Every year I set myself a target of reading 52 books – one a week – and every year I’ve fallen short of the mark …. until now. Out of the 52 books I read in 2012 there were some classics, some stinkers, some that made me cry and some that have stayed with me. Here, in no particular order (actually, in the order I read them), are the ten books that made the biggest impact on me last year, along with some extracts from the reviews I gave them on Goodreads.
The Top Ten
1. Into the Darkest Corner – Elizabeth Haynes
Excellent book on a very tough subject, domestic violence. Having survived a violent relationship myself I found it difficult to read at times but thought it was very well observed. The format of the story kept the tension running high and I thought it worked really well. The characters were really well developed … “Lee” made my flesh crawl – so charming, so clever, so brutal, so clinical, such a bastard. The ending was quite shocking too, I certainly didn’t see it coming.
Reading the author’s notes at the end, I was really surprised to learn that this was a NaNoWriMo story – and even more surprised when I discovered that I had actually “known” the author through an online comminity for years! I can also recommend Haynes’ second novel, Revenge of the Tide, which is equally as good.
2. Me Before You – Jojo Moyes
Me Before You revolves around Lou, a small town girl who starts working as a caret for Will, a quadriplegic guy. Though Will is frosty to her at the beginning, over time he thaws out a little and a beautiful friendship develops. However, the relationship is tinged with sadness, for Will has decided to take his own life at Dignitas, and Lou’s employment is his parents’ last chance to get him to change his mind.
The characters in this book are incredibly strong and real and I found myself caught up in the relationship and willing things to turn out okay. All in all this is an amazing book, a love story on the surface but one that deals with some really serious issues and has you questioning your own beliefs and thinking about what you would do if you were in the shoes of Will or his parents.
3. In Search of Adam – Caroline Smailes
This is an extraordinary book, even more so when you realise it is the author’s debut novel. In Search of Adam isn’t an easy read – it deals with child abuse, paedophilia, mental health issues and much more. However, the characters are incredibly strong and though this is (presumably) fictional, you just know that all over the country/world there are kids going through exactly the same experiences. There were scenes in this book that truly shocked me and it left me feeling upset and deeply unsettled.If you’re looking for something light and fluffy this definitely isn’t for you – but if you’re prepared to jolted back to reality with a sickening thud give this a go.
4. Every Last One – Anne Quindlen
I picked this up as a Kindle freebie solely because I needed an author beginning with Q for my 101 things in 1001 days challenge and I knew little about it before I began reading it, other than it was about an American family and an event. Looking back I’m glad I didnt know and I’d strongly recommend you learn as little as you can about this book before you read it.
The first half of the book is languorously slow, beautifully detailed and gradually builds up a portrait of a family who are perfect in their imperfection. They are just an ordinary family – they could be yours. They could be mine. Then something happens – and it’s a really big, life-changing something. The remainder of the novel looks at how the family deal with the event, and once again it’s almost luxuriously detailed – this is an author who uses ten words where many would use two, but not a single word is wasted.
This book wasn’t perfect, but overall it was a tremendous read and I would recommend it to others – though if you like action you’ll probably be disappointed.
5. Ten Years On – Alice Peterson
I thought this was going to be your average chick lit novel but was pleasantly surprised – this is more about grief than romance and its an intelligent, emotional read. Rebecca and Ollie have been together since university and have a perfect life – until Ollie dies in a motorbike accident and Rebecca discovers she’s pregnant. Grieving for her husband, she returns to her childhood home and encounters Joe, another university friend who disappeared suddenly ten years ago. As the story unfolds we find out what happened to make Joe leave and what can happen to help Rebecca move on. It’s a sensitively told story which, while holding no major surprises, is written tenderly.
6. The Glass Guardian – Linda Gillard
I’ve been a fan of Linda Gillard for a long time, and this, her latest book, didn’t disappoint.
Following the sudden deaths of her partner, father and beloved aunt in the space of nine months, Ruth moves to the house she inherits on Skye to grieve. However, given the way death seems to follow her around it’s hardly a surprise when things start to go bump in the night … What starts off feeling like a traditional ghost story develops into something much deeper as Ruth comes face to face with two very different friends from her childhood and starts to explore her aunt’s musical career and family history, following an interesting email from a musicologist in Canada.
