Jo’s top 10 of 2012

My top 10 books of the 2012 :

Tiny Sunbirds Far Away by Christie Watson
The story of Blessing, a 12-year-old living in Lagos, who is forced to leave her comfortable life after her father’s indiscretion to live in her grandmother’s village in the Niger Delta. Here she has to adjust to living in vastly different conditions, and trains to take over her grandmother’s trade of being a birth attendant. It’s a beautifully written book which vividly describes life in Africa, the fraught political situation, horrific practises in female circumcision, and some warm wise words and proverbs by Blessing’s grandmother. A wonderful novel.

Glasshopper by Isabel Ashdown
I read both of Isabel Ashdown’s novels this year and loved them both, though this one possibly remains my favourite. The book jumps between two narratives: the story of Jake, a 13-year-old boy living in a coastal town in the 1980s with his alcoholic mother, Mary, trying to look after her and his younger brother, after his father left unable to cope with his wife’s drinking; set against the story of Mary’s difficult life. It’s a gritty, thought-provoking book and I was constantly in awe of Isabel Ashdown’s writing – her attention to detail was superb and reminded me of growing up during the 1980s. I can’t wait for her next book, due this year….

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
On her 18th birthday, Victoria leaves her life of care homes to find her own way in the world. She has no home, no job, but she does know about the language of flowers from one of her foster carers, and her gift with flowers leads her to a job in a florist where she makes a name for herself by making up bouquets with special meanings. The story alternates between the present day and the beautiful year she spent with the lady who taught her about flowers and builds to the event that fractured their relationship and hurt this damaged child even more. It’s a beautiful story of love and trust, and I loved the book of flowers referred to throughout.

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Green
I picked this one up by chance but was so glad that I did. Welcome to the vividly imagined world of imaginary friends! The story is told by Budo, the imaginary friend of an 8-year-old autistic boy called Max. Max goes missing from school one day and the only person who knows what has happened is Budo. But Budo cannot tell anybody because the only one who can see or hear him is Max so he has to enlist the help of other imaginary friends to save his imaginer. This is a startlingly original novel and I loved the variety of imaginary friends.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
This is a very special book. It tells the story of the Lake family, who move home after the father, Samuel Lake, a preacher, finds himself without a congregation for a year. It’s a hugely powerful novel about families, faith, miracles, God, love and hope, good and evil and it’s beautifully told with warmth and honesty. I loved the daughter Swan Lake, and the way the family dealt with all the tragedies that it faced. Jenny Wingfield is a screenwriter and her prose is wonderfully visual. Read it!

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
When studying Classics at Uni, I spent a very happy term reading the Iliad and the Odyssey, so I was really excited when I heard about this novel, and for me, it didn’t disappoint. I loved it. It’s a fresh and beautifully written take on a classic tale – the story of The Iliad, told through the eyes of Patroclus – and it is a book I would definitely read again (probably after dusting off my old copy of The Iliad). It’s strong, beautiful, passionate, tough, cruel and sad. I’ve heard a whisper she is doing a similar novel based on the Odyssey – all I can say is bring it on!!!

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
OK, so I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but it was definitely worth the wait! It’s the story of 3 women living in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s, told through the eyes of the characters in alternating chapters. There’s Aibileen, a black maid raising her 17th white child, Minny, a black maid with a reputation for excellent cooking and a fiery temper, and Skeeter, a white girl who has returned from college to find her black maid has disappeared. It’s a story about race, women, friendships, relationships, truth, love, hatred and the pressure of social groups. It is superbly written, with a huge heart and some wonderful characters. I laughed, I cried, and I couldn’t put it down.

The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
I think this made it onto several ‘book of the year’ lists! This is the story of Allen, who climbed out of his window on his 100th birthday and became the centre of a madcap adventure with an ever-increasing cast of characters and a suitcase full of money. Along the way, we hear the story of Allen’s life, a mild-mannered, apolitical man who somehow became involved in every major political event in his lifetime, often involving dynamite! It’s an intelligent comedy, completely crazy and very funny.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
This is a magical fairy tale that had me captivated throughout. It’s the story of an elderly couple who moved to the remote wilderness of Alaska to start a new life and escape from their sadness at not being able to have children. They struggle in the harsh landscape and their relationship is strained. One night, they built a snowgirl, dress her in gloves and mittens, and the next day she has disappeared, replaced by a real child. The story drifts between magic and reality as they rebuilt their lives and love with the help of this tiny girl. It’s a story of love and survival and one of the most beautiful books I’ve read.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
This is a charming, engaging book about an unlikely hero, Harold Fry, a 65-year-old man, who has recently retired and has led a quiet, sheltered life in Devon (with holidays in Eastbourne). One day, Harold receives a letter from an ex-colleague, Queenie, whom he hasn’t seen for years. She is dying in a hospice in Berwick Upon Tweed. He scribbles a short reply, sets out to post it, and just keeps walking, believing that he will save Queenie by walking to her. It is a wonderful story about love, death, faith, and regret. It shows you how you should never judge somebody from their appearance, and makes you think about different lives and the little things we never know about people



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