By Joel Francis

Choosing the right book can be a difficult task. Going into a bookshop (well in Gibraltar’s case, Amazon or Book Depository because they closed all the bookshops – still sour about it, don’t @ me) can be daunting if you don’t have a specific read in mind. I find it much easier to go in with a list, usually from year-end book lists or friends’ recommendations, which allows me to broaden my horizons when it comes to genres I would usually avoid.

With this in mind, here is a curated selection of 6 books from a spectrum of genres and styles that I’ve enjoyed this year… you never know, one of them might become your new favourite!

THE SHADOW OF THE WIND

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Genre: Historical Fantasy

What’s in the pages? Daniel turns eleven in 1945, Barcelona. He wakes up on his birthday not being able to remember his mother’s face. To make him feel better, Daniel’s father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library of books forgotten by the world waiting for someone special to choose them. He chooses “The Shadow of the Wind” by Julian Carax, Daniel is so taken by the novel that he sets out on a mission to discover the rest of Carax’s work, only to uncover that someone is destroying every book he has ever written.

He soon realises that his innocent conquest has opened the vault of one of Barcelona’s darkest corners. A story of murder, magic and lost love. He realises that if he doesn’t find out who Julian Carax is, his whole world will suffer.

Why should you read it? The Shadow of The Wind is a book about books, stories and the power of reading. It’s one of the most magical, enthralling, beautiful books I have ever read. Close to five hundred pages, it feels more like a mere hundred, Zafón exquisitely manages to build 1945 Barcelona around you, so much so, that you can hear the sounds and smell the aromas of the city.

It is also one of the most quotable books I’ve ever had the pleasure to lay my eyes on, to the point where I kept writing specific passages down on my notes app so I wouldn’t forget them. Zafón’s writing is alluring & impeccable; this book shows just how gorgeous novels and the art of writing can be when done virtuously.

If you were going to read just one book this year, I would recommend The Shadow of The Wind – I’m pretty sure you’ll fall in love with the characters, the story and the immensely enticing writing.

 

DIAMONDS, TEAK & MURDER

A.M. Ialacci

Genre: Murder Mystery/Thriller

What’s in the pages? Upon the sudden deaths of her parents in a car accident, Allie Fox traded her fast-paced life in Chicago for a boatyard bookkeeping job in sleepy Carteret County, North Carolina. It is a huge transition, especially as she is now the sole caregiver for her younger autistic brother. But when the yard foreman mysteriously ends up dead at work, she can’t resist being pulled into the mystery. With everything to lose and time running out, it’s up to Allie alone to stop the killer, or die trying.

Why should you read it? Diamonds, Teak & Murder is one of the best whodunnit books I’ve ever read. I’m usually not into this type of book, but I got the chance to get an advance reader copy to read and review, and I’m so glad I did. The characters in this book become your best friends very quickly, and your care for them allows the suspense to build up to an unbearable climax until you end up being engulfed by it. The ending is satisfying and unexpected in the best way. Even if you don’t like this type of genre, I’d highly suggest it. Lalacci is a master of her craft and it shows in all of her works, but particularly in this sophomore release.

 

THE GREAT BELIEVERS

Rebecca Makkai

Genre: Coming of Age/Historical Fiction

What’s in the pages? In 1985, Yale Tishman is living his best life. He is the development director for an art gallery and he’s right in the center of Chicago’s thriving Gay scene. However, the havoc of the AIDS epidemic suddenly surrounds his world. As all his friends die around him, he has one person he can rely on… his best friend Nico’s sister. In 2015, Fiona has fled to Paris to track down her daughter who disappeared into a cult. Surrounded by mementos of the AIDS crisis and her brother’s death, she finds herself confronting the ways that AIDS affected her life.  Two timelines, forever connected.

Why should you read it? Usually I would read the blurb for this type of book and let it pass me by, thinking “It doesn’t sound like my type of thing” or “This looks really boring” and then go right for the Young Adults section (where I spend most of my time). However, when I set myself the 52-book challenge this year, I also set myself a task to branch out to other genres. I’m glad I did because it led me to The Great Believers.

Makkai has an incredible writing style that allows the fear and dread of the AIDS crisis to really resonate with someone reading about it almost 35 years later. That’s not to say that this book is all doom and gloom – it’s not. It conveys a fierce battle between the tenacity of enjoying everyday life and friends against an overarching enemy you have no hope of beating. This holds true with Fiona’s storyline too. While I found it frustrating and slow at times, it shows how pride and resentment can ruin a family, but hope and love can help you try to make amends.

Words cannot capture the way emotions in Makkai’s book leap from the page into your heart; I found myself laughing out loud at some parts of the book and almost in tears of despair at others, and that is something that very rarely happens when I’m reading.

Follow Joel’s literary journey over on his Instagram: @neurodiversebookworm.