So I’m late with this post too. Oops! But I still thought that I would share with you all my Top Reads of 2015.
To be clear, this will be a short list of the top 5 books that I read in 2015. They may not have been and most likely weren’t published in 2015 because frankly there’s far too many books out there to be reading new ones as soon as they’re on the shelves and also, I think it would be sad to limit the pool to new books because why shouldn’t some classics be shown the love? (OK, so there are no classics in this list!)
So without further ado and in no particular order:
Top Reads 2015 No 1: Skin by Ilka Tampke Set in the Celtic British village of Caer Cad, A.D. 43, Skin tells the story of Ailia, a girl born without her ‘skin’. The people of her village believe that at birth your mother must sing your Skin Song, naming you as skin to an animal- dog, salmon, deer etc. Only when this song is sung can you truly live in the world. Those without skin are refused proper entry into society; they cannot be educated, should not marry. Despite this, Ailia is a strong young woman, intelligent and brave.
Set against the backdrop of an impending Roman invasion, Ailia sets out on a journey of self discovery and against the wishes of her people, to find a means of protecting her village from the rapidly expanding Empire.
I thought that this book was beautiful; Ilka Tampke has a wonderful way with her narrative, painting a magical picture of Celtic Britain which is, of course, partly fiction but almost believable. Some of the scenes in which Ailia has her experiences of the Goddesses are so surreal and poetic, you can feel her desperation, confusion and longing through Tampke’s words as though it was your own.
I tweeted at the time that I was reading it that I had loved my ARC to death; it was wholly white and had travelled with me to and from work slowly creasing and dulling to a dirty grey. But I wanted to finish reading it with every spare second that I had! I’ll be purchasing a proper paperback copy when it’s out in June this year.
Top Reads 2015 No 2: The Revenant by Michael Punke This book is the first non fiction book that I have read for pleasure and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. So much, in fact, that it encouraged me to read more narrative non fiction and the next book that I read is also featured in this post.
The Revenant tells the story of Hugh Glass, a 19th Century fur trapper, who is mauled by a bear and left for dead. The two men who had been ordered to keep watch over him until he died leave prematurely, taking his rifle and hunting knife, and leaving Hugh defenseless against the dangers of the American Frontier. But against all odds, Hugh survives and soon he is tracking his way back across the plains on the hunt for the men who left him at the mercy of the wild.
This was a great story not least because it’s based on true events. The author admits that he has used creative license to add a few characters to help move the story along, and that he has made educated guesses here and there about what may have happened to Hugh, furthermore Punke reminds the reader that much of what we think we know about Glass may be the result of embellishment and legend. Nevertheless, it was a really entertaining read and I thought that Punke told it well, mixing the narrative style well with the delivery of historical facts.
I’m not usually into non fiction as I find it all quite a lot to take in and don’t really ‘get lost’ in what I’m reading as I would with a fictional story. However, a narrative approach to non fiction story telling really appeals and as a result, I look forward to reading more in 2016.
Top Reads 2015 No 3: Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill This story was so desperately sad! It’s been a long time since reading a book has left me feeling somewhat empty but that’s definitely what happened with Only Ever Yours.
Set in a dystopian future where man has all but destroyed itself completely, womankind has evolved to produce only male offspring. In the face of impending extinction mankind has begun developing female babies in labs. Over time it has become reasonable to design these females to be ‘perfect’ and so we begin our story following freida (and no, it’s not a mistake that her name is spelled without a capital F) and her classmates as they are educated in the ways of the perfect woman. Their goal; be chosen as a wife and to raise sons, otherwise take up the mantle of concubine or resign themselves to the life of a chastity (again, not spelled with a big C).
This book won the inaugural YA Book Prize and boy did it deserve it! Now, at it’s core, this is not necessarily an original idea; the book has been dubbed the YA version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale but it is unique enough in it’s approach as to deserve praise of it’s very own. Only Ever Yours is definitely aimed at the younger woman, the situations and themes will ring all too familiar with the teenage girls of the western world. It’s message is abundantly clear and O’Neill does not stop short of hammering home the truths about the pressures that modern society is putting (and almost always has put) upon women. I think British teens particularly need it spelling out for them though; only this afternoon did I have to listen to an 11 year old girl tell her friends that she was getting fat.
Needless to say, words were had and O’Neill’s book has been placed front and centre on my library bookshelves.
Top Reads 2015 No 4: In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick. This is the story of the crew of the sunk Whaleship Essex. Taken down by an angry Sperm Whale many miles off of the coast of America, the men had to find their way back to shore in the three ship’s whaleboats, armed with very little food and thousands of miles from land. Some three months later the whaleship Dauphin was to come across a small boat floating in the open ocean. It’s bottom was littered with human bones and amongst them, emaciated though alive were survivors.
Told using accounts made by the ship’s First Mate and a later account by the cabin boy this is the story that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
I found this to be a truly compelling account of the 19th century whaling industry and of how deeply this business was entrenched in the lives of those on Nantucket. Philbrick’s approach was to use the disaster of the Essex as a central event around which to build a picture of what life and the business of whaling was like and I think he did it well. I didn’t feel like I was drowning in fact after fact but at the same time evident that Philbrick had done his research; the pages of footnotes that appear at the end of the book are a testament to that fact.
I don’t think I had ever envisaged reading a book about whaling let alone enjoying it, but there you go sometimes we surprise even ourselves. It certainly helps that In the Heart of the Sea was expertly executed.
Top Reads 2015 No 5: The Chimes by Anna Smaill Set in a futuristic London where music has replaced words and the common people can not hold onto memory, we follow the journey of a boy called Simon. He’s on the way to the city for something of great importance but he can’t seem to hold onto the memory of what that is. Clutched by his side is his bag of objects, things that will help him to remember. In his mind he carries a tune, a melody that nags at him to push forward to find out the thing that he so strongly wishes to know.
In the world where The Chimes are the centre of daily life, ringing at chosen hours in the day; feared, revered and followed like God life is lived by music, strings of notes are the strongest memories that people can hold onto and spoken language is peppered with musical terms.
As with all of the books mentioned in this post, I really enjoyed The Chimes. It begins very dreamily and at first the way that the narrative flows makes it difficult to grasp entirely what is going on, but I think that’s the point. So disorientated is Simon by his faded memory and yet so used to it is he that he is following only the slightest inclination that he must make his way to London. He cannot focus on why and, at first, neither can the reader. Then of course, there’s the muscial terminology that has become every day vernacular in Simon’s Britain; I played the piano as a child and so the words weren’t wholly unfamiliar but it took some remembering and a little Googling to completely understand what Smaill was saying. Nevertheless, I enjoyed that too; we are not from Simon’s time, I don’t think we’re supposed to find him easy to understand.
The second half of the novel moves away from the dream like narrative and you could be forgiven for thinking that it feels like a different book, but I think it makes perfect sense considering how the plot begins to clear like fog as we read on.
I thought The Chimes was a wonderful story and quite unique, the ending was a little weak but I can forgive it that because I felt that the narrative of the first half was just beautiful. It thoroughly deserved it’s Man Booker Long List nomination. I’ll be looking to get my own copy of this at some point in 2016.
So those were my favourite books of 2015, I hope you enjoyed reading about the books that I enjoyed last year. Have you read any of the above? Do you agree that they’re as good as I claim and what were your top 5 reads of the last year? Comment below, I’d love to know, maybe you might even help me to grow my TBR for the coming year!