>> Wednesday, January 09, 2013
As I mentioned in my earlier post, looking at my top 10 romance novels read last year, I've been reading more and more stuff outside the genre. Here's the best of what I read in 2011. Unlike with romance, where most on my list were new releases, there's only one 2012 release here (probably my top favourite of the year, to).
Top 10 books that aren't Romance Novels
1 - Wolf Hall, by Hilary MantelTA (2009)
I toyed with the idea of cheating and having both Mantels taking up one place, but it feels wrong, somehow. They're fantastic enough that they deserve to take up one space each. They're part of a planned trilogy covering the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, who, from relatively humble beginnings, became one of the most powerful men in England, as the person Henry VIII turned to when he needed something done. Wolf Hall is the first one, and it charts his ascent to power.
2 - Bring Up The Bodies, by Hilary Mantel (2012)
review coming up, hopefully soon!
This one is book 2, with Cromwell at the apex of his power. Now, the Tudors have been popular for a while, so this is not particularly new territory. It's the writing and the incredible subtle and multilayered character portrayal in both books that make them so incredible. This one, if anything, is even better than Wolf Hall, as we see Cromwell grappling with situations in what he feels he has to do and what is right do not coincide.
3 - We Need To Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver (2003)
The film was my favourite of 2011, so I had to read this. It's one of the most powerful, gut-wrenching, honest books I've ever read. Knowing that it's narrated by a woman whose son carried out a school massacre, I feared it would be Jodi Picoult-type exploitative crap, but it's far, far from that. Very difficult to read, but rewarding.
4 - The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller (2011)
Miller takes the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, so marginal in Homer's Iliad, and yet so key in its events, and makes it the centre of her book. It's the ultimate tragic love story, so not the usual fare for this HEA-loving romance reader, but it worked wonderfully for me. Beautifully written and very satisfying.
5 - I Knew You'd Be Lovely, by Alethea Black (2011)
A collection of short stories that are just a pure delight. Beautifully written, with a delicate touch and plenty of humour, they made me stop short several times, as Black made me look at relatively common-place things and situations in a completely new way, one that went right to the heart and truth of things.
6 - Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline (2011)
Set in a post-apocalyptic future where people spend most of their lives plugged into a virtual world called OASIS. The hero is one of a large number who participate in the treasure hunt organised by OASIS' creator before his death: the winner will inherit the company. If you were alive in the 80s and are the slightest bit geeky, you'll love this. Pure entertainment, extremely cool, and loads of fun.
7 - Dark Matter, by Michelle Paver (2010)
review coming soon
A fantastic, creepy ghost story. It scared the living daylights out of me, and I loved that, being set in an isolated Arctic island in the 1930s, it was completely different from the usual ghost story. It also had a really interesting main character whose motivations made sense.
8 - Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card (1985)
review coming soon
It pains me to have a book here by an author known for having really offensive views on homosexuality, but it really was a very good book. It's the tale of a young boy taken into a military academy and intensively trained to become their last hope, a commander that can defeat an alien army. It was a total page turner and dealt in a fascinating way with some very uncomfortable issues. This is one I'd recommend even to people who don't do sci-fi.
9 - The Report, by Jessica Francis Kane (2010)
This novelised non-fiction book looks at a terrible accident which happened in London during the Blitz: streaming into a shelter when the air raid sirens sound, something goes wrong and almost 200 people are crushed to death. It's a terrible tragedy for the community, and a local magistrate is brought in to write a report that will provide closure. It's a sensitive exploration of guilt and blame and responsibility, taking the disaster as a starting point.
10 - Northern Lights, by Philip Pullman (1995)
Northern Lights follows the adventures of Lyra Belacqua, who lives in a fantasy version of Victorian England. What is at first sight 'just' a really exciting children's book has some very serious themes running through it, and truly superior world-building. I hear the rest of the trilogy isn't as good, but I thoroughly enjoyed this.