Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Monday, 23 December 2013

Favourite Books of 2013

I've read lots of very good books in 2013; some brilliant debut novels, some great second novels, some wonderful novels from established authors. I always find it hard to compile a kind of 'best of'/'top ten' type list, and I spend time debating with myself whether to do it or not, because it's impossible to include everything, and I am wary of leaving something out.

My picks below are in no particular order. I think my choices show just how many different books I enjoy reading - I don't want to be limited to a certain genre, when I enjoy reading books across many different ones. I haven't included any 2014 releases which I've already read. (This might end up being the first of two posts, as I'd like to write another one recommending a fair few other reads from this year that were also very good, if I can.)

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to visit and read the blog this year, thank you to everyone who has very kindly sent me books and contributed features, to guest reviewers,  to the super bookshops on the high street and online, and to the writers of these wonderful stories.

The comments by the books below are brief thoughts taken from my reviews, and the titles link up to my full reviews (if I've written one.)

'A brilliant read, a cracking and inventive mystery, cleverly written and darkly funny, and a standout book of the year so far.
The bringing together of the story arc of the whole novel from beginning to end was very cleverly done...
There is genuine terror, suspense and intrigue throughout and I couldn’t read this book fast enough.
There is some deliciously dark humour; at times I was laughing an awful lot and wondering whether I should really be laughing at these things, but the way Belinda Bauer writes these events is so clever, combining the gruesome with the ridiculous and mundane to superb effect.'

'I absolutely loved this wonderful book! It genuinely moved me, and made me laugh, smile and cry. The two main characters are so endearing; I was rooting for Don and Rosie throughout. Don’s mindset and the way he is ‘wired’ mean that there are many amusing situations which arise due to his misunderstanding of the emotions behind words and events. This is a sensitive, warm-hearted story of someone who is different yet wants what we all want – someone to share their life with. It is beautiful to observe how Rosie impacts on Don’s life and opens his eyes to a world beyond the one he has always known.
The Rosie Project is a beautifully written, tender and funny portrayal of the eternal search for love.'

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

'There is some stunning imagery and poetry to the prose that I loved and which made this novel a joy to read for me...
I really, really liked this book. It was surprising, shocking and thrilling at times, and engaging throughout. It deals with some big themes; love, passion and separation, loss, lies and a nation's guilt, and asks difficult questions that can make you feel uneasy or make you reconsider how you had viewed people; it certainly makes you think.  
It is also going to be made into a film I believe. One of my favourite reads so far in 2013.'

The View on the Way Down by Rebecca Wait

'The View on the Way Down is a beautifully written debut novel, and Rebecca Wait sensitively portrays painful, harsh truths about remains throughout a compelling, vital story that the reader has to read to the finish. 
This story is sad, tender, raw and painful but it is also warm and hopeful. It is heartbreaking, vivid and it feels very real. I felt so involved with this story as I read it, I felt the agonies of this family, I was moved by the characters and I found myself thinking about them after closing the pages. I read the book in one day; it's very rare for me to manage that. 
The writing is light and understated and yet so's so special to read a book that actually reminds you why you love reading so much.'

Indiscretion by Charles Dubow

'I thought this was a brilliant, captivating and addictive debut novel, about beautiful people with seemingly perfect lives, and what results when an outsider breaks in on all this and exposes the weakness, changing it irrevocably. It made me think a lot about people and how they behave. It's about love and families, contentment versus temptation, friendship and unrequited love, wealth and envy, greed and lust, fate, guilt and tragedy. I enjoyed it very much indeed. As the narrative progresses, the suspense increases and I began to feel an impending sense of the sadness that was surely to come as a result of what happens, but like a voyeur I couldn't look away; I was too engrossed by this tangle of lives which was becoming increasingly, inextricably messy.'

Nearest Thing to Crazy by Elizabeth Forbes

'This was a complete and utter page-turner of the best kind. A riveting, chilling, tense psychological tale that grabbed hold of me and begged to not be put down until I had finishedIt's cleverly written, and made me question what was true, who could be trusted?...Sometimes books of this ilk don’t work out as well as I hope they will, or are initially compelling but then fizzle out a little; but for me this one absolutely did hold up to it’s promise and was utterly gripping, with a great build up of the suspense and tension and some nice twists in the tale.'

Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

'This is a clever thriller with a gripping narrative that kept me completely hooked throughout, and a lead character, in Alex, who held my attention and had me intrigued. This novel shocked, surprised and enthralled me; I found myself reassessing what I had read before in light of what I had just learnt...If you like a crime novel with an addictive narrative that keeps you guessing, that makes you question what you know and expect in terms of the crime genre, making you wonder about the limits of right and wrong, and of revenge, and if you can stomach dark themes, violence, abuse and some admittedly very upsetting episodes, then you should definitely give this a try because it has such a strong plot, great suspense, and a clever and surprising outcome. The conclusion made me stop and think and look back at the whole story again. The translation is very well done. Gripping stuff.'

'I was very impressed by this novel throughout; the storytelling, the characters and the development of both were strong and well handled. I felt like every encounter and conversation drove the narrative on and had a purpose towards the story as a whole, there was nothing surplus as can sometimes be the case...Charity Norman deals sensitively and yet thoroughly with modern day issues that can be frightening for all involved, and will test this family to the limits of love.
It’s a book that I wanted both to read quickly and discover how the plot unfolded and yet wanted to savour and not to come to an end because I was really enjoying reading it. The storyline totally captivated me and I found it very moving; at the end I shed a few tears at the outcome.'

The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers

'I thoroughly enjoyed this story and was so impressed by the writing and by the truly wonderful characterisation by Salley Vickers. The whole cast, from Agnes, to Alain the restorer working in the cathedral, to busybody Madame Beck and her accomplice Madame Picot, are brought vividly to life.  There's a lovely sense of place too, with the vivid, detailed descriptions of the architecture of Chartres cathedral making me eager to go and seek out more about this place after finishing the novel...Salley Vickers has certainly got a strong grasp on what makes people of all types tick...Truly a delightful, moving and beautifully written story and I am certain it will stay with me for a long time.'

The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain

'This is an absolutely delightful, warm-hearted and magical tale about life and fate. I loved reading it! Antoine Laurain has created a very special, mystical and entertaining story here that reveals truths about human nature in a clever way that made me smile and ponder as I read. Love, families, relationships, careers - the hat has a hand in the destiny of so many facets of people's lives in the story...the story links together well as it develops and then it all comes back together very satisfyingly at the end...The translation, with three authors taking on the different main characters, worked really well too.'

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

'This is by turns a surprising, unnerving, moving and rewarding read and it sets itself apart with a clever structure to the narrative and a distinctive main character who we live through different experiences with, over and over again, as we read. It’s a fascinating and fantastic concept that really made me think as I read. What does this mean for fate? What if we could all change things, or go back and have a second chance?...There are some thrilling moments, dramatic and tragic; then the reader realises that there is another chance at the story and can breathe again – it’s quite an experience reading this book...I think this is a very special book in many ways. '

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

'The interweaving of the three tales of the three fascinating, well-drawn main female characters Tess, Rachel and Cecilia, was very cleverly done. I loved this book, I found it an absolutely cracking read, an absorbing story that I couldn't wait to get back to - I became thoroughly immersed in the development of the plot and I didn't want to be parted from this book! 
I thought the characters were superbly portrayed, I engaged with them and loved how the author depicted the evolving relationships between them...The Husband's Secret was a captivating, compelling read and Liane Moriarty is definitely an author whose books I will eagerly watch out for in future.'

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

'This is such a touching, captivating story with a wonderful narrative voice in Alex. What a marvellous debut novel – it’s funny, brave, sad and original. Gavin Extence doesn’t shy away from handling sensitive, difficult subjects and he does it thoughtfully, with honesty and humour
This is such an involving, enjoyable tale, with a likeable, distinctive young man as the hero. Once I was drawn into the story, I was reluctant to stop reading until I had heard Alex’s entire tale. It’s one of those engaging books that you don’t want to end, and where the narrator is utterly convincing…'

'It’s a cracking thriller, the author has done a great job for her debut work in keeping the reader’s attention and produced a very good story; it’s pacey and passionate and I was turning the pages very quickly to find out what had happened. I found the narrative really engaging...As with the best crime stories, there is plenty of intrigue to make you wonder as you read and to make you think about if how things look on the outside really reflects what is hidden within. Importantly, the tension doesn't let up from start to finish...The novel deftly highlights the importance of the real, loving relationships in our lives as opposed to the somewhat fake friendships that can be formed when really there is actually little in common.'

