Top 10 Books of 2016

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So, what can one say about 2016 that hasn’t already been said? A year that became almost farcical in its unrelenting mission to annoy, upside and divide everyone. The news seems to have been full of stories of war, abuse and struggle, often with minorities dying at the hands of people who think they know better and seek to waste their time hating rather than loving. America elected a supposedly unelectable man to the most powerful office in the world, Britain apparently decided it was somehow better off out of the European Union, and both are being used as examples of how insidious racism is in our world today.

And that doesn’t even begin to cover the enormous list of great people who died this year. Among others who have departed the planet, often far too soon, there was David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, Harper Lee, Frank Kelly, Ronnie Corbett, Victoria Wood (I’ll never be over that one), Prince, Muhammad Ali, Caroline Aherne, Kenny Baker, Gene Wilder, Jimmy Perry, Leonard Cohen, Andrew Sachs, Liz Smith, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. Stars winked out on an almost daily basis this year, and at times it became tough to find a glimmer of joy in this sea of troubles.

Fortunately, there are still books. At any moment you can pick up a book and escape into a world unlike our own. I managed that ninety-one times this year, and here ten books that stood out for me in particular over the last year.

1. Animal by Sara Pascoeanimal

This is one of those books that feels like a Very Important Book, with capital letters and everything. Since it was feverishly recommended to me by two friends, I have passed it on with a similar ferocity to others. Sara Pascoe tells here the story of the female body, discussing how the body works, how the mind works, as well as discussing the importance of consent, particularly when it comes to sex.

With great humour, and deeply moving anecdotes from her own life, Pascoe constructs one of the most incredible books I have ever read. I learnt so much from this book, and from what I gathered, so did everyone else I know who read it. I cannot begin to explain how truly remarkable this book is, and how I can’t believe it’s taken us so long to get round to doing this. Pascoe is a hilarious comedian and her style and voice is unique. If you read nothing else on this list, read this. Even better, listen to the audiobook, narrated by Pascoe herself, and revel in her warmth and charm.

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

circle2. The Circle by Dave Eggers

The best dystopian novels are those that really exaggerate the world we’re currently living in, and thus showing you that we’re all sleepwalking into a dystopia anyway. In The Circle, social networks are everything. Mae Holland is a recent graduate who is now working for The Circle, the biggest network of them all. Soon she is sucked into a world where everything about you is known, and privacy is considered shameful and suspicious.

This book is horrifying above anything else, but powerfully written. The perceived struggle of the characters to become popular and influential on social media feels like an exaggerated version of what we have now, but sometimes the exaggeration doesn’t feel too strong, given how some people already behave. The company seems to be modelled on a combination of Facebook and Google, but somehow even more powerful and insidious. This is the sort of book that sticks with you for a long time, and makes you think twice about what you’re putting online.

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

rook3. The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

A woman has just woken up in the body of Myfanwy Thomas. She has no idea why she woke up in the middle of a park, wearing latex gloves and surrounded by dead bodies. Whoever this first body was, it turns out she worked for the Checquy, a secret organisation that protects Britain from supernatural threats. Everyone in the company’s employ has some kind of superpower, and as Myfanwy grows accustomed to her new body and role, she finds herself in the midst of a conspiracy that stretches back centuries.

This is urban fantasy at its finest, silliest and yet most believable. Sharp prose from O’Malley provides us with a world that I found myself longing to be a part of, despite the danger. The superpowers are particularly unique. Myfanwy is able to control other people’s bodies when she touches them, and her colleague Gestalt is a hive mind who has four physical bodies. It’s a great addition to the genre, and I intend to get around to the sequel this year.

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

shades4. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

If I’m being honest, I could probably fill this top ten entirely with Jasper Fforde’s work, but that seems a bit daft, so instead I’ve chosen the one that, if you’ve read nothing of his, you should start with, as it’s not (yet) part of a series so can be dashed off quicker. This book takes place in an undisclosed time in the future of Britain where humans can only see one colour each, and your position in the social order is dictated by what you can see, with purples at the top and greys at the bottom.

