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30 December 2013

My Top 5 Books of 2013

With my longer commute to work, I've managed to up my reading volume again there, reading 139 books this year, a lot more than in 2012. This number includes the 14 I re-read as part of my resolution to revisit favourite books and films more often. Although the list as a whole is pretty varied, a number of themes recur in the top five and in some of the books that almost made my shortlist. And there are a lot of thrillers — especially legal and crime thrillers — on the list, a) because I enjoy the genre and b) because of the books available in the Southwark library system. So, here are my top five books:

1. The Heart Broke in by James Meek. I work for a major science journal and so part of the fun of The Heart Broke in for me was all of the references the UK scientific research. The protagonist, Bec, is a talented young malaria researcher and her brother Ritchie a former rock star turned TV producer who seems to be cheating on his wife with a young teenage girl. The novel tells the story of the dysfunctional relationship and rivalry between Bec and Ritchie, and is lively, engaging and touching.

2. How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman. A haunting and subtle work that tells the story of Marta, a housewife in an unnamed Scandinavian country, whose dark past seems to be coming back to haunt her. But can we trust her version of events given that she seems, at the very least, to be suffering from an intense form of post-traumatic stress disorder, which concerns her husband and son greatly? I do like dark mystery-thrillers like this (as evidenced by #4 and #5 on this list), but Chapman's writing is highly compelling.

3. The Darlings by Cristina Alger. Alger is hardly breaking new ground with her tale of Wall Street woes in the financial crisis, but her tightly plotted novel, which takes place over the Thanksgiving weekend of 2008, sees the titular Darling family — darlings only by name — facing a tragedy that threatens to make their seemingly enviable existences come crashing down around them. None of the characters is likeable, from the imperfect hedge-fund-manager patriarch Carter, to his trophy wife Ines, their elder daughter Merrill and her husband Paul, whose gratitude at being offered a job with Carter during the recession soon slips away as the family's downfall begins. Sometimes this is a problem, but I enjoyed Alger's novel, with its notes of McInerney and Easton Ellis. A good, solid, cautionary New York tale.

4. The Twins by Saskia Sarginson. This isn't the only book I've read this year which deals with a dark complex relationship between two sisters or friends who were once close but have been driven apart (Lucy Clarke's The Sea Sisters and Alex Marwood's The Wicked Girls both tread similar ground), but Sarginson's novel was the one that stayed with me the most. It tells the story of Viola and Isolde, twins raised in the 1970s by their hippy mother, who have since become estranged because of events that unfold gradually as the story progresses.

5. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. Morton's novels tend to follow the same structure: a present-day woman finds something that makes her realise that her mother or grandmother has been keeping a huge secret for many decades. But this doesn't make them all that predictable and she certainly spins a good yarn. The Secret Keeper sees middle-aged actress Laurel dipping back 50 years to a strange incident in her past and then digging deeper into the mystery of her now elderly and infirm mother's life during World War Two.

Token non-fiction: Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise. I read so much science for my job that I only tend to read a handful of non-fiction books. This year, it turned out that most of them had a scientific bent, but Silver's book kept my inner stats geek happy and entertained. Spanning many disciplines, Silver highlights the power of prediction throughout everyday life. A fascinating and informative read.

