It’s time for the last Top Ten Tuesday of the year. For those who haven’t come across it before, it’s organised by The Broke and the Bookish http://brokeandbookish.blogspot.co.uk/p/top-ten-tuesday-other-features.html and the idea is quite simple. Every week, they provide a book-related theme and bloggers have to pick their top ten. This week, it’s a nice straightforward one for New Year’s Eve: Top Ten books read this year.
This year’s been a pretty good year for reading. Last year, I’d have struggled to find ten books that I’d really loved, this year, it’s hard to narrow my selection down that far from the 34 books I’ve read. You can find my reviews of all these books here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/pdp/profile/A1M4SYONBR2PXM Some also have more detailed reviews on this blog – I was going to link to them but I’m now rushing off to a party!
- Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo – I picked this up expecting a fairly clichéd bit of YA fantasy fun – love triangle and chosen one – and ended up absolutely blown away. It’s hard to pinpoint what made me like this better than any number of similar books, but it’s some combination of the setting (a fantasy world based on Tsarist Russia), the author’s style, and the characters, especially the Darking, a fascinating character who treads a fine line between villain and love interest and whose scenes I would love to have written. I wrote a superlative-filled review of this after my first read, and since then, I’ve dipped in and out whenever I’ve been between books, bored, or struggling to finish Ivory Terrors, and it’s perked me up every time.
- Anno Dracula – Kim Newman -This was lent to me by a work friend, who wholeheartedly recommended it. The pulpy eighties cover put me off for ages, but as soon as I started, it reminded me why I first fell in love with vampire novels. Queen Victoria has married Count Dracula, and every historical and literary character from the Victorian era gets drawn into the sometimes funny, sometimes scary but always brilliantly imagined plot.
- Nights of Blood and Starlight – Laini Taylor -The first book in this series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone (no relation to the abovementioned Shadow and Bone) was a strange paranormal tale set in Prague, featuring a war between angels and demons with our heroine on the demonic side. The brilliant premise and enthralling first half gradually descended into a second-rate angel/human romance, leaving me very disappointed. This sequel drops the urban fantasy tropes in favour of full-blown high fantasy in another world, introduces interesting shades of grey to both sides, and adds an interesting dimension to the romance angle. It’s one of those books I just wanted to tell people about non-stop, and spent lunchbreaks at work manically reading.
- Grave Mercy – Robin La Fevers -This is one of the first books I’ve been introduced to directly through various book blogs. Everyone suddenly seemed to be talking about the book with MEDIEVAL ASSASSIN NUNS. I struggled to believe a book could live up to that jaw-dropping premise, but it really did, combining a realistic portrayal of the high politics of fifteenth-century Brittany (now there’s an unusual setting) with a carefully imagined world of a set of nuns dedicated to the patron saint of death. I immediately read the sequel, Dark Triumph which had a rather different tone but was just as good.
- Sisterland – Curtis Sittenfeld – Regular readers of this blog might have gathered that Curtis Sittenfeld is one of my all-time favourite authors, despite her generally writing realistic, contemporary fiction while my tastes tend towards the fantastical. This tale of (possibly) psychic sisters in the modern day US combines the best of both worlds. It’s mostly a soul-baring tale of real life – love, loss, family, fitting in – which makes the paranormal touches all the more fascinating. It’s beautifully written and makes brilliant use of flashbacks in its not-quite-linear narrative.
- Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch – This tale of a wonderfully three-dimensional mixed-race policeman in London who discovers he is a wizard neatly mixes fantasy/paranormal elements, the sort of twisty police procedurals that would put CSI to shame, and humour that reminded me of early Discworld. It’s an unusual read that I’d recommend to people who don’t normally like fantasy, especially Londoners or serious Anglophiles, as the author’s love of the city radiates out of the pages. The sequel, Moon over Soho, was also good but the plot didn’t grab me in quite the same way.
- Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell – I’ve never actually written fanfiction, but I’m certainly a serious book geek. This story of an extremely socially anxious girl trying to make it at college and having to find the right balance between fandom and real life was an unusual premise that was well-executed, mixing the main story with excerpts from the heroine’s fanfiction and the (imaginary) books she’s obsessed by. The book was very funny in parts, but almost painful to read in others. It has some of the most pleasant characters that I’ve read about this year, and is a must read for anyone who writes fanfiction, writes their own novels, or has ever loved a book slightly too much. (Incidentally, I read this shortly after reading Shadow and Bone, and the combination made me come dangerously close to writing a fic for the first time!)
- Bring up the Bodies – Hilary Mantel – I’m not sure what more can be said about one of the most noteworthy books of recent years. This literary tale of the fall of Anne Boleyn and the rise of Thomas Cromwell is a hard slog, even if you love the Tudor period as much as I do, but it more than repays the effort readers have to put in. I’ve never known a book that gets so thoroughly inside a character’s head – I could almost believe Mantel either knew Cromwell or had been him in a past life – and finishing it felt like stepping out of a time machine. I enjoyed this one a lot better than the first book in the series, Wolf Hall.
- MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood – This is the most recent book I’ve read, and I said most of what I wanted to say in yesterday’s review. It’s not as good as its predecessors, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, but it’s still a clever and entertaining end to one of the finest dystopian series I’ve ever read.
- Life after Life – Kate Atkinson -Unlike the other books on this list, which all got four or five stars from me, this was a 3 star review, and I stand by that rating, as I think the book had a lot of flaws. Even so, I think it deserves a place on this list for its intriguing premise – a woman is born again and again in 1910, and each time, things are subtly different. It’s stuck in my mind more than many books that I enjoyed more at the time of reading, and I think it’s better to read something interesting that doe
- sn’t quite do it for you than the same old plots all of the time.
Finally, a special mention to Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea – Barbara Demick. This was my one foray into non-fiction, and it was every bit as compelling as the best thriller and as moving as the best tearjerker. I’ve always been quite interested in North Korea, and this served as both a great summary of its recent history and political situation, and, as the name suggests, as a story of ordinary people. Some of the things they go through are horrific, but it’s ultimately a celebration of ingenuity and the human spirit. It didn’t seem quite appropriate to rate it alongside the other books, but I’d wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone.
Happy new year everyone, and here’s to lots more great books in 2014.