It was hard to make the decision as to what my final ‘Top 5’ book would be of last year but after some mulling, it had to be this.
You Had Me At Hello by Mhairi McFarlane.
Perhaps it was the familiar surroundings of Manchester, which helped me warm to this book. Having resided in the fair city of Manchester for the past 26 years, it certainly helped me get a more vivid imagery of the street names and the bars the characters frequented. But it was more than that.
I’m the first to admit that I’m not a fan of ‘chick lit’ it’s never appealed to me, I usually find it so cheesy that it can be suffocating, and trust me I like me a bit of cheese. But Mhairi seemed to avoid most of the clichés and cheesiness and added something almost cynical to the overall tone of the novel, which I think, connected to my sceptical view of romance in the modern literary world. It follows the story of Rachel and Ben who were life long friends, and at one point a little bit more. Fast-forward to current day and Ben is married and Rachel is, well, in between life partners. A chance meeting on a rainy day takes Rachel back to old feelings and it isn’t long before she begins fantasizing about Ben being more than a friend again.
Granted, it wasn’t new ground that Mhairi had tread upon, but she wrote this with such wit that it would have been difficult to have not loved it a little bit. The protagonist, Rachel is easy to love and relate to and there are plenty of little frame stories that add the likeability of Rachel’s friends, as well as add to drama of Rachel’s day to day life. Ben is likeable, although younger Ben seems a little cocky, but that can be forgiven, as he’s quite the sweetheart once he’s older. McFarlane flits perfectly between the past and present and manages to provide a novel that has all the appeal of a standard book of this genre but delivers it with some intelligence and pizazz that other novels of that ilk usually avoid. A great little read, that had me genuinely laughing in places and even urging characters to say more, it’s easy to love.
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple.
I’d heard good things about this, so when I spotted it in my local Waterstones, I thought why not? It was a great decision to make; Maria Semple has penned a book of beauty.
This book focuses on Bernadette Fox, who to her family is a wife and a mum but to fellow mothers at her daughters school is something of menace. When Bernadette goes missing, it is down to her 15-year-old daughter Bee to find her.
The great thing about this book, and an aspect I particularly enjoyed, is the way the book is presented. The book is made up of dialogue, instant chat messages, emails, letters and magazine articles. This allowed me to build a better understanding of the characters and the motivations behind some of their actions. It really allows you to build your own story and opinions, instead of being swayed by the author.
There is a quirky humour to the book and I particularly enjoyed Bernadette’s opinions of the other mothers from Bee’s school. The relationship between Bee and Bernadette is quite endearing, so when Bernadette goes missing, you really empathise with Bee’s journey to find her. All the characters are so well developed and each have something different to bring to the story, but Bernadette was perhaps my favourite as she’s so eccentric, and at times, I felt that she was socially awkward, which provided some great moments of humour.
This is an incredibly layered book with lots of things going on, but Maria Semple avoided it becoming too confusing by constantly switching perspectives in each chapter. The ending did seem a little far-fetched but that somehow added to the charm of the book. It was funny; it was well written and was a fresh piece of writing from a very talented writer. I’d recommend this book to those who like fast paced novels, quirky humour or more of an indie vibe from a novel.
My second top book of 2013 was one that I’d heard a lot about prior to reading it, but it was one of those books, that when I asked someone what it was about, they couldn’t quite describe it or explain it to me and it was usually followed up with a ‘Just read it!’ So I did.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
This book centres around two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who since a young age have been trained to take part in a duel with one another, which can mean only one will be left standing. But in an almost Shakespearean twist the young duo find they are falling in love with one another. The backdrop for this tale of star-crossed lovers is ‘Le Cirque Des Reves’ – a black and white tented circus that appears without notice and only opens at night.
What Erin Morgenstern has created here is a portal of escapism; she has created a world in which one can get truly lost. The Night Circus is a poetic page-turner that titillates the senses, with descriptions so dreamlike; when you stop reading you’ll feel as though you’ve been in a trance. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself falling in love with ‘Le Cirque Des Reves’ – I know I did. There’s a very simple quote in the book, made by one of the characters Mr A.H, he says “There’s magic in it.” And he’s right.
This is sincerely one of the best books I read in 2013, with the only disappointing moment being when I’d reached the end. I’d recommend this book to people who enjoy fantasy novels and would like a little magic in their lives. If you want something to get lost in, this is the book for you.
This list is in no particular order, and out of the 90+ books I read last year there were 23 that I rated 5 out of 5 stars. It’s been quite hard to narrow the list down to 5, so I took out any books I have read in the past, any books that were more novellas and any books that were aimed, predominantly, at children. Before you start grumbling, this isn’t because I think novella’s can’t be well written or that children’s authors just don’t ‘cut it’ – I’ve based it on the fact that I wanted to cover the books that were lengthy, and I felt took me on a real immersive journey. So with that in mind, my first Top 5 Book of 2013 has to be;
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.
This was a truly beautiful book. It was easy to envisage everything thanks to the descriptive style of writing used by Eowyn Ivey. The story follows a couple, Jack and Mabel, who have started a new life in 1920’s Alaska, but the baby she lost years before haunts Mabel. When a little girl suddenly appears on their land their lives suddenly become enriched by her presence. But is the little girl all that she seems?
The story was easy to follow and from the get go it is easy to fall in love with Jack and Mabel, I found myself wanting them to find happiness and overcome the pain of previous years. Eowyn wrote them in such a way that you could empathise with their worries, joys and pains. The backdrop of Alaska helped add to the atmosphere and pacing of the book, as the characters and story lines seemed to change with the seasons and the surrounding environment. Even the toughness of day-to-day life of owning a homestead in the middle of nowhere was captured beautifully and made it a believable read.
It may sound corny but I really felt as though I got lost in this book, it’s so well written I could almost feel the snow covering the ground around their little home and was wrapped up in finding out who the little girl really was, and you will too. I’d recommend this book to people who love a story with a bit of mystery and anyone looking for a good book to read this coming Winter, this one would be perfect with a cup of hot chocolate.