, and then one of my favourite book blogs, Savidge Reads, was reading Great Expectations as part of Classically Challenged, a collaboration with another book blog I enjoy, AJ Reads.

So having decided to give it a go soon anyway, I was lucky enough to win a lovely Oxford World’s Classics edition of the book on AJ Reads. After that, I had no excuse.

I won’t go over the plot of the book in much detail, because most people probably know the story. Pip is a poor orphan, brought up by his sister and her husband, the wonderful Joe Gargery. At the beginning of the book, he meets the convict, Magwitch, in the graveyard and helps him to escape. He spends a lot of his childhood at Miss Havisham’s house, entertaining her and Estella, and then comes into a fortune via a secret benefactor.

So, it turned out that I loved it. I already knew the plot, and the twist at the end, so I do wonder what it would have been like to read the book not knowing – whether I would have guessed or not. But I loved the atmospheric descriptions of the graveyard and the marshes, loved the famous appearance of Magwitch, loved the psychologically damaged Miss Havisham and her house, frozen in time.

My favourite thing was the character names, I think. Dickens names his characters brilliantly evocative things that seem to evoke their character immediately – the lawyer, Jaggers, the slightly silly but nice Herbert Pocket, the ridiculous Mr Pumblechook. I loved how the characters all had their little idiosyncracies which made them seem human – Jaggers always washing his hands with the perfumed soap, for instance. There aren’t really that many likeable characters – Wemmick was my favourite, with his castle and the Aged P, and obviously Joe is wonderful, but all of the characters are well-written and realistic, which was what I enjoyed.

I’m not sure if we’re supposed to like Pip, I thought he was a bit of an idiot really – why would he still be in love with Estella after the way she treats him? I could understand it when he’s a child, but you’d think once he grows up, he’d realise how nasty and manipulative she is. I can’t even really tell if Dickens likes Pip or not, what do you think?

So, surprisingly, I really enjoyed it, and have thought about it a lot since I finished it a few weeks ago. I’m also really glad I read it during the winter, it seemed the perfect time to do so. Based on this, I might actually read more Dickens, although I’ve heard the other novels aren’t as good as Great Expectations. It’s definitely made me feel more positive about tackling the other “classic” writers I’ve never read before – George Eliot, for a start, so hopefully this year will bring more classic reading.

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“‘Ice cream cones are always gettin’ done with. Seems I’m no sooner bitin’ the top than I’m eatin’ the tail. Seems I’m no sooner jumpin’ in the lake at the start of vacation than I’m creepin’ out the far side, on the way back to school. Boy, no wonder I feel bad.’

‘It’s all how you look at it,’ said Doug. ‘My gosh, think of all the things you haven’t even started yet. There’s a million ice cream cones up ahead and ten billion apple pies and hundreds of summer vacations. Billions of things waitin’ to be bit or swallowed or jumped in.’

‘Just once, though,’ said Tom, ‘I’d like one thing. An ice cream cone so big you could just keep eatin’ and there isn’t any end and you just go on bein’ happy with it forever. Wow!'”

– Ray Bradbury, Farewell Summer

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Top 10 Books I Read in 2012

I’m really pleased to report that I managed to read 80 books in 2012 – I think that’s the most I’ve ever read in a year. Looking at my list, I wanted to pick my ten favourites – not 10 that were published in 2012, but 10 I read during the year, in no particular order. Here goes…

1. Dandelion Wine – Ray Bradbury

I read three Bradbury books and loved them all, but picked Dandelion Wine because almost every sentence is gorgeous and poetic, his language is evocative, and in this book his descriptions of childhood really made me think about my own childhood, and the similarities despite different decades, countries, upbringings. I urge everyone to read it.

2. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? – Jeanette Winterson

I love Jeanette Winterson, as you probably know by now, but her memoir was brilliant. Funny, sad, well written, made me think. A lot.

3. The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

I’ve always been into my Greek legends, and really enjoyed this retelling of Achilles’ story and the Trojan War. I’ve seen it on a few other bloggers’ lists of the year, too.

4. Billions and Billions – Carl Sagan

I’d never read any of his stuff before this and love how he’s passionate about science but also socially responsible. The last chapter, written by his wife after he died was really upsetting.

5. Citadel – Kate Mosse

I’d been waiting for this with anticipation, after really enjoying Labyrinth and Sepulchre. Although I think Sepulchre is my favourite of the three, I thought Citadel was an excellent conclusion to the trilogy and the World War II setting really gave it emotional resonance.

6. Sightlines – Kathleen Jamie

After Findings, I was excited to read another of her collections. I love how she writes prose as if it’s poetry, and makes you want to go to all the places she does and see all the things she sees.

7. Dark Matter – Michelle Paver

Atmospheric, creepy, and brilliant. I loved the book, and the Arctic setting made me want to read all about the Polar expeditions.

8. The House of Silk – Anthony Horowitz

I’m a huge Holmes fan, and was really impressed by the way he managed to write in Conan Doyle’s style. I’ve read a lot of Holmes stuff by other people, and some of them are awful, some of them are good, but none as good as this. I really want him to write more.

9. The L-Shaped Room – Lynne Reid Banks I loved the way she writes about normal, everyday things and makes them interesting. And it’s interesting now that being a single parent is a normal, everyday thing, to go back and read about the days when it really wasn’t. Made me glad we’ve moved on.

10. Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You – Marcus Chown

I read a whole book about physics, and while it fried my brain at times, I really enjoyed it, and understood most of it. I’ve since read another of his books and will be reading the others soon.

What were your favourite books you read in 2012?

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