Savidge Reads’ Books of 2015 Part One…

So we have hit the penultimate day of 2015, where does the time go? Back by popular demand (well David kindly asked me) is the first of my two lists of the books that I loved most in 2015. Today’s selection for your delectation are the books that I have loved the most this year that were actually published originally before 2015 (yes, even the ones that came out in paperback in 2015 but were in hardback before then) which means some classics have given way to more modern books but this really reflects my tastes in general. More on that another time though. Without further waffle or ado, here are the first twelve books I really, really, really loved in 2015; you can click on the titles to go to my full reviews, with one exception…

11.

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2015 has been a year that has seen me devour and enjoy more graphic novels and memoirs than ever before and I have loved it. Undoubtedly that love was started this year with The Encyclopaedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg which combines history, myths and fairytales (with a slightly wonky twist) to create a wonderful visual world of Vikings, giants, gods, eskimo’s and more and celebrates the marvels of great stories and wonderful storytelling. A delight from start to finish.

10 (=).

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If you’d told me back at the start of 2015 that one of my books of the year would involve giant mutant preying grasshoppers /praying mantises then I would have laughed in your face. This would have been a) cruel and b) completely wrong. Grasshopper Jungle is a thrilling, gripping and entertaining rollercoaster of a read that looks at love, sexuality, friendship and how to survive if mutant killer insects who only want to breed and eat take over the world. What more could you ask for?

10 (=).

From the off, and indeed throughout, the world in Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours is, to be frank, pretty f***ed up. (I honestly tried quite hard to not use ‘the f bomb’ but it is the only word that seems apt.) Girls are now bred, yes bred, for three reasons. They can become a companion to the men in society who can afford it and have babies, which will only be boys as these girls have been bred to be breeders of the male line; they can become a concubine, and have sex (with no babies) with all the men in society who can afford it; or they can become chastity’s and shave their heads, wear black gowns and raise more manufactured young girls to keep the cycle ticking along. See, I told you, f***ed up, and that is only the beginning. I have a feeling Louise O’Neill is one of those authors whose careers we are just going to watch grow and grow and grow. Atwood, watch out, ha!

9.

Before I read it, I had some really odd preconceived ideas about H. G. Well’s The Invisible Man. First up I thought that it was a tome of some several hundred pages, wrong, it is a novella. Secondly I thought that it was set in the 1970’s (impossible as it was written in 1897) and involved some old man in a mackintosh who smoked, wrong, that is just something I naively surmised from an old 70’s edition of the book my mother had on her shelves. Thirdly I didn’t think I would enjoy it in any way shape or form, so wrong. What I got was an incredibly dark and sinister novel that suddenly becomes both incredibly moving and incredibly disturbing as you read on. Naturally with that in mind, I absolutely loved this book.

8.

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Imagine if Thomas Hardy and Cormac McCarthy had a bastard lovechild… He would be Benjamin Myers in my humble opinion and I think Beastings testifies that notion. I almost don’t feel I need tos say more, but I will. We know it is raining, we know that a young woman has fled the house she was living in with a baby that isn’t hers, we also have the sense that both her and the baby were in danger. We soon learn that she is being followed, although hounded/stalked sounds more sinisterly appropriate, and is heading for a secret island somewhere off the coast. Because on an island in the ocean no-one can sneak up on you. The question is if she can get through the forests and mountains of Cumbria and head to the ocean without being caught and without hardly any supplies. And with that, we are off…

7.

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I only recently devoured Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None yet it shot straight into my top ten without hesitation. Ten strangers are sent to an island under false pretenses, they are soon all accused of murder or implicated in a death, then they start to die one by one following the pattern of an old nursery rhyme. The premise is impossible, yet as Agatha Christie’s fantastic novel unfolds we soon come to learn that anything is possible, no matter how chilling or unbelievable it might first appear. An utterly stupendous thriller, once you have read it you understand why it is the biggest selling murder mystery in the world, ever.

6.

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Sometimes all I want as a reader is a bloody good story. I want a twisting plot, characters that walk of the page and that you love, hate or preferably a bit of both. I want mystery and intrigue. I want to be taken to a world I know nothing about and get lost in it and its entire atmosphere. I can be a right demanding so and so however Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist delivered all this to me in abundance as it took me on a gothic journey with Nella as she walked onto the threshold of Brant house in Amsterdam 1686.

