So 2013 is over now and consigned to the section of the library labelled “History”. It’s been an interesting year for me – the usual ups and downs that everyone must endure, but on the whole definitely a good year. 2014 has now begun and there is a small mountain of literature for me to once again get through. However, before I get on with reviewing the next batch, I thought I’d take this moment to look back through my ten favourite books from the previous year. I’ve been fortunate enough to read very few bad books in the last year, so whittling this down to ten was difficult and involved much soul-searching, re-reading of earlier reviews and some free tournament bracket software I downloaded.

So here we are, in no particular order, my ten favourite books from the last year.

the raw shark texts1. The Raw Shark Texts by Stephen Hall

Sometimes titles just don’t make any sense when you first look at them, and maybe that puts you off, but if you saw this title on the shelf and thought that it probably wasn’t a book for you, then you thought wrong. The title may sound nonsensical (although, in fairness, that’s then typical of the whole book) but it’s definitely worth exploring.

Eric Sanderson wakes up and has no idea where he is, when he is or, more importantly, who he is. With just a journal of which he apparently author, and instructions to report to a certain Dr Randle, he must begin to reconstruct what is going on. Randle reveals that this is not the first time this has happened. What follows is an adventure through imagination and reality, with conceptual creatures with very real appetites, a cynical cat and a tunnel made entirely of paper.

It’s a brilliant, mental romp that seems like it shouldn’t make any sense but is hung together with perfect logic and amazing comedic wonder. And besides, any book where a shark made entirely of text is the main villain is worth reading, isn’t it?

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

The Islanders2. The Islanders by Christopher Priest

Despite not owning a passport and not moving very much in the last twelve months, I managed to visit Germany, America, the Netherlands, Egypt, Canada, Switzerland, Greece, Italy and outer space, but the strangest place I went all year was to the Dream Archipelago, a series of islands that stretch the entire length of the planet. In this strange book – not quite a novel, not quite a series of short stories – you are taken on a journey to some of the many islands that make up the archipelago.

I read the stories in order, but I don’t think there’s anything to say you have to. Characters pop up again and again on the different islands, sometimes giving conflicting histories. Some of the islands are home to lethal creatures, some are art installations, and some have a particularly famous resident. Like the islands, the chapters are all different too. Some are a series of letters between inhabitants, some are scientific papers, and some just read like they’ve been written by a tourist board to get people to come along and see the sights for themselves. It’s a weird book, but a clever one.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

dinner3. The Dinner by Herman Koch

I did my best to go a little bit more international with my authors and not just my settings this year, which provided me with authors from Germany, France and the Netherlands. I’m very pleased that I did because no less than three translated books have ended up on my “best of” list. This is the first.

The novel takes place over the course of a single dinner in an upmarket restaurant, the diners being two couples who have gathered to discuss their sons. The two men are brothers, one a very prominent politician, and their relationship is stretched to maximum over the course of the meal. While action occurs mostly in real time, there are numerous flashbacks that reveal details and explanations as to the events that led them here.

I said when I read it back in early February that it was the best book all year so far, and now this far ahead, with dozens more books since devoured, it remains one of the best books. Another superb book from the Netherlands is below.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

cuckoo4. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Everyone, I think, felt a pang of sadness when J. K. Rowling’s secret was revealed to the world that she was the figure behind Robert Galbraith. However, she had the last laugh. The new book became a bestseller and the profits were enormous, and I believe they were all donated to charity. She also made the company that outed her as Galbraith donate a healthy sum as well.

In the vein of Holmes/Watson and Poirot/Hastings, here we meet Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott, a crimesolving duo for the 21st century. He’s a difficult private eye with a difficult private life, and she’s a jobbing secretary, and together they look into the suspected murder of model Lula Landry, penetrating the sometimes seedy underbelly of London.

Unfair to compare it to Harry Potter, it merely shows that Rowling is a woman of undeniable, enviable talent who can turn herself to multiple genres and audiences and succeed every single time. The book shone like a diamond in the great heap of detective fiction that fills our bookstores. While it is a shame she was outed so soon, it was a relief as this was such a good book that everyone needed to have their attention drawn to it. Hopefully the series will continue this year, and I will be there to see it along.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

soz5. Sorry by Zoran Drvenkar

Third book of the year, read way back in January and still resonating with me a whole year later. It’s the story of four friends who run a professional apology agency, swooping in when called to apologise to those unfairly dismissed or wrongly accused. However, one call leads them into a messy situation with a body nailed to a wall, demands to remove the body before someone finds it, and a dangerous situation on the edge of a frozen lake.

Completely original in style, switching naturally between first, second and third person, it pulls you in and doesn’t let go until the thrilling conclusion when the mysteries finally begin to make sense. It was the first German novel I think I’ve ever read, and while it was loaded with some of the usual cliches of thriller novels (as well as some deeply graphic imagery), it holds its own and that is why it finds itself on this list. Absolutely incredible, and not one tiny bit sorry to have read  it.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

24 hour6. Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Much less death and horror than some on this list, this novel is cheery, wonderful, a little bit magic and a must for anyone with a love of books. Struggling for work during the recession, Clay Jannon takes a job doing the night shift at the titular store, only to find that there aren’t many customers and the ones that do come in are a bit … off. And that’s to say nothing of Mr Penumbra himself.

