I’m a little bit staggered by this, but I have somehow read 50 books (so far!) this year (a total of 14,287 pages, according to Goodreads). And by read I mean completed – there have been I-don’t-even-know-how-many books that I have started and abandoned. I have no qualms about stopping reading a book I’m not enjoying. My to read pile is high enough without spending time labouring through something that’s not right for me.
Part of my reading success this year is down to discovering the joys of BorrowBox. I’ve rekindled my love for libraries too, and BorrowBox lets me borrow ebooks and audiobooks as well. And quite a few of the 50 books I “read” were actually listened to, but I’m more than happy to count them.
Seeing as I’ve read so much, I thought I’d round up my top 10 favourite books of the year. It’s a pretty balanced mixture of fiction and non-fiction, new releases and well-loved re-reads, and includes works targeted at all ages of reader.
In true Top of the Pops style, we’ll count down from 10 to the hotly contested top spot.
10. Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers by Louise Harnby
A very sensible start to the countdown, this very practical guide gives new freelancers a step-by-step plan to launching their business. Fiction editor and proofreader Louise Harnby also has a fantastic website (and podcast) which is endlessly fascinating and extremely informative. I’ve been freelance since 2013 but am planning a relaunch next September when my youngest starts school, and am currently studying proofreading with the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. Watch this space!
9. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo
This was a re-read prompted by watching Marie Kondo’s Netflix series. You probably know her central idea about only keeping items which “spark joy” and I would love to do a thorough sweep of my house to get rid of everything which definitely does not do that. I’ve taken to folding my clothes as she suggests but I haven’t started thanking my socks yet. I just wish she would write a follow-up aimed at families with young children!
8. The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman
I love a good YA novel and “devoured” this one (sorry) quite quickly. The basic premise is this: four founding families of a small town surrounded by spooky woods somehow trapped some sort of bloodthirsty monster in a kind of “Upside Down” and since then the members of said families have (or in some cases, don’t have…) various supernatural powers which they use for good or ill. I would have liked to see more loose ends tied up instead of just setting it up for the sequel, but the tactic has worked because I’m looking forward to reading The Deck of Omens when it’s published next year.
7. The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
I’m a huge fan of Elly Griffiths and her Ruth Galloway series and it was a toss up whether to include this one or Ruth’s eleventh and latest outing The Stone Circle. The Stranger Diaries is a standalone thriller with well-observed characters, multiple narrators and plenty of red herrings along the way. I thought I’d cracked whodunit but at the denouement the real villain of the piece came rather out of left field. It’s a very atmospheric book and would probably suit a dark and stormy winter night more than a summer read.
6. The Institute by Stephen King
I’ve read quite of lot of Stephen King and generally prefer his works which fall outside the straight horror genre, like this one which is more of a thriller. The Institute of the title is a state facility where children identified as having particular psychic powers are imprisoned, experimented on and ultimately put to work for covert ends. It was full of detail and seemingly unrelated storylines converged neatly into a thought-provoking finale.
5. The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy by Penelope Lively
Another re-read, this time a well-loved favourite from my childhood. I was a big Penelope Lively fan as a child, and even now the titles give me a little thrill – The Whispering Knights, Astercote, The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, A Stitch in Time and so on. But my favourite was always The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy, so much so that I have two copies from when I temporarily couldn’t find my original. It’s a deliciously creepy tale set during a stiflingly hot summer when an ancient Horn Dance is being revived as entertainment at a village fete. But sinister forces are unleashed as tempers fray and the Wild Hunt rides again…. Ooh, I feel like I could read it again right now!
4. Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11 by Mitchell Zuckoff
This was the second of three 9/11-related books that I read this year. It reads like a thriller, weaving together personal stories from that terrible day and giving a heart-breaking insight into the real-life tragedies. It was packed with details and the power of the human spirit shone through. I could hardly put it down.
3. Anna of the Five Towns by Arnold Bennett
Very much a surprise entry in my top ten! I hardly ever read “old” books – I’ve never even read any Jane Austen! – and I did not expect to enjoy this. However I am ridiculously proud of my North Staffordshire roots and I decided that I had to read some of Arnold Bennett’s Potteries works. I found the early chapters hard-going but I persevered (unusually for me!) and before long I was completely invested in Anna Tellwright’s struggle for independence. I thought about it for a long time afterwards and even downloaded Arnold Bennett’s complete works on Kindle (and will read some more at some point!).
2. See You In September by Charity Norman
This was an unputdownable, twisty novel about an ordinary young British woman who gets sucked into a cult in New Zealand. It was so well-written that you could easily see how Cassy would be drawn into it – although sometimes I wanted to throttle her! – and right up to the final pages I couldn’t tell how it was going to end. It was interesting to see the impact that Cassy’s choices had on her family back home in the sections from her mother’s perspective. I love it when I stumble across a page-turner (this was a random download from BorrowBox that I found when looking for something else) and it completely transported me out of my life to the shores of Lake Tarawera.
1. The Only Plane in the Sky: The Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M Graff
This is the book which had the biggest impact on me by far this year. YouTube’s algorithms threw up an interview with the author into my recommend videos and I downloaded the Kindle version straightaway. Like everyone old enough to remember, I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the 9/11 attacks. But there was so much I didn’t know about what happened that day, and this book paints an incredibly vivid picture from multiple perspectives in an “oral history” presentation style. You’re hearing from people directly, in their own words – some who lived to tell the tale, and heartbreakingly, others whose last words were captured on answer phone messages or phone calls with their loved ones. I was so gripped by this 512-page book that I read it in just four days in September, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
What were your favourite reads this year?