So 2016 is nearly over (finally) and it’s time to look back on the book-year that’s been. And a great year it has been, especially for Irish fiction (which most of the books on this list are, I will admit).
According to Goodreads I’ve read 33 books this year, and I’ve enjoyed most of them. So it was tough to come up with the best ones for this list, but not impossible. There were definitely a few that stood out more than others, that have stayed with me for the whole year, that I’ve passed on to others and made sure that they’ve been enjoyed by as many people as possible.
So here’s the list of my favourite books from 2016:
‘The Dolocher’, by Caroline Barry
I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book when I first opened it. I haven’t read much historical fiction, but this definitely intrigued me. Described as Georgian Dublin’s very own Jack The Ripper, The Dolocher haunts the streets of Dublin, leaving a gruesome trail of blood and bodies behind him.
It’s rumoured that it’s the ghost of Olocher, a convicted murderer who slit his own throat in his cell before he could be hanged. The prison guards are convinced they saw the ghost come back as a half man, half black pig to continue Olocher’s work.
It’s good news for Solomon Fish, however, as sales of his broadsheet, packed full of stories of the Dolocher, are getting higher. But when he is himself attacked, he has to wonder if there is more to the story than meets the eye. Along with his landlady, Merriment O’ Grady, they have to discover if the tale of the Dolocher is just superstition, or if there is something more sinister happening on the streets of Dublin.
Despite my reservations I barely had to get a few pages into The Dolocher before I was hooked. It’s the perfect mix of murder-mystery, gory horror and comedic Dublin. It’s got fantastic characters in Merriment and Solomon. And not forgetting Janey Mack, the little girl that Merriment takes on as her apprentice. She serves as the comic relief and doesn’t disappoint with her unique take on life and hilarious pearls of wisdom.
I adored everything about this book by the time I finished it. And I was lucky enough to interview Caroline Barry for Pure M magazine, and I’m glad to say she is such a lovely person who didn’t seem to mind at all that I had no idea what I was doing. I’m already counting down the days until her next book comes out, so I would advise you to read The Dolocher now before it does.
‘Lying in Wait’, by Liz Nugent
My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle. But the lying tramp deserved it. And with that opening line, Liz Nugent has you hooked.
Lydia Fitzsimons desperately wants to forget about the murder of Annie and the fact that she’s now buried in her back garden. She tries to convince her husband, Andrew, that everything will be okay if they just pretend nothing happened and go on with their lives as normal. But the guilt gets too much for Andrew and he dies of a heart attack, leaving Lydia and their son Laurence alone.
Laurence, however, has some suspicions of his own. And as he grows closer to Annie’s family, Lydia knows she has to stop him from finding out and revealing her secret.
I’ll admit to you right now, I am slightly in love with Liz Nugent. I read this book in a state of complete awe. The story is gripping, the characters are horrible, yet believable. Lydia is on a par with Professor Umbridge for most detestable character, but she always seems credible. She is one of the most fascinating characters I have read in a long time. The things she does are despicable but she genuinely doesn’t see that any of it is wrong. She has one goal in mind: get Laurence to stay with her, and as long as that’s the end result, everything she does is fine to her.
We are given a backstory for her, that somewhat explains how her moral standpoint became so skewed. But it’s fascinating to see how she can manipulate the situation to suit her, despite Laurence’s best attempts to distance himself. Basically you won’t be able to put this book down until you find out what happens. It’s amazing. End of.
‘Sour’, by Alan Walsh
If you’re a fan of Irish mythology I can guarantee that you’ll enjoy Sour. It’s a modern day retelling of Deirdre of the Sorrows. It’s the story of Dee, a rebellious teenager who has been locked away by her father. When she finally manages to escape she runs away with her teenage boyfriend Cormac MacNessa, and his brother and local paper boy, Declan.
Annoyed at not getting his paper delivered, the town curmudgeon, Conall Donoghue takes it upon himself to find the missing children. With the help of a bunch of local misfits, he heads into the woods to locate the kids.
