Best books of 2016

I have read 60 new books this year. That is, books that are new to me, not just books published this year. There have also been 9 re-reads. I’ve amazed myself in how much I’ve read this year – my challenge was to read 50 books and I thought I’d struggle.

As usual the number of women far outnumbers the male authors: 40 female authors against 20 men. The re-reads were all the Harry Potters, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Little Women so they outnumber men too.

Here, in a vague but not particular order, are my top 9. (Why 9? Why not?)

South Riding – Winifred Holtby

Oh what a wonderful book this is! A 1930s Middlemarch, but slightly easier to read (and god knows I love Middlemarch). In brief, it is the story of a schoolteacher who moves to a village in Yorkshire, only to find herself in the middle of land conflicts and a place experiencing the turbulence of a shifting world. The characters are spectacularly well drawn, the landscape as important as the people, and the humour a gift from a masterful but underrated writer. I must re read it very soon.

The Other Mrs Walker – Mary Paulson Ellis

This is a debut novel and I am jealous at Ellis’s skill in rendering such an intricate and mature story. A woman comes home to live with her mother and becomes a professional mourner, and part investigator as she is tasked to find out who the mysterious Mrs Walker was. Thanks to everyone on Twitter who went on about this until I was forced to buy it.

Crooked Heart – Lissa Evans

Another Twitter recommendation. A war story about an evacuee and the woman he ends up living with after his beloved godmother dies. The characters are so well drawn in this, I’m so looking forward to Evans’s next book, published in 2017.

This Must Be the Place – Maggie O’Farrell

BOOK OF THE YEAR. I finished reading this and immediately wanted to start it again. I loved this book. It’s so clever, the characters are believable and often unpleasant but you root for them so much, even when you want to scream at their actions.

The Light Between Oceans – ML Stedman

Oh. Devastating. Couldn’t put it down, knew it was going to end badly, wept buckets at the end. Won’t watch the film, it won’t do it justice.

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

I don’t often stray into fairytale land but I loved this retelling of Ransome’s Snow Child, set in pioneering Alaska. It held the right blend of mystique and reality, and again, the characters were fabulous. I especially liked that the main characters were older, childless, and had problems that seemed really believeable, even in modern times. I’m looking forward to reading Ivey’s new book.

We Are All Made of Stars – Rowan Coleman

I included this because it got my through a tough time earlier this year. It’s a sweet story of loss and grief, and love and being silly because you can.

Christmas Days – Jeanette Winterson

A combination of short stories and recipes with memoir, Christmas Days is the reading equivalent of a mince pie and glass of Bailey’s. It’s comforting, funny, poignant and, most of all, festive. I’m now adding this to my annual Christmassy reads, alongside Dickens and Little Women.

As You Wish – Cary Elwes

The memoir of an actor whose life was changed by a wonderful fairytale film. Everything about The Princess Bride is funny and makes me want to watch the film again, lip syncing the words, and all the behind the scenes stories in here were great. A humble thank you to the fans and the others who made this film the classic it is, Elwes is good company to read.

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