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BOOK LIST: Best books of 2013

Saturday, January 04, 2014

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



Chasing the Light – Jesse Blackadder
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


The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy - James Anderson
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



The Falcons of Fire & Ice - Karen Maitland
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



The Autumn Bride - Anne Gracie
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. 


I bought this book solely on the cover – a Regency romance set in Venice? Sounds right up my alley … I mean, canal … It proved to be a very enjoyable romantic romp, with musical interludes. 


Best Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retellings for Adults



The Year of Ancient Ghosts – Kim Wilkins
'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



Ember Island – Kimberley Freeman
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



The Midnight Dress – Karen Foxlee
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


Sister – Rosamund Lupton
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



Thornspell – Helen Lowe
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



The River Charm – Belinda Murrell
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



A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness
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. 


Wonderstruck – Brian Selznick
A perfect title for a book that is, indeed, struck with wonder. 


Best Non-Fiction




Hanns & Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz – Thomas Harding
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 – Helen Hanff
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. 

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!

BOOK LIST: Books Read in June 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I read 13 books in June, bringing my number for the year to a total of 65. My reading was a little broader than usual, with some contemporary settings and non-fiction stirred into the mix. All in all, a happy reading month!

June
1. The Duke and I – Julia Quinn
I really enjoyed this frothy historical romance - a lovely way to while away a few peaceful hours in a hot bath with a glass of sparkling wine. 



2. 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. You can read my review here and here's my Interview with Lauren Willig.



3. Keeping the Castle – Patrice Kindl
What a delightful surprise this book was! I'd read a review of it which said it was a cross between Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle (two of my absolute favourite books), and so I thought I'd give it a whirl. I loved it! It's funny, romantic, and has a slight satirical edge. I'm hoping to run a longer review and interview with the author in a few weeks' time - keep an eye out!



4. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
This book was another pleasant surprise. I'd heard it was rather like contemporary chick lit, except told from the point of view of an man with Asperger's, and so I was a little reluctant to read it. I've read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and The London Eye Mystery, and enjoyed them both, but was a little jaded with this type of voice after too many episodes of The Big Bang Theory. I'm glad I read it, though. Its a feel-good read, with enough intelligence to lift it out of the usual chick-lit rut, and it'd make a great rom-com movie. 

5. A Proud Taste for Scarlet & Miniver – E.L. Koningsburg 
The great American children's author E.L. Koningsburg sadly died in mid-April, and I remembered her books fondly from childhood. I had never read  A Proud Taste for Scarlet & Miniver and so ordered it in. It's an unusual book, quite unlike her others which are really about everyday kids. This one is a fictive biography of Queen Eleanor of Acquitaine, one of my historical heroines. Its brilliantly well done, bringing Queen Eleanor and her times vividly to life. 

6. A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness
I had been wanting to read A Monster Calls for quite some time, and seeing Patrick Ness speak at the Sydney Writers Festival in May gave me the impetus I needed to buy the book. What can I say? It's brilliant, surprising, harrowing, humbling. I found it hard to breathe after I finished reading it, and my dreams that night were restless and disturbed. A month later, I am still thinking about it. The book packs a hefty emotional wallop and deserves all the prizes it won. 



7. Barkbelly – Cat Weatherill
A wonderfully written, rambunctious adventure fantasy for children, Barkbelly also carries important messages about the importance of tolerance and compassion. I loved Cat Weatherill's earlier book Wild Magic which retells the Pied Piper of Hamelin fairy tale (you can read about it here), and so I was really glad to read her newest venture. 


8. Dark Road to Darjeeling – Deanna Raybourn
9. Dark Enquiry - – Deanna Raybourn
10. Silent Night – Deanna Raybourn

In April, I re-read The Lady Julia Grey series of historical murder mysteries by Deanna Raybourn and enjoyed them thoroughly (you can read my review of the first three books here). I settled in to read the last 2 books in the series (plus one Xmas novella) this month, and enjoyed them just as much. The characters are always sharply drawn, the mystery is always intriguing (and not always easy to guess), and the ongoing romance between Lady Julia and her enigmatic new husband is a large part of the pleasure. Well worth a read.


11. Me Before You – Jojo Moyes
I read The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes earlier this year and absolutely loved it, and so I thought I'd read some of her other books (you can read my review here). I did enjoy Me Before You, though not nearly as much as The Girl You Left Behind. Its a very readable book, with an unusual premise, and the two main characters do feel quite real. The contemporary setting and voice made it read like chick-lit, yet the tone is one of pathos, not humour. I was moved by the story, but did not cry buckets as had been predicted. Which is not like me (I'm an unashamed crier!) Perhaps because I knew what to expect ... anyway, an enjoyable read, and one that should be read with some tissues to hand, just in case ... 



12. The Bolter: The Story of Idina Sackville – Frances Osborne
In Lauren Willig's Acknowledgements at the back of The Ashford Affair, she mentioned that her novel had been inspired by reading The Bolter by Frances Osborne. it sounded so fascinating I ordered it straightaway and it was just as interesting as I had expected. 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, as explored in James Fox's well-known book White Mischief (which I have also ordered.) Although The Bolter is non-fiction, it reads as compulsively as any novel - I loved it. 
PS: I have also read and loved Frances Osborne's earlier non-fiction book, Lilla's Feast - here is a review of it I wrote some years ago for Good Reading magazine. 



13. Raven Flight – Juliet Marillier
Juliet Marillier is one of my all-time favourite authors and a new book from her is always reason to celebrate. So when Raven Flight appeared in my mailbox, I gave a little jump of joy and read it straightaway. Raven Flight is Book 2 in the Shadowfell series. I loved Shadowfell and it made my List of Best Books 2012 - the books are 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.  


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