My Top Ten Books of 2016

In no particular order other than they roughly follow the timescale of when I read them my top ten books of 2016.

1. Twice Born by Margaret Mazzantini

I read this book in January. It had been sat on my kindle for well over a year and I hadn’t read it. Not sure why not but I am so glad I finally read it. It’s about the war in Sarajevo and a story of a couple who meet there. This brought home to me just how horrific the War was and I felt ashamed I hadn’t really taken that on board before. I did then read quite a few books over the course of 2016 about the war but for me this first book was the best. And lesson to self to not ignore what’s going on on your doorstep.

2. The Brilliant and Forever by Kevin McNeil

This was my April book challenge which was a book recommended to me by my local bookshop. I loved this book it’s set on a Scottish island which for me was Lewis and Harris as the author is from Stornoway and it was too accurate not to be. It is about an annual story telling festival but slightly surreal as one of the main characters is an Alpaca. It is firstly very funny but then it gets quite dark and leaves you reeling at the cruelty of what we can do to others. It’s a very different book but one I really enjoyed.

3. Cry the Beloved Country Alan Paton

This was my May challenge to read a book I should have read in school. It was recommended to me by my husband and I actually read his original school book. Set in South Africa before the end of apartheid. It is a very realistic account of racism but also shows the power of love and indeed the power of love to overcome as well. I am not sure why I never read it at school but very glad I now have.

4. This must be the Place by Maggie Farrell

I am a huge Maggie Farrell fan and have been lucky to see her at our local bookshop several times. I started this book the afternoon before she spoke there early evening then finished it in the garden on a very rare occasion this summer that it was warm enough to sit out. Maggie Farrell is one of my favourite authors and this book does not disappoint. It’s another epic read and one that I would happily re read and I don’t say that about many books.

5. The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

Amy was one of the authors at the Borders Book Festival in June. Her book is autobiographical of her breakdown due to alcoholism and how this makes her return to Orkney where she was brought up. Here in graphic detail she puts herself back together. I loved her honesty and how she laid herself bare. I also enjoyed her descriptions of Orkney and I’m sure she’s encouraged people to visit the islands which I’d love to do though draw the line at swimming in the sea all year round as she does.

6. A Little Life by Hanya Yanahihara

I struggled with this book initially till I was told by a fellow reader that once you got through the first 100 pages you would be away and fully engaged in the story. She was right. This is one of the most difficult books I’ve read but also one of the most thought provoking. It’s about an abused boy and how this abuse affects his whole life yet how he is very much loved by his friends and his mentor. It’s a long read but one you are sad when it’s over and one that really makes you think.

7. The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Just love this book. So clever giving you throughout the book different scenarios about a couple who meet at Uni. You try and guess which scenario you like the best but they are good and bad in each of them.  In reality a fairly basic story but the fact it takes you on these scenarios is so clever and it’s a belter of an ending too.

8. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

This was my September challenge to read a book I’d given up on before. I’m not sure why I gave up on this book as it was so good and the ending just blew me away. One of the best endings of a novel I’ve ever read. Kate Atkinson is one of a kind and this book is another must read. And if like me you start and give up keep going.

9. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

This was my October challenge to read a book that I owned and had never read. Set in post war Britain a tale of the friendship of two men one white and one originally from India who met during the war. Theirs is a lifetime  friendship and as they marry for both families too. It was very funny but also very accurate about this period of history.  And again made you think about your views and opinions.

10. The Food of Love by Amanda Prowse

I have read a few of her books and she takes every day issues that face us all and creates stories out of them. This one is about a girl facing anorexia and the impact that has on her and her family and how this can tear a family apart and the effects it has on the whole family. In parts a very difficult read as it’s your worst nightmare to lose a child as they won’t eat but also a realistic look at the mental health issues facing so many young people today.
That’s my 2016 list. I’m delighted to say that four out of the ten were from my 2016 book challenge which I’ve now completed. It was at times challenging but it really gave my reading year a focus and made me think each month and research which book would be my challenge book of the month. After looking for some tim  I’ve found my 2017 challenge listed below. I’m looking forward to getting started.

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December’s Reading takes me up to 130 books for the year.

December’s reading was quite eclectic a mixture of what I would term easy to read but very enjoyable books that allows you to escape your world for a time, some Scottish island books not brilliant in terms of plot or writing but allowing me back to the islands. Some historical fiction for a project I’m involved with and my challenge book of the month. A book I’ve read at least once before.