When Eddie Russett, Red, is sent to the outer fringes to the village of East Carmine as punishment, he meets Jane, a Grey with a pretty nose, who begins to show him that his world view has been heavily limited all this time. This is a world where colour is  a commodity, history is being erased, and there are massive killer swans roaming the countryside. Best described as “1984 if written by Douglas Adams”, the book is wise and thoughtful, but above all hilariously funny and sharp, and Eddie and Jane are two of the greatest characters in fiction.

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

quick curtain5. Quick Curtain by Alan Melville

The weather was great, the summer was full of promise, and I’d stumbled upon another of the British Library’s crime classics. In Quick Curtain, during the opening night of a long-awaited new musical, the lead actor is shot dead live on stage. Inspector Wilson and his journalist son Derek spring into action to work out whether this was an accident or if there is something more sinister going on. The intrepid duo, with the aid of the cast and crew of the musical, set about uncovering more and more secrets the deeper they dig.

One of the funniest books I read all year, and perhaps ever, it’s full of self-important actors, bickering detectives, gossipy busybodies and more jokes and quips that you can throw a stick at. Despite being written in 1934, it feels surprisingly modern and shows that there are always more tricks crime writers have up their sleeves than you could even imagine.

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

nod-book6. Nod by Adrian Barnes

In one of the most terrifying books I read this year (and this is a year in which I also read Psycho), we meet Paul and his girlfriend Tanya. One night, Tanya doesn’t sleep, and goes into work to find that most everyone else didn’t sleep either. Scientists are at a loss to explain what’s happened, and understand it even less when the next night, once again, all but about one in ten thousand people didn’t manage to sleep. On the third day, society collapses.

Despite the horror and creepiness of the story, it is absolutely beautiful. Barnes writes like his words are being woven into a patchwork quilt, and there isn’t a dropped stitch or lose thread in it. There are many reflections on what it is to be human, an emphasis on our physical bodies and how there isn’t much more to us than that, and of course what happens to a world where everything is upside down and one of the fundamentals we’ve always taken for granted has been taken away. The images are vivid and the tension and terror are palpably real.

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

reasons7. Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

This feels like another Very Important Book, like Animal. This is the account of Matt Haig’s battle with mental illness and serves as both a memoir and self-help book for those dealing with depression. While perhaps not the cheeriest book on this list, it’s nonetheless very beautiful, wise and hopeful. After the year we’ve had, it feels necessary to turn our attention to a book that tells us that despite all the terrible things that happen, they are temporary and that there are plenty of other things to live for.

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

good-omens8. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

Where does one begin when trying to describe the plot of Good Omens? Do you start with the angel and demon who have inexplicably become friends over millennia and are now tasked with bringing the Antichrist to Earth? Do you begin with Anathema Device, the professional descendant and witch, who knows that the end time is near? How about with Newt, one of Britain’s last witch hunters? Maybe you have to start with the Four Bikers of the Apocalypse who are gathering for the first time in centuries…

Hilariously funny on every page, this book is everything I wish I could write. Gaiman and Pratchett are both incredibly talented in their own ways, but together they become unstoppable. Great and important themes of good and evil are tied together with complete whimsy and truly hysterical dialogue. The characters are all wonderfully real, despite their fantastical bases, and there can be few raptures that are more pleasant and charming as this. A modern classic, and well deserved of being considered so.

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

after-the-funeral9. After the Funeral by Agatha Christie

It wouldn’t be my list without including an Agatha Christie on here, and while I read some belters this year, I’ve gone for After the Funeral as the best, as it contains all the true hallmarks of a Christie novel. There’s an old house with a loyal butler, a sprawling, dysfunctional family, a dead earl, and a killer with a singularly unique motive. After Richard Abernethie’s funeral, the family gather to hear about the will, and his younger sister Cora notes, “It’s all been rather hushed up, but he was murdered wasn’t he?” The next day, she is dead.

