It’s been a while since I’ve done a Top Ten Tuesday, but this is a fun prompt that allowed me to look fondly over the last ten years and figure out which I really need to reread. Not that I could, considering that they’re mostly still in bags from when we moved. But hey, the theoretical option is there.
I’m forever grateful that I started recording my reading way back in 2006. It gives me so much data to work from 🙂
Click on the title for the review.
HHhH by Laurent Binet
This one is pretty special. It talks about the process of researching and writing the book as it discusses the topic which, by the way, is WWII Czechoslovakia. It really brings to life the impact that the War had on the little people and the sheer bloody mindedness required of the common people to power through and fight back.
It’s written in a very informal, chatty, style that really brings the topic home. So it’s historical non-fiction, but in a sort of… meta way?
I’m pretty sure I cried, but then I’ve cried at every book on this list so far.
It’s almost as though Laurent Binet wrote the book without going back to edit. For example, he’ll state that he doesn’t know a certain fact…, but a few chapters later he’ll pop up and go “Oh, I’ve checked it now – it’s this…!” At one point he refuses to buy a certain reference book about Reinhard Heydrich but then ends up buying it a little later.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
This was a tough choice, but in the end I had to go for another non-fiction. This book is the reason I went off and did a whole Masters in Biotechnology Law. I even quoted this book in my essay application, which admittedly makes me cringe a rather large amount now.
It’s a surprisingly accessible book about how the cells removed from a particular woman without her consent went on to form the basis of the cancer treatment we use today… and how her life and that of her family was spent in poverty.
You know a book is written very well indeed when the issues it raises makes you so angry you get that tight feeling in the pit of your stomach. I haven’t quite decided how I feel about my tissues being used for research without my consent, but the millions of dollars made in profit by the medical companies was clearly immoral, especially when the Lacks family can’t even afford medical insurance.
11.22.63 by Stephen King
Still though, I couldn’t not use 11.22.63. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a book blow me away as much as this one. It’s been on every list of my ‘best’ books, as well as the most moving, heart-wrenching, character-driven… the list goes on. I haven’t even dared reread it due to just how haunting it is. It’s definitely the best book published in 2011, no question.
This book is amazing, and it broke me. There may as well be no other books. It’s long and occasionally heavy, but it genuinely stopped being just a story for me. I cared more than was reasonable about all the characters and felt so tense over certain plot twists I could have been sick. This is a story about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But not really. It’s also a story of time travel, morality, romance, science fiction and friendship, with a little bit of creepiness thrown in for good measure. This is Stephen King, after all.
The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder by J.W. Ironmonger
Sigh. Making this list is more difficult than I’d expected. I’m ignoring so many brilliant books here.
That said, I can hardly leave this book out. It follows a man attempting to catalogue the entire content of his brain in preparation for it to be dissected upon his death. It’s philosophical but accessible, methodical but fascinating… I read it the same year as 11.22.63 and therefore spent the majority of the year as a broken, weeping husk.
The ending is one of the best I’ve read, ever. I wasn’t sure whether to cry or throw up or what, but my heart was hammering and my fingers were gripping the sides of the book so hard I left permanent indentations. It’s just perfect. It’s a slow build-up, but it makes so much sense and left me absolutely desperate to know what happened. It almost, almost matches 11.22.63 and we all know how much I loved that one.
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
This is the only book I’ve read even relatively recently that has made it onto this list so far. All the others I haven’t picked up in several years, although I am making mental notes of the books I want to reread as I go.
This book is the start to the Lady Isabella Trent series, and it somehow manages to be charming and action-packed all at the same time. I’ve already finished the whole series, although a half-written review is sort of languishing in my draft rolder, and has been for about six months. I wouldn’t hold your breath, essentially.
If you’re even vaguely interested in dragons and fantasy, you need to read this series.
Lady Trent writes her memoirs from several decades in the future, when she’s clearly an accomplished scholarly adventurer of some renown. In her twilight years, she has taken some leisure time to finally write an honest account in response to the hundreds of letters she receives from young fans, clamouring for details on her exploits. This results in a charming first person narrative that has the benefit of hindsight – the elderly Lady Trent looks back on her younger self with some fondness (and occasionally frustration) and muses on how the world has changed.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematorium by Caitlin Doughty
Oh look, another non-fiction. That really wasn’t expected.
