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I am going to have to begin this post by pointing out that not only was it really difficult to whittle my favourite books of the last 10 years down to my solid favourites…but I also can’t believe that it has even been a decade. When I sit back and consider all that has happened, I suppose 10 years is a reasonable length of time but still…a whole decade. Whew.
One of the main things I think you will quickly realise about my choice of books is that how much a book resonates with me very much comes down to strong characters. I’ve always known that I was a character-driven reader but apparently that is what really makes a book stick with me. And it’s also worth noting that I cried at the end of almost every single one of the books included on this list. Not necessarily because the plot was sad (although some were tear-jerkers) but because when I read that final word and closed the book, I was also having to let go of the characters and for some of these characters that was quite difficult to do.
So, here they are…my favourite books of the last decade (NB these are in no particular order):-
Once Upon A River – Diane Setterfield
This is historical fiction with some fantasy/magical realism elements. It’s a slow, meandering story which I found quite jarring at first but actually once I got into the rhythm of it, I found to be entirely fitting given that it is set against the backdrop of the River Thames. I loved the beautiful writing, the rich description and the gradual way we discover the secrets of each character involved. It concludes semi-satisfactorily as well, if perhaps a little too conveniently.
The Nightingale – Kristen Hannah
The Nightingale is a tear-jerking World War II historical fiction novel and was the first Kristen Hannah book I ever picked up. I think I was a little spoilt as it has fast become one of the books I recommend the most to people (which sadly I can’t say about the other Hannah’s I’ve read). It is the story of two sisters, who are extremely different, but who are both courageous, loyal and determined throughout the most harrowing of circumstances. I really enjoyed the relationship between the two sisters and how they remained close even throughout their differences. This is ultimately a story of love, and of bravery. I highly recommend it.
Circe – Madeline Miller
Here is a book I have not stopped talking about since I read the last page. I am a real believer in there being a right time, and therefore a wrong time, to pick up a book and where you are in life whether you situation or just emotionally, can really impact your reading experience. I think when I read Circe it was absolutely the perfect time because there was something so captivating and enchanting about it; and I still really struggle to express why I loved it so much! Circe is a Greek mythological re-telling which is very character driven and something about Circe really caught at me. It’s beautifully written, haunting and moving. And hands down one of the best books I have ever read.
Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo
Six of Crows and it’s sequel Crooked Kingdom are two of my all time favourite books. They are Young Adult dark fantasy, fast-paced books with a diverse cast of characters. The basic story is that you have 6 outcasts who are given the opportunity to win their fortune, if they can first complete a seemingly impossible heist. This book/these books fulfilled my love of ‘grey’ characters. That is, characters who are a bit savage and make some very questionable decisions but who have a strong moral code of their own and are, essentially, still good at their core (even if it’s only a teeny tiny bit). There is also a magic system which is just on point. Another set of books I recommend on a very regular basis.
The Emperor Series – Conn Iggulden
I’m cheating a bit here by recommending an entire series but in all honesty, I feel like Conn Iggulden is a bit of an underrated author in the book community and I don’t understand why! His Emperor series is historical fiction which is essentially a coming of age story set in ancient Rome. We follow Julius Caesar from young boy right through to his bloody end but Oh My Goodness…this series of books is incredible and I’m actually stunned that there aren’t more people talking about them. Yes, Iggulden has taken liberties and in places this is a somewhat romanticised version of Caesar’s story…but I adored it.
The Mistborn Trilogy – Brandon Sanderson
Okay, okay, so I’m cheating again a little bit here (and it won’t be the last time in this list that I choose a series. Sorry, not sorry) but the reason I’ve opted for the entire of this high fantasy, adult trilogy is because I truly think you have to be willing to stick with the whole series in order to see and appreciate how masterful a storyteller Brandon Sanderson is. On their own the books are not necessarily fast-paced, although they are full of twists and turns, but when you reach the end and everything begins to fall into place…well, then come and talk to me. These may not be for the fantasy beginners but they are totally worth persevering with.
The Farseer Trilogy – Robin Hobb
Again, this is high fantasy and is definitely not for those who like pacey reads as these books are all about the characters. I mentioned before about there being a ‘right’ time to read books and I can clearly remember when I read this trilogy. Meg was only small (I may even have started when I was pregnant with her) and we lived in a little bungalow. In Meg’s nursery there was a rocking chair and I would often sit there to read whilst she napped. I have such clear memories of being completely absorbed in this story and of being totally bereft when it finished. Not because the story was sad, but because I had just walked a long, long journey with a cast of characters that even now I still feel emotional about discussing. I will forever be a fan of the Fool. Period.
Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel
This is dystopian/post-apocalyptic fiction which turned out to be one of those quiet books; the ones that somehow burrow their way in, and grip you, but you can’t quite explain why (see Circe above!) This book is simple, yet stunning, and it’s also very plausible which I think gives it a terrifying edge. We are following a dual-timeline: the immediate aftermath when a deadly virus hits North America and twenty years later as a band of performers traverses what is left of society. This is an intriguing and fascinating read which really makes you stop and consider the things you consider important. After all ‘survival is insufficient’.
The Girl Who Drank The Moon – Kelly Barnhill
Including this middle-grade book took me by surprise but once I had started to consider it, I simply couldn’t leave it out. It’s a wonderful, whimsical story with quirky characters but what really makes this book stand out is the fact that it has so many layers. On the surface it is a simple and entertaining children’s story but as you progress through you realise it’s a tale of consequence, of hope, of love and of forgiveness. I challenge anyone to read this and not take away something. The fact that it is also beautifully written also helps.
The King Raven Trilogy – Stephen Lawhead
Another author I consider to be seriously underrated in the book community is Stephen Lawhead. I’ve enjoyed almost everything I’ve read of his, and his re-telling of the classic Robin Hood story is no different. Lawhead’s re-imagining sees the story take place in Wales and at a different time in history. His books are essentially historical fiction but always contain a hint of something more; some Celtic magic or folklore which makes everything seem that bit more exciting. If you like historical fiction with some magical realism thrown in, wonderful character development and rich, descriptive writing then this will absolutely be a book for you to try. Again…I wept buckets when I reached the finale. Hood, you have a piece of my heart.
So there you have it. A tricky list to make but I hope that if you’ve been considering any of the books I’ve mentioned that this post gives you a nudge to pick them up. I think it will be worth it.