2016 was an excellent reading year for me. I read 100 books and rated 25 of them as 5 star reads – books that I loved, that kept me gripped and keen to know what happened next, books that appealed to because of their content and the way they were written, books to remember. I loved all of them and could not possibly choose any one over the others as my favourite book of the year.
Here is a selection of my 5 star books of 2016, in the order that I read them.
In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward – excellent storytelling, moving smoothly between the past and the present as the secrets from the past gradually emerge, great characterisation and a superb location in the Derbyshire Peak District that Sarah Ward obviously knows very well. It is also a complex and puzzling mystery that kept me glued to the book.
A Month in the Country J L Carr – As an old man Tom Birkin is looking back to the summer of 1920 when he was asked to uncover a huge medieval wall-painting in the village church of Oxgodby in Yorkshire. I loved the story, the detail of the wall-painting – the original methods of painting, the colours, the people in the painting. But above all it is the writing that I loved the most – words that took me back in time to that glorious summer in Oxgodby.
A House Divided by Margaret Skea – Set in 1597, this is the most gripping story of warring factions in Scotland, the French Wars of Religion, superstition and horrific witchcraft trials. There is so much I loved in this book – the story itself, expertly narrated, full of tension and surprise, and then the characters, some based on real historical figures and others fictitious, and it’s well written and well paced as the historical facts all blend seamlessly into the narrative, with beautiful descriptive passages.
People of the Book by Geraldine James – This is a real gem, inspired by the true story of the Hebrew codex known as the Sarajevo Haggadah! It’s a novel about preserving the past, its culture and history for future generations. It has depth and breadth and is beautifully written. I was irresistibly engrossed in this book and full of wonder at its stories, reaching back in time from Sarajevo to Vienna, Venice, Tarragona to Seville in 1480 and also Hanna’s story from 1996 to 2002.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley – ‘steampunk’, a book that made a great impact on me right from from the start. It’s a mixture of historical fact and fantasy set in Victorian times, both in London and Japan. There is so much in this book, so many passages I noted, so many intertwining stories and lines. I loved it both for its historical settings and for its ingenuity, producing a fantastical tale that occupied my mind during and after my reading.
Asta’s Book by Barbara Vine – a book that demanded all my attention and I just didn’t want to put it down. There’s a murder, a missing child, a question of identity and overarching it all are the stories of two families – the Westerbys and the Ropers and all the people connected to them. So many characters, so many red herrings, so many incidents that at first did not appear to be of any or of much importance that turned out to have great relevance. I was so impressed at how it all hung together, with no extraneous material – all those minor incidents and characters are completely necessary.
Sandlands by Rosy Thornton – a beautiful collection of short stories that held me spellbound from start to finish. The stories are set in the Suffolk landscape, describing convincing characters, and containing well- researched detail into myths and folklore, wildlife, and environmental changes that slips seamlessly into the fiction. They are just the right length for me, perfect little cameos. The individual stories are varied, some looking back to the past, some are sad leaving me with tears in my eyes, and some have a supernatural element. I loved all of them.
The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman – a fascinating novel about Richard III’s life from his childhood to his death at Bosworth Field in 1485. I think this is one of the best historical novels that I’ve read. It is full of detail, but Penman’s research sits very lightly in this book, none of it feels like a history lesson, and it all brings Richard’s world to life. She portrays a very likeable Richard, from his childhood onwards he comes across as a kind, generous and brave man, a skilled leader on the battlefield, a loving husband to his wife, Anne, and devoted and loyal to his brother, Edward IV, who was by no means a saint. I loved it.
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz – an outstanding book by a master story-teller, with a wonderfully intricate plot. It’s a prime example of a puzzle-type of crime fiction combining elements of the vintage-style golden age crime novel with word-play and cryptic clues and allusions to Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s also a novel within a novel, with mystery piled upon mystery. I loved it.
To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey – A lovely book, narrated through the journals not only of Allen Forrester, but also the diaries of his wife, Sophie. It begins with correspondence between Allen’s great nephew Walt (Walter) Forrester and Joshua Stone, the Exhibits Curator of the Alpine Historical Museum in Alaska about donating the writings and other material and artifacts to the museum. From then on these three strands of the book are interwoven and I was completely absorbed by each one. It’s a story of great beauty, complete and whole, backed up by fact and elevated by Eowyn Ivey’s writing. I loved it.
The Marriage Lie by Kimberley Belle – This is one of those books that gripped me and kept me guessing all the way through. Once I began reading I just didn’t want to put the book down and I raced through it, anxious to know what happened next. And plenty did happen in one of the most convoluted and complex plots I’ve read in a while. The pace is terrific and the tension just builds and builds in this psychological thriller.