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!

 

 

I’m on Facebook!

Earlier this year, I finally dragged myself into the 21st century (after much nagging from family and friends about my absense) and joined Facebook.

Now I’ve gone one step further and have set up a page for The Book Whisperer (I know – get me!)

So, please stop by and “like” my page and chat etc – would love to see you all there 🙂

 

Link to my page

 

Day 17 – A book with the best evil character

Exit stage left please…

Who doesn’t love a book with an evil character? Mwaaaaahahahahahahaaaaaa! I adore books with characters so devious or dastardly that you can almost hear the swish of the curtain as they exit stage (or page, in this case).

My “almost-made-it” for this challenge was Count Fosco from The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Rotund and with a fondness for brightly coloured waistcoats and pet mice, Count Fosco (despite seeming likeable for much of the book) is an evil genius and the brains behind the plot in this book (I can’t give away any more than that incase you haven’t read it yet – and if not why not???? ;))

However, despite it being a closely fought final, I have decided to go with Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and the brilliantly nasty Hilly Holbrook  as my winner. What makes her my number one candidate for most evil character is the fact that on the surface she is quite normal – she is a mother, a wife, has a lovely home, attends church and organises most of the towns charity events. You don’t have to scratch the surface very hard, though, to realise that all is not what it seems. Cross Hilly at your peril! Hilly Holbrook is a bigotted and spiteful woman who will think nothing of seeing to it that others are fired from their jobs, sent to jail and have you run out of town (and all without barely lifting a finger herself).

Hilly is no moustache-twirling villain, but she is one of the best bitches I have ever read!

If you haven’t read my interview with Kathryn Stockett you can see it here too.

 

  Which are your favourite evil characters? Who else should I be reading about?

 

Day 14 – A favourite 19th century novel

                      Reader, I love this book…

I love Victorian novels, although for years I was afraid of them. After reading (and hating) Great Expectations in school I was put off reading any more for another 20 years until on a whim I decided to give GE another go to see if I still felt the same….and I loved it! Shortly after that I picked up Jane Eyre and I was blown away from the first page: it is a thriller, a romance, it is gothic, had wit and warmth and there was not a single moment in the book that I wasn’t enraptured. I had no idea that 19th century literature could be so wonderful.

Jane Eyre is a fantastic character and I had more than a few laugh-out-loud moments with her. My favourite being when the school governer tell her she is naughty and asks how she can stop being burned in the pits of hell to which she replies “I must keep in good health, and not die.” Genius! Jane is a wonderful character and it was a pleasure to spend time in her company. This is a book that I love so much that I have about 6 different copies of the book and I visit the Bronte Parsonage (only an hours drive from my house) about twice a year now.

 

 

  Which books from this century do you love?

 

Day 11 – A book that made me cry

  It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to…

I have a confession to make: I cry at adverts (I’m talking about ones that are about animal rescue or child abuse, not shake ‘n vac or oven chips!). It’s harder to make me cry at a book, however, but when one does make me cry it’s because the author has made me care. There are a few books that have made me wipe a tear from the corner of my eye, but only the odd one that has made me openly weep. One that almost made this post was My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. I remember reading this on a sunlounger at a villa we stayed at in Gozo (an island belonging to Malta); this was the first Picoult I had read so I wasn’t familiar with her style of throwing a twist in at the end of the book at that time. What happened in the epilogue took me by such surprise that it completely threw me – I had come to care about the characters so much and I hadn’t seen the ending coming at all 😦

However, the book I have chosen is one that broke my heart when I read it. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is narrated by Death and follows a young girl in Germany in WW2 as she is sent to live with strangers: the characters in this book are genuinely endearing and when the ending hits you, it will hit you with the force of a freight train. I sobbed my heart out! We read this book for my book group years ago and every single person (bar one) loved it and most admitted to shedding a tear. I remember walking around in a daze for days afterwards as I tried to come to terms with the impact it had had on me. If you don’t so much as get a lump in your throat upon finishing this book, I’m afraid to say you just may have a heart of stone. Fact.

 

 

  Which books have had you weeping like a newborn?

Day 7 – A favourite YA book

Hungering for more…

I don’t tend to read too much YA but when I do I am usually pleasantly surprised. This category was quite tough to decide actually as I kept swaying back and forth between my two favourites. I know some of you will groan at this but frankly I don’t care as I absolutely LOVED…..Twilight! I read that book when the film had first come out in the UK and there was so much hype about it but I wanted to read the book first. I had no idea what it was even about but I just adored it and then went on to read the next two in the series (still have Breaking Dawn on my pile). Anyway, I digress as that’s not the book I chose.

I picked The Hunger Games as my favourite. Again, I had heard a few rumblings about this book and picked it up knowing nothing about it. I was totally blown away! This book grabbed my by the throat and did not let me go throughout the whole book. I remember I read it on a flight from Manchester to New York and as soon as we landed I was practically dragging Mr Whisperer to the nearest Barnes & Noble to pick up the second book in the series!

One of the most exciting books I have ever read and it is in my Top 20 of all time! I insist that you read this book!