Clay soon finds himself embroiled in a mystery when it turns out the patrons are part of a conspiracy and are trying to solve one of the oldest riddles in history by using the odd books in the store. But when Clay makes friends with a girl who works at Google, he makes use of their facilities and becomes one of the many seeking an answer, and he may have just struck gold.

A book most notable, actually, for its settings, be they bookstores, museums or office complexes, all of which are described in sumptuous beauty and make me want to visit them. It’s a wonderful book for any bibliophile and uses the ancient technology of printing presses and modern technology of Kindles in a seamless narrative that spans centuries and will last forever.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

mocking7. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Perhaps my aversion to classics (I still haven’t finished Jane Eyre) has caused me to miss out on a few things that I would actually like, but I did give up long enough this year to give what is often billed as the “most read book ever” a try. I was pleased I did. It’s a slowburner, one of those books that seems alright when you finish it, but as time goes on and you think about it more and more, it becomes ever more wonderful.

It’s the story of 1930s Alabama, and while the narrator Scout is an interesting figure, it is really her father Atticus who is the main character. This is his story. He must defend a black man in court who has been accused of raping a white woman. I was unimpressed with the book at first, but I do understand why it’s lasted, I enjoyed the characters and the situation is a fascinating one. There’s a reason it has lasted so long, why it ends up on so many “best of” lists and why it’s ended up on mine. It’s one of the few classics that I will point people to without hesitation. Read this book.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

annefrank8. The Diary Of A Young Girl by Anne Frank

The second book from a Dutch writer is perhaps the most famous diary of all time (and the only non-fiction book to make it onto this list). Like most people, I knew a little about Anne Frank. I knew that she’d lived hidden away for years, that she’d eventually been discovered and died very young, but there was much I didn’t know. I’d guessed her personality entirely wrong, for a start. I didn’t realise quite what the family had had to go through, and how many of them there had been locked away in such a small space.

A book has never grabbed me so forcefully and stuck with me so vividly for so long afterwards. I cannot recommend this book enough, if only to make you realise so closely the atrocities that the Nazis were guilty of. If Frank had lived, who knows what she would have been capable of. And she was just one of many – how many greats did we lose in that ghastly war? It’s such a powerful book, written with hope and love by a girl who never gave up on her optimism, believing up until the very end that, all in all, humans were good, despite the suffering she had faced. We owe her father so much for letting the book be published. It is a very important book and one that everyone should read.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

crooked house9. Crooked House by Agatha Christie

I couldn’t let the list be complete without putting Agatha Christie on here. I read fourteen of her books this year, but I think that Crooked House was my favourite. It’s typical of her style, featuring a large country mansion full to the brim with members of one family, in this case the Leonides, and their servants. They are a happy family until head of the household, Aristide, is murdered. The cause – a fatal injection. Everyone immediately blames his young widow, a woman fifty years his junior, but she has no motive. In fact, no one in the house seems to have been on bad terms with the deceased. It falls to Charles Hayward, fiance of the victim’s granddaughter to solve the mystery…

This was also a notable book for being the first Christie novel in which I had worked out the solution before it was revealed, something I’m still ridiculously happy about. It was one of Christie’s favourites too, and is one that probably upset die hard fans of crime fiction as it showed her throwing out the rule book once again and doing things that detective books aren’t supposed to do. If you’ve still never read a Christie, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

knife10. The Knife Of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

December is sometimes a difficult time to get a lot of reading done, due to the extensive drinking, celebrating and present-opening that has to happen. However, I am very pleased that I put the time aside to read this suggestion. It since turns out that I’m late to the party with this one and several of my friends have already been there, done that, and know how it ends.

Todd Hewitt is the last boy in a town with no women, where all the men can hear one another’s thoughts. For company, he has an unwanted dog and two substitute fathers who, after Todd discovers a patch of total silence on the edge of town, have apparently been lying to him all these years. They already have bags packed for him and he must leave immediately before the Mayor catches him. Todd is thrust into the world and only told to head to the next town to warn them. But as far as he knew, there was no other town.

I have had many a complaint regardling young adult fiction over the years – I’m no fan of John Green or Stephanie Meyer. But sometimes you stumble across something so wonderfully written that you want to hold it up as a testament to the genre. Like Rowling, Handler and Dahl, Ness knows that children like to be scared and don’t like to be talked down to, and he manages to tell a wonderful story that grips you tight and makes you beg your friend to lend you the rest of the trilogy. They are, as we speak, sat on my bookshelf.

You can read my full review here, or buy a copy of the book here.

2014 will undoubtedly bring me many more literary surprises. I will finish up the Chaos Walking series, I have early plans to read The Hunger Games trilogy at some point, there are still thirty-seven Agatha Christie novels I haven’t read and, most excitingly of all, my debut novel is out this year!

So happy new year to all my readers and may your 2014 be wonderful, thrilling and everything you hope for.

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