A vampire novel for those of us who despise the Twilight books and all the vampiric rubbish it has produced in its wake. Not about sparkly teenage vampires but about the original, Dracula. Lent to me by a friend and I was warned it was scary and it lived up to expectations. It's scary in a creepy, tense way not a horror type way, which isn't my sort of thing. Also is run through with a love of libraries, archives and history so right up my street in that respect. It also has a nice, although secondary plot-wise, romantic vein which is dramatic but not sentimental.
I am an avid fan of Audrey Niffenegger and read everything she writes. I got to meet her and have my copy of this signed in Oxford a few months ago and thankfully she seemed pretty likeable, albeit rather quirky. This is a graphic novel about a girl who decides she wants to become a librarian. It's got a bit of a unexpected, dark ending which I know some people found a little macabre. The illustrations are hand-drawn and unique rather than technically brilliant. A quirky little story which will again appeal to those who love libraries and reading.
8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
I bought this because of an Amazon recommendation and was expecting it to be an easy summer read. Whilst it's not a hard read, it's less fluffy than I was expecting. It's set in the Deep South and is about a town where black women are the home helps and are left to raise white children but are not allowed to use the white toilet. It's written from three different women's perspectives: a white woman beginning to question the status quo and two black women helps, one younger and one older. It's funny but also moving - the ending is exciting, tense and satisfying. As it's all based in historical fact there is also the sobering element that this is really how people thought. A great, thought-provoking read.
7. One Day by David Nicholls
I loved this book, it was one I couldn't put down and read in one session from about the halfway point. The premise is that it covers the lives of the characters Emma and Dexter on the same day every year, starting whilst they are students in the 80s up until the modern day. The characters are realistic and sympathetic and the novel is funny and moving. I don't want to give anything away so I will leave it there. This is the book I registered to give away for World Book Night so hopefully there will be copies of it available soon!
6. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
By far the best young adult book I have read this year (although How I Live Now by Meg Rosof is a relatively close second). It's set in a dystopian future where the country's districts have to send one boy and one girl to compete in the annual Hunger Games where they are forced to fight to the death until one is left standing with the whole process televised much like Big Brother. I must admit it didn't immediately appeal to me and I only read it after it won a children's book award and so many students were gushing about it to me and I read it in one night. It is totally unique and engrossing, incredibly tense and exciting. It's an easy read but the characters and plot are pretty meaty. It's also fairly dark - it is a book about children trying to kill each other. The other two books in the trilogy are equally exciting (Catching Fire and Mockingjay).
5. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Such a beautiful, melancholy book - it's a book that changes your mood not just whilst you're reading it but after you've finished. Again, I don't want to spoil anything but the book starts in a boarding school whose students are clearly different from normal children. The characters are so wonderfully created, the main character Kathy is so empathetic. It's not a very long book but it will totally draw you in to it's world which is almost like ours but not quite. Without wanting to sound too pretentious, the writing really is such gorgeous and Ishiguro is so adept at creating a specific atmosphere with his words.
4. Room by Emma Donoghue
I read this as it was the only book on the Man Booker shortlist that appealed to me when looking at them in Waterstones (apart from maybe The Finkler Question - has anyone read it?) It's a dark and oft-covered subject matter presented in a totally new and unique way. The protagonist is 5 year old Jack who lives with his mother in Room, as far as he knows Room is all there is to the world and everything he sees on the TV is imaginary. His mother was kidnapped when she was a teenage and is imprisoned in her captor's garden shed which has been turned into a prison. Donoghue says that she was inspired by cases such as Elisabeth Fritzel. Although obviously an upsetting subject, the story is told all from the perspective of Jack and so is funny, uplifting, moving and inspiring. The language is incredibly clever, Jack refers to everything as Bed, Lamp etc. as he thinks there is only one in the world. Not wanting to give too much away, an escape attempt made half way through was one of the most tense bits of writing I've read all year. I'm not a fan of the tacky, Dave Pelzer-esque child abuse stories but this is something truly unique.
I know a lot of people who didn't really like this but I just loved it. I studied Tudor History a lot at university and actually wrote an essay on Thomas Cromwell so I was already interested in the subject, in fact I think the more you already know about Tudor politics and personalities the more likely you are to enjoy it as there are a lot of names and intrigues to keep track with. Mantel also uses the unusual technique of always referring to Cromwell as 'He' which is sometimes confusing and I know some people found it very annoying; however I found that I could just go with it and quite liked the unusual feel it gave the prose. The novel has an unusual arc in that it ends with the execution of Thomas More, rather than Cromwell himself (this is history, therefore not really a spoiler!). Cromwell is fleshed out as such an engaging and fascinating character and I cannot wait to read the second half of his life that Mantel is currently writing.
2. After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell
Lent to me by a friend, this book started a bit of an obsession with Maggie O'Farrell and I enjoy everything she writes although this has remained my favourite. It's another one where I don't want to give too much away although the title of the novel and the opening of the book makes it obvious that something bad has happened. It's as much as mystery as a romance - although the 'twist' is fairly easy to work out by a certain point, this doesn't lessen it's impact as the main character realises. It's got an engaging opening and a truly beautiful second half - incredibly moving. Definitely one for tissues at the ready. If you loved The Time Traveler's Wife, it's definitely worth trying this one. Just a beautiful, moving, romantic novel.
1. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
Hands down the best book I've read this year. I love Jasper Fforde as author anyway and I would highly recommend his Thursday Next series (The Eyre Affair is the first in the series). This book really has everything; science-fiction, humour, romance as well as a wholly original plot. I've never read anything like it - it defies genre. Set in the future, the country revolves totally around what colours people can see. It's a difficult concept to explain as it works in the novel and in fact is a little confusing at the start but you soon work it out. I cannot recommend this highly enough - it's a massively clever plot with twists and turns, intrigues and an exciting climax. It does end of a bit of a cliffhanger though and the sequel's not been written yet...