 

  Do you ever read YA ficiton? Which other books could you recommend?

 

The Best 11 Book Club Reads EVER!!!

Yes, that’s right – 11! For two reasons: 1) I couln’t narrow it down to ten 2) I thought 11 was an interesing enough number that would get your attention (it worked, didn’t it?) 😉

Now that’s out of the way, I will explain that these 11 books are the best book club reads in my opinion. Over the years I have been a member of a few bookclubs – both online and face-to-face and I have tried to include books that got the most stimulation discussions. Some were so fantastic for debate that we were discussing them for weeks or even months afterward, some of them were loved by some and hated by others but all provided lively chat and food for thought.

Here I am sharing some of my favourites with you.

 

The Big 13

1) First up is We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. This is the book that made our book club run well over time and was still being rased and talked about and compared for months after we read it. It is an utterly fantastic book. I found Shrivers style took me a while to get into the flow of the book at first, but once I found my rythem I couldn’t put it down. The book is about a teenage boy called Kevin who kills a number of his class-mates in a shool killing. The story is narrated by Kevin’s mother who writes a series of letters to her husband who is no longer with her and she talks of before Kevin was born and how she felt when she got pregnant and when Kevin was born through to the aftermath of the killings.

What makes this such an interesting book is the nature vs nurture debate. Kevin’s mum admits that she wasn’t especially maternal and never quite bonded with Kevin as a baby. There was a clear divide in our group that we didn’t realise towards the end of the discussion: most of the members who were parents blamed the mum, and most of those who were not parents thought Kevin had been born that way (me included). There is no clear answer to this question and one of the most interesting things is deciding what you believe based on the evidence.

A seriously great book for a book club and a twist at the end that will have you gasp out loud (I guarantee it!). Please, please let me know what you think if you read this – I’d love to know your take on it.

 

 

2) The Book Thief by Markus Zusac is next up. I have read this book with both online and face-to-face book clubs and it got the same reaction at both – most people loved it!

This book is narrated by Death and follows the story of a young girl, Liesl, who growing up in Germany in WW2 . She is orphaned and sent to live with a family on Himmel Street. The book brilliantly captures living during such a difficult time, with a family who aren’t hers, through hiding a Jew in the cellar, through watching people she loves die. She also steals books wherever she can (as they are so scarce). The relationships in this book are so brilliantly drawn that most people (even grown men) admitted to shedding a tear or two at the end (me? I bawled my head off!).

Makes a great discussion and again was one that lingered through subsequent months.

 

3) The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. OK, I confess that I haven’t actually read this as part of a group but there were quite a few people reading it at the same time as me on various blogs and there were some fantastic discussions going on in the blogosphere about this book.

Set in the 1940’s, on the eve of the NHS in rural England, a Doctor visits an old stately manor to see a maid who was complaing of stomach pains. When Dr Farrady digged a little further it turned out that the maid wasn’t ill at all but trying to get sent home as she was afraid of things “going bump in the night” (and day!) in the house. Farrady strikes up a friendship with the house members (of whom there are only 3 left) and becomes embroiled in some very strange goings on.

The real taking point is at the end of the book. It appears that Waters has left her readers to make up their own minds about what was really going on in the house but there are some great theories flying around that makes this a good read for debate.

4) Blindness by Jose Saramago is in at #4. I first read this is the Goodreads group The Next Best Book (which has over 5000 members and is run by my lovely friend Lori). I picked it up to read as there was so much discussion and enthusiasm around this book at the time. What a read! I was umprepared to love it so much but I honestly couldn’t put it down.

This book is amazing, incredible, breathtaking. It was recommended to me and once I started it  I was barely able to put it down. This book earned a place in my top 5  books of all time and deservedly so.

The story starts with a man in his car at traffic lights who goes suddenly blind. He is helped home by a stranger, who a few hours later also goes blind. Within a few days the blindness has spread round half the city and also those afflicted are herded up by the government into a disused mental assylum and left alone. The wards quickly become overrun with filth and chaos ensues. In the middle of this, though, we get to know a handful of characters very well and it is really their story that we follow through the neverending days, lack of food and riots. The whole story is told through long paragraphs of uunbroken text. There are no quotation marks, hardly any punctuation and none of the characters are given names. But it works!

This book has so much to discuss and I also read it with my face-to-face group and it sparked real mixed reviews which made a great talking point. One of my favourite books!

 

5) All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I read this with my group many years ago but it still sticks in my mind. The whole group, without exception, loved it and was very moved by it.

It is set in WW1 and written from the German point of view. The difference is – there is no difference. Those soldiers had the same fears that our soldiers did, the same hopes and dreams. There is no them and us; only frightened boys on the front line doing as they are told and not really knowing why.

Tender, shocking, tragic and sad but ultimately one of the best books I have read.

 

 

6) Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. I read this before discussing it at a face-to-face group but was really eager to join in with the discussion. This book had two camps – the lovers and the haters. I was a lover! This book is one of my favourites ever.