5.

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2015 has also been a year where memoirs have been a hit, in several cases centring around grief and this is one of those. H is for Hawk is an incredibly special kind of read, which all the above culminates towards, simply put it is a generously open, honest and brutal yet beautiful book. Helen Macdonald takes us completely into her life and her world at a time when she was at her most broken and vulnerable and shares that with us in all its technicolour splendour of emotions. You will laugh, you will cry and you will have felt incredibly privileged to have spent time in the company of Helen, Mabel the Goshawk and the writer T.H. White.

4.

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Until this year I had never read a word of Patricia Highsmith’s, well don’t I feel a fool after reading this. Deep Water is one of the most entertaining, snarky, camply dark, vicious and twisted psychological thrillers I have read. It is also one of the most unusual as the reader watches a sociopath come to the fore from their normally meek mild mannered self… and we egg him on and like him, even understanding him oddly, the whole time. It is a fascinating insight into the mind of a killer, if this is a prime example of what Highsmith fondly described as “my psychopath heroes”, I can’t wait to meet the rest.

3.

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It seems that 2015 was the year of insects in fiction for me, this time with bees and heaven forefend ones that talk. From this alone I should have had some kind of anaphylactic shock to this book (see what I did there) however I was completely won over by the story of Flora as she works her way through and up the hive in Laline Paull’s wondrous debut The Bees. I have been talking about this book ever since and also been boring as many people as possible with the fascinating facts I learnt about these winged beings as I read. A book which for me had it all; brilliant writing, fantastic pace, fantastic facts and a real heart looking at class, religion and women’s rights.

2.

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Now then, this is the book I have yet to review and yet is a book which took over my life as I was enravelled in the whole life of another man, Logan Mountstuart. A man which I am still struggling to believe isn’t real as his diaries from 1923 – 1998, which make up William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, take us through school romps, to wild affairs, marriages, more affairs, wars and gossip with famous people through the decades and give us not only a vivid encounter with the recent history of Britain and its endeavours (which take us all over the world) but celebrate the lives of us strange folk and the power of the pen and the written word. Ruddy marvellous and a complete and utter nightmare to review hence why I haven’t managed as yet. You can hear me talking about it here though.

1.

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I talked about book tingles earlier in the year, that wonderful feeling you get when you read a book and the words just wash over you and you know everything in this book in front of you is going to encapsulate everything you love about reading. Carys Davies’ The Redemption of Galen Pike had that for me within paragraphs of it’s very first story. In this collection we are taken to places all over the world, to all walks of life and never given the story we expect in the beginning but something so much more; be it funny, dark or magical. It was a book that arrived completely new to me, no hype or anything and completely bowled me over. I adore this book with all my heart, it brought joy to my beardy face for the whole time I read it.

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So there we are the first half of my books for the year. I do feel like I should give some honourable mentions to Susan Barker’s The Incarnations, Susan Hill’s I’m The King of the Castle and Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart, but that will be deemed as cheating. Let me know your thoughts on those in my first list you have read and do pop and see my next list tomorrow. What have been some of your books of 2015?

19 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Books of 2015, Random Savidgeness

19 responses to “Savidge Reads’ Books of 2015 Part One…

  1. Grasshopper Jungle will be in my list out tomorrow. I am looking forward to Louise O’Neill’s two books hugely.

  2. Love the sound of Only Ever Yours – always ready for something Atwood-y!

  3. David

    Thank-you for doing the two lists again, Simon – I did miss it last year (it had become a bit of a Savidge Reads tradition). I’ve only read two of those but agree they’re both corkers: ‘Any Human Heart’ I read when it was Booker-longlisted and it was my introduction to Boyd; and ‘The Redemption of Galen Pike’ is a wonderful collection, a deserved winner of this year’s Frank O’Connor Award.

    I’ve just had a look through my reading list for the year and these would be my top ten pre-2015 reads:

    1. The Jewel in the Crown – Paul Scott, 1966: I read all four of his Raj Quartet books this year, and all were superb, but the first volume was just the best thing I read this year, new or old.