And here is my full 2013 reading list:
  • White Noise — Don DeLillo
  • The Liar's Lullaby — Meg Gardiner
  • In the Name of Honour — Richard North Patterson
  • Arthur and George — Julian Barnes
  • No Safe Place — Richard North Patterson
  • The Periodic Tales — High Aldersey-Williams
  • Mildred Pierce — James M. Cain
  • 1974 — David Peace
  • A Perfectly Good Family — Lionel Shriver
  • Dark Lady — Richard North Patterson
  • Miss Wyoming — Douglas Coupland
  • Game Control — Lionel Shriver
  • Human Traces — Sebastian Faulks
  • The Darlings — Cristina Alger
  • State of Wonder — Ann Patchett
  • City of God — Paulo Lins
  • This Is Paradise — Will Eaves
  • A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapter — Julian Barnes
  • What I Loved — Siri Hustvedt
  • The Expats — Chris Pavone
  • Gravity's Rainbow — Thomas Pynchon
  • Brightness Falls — Jay McInerney
  • Embassytown — China MiĆ©ville
  • Underworld — Don DeLillo
  • The Innocents — Francesca Segal
  • The Book of Life — Stuart Nadler
  • The Shoemaker's Wife — Adriana Trigiani
  • Tuesday's Gone — Nicci French
  • Run — Ann Patchett
  • The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared — Jonas Jonasson
  • How To Be a Woman — Caitlin Moran
  • The Cloud Atlas — David Mitchell
  • I Capture the Castle — Dodie Smith
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower — Stephen Chbosky
  • The Psychopath Test — Jon Ronson
  • Prophecy — SJ Parris
  • Life After Life — Kate Atkinson
  • The Newlyweds — Nell Freudenberger
  • When Christ and His Saints Slept — Sharon Kay Penman
  • Best Kept Secret — Jeffrey Archer
  • Accidents Happen — Louise Miller
  • Night Watch — Linda Fairstein
  • The Safest Place — Suzanne Bugler
  • The Heart Broke in — James Meek
  • Shine — Lauren Myracle
  • Eyes of a Child — Richard North Patterson
  • Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures — Emma Straub
  • Alys, Always — Harriet Lane
  • A Happy Marriage — Rafael Yglesias
  • The Imperfectionists — Tom Rachman
  • e — Matt Beaumont
  • The Trouble with Alice — Olivia Glazebrook
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel — Deborah Moggach
  • The Shadow Dancer — Tom Bradby
  • The Rules of Civility — Amor Towles
  • The Day of the Lie — William Brodrick
  • The Storyteller — Jodi Picoult
  • The Lost Daughter — Lucretia Grindle
  • The Chemistry of Tears — Peter Carey
  • Little Children — Tom Perrotta
  • Silent Witness — Richard North Patterson
  • The Birth of Venus — Sarah Dunant
  • The Palace of Illusions — Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
  • The Secret Keeper — Kate Morton
  • The Technologists — Matthew Pearl
  • The Red Book — Deborah Copaken Kogan
  • The Soldier's Wife — Joanna Trollope
  • The Sea Sisters — Lucy Clarke
  • The Art of Leaving — Anna Stothard
  • A Gathering Storm — Rachel Hore
  • The House of the Wind — Titania Hardie
  • The Great Gatsby — F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Tipping Point — Malcolm Gladwell
  • When God Was a Rabbit — Sarah Winton
  • The Night Circus — Erin Morgenstern
  • Snow White Must Die — Nele Neuhaus
  • The Deception Artist — Fayette Fox
  • The Diaries of a Fleet Street Fox — Fleet Street Fox
  • The Bat — Jo Nesbo
  • The Salt Road — Jane Johnson
  • The Engagements — J. Courtney Sullivan
  • The Princess Bride — William Goldman
  • The Shining Girls — Lauren Beukes
  • Five Days — Douglas Kennedy
  • The Good Parents — Joan London
  • Waiting for Wednesday — Nicci French
  • How To Be a Good Wife — Emma Chapman
  • Orange Is the New Black — Piper Kerman
  • The Ice Princess — Camilla Lackberg
  • The Song of Achilles — Madeline Miller
  • 1977 — David Peace
  • Final Jeopardy — Linda Fairstein
  • The Silver Linings Playbook — Matthew Quick
  • The White Princess — Philippa Gregory
  • The Book of Summers — Emylia Hall
  • The Preacher — Camilla Lackberg
  • 1980 — David Peace
  • 1983 — David Peace
  • Summerland — Elin Hilderbrand
  • Silent Mercy — Linda Fairstein
  • The Stonecutter— Camilla Lackberg
  • The Thousand Summers of Jacob De Zoet — David Mitchell
  • The Signal and the Noise — Nate Silver
  • Almost English — Charlotte Mendelson
  • The Racketeer — John Grisham
  • House of Cards — Michael Dobbs
  • Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore — Robin Sloan
  • The Silent Wife — ASA Harrison
  • Expo 58 — Jonathan Coe
  • The Twins — Saskia Sarginson 
  • Killer Heat — Linda Fairstein
  • The Wicked Girls — Alex Marwood
  • Revenge Wears Prada — Lauren Weisberger
  • The Hidden Child — Camilla Lackberg
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay — Michael Chabon
  • The Bookstore — Deborah Meyler
  • Burial Rites — Hannah Kent
  • The Lost Boy — Camilla Lackberg
  • The Emperor's Children — Claire Messud
  • Brick Lane — Monica Ali
  • Bleeding Edge — Thomas Pynchon
  • MaddAddam — Margaret Atwood
  • Death Dance — Linda Fairstein
  • Against a Dark Background — Iain M. Banks
  • The Stranger — Camilla Lackberg
  • Black Chalk — Christopher J. Yates
  • The Reunion — Amy Silver
  • The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls — Anton DiSclafani
  • Bird Sense — Tim Birkhead
  • Time and Chance — Sharon Kay Penman
  • Loss of Innocence — Richard North Patterson
  • The View on the Way Down — Rebecca Wait
  • The Drowning — Camilla Lackberg
  • Under the Same Stars — Tim Lott
  • Black Sheep — CJ Lyons
  • Lethal Legacy — Linda Fairstein
  • Into the Darkest Corner — Elizabeth Haynes
  • The Distant Hours — Kate Morton
  • The Chocolate Money — Ashley Prentice Norton


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