Let’s start with non-fiction and the best book I’ve read so far this year. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi tracks his journey from medic to patient as lung cancer works its way through his body. I know it sounds gloomy but the effect of reading such clear-sighted and intelligent commentary on life and death is exhilarating. I am a huge fan of Marian Keyes and her collection Making It Up As I Go Along is a blast of much needed fresh air into my new year.
On to novels: I love the way fiction transports us to different parts of the world and back and forth in time. The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis takes us to Georgian London, The Ballroom by Anna Hope is set in a West Yorkshire asylum before the First World War and The Maker of Swans by Pariac O’Donnell is an entrancing magical mystery tour. Love and faith struggle for the upper hand in Chinelo Okparanta’s impressive debut novel Under the Udula Trees, a long ago mystery disturbs the uneasy peace of a grieving couple in Julie Myerson’s The Stopped Heart, and Look At Me by Sarah Duguid introduces a new relative into an unusual family.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
I wore out my pencil underscoring the great lines in this astonishing and invigorating book written by a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in his final year of training. Rarely have words on both life and death made such an impact – I will be urging everyone I know to read this.
Making It Up As I Go Along by Marian Keyes
A gorgeously chunky collection of Keyes’ articles on everything from lipstick, to family to having tiny feet. She also writes with great honesty, insight and humour about being ‘mad in the head’ and this is a charming, hopeful and consoling book which would adorn any bedside table.
The Ballroom by Anna Hope
1911: When a new doctor at the West Riding Pauper Asylum decides that dancing will benefit the inmates, Ella and John are brought together in a series of meetings that will change their lives. Both a love story and a shocking look at the way we treated our mentally ill only a century ago, this is a cracking read.
Look At Me by Sarah Duguid
Lizzy’s beautiful mother Margaret has been dead for two years when she discovers that her father, Julian, has a daughter he has never met. When Lizzy insists on inviting Eunice into the family home, she almost immediately realises her mistake, but dislodging Eunice isn’t going to be easy…
The Stopped Heart by Julie Myerson
After a terrible tragedy, Mary and Graham Coles move to the country for a fresh start but Mary hears voices and becomes convinced that something terrible happened in the orchard. An engrossing thriller that weaves a century-old crime around a tale of parental heartbreak.
The Maker of Swans by Paraic O’Donnell
Mysterious Mr Crowe lives in seclusion on his country estate. When he allows his passion for an opera singer to override his better judgment and a young man ends up dead, Crowe’s faithful manservant Eustace knows that trouble lies ahead… A peculiar and beautiful tale of magic and art.
The Butcher's Hook by Janet Ellis
Take an atmospheric walk around the streets of Georgian London with 19-year-old Anne Jacob as she seeks to escape the gloom of family life. When Anne meets Fub, a butcher’s apprentice, she is instantly drawn to him but her father has already chosen a husband for her. Will she be able to take charge of her own future?
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
Ijeoma has always been attracted to girls, even though she knows that God and her mother think it’s a sin. This is a beautiful and tender coming of age story that opens during the Biafran Civil War and sees our heroine through first love, marriage and motherhood as she struggles with the demands of love and faith.
The Little Shop of Happy-Ever-After by Jenny Colgan
When Nina’s library is downsized and she is given a backroom computer job, she misses chatting to people about books. Then an advert catches her eye – could she take over a bookshop bus in the Scottish highlands? A delightful story about the love of books and reading.
The Anniversary, various authors edited by Veronica Henry
Humour and heartbreak, love and war are all on the menu in this short story collection celebrating the 10th anniversary of Quick Reads, a charity that publishes short book for readers who are less confident or pushed for time. Authors include Fanny Blake, Rowan Coleman, Matt Haig and John O’Farrell.