It’s that time of year when the papers are full of round ups of the best books of 2012, and we hope that you’ll indulge us if we sum up the books that we have read and loved in the last twelve months. Hopefully you’ll find something here that I’ve picked out six of my absolute favourites, and then we’ve a full list of recommendations from the Eason books team for you to enjoy!
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Absolutely and unequivocally my favourite book of the year, and one that features on the lists of almost all of our book buying team (credit for discovering this one must go to our colleague Stephen Boylan, who was the first to spot it!). Set in a small American college, following the fortunes of talented outsider Henry and his baseball team, it’s a book that takes in a huge sweep of human experience. Forget the fact that it’s about baseball (unless, of course, you’re a baseball fan, in which case read it immediately): this book is about hopes and dreams and striving to win – or even to keep going – when things are tough. It’s a huge and satisfying novel but nonetheless I literally read it in one sitting, absolutely spellbound.
Broken Harbour by Tana French
We all have our favourite genres and I must confess that I’m not much of a crime reader, but a new Tana French is always a forsake-all-other-books event for me, and Broken Harbour did not disappoint. A deserved winner of this year’s Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction, this is a superb piece of writing. Opening with the brutal murder of a family of four in a ghost estate in north Dublin, the book is in turns gripping and unsettling but always compelling and insightful. Tana captures the hopes and aspirations of the Celtic tiger and the dire disappointments of its aftermath in a way that no other writer has.
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
This is ‘the one that got away’ for 2012: a brilliant book that didn’t sell nearly as many copies as it deserved to! The premise of the book is simple, but very chilling: the earth has begun to slow. Days and nights start to last longer. Birds fall out of the sky, confused by the change in gravitational pull. Crops slowly fail. Society divides into those who observe the old clock, and those who try to keep pace with the new one. Suspicions grow and communities divide. In the midst of this slowly creeping dystopia, teenage Julia is struggling with her new life as well as the usual challenges of that stage of life. A brilliant, thoughtful and atmospheric book: definitely worth a read!
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
The outstanding Irish literary debut of 2012, without a doubt. This book became an instant word-of-mouth favourite in the Irish bookselling world, and we were all delighted when Donal won the Best Newcomer Award at the Irish Book Awards this year. Set in small town Ireland, centred loosely around one violent event, it has huge emotional range. The many voices of the community tell the story, and the scope of Donal Ryan’s writing talent is showcased as each voice is honest, powerful and unique. Disturbing and at times brutal, but with an underlying warmth and understanding of human nature, this really is a magnificent book. We look forward to hearing more from Donal Ryan.
The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
This was certainly one of the most hyped books of the year – would it live up to the magic of Harry Potter? I must confess, I read it more out of a sense of duty initially: the machinations of a small town English residents’ committee didn’t seem like the most appealing subject matter! But a few pages in and I was hooked. All of human life is featured in the small town of Pagford and its community: from petty vanities and rivalries to the depths of grief, and the complexities of love and obsession. The book explores social class and snobbery with a sharp and critical eye. A very satisfying read, and one that establishes JK Rowling as an adult writer to follow.
Wonder by RJ Palacio
Warm, wise, funny, inspiring and heartbreaking, this is a gorgeous ‘crossover’ novel – one that works for both adults and kids. Ten year old Auggie is born with a serious facial disfigurement, and it is in his voice that the story is told. Loved and supported by his parents, he makes the decision to move from home school to high school, where he is met with a huge range of responses: from kindness to cruelty, embarrassment to attention, encouragement to avoidance. Auggie’s voice is brave and honest, and stayed with me for months after I put the book down.
Our Eason Team Favourites
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
The House of Memories by Monica McInerney
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Every month here at Eason Book Club, we choose a selection of titles that we think book clubs around the country will enjoy. The subject matter is always varied, always topical, with something to appeal to all tastes. This month’s choices include a harrowing story of a child on trial for murder (The Guilty One), a gripping account of the psychological impact of war (The Yellow Birds), a child born into a fragile world on the eve of the German invasion of France (The Confidant), a marriage with a dark ending (The Rose Petal Beach) and a new narrative on love and war from the critically-acclaimed author of Birdsong (A Possible Life).
As well as new titles, we also like to highlight authors’ older works that we feel deserve some more recognition. This week’s choice is David Guterson’s modern day reimagining of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex in which a risk assessor takes the biggest risk of his own life and sleeps with his not-entirely-legal au pair, resulting in a string of serious consequences, not least the birth of the eponymous character, Ed King.
Next up is Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question, which tells the story of a group of old acquaintances who come together one evening to reminisce about the past in this clever, darkly comical but ultimately very wise novel by the winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize and self-confessed “Jewish Jane Austen”.
Later in the month, we highlight one of our favourite novels of last year, Sebastian Barry’s On Canaan’s Side in which we meet Lily Bere, an elderly woman mourning the loss of her beloved grandson and looking back on the many difficulties she’s had to deal with throughout her life, from the moment she was forced to flee Ireland in the early 20th century and build a new life for herself in America. Covering several decades and continents, this is a story that is at once epic and intimate, as Sebastian Barry delicately weaves Lily’s tale with his trademark prose and attention to detail. Near perfect! And if you’ve already enjoyed Barry’s novel, may we recommend Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville, involving another epic ocean crossing, this time to Australia. Sarah must embark on a journey into her past in order to save her relationship, in this novel about love, tangled histories and how it matters to keep stories alive.
