Writers Write Reviewers Choose Their Top Books of 2013

We asked our regular book reviewers to send us their top five reads of 2013. The choices are as diverse and unpredictable as the business of publishing.

Amanda Patterson’s Top Five 

  1. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – What if you could go back and start again? Beautifully written, with complex, interesting, and fulfilling characters.
  2. Standing In Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin – Rebus is back. I never realised how much I missed him until I read this book. I never realised how much I missed the writing skills of Ian Rankin writing about Rebus. I do now.
  3. Levels Of Life by Julian Barnes – The story of the profound love Barnes has for his wife, Pat Kavanagh, who died in 2008. It is also the story of the opposite of that love, which is a grief equal in depth.
  4. Confessions Of A Sociopath by M.E. Thomas – The book is readable, as charming and seductive as the sociopath who is writing it
  5. Night Film by Marisha Pessl – Beautifully-written. Pessl’s intelligence shines through her words. She is profound and funny. This psychological mystery and thriller is vivid, mind-bending and makes you wonder about everything.

I want to mention three books I loved by South African Authors: Back to the Bush by James Hendry, The Space Race by Alex Latimer and A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz.

Anthony Ehlers’ Top Five 

  1. The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin. An alternative remedy book for bibliophiles, it hasn’t left my beside table.
  2. Private Berlin by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan. A cracking good thriller that illuminated Berlin’s fascinating post-Wall history.
  3. An Intimate War by Donve Lee. A lyrical and sensual love story between an artist and the man she loves, despite the odds.
  4. Arabella, the Moon and the Magic Mongongo Nut by Hamilton Wende. A charming book for children, it blends naturalism and fantasy beautifully.
  5. Solo by William Boyd. An elegant and nostalgic continuation of the James Bond franchise, the novel did Ian Fleming’s tradition proud.

Mia Botha’s Top Five 

  1. The Fault in our Stars by John Green – Just read it.
  2. Slated by Teri Terry – Believable and easy to read.
  3. The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton – Spine chilling, new insights, scary and did I mention spine-chilling?
  4. The Rook by Daniel O’ Malley – Bizarre, fun, re-inventing the old.
  5. Watching You by Michael Robotham – I keep checking for peep holes in my ceiling.

Pauline Vijveberg’s Top Five 

  1. Life after Life by Kate Atkinson -this was my most beautiful book of the year, well-structured, moving, full of detail and worth every minute of a sleepless night
  2. Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love by Sarah Butler Butler – because it’s original, funny, unexpected, heart wrenching and full of colourful descriptions and metaphors. The book reminded me of Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love.
  3. The Blind Man’s Garden by Nadeem Aslam – because this novel is full of longing and personal struggle. I love books with magic realism. Like The Kite Runner it opened up an understanding of the history of and life in Afghanistan.
  4. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud – because this just has an excellent plot. It is very well written and full of references to art and literature. I couldn’t put it down, from the start until the last chapter when the last big surprise brings everything together.
  5. The French Affair by J.H. van der Westhuizen – because it is the most beautiful cookbook of the year with mouth-watering recipes and stunning pictures that exude elegance and a love for food and beauty and a love for France and South Africa.

Faith Parker’s Top Five 

  1. Folly by Jassy McKenzie – A lot more fun than the dreary Shades of Grey series, it had a nice South African sting to it.
  2. The Manhattan Diet by Eileen Daspin – I’ve dipped into it again in an attempt to become bikini-ready for summer.
  3. The Power Trip by Jackie Collins – Russian millionaires, hunky actors, bisexual Latino singers – what more can you ask for?
  4. The Wisdom of Jozi Shore by Anton Taylor – A laugh out loud look at the life of a Jo-Bugger, complete with big muscles and fake tan.
  5. Coaltown Jesus by Ron Koertge – Finding Jesus in the middle of your bedroom after the death of your brother – a provocative premise.

Amanda Blankfield-Koseff’s Top Five 

  1. Dear Thing by Julie Cohen – An excellent read, about surrogacy with twists and turns and characters and situations we can relate to.
  2. Walk me home by Catherine Ryan Hyde – Young sisters left alone need to survive. The depth of the characters and the way the plot unfolds like a rose opening is the author’s gift.
  3. Dare me by Megan Abbott – A fast-paced thrilling ride about coming of age of teen-aged girls in a cheer-leading squad.
  4. Wedding Night by Sophia Kinsella – A great holiday read with farcical moments and home truths about love, clarity and commitment.
  5. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer – This non-fiction book looks at the history of the Mormon faith and is fascinating and unnerving simultaneously.

Ulrike Hill’s Top Five 

  1. The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes – Beukes has given time-travelling a spine-chilling twist. Expect to develop a morbid fascination – will the killer be caught committing the ‘perfect murders”?
  2. 21 Yaks and a Speedo by Lewis Pugh – This book is easy to read, and packs a powerful and inspirational message in each chapter. Lewis Pugh shows that life is about achieving the impossible.
  3. Between the Lines by Jodi Picoult and Sam van Leer – This story has layers that will appeal to young adults and readers who want to ‘lose themselves in a world of fantasy’.
  4. Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes – Three kingdoms. A strong princess and a boy out for revenge. This story has a subtle message amidst the fantasy.
  5. Springbok Factory by L McGregor – An in-depth look at South Africa’s rugby heroes and the power battles behind the scenes. A well-researched book that takes the reader into the hearts and homes of well-known Springboks.

