This year has been a good one, reading-wise. Anyone who follows my book reviews (hi, Mum!) will be aware I try to read at least one book a week (usually it’s more than that), and this year I re-read a lot of my old favourites. I had a bit of an Alan Garner-fest, which is never a bad thing, and I revisited A Wrinkle in Time, which was definitely overdue. But, of course, there were some books which stuck out from the rest, and to which I feel I should pay a little homage, now that we’re at the end of the year.
*GIFT IDEA KLAXON*
My goodness! What a dreadful noise. Anyway. Let’s carry on, shall we?
Of course, I read more books for children and young adults than the average person, and so I’ve divided up my list of ‘Bests’ to reflect that. I’ll take the books I read for adults first, just because.
Most Beautiful Book (for Adults) read this year: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, by Leslye Walton. Now, this book was marketed (and I bought it) as a YA story, but I really don’t think it is, actually. I think Ava Lavender is quite definitely a grown-up fairytale about love and loss and mortality, with a beautiful magical-realist feel and a wondrous style all of its own. Plus, that cover. It’s the most beautiful thing, particularly in ‘the flesh’. I urge you to go out to your local bookshop/store/purveyor and just pick up a copy and stroke it. If you don’t want to buy it after that, I despair of you.
Favourite Historical Novel for Adults read this year: Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent. A masterful retelling of the last execution to take place in Iceland, this is a gripping, semi-fictionalised tale which lingered in my mind for weeks.
Best SF/Fantasy Novel for Adults read this year: The Girl with All the Gifts, by M. R. Carey. Chilling, meditative, profound, loving, terrifying and moving – all at the same time – this book took me by surprise. I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did.
Best Literary Fiction of the year: A tie between Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests. Two very different books, written by two exceptional authors, I loved both of them (except, perhaps, for the very end of Goldfinch). Books like these make me glad to be a reader.
Now, on to my lists for the younger readers:
Top Idea for a Christmas Gift (or an ‘any time of the year’ gift): Beyond the Stars, edited by Sarah Webb. Twelve amazing stories, all illustrated, and all written by children’s authors at the top of their game, this book is a real treasure. I hope it will feature in many little Christmas stockings this holiday season.
Best YA book read this year: Without a doubt, Louise O’Neill’s stunning début Only Ever Yours. This book left me an emotional wreck, in all the best ways. It’s not only an incredibly accomplished piece of work, but an important story. It needs to be read. I can’t recommend it any more highly. (Also high on this list are Half Bad and The Witch of Salt and Storm, both of which I loved and I’m delighted to have discovered their authors).
Best historical-themed children’s book read this year: This one was a closely drawn contest between Frances Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song and Emma Carroll’s Frost Hollow Hall. I honestly loved them both, but Hardinge just shades it, for me. That’s more to do with the fact that I adore Frances Hardinge in all her incarnations than a criticism of Frost Hollow Hall, which is an amazing book, wonderfully well written. I heartily recommend it. Both these books showed me, as if I needed it proved, that the world of children’s writing is a wide and wondrous one.
Most beautifully written children’s book read this year: Rooftoppers, by Katherine Rundell. I had some tiny quibbles with the plotting in this book, but one thing I can’t fault is the author’s use of language. The book is written so perfectly, with every word judged just right, that it left me in awe.
Favourite ‘classic’ children’s book read this year: Journey to the River Sea, by Eva Ibbotson. As I said in the review I wrote for this book, I can’t quite believe it took me so long to get around to reading Eva Ibbotson, but now that I have, I don’t intend to stop. This is a marvellous book, and would make a beautiful, and treasured, gift.
Most beautiful book of the year: Most beautiful in terms of its production, and its illustrations, and the feel of it in my hand, and the heft of it as an object, was Sally Gardner’s Tinder, illustrated by the incomparable David Roberts. I wasn’t as enamoured with the story as I was with the drawings, but that still hasn’t knocked this book off its top slot as ‘most beautiful’. It truly is a work of art.
And, drumroll please…
My favourite book of the year is The Skull in the Wood, by Sandra Greaves. It was one of the first books I reviewed this year, and I said even then that it would be hard to beat. It wasn’t, of course, published in 2014 but it’s still a ‘new’ book, and if you’re looking for a decently scary, magic-tinged, emotional and exhilarating story, look no further than this book. I loved it.
So, there you have it – the best of what I read in 2014, all totted up for your viewin’ pleasure. I hope, if you’re looking for some bookish gifts, that this list is useful, but even if you’re just looking for suggestions for your next great read (or you’re merely a statistician, coolly collecting votes and numbers), I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Happy Read-mas!