I have read some truly fantastic books this year and it has been extremely difficult to whittle it down to my ten favourites. In no particular order here they are:
The Good People by Hannah Kent
Based on true events in nineteenth century Ireland, Hannah Kent's startling novel tells the story of three women, drawn together to rescue a child from a superstitious community.
Nora, bereft after the death of her husband, finds herself alone and caring for her grandson Micheál, who can neither speak nor walk. A handmaid, Mary, arrives to help Nóra just as rumours begin to spread that Micheál is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley. Determined to banish evil, Nora and Mary enlist the help of Nance, an elderly wanderer who understands the magic of the old ways.
The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale
An infamous murder in Victorian London.
On 8th July 1895, thirteen-year-old Robert Coombes and his younger brother Nattie set out from their East London home to watch a cricket match. Over the next ten days they spent extragantly, visiting the theatre and eating out. The boys told neighbours their father had gone to sea, and their mother to visit family in Liverpool. But when a strange smell began to emanate from the house, the police were called. What they found threw the press into a frenzy - and the boys into a highly publicised trial.
Click here for my review of this book
The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff
In Nazi-occupied Holland, seventeen year old Noa saves a baby from a train bound for the concentration camps, fleeing with him into the snowy wilderness.
Passing through the woods is a German circus - a troupe of waifs and strays, led by the infamous Herr Neuroff. They agree to help Noa and the baby - on one condition.
To earn her keep, Noa must master the flying trapeze - under the tutorage of mysterious aerialist, Astrid. Soaring high above the crowds, Noa and Astrid must learn to trust one another - or plummet. But, as war closes in, Noa will earn that loyalty can be the most dangerous trait.
Based on real events, The Orphan's Tale is a spectacular story of love, sacrifice and courage.
Click here for my full review of The Orphan's Tale
A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman
A comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience has come expecting an evening of amusement. Instead they see a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling, as a matter of choice, before their eyes. Dovaleh G, a veteran stand-up comic - charming, erratic, repellent - exposes a wound he has been living with for years; a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between two people who were dearest to him.
Flaying alive both himself and the people watching him, Dov provokes revulsion and empathy from an audience that doesn't know whether to laugh or cry - and all this in the presence of a former childhood friend who is trying to understand why he's been summoned to this performance.
Click here for my review of A Horse Walks into a Bar
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
twin siblings in the wake of their mother's death, she resumes a dream long deferred - studying in America. But she can't stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London. Or their brother, Parvaiz, who's disappeared in pursuit of his own dream - to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.
Then Eamonn enters the sisters' lives. Handsome and privileged, he inhabits a London worlds away from theirs. As the son of a powerful British Muslim politician, Eamonn has his own birthright to live up to - or defy. The fates of these two families are inextricably, devastatingly entwined in this searing novel that asks: what sacrifices will we make in the name of love?
Click here for my review of Home Fire
Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
There are things even love can't do ...If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it's in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn't mean it's no longer love ...' Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything - arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, appeals to God. But when her relatives insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair. Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 1980s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayobami Adebayo weaves a devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief, and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Recently retired, sweet, emotionally numb Harold Fry is jolted out of his passivity by a letter from Queenie Hennessy, an old friend, who he hasn't heard from in twenty years. She has written to say she is in a hospice and wanted to say goodbye. Leaving his tense, bitter wife, Maureen, to her chores, Harold intends a quick walk to the corner mailbox to post his reply but instead, inspired by a chance encounter, he becomes convinced he must deliver his message in person to Queenie—who is 600 miles away—because as long as he keeps walking, Harold believes that Queenie will not die.
So without hiking boots, rain gear, map or cell phone, one of the most endearing characters in current fiction begins his unlikely pilgrimage across the English countryside. Along the way, strangers stir up memories—flashbacks, often painful, from when his marriage was filled with promise and then not, of his inadequacy as a father, and of his shortcomings as a husband.
Ironically, his wife Maureen, shocked by her husband's sudden absence, begins to long for his presence. Is it possible for Harold and Maureen to bridge the distance between them? And will Queenie be alive to see Harold arrive at her door?
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
The year is 1869. A brutal triple murder in a remote community in the Scottish Highlands leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae.
A memoir written by the accused makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country's finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence.
Was he mad? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the gallows.
Graeme Macrae Burnet tells an irresistible and original story about the provisional nature of truth, even when the facts seem clear. His Bloody Project is a mesmerising literary thriller set in an unforgiving landscape where the exercise of power is arbitrary.
Click here for my review of His Bloody Project
The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa
It is 1947, and Beit Daras, a rural Palestinian village, is home to the Baraka family - oldest daughter Nazmiyeh, brother Mamdouh, dreamy Mariam and their widowed mother. When Israeli forces descend, sending the village up in flames, the family must take the long road to Gaza, in a walk that will test them to their limit.
Sixty years later, in America, Mamdouh's granddaughter, Nur falls in love with a doctor. Following him to Gaza, she meets Alwan, who will help Nur discover the ties of kinship that transcend distance - and even death.
Told with a raw humanity, this book is a lyrical, devastatingly beautiful story of a family's relocation, separation, survival and love.
Click here for my review of The Blue Between Sky and Water
The Dead Man by Nora Gold
The Dead Man is a compelling novel about a woman who is obsessed.
Eve, a composer of sacred music and a music therapist, is well aware of the saying, "Physician, heal thyself," but she just can't seem to do this. For some unknown reason, she -- a sensible, intelligent professional -- can't recover from a brief relationship she had five years ago with a world-famous music critic named Jake. This obsession with Jake is a mystery to Eve's friends, and also to her.
In an attempt to solve this mystery, she "returns to the scene of the crime", Israel, where Jake still lives, and where they first fell in love. There she revisits all their old haunts and struggles to complete the song cycle she started composing five years ago about Jake but hasn't been able to finish. Gradually the dark mystery behind their complex relationship begins to unravel.
Eve discovers the forgotten childhood memories, losses, and desires that are encapsulated in her connection to Jake. And then, inspired by all the music she hears around her (including the singing of birds, the crying of babies, and the honking of cars), she succeeds in finally completing her song cycle and setting her obsession to rest.
Click here for my review of The Dead Man