    2. Rhapsody – Dorothy Edwards, 1927: this collection of short stories and a novella are all Edwards wrote before her early death which means we were tragically robbed of what could have been one of the great voices of twentieth century British literature. She writes like a Welsh Katherine Mansfield.

    3. The Ballad of Desmond Kale – Roger McDonald, 2005: why this winner of the Miles Franklin Award has never been published in the UK is a mystery. Set in convict-era Australia it’s a big sprawling Dickensian epic. The faux-eighteenth century style takes some getting used to, but it is richly rewarding.

    4. Happy All the Time – Laurie Colwin, 1978: Colwin is fast becoming one of my favourite writers. Here she does what ought to be impossible: tells a story about nice people getting married and being happy with no dramas happening to them. Her wit drew deserved comparisons with Jane Austen and makes the book such a joy to read.

    5. The Tivington Nott – Alex Miller, 1989: Having now read nearly all of Miller’s novels, this, his second novel, came as a bit of a surprise being set not in Australia but in England (Miller lived here until his late teens). It is as beautiful an evocation of the English countryside and nature as you’re likely to read.

    6. Eleven Kinds of Loneliness – Richard Yates, 1962: why have I waited until now to try Yates? Fantastic story collection.

    7. A Dance for the Moon – Richard Burns, 1986: Covering similar ground to Pat Barker’s ‘Regeneration’ which came a few years later, this is easily that novel’s equal. Sadly Burns never achieved the recognition he deserved and took his own life six years later having grown disillusioned with the publishing industry that garlanded a chosen few while everyone else toiled in obscurity. The novel has long been out of print but is well worth tracking down.

    8. Good Evening Mrs Craven – Mollie Panter-Downes, 1947-1965, coll. 1999: having read MP-D’s ‘One Fine Day’ a couple of years ago I was keen to try her stories and they don’t disappoint. Both Persephone collections are great but these wartime stories are for me her best. Fascinating too as they were written at the time so the tone changes and becomes darker as the war drags on.

    9. Beasts of the Southern Wild – Doris Betts, 1973: stories from the American South written at a time when race relations were only just moving beyond segregated buses and diners. Betts pulls no punches in this marvellously written collection.

    10. Cruising Paradise – Sam Shepard, 1996: a blend of fiction and (s)lightly fictionalised autobiography, this collection of stories cements Shepard’s position as one of my favourite short story writers. Sometimes they’re just dialogue like a movie script, sometimes travelogue, sometimes closer to prose poetry, always rewarding.

    • I thought I wouldn’t have read a single one of these BUT I HAVE!!! One of them. Good Evening Mrs Craven which I thought was marvellous. Corking lost David and thanks for making me, well asking me, to do this again. It’s been easier. Ish.

  4. Pingback: Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists Update - December 30th - Festival Gear

  5. My review of Any Human Heart was rejected by Amazon as offensive. Yes, the protagonist made me so angry I referred to him in language deemed unacceptable by the behemoth.

  6. Wasn’t Invisible Man a pleasant surprise. I read it a few years ago and was very impressed. I did think it went over much of the territory Mary Shelley and Robert Louis Stevenson had already travelled in Frankenstein and Jekyll/Hyde, but I really enjoyed it. An under-rated classic.

    P.S. I’m secretly really glad not to see a certain book mentioned here. I was worried.

  7. Hi Simon! I just wanted to leave a comment to say thank you! I’m feeling rough today and wanted to spend all day in bed, so I thought I’d do something useful and look for some new books to read with book group in the coming months. As always, you have once again provided me with far too many exciting choices! I’m about to get up and get down the library to get a few of the titles you’ve reviewed recently, and reminded me of a few authors I’ve been meaning to read for a while.
    I’m also glad that you loved ‘Any Human Heart’, I read it a few years ago and it’s one of my favourite books ever, I really missed it when it was over. Thank you and happy new year!

  8. Pingback: Savidge Reads’ Books of 2015 Part Two… | Savidge Reads

  9. I must find time to read The Miniaturist and And Then There Were None!

  10. I can’t wait to read The Bees, I ordered it when you first talked about it and it’s just sat on my shelf for the past 6 months.

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