I’ve read an utterly absurd 180+ books this year, in huge part thanks to audiobooks. which make every idle moment an opportunity to drink book juice through your earholes. This is something of a double-edged sword, because reading tons also means it’s hard to narrow down a Top 10, or even Top 50, or even remember everything you’ve read. I created a convoluted 5-tier scoring system to help myself organise the things, but even with that it turned out there were only 17 books that I wouldn’t heartily recommend.
That said, there have been a few authors that have hit my sensibilities perfectly this year, so I’ve narrowed down a Top 11 of books from people who I am quite sure I would read anything by right now. As I read more than one by most of these people, this Top 11 works more like a summary of my most beloved authors from this year. Together with the summary list of runners up at the bottom, this is actually more like a Top 57 list.
(The list titles and most book titles are all GoodReads links.)
This just about wins my choice for the two of Cosby’s books I read this year, but Blacktop Wasteland was also fantastic. These books tread familiar crime thriller territory but in a captivating, pitch-perfect way. The plots are twisty enough, but what’s most impressive is how the characters and style make these stories come to life. Raw, driven and just damn readable.
I got into Ursula Vernon/T.Kingfisher in a big way this year, and was particularly impressed by The Twisted Ones (which totally earwormed me, a rare thing for a book). I love her quirky, low-key stories and balance of humour, character-work, fantasy and horror. After I’d read about 6 or 8 or so of her books I started to feel I’d sunk into a groove of diminishing returns. Then I read A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking and was blown away anew. An utterly charming, wildly entertaining and totally original read.
Pratchett is up there with Kingfisher for my most read this year, as I determined to finally finish the Discworld series. As above, I’d read so many that the books started to feel less stand-out wow. Until I neared the end of the series. I love the Tiffany Achings books, perhaps the most, and while a few other late entries also stood out (Making Money and The Amazing Maurice in particular), I Shall Wear Midnight was one where I really felt the Discworld series hit a mature note that struck a particular chord with me. I still haven’t quite finished the series, but hold high hopes that The Shepherd’s Crown will hit the true peak, and I’m so impressed that Pratchett kept improving throughout such a long series.
Thomas is another author who I discovered this year and just ripped through her books. They’re light reads, with a great sense of voice and a nice sprinkling of humour, which is a real achievement considering they cover some deeply heavy topics that are at once incredibly timely, relevant and murky to navigate. Though all excellent books (definitely check out The Hate U Give, too), for me On the Come Up stood out, not least because the audiobook (performed by Bahni Turpin) really brought the rap saga to life. For a slightly different read, also check out the anthology Blackout which Thomas contributed to, underpinned by sections from Tiffany D. Jackson, who I’ve also enjoyed discovering this year.
I came across this quite randomly on audio, noticing I’d added it to my TBR ages ago but not recalling what it was. I was completely hooked within the first few sentences. A surreal Gothic Wild West horror story underpinned by dark humour; the sort of read that felt uniquely geared towards my unusual interests, and pulled it off in a perfect way. Minimalist, absurd, funny and just brilliant – this is one I instantly loved. Respect is due, too, to In Watermelon Sugar, which I read straight after this.
Having thoroughly enjoyed Big Little Lies and Nine Perfect Strangers on TV, I was curious to see how Moriarty’s stories worked as books, and was not disappointed. They’re complex tales of human relationships, with a lot of heart, some great observational talent, and a charming sense of humour. The Last Anniversary was my first, and was my top choice here, until I read What Alice Forgot, which is a brilliant concept, brilliantly executed – its tale of memory loss and the way people’s perceptions of each other change over time works like a time travel story. But Three Wishes is really good, too. And they’re all fantastically performed in audio by Caroline Lee.
We all knew this was going to be wonderful, and we were not disappointed. Bancroft is a master and his series a masterpiece. This is one of the most creative series of books I’ve ever read, with a wildly unique set-up, rounded characters and a weaving plot that keeps you enthralled throughout. Unique, amazing, perfect. Enough said.
This one almost passed me by as I hadn’t seen anyone talking about it, which I found unusual seeing as how big Gideon is. When I happened upon it, I was immediately drawn in and loved this short, dark twist on a fairy tale, brilliantly performed (as always) by Moira Quirk. Though maybe I’m biased because the audio strongly brought to mind some similarities to Under Ordshaw. Great minds think alike and all that…
As long as Purcell releases a book a year she’ll probably end up on my top lists. I love her brand of Gothic horror, always highly readable, atmospheric and with very original quirks – in this case, a ghost story focusing on the art of cutting out silhouettes. I also enjoyed an anthology she contributed to this year, The Haunting Season, where her story sits alongside some solid efforts from a whole host of excellent authors.
I just really adore these Regency faerie tales from Atwater; they’re charming, concise, and lots of fun. This one particularly attracted me with its unusual twists on the Pygmalion tropes, and has a surprisingly charming and apt audio performance given that it wouldn’t have been my first thought to have a male narrator.
I saw Fforde talk at BristolCon and was impressed enough to pick up one of his books (they’ve been on my TBR forever). What I found was an incredibly witty, highly topical and absolutely engaging tale of randomly anthropomorphic rabbits, full of laughs and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them strokes of genius. A great read, and while I can’t say yet if he’ll reach the same instabuy status as the rest of the authors on this list, I will definitely be checking out more from him.
That’s the top stuff, but there were about 130 other books I really enjoyed this year. Here’s a selection of some of the others you should definitely read, in fact 36 in total, each of which I could lovingly curate if I only had the time.
- The Liveship Traders Trilogy by Robin Hobb
- A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow
- The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
- Master of Sorrows by Justin Call
- The Etched City by KJ Bishop
- Mother Pig by Travis Riddle
- Guild of Tokens by Jon Auerbach
- Drowned Country by Emily Tesh
- The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson
- The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson
- Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells
- Exhalation by Ted Chiang
- Inverted World by Christopher Priest
- Uzumaki by Junji Ito
- Revival by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton
- Essex County & The Descenders by Jeff Lemire
- The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch by Neil Gaiman
- Through the Woods by Emily Carrol
- Sara by Garth Ennis
- I Hate Fairyland by Scottie Young
(had enough genre-bending ones to fit this loose grouping!)
- Ring Shout by P. Djeli Clark
- Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
- Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis
Contemporary / Crime
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
- The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward
- Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
- Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson
- Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
- Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare
- White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
- Thing Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric Larocca
- Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes
- Why We Dream by Alice Robb
- Living Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson