The Book Whisperers Top Reads of 2016

2016 has been kind of an odd year for me and, I can’t lie, one I’ll be glad to see the back of. But the good news is that it’s over now and onwards and upwards. I’m devouring books again and resurrecting this blog (that has been semi-neglected for too long).

I’ve definitely got my reading mojo back, particularly in the second half of this year, and have read some really amazing books. The ones I have picked as my favourite are for a mixutre of reasons: they were real page-turners, they resonated with me in ways I didn’t expect, they were real comfort reads and just what I needed at the time.

In no particular order, the books I have picked out for my favourite reads of 2016 are:

 

five-riversFive Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris

This has to be my wow book of the year. I thought the premise sounded interesting but was totally unprepared for how it would make me feel. I found this book is enchanting, mesmerising and beautiful and was absolutely blown away by it. In fact, I still think about it now. An author that really understands what it is to be human. Highly recommended. Read my full review here.

 

 

book-5Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This was a book club choice that I probably wouldn’t have picked up for myself otherwise (which is exactly what I love about book clubs – they force you out of your comfort zone and introduce you to new authors and genres). Station Eleven is a dystopian novel that is set (for the most part) 20 years after the end of the world as we know it (due to a flu virus that wipes out 98% of the world’s population). What I really loved about this book is the way that it was written without sentimentality, almost matter of fact. I found it really refreshing. The story made me think and ask myself lots of questions about what I would do and I found it really engrossing read.

 

book-9Angela Marsons – all of them!

My new favourite author crush featuring my new favourite Detective crush. Crime fiction is probably my favourite genre and in a sea of crime and psychological thrillers (some of which are fantastic and some of which are mediocre at best), to find a brand new author and fall in love with the entire series is really exciting! I actually read The Lost Girls (book 3) first and promptly went right to be the beginning (Silent Scream) and read all 5 in two weeks. D.I. Kim Stone is a delight to read about (her feistiness and dry wit had me laughing out loud) and in the whole series (currently 5 books , there is not a dud among them). Angela Marsons has been signed up for a total of 16 books in this series and I, for one, cannot wait to read them all. I will be taking part in the Blog Tour for Book 2, Evil Games, in Feb so keep an eye out for that. You can read my review of Blood Lines here and if you haven’t yet discovered this series, what are you waiting for?

 

book-6Our Song by Dani Atkins

I read this book on a 9 day, 120 mile hike on the Cleveland Way in March. I did the walk on my own, just me and a large rucksack, staying in B&B’s and barns overnight and walking all day. When I was feeling battered, broken and weary once arriving at my nightly destination I read Our Song while laid in bed before dropping off into a deep slumber. This was the perfect book for me right then – gentle and heart-warming and just what I needed. I have read several other of Dani Atkin’s books and have loved them all.For a real feel-good, magical read, these books are just the ticket.

 

book-3When She Was Bad by Tammy Cohen

This was a holiday read for me and a perfect page-turning one. As psychological thrillers go, this is one of my favourites. Five work colleagues, a murder (but you don’t know who or who committed it) and several different view-points that keep you guessing right until the end. And what I love most is that I didn’t guess! It could just be that I have read so many psychological thrillers that I can usually guess the outcome, when I come across one that still catches me out I love it! Clever and gripping.

 

 

book-4Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

A life lived over and over again, but with different outcomes. What a clever plot device. Ursula is born, then she dies, she is born again and dies slightly later, she is born again and so on… Ursula witnesses some of the most important events of the last century, living through (usually, anyway) two world wars, friendships, deaths, and hardship. This book is imaginative, bittersweet, poignant and very ambitious but it works.

 

 

kliing-2The Killing Game by J.S. Carol

What a page-turner. I read this on holiday and couldn’t put it down. A gunman in a Hollywood restaurant that is frequented by the A-List and the rich and famous who are all taken hostage, and who lives and who dies is often a game of chance. Adrenalin-fuelled, twisty-turny and intense. Brilliant.

Read my full review here.

 

 

 

book-8Summer at the Lake by Erica James

I absolutely loved this book. It was everything I needed: friendship, nostalgia, and pure indulgence. Three people are thrown together in a split second and what follows is a tale of new friendships in both Oxford and Lake Como in Italy (which  is a place I have been to and it brought back wonderful memories). Warm, engaging, and like meeting up with old friends every time I picked it up, so much so I didn’t want it to end.

 

 

So there it is – my list of favourite books this year. There are lots more that I thoroughly enjoyed but these get my vote for being in the right place at the right time and wowing me, soothing me and inspiring me.

Have you read any of these books and if so, what did you think? What are your favourite books of 2016?

Finally, wishing you all a wonderful, happy, healthy 2017 filled with books and more books!

 

 

Book Review: Far To Go by Alison Pick

In three words:

Moving, powerful, emotional

 

What I thought:

Once in a while a book comes along that unexpectidly blows you away. This is that book.

Far to Go is set in Czechoslovaki in 1938, just before the outbreak of WW2. Pavel and Anneliese Bauer live with their 5 year old son, Pepik, in a suburban appartment in the northern region of Sudetenland. They own a factory, they have money, enjoy nights in at the theatre and employ a live-in nanny, Marta, to look after their son. They have a life – a good one – that is until the Nazi occupation and annexation of their homeland.

What I found really worked with this book is that we were shown an ordinary family – secular Jews in fact – which I believe added to the confusion of why they were being persecuted; they were just like their friends, their neighbours, their colleagues; they celebrated Christmas, they didn’t follow the customs of the Jewish faith. The fact that they were secular Jews also allowed the author (and reader) to try to understand and question how the war would impact their lives – while Anneliese was eager to shed thier history, Pavel found himself becoming increasingly fervent and proud of his heritige. Another person struggling with her own questions and feelings was Marta the nanny who, despite not being Jewish herself, had to listen to gossip and speculation about the family she lived with and loved and even horrified herself by randomly thinking comments like “dirty Jew” in her head. Marta is really the central character in Far To Go and her actions and decisions have repercussions on the Bauer family that she would have never seen coming; but again we are left to question – what would we have done?

Far To Go deals with a period of history that I was not so familiar with: Czechoslovakia before the war. The characters we are walking hand in hand with through the pages have no idea what is coming:  they’ve never had cause to distrust or suspect their best friends before, they don’t understand why they have to give up their businesses and livelihoods, they don’t see  why they should have to leave their homes and they certainly have never heard of death camps before. This is all to come; this is the future and they are living in ignorance of what awaits them.

Once Pavel and Anneliese  have relented and moved to Prague (while they still can) they become increasingly aware that they have to send Pepik away on the Kindertransport to a family in the UK to look after him “just for a few weeks or months”.  The scenes on the platform are heartbreaking. The gentleness of the narritive and the lack of melodrama in Far To Go doesn’t mean that these aren’t some of the most emotionally powerful pages I have ever read. I don’t have children and yet to put myself squarely in the book with those parents at that moment just about broke my heart; it’s  almost beyond comprehension. I could see their little faces at the window, alone and not understanding why they were being sent away.

There is no room for flowery prose in this book; it’s sparse and no words are wasted. The empathy I felt for each person in this book, however, was so palpable I could almost taste it – it’s a gifted writer who can make a reader feel as they do here without relying on sensationalism and melodrama. You will question every one of the characters actions; you will ache for them, you will hope for them knowing that there is no hope, you will close the book and know that they were just a few people out of 6 million. Six million!

Verdict: Wow. Just wow. Highly, highly recommended.

(source: I received this book for review from Headline Review)