2016 has not been the easiest of years for me and reading has provided me much-needed escapism. Throughout 2016 I have read lots of books ranging from pre-releases that I was lucky enough to be sent right through to much loved books that friends have passed on to me that they have read over and over. I’ve discovered new authors and new genres and so it is difficult to decide on which have been my favourite books of 2016 but here they are…

Susan Lewis- Too Close To Home
I was really pleased to receive this book from Susan Lewis. I only discovered her books this year and I’m really glad I did because I’ve now read several of them and find that they’re very engaging and this book is my favourite- so far! The story tells of Paige who’s family is starting a new life in a new area, with lots of dreams… but her parents’ relationship is clearly not a dream one and as they begin to fall apart, Paige’s life begins to get complicated too. What I really liked about this book is just how well crafted the characters are, I got a real sense of how the family dynamics worked and could emphasise with lots of the people within the book. There are some difficult subjects addressed here- family break ups, Internet bullying and so forth which are very relevant to today and did make me stop and think about what would happen when my own children are old enough to use social media and how would I react if they were involved in difficulties relating to it.

Gill Paul- The Secret Wife
This is a book so well researched you learn whilst reading without feeling like it’s some kind of history lesson, instead you lose yourself in the story whilst every so often thinking ‘my God did this really happen?!’ in fact, my husband has started to read this and every so often will text me whilst on his commute with ‘is this part real??’ Kitty has recently inherited her great grandfather’s cabin by Lake Akanabee and upon finding out her husband has been cheating on her, flees to the cabin. Whilst there she begins to question the kind of a person her great grandfather was and begins to uncover an unbelievable family secret. Upon learning about her own family it makes her question herself and what she wants from her life too… Kitty’s great grandfather Dimitri suffered an injury whilst in action in Russia and woke up to Princess Tatiana- part of the Russian Royal Family- tending to him. As she tends to him it is clear they are falling in love, but a relationship is not a simple thing to have during those times. The controversy surrounding the Ramonovs meant that any attention brought upon them could be dangerous and Dimitri has to tread carefully… This book is written in such a clever way that you feel as though you know the characters inside out as you follow them through their whole lives and by the end I was sad to finish it and leave them behind. Whilst reading this I was completely absorbed and taken into the worlds of Dimitri and Tatiana, amazing that so much of the story is based upon fact too but where the fact finishes and fiction begins you just don’t know it’s written in such a special way. This book should come with a warning- you will lose sleep as you’ll be turning the pages until the small hours and you will be left contemplating it for days afterwards wondering ‘what if…?’

Katherine Webb- The Misbegotten
Set in the early 1800’s this book is full of atmosphere and history with characters so rich I was moved by the story. There are two main stories within this book- Rachel Crofton’s and Starling’s. Rachel, rather desperately, accepts a marriage proposal from Richard Weeks who is a wine seller in Bath but as she becomes his wife it is clear that she is uncomfortable with it and begins to question her choice but, because of the time, she feels trapped and miserable, unable to leave him. Starling, is a servant who is intrigued by Rachel and who she is and her relationship with the mysterious Jonathan Allen who she has served. Why does Rachel look so alike Jonathan’s lost love Alice? Is there more to Rachel than she makes out? Starling becomes obsessed with trying to establish what happened with Alice. This book had me turning pages and feeling lost once I had finished it. The characters and the atmosphere were absorbing especially thinking about how times have changed so much, it really does get you thinking about how much freedom we have now yet how we still have similar emotions. I’m looking forward to reading more of Katherine Webb’s books as this was the first one of hers I have read.

Rosamund Lupton- The Quality of Silence
Having devoured Rosamund Lupton’s previous books, I couldn’t wait to read this one. I found it very different to her previous work but just as special. It is a relatively simple story, based mainly in one setting- the huge ice truck travelling across Alaska and there’s something really mesmerising about it.  When Yasmin’s husband goes missing in Alaska, she is determined to find him and sets out to do so with her 10 year old daughter Ruby in tow. Ruby is not an ordinary 10 year old. She is deaf and communicates through a mixture of sign language and using a computer. Throughout their journey trying to find the man they both love, Yasmin learns a lot about Ruby which she hadn’t known before. The dark, cold days and nights bring them closer together but it isn’t all about becoming cosy with your mother… there’s something quite haunting about it- why is there a truck that seems to be following them? What are the sinister emails that Ruby is receiving? I found this a really compelling book which chilled me- not just because of the freezing descriptions but because of the tension too. Brilliantly atmospheric this book built up in tension gradually until I was on the edge of my seat.

Dinah Jefferies – The Tea Planter’s Wife
I was sent this book by a friend who recommended it to me, what a brilliant read it was. The book is set in a tea plantation in Ceylon. Gwen has left her home in England to go and live with her new husband Laurence who owns the tea plantation. She finds herself having to manage a house and staff and tolerate Laurence’s very spoilt and needy sister. The relationship between Laurence and Gwen is strained but then when they find out she is pregnant it looks as though things may be looking up… but when Gwen gives birth to twins whilst Laurence is away, it is clear something is terribly wrong and Gwen has a difficult decision to make which will affect her life forever. This book was brilliant, I wanted to keep turning the pages to find out what happened next. I loved the setting, the characters and also the way this book provided excellent escapism, I was so drawn in to the story that I could completely switch off from my own life for a while.

Louise Beech- The Mountain In My Shoe.
Having really enjoyed Louise’s first book I was looking forward to reading this one. I wasn’t disappointed. This is another really well written book by this author, which left me thinking about the characters after I had finished reading. It is a very different book in that it weaves together lots of different voices- a child, Connor, reports from social workers and foster carers, the voice of Bernadette- an adult who befriends Connor… throughout these various ways of telling the story, you really get a sense of who Connor is from all different angles and it works fantastically well. Connor has had a difficult start in life, finding himself in the care of many different foster carers and struggling to fit in.. and then he goes missing and so does his book. The book which he isn’t going to see until he’s 18 and contains all of his ‘life’ with reports and letters and photographs documenting his past. But where is his book? Where is Connor and how can Bernadette help with the search? I thought it may be confusing having lots of different voices but it isn’t, it works beautifully and made it a very moving book. It did make me think about how many of the aspects of this little boy’s life is so real and happening right now to many children in our communities and so after reading it, it does make you think about real issues. A very cleverly written book.
There have been so many good reads of 2016 it was very hard to reduce them down to just the above. I’m really looking forward to the books of 2017. Thank you to all my friends who have sent me books, authors who have kindly given me proof copies of their work and publishers who have enabled me to widen my reading and provide me with the much needed escapism I needed this year, 2016 was not an easy one!

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