Another year finished, another ninety-five books read, and another time to sit back and reflect. A lot happened this year, both in the wider world and for me personally, and it remains a year that I will look back on, despite the negatives, with a huge amount of fondness. But, of course, it is the books that I’m really interested in here.

Once more, the tournament bracket software was dusted off, but it was actually hardly used as the books that shone this year shone so bright that they dimmed the others around them. There have been some bad books this year, I can’t deny that, but these more than made up for them. And, really, I’ve cheated. There’s a lot more than ten here. But never mind, on with the discussion.


station1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This was one of the first books of the year, and definitely one of the best. We meet a troupe of travelling Shakespeare actors who are trudging across vast distances after the apocalypse to put on performances for the surviving townships. Jumping back and forth in time, taking in the points of view of several characters, the book reveals that a virulent flu strain has killed off the majority of the population, and the survivors are clinging to memories and objects from before the end.

It’s smart and has threads running through it that all tie up in the end and you come away with the feeling that whatever happens to the planet, humanity will find a way through and survive somehow. The title refers to a comic book that seems to be passed through the numerous characters in their quest for survival. At the time, I didn’t rate the book particularly highly, but it’s stuck with me all year, and for that reason alone it deserves a spot on this list.

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

Jurassicpark2. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Surely most everyone has seen the film version of Jurassic Park, but it seems that some of those people still didn’t realise that it was originally a book. In truth, the idea was so appealing to Steven Spielberg that he bought the rights to film it before the book had even been published. For the under-rock dwellers among you, this is the story of a futuristic theme park that has cloned dinosaurs and populated a small island with them with the intention letting people pay to come and see them. The events of the novel take place over a weekend when the eccentric billionaire in charge, John Hammond, calls in some experts in dinosaurs, chaos and law to convince them that everything is completely safe. Of course, it wouldn’t be an interesting book if everything worked out okay…

One might scoff at this and suggest that because you’ve seen the film, you don’t need to bother with the book, but you’re wrong. If anything, the book is even better. There are some narrative changes, a few extra characters and some classic lines that don’t exit here, but there are a whole host of scenes that viewers won’t have seen that give more life to the island. Sharply written and feeling believable at every turn, despite the pure fiction of the science involved, this is definitely a book to add to your “read” pile.

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

stationery3. Adventures In Stationery by James Ward

I know this one won’t be to everyone’s taste, and I’m sort of appalled in myself that it’s made the list, but this was, without question, one of the most interesting non-fiction books I’ve read in a long time. Unashamed in its love of the mundane, this book is the history of stationery, detailing how it all was invented, developed and the place it holds in our hearts, and desk drawers, now. Everything is here: pens, pencils, erasers, sharpeners, staplers, post-its, sticky tape, Tippex, and everything else in between.

A lot of people I know, if they’re at all romantic or maybe just a bit weird, have a favourite pen, or feel some kind of rush when they enter a stationery shop, and this book reinforces the fact that stationery is such a huge part of our lives, whether we choose to acknowledge that or not. And it turns out that the paths it all took to reach us today are anything but dull.

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

cloudatlas4. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

I don’t have the space here to completely analyse this book again. Basically it’s about an American notary in 1850 visiting New Zealand and dealing with a stowaway, and it’s about a musician in 1930s Belgium who is writing letters to his lover back home, and it’s thriller about a woman who comes to learn some dark secrets about a nuclear power station and puts her life at risk, and it’s about a publisher who gets tricked by his brother into moving into an old people’s home, and it’s about a cloned human in future Korea who escapes her life as a fast food server, and it’s about a post-apocalyptic world where a primitive tribe meets a superior people with far more intellect and technology. And then it’s about all those things backwards again.

Basically trying to explain this novel is like trying to knit fog, but it has a place on this list simply because despite the denseness of that paragraph, it never felt particularly dense. It’s a joy to read, masterfully constructed with the six stories linking together without the characters really knowing that that’s the case. The stories are nested, and each character finds the story that comes before them during their own and … look, just trust me on this one. Read it, and then watch the film.

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

roger ackroyd5. The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Given how much of her work I read on a yearly basis – another eleven this year – it would be almost remiss of me to not include Agatha Christie on a top ten list. However, even if I didn’t read much, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has to make an appearance. One of her three crown jewels, this is the remarkably twisty tale in which poor Roger Ackroyd is found stabbed after a dinner party.

The prime suspect has vanished, but his lover has appeared to say that it definitely couldn’t have been him. Poirot, who has settled into the village to begin his retirement properly, is called upon to help solve the case and with the aid of Dr James Sheppard, the local GP, he must work out which of the locals did Ackroyd in. The solution, if you don’t know it already, will have you guessing right up until the reveal. This is the novel that catapulted Christie to her fame, and is a perfect example of her superhuman plotting abilities.

