Best Books of 2013

Bloggers’ end-of-year posts have been appearing for a few weeks now and I’ve enjoyed reading them, but I like to leave compiling my own list until the end of December as there’s always a chance I might read something wonderful in the final days of the year. With only two days to go now, I know I won’t be finishing any more books in 2013 so I thought it would be safe to post my list today! And here they are: my favourite books of the year, in alphabetical order.

Aurora Floyd

Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

(Read in March)

From my review: “Aurora Floyd, like Lady Audley’s Secret, is a Victorian sensation novel which means you can expect a story filled with mystery, murder and family secrets…It has been a few years since I last read anything by Mary Elizabeth Braddon and I had forgotten how much I like her writing.”

Bring up the Bodies

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

(Read in July)

From my review: “By allowing us to follow events through Cromwell’s eyes, Mantel makes what to many of us is a familiar story feel like a fresh and interesting one – and in a world already filled with Tudor novels this is a real accomplishment!”

Captain Blood

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

(Read in July)

From my review: “With my general dislike of books set on ships I thought the seafaring elements might be too much for me. I was wrong. Captain Blood is another wonderful book…I recommend giving it a try even if pirate stories don’t sound appealing to you, as it’s worth reading this one just to meet Peter Blood!”

Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

(Read in May)

From my review: “Of all the Hardy novels that I’ve read, with the possible exception of Under the Greenwood Tree, this is the most pastoral, with lots of beautiful descriptions of the countryside and lots of information on farming and agriculture. I should now be able to shear sheep, hive bees, forecast the weather by watching the movements of slugs and toads, and deal with a fire in a hayrick! (Well, maybe not.)”

The Golem and the Djinni

The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

(Read in August)

From my review: “As a first novel, The Golem and the Djinni was a very ambitious one but everything worked perfectly. There were so many things about this book that impressed me – the beautiful writing, the clever plot, the blending of fantasy with historical fiction, and most of all, the wonderful characterisation of both Chava and Ahmad.”

The Iron King

The Iron King by Maurice Druon

(Read in February)

From my review: “Originally published in the 1950s, this is the first in the seven-volume “Accursed Kings” series and tells the story of a fascinating period of French history. The Iron King was one of the most entertaining historical fiction novels I’ve read for a while…with a plot involving murder, torture, poisonings, court intrigue, and family feuds, there was always something happening.”

King Hereafter

King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett

(Read in June)

From my review: “King Hereafter is set in eleventh-century Orkney and Scotland (known at that time as Alba) and is based around the idea that Macbeth, the historical King of Alba, and Thorfinn, Earl of Orkney, were the same person…Although the Lymond Chronicles are still my favourites, I can definitely see why some people would consider this Dorothy Dunnett’s best book. It’s amazingly detailed and well-researched, as well as being a very powerful and emotional story.”

Life After Life

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

(Read in April)

From my review: “Life After Life is a very clever, complex novel; I was so impressed by it! With such an unusual and complicated plot it could have been a disaster, but it wasn’t; I thought everything worked perfectly and although I found it confusing at first, after the first few chapters I knew I was going to love the book.”

Like This For Ever

Like This, For Ever by S.J. Bolton

(Read in April)

From my review: “I found the mystery very difficult to solve – there were several times when I was convinced I knew who the murderer was, only to be proved wrong, wrong and wrong again! I was completely taken by surprise by most of the plot twists (and there are a lot of them). I should have remembered that nothing is ever as it seems in a Bolton novel and if things appear too obvious, it’s usually because they are.”

The Lions of Al-Rassan

The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

(Read in August)

From my review: “Although this novel is set in a fictional land, the parallels with a real period of history made me feel that I was gaining a better understanding of medieval Spain. But as well as the history, there’s also a lot of drama and excitement throughout the novel…What I really loved about this book, though, was the portrayal of the three main characters and the relationships between them.”

The Midwich Cuckoos

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

(Read in October)

From my review: “I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but The Midwich Cuckoos was probably the perfect type of science fiction for me – instead of being filled with too much action or violence, it’s a subtle, thought provoking portrayal of a small, seemingly normal community trying to cope with something that is threatening their way of life.”

The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil by W Somerset Maugham

(Read in March)

From my review: “I really didn’t expect to love this as much as I did. I’m so pleased to find that I was wrong! The Painted Veil is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. I found Maugham’s writing much easier to read than I had thought it might be, but also filled with beauty, poignancy and emotion.”

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

(Read in January)

From my review: “This, his most famous novel, is part horror story, part murder mystery and part gothic fiction, but it also incorporates elements of religion, Scottish folklore, the supernatural and even some humour and satire…this is one of the most fascinating and original classics I’ve read and I can’t believe it isn’t better known.”

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

(Read in November)

From my review: “This is the sixth Dickens novel I’ve read and my favourite so far. I think part of the reason I loved this book so much was that in many ways it was very different from the others I’ve read… I don’t want to say too much and spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but the ending is heartbreaking. This is the first Dickens novel that has made me cry!”

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (re-read)

(Read in March)

From my review: “I love Alexandre Dumas and although The Three Musketeers is not my favourite of the novels of his that I’ve read I still think it’s a wonderful book with some great characters. I had forgotten enough so that I could be surprised by the twists and turns of the plot, but remembered just enough to be able to look forward to some of my favourite parts.”

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

(Read in June)

From my review: “This is the first book by Guy Gavriel Kay I’ve read, although I’ve been aware of his books for years and am now annoyed with myself for waiting so long to actually read one! I loved Tigana – not unreservedly, but enough to make it one of my books of the year so far.”