It’s difficult to say more about this beautiful book without giving things away so all I will say is read it – it combines Scottish scenery, history, war, love, music and the paranormal in interesting ways that will make you a huge fan of Linda Gillard if you’re not already!
I know Linda has had a tough year dealing with cancer but is back writing again … I wish her all the best and am looking forward to the next book!
7. The Missing – Karl Vadaszffy
Another Kindle freebie picked up to fulfill one of the trickier letters of the alphabet for 101 in 1001. As ever with freebies I didn’t know what to expect from this. I was pleasantly surprised as this is a really well written, tight thriller that hooked me in very quickly. The story progresses at a fast pace, but the author also manages to portray the characters in a very effective way, so you get a real feel for who they are and how they will react to situations. This is a real page turner with lots of twists and a few unpleasant moments. I felt the ending was a bit rushed – the explanation seemed to be almost an afterthought – but overall this was a thrilling read and I’ll definitely look out for this author again.
8. Lighter Shades of Grey – Cassandra Parkin
I have resisted the urge to experience the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon – if I want to read porn I know a good website 😉 – but I did find Cassandra Parkin’s “Lighter Shades of Grey” very entertaining because Parkin basically rips apart EL James’ writing style, proving that (a) it is a really badly written book (b) her characters are about as unrealistic as they could possibly be and (c) she’s doing a great job of pushing feminism back 50 years! Some of the extracts from the original book, accompanied by Parkin’s dry commentary, made me laugh out loud and I would recommend everyone reads this, whether you’re a fan of the original book or not. My only criticism is it was too short … I was left wanting more!
9. The Curiosity Cabinet – Catherine Czerkawska
My first encounter with this author and I hope it won’t be my last. I thoroughly enjoyed The Curiosity Cabinet which combined two love stories set 300 years apart with some mild intrigue and beautifully described scenery. In the present, Alys has travelled to a Hebridean island where she spent some holidays in her childhood. She is fascinated by the “curiosity cabinet” in the lobby of her hotel, and its owner, who turns out to be her childhood friend. In the past Henrietta has been kidnapped by the domineering Manus, laird of the island, and separated from her young son. I loved all the characters and enjoyed the way the two stories weave together and the synchronicity between the present day story and the past.
10. Sky Burial – Xinran
This is the fantastical – yet apparently true – tale of Shuwen, a Chinese doctor whose husband is killed in mysterious circumstances while serving with the army in Tibet. Determined to find ot what happen, ShuWen joins the army herself and arranges to be posted to Tibet to search for her husband. Shortly after arriving in this strange country Shuwen becomes separated from her unit and, close to death, she is rescued by a Tibetan princess. Together they search for refuge, eventually finding a farming family who look after them for many years. During this time Shuwen learns about the Tibetan culture and way of life, becomes a Buddhist and eventually discovers her husband’s fate.
While this is only a short book it is one that touched me deeply. I know nothing of Tibet and was fascinated by the culture, traditions and religion, and the scenery was painted in such a way that I could imagine I was there. One of the criticisms of the book is that Shuwen tells her story without emotion, and I can imagine that, given she had only just arrived back in China after thirty uears in Tibet when she spoke to Xinran, she probably hadn’t had time to process everything that had happened. However, the fact that she does just narrate the tale gives me the chance to examine my own emotions and wonder how I would have felt and what I would have done in her circumstances – which makes the telling of her tale really powerful and a story that will remain with me for a long time.
I wasnt sure whether to incude the following books in the list because they are classics and I want my list to reflect more modern authors (and perhaps some you’ve not encountered before) but these three all deserve recognition, not least because I claim not to like “the classics” but loved these!
The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins
A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald
I’d also like to mention a few other authors. One of the joys of the Kindle is that there are so many free books out there. Many of them are dross, some could be good if the authors had employed a good proofreader (!) but I have found a few hidden gems along the way. Three authors in particular have become favourites of mine – Scott Mariani, Terry Tyler and Nick Alexander. While their books just missed out on making the top ten, in each case the downloading of a free book has resulted in me buying three or more other books because they made that much of an impression on me!
So there you go – my literary round up of 2012. Have you read any of these? What was your own personal favourite for the year? What would you recommend I read in 2013? Do leave comments!