I’ve always loved reading and well before it was trendy to be a bookworm I could be found loitering in the High School library indulging my passion for S.E Hinton (back in the days when you were just referred to as a swot). Thankfully these days book culture seems to be in fashion for people of all ages, with book clubs springing up all over the place (yes, I’m in one), and everyone talking about the latest book-to-film adaption. Despite my love of all things bookish, I still wouldn’t say I’m a particularly well read individual, and like many parents, definitely entered a kind of reading wilderness for several years after the arrival of my children. Now that the kids are getting a bit older I’ve been able to return to some kind of regular reading (although in the main it’s still confined to bedtime and the odd sneaked hour on weekends). These days a book that is ‘unputdownable’ roughly translates to something I can read within a week, and gone is the time of staying up into the small hours to finish the latest paperback – sleeping is just way too important.
Despite that obstacle, I’ve still managed to finish quite a few books this year, and as it’s Book Week Scotland, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share with you some of my favourite books of 2016*. So sit back, grab a cuppa, and enjoy my top ten reads of the year. I wonder how many of these books would make it on to your list?
*Please note that when I say ‘2016’, I refer to the year of reading rather than the year of publication – see paragraph one above, ref ‘reading wilderness’ – I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
- ‘Steve Jobs’ by Walter Isaacson
I’ve read a few biographies and autobiographies over the past few years and this one has to rank up there amongst the best. Out of all the books I’ve read lately, it has also made the most lasting impression on me, and I’d recommend it to anyone contemplating a career change or in need of some general life-altering inspiration. I’ll admit that when my sister recommended it to me, I was initially overwhelmed by its doorstop appearance (it’s over 500 pages long), but it’s definitely worth sticking with, even if like me, you’re not really that interested in the finer details of technology. It’s a fascinating insight into the man who co-founded Apple, and although starkly honest on his flaws, it leaves you with a real appreciation for this brilliant, complex character. Moreover, it’s hugely motivational – the basic premise being about finding something you love to do and then doing it to the very best of your ability. You’re left with the feeling that if everyone had careers they were passionate about, the world might actually be a much brighter, more creative and generally more successful place. I loved it.
- ‘A Man Called Ove’ by Fredrick Backman
‘A Man Called Ove’ is one of the sweetest, funniest and most charming books I’ve read in a long time. Written by Swedish blogger Backman, and published in English in 2013, absolutely nothing is lost in the translation of this book which charts the life, times and relationships of Ove, a seemingly grumpy old man who spends his days complaining about his neighbours and berating other peoples’ parking. But things aren’t always what they seem and the twists and turns behind Ove’s story are guaranteed to make you laugh, cry and think about the people in life he reminds you of (I’m pretty sure almost everyone knows someone who’s at least a little bit like Ove). If you’re looking for a good old fashioned, life affirming story then look no further – ‘A Man Called Ove’ is very likely to be it.
- ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue
‘Room’ is a sad and absorbing story told from the perspective of a five year old boy called Jack. When I started the book I had heard very little about it, and it took me a while to understand the truly shocking nature of what was actually going on. Just in case you too haven’t heard details of the book I won’t give much away, except to say it’s a fascinating read with a mid section that will have you totally gripped. The central voice in the novel – Jack – is astounding, and the relationship between the little boy and his mother is beautifully depicted. Despite the dark nature of the storyline I’d definitely recommend it – it’s most certainly a book that will have you thinking about it long after you’ve reached the last page.
- ‘The Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins
Unless you’ve been avoiding social media (or in fact any kind of media) for quite some time now, it’s likely you will have heard some mention of the ‘Girl on the Train’ this year – from my own perspective it seems to have been the one book almost everyone I know has been reading (partly due, I’m sure, to the much anticipated film adaption lately). But just in case it’s somehow managed to pass you by, the book charts the story of Rachel, a 30-something alcoholic whose life seems to be falling apart following the break up of her marriage. Rachel spends her time on the train, looking out of the window and obsessing over a couple she sees regularly as she passes. When one day she sees something unexpected, she becomes embroiled in solving a mystery that could threaten her very future. The Girl on the Train is a stylish and well thought out thriller with a twist I didn’t really see coming – it’s definitely one to read if you like a modern, edgy mystery.
- ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, by Khaled Hosseini
Khaled Hosseini is one of my favourite authors, and his novel ‘The Kite Runner’ is one of my all time favourite books. I was equally entranced by this story of two women, Mariam and Laila, whose lives intersect in war torn Afghanistan after a series of devastating and unexpected events. The story charts their developing relationship against a backdrop of cruelty and violence, and despite the dark and often brutal subject matter, Hosseini manages to draw light around the bond between the central characters. As with the Kite Runner the conclusion brings a sense of hope over adversity, and a reminder of the prevailing endurance of love. If you haven’t read any of Khaled Hosseini’s books yet I’d recommend you add them to your reading list very, very soon.
- ‘After You’ by JoJo Moyes
This sequel to ‘Me Before You’ is another from one of my favourites, JoJo Moyes, revisiting Lou Clark’s story and writing with warmth and humour about love, loss and moving forward. Just in case you haven’t read the first book I won’t spoil it – suffice to say there are moral dilemmas, choices to make and relationships to build (and rebuild), in this lovely follow up. Moyes seems able to lift up even the gloomiest of subjects with her funny and compassionate style and ‘After You’ is undoubtedly another novel with a whole lot of heart – as well as a conclusion for anyone wondering what happened to Louisa next.
- ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ by S.J Watson
‘Before I Go To Sleep’ is a pacy psychological thriller about a woman, Christine Lucas, who wakes up every morning with no recollection of her life, and the story is told through a series of journal entries which Christine must try to piece together before her memories are erased while she is sleeping. As the story develops Christine starts to unravel the mysteries of her past and must question everything she has been told about her life. If you’re looking for an exciting page-turning thriller, this is definitely one to try.
- ‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox’ by Maggie O’ Farrell
‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox’ is the first book I have read by author Maggie O’ Farrell, and after experiencing her amazing storytelling ability, I’m keen to seek out the other novels she has written. This book tells the story of Iris Lockhart, who out of the blue receives a phonecall to tell her that a Great Aunt she never knew existed (the Esme of the title), is due to be released from a hospital she has been kept in for over sixty years. What unfolds is a story that will leave you feeling sad, terrified and quite possibly angry about the way women could be treated in a time not so distant from our own. It’s an intricate mystery about secrets, freedom and the truth and it’s startling conclusion will very likely haunt you for days.
- ‘The Versions of Us’ by Laura Barnett
‘The Versions of Us’ is a cleverly constructed story following a couple, Jim and Eva, who meet while they are students at Cambridge in the 1950’s. The novel offers three versions of their lives, depending on the choices and events following the outcome of this meeting. Best read at a time when you can really concentrate (it can be a little tricky to keep up with the details of which storyline you’re following), it’s an extremely well written, thought provoking novel which will leave you pondering the interplay of choice, chance and even fate in all our lives.
- ‘Us’ by David Nicholls
David Nicholls is yet another of my favourite authors and his novel ‘One Day’ is probably just about my favourite book of all time (I’ll leave a blog about my best reads ever for another day). In ‘Us’, Nicholls tells the story of Douglas, whose wife announces she plans to leave him now that their son Albie is leaving home. What follows is the story of a holiday Douglas plans to win back his wife and mend his difficult relationship with his son. A great book if you’ll enjoy a heartfelt tale about love, family and father-son relationships, ‘Us’ is a quietly entrancing story and a perfect winter evening read.
So that’s it for my round up of my favourite reads of this year. I hope it’s given you some ideas for your reading list – I’d really love to hear which books you’ve been enjoying in 2016 too!