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

untitled6. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

In Only Ever Yours, we’re in an unspecified future where men rule absolutely and women are bred solely for the purpose of reproduction. Kept in schools where every surface is mirrored and their appearance is ranked daily against their classmates, the girls are taught to critique their fellows for putting on weight, how to behave in front of men, and above all they try not to learn anything too important, as men certainly won’t be interested in a woman who knows things!

It’s a horrific, terrifying look at a future that one hopes will never come to pass. It’s extreme, sure, but like all good dystopian fiction, it rings a little too close to home. There’s a lot going on here, even down to the subtle use of capitalisation and grammar to further show how little women are respected, and it’s a book that everyone, male or female, should read and with any luck it just might help make the world a more equal place.

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

lex7. Lexicon by Max Barry

Straddling several different points in time and location, Lexicon is set in a world where words have power. Get the right word or the right combination and you can hypnotise anyone and make them do your bidding. Emily Ruff is a girl who is taken off to a special school where this branch of persuasion is taught and honed in the young, and soon she becomes more powerful than she knows what to do with.

But in the town of Broken Hill in Australia there is a word that is too dangerous. It is a word that has the power to kill anyone who hears it, and it must be destroyed before it brings about the end of the human race.

The concept is so beautiful and the novel ties up themes of linguistics and psychology and asks the question of us – how much of what we do is really free will? It’s a fast-paced thriller that seems to be enjoying itself, and it’s definitely a great, creepy read.

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

gimson8. Gimson’s Kings And Queens by Andrew Gimson

A second non-fiction book to make the list isn’t about the history of hole punches, but instead the history of England and, latterly, Britain. This is a quick rundown of all the forty-odd monarchs who have sat on the throne of England since 1066. Gimson gives a brief biography of everyone from William I to Elizabeth II, detailing their successes and their failures, how popular they were, and what we can learn about them from surviving historical manuscripts.

Packed with trivia, it also allows one to learn far more about the less well remembered monarchs of the country, such as Stephen, Edward IV or Mary II. The writing is light, funny and engaging, and it’s all helped along by some excellent, and occasionally potentially offensive, caricatures. For anyone with even a passing interest in British history, this is definitely one to get hold of, if only so you can annoy your friends at parties by filling quiet moments with tidbits about the monarchy. This is why I’m not invited to parties anymore.

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

saga book9. Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

I only ever reviewed the first volume of the Saga stories, but I did read the first five over the course of the year, so really I’m counting five books in this one. Saga is a graphic novel that tells the tale of an intergalactic war between a planet and its moon. Everyone in the universe seems to now be involved in this war, and among it, two people from opposite factions, Alana and Marko, have not only fallen in love but given birth to a child. Now it seems that everyone is after them, and they must deal with endless trials and tribulations such as drug addictions, a mad robot prince, nosy journalists, dragons, brothel planets, reality television and war to give their child a happy life.

The series is worth it for the artwork alone, which is beautiful and brings every single character, no matter how small, to life. Even the minor characters feel notable here. Fortunately, as well as being gorgeous to look at, it’s also a wonderful read; heart-wrenching, clever, hilarious and tragic all at the same time, proving for anyone who didn’t believe it, that graphic novels aren’t a lesser form of storytelling at all.

You can read my full review of the first installment here, or buy the first collection here.

from BBS upload10. Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire by J. K. Rowling

Long-time readers will know that I re-read the Harry Potter series this year and, well, it would be shameful of me to not include it on the top ten list. To be fair, I’ve chosen just one of the books, probably my favourite one at the moment, but really I would happily have shoved all seven of them into this list. So this is a cheat, because this is one book for the price of seven. But in this fourth installment of the series, Harry gets entered into a dangerous competition called the Triwizard Tournament and must spend the year contending with dragons, mermaids and burgeoning hormones before facing down something far more deadly before the year is out…

Anyone who wants to read it has now read it, and the vast majority of them have fallen in love with the series as much as I have. I can’t explain the magic that Rowling has woven into the story, but there’s definitely something going on here that makes this series so incredible. I’ve never seen a franchise like it, and I probably never will again. 2016 also will once again be a huge year for Potter fans, with the release of the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (which I’m oddly ambivalent about) and the film version of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (which I’m very excited about). The magic will never die.

You can read my full review here, or buy the series here. (Although that feels like the most redundant hyperlink in history.)

So with 2015 done and dusted and the world still clinging on to sanity by its fingernails, I find myself ready to face another year, perhaps one with many changes in my life, we’ll see. Bookwise, I’ve got plenty more to read. I still haven’t finished The Hunger Games series, but at least I’m further with it than ever before, and there’s a small pile of Christie’s still to get through. But I will also this year return to my favourite author, Jasper Fforde, the greatest living writer in my opinion, who I’ve not read since 2012, so expect some massive fanboying as I tackle all of his series’ over the coming year.

As usual, the only thing left to say is that I hope you all have a wonderful 2016 and it provides you with all that you wish. And, of course, may you find a book or two this year that you want to keep with you forever. That’s what I intend to do.

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