Happy World Book Day to you all! I thought it would be a fitting day to finally get around to posting my review of all the books I read in 2016. So, here you go!
I read so many good books this year that it was hard to narrow it down to just five, but if I had to, these would be my picks (in alphabetical order):
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I’m usually wary of books that have a lot of hype attached, as so often I’ve come away feeling underwhelmed. This novel, however, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, deserved its status as an it book, I felt. Set during the Second World War, it follows the parallel lives of a blind French girl and a German orphan and was surprisingly page-turning, with nail-biting suspense and cliffhangers galore. It left me with a huge longing to visit the French town of Saint-Malo, where the bulk of the action is set.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
I read Gone Girl a few years ago and liked it ok, but I liked this book, published three years before Flynn’s bestselling novel, a whole lot better — it’s even darker, creepier and more page-turning. Narrated by Libby Day, whose mother and two sisters were allegedly murdered by her brother 25 years earlier, it follows her mission to uncover what really happened — totally unputdownable.
The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless by Eliza Haywood
This book was recommended to me by my sister Claudia, who read it for an English class at university. It’s the story of a sassy teenage coquette in 17th-century London who, as her name would suggest, is selfish, reckless, and, well, thoughtless, but nevertheless manages to be completely charming and likeable. For a book written 300 years ago, it’s incredibly funny and engaging.
The Lost Girls by Jennifer Baggett, Holly Corbett & Amanda Pressner
The memoir of three women who embark on a year-long, round-the-world trip on the eve of their 30th birthdays. Initially I was worried that it would be another cheesy book about finding yourself while playing the role of white saviour in third-world countries, but I found myself enjoying it, and it gave me a serious case of wanderlust.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
The first in the four-novel Neapolitan series by reclusive Italian author Elena Ferrante, this is a weirdly engaging book about two girls growing up in in Naples of the 1950s. Elena and Lila have a complicated relationship — their intense friendship is more of a rivalry as they constantly try to outperform each other — but they nevertheless have each other’s backs as they grow up in a crime-ridden, impoverished community. Slow-paced but gripping in its own strange way.
Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Having only read the bleak Tess of the d’Urbervilles and the even bleaker Jude the Obscure, I didn’t realise Hardy was capable of writing anything remotely uplifting, but this book, although having its share of typically Hardian unfortunate events, manages to conclude with a satisfying ending.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Walls’ memoir of her dysfunctional childhood in small town America is depressing as hell of course, but also engaging and full of dark humour.
Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
An unconventional love story set in England between the wars, full of wit and satire. The beautiful Polly Hampton thwarts her mother’s plans to marry her off well and the ensuing drama is highly entertaining.
My Ántonia by Willa Cather
Set against the backdrop of 19th-century Nebraska, this American classic, the tale of Bohemian immigrant Ántonia Shimerda, is poignant and captivating.
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv Roundup, in which thousands of French Jews were arrested, an American journalist in Paris researches the fate of Sarah Starzynski, one of the children involved. Heartbreaking, but with an unexpectedly gratifying ending.
A BIT DISAPPOINTING:
Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
The story of a young Irish immigrant in 1950s New York, this, for me, was a rare case of liking the movie more than the book (which I read after seeing the 2016 film starring Saoirse Ronan). I found it a little too dour and slow-moving and I wasn’t completely satisfied with the ending.
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
The premise of this debut novel sounded promising: a young woman in 17th-century Amsterdam sets about furnishing a miniature replica of her house with the help of an anonymous miniaturist, but things take a creepy turn when the objects delivered bear an uncanny resemblance to the people and events in her life. While I enjoyed the atmospheric setting of the book, I thought the plot fell flat midway through.
Shopaholic to the Rescue by Sophie Kinsella
I read the first few Shopaholic books about a decade ago and thoroughly enjoyed them, and ever since then I’ve read every subsequent book in the series. This latest instalment, in which Becky finds herself in Las Vegas, was reasonably fun, but nowhere near as good as the first books.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
I’ve never seen the film version, but I’d heard great things about this book — it’s frequently cited as a favourite in those ‘Books that Changed My Life’ interviews. The premise sounded good (a guy who can time travel!) but I found it surprisingly draining and pretentious and the central characters, Henry and Claire (the time traveler and his wife), were totally unlikeable.