Monday, 30 December 2013

My favourite books of 2013

With the end of 2013 rapidly approaching and with best book lists appearing everywhere I thought it was high time I jumped on the bandwagon and listed my favourites. I've actually read over 60 books in 2013 so to help me narrow the choice down I've only included new books. Perhaps I'll make another list of books I loved this year that were published before 2013 soon? As it is my list contains a nice round number of eleven books!

Anyway in no particular order here are they are;

The Humans by Matt Haig
Those of you who know me won't be at all surprised to see The Humans listed here. A book about an alien turned out to be one of the most moving, thoughtful and life-affirming books I've ever read. If you're still putting off reading it because you think it's sci-fi and you don't like sci-fi then put that preconception aside and pick up this wonderful book.

Road to Rouen by Ben Hatch
One of Amazon's best books of 2013 and easily one of mine too. If you've ever travelled in a car with children, or indeed been a child travelling in a car you will love this. Funny, poignant and honest, it made me laugh and cry (and gave me some useful tips for smuggling food into theme parks!)

*relentlessly me - a memoir of an extraordinary friendship* by David H with Tim M
This was a deeply intense and personal book for me to read dealing as it does with the suicide of David Hurst's best friend Tim. Having lost my brother to suicide there was so much I could identify with. Heart-breaking, honest and raw but also funny and heart-warming. It's a book about the worst of life but also the best too. I felt better for reading it.

Life Knocks by Craig Stone
The story of Colossus Sosloss who ends up living with a reclusive and racist Muslim landlord. With a narrative that switches from past to present, I loved this hilarious, tear jerking yet uplifting rollercoaster read, it's quirky gem of a book by an indie author with a particularly unique line in unusual metaphors.

More Than This by Patrick Ness
Let nobody tell you books for young adults are less complex or involving than books for adults. More Than This is quite simply a stunning work of literature that deserves every plaudit that will surely come its way. Dark, disturbing, thought-provoking, uplifting...there are so many adjectives I could choose to describe More Than This but ultimately what I want to say is a straightforward "read it".

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness
Another book by Patrick Ness, I loved The Crane Wife. Based on a Japanese folk story with a lyrical and timeless quality it drew me in and made me want to slow my reading down so I could really savour every beautifully written word. A gorgeous treat of a book.

The Many Lives of Samuel Beauchamp (a demon's story) by Michael Siemsen
This is actually the sequel to A Warm Place Called Home which I haven't read but is now definitely on my to read list. However, I don't feel it's necessary to have read the first to enjoy this scary yet thoughtful book. It's more of a psychological thriller than a shock horror with complex characters and a well written and involving plot. To tempt you further you can watch a Cinematic Book Trailer here.

Dead Set by Will Carver
This is the third book in a series but as yet the first I have read. Whilst I would recommend you read the books in the correct order, I still thoroughly enjoyed this enthralling read. An intelligent, unpredictable and chilling thriller, the first two books are on my list of must reads for 2014.

Terra by Mitch Benn
A story about aliens that is also a classic fish out of water story, the familiarity in Terra though never feels stale. Tense and dark but also charming and moving, this tale about aliens is actually very human.

Free Country: A Penniless Adventure the Length of Britain by George Mahood
The perfect antidote to those cynical "Broken Britain" newspaper articles. This is a journey through Britain that is much more than a travelogue. A laugh out loud book that is also a timely reminder of the decency of people.

Kicking The Sky by Anthony De Sa 
This isn't actually published in the UK until March 2014 but I read an advance copy and have included it here because I hope I can persuade some of you to add it to your tbr lists. Set against the abduction, rape and murder of the Shoeshine Boy in Toronto in 1977, this raw and shocking book isn't an easy read but it is powerful and honest.

How many of my choices have you read? What were your favourite new books of 2013?