1. Three wishes by Liane Moriarty 3/5.

2. No kiss goodbye by Janelle Harris 3/5.

3. Island by Victoria Hislop 4/5.

4. The Food of Love by Amanda Prowse 4/5.

5. The Uist Connection by Libby Patterson 3/5.

6. Let the light shin by Nick Alexander 4/5.

7. Crash Land by Doug Johnston 3/5.

8 &9. Winter Folly and the Snow Angel by Lulu Taylor 3/5.

10. Gaslight by Steven Price 3/5.

11. Edgar Alan Poe and the London Monster by Karen Lee Street. 4/5.
The last challenge book of the year was to reread a book I’ve read before. All year my choice of this was Dr Zhivago. It’s one of my favourite books of all time and in the depths of winter is the perfect time to read it. But it’s a fairly long read and given I was tasked with reading other books one of which Gaslight was almost 800 pages. I decided to rethink. So the Island by Victoria Hislop was my choice. I owe a lot to this book. It was the book that got me back to reading and challenging myself after a couple of years post having kids when all my mind could cope with was magazines and the odd easy novel. I picked this book up one of my first purchases at our local bookshop and have never really looked back in challenging myself out of my reading comfort zone ever since. It was interesting going back to it. In one way reading a book you’ve read several times before is like putting on a pair of old slippers. It’s very familiar almost boring in its familiarity and then like a new patch in a old slipper you find things that you don’t remember first time round. Or as you are reading it older you take things from it that your younger self wouldn’t. I enjoyed it greatly. 

Another book of note was the new book by Amanda Prowse. This tackles the very difficult subject of anorexia and mental illness in teenagers. Not an easy read and I hesitated before reading it. But she tackles it in a very empathetic way but a realistic one too with some really graphic very distressing scenes. The older I get the more I think we are all fighting our own secret challenges it manifests itself for all of us in different ways. But for younger people there is so very much to challenge and scare them that mental issues are a real issue and not enough is being done for these kids facing these issues. It’s easy to think well my kids are ok so not in my backyard but I know these issues will be facing a child very close to you whose parents will be worried sick with anxiety that they are losing their child to something that can’t be fixed by calpol or a drug and fighting a system that you need to fight to get noticed which means trying to prove your child is worse than another child who is also ill. So I applaud Amanda Prowse for tackling this issue. Not an easy book to read and for some the ending maybe too trite but it was a book for me I needed to read. And by the end of a rollercoaster of emotions I could see why she ended it the way she did.

Other challenges were the two final books especially the 800 pages of Gaslight. Did I enjoy it? Yes. But if I hadn’t been challenged to read it I wouldn’t have. It started to fit for me as a book 300 pages in which is quite awhile to get going. It was very well written and researched and I did enjoy the latter part of the book. But would have given up on it well before the 300 pages if I didn’t have to read it. The final book about the London Monster also set in a similar period of Victorian History grabbed me from the start. It was funny, well written with a great plot that had me laughing while enjoying being taken back to another time and place which is what good historical novels are for me about. 

I have greatly enjoyed my 2016 reading challenge. It  has at times been a challenge. But has made me think  each month and I’ve read books I wouldn’t have other wise read. So thanks to my friend Susan who suggested it. And interesting my next blog will be my top ten books of 2016. And four of the ten books in the list are from the challenge. So very much worth doing. As my ex boss used to say to us “If you do what you’ve always done you will get what you’ve always got”. It is true for reading as much else in life. Happy New Year.

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November’s Reading

November took me up to 119 books of the year.  But it was a very average reading month none of the books really setting the heather alight apart from the challenge book which I hated but it did challenge me. So here is the list and the scores on the doors:

1. The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood -3/5

2. All for nothing by Walter Kempowski – 4/5

3. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty – 3/5

4. The Hebridean Storm by Libby Patterson – 3/5

5. The Sell Out by Paul Beatty -3/5

6. After the Lie by Kerry Fisher -3/5

7. Orphans of War by Leah Fleming -3/5

8. The Stornoway Way by Kevin McNeil -3/5

My challenge for the month was to read a book that intimidates me. My husband who has always tried to get me to read The Lord of the Rings suggested it or the Hobbit. But in truth it doesn’t intimidate me the subject matter is of no interest what so ever and the films are good for insomnia they send me straight to sleep. The Manbooker book intimidates me though so I read this years winner. It was a difficult read. Firstly and most importantly as I was in shock over the USA election result. And this book graphically depicts why America is so divided right now. It made uncomfortable reading. And that was my second reason. I didn’t enjoy this book and it’s subject matter scared me. However that is a good thing as we are living in times that scare me too and if you just read what makes you comfortable what do you learn from it? Would I have read this book if it wasn’t for the reading challenge? No. Would I have finished it if it wasn’t for the challenge? No. Am I glad I read it? No not glad but grateful as it challenged me and made me see things from others points of view. It is easy to surround yourself with similar people with similar views. And then 2016 takes you by surprise. But in order to understand it you need to see the view from all however uncomfortable that makes you feel. This book did that for me. It doesn’t make me less scared about the future but it does make me realise that those of us who want to see positive change for all can’t just sit back and do nothing. We have to act just as Brendan Cox said so eloquently in his Christmas speech.