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

I haven't managed to write a review of this one yet, but I had to include it here in my list because it was such a brilliant debut novel, the story so skillfully told, the setting wonderfully evoked and with super characterisation, Hannah Kent brought this all so vividly to life. The writing is so good that it is simply a pleasure to read this story. I hope to write a proper review of it in the new year. 

What have been your favourite reads this year? 

Are any of my choices amongst your favourites?

Do any of them catch your eye?


  1. I totally agree with you about Burial Rites, Lins. I thought it was a remarkable debut and there have been some great debuts this year! And I enjoyed Life After Life.

    You know, I haven't read any of the others but do have The View on the Way Down and The Nearest Thing to Crazy on my TBR pile and will almost certainly read The Cleaner of Chartres, as I adore Salley Vickers. A couple of the others were on my radar, so I may yet check them out at some point.

    1. Thanks very much for your comment, Kath. There have been many wonderful debuts this year I agree. I hope you enjoy the two you have on your TBR, both great I thought. I still have only read a couple of Salley Vickers novels but this one was a delight.

  2. I loved Simsion, Wait, Extence, and Kent, but I think I'm going to have to try The President's Hat and The Aftermath. Great list! Thakns for writing such a wonderful blog during 2014 :-)

    1. Thanks for the lovely comment Jackie, very kind and very much appreciated! I'm glad you enjoyed those ones too, and I hope you get chance to give those two a try.

  3. I haven't read any of these yet, but Burial Rites and The Husband's Secret are on my list.

    1. Thanks for your comment JoAnn. I hope you enjoy those two, I thought they were brilliant reads.

  4. Looks to be an engaging assortment of books. I myself find it imposable to ever pick a top ten for the year. Your list seems to be very well chosen.

    1. Brian it has taken me absolutely ages and I still agonise over it! I ended up with fifteen. Thanks for all your comments on the blog, much appreciated.

  5. If I had to pick ONE book from this last year and say Read it, I'd pick Amy Sackville's Orkney.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation Mary, I'll add it to my list!

  6. Ooh, there's five here that have been lurking on my wishlist this year -- which makes me think I'd probably enjoy all the rest as well. Uh oh! Merry Christmas!

    1. Thanks for commenting Vicki, I hope you get to read some of these. Merry Christmas :)

  7. Burial Rites was a favorite of mine from this year too. :)

    I also enjoyed The Husband's Secret.

    Haven't read the other ones.

    Silver's Reviews
    My Blog

    1. Thanks for commenting Elizabeth. Glad you enjoyed those two as well.

  8. Lins, I have to agree. I'm cheating a little in my 2013 reads post this year, directing blog readers to my keepers board on Pinterest!

    I still have a couple in your post to read. Great choices there :)

    Enjoy reading your posts Lins. Looking forward to reading more in 2014.

    1. That sounds a fab idea Shaz. I will take a look. I hope you enjoy the ones that you have to read. Thanks for the lovely blog comments and massive support Shaz. x

  9. I've read six of those, and totally agree with how brilliant they are. I'll be putting the rest on my list as we clearly have the same taste!

    1. Thanks for the comment Karen, I'm glad you enjoyed so many of these too! Merry Christmas.

  10. I have only read a few of these but they were all wonderful (even if Alex Woods made me sob like nothing else). I think I may have to add the rest to my 'to read at some point' list, particularly Burial Rights- I've heard such good things about it. I hope 2014 is an excellent reading year for you!

  11. This is such a dangerous list! You make those books sound so great, I wa t to rush and get all of them. :)

  12. Interesting favourites list, Lindsay! Most of the books and authors are new to me. I remember reading your review of Rebecca Wait's 'The View on the Way Down' and liking it very much. I also read somewhere about Pierre Lemaitre's 'Alex'. I would like to read these two books. Thanks for sharing your favourites list.

  13. I've not read any of these, though I do have a few on my TBR. I think my reading leaned a lot towards sci-fi, fantasy and YA in 2013.


Thank you so much for taking the time to visit and leave a comment. It's great reading your comments and I really appreciate them :)