Best Books of the Year (So far) – August 2015

THROUGH THE WOODS/Emily Carroll

Hardcover: 208 pages Published: 3rd July 2014, Faber & Faber

The first graphic novel I read this year back in January, in an old fashioned way I bought it simply for its gorgeous cover and minimalist art merging black and whites with stark blood reds and blues. A fairy tale blurb of stories lured me in; “a Victorian gothic playground haunted by Mary Shelley & Edward Gorey” (Craig Thompson). I had not heard of Carroll before and she’s produced a book of genuinely creepy and gothic stories with as much skill and ingenuity as the best fairy tales Angela Carter produced. It is also easily one of the prettiest and visually beautiful books I now own. The hardcover in particular is a treat.

TIGERMAN/Nick Harkaway

Paperback: 372 pages Published: 22nd May 2014, William Heinemann

A bizarre book, but one that’s hard to forget. Harkaway’s exploration on the perception of heroism and the superheros we idealize in our culture. It is a deft handling of numerous ‘big’ ideas through an unconventional setting and an odd relationship between a lonely ex-soldier and a young comic-book-21st-century obsessed teenager. A completely original tale of a desperate man taking a mantle of a mythical superhuman, I doubt you could find a story like it.

COLORLESS TSUKURU TAZAKI & HIS YEARS OF PILGRIMAGE/Haruki Murakami

As an ashamed but thrilled late convert to the church of the cult of Murakami this was the first novel of his I read. A lonely university student suddenly and mysteriously cast aside by his once tight knit group of friends years later explores why this abandonment occurred. The eponymous narrator is an occasionally sympathetic, often frustrating and maddening but an intriguing voice delivered by Murakami in a vast array of themes and questions worth asking. It is a superbly philosophical novel without ever feeling dry or dragging through worthy musings. Yet I still take issue with the central reason of the abandonment by his friends, it felt wrong in a way. I wonder if it would have a different conclusion if written by a female author.

STATION ELEVEN/Emily St. John Mandel

Paperback: 333 pages Published: 1st January 2015, Picador.

I will be incredibly fortunate if I read a better science fiction book this year than Station Eleven, or even a better novel about the post-apocalypse. It’s hard to know where to begin, Mandel produces lyrical prose and emotional depth into an incredibly human story. Intelligence exudes itself from the pages, it’s considerations on our contemporary world; a mature and logical portrait of technology and our relationship and reliance on its power. And perhaps most importantly examines in such a believable way the world as it would really exist after an apocalyptic collapse of society. I am currently making my way through The Walking Dead comic; Station Eleven is a towering achievement of emotional maturity and intelligence on the subject of destroyed social barriers and human desperation in comparison to Kirkman’s comic opus.

Paperback: 372 pages Published: 16th April 2015, Penguin

HOW TO BE BOTH/Ali Smith

How to be Both is a dizzying experience of a novel. The simple structural technique of alternating which story goes first depending on which copy you choose would appear as if Ali Smith is revelling in postmodernist gimmicks, and would become swamped with the sheer amount of ideas and themes jumping around the book resulting in a piece of experimental self-indulgence. But this book is written by Ali Smith. After finishing How to Be Both you are left with an incredibly touching and fundamentally human story of two lives connected and shared throughout existence. It is staggering that Smith has achieved writing a novel mixing emotional ruminating from both motherless protagonists, philosophical exploration, and the joy of language, art and literature.

Paperback: 300 pages Published: 26th February 2015, Vintage.

H IS FOR HAWK/Helen Macdonald

Helen Macdonald’s father dies suddenly, a nature lover and hawk obsessive she buys a goshawk and brings us into her journey of training him. Mirroring her own experiences with the frustrating and maddening figure of T.H. White and his own journey of training a goshawk the book is an emotional, incredibly honest and heartfelt depiction of dealing with grief and the love of nature. Macdonald’s words flow easily through the English countryside, delving into the complexities of our relationship with the land around us and the animals that inhabit it. This book surprised me at just how much impact Macdonald created from her account of training Mabel the Goshawk, and how invested I was in both succeeding with their happiness. I could easily write a whole dissertation about this book, and I’m sure many will.

Hardback: 293 pages Published: 23rd April 2015, Harvill Secker.

THE GRACEKEEPERS/Kirsty Logan

This under 300 page tale from Kirsty Logan, her first novel and second publication after her debut short story collection ‘The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales’ (instantly added to my TBR list along with her new limited release ‘A Portable Shelter’) shot its way to becoming my favourite fantasy novel of the year. A lyrically beautiful story of two young women attempting to find one another from a spark of a connection neither have felt before on an Earth consumed by water. I sped my way through the novel and loved every second, the secondary characters were simply and deftly drawn and the protagonists of North and Callanish are my favourite fantasy characters this year. I will now read everything and anything Logan writes.

Paperback: 223 pages Published: 2nd July 2015, Vintage.

THUNDERSTRUCK & OTHER STORIES/Elizabeth McCracken

I hold this book with the responsibility for persuading me to read more short stories this year, and I’m incredibly grateful for it. It’s hard to review McCracken’s collection, I would advise to pick it up and read the opening story ‘Something Amazing’ and revel in it’s uncanny uniqueness, violent language and incredibly dark themes. Once you’ve consumed it the images McCracken paints will be tattooed onto your eyelids. And it summarizes the collection nicely.

THE MINIATURIST/Jessie Burton

Paperback: 438 pages Published: 3rd July 2015, Picador.

A suspenseful and thrilling mystery from debut author Jessie Burton, a bold debut echoing the gothic and tonal sensibilities of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. As well as being very readable it is in it’s conclusion a sad indictment of living as an outcast in the 17th Century. The character of Marin was a particular standout and brilliantly written, if she and her brother aren’t your lasting memories of the book by it’s conclusion I would wonder if you have read the same book as me.

SAGA: BOOK ONE/Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

Hardback: 504 pages Published: 25th November 2014, Image Comics

I have read many brilliant comics so far this year, but none stand out quite like Saga. As the title declares, it’s a sci-fi epic spanning a war between two races occupying neighbouring planets, and a Romeo & Juliet love story between the parents of our narrator. But it transcends this synopsis spectacularly; an epic filled with brilliant characters, hilarious dialogue, and an
emotionally wrought and honest depiction of lovers and war. The central flowing theme is parenthood, if you’re a parent I expect you’ll be left with an aching sensation in your chest. If you happen to have a parent in some form you’ll feel the honesty too. I could go on about the art from Staples, every panel is richly coloured and drawn, beautiful landscapes, features and costumes in a bizarre and mad world. It must be read.

Honourable Mentions:

Paperback: 298 pages Published: 2nd July 2015, Vintage.

STONE MATTRESS: NINE TALES/Margaret Atwood

HALF THE WORLD/Joe Abercrombie

NORTHERN LIGHTS/Philip Pullman

ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE/Robin Hobb

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