With more red herrings than a sunburnt stargazy pie, Poirot begins to unravel the mystery and, as usual, it turns out that everyone in the family has a secret, some more pressing than others, but there can only be one solution. If you’re smart, you’ll get it, but don’t worry if you don’t. I’ve read nearly seventy Christie books and still have correctly solved less than five. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

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

the long way10. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

The science fiction is probably the last place you expect to find a book all about the importance of family, and yet here it is. Set on a hyperspace tunnelling ship out in deep space, we meet a cast of humans, aliens and AIs and get to know them and the way they work. Every member of the crew has a story and deals with relationships in their own ways, be they tactile reptiles, falling in love with the AI, in a symbiotic relationship with a virus, or the last of their species.

It’s an eye-opening book, and one that reminds us not to judge others by our sense of “normal”. The universe is a vast place and we shouldn’t be too surprised by what we find out there. It’s beautiful and heart-breaking, but also funny, sharp and hugely readable. Yes, Chambers plays with language and science, but it all feels incredibly thought out and none of it is excess, frivolous fluff.

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

And there you have it. Another year over, another stack of books read, another tapestry of memories to add to our history. It’s been a challenging year, as I’ve already discussed, but I still have hope. Hope is perhaps the most important human emotion – a sense that we shouldn’t give up. We must fight on, fight louder and fight better. There is hope for humanity, and maybe this year is just an unfortunate blip.

Although I’m no expert on life, nor can provide much in the way of advice, I think perhaps we should turn to the heroes we lost this year and look at the example they set. Carrie Fisher was warm and brave. Victoria Wood was clever and determined. Terry Wogan was benevolent and charming. Ronnie Corbett was tireless and hilarious. George Michael was charitable and unashamed. Gene Wilder was mad and kind. Almost everyone who died this year had by all accounts been “the nicest person who ever lived”. If we are truly going to honour those we’ve lost this year, we could do worse than being more like them.

Be decent to each other, and I wish you all health, happiness and a hope for a brighter future in 2017. X

Top 10 Books of 2015

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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.

Top 10 Books of 2014

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So, with 2014 almost consigned to the history books, it’s that time again where everyone looks back over what happened in the last twelve months. We can’t pretend as a whole that it was a busy year, but all that matters to me is simply what books I’ll take from it and into the future. So, here I am, reading old reviews and dusting off my tournament bracket software to work out which ten books were the best of 2014. Some got cut from the list quite quickly, and shockingly there are no Agatha Christie books listed this year, which isn’t because I read bad ones, but because I read too many other interesting books and she probably doesn’t need the publicity.

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

spoiled1. Spoiled Brats by Simon Rich

I discovered Simon Rich a few years ago and have since adored everything he’s done. This collection of short stories deals with those who are spoiled and, in particular, the “gimme gimme gimme” attitude of the Millennials. They include a tale told from the point of view of a hamster, a fictionalised version of Rich meeting his great-great-grandfather, a girl taking a year out to study on Saturn and some ghosts who haven’t understood that they’re dead.

They’re smart little stories, all quite quick but without a word wasted. At only thirty years old, Rich is an insane talent and is definitely one to watch. If you find anything by him, you’ve struck gold, but Spoiled Brats might be his best work yet.

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

TheSilkworm2. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott are back and I couldn’t be happier. Even though everyone knows that Galbraith is none other than J K Rowling herself, this only adds to the joy. So different are these books from Harry Potter that they almost deserve another name, as it seems unfair to acknowledge that one woman can be so damn talented and spread her literary wings so wide.

In the first story, the world of fashion and fame came under the spotlight, but this time round there’s been a murder in the world of publishing, when eccentric author Owen Quine is found trussed up and dead in the exact same manner as a character in his latest book. All of his friends and family fall under suspicion when it turns out that the book contains gross caricatures of everyone he knows, meaning that everyone has a good motive for killing him.

The characters are so much fun and are definitely people I’d want to spend time with. As far as I know, there are plans to continue the series and I hope these come to fruition. Let’s just hope as well that next time we get to see even more of Robin, and Strike can get a bit of happiness.

