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Here it is! My list of favourite reads of the year. There’s something for everyone in this list – historical fiction (of course), memoir, a little non-fiction and a lot of drama.

Overall, I’ve read forty-two books so far this year, not including the books I’ve read purely for research. Twelve of these were sent to me to read for endorsements, and I provided quotes for most of those twelve – I like to try to help other authors out as much as I can, although I think I’ll try to limit this to ten next year as it does tend to cut into my reading time.

I abandoned far more books than usual this year – eight in total! I think I’ve come to realise that there are so many books I want to read, there’s no point spending those hours on something I’m not enjoying. I’ve tried to diversify my reading list but I still have work to do in this area – about twenty percent of my books were from diverse/BIPOC authors. I’ve always tended to read more books by women than men; in fact less than ten percent of the books I read were by men this year! I might have to think about that for next year.

I hope you enjoy the books on my list as much as I did. And don’t forget to let me know what books are on your list of favourites this year!

The Giver of Stars

What it’s about:

Alice Wright has travelled halfway across the world to escape her stifling life in England. Handsome American businessman Bennett Van Cleve represents a fresh start. But she soon realises that newlywed life in the wild mountains of Kentucky isn’t the answer to her prayers … A love letter to the power of books and literature and their ability to bring us together and deliver the truth, as well as a tribute to female friendship.

My thoughts:

This was such a surprise! My only experience with JoJo Moyes was Me Before You. I enjoyed that, but The Giver of Stars is on another level entirely. Historical fiction, strong women, romance, literature – so many of my favourite themes in the one book. I’ll be giving this to lots of people for Christmas!

Hamnet

What it’s about:

A novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright, it is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. Above all, it is a tender reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

My thoughts:

Maggie O’Farrell is a must-buy author for me but, as with Jojo Moyes in the book above, she’s outdone herself with Hamnet. Shakespeare is but a minor figure in this story about his wife and children and what a story it is! You’ll be weeping by the final pages so read with tissues!

The Pull of the Stars

What it’s about:

In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city centre, where expectant mothers who have come down with an unfamiliar Flu are quarantined together. Into Julia’s world step two outsiders: Doctor Kathleen Lynn, on the run from the police, and a young volunteer, Bridie Sweeney. In the intensity of this tiny ward, over three days, these women change each other’s lives in unexpected ways. 

My thoughts:

Another book with stars in the title! This was my first Emma Donoghue and it won’t be my last. Having written about the barbarities of childbirth practices myself in A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, this aspect of the book was fascinating to me. The story is also haunting in the way it evokes pandemic life one hundred years ago during the Spanish flu. Lyrical and lovely.

An American Marriage

What it’s about:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy, are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. They are settling into the routine of their life together when Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. A stunning love story about family, injustice and marriage, and three people at once bound and separated by forces beyond their control.

My thoughts:

This one was another unexpected surprise! I downloaded the audiobook without knowing anything at all about the story, but having seen good reviews around the place. It was such a powerful book and Jones is a master storyteller, pulling you in one direction and towards one character, only to shift your allegiances completely in the next chapter. A complex tale, brilliantly told. 

When Breath Becomes Air

What it’s about:

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity.

My thoughts:

Oh, my heart! Prepare to sob and bawl. I listened to this one on audiobook and had to pull the car over at the end as I couldn’t see through my tears. What an incredible man, an incredible message and gorgeous writing. Read it.

The Mirror and the Light

What it’s about:

England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen, Jane Seymour. The stunning conclusion to the Wolf Hall trilogy.

My thoughts:

How Hilary Mantel was able to hold in her head all of the information she needed to write this book, not to mention all of the characters, I have no idea. It is an absolute masterpiece and almost makes me want to stop writing as I will never, in all my life, be able to produce a work like this. Don’t let the size put you off; if you’ve read the first two in the series, you must read this one.

Catch and Kill

What it’s about:

In a dramatic account of violence and espionage, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Ronan Farrow exposes serial abusers and a cabal of powerful interests hell-bent on covering up the truth, at any cost. This is the untold story of the tactics of surveillance and intimidation deployed by wealthy and connected men to threaten journalists, evade accountability and silence victims of abuse – and it’s the story of the women who risked everything to expose the truth and spark a global movement.

My thoughts:

A very sobering and very important read. It details the systemic and long standing sexual abuse of women by powerful men, and also the way in which huge corporations conspire to cover up such abuses to protect the rich male perpetrators. Farrow’s research and commitment to the often dangerous task of uncovering Harvey Weinstein’s crimes is both harrowing and inspiring; he kept trying when everyone made it as difficult for him as possible and long after most of us would have stopped. Thank goodness he didn’t stop. 

The Goldfinch

What it’s about:

Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her. A sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate.

My thoughts:

Oh my goodness – what a book! I’m one of a minority of people who didn’t love Tartt’s first book, the mega bestseller The Secret History. So I put off reading The Goldfinch as I thought perhaps it wouldn’t be for me either. How wrong I was! I listened to the audio of this and the narrator was excellent, which I think helped to make it not feel like such a long book. It was extraordinary in scope and my heart broke for all of the characters, especially Theo. It’s quite the masterpiece.

The Dutch House

What it’s about:

Danny Conroy grows up in the Dutch House, a lavish folly in small-town Pennsylvania taken on by his father. Though his father is distant and his mother is absent, life is comfortable, thanks largely to his beloved sister Maeve. That’s until their father brings Andrea home. Her advent to the Dutch House sows the seed of the defining loss of Danny and Maeve’s lives in this story of family, betrayal, love, responsibility and sacrifice.

My thoughts:

This was the very first book I read this year and what a way to start the year! I absolutely lost myself in the beautifully rendered sibling relationship between Maeve and Danny. We see their bond shift and change over childhood, adolescence and adulthood and through many difficulties, misunderstandings and so much love. The titular Dutch House is a brooding, complicated presence in the story too. All up, it’s one of those books you can’t stop thinking about for a long time after you finish.

Beach Read

What it’s about:

January is a hopeless romantic who narrates her life like she’s the lead in a blockbuster movie. Gus is a serious literary type who thinks true love is a fairy-tale. But January and Gus have more in common than you’d think. They’re both broke. They’ve got crippling writer’s block. And they need to write bestsellers before summer ends. The result? A bet to swap genres and see who gets published first. The risk? In telling each other’s stories, their worlds might be changed entirely…

My thoughts:

Sometimes you just need something light and funny where you know everything is going to end happily ever after. Generally I find rom-coms to be more miss than hit but this one, about two writers competing to be published first in one another’s genre, was sweet and engaging and had plenty of chemistry between the two leads to keep me flipping the pages. It really is the perfect beach read.