Ah the holidays. A wonderful time of year, filled with fun, festivities and as many arbitrary and pointless lists as your brain can handle. As dumb as Top 10 lists actually are, there’s something to them, something that even I can’t escape. It’s like those stupid clickbait articles, where you have to click on the link to see which celebrities had a sex change and you don’t know why you’re doing it, but in that moment – that one pre-click moment – you realise that your entire life has been leading up to this point and all you want from now on is indeed to know which celebrities got a sex change. It’s a primal guttural urge. And even though you know, that website’s probably gonna give you malware you have to do it.
Of course Top 10 lists are good for reflection, but every time I read one, I feel it’s probably best experienced by the person who wrote it. This is precisely because they are good for reflection. As the writer, the structured list helps you to organise your thoughts – create your own time capsule of the year – one that you can come back to forever…or at least until Google gets drunk on power and burns the internet down.
So yeah, that’s my long-winded way of saying I’m probably writing this for myself more than you. And I hope that by establishing that upfront, this whole thing is going to feel slightly less masturbatory. But for anyone who does want to wrench their eyes through this list, I guess I better try and make it entertaining. So we’re going to lay down some ground rules here. Because nothing is more entertaining than rules.
This is the Top 5 books I read in 2016. That’s because I actually didn’t read that many books that came out in 2016. I mean, that truly would be a pointless list. Secondly, we’re only going to give an author one slot. Mainly because I don’t want this list to be dominated by Sarah Lotz (although that is a list I could truly get behind). And finally, original review scores are going to be thrown out the window. There’s a few review scores I look back on that I gave, but don’t ring true to how I feel now. Also, if I was just going to list the top 5 from my review scores I wouldn’t have to think about it. It’s just numbers at that point.
Alright, I think we’re ready. So with no further ado, here are the top 5 books I read in 2016:
Honourable Mentions: Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin (for being a hyped-up novel that actually kinda lived up to the hype), Skios by Michael Frayn (for being an entertaining farce novel) and Animal Farm by George Orwell (of course this would win best book really, but that would be unfair.)
5. In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
In a Dark Dark Wood took me by surprise towards the start of this year. In many ways it’s an unremarkable story. A hen party weekend in the middle of a wood goes south when the groom-to-be gets murdered. It’s a classic whodunit but it’s told really well. Ware crafts a great debut using familiar tropes of the genre to tell a solid story.
It’s old-school. A confined location. A limited set of suspects. It has echoes of a Christie novel. The protagonist, Nora, is flawed and convincing – the novel’s greatest strength, as the outsider who gets invited to her old friend’s hen party weekend. The novel explores themes of darkness, not just in the wood that surrounds the house, but in the characters themselves.
It’s not going to blow you away, but In a Dark Dark Wood is a really solid novel. It’s a shame Ware’s second novel The Woman in Cabin 10 burned up a lot of the goodwill I had for her.
4. The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
The Kind Worth Killing is about a guy called Ted and a plot to kill his cheating wife. At an airport bar, he meets the mysterious Lily, who agrees to help him. One of the beautiful things about this book is how simply it starts, and how quickly it manages to ramp up.
Another big part of The Kind Worth Killing is something I wasn’t able to mention in my review. And I don’t really want to mention it here either. See, The Kind Worth Killing is more three interconnected novellas, than a novel as a whole. Ted’s plight is only Part One. Two thirds of the novel are fantastic, and although the final part seems to get ahead of itself and trip over it’s own feet, it doesn’t affect my overall enjoyment.
The Kind Worth Killing is worth reading….
3. Slade House by David Mitchell
So I ended up not reviewing Slade House, mainly because I read it while doing Christmas hours at work. By the time I got a day off to review it, it seemed like the moment had passed. I tend to write a review the second I finish a book so it’s fresh. That was why Slade House fell off.
But that doesn’t mean Slade House isn’t great. A horror novel by David Mitchell, Slade House is about an old quaint manor house that cannot possibly exist. Accessible only through a small door in a dark alley, Slade House sits on land that was built over decades ago. Anyone who sets foot on the grounds of the manor is doomed to be the meals of two powerful entities, Norah and Jonah, a brother and sister who have found the secret of immortality.
Slade House reignited my interest in horror fiction, providing a set of vignettes about the various victims to fall prey of Norah and Jonah’s facades. It’s not perfect in any way, but I found it to be a enthralling and captivating read.
And it’s real spooky.
2. The Burning Air by Erin Kelly
The Burning Air was the first book I read this year. And it was almost the best. The Burning Air is a brutal revenge story centered around one family and their secrets. It’s beautifully written, packing in an insane amount of content in a way other authors rarely manage. There’s something almost An Inspector Calls-ish about the unfurling of the mystery, which sees the reader spending years with the characters. By the end, they almost feel like your own family. Which makes the final act all the more tense.
The Burning Air is a standard length novel, but it’s so rich and detailed that it feels a lot longer (in a really good way though). And the title actually makes sense after you’ve read it.
Simply put, The Burning Air is phenomenal.
1. Day Four by Sarah Lotz
Hot damn, Sarah Lotz is an amazing writer. Her high-concept, multi-layered novels had me giddy with excitement when I found them in the middle of the year. Her debut, The Three, was a world-encompassing science fiction thriller about creepy children that inexplicably survived separate plane crashes. It was fantastic, but Lotz’s follow-up Day Four just edged it.
In Day Four, the passengers on a cruise ship start to come down with a mysterious illness. Through the eyes of five protagonists, we see the horror unfold as the ship’s engines fail and the situation goes from bad to worse. Toying with sci-fi horror elements, Day Four can be deeply unsettling.
The best part? Day Four exists in the same universe as The Three, and the story manages to tie itself in with the events of it’s predecessor. It seems that Lotz is laying the groundwork for something big. Even bigger than the end of Day Four which is pretty mind-blowing in it’s own right.
Sarah Lotz’s writing and storytelling excited me in a way nothing else did in 2016. It speaks to me as a reader and as a writer. Ratchet everything up to 11 straight away for maximum entertainment and fun. The Three and Day Four are massively entertaining and it’s easy to tell that Lotz is having a great time writing it.
Day Four is, without question, my favourite book of 2016.
And there we have it. But the festivities aren’t over. Tomorrow, I will be braving the garbage fire and looking at the 5 worst books I read in 2016 and oh boy, is it a doozy!