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October’s Reading

I am now on over 100 books for the year. And with October School holidays by the end of the month I was up to 111. 

So here is the list for October. I score each book I read in my reading journals so thought I would share the scores with you.

1. Circling the Sun by Paula McLean.  3/5.

2. The woman who ran by Sam Barker. 3/5.

3. My husband’s wife by Amanda Prowse. 3/5.

4. I see you by Clare Mackintosh. 4/5.

5.and 6. The Sea Detective and The Malice of Waves by Mark Douglas Home.4/5

7. Angel by LJ Ross. 3/5.

8. The mistake I made by Paula Daly. 4/5.

9. White Teeth by Zadie Smith. 4/5.

10. Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves. 3/5.

11. The Day I lost you by Fionnah Kearney. 4/5.
Some outstanding books in the above list.  My reading challenge book of the month was to read a book I own but have never read. Sadly this gave me lots of scope as I have a large pile of books to read which is why one day I hope a magic fairy waves a magic wand and tells me that my job in life is just to read as a full time job. One of these books is White Teeth which if memory serves me right I bought from my local bookshop Mainstreet Trading a number of years ago. So I chose it and immediately wondered why I hadn’t read it before. A brilliant book observing life in the UK from the Second World War to the current day. It was very culturally relevant and thought provoking but it also gave me a jolly good laugh. I also loved the Sea Detective and The Malice of Waves by Mark Douglas Home. The books are very well written set in Edinburgh and up north and crime novels so for me one of my favourite genres on a number of accounts. I also read some favourite authors this month. Although good didn’t think Ann Cleeves and LJ Ross’s books were as good as previously and although I gave Claire Mackintosh a 4/5 for me her second novel wasn’t as good as the first.

So that is me for October. For November it’s a book that intimidates me. Trying to ignore my husbands suggestion of reading the Hobbit and other suggestions of books he knows are not my type. But in ignoring him I have to come up with a book that he too thinks is intimidating. So what book do I go for?

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September Reading

September reading got me to the 100 books of the year well ahead of previous years. And as well as reaching the 100 it was a good months reading with 10 books read.

1. Hold Tight by Harlan Coben.

2. Sheltering Rain by Jojo Moyes.

3. Keep you Close by Lucie Whitehouse.

4. The Travellers by Chris Pavone.

5. The Little Red Chairs by Ena Pavone.

6. A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson.

7. Another mothers son by Janet Dave.

8 The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin.

9. Paris Spring by James Naughtie.

10. The Ballroom by Anna Hope.

Three books were my favourites one of which was my reading challenge for the month. My challenge for September was to read a book I had previously abandoned. I can’t actually believe now I did abandon this book but I did start A God in Ruins struggle with the first two chapters and give up on it.  I love Kate Atkinsons books but when I read it first another book attracted more interest. The book languished under my pile till a colleague asked if I’d read it and said how good it was. Timimg perfect for the September challenge so I re started the book and very quickly wondered why I had abandoned it. What a wonderful book it is and the ending one of the best I’ve ever seen  and I didn’t see it coming. So I had to re read the final part as it was just so clever. I loved it. I also really enjoyed James Naughtie’s Paris Spring. James Naughteie’s two books have had mixed reviews but I have enjoyed both of them. The second was actually better than the first. A brilliant spy drama set in a period of history I was largely unaware of. Finally I had read great reviews for the Ballroom. And it did not disappoint about a mental health hospital in 1911 where people had mental health issues but also got sent for doing minor crimes. The characters good and bad were beautifully written and imagined. It was a book where you learnt a lot, gave you food for thought and stayed with you. A sign of a good book in my humble opinion. Next month a book I own but have never read….there is quite a pile…which one to choose?

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August ReadingĀ 

August reading a slower month of reading a result of getting back to routines and the start of Mum’s Taxi again. But I did read this month one of my favourite books of the year. The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett which I highly recommend. It took a few chapters to get into it but once I did I just loved it. Such a clever thought provoking book about what your life might be if you had took a different route in life. You see a couple with three views about what life might have been for them. And there are twists and turns all the way.