Wharton has the most amazing talent to pull me right into her stories as though I am there right with the characters. Starkfield (where the book was set) – brilliant name for such a place; it was just that – freezing, barron, snow-covered, lonely. But this is quite possibly one of the most romantic love-stories I have ever read: it’s so real you can almost touch it. It’s tangible and it’s tragic. This book, despite the fact that it’s only 100 pages long, took me a couple of days to read. I just had to savour every word and re-read passages over again.

It’s clearly not a book for everyone based on the fact that it split the group but it certainly got us talking and debating as to why. Some people found it too bleak, I found it just beautiful.

6) Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind is in at six. This is one of the weirdest books I have ever read but also one of the best.

Survivor, genius, perfumer, killer: this is Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. He is abandoned on the filthy streets of 17th century Paris as a child, but grows up to discover he has an extraordinary gift: a sense of smell more powerful than any other human’s. Soon, he is creating the most sublime fragrances in all the city. Yet there is one odor he cannot capture. It is exquisite, magical: the scent of a young virgin. And to get it he must kill. And kill. And kill.

This book went down really well in our book group (although not everybody liked it). The strangeness of the book was its genius for me. It got a great conversation going – especially the ending (which you will NOT see coming!).

 

7) The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This is another one that I first read for The Next Best Book Club on Goodreads. This one, however, got a completely split reaction: lovers and haters. I LOVED it!

I read this book in a day – I just found it impossible to put down. Although it’s bleak I found it to be written in a gentle, almost dream-like way which I loved. The story is of a man and his son (whose names we never learn) who are travelling south during the harsh, post-apocolyptic winter. They set off along the road with their cart and all their worldly belongings in it. We never find out the reason that the road and the fields and whole cities are burnt and abandoned; we are left the imagine for ourselves if it is due to war, asteroid etc.

It is a fabulous book and whether you love it or hate it I can guarantee that it will spark plenty of discussion – there’s so much to talk about with this book.

8) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Another dystopia novel – they really do generate some great banter though. This is another one that went down really well with out book group; in fact it won “book of the year” the year we read it.

The really interesting thing about this book is that although it is meant to be set in the America of the future (Gilead) it really could be so many countries today (think Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq to name a few). When I first read it back it the early 90’s I took it at face value – I saw a world in the future that I thought was possible. When I read it again 15 years later (and having been exposed to the aftermath of 9/11 and the war in the middle east) I was able to draw so many parallels with the world today.

Thumbs up for this group read!

9) Wild Swans by Jung Chang. I nominated this book for our book group back in 2004 because I was about to go to China on holiday and wanted to read some more of the history. Some people were dubious about reading it as it is such a thick book and it’s non-fiction but it ended up one of the most popluar books were read as a group.

This book is written by Jung Chang and she recounts her life and that of her mother and grandmother before her during some of the most turbulant times in China’s history. Her grandmother was a warlord’s concubine, her mother was in a prominet position in Mao’s communist party before being denounced and Jung herself marched and worked for Mao until the doubts crept in. What these three generations of women lived through is so beyond belief at times that you think that it could only be fiction.

All agreed that this book was well worth the time and it is one that you won’t forget in a hurry either.

 

10) The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. Another one from the face-to-face book group that was enjoyed by pretty much everyone.

This is the story 2 young girls, Kitty and Esme, growing up in the 20’s and 30’s in first colonial India and then in Edinbugh when their parents move back home. They are sisters who share everything and love each other very much yet one is the dutiful, polite, home-maker type and the the other is the slightly rebellious younger sister who wants to stay on at shcool rather than marry a nice boy. After a series of events (which include trying on her Mothers clothes of all things!) and a shocking incident that happens to her, Esme (the younger sister) is sent to a lunatic assylum and dissowned by her own family and where she remains for the next 61 years.

What a discussion this provoked! The rights of women (or lack of them), the things that could get you locked up back then (over half of us agreed that we wouldn’t have stood a chance in those days) and the shame that surrounds supposed mental illness. All that wrapped inside a brilliantly told story.

 

 

11) The bonus book! And I’m cheating with this one as I have never actually read it with a group despite my many pleas over the years. This book is BRILLIANT! It is one of my favourites of all time (in my top 3) – why oh why don’t people want to read this? (I know at least 2 readers of this blog who will back me up on this – Virginie and Lua, help me out with this!)

In The Magus by John Fowles young Englishman, Nicholas Urfe, accepts a teaching position on a Greek island where his friendship with the owner of the islands most magnificent estate leads him into a nightmare. As reality and fantasy are deliberately confused by staged deaths, erotic encounters, and terrifying violence, Urfe becomes a desperate man fighting for his sanity and his life. The Magus is a book that really messes with your head –  filled with shocks and chilling surprises and so many twists that every time you think you have it sussed you are thrown way off course again, this book is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining.

I demand that you all read this book! It is pure brilliance and would make such a fantastic group discussion – the only problem would be where to start!


Some truly great books there for you to check out. I have chosen them as being the ones that created the liveliest debate and discussion as well as being great reads.

Have you read any of the above? Will you share with us all what you thought about them? Do you agree or not agree? And of course, if you do go away and read any of them (in a group or on your own) please do pop back and tell us what you thought – I can’t wait to hear 🙂