The Best Books of 2013 and 2014

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Author Jess Ruston reflects on this year’s top reads and previews the most exciting New Year launches


Much of my reading this year has either been research for stuff I’m writing, or board books I read to my toddler, and I’m not going to include a long list of books on addiction, psychopaths, forensic science or PANTS (though if you’re looking for a present for a small child, Homer the Library Cat has been one of my daughter’s hits of 2013. But I have managed to squeeze some fiction in around the edges, and here are some of the novels I’ve found most interesting.


Night Film, by Marisha Pessl


I loved Marisha Pessl’s debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and was really looking forward to this. It’s a clever, creepy tale in which the daughter of a Kubrick-esque cult film director is found dead in a warehouse, and journalist Scott McGrath’s obsessive journey to find out what happened to her. Pessl tells the story using all sorts of ephemera and different techniques, and pulls it off brilliantly. Someone should have taken a red pen to her colossal overuse of italics, though.


Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld


This is an excellent portrayal of sisterhood, with all its gulfs and its glory, told via the relationship between Kate and Violet, two very different sisters who share a skill – they’re both psychic. This is one of those books where the author manages to pull off that difficult thing – sustaining a compelling narrative without a huge amount happening in the way of plot. Astute and emotionally accurate.


Big Brother by Lionel Shriver


Based on the real life story of her own brother’s battle with – and death from – obesity, this is an unusually constructed novel that has much to say about our relationship with our bodies and the culture of fat and thin that we all live within. One to make you think.


Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter


Italy in the 60s, film stars and sets, lost lovers and long hidden secret hopes – Beautiful Ruins is a slow, sun-drenched book that stayed with me long after I’d finished it. It’s hard to categorise because it has various different parts, each with their own individual tone – there’s satire, romance, comedy… It’s a divisive book, and not one that I’d be confident everyone will love, but if you’re on for something a bit different, it’s well worth a try.


Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler


Talking of books where not much happens, this isn’t out till next March but it’s completely brilliant and my hot tip for next Spring. It’s nostalgic, touching, funny and wonderfully written, full of characters who you fall in love with and who keep you reading till the very end. It’s about growing up, friendship, the mistakes we make along the way and the people we keep coming back to – it’s about home, and it’s just lovely.


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Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty


This is my book of 2013, it’s both an amazingly gripping psychological thriller and a literary novel of serious weight. Not many writers can combine both, but Louise Doughty has managed it. The story of a female scientist on trial for murder and the events that led her to that point is brutal and pulls no punches, but it was so worth the emotional trauma that I suffered while reading it. It’s about obsession, shame, regret, passion, marriage – it’s about more things than I can sum up in a few lines. Do read it.






And a peek into my amazon wishlist – some I’m looking forward to in 2014:


The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh: Lots of people are talking about this, and the cover is pulling me in…


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: I know it’s already out, but it’s so incredibly long that I’m saving it for the Christmas break so I’m counting it in next year’s lot. The Secret History is one of my all time favourite novels, so I have high hopes for this…


The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes: We all adored and sobbed over Me Before You, and I love the sound of Jojo Moyes’s new novel. Sweet cover as well.


The Ties That Bind by Erin Kelly: Very excited about this one, Erin Kelly writes absolutely cracking psychological thrillers, so even though there’s no info available about this one yet, I know it’ll be worth pre-ordering.


Before We Met – Lucie Whitehouse: I loved her debut, The House at Midnight, and this sounds intriguing.


Jess’ latest book, The Lies You Told Me, is available now.


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