BOOKS I'VE LOVED THIS YEAR
Time to call my favourites of 2015. Not always easy to split hairs in this ranking - all of these were GREAT - but I made myself do it anyway!
- •Tiny Pretty Things, by Sona Charapoitra and Dhonielle ClaytonOn my way to and from my Tuesday morning ballet class (!), I often listened to the All the Books podcast, and that was where I heard about Tiny Pretty Things, a YA novel about mean girls at an élite ballet school. Who decided that books about teenagers should only be read by teenagers? I suspected this one was totally up my street, and I was right. It was the only book that was able to hold my attention during my Great Summer Reading Slump of 2015, and I’ve been recommending it ever since.
- •Como Agua Para Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel (Like Water for Chocolate)I love impossible love and heartbreaking romance, so that would be enough to get me reading, but this novel has so much more. Published in 1990, it was a huge success in Mexico, where it was an international best-seller, and with good reason. Food has magical powers in this book, as do tears and sexual attraction. This story is a delight. It will surprise you at every turn. And the ending is unpredictable and perfect. I loved it when I was 20 and I love it still.
- •Dear Mr You, by Mary-Louise ParkerQuirky, smart, playful, trippy at times - this is exactly how I imagine Mary-Louise Parker to be, and it's how her book is, too. This is a book full of heart and tenderness, heart-breaking at times, witty at others. It was fascinating to get an insight into who Mary-Louise Parker was before she was MARY-LOUISE PARKER, too - incapable of learning to juggle in what might be my favourite chapter, perennially unpopular at school. Hope for us all, maybe?
- •Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl StrayedBefore she was known as the author of Wild, Cheryl Strayed was the anonymous Dear Sugar on The Rumpus website – an agony aunt of sorts, if agony aunts were endowed with ruthless compassion, profound honesty, and excellent prose. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of these columns. I know: you’re skeptical. So was I. But after I listened to her new podcast, which she shares with Steve Almond, I decided to give it a go. No regrets! It is moving and eloquent, and never predictable.
- •Fates and Furies, by Lauren GroffIt didn’t take long for me to fall in love with this book. It’s the kind of novel where I don’t mind if nothing happens, because the prose itself is gorgeous enough to sink into. But plenty does happen in this portrait of a lifelong marriage, seen first from Lotto’s point of view and then from Mathilde’s. The many plaudits and plentiful praise for this book are, in my opinion, entirely justified.
- •The Cranes Dance, by Meg HowreyThis book is a fascinating world into the world of dance, through the eyes of a jaded, cynical, ageing (so, mid twenties maybe?) ballerina whose acerbic voice reflects this jadedness and cynicism so well. This was one of those unputdownable books – especially if you love a deep dive into the mind of a brilliantly drawn character. Bonus: the author was herself a dancer, so you know that everything about that world is (wait for it) on pointe.
- •The Walls Around Us, by Nova Ren SumaThis book is beautifully written, and it’s weird and spooky in the best way. There is ballet (which is how it hooked me) and there are possible ghosts and there is murder and there is prison and there are girls who are meaner (hopefully) than anyone you went to school with. This was unputdownable. There was less ballet than I was hoping for, but what it lacked in that it made up for in every other way. Read read read.
- •Frances and Bernard, by Carlene BauerThis is a lovely, melancholic epistolary novel. I like these quieter books that explore the nooks and crannies of human relationships, particularly those of the will-they-won’t-they variety. All the better if the deeper questions of faith are involved, which they are here. Oh, and lots of New York. Basically, if you liked Christina Haag’s Come To The Edge (which, if you’ve ever talked to me about books, you will be sick of hearing about), you will probably enjoy this too. The writing is lovely.
- •Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste NgThis has been a critically acclaimed book and a commercial success, and deservedly so. It’s subtle and heartbreaking – if you love dysfunctional families and books that explore the complexities of psychology and relationships and being an outsider, this one’s for you. “Lydia is dead,” it begins. “But they don’t know that yet.” The writing is so moving and perceptive, and we had a fabulous discussion about it at book club.
- •Come to the Edge, by Christina HaagYes, I know: so predictable! I didn't mean to re-read this favourite of mine, but I ended up starting the audio on my trip over to the UK for Christmas. It's been years since I've read it - other than dipping in for quotes (for example to make this list (QUOTES I 💕 FROM A BOOK I 💕) or re-reading my favourite paragraphs. Relieved that it's every bit as good as I remembered. The audio is great - skilfully read by the author, with sensitivity but not sentimentality. Recommended!