I have read so many brilliant books this year that I had great trouble narrowing it down to only a few. However, at last I have managed it – here are the best books I read in 2013, divided by genre.
Because I love historical fiction, and stories that move between a historical and a contemporary setting, most of my favourite books are in these genres. However, there are a few utterly brilliant contemporary novels and fantasy novels as well. As always, my list is entirely and unashamedly subjective – many of these writers are my friends and colleagues, and one is my sister!
However, all I can say is I am incredibly lucky to know so many über-talented writers.Best Historical Novel for Adults
A beautiful, haunting novel about the first women in Antarctica.
The Crimson Ribbon – Katherine Clements
Set in England in 1646, in the midst of the English Civil War, this is a utterly riveting tale of passion, intrigue, witchcraft, and treason.
Longbourne – Jo Baker
A beautiful, intense, heart-wrenching tale about the lives of the servants at Longbourne, the home of the Bennets from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.
A Spear of Summer Grass – Deanna Raybourn
Set during the Roaring 20s, this is the story of debutante Delilah Drummond who has caused one scandal too many and so is banished to Kenya .. where she finds intrigue, murder and romance.
Letters from Skye – Jessica Brockmole
This charming epistolary novel moves between the First World War and the Second World War, and tells the story of the blossoming romance between a young Scottish poet and an American university student.
Best Historical Mystery
As one can probably tell from the title, this book is a gentle spoof of the Golden Age type of mysteries written by authors such as Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh – utterly clever and charming!
Bellfield Hall, or The Deductions of Miss Dido Kent – Anna Dean
Imagine a novel where Miss Marple meets Jane Austen, and you will begin to have a sense of this delightful Regency murder mystery. Miss Dido Kent, the heroine and amateur sleuth, is clever, witty, and astute … and finds a touch of romance in her search to uncover the murderer.
Best Historical Thrillers
An utterly compelling historical novel which moves between Portugal and Iceland as a young woman searches for two rare white falcons in a desperate attempt to save her father's life. Her journey is fraught with danger, betrayal, murder and horror, with the strangest set of seers ever to appear in fiction.
The Tudor Conspiracy – C.W. Gortner
A fast-paced, action-packed historical thriller, filled with suspense and switchback reversals, that also manages to bring the corrupt and claustrophobic atmosphere of the Tudor court thrillingly to life.
Ratcatcher – James McGee
A ratcatcher is a Bow Street Runner, an early policeman in Regency times. A great historical adventure book, filled with spies, and intrigue, and romance, and murder.
Best Historical Romance
Anne Gracie never disappoints. This is beautiful, old-fashioned romance, driven by character and situation and dialogue, and, as always, is filled with wit and charm and pathos.
A Tryst with Trouble – Alyssa Everett
Lady Barbara Jeffords is certain her little sister didn't murder the footman, no matter how it looks … and no matter what the Marquess of Beningbrough might say ... A fresh, funny and delightful Regency romance.
Best Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retellings for Adults
'The Year of Ancient Ghosts' is a collection of novellas and short stories - brave, surprising, beautiful, frightening and tragic all at once
Beauty’s Sister – James Bradley
Beauty’s Sister is an exquisite retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale, reimagined from the point of view of Rapunzel’s darker, wilder sister.
Best Parallel Contemporary/Historical
A real page-turning delight, with a delicious mix of mystery, romance, history and family drama. One of my all-time favourite authors, Kimberley Freeman can be counted on to deliver an utterly compelling story.
Secrets of the Sea House - Elisabeth Gifford
An intriguing and atmospheric novel set in the Hebrides Islands of Scotland, its narrative moves between the contemporary story of troubled Ruth and her husband Michael, and the islands in the 1860s when crofters are being forced to emigrate and science and religion are in conflict.
The Shadow Year – Hannah Richell
A perfectly structured and beautifully written novel which uses parallel narratives to stunning effect. A compelling and suspenseful novel about family, love, and loss.