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

gospel-of-loki[1]3. The Gospel Of Loki by Joanne M Harris

I love Greek and Egyptian mythology, but my knowledge of the Norse myths was strongly lacking. However, that was corrected with The Gospel of Loki, which takes those myths and retells them from the point of view of the trickster god himself. Having little prior knowledge, I don’t know how much Loki has twisted, but given what I know about other mythologies, I’d imagine that this is pretty spot on to the originals – the more wicked gods are usually treated less kindly, so this redresses the balance and shows what “really” happened.

Each chapter tells a different myth, and while there is an overall story, the chapters read like short stories in themselves, although it’s probably best to read them all to get the full picture. It’s smart, funny and just a bit mad, like all the best books should be.

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

a void4. A Void by Georges Perec

I haven’t chosen this one for the plot as much as for the construction. Originally written in French, this novel has been written without a single use of the letter ‘E’, and yet still tells a compelling and interesting story. Anton Vowl is a curious insomniac who starts noticing that something is missing in his life, and yet when he goes to explore it, he himself goes missing. His friends come together to rummage through his belongings and tell each other stories to work out where Vowl has gone and what it is that he thought was missing.

Writing a novel without the use of the most common letter seems insane, but it’s done here and done brilliantly. You get caught up in the story and forget that there aren’t any E’s, although when you suddenly realise again (usually due to some kind of flowery wordplay trickery), it just makes it even more astounding. The novel even inspired me to write my whole review in the same manner, although I’ve obviously not done that here again. Once is enough.

Frankly, while the story is good, it wouldn’t be in my top ten if not for the gimmick, but I like a good gimmick, so I’m happy to say it was one of the smartest books I read this year.

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

atomic cover5. The Atomic Blood-Stained Bus by Michael J Ritchie

I think I can be excused for putting my own book on this list, although it’s going to come across as arrogant however I attempt to justify it, so I won’t bother trying. If you haven’t already read it (and shame on you, after all I’ve done for you!), this is the story of insane cannibal Garfield, bored journalist Gwen and ex-god Algernon and their separate quests for happiness and meaning, helped and hindered by the last three witches of Britain. When Gwen’s interest in missing persons causes her to go looking for a man called David, she finds herself on the trail of Garfield’s transport, the titular bus, which could potentially spell misery for everyone involved.

Ever since I was young, I wanted to get published, and this year I did it. It has been so thrilling to see my book for sale, and to hear from other people who have read it and enjoyed it. While my friends naturally probably feel obliged to tell me they like it, I’ve also had people I don’t know reporting back to me, so that’s really nice. It’s said to be original and funny, somewhat Douglas-Adams-y but I’ll absolutely leave those sorts of descriptions up to other people. But, if you like that sort of thing, you might like this. Buy it, celebrate with me, give me money, and later when I’m super famous, you can say that you were one of the first ones to read it.

You can read my full non-review here, or download a copy of the book here.

jpod6. jPod by Douglas Coupland

If you’ve been reading all year, then you know that I’ve been re-reading and reviewing all of Douglas Coupland’s books. Well, I’m not quite done either – there are just four more to go – but I had to put one of his books on here and it was a tough decision, but I’ve gone for jPod, although assume that Girlfriend in a Coma or Microserfs were just as welcome at this spot.

Set in a video game design company in the mid-noughties, this book follows the story of Ethan Jarlewski, his family and co-workers as they struggle to keep sane in a world that’s going mad. At work, they sabotage their own game by inserting gory easter eggs, and waste time writing love letters to Ronald McDonald or auctioning themselves on eBay, and at home, Ethan must deal with an affably sinister Chinese gangster and the fact that his mother has just accidentally killed a man.

Coupland is always so on the ball that it’s spooky. He captures the minutia of whatever moment he’s writing about and makes it so relatable it’s almost creepy. He is great with words and seems to love post-modernism – he’s not afraid to mess around with format and style, and it makes him terribly refreshing.

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

Monsters of Men7. Monsters Of Men by Patrick Ness

The first in this series, The Knife of Never Letting Go, featured in my top ten last year, and the third in the trilogy is back here again. I’d add the central novel too, but that’s overkill. In the final installment of the Chaos Walking series, Todd and Viola find that everything is at stake and they might have accidentally found themselves on opposite sides of the battle. With time rapidly running out and new arrivals landing to find the mayhem in progress, they have to do what they can to save as many people as possible.

The series is brilliantly written, very fast-paced and structured so that just when you think none of it can get any worse, it does. Like most YA fantasy fiction, it deals with morality and the endless shades of grey that replace the black-and-white/good-and-evil that many people still believe exists. I’m not a big fan of YA usually, but this series is something pretty magical.

You can read my full review here, or buy the trilogy here.

look whos back8. Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

While this story is good, this book is only really on this list for the sheer cheek of it. Vermes caused a huge stir in his native Germany when he released this book, and it’s not difficult to see why: this is the story of Hitler’s second rise to power.

Taking place in modern Germany, Hitler awakens to find that Eva and the Nazis are gone and the world is very different to the one he left. He doesn’t understand why no one is saluting him or treating him with the respect he is used to, eventually discovering that he has somehow time travelled to the future. When some TV executives think he’s a brilliant inpersonator who just won’t drop his act for even a second, Hitler gets a shot on a chat show. And from there, history begins to repeat itself.

What’s particularly shocking about this book is simply that Hitler is shown as a human rather than a monster. Hitler remains in our minds, and in reality, one of the most twisted people in history, but here he is almost sympathetic. It’s a dazzling piece of fiction and one that only serves to highlight that some things never change, that people will always love a good orator, and that we should all be grateful that Hitler didn’t have Internet access first time round…

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

humans9. The Humans by Matt Haig

A lot of books, films and TV shows seem to deal with humans travelling to alien planets to explore, but the only time you ever see it the other way around (generally) is when aliens have come to invade us. In this book, a single alien is sent down to stop humans from finding out about a particularly complex mathematical problem that they aren’t ready for, only to find humans stranger than anything he’s ever encountered.

It’s a great twist to see how the things we think of as normal – marriage, orgasms, coffee, peanut butter – are deemed strange and freaky to someone from another planet and society. It’s also deeply moving as the alien begins to love our ways, yet all the while pointing out how ridiculous we are, and the terrible things we had to do as a species to achieve civilisation. Nonetheless, it’s a book of great hope and optimism and if you didn’t love the human race before, you probably will when you’ve read this.

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

martian10. The Martian by Andy Weir

And now we come to the tenth book and, if I’m honest, probably the best book I read all year, which came as a surprise to even myself but my memories and my tournament brackets never lie. This is the story of Mark Watney who, after being accidentally abandoned by his crewmates, becomes the only person on Mars. Trapped and with no way of communicating with Earth, he must now try to survive until the next mission arrives – in four years time.

I have rarely seen such a good and seamless blend of comedy and hard science fiction as this. Weir is a talent who clearly does his research and enjoys it. There are a lot of passages of very heavy science, most of which I only had the most basic understanding of, but it’s still a quick read that doesn’t disappoint. Mark is a brilliant protagonist and his struggle is one that most of us can never comprehend. It’s a brilliant and somewhat terrifying look at the realities of space travel, and I loved it.

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

2015 promises a new wave of literary love for me, as I continue my way through Christie’s backlog (just twenty-five to go) and finish up my Douglas Coupland re-reads. I was planning to read The Hunger Games last year but that never happened, so it’s now lined up for study this year, and I’m also going to re-read Harry Potter again for the first time in ages. Meanwhile, there remain a whole stack of books on my shelves to explore, and with any luck, news of my second novel will also be available some time over the coming year. Speaking of, I’m going to end this now and get on with finishing the thing.

All that remains for me to say is happy new year to all my readers and may 2015 be exciting, prosperous and everything you wish for.

Top 10 Books of 2013

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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.