Happy New Year! I started out 2015 (and this blog) reviewing all the books I read, and then fell off the wagon in the summer! I had some great recommendations from family and blogs, and also took some ideas from this list. I read 30 books in total, which works out as just over one per fortnight – not bad 🙂
A great fantasy adventure – full review here
4. Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub
A surreal thriller that’s hard to put down, but not my favourite Stephen King offering – full review here
5. The Return by Victoria Hislop
A vivid and emotional historical novel set in Spain – full review here
6. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
A fast-paced, good vs evil, romantic historical novel set in a US travelling circus – full review here
7. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
One of the most talked-about books of the year, and I thought it lived up to the hype. A “whodunnit” thriller told from the perspective of someone who thinks she’s just a random bystander, but can’t remember – full review here
8. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
A moving story about a family, told from the perspective of their dog – full review here
9. The Bees by Laline Paull
An intriguing fantasy set in a beehive. Judging by the Amazon reviews, this one really polarises readers. Some were surprised to discover it was about bees……. honestly that reaction stumped me a little! Other opinions were that the bees were too anthropomorphised, that the novel is too scientifically innacurate, or that it’s *obviously* a commentary on cult religion, or on politics, etc. Personally, although I can see where they’re coming from, I didn’t read all that into it, and I loved it, so maybe that’s the right way to approach it – just as a story to get lost in.
10. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel (audiobook narrated by Jack Hawkins)
A fantastic dystopian novel set both during the collapse of civilisation due to a deadly flu virus, and 20 years later – full review here
11-21. Anne: The Green Gables Collection (Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, Anne of the Island, Anne’s House of Dreams, Rainbow Valley, Rilla of Ingleside, Chronicles of Avonlea, Further Chronicles of Avonlea, The Story Girl and The Golden Road) by L. M. Montgomery
I’d had this collection on my Kindle for a couple of years but was inspired to finally delve into it by the 2015 reading list suggestion of “a book from your childhood”. I have re-read books before that I’d loved as a child, and although they made me smile with the nostalgia factor, none of them captivated me to this extent. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself really carried along by these stories and regularly laughing out loud. In case you’re not familiar with Anne of Green Gables – Anne is an orphan who is adopted by elderly brother and sister Matthew and Marilla. The novel is set on Prince Edward Island in Canada, in the early 1900s. Things start out a little tumultuous as the siblings were actually looking for a boy to help with the farm work, and because Anne has a fiery temper!
The next five books follow Anne as she grows up and has children of her own; the Chronicles are collections of short stories about other characters, often with brief references to Anne; meanwhile The Story Girl and The Golden Road focus on a group of cousins, also on Prince Edward Island but with no connection to Anne. There’s a lot of reading, and I’d probably recommend reading them one at a time instead of one after the other as I did, as they can be a little repetitive. With that said though, they are really lovely stories, descriptive but not too flowery, and enjoyable for all ages.
This collection has now been updated to include audio recordings as well as two more Anne stories, Anne of Windy Poplars (published as Anne of Windy Willows in the UK, Australia and Japan) and Anne of Ingleside, which couldn’t be included originally due to copyright issues.
22. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
18-year-old Nella moves from the countryside to 17th century Amsterdam to join her new husband, Johannes. Married life is not what she expected – other than to present her with a lavish dolls’ house as a wedding gift, Johannes is barely ever present, and the household is run by his strict and dismissive sister. Nella orders some miniature furniture for her dolls’ house, and things start to get a little eerie…
I bought this one after seeing someone mention it as their favourite of the year, and although I wouldn’t go that far, it does have some nice features. It’s very descriptive and makes the setting really come alive, and a few plot lines are set up quite nicely with a healthy dose of mystery surrounding them. I guessed what the twists were going to be but was still surprised that I was right, if that makes sense. But I found the end of the book pretty unsatisfying, and I felt the plot lines, which had been established well, just fizzled out, especially that of the miniaturist – it’s like the author forgot that the miniaturist and the dolls’ house were the title and cover of her book, and just lost interest.
23. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
I always heard this one mentioned as a classic when I was younger, and the title had made me expect something… Shakespearean I suppose. I’ve read a few of Steinbeck’s works since then though (East of Eden, The Pearl and The Red Pony) and figured it was time I read one of his two most famous pieces. It’s short but perfectly formed – I mentioned in my review of Water for Elephants above that it felt a bit rushed, but this one is the opposite, managing to feel stylishly measured while still fitting in just the right amount of back story, action, dialogue and description.
24. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
Oh my goodness, this book. I had seen this one listed as a “must read” and after reading it I wholeheartedly agree. I think it’s reasonably well known what it’s about, especially as there’s a film version, but I somehow managed to go into it with absolutely no prior knowledge, and I think that made it so much more powerful. It’s another very short book that is actually enhanced by its brevity.
…meh. In short, I’d say if you have 99p to spend on reading material, the L. M. Montgomery collection above would be a considerably better investment than one of these “One”s: thrillers in which Emma, along with her best friend, boyfriend, father and brother, tries to figure out the identity of her stalker. I zoomed through them while on holiday, but I can’t even say they’re easy holiday reading, because the clues to the identity of the stalker are so convoluted that my suspicions were constantly shifting and I ended up not only confused, but caring very little. I frequently wanted to bang their heads together as so many problems could have been avoided by people talking to each other and/or the police – the whole thing felt like a plot line from a TV soap.
Stand-alone novels following on from The First Law trilogy mentioned above. We finally figured out how to set up a household on Amazon so we could share our content, so I’m making my way steadily through James’s audiobook collection. The first thing I have to mention is that Steven Pacey pronounces the word “grimace” incorrectly, and there is a lot of grimacing in these books. It makes me wince every time, but otherwise he’s a really fantastic narrator. The books themselves are brilliant as well, at least as good as the original trilogy.
30. Just The Way You Are by Lynsey James
I hate to end on a negative, especially as I actually got this one for free via the author tweeting a link. But guys, it’s awful. Chick lit that’s stuffed full of clichés and stereotypes, and I’d worked out who the secret admirer was before I even knew there was a secret admirer.
So there you have it! A bit of an enormous post, but I wanted to start the year off with a clean slate and I really loved some of the books I read last year and didn’t want to skip them.
I hope you’re having a lovely 2016 so far and doing well on your resolutions if you made any. I’ll be back with another post next weekend – I’m trying to get into the routine of posting weekly as that seems to be the ideal schedule for me. See you then!
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