The Perfume Garden - Kate Lord Brown
A young woman inherits an old house in Spain, discovers clues to buried family secrets, meets a gorgeous Spaniard, and finds her true path in life ... interposed with flashbacks to her grandmother's experiences during the bloody and turbulent Spanish Civil War ...
The Ashford Affair – Lauren Willlig
I absolutely loved this book which moves between contemporary New York, and 1920s England and Africa. It's a historical mystery, a family drama, and a romance, all stirred together to create a compulsively readable novel.
Best Contemporary Novel
A beautiful, haunting, tragic tale of love and loss and yearning.
The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
A feel-good romantic comedy, with wit and charm.
Best Contemporary Suspense Novels
Utterly compulsive, suspenseful, clever, surprising, this is one of the best murder mysteries I have ever read.
Shatter – Michael Robotham
Chilling, powerful and superbly written. Highly recommended for the brave.
Best YA Fantasy/Fairytale Retellings
Helen Lowe reimagines the Sleeping Beauty story from the point of view of the prince in this beautiful, romantic fantasy for young adults.
Raven Flight – Juliet Marillier
A classic old-fashioned high fantasy with a quest at its heart. The writing is beautiful and limpid, the setting is an otherworldy Scotland, and the story mixes danger, magic and romance - sigh! I loved it. This is YA fantasy at its absolute best.
Pureheart – Cassandra Golds
Pureheart is the darkest of all fairy tales, it is the oldest of all quest tales, it is an eerie and enchanting story about the power of love and forgiveness. It is, quite simply, extraordinary.
Scarlet in the Snow – Sophie Masson
I just loved this retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, told with flair, dash, and panache, by one of my favourite Australian women writers. This is YA fantasy at its best - filled with magic, adventure and just a touch of romance. Loved it!
Best Historical Novel for Young Adults
This beautiful, heart-wrenching novel is inspired by the true life story of the famous Atkinsons of Oldbury, earlier settlers in colonial Australia. It moves between the life of modern-day Millie, and her ancestor Charlotte Atkinson, the daughter of the woman who wrote the first children’s book published in Australia (who was, by the way, my great-great-great-great-grandmother. So, yes, that means Belinda is my sister.)
Code Name Verity – Elizabeth Wein
One of the best YA historical novels I have ever read, it is set in France and England during the Second World war and is the confession of a captured English spy.
Witch Child – Celia Rees
Set in 1659, during the tumultuous months after Cromwell’s death and before the return of Charles II, this is a simple yet powerful tale that explores the nature of magic and superstition, faith and cruelty.
Act of Faith - Kelly Gardiner
A heart-breaking and thought-provoking historical novel for young adults, set during the rule of the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.
Best Children’s Books
What can I say? It's brilliant, surprising, harrowing, humbling. I found it hard to breathe after I finished reading it – such an emotional wallop!
Fire Spell – Laura Amy Schiltz
I absolutely adored this book! Laura Amy Schlitz reminds me of one of my all-time favourite authors, Joan Aiken, which is very high praise indeed. This is a rather creepy story about children and witches and a puppet-master in London a century or so ago. Brilliant.
A perfect title for a book that is, indeed, struck with wonder.
The author of this utterly riveting and chilling book found out, at his great-uncle’s funeral, that the mild-mannered old man he had known had once been a Nazi hunter. And not just any Nazi. His Great Uncle Hanns had been the man who had hunted down and caught Rudolf Hoss, the Kommandant of Auschwitz.
84 Charing Cross Road is not a novel, but rather a collection of letters between an American writer and an English bookseller over the course of many years. That description does not really give any indication of just how funny, heart-wrenching and beautiful this book is – you really do have to read it yourself.
The Bolter: The Story of Idina Sackville – Frances Osborne
The Bolter is the non-fiction account of the life of Idina Sackville, the author's great-grandmother, who had inspired the key character in Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate. She married and divorced numerous times, and was part of a very fast set in 1930s Kenya that led to scandal and murder - I loved it.