Josine Overdevest’s Top Five 

  1. Team of Rivals, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin – This is a magnificent read about this most revered President, his contemporaries and their pivotal role in history.
  2. Joseph Anton, A Memoire by Salman Rushdie – Rushdie’s beautiful writing, his profound insights and the same wit that I appreciate in his fiction make for an engrossing and important read.
  3. The Childhood of Jesus by J.M Coetzee – This novel had me oohing and aahing out loud. Coetzee’s thoughts and ideas captured in terse, accessible writing made my brain tingle.
  4. Zen Dust by Antony Osler – An intimate account of a special journey with love shining through in every word. The combination of Zen teachings with Osler’s beautiful descriptions of people, experiences and the Karoo landscape make for intriguing reading.
  5. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Massud – This quote from main character Nora says it all: “I’m done staying quietly upstairs. My anger is not a little person’s, a sweet girl’s, a dutiful daughter’s. My anger is prodigious. My anger is colossus…. Virginia Woolf, in her rage, stopped being afraid of death; but I’m angry enough, at last, to stop being afraid of life, and angry enough—…—before I die to fucking well LIVE. Just watch me.”

Ashleigh Seton-Rogers

  1. Black Widow Society by Angela Makholwa – I couldn’t put this book down. Imagine a secret society in Jo’burg ruled by an elite group of women. Women scorned no less, and you have the makings for story that is bold, opinionated and bitchy.
  2. Silent Valley by Malla Nunn – Loved this book. It starts with the murder of a beautiful black girl, set against a backdrop of an apartheid South Africa, and small town politics. Two detectives must tread carefully as they try to unravel the mystery behind her death.
  3. Black Helicopters by Blythe Woolston – This was an interesting read and gives some insight into the minds of people who live life in complete isolation of a society they view with paranoid suspicion
  4. Fear Index by Robert Harris – The reason behind Dr Hoffman’s billionaire status is because he has created an algorithm that uses a revolutionary self-evolving form of Artificial Intelligence to trade and manipulate the markets on his behalf. However like all things that evolve, Hoffman soon finds himself on the losing end of a battle he can’t win.
  5. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill – NOS4A2 is the vanity plate on Charlie Manx’s car, and it stands for ‘Nosferatu’ i.e. vampire. This alone should have prepared me for the horror ride ahead. And as spine-chilling as it’s been, this is one of the best horror stories I’ve read in a long while. If you’re a fan of Stephen King, who incidentally is the author’s father, then this will be your cup of tea. Unfortunately if you’re a fan of Christmas, then maybe stay away. Happy Horrodays!

Dawn Blankfield’s Top Five 

  1. Six Years by Harlan Coban
  2. Relish by Prue Leith
  3. The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay
  4. The Good Jihadist by Bob Shephard
  5. A History of the World by Andrew Marrs

Catherine Nixon’s Top Five

  1. The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes – I found the characters haunting and original, and the writing a masterful work of suspense fiction.
  2. Trafficked, My Story by Sophie Hayes – This is a true story of how a British girl was forced into the world of sex trade – it is harrowing reading and exposes a dark trade that many of us know very little about.
  3. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – I had not read this novel since 2005 and felt it was time to re-read it. It captivated me once again and I loved escaping into the different parts of India that Roberts brings to life.
  4. The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst -Hollinghurst weaves words into a mesmerising story sent in London in the 1980s – it is sad, funny, ruthless.
  5. Thirteen Hours by Deon Meyer – I especially enjoy reading Deon Meyer’s books as they are mostly set in Cape Town, and knowing the places he describes in the story really brings the suspense alive. He is my favourite South African crime writer.

Irene Roper’s Top Five 

  1. The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke – These books are addictive and I don’t want to part company with Robicheaux and his strange family and friends.
  2. A Morning for Flamingoes by James Lee Burke
  3. Jolie Blon’s Bounce by James Lee Burke
  4. The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins – Any adult who hasn’t read it has missed a journey through an enchanted forest of fruit trees bearing some of the most exciting, delicious bites of knowledge one could wish for.
  5. An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist by Richard Dawkins. – A memoir

Deborah Minors’ Top Four 

  1. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins – for simple yet sophisticated writing, excellent characterisation and sheer imagination
  2. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
  3. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  4. Ozzy, the biography of Ozzy Osbourne – for the ‘voice’ that really creates a sense of the person, and the fascinating high jinks of a rock star!

Justine Cullinan’s Top Three 

  1. The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley – Such a cleverly plotted saga spanning four generations and three continents and not a moment of boredom in over 650 pages.
  2. Folly by Jassy Mackenzie – I thoroughly enjoyed this cheeky light read which elicited more than a few laughs out loud. I appreciated how simple the premise of the story is and how differentiated it is from the usual stream of South African novels. No bleeding African hearts in this story!
  3. One last thing before I go by Jonathan Tropper – The style and language in which this book is written is witty and easy to read which shouldn’t make you think that it was simple. The book deals with accessible crises in such a heartfelt way while still keeping its very masculine perspective which makes it humorous and poignant.

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Posted on: 29th November 2013

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