I know I keep bleating it during every post I write, but my reading year isn’t exactly prolific this year, partly due to my new and demanding job, but mostly due to the three months I spent reading almost nothing but War & Peace.
Having said that, some of the books I’ve read in the first half of 2015 have been wonderful and they deserve a few minutes in the spotlight. As always, I’ve only included the books I’ve read for the first time this year and I’ve split them into two categories – the books that immediately jumped to mind when I started writing (gold), and the ones I had to scout for in order to finish the list (silver).
1) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This. This this this this this. I loved this book and its inherent geekiness. A unique plot that includes prolific references to fantasy novels, video games, 80s music, cult films… I dare anybody not to love this. Somebody drives an Ecto-1, for God’s sake.
‘I honestly believe that one of the best feelings in the world is being five pages from the end of a truly amazing book. When it’s 2am and you desperately want to finish it, but then you also don’t want to finish it, because then you’ll have finished it and what will you do with your life?’
2) The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
It seems that the unintentional theme of this list will be ‘books I didn’t want to read, but read anyway, and were amazing.’
I finished the second book, Dragonfly in Amber, yesterday and, while I didn’t like it quite as much as the first book, it was still wonderfully immersive and I can’t wait to pick up the third installment.
‘There’s just something about the tone of the book that infers a touch of respectability to a plot that could turn very silly very quickly. There’s a pervading atmosphere throughout, whether Claire is on an isolated Scottish moor or in a bustling castle kitchen, it always seems so real.’
3) Austenland by Shannon Hale
I actually did the unthinkable in relation to Austenland and saw the film first. True to the theme stated above, I didn’t want to watch it in the slightest, but I did (albeit under duress) and ended up loving it so much I bought the book.
They’re actually very, very similar, to the point where it took me a while to get into the novel just because the film was an almost verbatim copy. By the end, though, I was hooked and giddy for days.
‘I put down the novel smiling like a child (albeit a child who is ill-advisedly allowed to read adult romance and has an obsessive understanding of Jane Austen). It’s just such a lovely, uplifting book that restores your faith in happy ever after.’
4) Redshirts by John Scalzi
I love books like these – where you’re involved in the storytelling, or the creation of the novel is part of the overarching plot. It’s, like, so totally meta?
This is part Star Trek parody, part sci-fi time travel novel and it’s brilliant. Very unique but occasionally quite philosophical.
‘Redshirts is so much more than a parody. It’s funny, clever, occasionally philosophical and really made me care about characters I expected to be two-dimensional and flat.’
5) The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
There’s just something about vintage horror stories that’s wonderful. They don’t need gore or violence to freak you out – they manage perfectly will with the odd creaky stair and mysterious footprint.
This reminds me quite a lot of The Woman in Black – the ending is different, but just as spine chilling.
6) The Three by Sarah Lotz
This is an odd book that doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as popular as it should be, although I assume the larger majority isn’t really in the mood for a novel about creepy plane crashes right now, as it does seem to be a running theme in the RealWorld news.
Still, I really do recommend The Three. It’s creepy, mysterious and will make you look twice at any children in your life.
‘At the risk of sounding overly hipster again, I loved the whole meta book-within-a-book thing. It was really detailed and perfectly thought out – clearly a lot of effort had gone in to making it work. It’s impressive.’
7) Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Aaaaaaaaaaand speaking of creepy children…
I’d had these book for literally years before I eventually deigned to read it, but I loved it. It’s very, uh… detailed with its descriptions of 15 year olds murdering each other, but it’s actually more of a character study. Admittedly with shotguns and garottes.
I don’t think I want to watch the film (like… ever) but I did enjoy the book a surprisingly large amount.
8) Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolic Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy
Doesn’t everybody have a non-fiction book about rabies on their ‘Best Of…’ lists!?
As rabies is obviously quite a niche topic, the book branches out into all sorts of topics – vampires, werewolves, hunting dogs, vaccines, Edward Jenner, etc – and it’s fascinating.
My favourite part was the chapter dealing with Louis Pasteur who not only vastly developed the field of vaccination and pasteurisation (well, obviously – the clue is in the name, people) but created the first ever effective vaccine against rabies.
9) My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
Another book that took me forever to read (I told you there was a running theme to this list).
It’s just a lovely, lovely book. The lengthy descriptions of local wildlife weren’t always for me (and yes, I know that’s kind of the point of the book) but it’s worth reading just for the anecdotes about Mr Durrell’s family. Parts of this book are absolutely hilarious, to the point where I was actually crying.
‘Having said that, I loved this book from the first page when it made me laugh out loud on a train, and I immediately texted Ellie to let her know I loved it. It’s funny and light and will just generally cheer you up, no matter how miserable you feel.’
I only read it because it was the book chosen for Bex’s Book Club one month. Admittedly I think it was my choice, but I needed an excuse to finally pull it down from the choice!
It’s a little sledge-hammery at times, but I ended up getting way more into this than I expected. It’s a slow build that depends heavily on characterisation, but the latter is done very, very well indeed.