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Book Review: Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman

Fairy Tales are for children aren't they? We're all used to the sanitised versions in numerous books and films but as we're reminded in this wonderful collection by Philip Pullman, the original stories were often macabre and brutal. Pullman has rewritten the stories and added improvements where he saw fit - as surely the many storytellers who handed on these tales by word of mouth must have done -  but they remain faithful to the spirit of original stories. There are characters blinded, beheaded, drowned, thrown into barrels with spikes pointed inwards, even being the talking animal isn't enough to avoid meeting a grisly end! Not then perhaps the best choice for very young children although I suspect there are many youngsters who will revel in the goriness. I would advise a read through first though before choosing a bedtime story.
Some of the tales work better than others of course, something Pullman himself often acknowledges. My personal favourite was The Juniper Tree and I also very much enjoyed Hans My Hedgehog and The Mouse, The Bird and The Sausage.
I often skip the introduction in books but am glad I didn't here, Pullman writes a little about Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm but then goes into more detail about what the stock elements of these classic tales are and examines how they work as stories. It's not something I'd thought about before and both this introduction and Pullman's notes after each story certainly added to my appreciation of the collection.
I actually remember reading many of these fairy tales to myself under the bedcovers when I was around ten or eleven and loving the magic, absurdity and yes the more grisly bits too. This collection of fifty of the stories was a wonderful reminder of these traditional tales and would make a lovely addition to any bookcase.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publishers through Netgalley in return for my honest opinion.

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman is published in the UK by Penguin Books.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Book Review: The Artemis Effect by Kasia James

Set in the present, this novel imagines a bizarre phenomenon affecting the moon causes 21st Century life to break down. The changes don't  happen at once but before too long people are forced to live without the global communication network, electricity and eventually fuel. Food is in short supply and hospitals are closed down. It's a speculative look then of how quickly the fabric of society would break down if we lost the trappings of modern life.
The author has chosen to set the action in three main locations; an outback town in Australia, rural Britain and Midwest America. In each we are introduced to a small group of characters whose experiences we follow throughout the book. I would have preferred at least one main character to have been more challenging to like, these were all decent humans behaving mostly decently, a little more tension and some questionable ethics would have added an interesting further slant. However, I did appreciate that unusually and refreshingly little of the plot is set in a city and so urban looting and violence isn't a central feature but rather a creeping menace. It's still though a book that often covered familiar ground, whether the cause is something strange happening to the moon, a devastating global disease or the zombie apocalypse, there always seems to be small groups of individuals forced together to survive, gangs that have quickly descended into lawlessness roaming the streets, shops and houses broken into and left derelict.
My main criticism of The Artemis Effect though is the pacing. I wish the author had written this as a part one, rather than the complete story. The main part of the book takes its time describing the events that are occurring to our protagonists across the globe and we are given a sense of the fear of what if this change is permanent? The end though felt far too rushed, the reason for the change to the moon is never fully explained which I don't have a problem with but I did think it was a shame that a story that could have sensibly been extended into a second novel was instead wrapped up in a few pages that ultimately felt rather unsatisfactory. Despite these flaws I did enjoy The Artemis Effect, but I hope in future the author considers continuing her interesting and well thought out ideas into a sequel or even series of books rather than feeling the conclusion must be reached in just the one novel.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Artemis Effect from the publishers through Netgalley in return for my honest review.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Book Review: At Break of Day (The First of July) by Elizabeth Speller

"This is a novel about bicycles and coffin-making, the heyday of the great London department stores, and a hospital run entirely by women. It explores French river navigation, church organs, pigeons, international politics and early film, and finds philandering, friendship, deception, duty, and the terrifyingly random operation of fate." 

At Break of Day (published as The First of July in the USA) follows four men, Jean-Baptiste, a French teenager from the Somme who dreams of adventure; Frank, an ambitious shop assistant working in London; Benedict, an organ scholar at Gloucester Cathedral and Harry, a wealthy English industrialist living in New York. Beginning on July 1st 1913 as Europe teetered on the brink of war, we learn what leads each of these men to their involvement in the first day of the Battle of the Somme exactly three years later.
I was critical of the last book I read set in a similar time as I felt it had too many characters meaning I didn't find myself as emotionally invested in their lives. This was not the case with At Break of Day; the geographical scope of the novel, from the West Country in England, to London, New York, Paris and through France, told of the devastating impact of the war both in Europe and eventually beyond but having the story concentrate mostly on the lives of these four men made for a more intimate and intense story.
All four men have compelling stories and I looked forward to their individual chapters - although I must admit that the sensitive and conflicted synaesthesic Benedict was my favourite.
It's not a particularly ground breaking novel, the senseless slaughter of young men, hope, loss, duty and fate are all familiar in a Great War novel but this is such a well written book that the familiarity didn't breed contempt and it's a welcome addition to the books set in World War One.
Disclosure; I received a free copy of this book from the publishers through Netgalley in return for my honest review.

At Break of Day is published in the UK by Virago and published in the USA as The First of July by Pegasus.