Merry Christmas — and welcome to the final post in the Book Bloggers' Advent Calendar for 2013.
I trust you've enjoyed popping by every day to see a new book recommendation and I do hope you've found it helpful, either in buying books for other people or deciding what to read yourself. There's been no doubt that the choices have been eclectic — they've spanned everything from Booker Prize-winning fiction to poetry in translation, and everything in between — which has made a refreshing change from the homogenised lists the mainstream press tends to produce at this time of year.
Thank you to all those lovely bloggers that have taken part. And special thanks to those of you who have tweeted links, left comments on Facebook and emailed me to say how much they love this series — it really does make the hard work worth it to know people appreciate the effort that goes on behind the scenes.
In order to go out with a bang, I thought I'd not only add an extra day to the calendar (most only run to 24 days) but I'd be completely self-indulgent and list my Top 10 reads of the year, too.
The books have been arranged in alphabetical order by author's surname. Click on the cover or the book title to go to my review.
Set in the 17th century, The Orenda plunges the reader into the vast wilderness of Eastern Canada and takes us on a sometimes terrifying, occasionally humorous, but always fascinating journey following members of the Huron nation as they go about their daily lives over the course of many seasons.
Apple Tree Yard, set in modern day London, is a dark, smart and sexy psychological-thriller-cum-court-room-drama, full of twists, turns and unexpected shocks. It is arguably the best of the genre I've read this year.
Under the Skin swings between psychological thriller and macabre horror, with numerous twists and unexpected plot developments along the way. It is quite unlike anything I've ever read before. It's intriguing and creepy and defies categorisation and the title is uncannily appropriate, because the story does, indeed, get under the skin...
Eventide is the second book in a loose trilogy of novels set in Holt, Colorado. There is nothing sentimental or saccharine in the understated, almost flat, narrative. But somehow, in its storytelling, in its evocation of place and spirit, in the characters' raw and truthful actions, you get so caught up in everyone's lives that you cannot help but feel deeply moved.
Of Human Bondage follows the life and times of Philip Carey, an orphan with a club foot who is raised by a strict and religious uncle in the English provinces, but flees, first to Germany, then to Paris, before settling in London to study medicine. It is at times a horrifying and heartbreaking read, because Philip is a true loner and constantly struggles to find his place in the world. He is not entirely a likable character — indeed his relationship with Mildred, a waitress, borders on masochistic obsession — but I found his story a completely compelling one. I loved this book so much, that I struggled to write a review that would do it justice, so this is the only novel on the list that isn't reviewed on the blog.
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is about a young woman's relationship with her older brother, who suffers a brain tumour in childhood that later returns when he is a young man. Spanning roughly 20 years and set largely in an isolated farming community in the west of Ireland, it is highly original, bold, confronting — and Joycean.
The Tivington Nott is an extraordinarily vivid account of one young man's participation in a stag hunt on the Exmoor borders in 1952 and is filled with beautiful descriptions of Nature and the countryside — "the last ancient homeland of the wild red deer in England" — as well as depicting the bond between horse and rider like nothing I have ever read before.
Tampa tells the story of a female teacher who preys on teenage boys. It one of the most outrageous books I've ever read. It's confronting, disturbing and, well, icky, but the voice of the narrator, which is wondrous in its sheer bravado, wickedness, narcissism and wit, is utterly compelling.
Wonder tells the tale of 10-year-old August "Auggie" Pullman, who was born with a serious facial deformity. He has been home-educated, but now his parents think it is time he attended a mainstream school. The book chronicles his efforts to fit in and become accepted by his peers at Beecher Prep. It is a book with universal appeal, one that genuinely warms the heart and brings tears to the eyes.
The Mussel Feast is a tale about a woman and her two teenage children sitting around the dinner table awaiting the arrival of the patriarch of the family, whom they expect to return home with news of a promotion at work. A celebratory feast of mussels and wine has been prepared. But the story is also a metaphor for East and West Germany, reflecting the time period in which the book was written, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Have you read any from this list? Or has it encouraged you to try one or two? Care to share your own top 10?