Claire King


It’s the Book-Recommendation Swap Shop

Posted on: October 31st, 2011 by Claire - 20 Comments

I need a few Christmas gift ideas (sorry for mentioning the C-word so early, but when you live abroad you have to consider postage and so on). I’m hoping you can help.

So, here is my proposal. In the spirit of Swapshop, I’m going to tell you what books I’ve read and enjoyed this year and my top 5 recommendations for Christmas gifts (or your wish lists). Of course these are only my own personal tastes, I tend to read mostly in contemporary/literary fiction, with a few detours. And many of my family and friends prefer other genres – thrillers, for example. But here is where you can help! In the comments, could you please tell me your top 5 books you’ve read this year that you would recommend, and mention the genre, so we have an idea who they’d be suitable for?

This year I’ve started 27 books so far. I’ve left two unfinished (and since they’re e-books I can’t find them a better home, unfortunately), and I’m still reading a couple of short story anthologies, two paperbacks and one e-book. So I’ve finished 21. Here I’m just mentioning the 18 that I really enjoyed:


Paper books (Author A-Z): 

♥ At Home (non-fiction) – Bill Bryson

♥ Whatever you Love – Louise Doughty

♥ The Birth of Venus – Sarah Dunant

♥ The Cowards Tale – Vanessa Gebbie

♥ Chocolat – Joanne Harris

♥ How to be a Woman  – Caitlin Moran

♥ Dambusters – Robert Radcliffe

♥ What I Did – Christopher Wakling

♥ Why Willows Weep – The Wildlife Trust Joanne Harris, Maggie O’Farrell, Philip Hensher, Kate Mosse, Ali Smith & others


On my Kindle (Author A-Z)

♥ From Words to Brain (non-fiction) – Livia Blackburne

♥ Pistache – Sebastian Faulks

♥ Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman

♥ The hand that first held mine – Maggie O Farrell

♥ The Devil’s Music – Jane Rusbridge

♥ Like Bees to Honey – Caroline Smailes

♥ Change of Life – Anne Stormont

♥ Trespass – Rose Tremain

♥ The Route Book at Bedtime (short stories) – Jo Cannon, Cally Taylor & others…


Books I’m still reading

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

We need to talk about Kevin – Lionel Shriver (Kindle)

Geek Love  – Katherine Dunn

Playing Sardines (short stories) – Michèle Roberts

For Esme – with love and squalor (short stories) – JD Salinger

Other Stories and other stories (short stories) – Ali Smith


Still waiting on my ‘to read’ pile:

Nothing to Envy – Barbara Demick

The Daily Coyote – Shreve Stockton

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

The Girl who Played with Fire – Stieg Larsson

The Pile of Stuff at the bottom of the stairs – Christina Hopkinson


So, how to pick a top 5 from that lot? In the end I’m just going to go with gut feeling…


My Top 5 reads of 2011 (A-Z by author)

Whatever You Love – a hard book to read, but the tiny perfect observations in this book really made it stand out for me.

The Coward’s Tale – because it’s kind and lyrical and reads like an audio book on paper.

Pigeon English – because I don’t remember ever having been so knocked out by the ending of a book.

How to be a Woman – because it made me laugh out loud, a lot. Caitlin Moran is invited to my fantasy dinner party.

The Hand That First Held Mine – because I loved the voice.


Top 5 (so far) on my wish list for 2012:

One Thousand and One Nights – Hanan Al-Shaykh

A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

Blueeyedboy – Joanne Harris

The Tiger’s Wife – Téa Obreht

How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog – Chad Orzel


So that’s me. What about you?

20 Responses

  1. Coralie says:

    I have just finished the Tiger’s Wife and loved it! Currently reading the third book in the Sarah Dunant trilogy (the one in the convent). Also loved Caitlin Moran.

  2. Diane Becker says:

    Favourite books so far this year are all contemporary/lit fiction, some new, some old:

    Lee Rourke’s The Canal (read it twice!), Carol Shields, Unless and The Republic of Love – both of which have, unexpectedly, stuck in my head. Also Matt Bell’s superb collection How They Were Found and Lydia Davis, Collected Stories.

  3. Can I put in a word for “The Stepford Wives” by Ira Levin? I read it earlier this year and it is, to date, the only explicitly pro-feminist novel I’ve read that was written by a man. Nothing at all like I expected.

    I loved “How To Be A Woman” as well, but you beat me to it!