Sour is a mix of hilarious and heart wrenching. It’s narrating by a Puca: a mischievous, yet harmless spirit from Irish folklore, known for its shape-shifting abilities as well as its ability to be in more than one place at once. His little stories throughout the book serve as good comic relief (my favourite is the one about the goat who gets possessed by a banshee and becomes an accountant). A few familar faces from Irish folklore pop up throughout the book as well.
But it’s not all fun and games. If you know the story of Deirdre of the Sorrows (or if you just notice the fact that the word ‘sorrow’ is in the title) you’ll know that it’s not the most optimistic of tales, and Sour doesn’t deviate from that too much. But if you don’t mind shedding a tear or two then it’s well worth a read.
‘Lie With Me’, by Sabine Durrant
I hate when books are said to be ‘the next Gone Girl’. No book that says that is ever as good as Gone Girl, so I was cautious about reading this book when I saw the comparison on the blurb. But, surprisingly, Lie With Me hits that mark pretty well. It’s not as fast paced as Gone Girl, but it’s tense and keeps you guessing until the end.
Paul Morris is a liar. But it’s okay, because he only tells little lies. Like that he is a successful writer, rather than a has-been with a minor success years before. Or that he owns a luxury apartment, rather than that he house-sits for a friend.
The little lies work for him until he meets Alice, a friend of an old college acquaintance. He is mildly attracted to her, but the chance to one-up his college friend is too good to miss, so he agrees to go with them on their annual trip to Greece.
But when he gets there he finds out about a girl who went missing during their stay ten years before, and Alice has been obsessed with finding her since. As the police close in on what might have happened to her, Paul has to figure out if he’s the only person who has been lying this whole time.
Lie With Me is a book in which nothing really happens until the very end. There are a lot of little, somewhat insignificant events throughout the book, which all become ridiculously significant when you get to the end, and it’s fascinating to see how everything fits together.
Paul is another one of those characters that is absolutely despicable as a person, but you root for him. You know something isn’t right, even if you don’t know what, and the fact that he doesn’t seem aware makes you just want to shake him and shout ‘stop doing all of these stupid things’ right in his face.
The ending is satisfying, if not necessarily happy. But it’s definitely my kind of book.
‘The Girl From The Savoy’, by Hazel Gaynor
I’m slightly enamoured with the 1920s. The style, the music, the fact that a lot of Poirot stories are set then. What’s not to love? Hazel Gaynor’s The Girl From The Savoy is set just after World War I, and doesn’t disappoint in it’s depiction of the era.
Dorothy ‘Dolly’ Lane is starting a new job as a maid in the Savoy hotel in London. She is sure that this will be the break she needs to get into acting. The glamour of the hotel and its guests are hard to resist, but her past keeps creeping up and pulling her back.
Loretta May, a well loved star has received some bad news about her future that she can’t bring herself to share with her family and friends. She worries about her brother Perry and his fragile state since he came back from the War.
A chance encounter between Dolly and Perry leads the three to become friends, and as these friendships develop they have to find a way to accept everything that happened in their past so that they are able to get on with their future.
The Girl From The Savoy is chock full of 1920’s glitz and glamour. But Gaynor also manages to capture the jaded feeling of post-war Britain. The weariness of the soldiers that returned and the loss of independence that the women felt when they had to go back to their every-day lives. Both Dolly and Loretta felt self-sufficient in the jobs they took up during the war (working in an ammunitions factory and nursing, respectively) and both rue losing the freedom they felt during this time.
One of the best things about the books is the fact that these two women are strong female characters. Dolly never gives up on her dream despite so much being against her. And Loretta doesn’t let her situation stop her from doing what she loves. They’re both confident and spirited women who don’t often make the choices you would expect them to.
One thing I will say is, don’t be put off by the size of this book. Even though it’s well over 500 pages, it’s definitely worth it.
So those are the best books I read during 2016. I hope that I’ve convinced you to read them, if you haven’t already. Let me know what you’re favourite books of the year were.
Happy New Year everyone, see you in 2017 xx