Van’s top five reads in 2015

7 Jan

What a great year of reading it was! If you don’t know my method, I post about all the books I read. I try to tell you what I liked about those books. If I didn’t like it, I’ll simply post a ‘sorry’ (life’s too short, and the effort of writing a book too great to waste our time shooting them down). If I remember correctly, there were only 3 ‘sorry’ posts last year, and just one of those was a book I failed to finish.
I can’t help but acknowledge the Curtis Brown Book Group, who supplied a consistently high level of books through the year. I didn’t get on with every choice but it says a lot that seven of the books they supplied made the cut for consideration in my top reads of the year. When you throw into that mix the fact that we Book Group members got to chat online with the authors it makes for a very special experience (Agencies, publishers take note: it’s a great way to get your books – and your companies – talked about!). So I start with a very special thank you to Curtis Brown’s Richard and Emma for inviting me to join, and all the hard work they put into making the group work so well. Chapeau!
I’d also like mention BookBridgr here, who have put me in touch with some publicists and their new releases. Bloggers, if you’ve not yet found BookBridgr check it out. It’s a great resource.

My reading for the year divided into a 60/40 split gender-wise, with 60% by women. Only 10% of my reading came from ‘non-white’ writers (quotes due to my very unscientific decision-making over the white or non-white question). I say only because it feels low and I think a conscious effort to get a little more diversity in this year won’t go amiss.
Diversity is about more than ethnicity and there is one very special book that I’d like to mention. Though it made the cut for my top reads of the year I’m mentioning it here because it deserves the space (a debut novel from a small press on a subject about which awareness is growing). That book is Anne Goodwin’s Sugar And Snails. This is the book that made me think about that phrase, ‘reading outside your comfort zone’. It’s also one of the books I spent a lot of time thinking about after I’d finished it. Find it, read it, talk about it.
And so we come to my top five reads in 2015. It could easily have been a top ten (and then a top 7 when I’d managed to whittle a little further) but life is too short to try and get down to a top 3. When I’m ruling out Life After Life, The Girl In The Red Coat, Galina Petrovna, The Good Son and Where’d You Go, Bernadette you’ll know how hard it was to come to a final decision!

But here they are, in the order I read them.

Back in January the first of our books for the Curtis Brown Book Group arrived, and what a book it is! Antonia Honeywell’s The Ship set a very high bar. It’s testament to the power not only of the story itself but of Antonia’s writing and her irrepressible protagonist that a year later the experience is still quite vivid.

In February I was delighted to receive a copy of Harraga by Boualem Sansal (translated by Frank Wynne). If ever you needed an advertisement for broadening your reading horizons and picking up translations Harraga would fit the bill. It’s such a beautiful rambling conversation of a book, and the translation feels invisible, such is the immediacy of the main character’s voice.

I’d missed Evie Wyld’s All The Birds, Singing on initial publication and made one of those promises to get to it ‘soon’. In March I made a trip to the library ahead of an event at Dulwich Books. Thinking I was late I ended up asking Evie, chatting with mates outside, whether the event was open yet. At least it stopped me gushing at her about how good I thought her novel was!

To the library again in June, attracted by a lovely cover I spied through the window. I remembered it from The Literary Sofa’s Hot Picks (in fact four of my top five appear either in Isabel’s Hot Picks for 2015 or Summer Reads). Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans took me back to the Second World War (I think the most-visited place in the books I read this year) and brought me some of the most vivid characters I’ve met. It’s also a book that carries its heartbreak with dignity and shades of humour.

The Second World War again in October, though in Italy rather than England. Look at the cover of Early One Morning and it gives you a good hint as to what lies inside the covers. Something quiet and a little mysterious, yes, but something that begs to be explored. Something beautiful. Yes, this is one of those books that I would say is beautifully written. It’s a simple premise underpinned by flawless characterisation, and it too is heartbreaking yet dignified. You could almost read it in a whisper.

It strikes me there are two things particularly that these books all share: they all had fantastic, stylish and entirely pertinent covers; and in each case the story lives on after the last words have been read. More than the wilful dangling of a loose thread, that incompleteness acts as a sort of reflector on what you’ve read and invites, even taunts you to speculate over what might have followed. If you haven’t yet read them I invite you to give them a try. I think they’re worth seeking out and I hope you will too.


3 Responses to “Van’s top five reads in 2015”

  1. Annecdotist 22/01/2016 at 10:10 am #

    Thanks for the mention, Van, Diana and I are thrilled to have a place amongst such a marvellous range of novels. Here’s to another fabulous reading year!

    • vanisreading 22/01/2016 at 10:36 am #

      You definitely earned it. Sugar And Snails is a great read.


  1. A Q & A with Antonia Honeywell, author of The Ship | vanisreading - 18/03/2016

    […] each other, eyebrows raised, saying, ‘The Ship!’ It’s no surprise that this book was among my top 5 of 2015, and I don’t need to tell you what an endorsement it is that it was in Mrs Van’s top 3, so I am […]

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