It's that time of year when everyone starts talking about 'best of the year', so here's my personal round-up to go with all the others out there. Not all of these are newly published this year - just newly read by me - though there's certainly no sense to including favourite re-reads; they belong in a different list altogether. Also, not all of these are books I've reviewed for our blog - some have been reviewed elsewhere, one particularly I know I've only reviewed on Amazon or Waterstones. Enough rambling - where to start? Children's books?
In The Map Of Marvels by David Calcutt, Connor draws a map and finds himself transported into it. The only way home is to follow the adventures the map leads him to. A compelling, Arabian nights type adventure with pirates and shipwrecks, deserts and djinn. It's recommended for older children but is the sort of adventure tale we used to read as bedtime story to our 8 or 9 yr old daughter.
Bree McCready and the Half Heart Locket by Hazel Allan a fantastical adventure story for 9 - 13 yrs. Bree wins the half-heart locket in a raffle and finds herself whisked away with friends Sandy and Honey over the moon rainbow to save the world from evil monster Thalofedril.
The Long Weekend by Savita Kalhan - a wonderful action, suspense novel, maybe mainly for boys. Readers will urge Sam on, cheer at his success, be disheartened as he fails, tremble as he and his friend Lloyd hide from the villain, but hopefully take heed of the message - be sure you know who is offering you a lift home.
Another absolutely stunning fantasy adventure is Mortlock by Jon Mayhew. The wonderful knife-throwing heroine, Josie, is thrown by her guardian's death into a world of danger, excitement and supernatural crows. Not for the squeamish!
Moving onward and upward to teenage fiction
Keren David's debut novel, When I Was Joe, came out at the beginning of the year followed in September by its sequel Almost True. Together they tell the story of Ty, taken into the witness protection programme after a stabbing incident, his problems adapting to his new identity and unknown past.
Wasted by Nicola Morgan - Truly an amazing book that really makes you wonder about the little chances that life turns on. A story about love, fate and the danger of leaving things to chance. I loved this and my daughter, then 12, did too - so one for almost all ages!
Firebrand by Gillian Philip - first in a series following the exploits of Seth MacGregor - wild, unruly Sidhe warrior - an action packed, fast paced fantasy novel capable of surprising to almost the last page, with a cast of real living breathing characters. Published as a YA book but one for all lovers of fantasy regardless of age.
Fantasy, myth and politics meet in the Mabinogion Stories series from Seren Books, retelling Welsh myths in modern or even future settings. My favourite has to be The Dreams of Max and Ronnie by Niall Griffiths - turning old stories into up to date political commentary.
I read and loved Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel - a long slow novel exploring the Tudor world and the workings of HenryVIII's court. Probably not a book for everyone, mainly due to it's length.
If you're looking for something shorter try The Still Point by Amy Sackville. Julia has grown up believing in the stories of her family's long-lost heroic Arctic explorer, Edward Mackley and the devoted life-time wait of his wife. As she sorts through relics in the attic, Julia discovers all is not as she had believed. This story weaves together themes of loss, self-delusion, betrayal and discovery, with alternating threads of heat and cold, idleness and endeavour, creating a wonderful whole.
New publishers Peirene Press specialise in translated fiction - "Thought provoking, well designed, short", as their slogan says. All three of this year's books were wonderful in their own way. My favourite, though only by a small margin, was Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius. A young, pregnant German woman walks through Rome one day in January 1943 on her way to a musical recital at a church. On her way we share her thoughts, hopes and fears meandering between past, present and future. A whole life in 125 pages!
In a very different vein - two outstandingly creepy novels
Blacklands by Belinda Bauer - a chilling debut thriller. Steven feels that if he can find the body of his murdered uncle Billy the past can be laid to rest and his family become 'normal'. When he realises he won't succeed by digging up random bits of Exmoor, Steven decides to try the more direct approach and write to Avery asking for directions. Reminding the killer of the past may not turn out to be the cleverest of moves though...
Captured by Neil Cross, creator of BBC's Luther. A man with only weeks to live determines to solve the mystery of an ex-girlfriends disappearance - using whatever means and methods he feels are needed. A shortish book, driven forward by dialogue, full of desperation. It was a totally gripping read - even when you wish you could turn away and not look.
And last but most certainly not least, something for everyone - The Ice Bear by Jackie Morris. A gorgeous illustrated book with lyrical words. You may want to buy it for a special child in your life - or you may just want to treat yourself!