It’s been a terrific year for books in my humble opinion – and god knows we needed something to distract us from the endless misery that was 2015. Between Syria, the global refugee crisis and the continued existence of Donald Trump, there’s not been much joy in reading newspapers – but here’s my list of the best books I read this year. (Disclaimer: These are all books I’ve read this year, but which haven’t necessarily come out this year, and I haven’t included any books that I worked on as a publicist, just because…)
The Bees by Laline Paull
One of my earliest reads this year – the story of Flora 717, a lowly worker bee, who right from the start, doesn’t fit in with her fellow bees. Although she quickly attracts the unwanted attention from the terrifying deformity police, she flies up the hierarchy of her hive, which we soon learn is in danger. One of the most remarkable things about reading this astonishing book was the endnote, which revealed that most of what happens in Flora’s hive is based in fact.
Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel
A bit late I know, but I remembered to read this just in time for the fantastic BBC adaptation, starring Mark Rylance and Claire Foy – whose terrified face in the last episode still haunts me. Bring Up The Bodies picks up at the end of Wolf Hall, after the execution of Thomas More, and Henry VIII’s eye has already started to wander. A gripping second instalment – and bring on the third.
Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet
I was lucky enough to work on the phenomenal A Murdstone Trilogy by the late great Mal Peet last year, and his death in March devastated us all. I’ve delved into his backlist, and again, although Life wasn’t published this year, it’s still one of my top ten reads. Whilst technically a YA read, it’s a treat for all ages – the story of the working-class Clem, who falls in love with the beautiful and rich Francoise. Meanwhile, the Cuban Missile Crisis threatens them all, so Clem must persuade Francoise that they ought to lose their virginities before the world inevitably ends. One of those books which made me both laugh and cry within a space of about 15 minutes on public transport.
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
The first, but not the last of Emily St John Mandel’s books I will read. In this gripping post-apocalyptic thriller, 99% of the world’s population is wiped out by a new strain of flu. However, instead of descending into dystopia or anything to do with zombies, the book fast-forwards to Year Twenty, when the worst has passed and survivors are beginning to rebuild. A troupe of travelling actors perform Shakespeare to remaining communities. One of the only apocalyptic novels I’ve ever read which offers the reader hope.
The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman
One of the best historical novels I have ever read. Set in 18th century Bristol, The Fair Fight is told from three points of view, that of Ruth, born in a brothel, too ugly to be a prostitute but an exceptional boxer; Charlotte Dryer, trapped in a loveless marriage with Ruth’s manager Grenville and George Bowden, a childhood friend of Grenville’s. After Ruth is set up in a deeply unfair fight, Dryer, the novel’s cold-hearted villain drops her for her husband Tom. Charlotte however has been mesmerised by watching the fight, and a friendship develops between the two. Fast-paced but richly-drawn, The Fair Fight is a lively, gripping and tender tale which you might say packs a punch! *Boom tish* (Please forgive me…do keep reading!)
The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
This phenomenally dark and twisty psychological suspense thriller knocked me for six several times throughout, eliciting numerous shouts of ‘WHAT?!?’, as the plot that I thought I’d got to grips with suddenly jolted in a different direction. It’s hard to say much about the book without giving too much away, but it opens with Ted, a millionaire drinking alone in an airport, after his flight has been delayed, and encounters the beautiful and mysterious Lily. Ted has been fantasising about killing his wife Miranda, who has been having an affair, and Lily offers to help… Completely unputdownable.
The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin
In 1919, New Orleans, an insane axe murderer is terrorising the city. Three people, Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot, a police officer with a dark secret, disgraced former Luca D’Andrea and Ida, a young Sherlock Holmes fan with dreams of being a detective (helped by her musician friend Lewis Armstrong), are all determined to catch the culprit. As they each draw closer to uncovering the murderer, the conspiracy behind the deaths is revealed to travel higher and further than they could have imagined. Meanwhile, the Axeman has issued a challenge to New Orleans: host a jazz night, or risk becoming the next victim. A gripping and atmospheric thriller, much of which I read standing up in a queue for a delayed flight…
The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse
An intense and engaging Gothic thriller. Set in the marshes of Fishburne, Sussex, Connie Gifford works hard to look after her father, who since the closure of his taxidermist’s museum has sought solace in drink. But when people start to go missing in the villages, evidence starts to point towards her father. Connie must remember some terrible events from her past who hold the key to unlocking the mystery. More than a little gory, though never gratuitously so, vividly told and high recommended.
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
I am an avid fan of the Cormoran Strike books, and was delighted by his return, along with his assistant Robin. A darker, much more gruesome instalment – which nearly for me nearly saw a return of The Shining Girls incident – but just as riveting, with twists a-plenty, much more character development for both Strike and Robin, and familiar Rowling-esque dark humour.
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
One of my favourite reads of 2013 was Life After Life, the story of the many lives of Ursula Todd, who died many unfortunate deaths, only to have to start her entire life again. A God in Ruins is a companion novel, and tells the story of Ursula’s loveable brother Ted, flitting back and forth from his childhood, to his time as an RAF pilot in the Second World War, to his comfortable if a little unsatisfying marriage to his eventual decline and undignified relocation to a home by his heartless daughter Violet. A heartbreakingly sad, yet warmly funny and knowing novel, which I didn’t want to finish.
This list was absolute agony to draw up, so I’m finishing with five other novels which very nearly made it on to the list too… Honourable mentions if you will.
In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
The Long Fall by Julia Crouch
What do you think of my list? Agree, or utterly disagree? Let us know what your favourites were in the comments below.