So the August list is:

1. Where my heart used to beat by Sebastian Faulks.

2. Broken Heart by Tim Weaver.

3. The Lost Swimmer by Ann Turner.

4. Whispering Shadows by Jan Phillip Sendker

5. The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett.

6. The Butchers Hook by Janet Ellis.

7. Putin’s Russia by Anna Politkoskaya.

My book challenge for August was to read a banned book and I chose Putin’s Russia by Anna Politkoskaya banned in Russia.  I have always been fascinated by Russia and studied it’s history and politics at University. Russia as a country never seems to  change from Czarist times to Communist to “Democracy” they seem drawn to revere their leaders like mini gods. And said leaders rule with an iron fist and a strong secret police force. Putin is one such leader and although this book was less about him personally and more about citizens living in Russia. It was a scary read and I felt nothing has really changed for Russia. And the author was then assassinated for her opposition to the Chechyn war and Putin. I despise Donald Trump for many many reasons. Just when you think he can’t come out with anything worse he does. This week he spoke of his admiration for Putin as a strong leader. Perhaps he might find reading this book changes his mind. Or maybe he does just open his mouth and spout out what comes to mind. Putin is a strong leader if fear is strength but who wants to live in a country of fear? Is this the new America Trump really wants? Anyway a fascinating book from a lady who put her life literally on the line for the strength of her convictions. 

I am really enjoying my 2016 reading challenge as it is challenging my reading and making me read and explore different topics I would never have done otherwise. Next month’s challenge is a book that I previously abandoned which gives me lost of scope and a challenge as I normally abandon a book for a good reason. Life is too short but I will give it a go.

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July and Island Reading

July is holiday time and holiday time for me means reading. We escape each year to the Hebrides. And on these islands in the summer it doesn’t get dark for long so there is plenty of time for reading for a book addict like myself. So the 20 books listed below makes up my holiday reading for 2016.

1. The Girls – Lisa Jewell

2. The Godfather – Mario Puzo

3. The Long Delirious burning blue – Sharon Blackie

4. The Secret Scripture – Sebastian Barry

5. The Storm Sisters – Lucinda Riley

6. The Perfect Daughter – Amanda Prowse

7. The Daughters Secret – A Holland

8. The Forgotten Daughter – Renita D’Silva

9. Tell me where you are – Moira Forsyth

10. Waiting for Lindsay – Moira Forsyth

11. The Forgotten Summer – Carol Drinkwater

12. The Poet’s Wife – Rebecca Stonehill

13. Dixon’s Revenge – Jaycee Brown

14. The Disappearance – Annabel Kantana

15. Red Dust Road – Jackie Kay

16. When I Lost You – Kelly Rimmer

17. The Lavender Keeper – Fiona McIntosh

18. The French Promise – Fiona McIntosh

19. Coffin Road – Peter May

20. A little life – Hanya Yanahiharan
For me it was a varied list of books with a mixture of historical, Scottish, crime and just books that looked ones I’d want to read. Two stand out. One of which was my July book challenge which was to read a book published before I was born. The Godfather was published on the 8th March 1969 and I was born on the 24th so just counts but does count. I’ve never watched the Godfather films they have been on my to watch list for far too long. Naively I didn’t realise they were taken from the original book. I prefer to read first and sometimes watch a film second so maybe it was meant not to watch the films after years of procrastination. I loved it as a novel it was so well written and I was completely absorbed in the world of the mafia while reading it. I will now need to watch the films to compare with the books. Though part of me is now loath to as the characters live in in my mind and what if the film ruins the book?

The second stand out book was A Little Life. This had been recommended to me by my  local bookshop Mainstreet Trading. It’s a long 700 page read and I did start it when I bought it but struggled with it. Knew it had won prizes but just couldn’t get into it. Then I met a fellow Mainstreet customer and she said that it flows after page 80. The goal is to get there and then you will be off. She was right and I re- opened it after my return home. It is one of the most compelling books I have read covering many difficult issues of our time. The main character is one of the most vulnerable yet courageous characters whose life has been marred by horrific incidents that happen to him in childhood. This makes him closed to people and he self harms on such a degree you weep for him but yet through it all he is loved and is the greatest friend. It’s not an easy read but it is one that shreds light on many issues facing people today and though not an easy read it is worth reading to see that through fragility there is courage and love to be found.

July was a bumper month of reading mainly on my kindle. It’s a necessary evil when you read as much as I do on holiday but I still prefer books on paper form. And returned to books with a smile first smelling and feeling my books. You can’t do that with a kindle. August has been a slow reading month perhaps as I am savouring each book as I read. As for me there is nothing as magical as a book waiting to be read.

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