  4. Yes, I’ll go with The Hand that First Held Mine and How to be a Woman. Will add Hurry Up and Wait, Isabel Ashdown, Jenn Ashworth’s Cold Light, and The Devil’s Music Jane Rusbridge. For historical fiction lovers Gabrille Kimm’s His Last Duchess and thrillers Elizabeth Haynes Into the Darkest Corner! So many others I enjoyed. Too many to list here now!

    • claire says:

      ‘Hear, hear’ to Jane’s novel. Really evocative read and played so brilliantly with narrative voice. Isabel’s and Jenn’s are definitely on my wish list & thanks for the historical fiction tips!

  5. Joe Melia says:

    Hello Claire,

    Fave raves read this year are:

    The Great Frustration by Seth Fried,
    Vida by Patricia Engel,
    Dance of the Happy Shades – Alice Munro,
    Breaking Dawn – Jessica Francis Kane
    What I Did, Chris Wakling

    First four short story collections and a corker of a lit novel to finish.

    • claire says:

      Hey, Joe!
      Great recommendations, thanks. And I haven’t even got round to grabbing my copy of the 2011 BSSP anthology either!
      I thought Chris’s novel was brilliant too.

  6. carol mcgrath says:

    I loved:

    Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.

    The Apothecary’s Daughter by Charlotte Betts, Historical Fiction

    Ghostlight by Joseph O’Connor

    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoot by David Mitchell

    One Day by David Nicholls

  7. I absolutely loved A Visit from the Goon Squad and am also working my way through Sarah Dunant’s novels but other stand-out books for me this year have been: Kathleen Winter’s Orange Prize short-listed Annabel; both of Isabel Ashdown’s books, Glasshopper and Hurry Up and Wait; Emma Darwin’s The Mathematics of Love; Owen Sheers’ Resistance; Dan Holloway’s The Company of Fellows and Tom Vowler’s brilliant collection of short stories The Method; and for YA readers, I’d choose Gillian Philip’s Firebrand and Bloodstone, which are great crossover novels. I loved them! For even younger readers (5-8 yo), I’d go for Tamsyn Murray’s Stunt Bunny series of books.

  8. Thrilled to see The Coward’s Tale on your list – so glad you enjoyed it!

    My list might include Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi for its sheer originality and playfulness, a novel in stories about an eternal triangle – a writer, his wife and … a character in his books.
    It might also include Vault by David Rose, equally playful, but also a story of a wartime sniper turned spy…in which a man takes issue with his life being turned into a novel.
    I’m currently reading and loving The Scholar, by Courttia Newland, and seeing many many parallels with the brilliant Pigeon English, written at least a decade later.
    And I am also immersed in The Penguin Book of First World War stories …it contains work by Muriel Spark, Katherine Mansfield, Julian Barnes, D H Lawrence, John Buchan, Kipling, Conan Doyle, Somerset Maugham, Galsworthy… a real gem.

  9. Rebecca Emin says:

    I have a couple of the books you mentioned on my ‘to read’ pile and have added another one to my Amazon wish list. This is such a great idea!

  10. Celine says:

    My top 5 from this year are (in no special order):
    A Visit From the Goon Squad – I know this has been mentioned, I thought it was brilliant, so many great voices and cool stories, especially the DFW take-off, the use of PowerPoint slides and the slightly-futuristic social marketing story.

    Woman In Black, Susan Hill

    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell – atmospheric historical Japanese setting including strange cult using pregnant women, and unrequited love. The accents of some characters perhaps a bit annoying, but they were minor ones.

    Have been reading a lot of short stories, would recommend:
    50 Great Short Stories ed Milton Crane – a 1950s classic and there are indeed some great ones in there and huge variety of writers, EM Forster, Shirley Jackson, Flannery O’Connor.

    But knocking my socks off is The Best American Short Stories 2010 – absolutely stunning stories, writing that has had me gasping, in joy and wonder. Seriously.

  11. Thanks so much for the shoutout, and your kind words on Amazon! As for my picks:

    Plain Kate by Erin Bow (YA fantasy)
    Will Grayson, Will Grayson (John Greene, YA contemporary)
    Push by Sapphire, YA contemporary
    The Fever Series, Karen Marie Moning, paranormal romance (has some adult content), Vicarious Pleasures by Joseph Appel (literary short story)

  12. martha says:

    Blacklands, Belinda Bauer, killer thriller. Liked the Brit grit. Moors, a psycho, a boy. A Nan. S’all there.

    “…Billy’s room. It smelled old and sweet, like an orange left under the bed.”

  13. claire says:

    Having just read this round up of some authors’ top books of 2011 on The Guardian, I am now feeling overwhelmed by the pure lack of time to read everything I want to!

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