Best of 2013

2013 has been another fantastic year for books, with some super duper award winners and releases. I’ve read a relatively low number of books this year (about 35 I reckon), and I haven’t loved them all, but there have been a few real gems (click on the links for my original reviews).

 

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan

Particular Books cover. Image: penguin.com.au
Particular Books cover. Image: penguin.com.au

I was sent Brain on Fire by Karen Browning, the Publicity Manager at Penguin Press, and I could not have been more pleased with a book that came to me entirely by chance. Susannah Cahalan is a journalist and a wonderful writer, and her story is fascinating. I learned from as well as enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone. Insightful, intelligent and just brilliant.

 

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani

yisbn9780755395170-detail
2013 cover. Image: headline.co.uk

Yonahlossee is a really excellent coming-of-age tale set in a summer camp in 1930s America. Thea Atwell has made a mysterious mistake and is sent to the camp to learn some discipline and put some healthy distance between herself and her family, She is a wonderfully brave, passionate teenager who is determined to act as she pleases, but always tries to do the right thing. This is also a must for anyone with a love of horses – they are almost as important as their human counterparts.

 

Travels with Myself and Another: Five Journeys From Hell by Martha Gellhorn

Eland cover, 2002. Image: betterworldbooks.com
Eland cover, 2002. Image: betterworldbooks.com

I picked up this book after being attracted to its cover in Stanfords on Long Acre. Bought on a whim, it is certainly one of my favourite books I have read this year. Gellhorn was a journalist willing to throw herself into any situation, or journey, to research an article. This book covers her adventures in China during World War Two with her then-husband Ernest Hemingway, as well as her trips around the Caribbean (also during the War) and her ‘holiday’ on safari in Africa with the most useless guide one could imagine – she did all the driving. I loved Martha Gellhorn by the end of this book for her courage, humour and intelligence – and you will too.

 

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Atlantic Books 2012 paperback cover
Atlantic Books 2012 paperback cover

Wild was a very ‘buzzy’ book that is now being made into a Hollywood film starring Reese Witherspoon, and I could not recommend it more. Reading Martha Gellhorn got me interested in travel writing, and I loved the idea of Wild – Cheryl Strayed’s solo trek up the west coast of America in search of peace and possibly a new life. Part memoir, part travelogue, it is a charming and insightful read in which Strayed explores not only mountains but her own history, particularly her relationship with her mother. I was enthralled and engaged, and cannot wait to see the film adaptation.

 

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Picador 2013 UK hardback cover
Picador 2013 UK hardback cover

Burial Rites has rightly been lauded all over the place as one of the best books of 2013, and I have to agree. It is a first novel that seems to have been written by a seasoned novelist rather than a graduate, and seethes with tension and longing. Agnes Magnusdottir was the last woman to be executed in Iceland, in  1830. The novel follows her throughout her imprisonment from a rudimentary cell to a rural farm where she is put to work for a year before her inevitable death. Her story begins to mingle with those of the family she stays with, and we learn through flashbacks how she came to kill a man. Immensely clever and perfectly plotted, Burial Rites is both moving and intriguing, questioning morality and tradition. Hannah Kent is a beautiful writer.

 

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

My proof copy - 2013 Little Brown cover
My proof copy – 2013 Little Brown cover

I wrote a lot about The Goldfinch when it came out, so I won’t prattle on here for long. What I will say is that Donna Tartt is my favourite writer and I could not have been more excited to read her new novel. Ten years is a long time to wait! Her writing and characterisation are both as beautiful and brilliant as in her previous two novels, and I fell in love with everything she created. A coming-of-age story mingled with a crime novel and a tale of redemption (with a bit of questionable morality thrown in for good measure), The Goldfinch is a real pleasure.

 

So those are my books of 2013… what are yours?

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