My Top 10 Books of 2015

For December, I’m taking a break from reviewing books. I’ve not stopped reading them, but in recent weeks, I’ve felt myself being a touch too critical of perfectly good books.

 

With that in mind, I’ve decided to follow the tradition that every other media outlet follows in December. Regurgitating old opinion, dusting off old content, covering it in a sprinkle of glitter and presenting it as a ‘Review of the Year’

 

Here are my Top 10 books of 2015 – there’s even some new content in here not previously on my blog!

 

  1. The One In a Million Boy by Monica Wood

 

This charming tale hasn’t been published yet, but the hardback is coming in April 2016, and it’s definitely one to keep an eye out for. My review when I first read it back in October comes across more critical than it should – but only because of the impossibly high standards I expect of books that are sent to me from the delightful @PublicityBooks at Headline publishing. More about her later.

 

  1. Losing It by Helen Lederer

 

I have a rule about the reviews I put on my blog. To avoid being accused of any kind of bias, if I’ve socially spent time with, or am in regular contact with an author then I don’t review their books. But that doesn’t mean I don’t read them.

 

This novel from funny-woman Helen Lederer about a middle-aged writer whose life seems to have stalled, while the lives of those around her flourish is the only book this year to make me snort with laughter on the underground, so earns it’s place on this list.

 

  1. Nothing But Trouble by Matt Cain

 

Another title – and the last – on the countdown that didn’t get a review of it’s own on the blog this year, but this look at the glamorous behind the scenes goings-on of popstar Lola Grant is funny and sexy as well as being so well-written, that I was shouting at the character’s as they made some dubious decisions. There was a strong anti-drugs streak through it and the main character as well, which is not the obvious route to go with a book like this.

 

  1. The Secrets We Keep by Jonathan Harvey

 

This is another one that I feel looking back I was too harsh on in my review. The acid tongue of Lynda La Hughes mixed with the plot twists of Coronation Street, what’s not to love? A pacy plot mixed with characters you actually care about makes up for the ever so slightly frustrating ending.

 

  1. My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh

 

I’ve never been to New Orleans, but this book made me feel as if I had. You can feel the humidity coming off the page and it’s that sense of place that really helps this coming-of-age story succeed.

 

  1. the long way to a small angry planet by Becky Chambers

 

This science fiction novel is like somebody decided to make a list of all the things needed to make a successful mix of Douglas Adams, Red Dwarf and Star Trek – but it works. A compelling cast of characters means not only do I want another book, but I want a TV series. The upcoming Star Trek television revival, would do well to have a look at the rough nature of life in space represented here.

 

  1. Moving by Jenny Eclair

 

I liked this more than I ever thought I would, and it’s only as I write this and consider the upcoming books in the list, that I realise it’s because it’s the story of someone’s life. There’s something incredibly voyeuristic to think that come the end of the book, only one person knows the truth about everything, and that’s us, the reader. What makes this book even better is that despite Eclair’s unique personality, she manages to reign it in, giving the character’s their own distinctive voices.

 

  1. I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh

 

I nearly gave up on this book, despite it being well written, it seemed to be meandering early on. Then there’s a development that I wasn’t expecting and it shoots the book off into a completely different direction. Well worth a read.

 

  1. A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

 

I read this almost a year ago now, a copy of the book sent to me by @PublicityBooks – and I didn’t regret it. Harry Cane (not the footballer currently playing for Tottenham Hotspur) is a Victorian gent whose life is changed when he discovers the pleasures that other Victorian gents have to offer.

 

Like Moving, you’re fully invested in the characters, and like My Sunshine Away has a wonderful sense of place. An amazing book with a great cast of characters, this will be appearing in a lot of people’s best books of 2015 – not least the Costa Book prize who have shortlisted it in Novel category, the winner of which will be announced on 2nd January.

 

  1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

 

There’s really not much more I can say about this book and I don’t think it will have come as any surprise to anyone that I’ve placed this at the top of the list. I’ll be re-reading it again soon, but the biggest pleasure I’ve gained from this book, is the sense of community it has engendered with other people who have read this book.

 

There’s a knowing look, a smile and a sympathetic pat on the back.

 

I always considered myself to be dead on the inside, but A Little Life had be sobbing like a child. If you don’t even squeeze out one tear while reading the ending of this, then you truly are emotionally dead.

The Secrets We Keep by Jonathan Harvey

I don’t know what I was expecting from this book, I’d never read any of Harvey’s previous novels, but I knew the name.

For those that don’t, he is the man behind ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’, ‘Beautiful Thing’ and ‘Beautiful People’ as well as having written over two hundred episodes of ITV soap ‘Coronation Street’.

I think it’s fair to say that his comedy in ‘Beautiful People’ and certainly in ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’ was broad and far from subtle. Don’t get me wrong, I loved both, but it was these that I had in mind when I came to reading his latest novel.

I’d forgotten all about the touching, sensitive ‘Beautiful Thing’.

The Secrets We Keep, while very funny in places, was between Beautiful People and Beautiful Thing on the spectrum of Harvey’s writing,

Writing for television and plays is a very different thing than writing for novels, but why I was surprised that a professional writer should be able to write, I’ll never know.

He was, as I should have expected, very good.

The book is about a family who, five years on from the disappearance of their father/husband, move away from their family home to a new area. This drags everything up as their new neighbours recognise them as the minor celebrities they became during Danny’s initial disappearance.

They seem like a normal family. Exasperated mother, gay son in a relationship breaking down and a bratty teenage daughter who feels like the world is against her. Danny, the missing part of their lives, seems like a normal, suburban father, who, one day, just went missing near the cliffs at Beachy Head.

As the book progresses, we start to realise that Owen, Danny’s son, knows something more, while Cally, his daughter, is determined to flee home to become a model.

And then we learn about Danny, from his perspective. We hear his life story from the eighties, right up until he disappeared. The writing is realistic, totally believable, but at the same time, it’s hard to imagine this man belonging in the family we’ve been getting to know.

Ultimately, that’s something that doesn’t ever feel a hundred per cent right. Once we know the truth behind his disappearance, the man he became doesn’t quite match up to the boy and young man he was.

Perhaps that’s the point, perhaps it’s a commentary on how life, how family changes us. Owen and Cally certainly change, with the latter being the most annoying character early on, but becoming one of the most sympathetic characters towards the end.

Cally is growing up, at the age of sixteen, she’s left it late, and what she’s growing up from is the most horrendous teenage girl you’ve ever come across, but she does start to evolve, even finally starting to bond with her mother.

The ending is an interesting choice and while I won’t spoil it here, I’m undecided whether I liked it or not. Things are left hanging, as if there’s a final chapter missing.

The Secrets We Keep is a brilliantly written novel, with many laugh out loud moments, but be prepared to suspend belief slightly for some soapy plot twists and coincidences.