2010 – My top reads of the year

It’s that time of year again, and time to post my list of top reads. I’ve had a very enjoyable reading year in 2010, and have to admit, I’ve picked entertainment rather than worthy reads for the most part, but I have read some fantastic books, and these were my top five:

1. The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy
It’s been four months since I finished this collection of short stories, and I still can’t think of a better word to describe them than exquisite. Heartbreaking narratives and evocative descriptions, I can’t fault the writing in any way. Van Booy will publish his first novel this year, and it’s at the top of my wish list of books to read this year.

2. Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant
One of the classic novels I’ve read this year, it is a fantastic tale of nineteenth century French politics and society, full of corruption and deceipt, manipulation and seduction. Humorously and wickedly observed, with a surprising ending. Brilliant.

3. Adventures on the High Teas by Stuart Maconie
My absolute favourite travel author, this time on a crusade to find the meaning of the term MIddle England which has become widely used in modern political speeches. Nostalgic and funny, not afraid to tell the truth of even when it isn’t particularly complimentary, but always affectionate to his subject.

4. Stolen by Lucy Christopher
The best YA book I’ve read this year. A compelling story written as a letter from an abducted teenager to her kidnapper, which completely absorbs you from the very start. With an obvious bias to the narrative with only one perspective on the story of the kidnapping, it is a challenging book that leaves it up to the reader to decide on their own truth about the story.

5. Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill
Author Susan Hill decides not to buy any books for a year and concentrate on reading books she already owns, and this leads her to make one of those lists we all love; if you could only have forty books to read for the rest of your life, what would they be? I absolutely loved this book, surprising choices mixed in with expected ones, blended with her own reading experiences and encounters with other authors. Not only do you get an insight into the reading of another, but it makes you think about your own reading habits.

“Fup: A Modern Fable” by Jim Dodge

The story of Grandaddy Jake and his attempt at immortality, his fence building grandson Tiny, and how a twenty pound mallard duck called Fup comes into their life.

An odd little book (less than 100 pages, although I read it on my Kindle, so I had to look up how long it was!) which I read in two sittings of about 45 mins each.

I loved the writing style; it reminded me of films where an elder recalling a fable or fairy tale, but using modern setting and written for grown ups (some swear words and sexual references, though only brief and occasional). The characters come across as genuine and real, and I felt affectionate for them by the end of the book.

Charming and funny, and an entertaining read.

“The Dark Is Rising” by Susan Cooper

A classic quest and the battle between good and evil, this exciting tale set at Christmas time was a great festive read.

A young boy who suddenly discovers he has been born with the power of Old Ones and is embarks on a quest to obtain the signs that will help defeat the Dark. He is thrust into a new world of magic and has to quickly learn of his heritage while at the same time facing the threats to his own family by the Dark.

Exciting, fast-paced action with a thrilling tale, this is the second in The Dark Is Rising series of five books. The books were originally published between 1965 and 1977, but I must admit I’d never heard of them. The Dark Is Rising was one of the books in the Seasons Reading in the Guardian Books section this year, and my friend told me he’d read it as a child and it was one of his favourite series, so I decided to try it myself. I had a complete sense of nostalgia while reading the book, as it felt exactly like the books I remember from my childhood. There’s a certain style and feel to books from that era, and this ranks up there with any book I read as a child, without feeling dated or old-fashioned.

Although this is the second book in a series, you don’t need to have read the first book in order to read this one, but I guarantee I will be reading the other books in the series next year!

“Hotel World” by Ali Smith

A young chambermaid, Sara, has fallen to her death in a hotel. The five tales in this book follow five people linked by their relationship to the hotel and to Sara.

Another fantastic book from one of my favourite authors, Ali Smith. Every one of her books is full of emotion, and this one looks at five lives intertwined by their links with an hotel. There are so many themes running throughout the five tales, but all revolve around the death of the narrator of the first story, Sara, a chambermaid who has fallen to her death in the hotel.

I must admit, I’m not usually very good at picking up themes and allegory in novels, but I could see how Smith has woven the different stages of grief into the five stories, using both close family members, witnesses and bystanders to explore the effects of death and grief.

There is something very moving about Smith’s writing, and I’ve loved everyone of her books I’ve read so far. I still have to investigate her short stories, and have a collection on my shelf waiting to be read.

“I Capture The Castle” by Dodie Smith

A very English novel, written at a time when there was no genre called “Young Adult” and books were either for children or adults, and playwright Dodie Smith wrote this, her first novel and a story of teenagers and first love told by Cassandra about her eccentric family. Living in a gradually crumbling castle, her widowed father has remarried, but is struggling with writers block, leaving the family in financially dire straits.

I’d heard lots of people talk with affection for this book, so I’d settled in for a good read when I picked up my copy for my reading group, but I actually found it quite an unsettling read. Although the narrator says how old she is on the first page, I’d actually forgotten this fairly quickly, and struggled to place her. At times she seemed to talk as a young teenager, and at other times she spoke of things as though she was bordering on adulthood and in her late teens. And I didn’t only struggle with Cassandra, I also had problems with other members of the family. Her younger brother was spoken of as a child initially, then towards the end of the book, it seems as though the author suddenly needed him to be almost an adult, and he is shoe-horned into the plot with knowledge of psychiatric principles!

I didn’t like the development of the relationships between Rose and Cassandra with Simon and Neil, it all felt too staged and predictable, but I wonder if this was more original at the time it was written, and I’ve read many other books and seen films since which have similar stories.

An uneven narrative and I didn’t find any humour in the book which others have commented on. I didn’t feel satisfied by the book, and felt a bit discomforted by some of the story, and overall, I just didn’t enjoy it.

“Last Sacrifice” by Richelle Mead

In the final installment of the Vampire Academy series, someone is trying to frame Rose for murder, and Lissa and her friends must try to clear Rose’s name.

Rose is one of my favourite characters of recent years. As a dhampir, she is strong and can fight to defend her assigned Moroi and herself against all comers, and as a person, she’s determined, strong-willed and independent, and always tries to do the right thing even if she gets it wrong sometimes.

I have to admit, I’d sort of guessed how Rose and Lissa’s stories would end in this series, but I had a lot of fun reading how they got there, and there were some twists and turns I hadn’t seen coming. I also see where I think some of the other characters will go in the future, and I’m pleased that although Rose won’t be a main character of the next Vampire Academy books, and we’ll follow other people and stories, the author has still said that we will be able to catch up with her in the future as she’ll still be writing about that world.

I think Richelle Mead writes great adventures, develops her characters well and all these books have been fast-paced page turners. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the entire series (despite my initial grumblings about the names which I found difficult to get in my head!), and I’ve also read all her other books as well now. Great fantasy books that are entertaining escapism with strong female characters.

“Adventures on the High Teas” by Stuart Maconie

I adore Stuart Maconie’s writing; he has quickly become my favourite travel writer. In this book, he’s looking for what Middle England is, and in themed chapters based on subjects such as food and music, he searches the country to try and find the meaning.

His quirky view of the world hits the spot every time with my own sense of humour. His descriptions of the places he visits and the people he meets are warm with an air of nostalgia, but always feel authentic.

I laughed aloud, chuckled, smiled and fondly remembered childhood experiences along with him. I loved this look at real English life, he recounts the tales of the people he meets and places he visits with charm and even when poking fun at them, it always done with fondness for England. It isn’t at all a rose-tinted view of the country though, and he does highlight the bad as well as the good he finds, but he does seem to be able to find some good almost everywhere.

A fantastically entertaining read.