Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Five books

This is the time of year when newspapers are full of ‘Books of the Year’ round ups, generally derided as being full of the usual suspects, and old mates bigging each other up.
I can see the problemfrom the other side now. As a writer, one does acquire quite a lot of writerly mates, and they do write remarkably good books.
So I’m not even going to try to pick my books of the year (and to be completely honest, for 2010, I wrote my books of the year). Instead, here are some recent highlights.
Two YA books I loved so much that I reread them immediately.
Taking Flight by Sheena Wilkinson. Liam’s an under-achieving troubled teen from the backstreets of Belfast, his show-jumping cousin Vicky is spoiled and snobbish. When Liam has to go and stay with Vicky and her mum, and discovers a talent for and a love of horses, Vicky isn’t too pleased. I loved everything about this book, the people are so real and the story immensely satisfying. I loved the idea of splicing two genres – gritty crime and a pony book – and kudos to Sheena Wilkinson for the way she makes it work. It’s dramatic and funny, heart-warming and sad. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
Firebrand by Gillian Philip. So, I’m Gillian Philip's biggest squeeingest fangirl anyway, and now she’s written a book so fab that everyone is raving about it and saying it’s the fantasy book of the year and it’s going to be the next big thing. And they are completely correct, because Firebrand is wonderful (and I don’t even especially like fantasy. So it must be good.) Set in the world of the Sidhe, Scottish faeries separated from the human word by a Veil, living for hundreds of years, Firebrand has a moody and irresistible anti-hero, the glorious Seth; a kind and noble hero, his half-brother Conal, and a story which is so compelling that I hardly stopped reading to breathe. First in a series, buy it for everyone.

Two sequels that are even better than the books they follow.

There are three of us who had very similar years last year. Ellen Renner, Tamsyn Murray and I all brought out our first books at the beginning of the year and the sequels in August/September. I loved their first two books and I thought both sequels were even better(I think  Almost True is better than When I Was Joe as well, maybe there's something about sequels that give new authors a boost of confidence).

Tamsyn’s My So-called Haunting (a sequel to My So-Called Afterlife) is a sweet and funny romantic comedy, set in a world of ghosts, with a new main character, Skye, a teenage girl who has enough to worry about - new home, new school - without the additional complication of seeing the dead. And then there’s Nico, the tall, dark, handsome mysterious boy at school who definitely has something of the night about him. Tamsyn deftly blends comedy, suspense and romance,and there’s an especially funny ghost called Mary whose admonition ‘Thou resembleth a strumpet’ has become one of my catchphrases of the year.
Ellen Renner’s City of Thieves is a follow up to Castle of Shadows, set in an imagined nineteenth century almost-England, with a feisty young queen Charlie and a dastardly (but rather attractive) Prime Minister. In City of Thieves the focus shifts to Charlie’s ally and friend Tobias who suffers terrible trials, physical and emotional as he seeks to right a wrong, but is kidnapped by a family of thieves. Tobias, brave, defiant and impetuous, is just my sort of boy, and I loved Ellen’s positively Dickensian imagining of a thieves’ den complete with climbing wall and evil uncle. And that twisted, fascinating Alistair Windlass is back too.

And a great book for adults:

Dog Boy by Eva Hornung knocked me out. It’s about a six year old Russian boy who is adopted by a pack of feral dogs, it’s entirely believable, horrific and touching and upsetting. You think you're learning about the nature of dogs, and then you realise that Eva Hornung is teaching you about humans. It's extraordinary and deeply troubling.  Anyone who’s into fluffy werewolf tales should read this for a reality check about pack life. Stunning.


  1. I think you've inspired me to do one of these lists. Nice work. I also read and loved a book called City of Thieves this year but it's by a different author.

  2. Good idea Keren and time I read Dog Boy, you've recommended it to me before. Hmm, maybe I should do a list of books I would also like noticed this year, among all the marvellous titles which have been highlighted - yours included!

  3. My list this year is Coming Up for Air by George Orwell (written about a middle aged man coming to terms with the loss of his youth and yet says so much to me about my life - some incredible 'I wish I'd written that' lines too), City of Thieves by David Benioff (just a brilliant, compelling story), The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy (similar to the Orwell but about male jealousy - it changed the way I think), The Act of Love by Howard Jacobson (another about jealousy - hmm, not sure what this is saying about me. Am not actually sure if this was 2009 or 2010) and Man in the Dark by Paul Auster (incredibly original, post-modern and yet not at all pretentious).

  4. Have you read The Mighty Waltzer? That's the ultimate Howard Jacobson for me - haven't read The Finkler Question yet though.
    I've just reread Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons) for the umpteenth time and it's so good that it doesn't matter that I virtually know it off by heart.

  5. PS: Obviously these books weren't released this year BUT the only book I've read that was was Solar by Ian McEwan, which was rubbish compared with anything else from his back catalogue.

  6. Haven't read that no. Just AOL and Who's Sorry Now. I really think The Act of Love is a man's book. Going book shopping on Friday so I've got some New Year's reading...

  7. Oooh I really want to read Firebrand - I read the review of it in the Guardian the other week and it sounded realls good!

  8. Great list! Dog boy sounds really interesting.