And finally, to finish up the month, we have The Midwife’s Daughter by Patricia Ferguson, a moving tale of love, prejudice, tragedy, bravery and the changing lives of women in the early twentieth century. Violet has delivered many of the town’s children in her capacity as handywoman but with medical advances, her calling is dying out. For Violet and Grace, a young black orphan and Violet’s adopted daughter, the coming war will bring more upheaval into their lives: can they endure it, or will they, like so many, be swept aside by history’s tide?
There’s only one way to find out!
Every month here at Eason Book Club, we choose a selection of books that we think book clubs around the country will enjoy. The selection of 4-8 books is always varied, always topical, with something to appeal to all tastes. This month choices deal with a very broad range of subjects:
A single survivor in an apocalyptic world.
A lonely Irishwoman’s struggles on the plains of Africa.
A shocking crime.
An old man on a mission.
A relationship torn apart by war.
A woman scorned.
A family mystery.
Cannibalism, terrorism and castration in Siberia.
In Dog Stars by Peter Heller, we meet Hig, lone survivor of a flu that killed everyone he knew. He lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, and flies the perimeter of the airfield in his 1956 Cessna. Sometimes he sneaks off to the mountains to fish and pretends that things are the way they used to be. One day, a random transmission beams through his radio, the voice igniting a hope deep inside him that a better life exists beyond the airport. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return–not enough fuel to get him home–following the trail of the static-broken voice on the radio. But what he encounters and what he must face is both better and worse than anything he could have imagined.
Duty and love collide on the arid plains of central South Africa in Barbara Mutch’s The Housemaid’s Daughter. It’s 1919 and Cathleen Harrington leaves her home in Ireland for South Africa, to marry the fiancé she has not seen for five years. Isolated and estranged in a harsh landscape, she finds solace in her diary and the friendship of her housemaid’s daughter, Ada. Cathleen recognises in her someone she can love and respond to in a way that she cannot with her own husband and daughter. Under Cathleen’s tutelage, Ada grows into an accomplished pianist, and a reader who cannot resist turning the pages of the diary, discovering the secrets Cathleen sought to hide. When Ada is compromised and finds she is expecting a mixed-race child, she flees her home, determined to spare Cathleen the knowledge of her betrayal, and the disgrace that would descend upon the family. Scorned within her own community, Ada is forced to carve a life for herself, her child, and her music. But Cathleen still believes in Ada, and risks the constraints of apartheid to search for her and persuade her to return with her daughter.
A summer’s evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse – the banality of work, the triviality of holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened. This is The Dinner by Hermann Koch. The sons of the couples in question have committed a terrible crime and each is looking for someone to blame. Touted as this year’s answer to The Slap, it may not be quite as shocking but it is very, very good.
Jonas Jonasson’s One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared begins, unsurprisingly, on the one-hundredth birthday of Allan Karlsson. Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, he is waiting for the party he-never-wanted-anyway to begin. The mayor will be there; the press will be there but… as it turns out, Allan will not. Slowly but surely, Allan climbs out of his bedroom window and makes his getaway, embarking on an epic journey involving criminals, murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, we learn about his earlier life and how he came to be a participant behind the scenes in many key events of the twentieth century. This book is quirky, entertaining and a lot of fun.
From a distance, Michael and Jolen Zarkades seem to have it all: a solid dependable marriage, exciting careers and children they adore. But after twelve blissful years together, the couple has lost their way. They are unhappy and edging towards divorce. Then an unexpected deployment tears their already fragile family apart, sending one of them deep into harm’s way and leaving the other at home, caring for the children and waiting for news. When the worst happens, each must face their darkest fear and fight for the future of their family. Home Front by Kristin Hannah is an intimate look at the inner landscape of a disintegrating marriage and a dramatic exploration of the price of war. Linksave.
First published in 2008, Ron Rash’s Serena received critical acclaim in the writer’s home country but was slow to cross the water. With a film adaptation starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence coming in 2013, now is the perfect time to introduce our Book Clubbers to this wonderful piece of American literature. The year is 1929, and newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton arrive from Boston in the North Carolina Mountains to create a timber empire. Serena is new to the mountains – but she soon shows herself the equal of any worker, overseeing crews, hunting rattlesnakes, even saving her husband’s life in the wilderness. Yet she also learns that she will never bear a child. Serena’s discovery will set in motion a course of events that will change the lives of everyone in this remote community. As the Pembertons’ intense, passionate marriage starts to unravel, this riveting story of love, passion and revenge moves toward its shocking reckoning.
Emilie de la Martinieres has always fought against her aristocratic background but after the death of her mother, she finds herself alone in the world and sole inheritor of her grand childhood home in the south of France. An old notebook of poems leads her in search of the mysterious and beautiful Sophia, whose tragic love affair changed the course of her family history. As Emilie unravels the story, she too embarks on her own journey of discovery, realising that the chateau may provide clues to her own difficult past and finally unlock the future. From the author of the bestselling Hothouse Flower, Lucinda Riley’s Light Behind the Window is a breath-taking and intense story of love, war and, above all, forgiveness.
Siberia, 1919. In the outer reaches of a country torn apart by civil war lives a small Christian sect. Stationed in their midst is a company of Czech soldiers, on the losing side of the recent conflict and desperate to get home. Into this isolated community trudges Samarin, an escapee from Russia’s northernmost prison. His arrival intrigues many of the locals, including Anna Petrovna, a beautiful young war widow, but when the local shaman is found dead, suspicion and terror engulf the little town… The People’s Act of Love by James Meek is an epic drama of desire and sacrifice, a grand tale for modern times.
The choice is yours! Which one will you pick?