Admittedly this seems to be a sort of strange choice for the best book I’ve read that was published in 2014, but it’s true. It’s a casual, funny memoir of Caitlin’s time working in a crematorium, but it’s also a more in-depth look at how our modern society deals with death and if that’s really the best way. It’s never hard going or too emotional, and she really made me think about several larger issues. As well as making me cry with laughter, obviously.
This is not a book for those of a sensitive disposition. We read about decay, leaking and mechanisms for keeping the eyes of the deceased firmly closed (spoiler alert: they use caps with spikes on). I like that about this book though. I like that it goes slightly beyond the realms of propriety to explain the details that I had never considered were an issue. For me, the most interesting chapter dealt with the bodies of babies, both pre- and post-term, and the associated problems. It wasn’t exactly pleasant reading, but it was fascinating and I have respect for the author for discussing what most people would rather brush under the carpet.
She writes that there is a culture of death denial prevalent in the modern world. Where death was previously accepted as a natural fact of life, attempts are now made to hide ourselves away from the very existence of death, as evidenced by the multi-billion dollar cosmetic industry, the rise of embalming and the ability to cremate your loved ones via the Internet.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
I wasn’t all that enthused about reading this book or the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, as I really hadn’t got along with the author’s earlier Grisha series. I was really surprised to realise that they don’t even seem like they were written by the same person.
This series is amazing. It’s fantasy, but sort of like a heist-fantasy. As if you got Ocean’s Eleven and added some magic and secret towers. It’s dark and unique, and it’s written so, so well. That said, easily my favourite thing was the characters which are just amazing.
I’m a sucker for books about close knit groups of wildly different people, all working towards a shared objective, bonding and bickering along the way. Six Crows and Crooked Kingdom do that perfectly. The way the relationships develop and change is so perfect and so subtle – I’m not sure I’ve ever seen characterisation performed so beautifully. The characters are so different, but the way their personalities interweave is wonderfully crafted.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Scythe is very much at the forefront at my mind at the moment, given that the third and final book in the series, The Toll, has just been given a release date of September 2019. Needless to say, I’m very excited.
There were a lot of options for books published in 2016, but Scythe stuck out (just) as the one I’m most likely to reread over and over. I only read it last year, and I’m already toying with the idea of rereading it. It’s just the perfect Hanna book – I love books where people fulfil the role of Death, or Santa Claus, etc.
What I particularly appreciate about Scythe is that the world-building is properly and 100% established before the overarching plot gets going. I loved knowing about the details of Citra and Rowan’s apprenticeships, the gleanings that they experienced and the minutiae of how the system worked. It really established the system as a whole, and it’s so inventive and well thought out. I kept trying to poke holes to find one thing that didn’t make perfect sense, and there just wasn’t one.
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore
This choice, however, was not spectacularly difficult. If it didn’t have to complete with The Radium Girls, perhaps The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. would have won, as I adored that book.
But it’s not, it’s The Radium Girls, and so there’s no doubt of its rightful place in this list. It’s a hefty non-fiction book about the women who worked in the factories in the 1920s, painting dials on watches with radioactive paint. They were encouraged to put this paint in their mouths… cue a huge range of terrifying ailments and a ridiculously protracted Court battle.
This book is wonderful. It’s informal and accessible, but so hard-hitting that I couldn’t get it out of my head for months afterwards. I actually sobbed whilst reading this book. I’m not talking about a solitary tear wending its way down my cheek – I full on bawled.
I’m desperate to talk about this book so hurry up and read it! I want to talk about the women, the people and especially how radium affected the whole town. The factory was eventually used as a meat locker – so naturally everybody who ate the meat became severely ill. After that the factory was knocked down… and the rubble was deposited around town. Dogs died prematurely, citizens developed an inordinate amount of tumours… you get the idea. I want to talk about it.
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
It was only ever going to be this book. It is a masterpiece of fiction.
Essentially, you have a 1920s, Agatha Christie-type feel, but with a healthy dose of twisty mindfuckery. The protagonist has seven days to solve a murder, and each day he wakes up in the body of another witness. Except it’s so, so much darker and twisted and… mental, than that.
It’s one of those books where you’re best of not knowing too much before you go into it, but if you only read one book from this list, it should probably be this one.
There are so many dark twists and turns, and ingenious plot points, that I genuinely gasped out loud on more than one occasion. It’s brutal and fascinating and does not go where you think it’s going to.
Have you read any of these books? Which books are your favourites?