Twenty Years After

Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas

(Read in September)

From my review: “I found Twenty Years After a much more complex book than The Three Musketeers…but there’s still plenty of swashbuckling adventure and I definitely thought this book was just as much fun to read as the first one. As I expected, Twenty Years After has definitely been one of my most enjoyable reads of the year! The Vicomte de Bragelonne awaits…”


Have you read any of these books? What are the best books you’ve read this year?

This will be my final post of 2013 so I’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year!

32 thoughts on “Best Books of 2013

  1. Lisa says:

    A very Happy New Year! What a great list – Life After Life will be on mine as well. I couldn’t resist adding Twenty Years After to my TBR stacks, after your original review, and I also have some of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books (recommended long ago by Dunnett fans, since he is such an admirer of her books), and also The Painted Veil, You’ve been bad for my TBR stacks this year I hope 2014 brings you many wonderful books.

    • Helen says:

      Happy New Year to you too, Lisa. I was so pleased to discover Guy Gavriel Kay this year and am looking forward to reading more of his books soon. And I absolutely loved Twenty Years After…I can’t wait to continue with the rest of the d’Artagnan books!

    • Helen says:

      I was surprised by how much I loved The Golem and the Djinni as it’s not the type of book I usually choose to read. I’m so glad I decided to try it!

  2. Alex says:

    With the exception of the Hardy, to whom I am allergic, there is nothing there that I have read that I haven’t loved. As a consequence, everything I haven’t read has home straight onto my tbr list as (Hardy aberrations apart) you are clearly a woman of great taste and discernment:-)

    • Helen says:

      Thomas Hardy is one of my favourite Victorian authors, but I can certainly understand why you might be allergic to him. I’m glad you agree with some of my other choices, though!

  3. aartichapati says:

    King Hereafter made my best of list as well (it will be going up tomorrow). It was just so beautifully written, and oh, Groa! God, I loved her.

    The Lions of Al-Rassan is my favorite GGK book, so I am glad you enjoyed that one so much. I admit I didn’t love Tigana, mostly because that random romantic pairing at the end kind of soured it for me.

    I read Sabatini’s Scaramouche this year, so now I shall have to look into Captain Blood!

    Here’s hoping 2014 is a great reading year, too 🙂

    • Helen says:

      Oh, I loved Groa too. And Thorfinn, of course! I can’t decide which I liked best of the two GGK books I’ve read…they were both great and I can’t wait to read more of his work in 2014.

      I would highly recommend Captain Blood – I thought it was almost as good as Scaramouche!

  4. Candiss says:

    I love the eclectic nature of your list! The only one I’ve read is The Midwich Cuckoos, which I found much more interesting than I had expected to based on the movies it inspired. As is often the case, the book was much better, subtler, with more layers of meaning.

    I really want to read The Golem and the Djinni and The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, as well.

    • Helen says:

      The Private Memoirs and Confessions is a great book, though I don’t think I had even heard of it until this year! And I loved The Midwich Cuckoos…I don’t often read science fiction but I’m glad I decided to try that one.

  5. Fleur in her World says:

    What a wonderful list! We share two favourites (The Painted Veil and The Golem and the Djinni), but your list is full of authors I love, books I mean to read and authors I am excited to start reading (Kay, Dunnett and Dumas). I hope 2014 brings you more lovely books.

  6. heavenali says:

    Yay a Hardy on your list 🙂 I love Far from the Madding Crowd and I loved the Painted Veil when I read it years ago – I think I may have to re-read it one day. I also loved Bring up the Bodies and can’t wait for the next book. I just got a copy of Aurora Floyd for Christmas so I am delighted to see it on your list. It seems you have had a great year for books.

  7. Elena says:

    You did love Like This, For Ever! It was a great book, but I think not knowing the characters from the previous installments didn’t help me to find a way into the story. I’ll try the other Flint books though, as soon as possible.

    I’m glad Atkinson made it into your list too. Life After Life is her most complex and masterful work until now. Can’t wait for her next release.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, it might have been better to start with the first Lacey Flint book so that you can see how her character develops over the series. I think Like This, For Ever is my favourite of the series, though.

  8. Sam (@tinylibraryblog) says:

    This is such a great list! I’m so pleased that you enjoyed Tale of Two Cities as much as I did, it’s the best Dickens book I’ve read too.
    Your post has reminded me that I need to read some more Victorian sensation novels soon 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I have a few other Dickens books on my Classics Club list and am looking forward to reading them, but I’ll be surprised if I enjoy any of them as much as A Tale of Two Cities. And I love Victorian sensation novels! I hope you enjoy whichever ones you choose to read!

  9. Jo says:

    Happy New Year – such a wide variety of books I am ashamed at the lack of historical fiction I have read this year! You have tempted me to read some novels though from reading you blog, especially Maugham who I spotted a plentiful supply on the shelf in my local bookshop – and suddenly thought I probably should have read some of his!

    Looking forward to seeing what you read for 2014.

  10. piningforthewest says:

    Happy New Year to you too. What a great looking list, I’ve only read five of them, my favourite being the James Hogg, as you say, it should be better known than it is.

    • Helen says:

      I loved the James Hogg book! I knew nothing about it until my sister recommended it to me and I’m very glad she did as I might never have discovered it otherwise.

    • Helen says:

      I loved Bring Up the Bodies and am hoping we won’t have to wait too long for the final book in the trilogy. And I’m sure I’ll be reading more Hardy this year too. I have The Mayor of Casterbridge and The Return of the Native on my Classics Club list and am looking forward to both.

    • Helen says:

      Happy New Year to you too, Anna! I’ve seen Life After Life on a lot of people’s lists. It’s a great book and I’m looking forward to reading more Kate Atkinson soon.

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