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My top five books for 2015

It was difficult choosing my top five books for 2015 as I have read so many fabulous books this year. In the end, to help with my decision making, I’ve limited myself to fiction only. So in no particular order, here goes:

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale is the story of two very different sisters living in occupied France, who have to make ethical and dangerous decisions as the horrors unfold around them. The question the author is exploring is what a person would do, as a wife and mother, to save a stranger – even if that meant putting your own child’s life in danger. For much of the novel, the sisters are estranged and not aware of the resistance work both are doing in very different ways. This is a story of bravery and courage, but also one of ragged imperfect humanity at a time of great conflict. An outstanding novel.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Okay, I realise that technically this book wasn’t published in 2015 – but I only discovered this amazing novel at the Auckland Writers Festival earlier this year. The starting premise of this novel is familiar – a new strain of flu wipes out 99% of the population, and the few survivors struggle on in a harsh and unforgiving new world. But the author has created an extraordinary novel with subtlety and surprise. Station Eleven skips back and forth in time from before the flu struck, to Year Twenty. A band of like-minded actors and musicians form the Travelling Symphony, performing Shakespeare in the post-pandemic world. Their slogan, taken from Star Trek, is ‘survival is insufficient.’ Twenty years on the traveling team think the world is much safer than the early years – until they meet the self-proclaimed ‘Prophet’… A wonderful book that is inventive, thought-provoking, tender and beautiful, that makes you appreciate life as we know it.

The Violinist of Venice by Alyssa Palombo

A lyrical, beautifully written historical novel, the author of this debut novel draws on the real life of composer Antonio Vivaldi for inspiration. Vivaldi was well-known in eighteen-century Europe, but later in his life his relationship with young opera singer Anna Giro ruined him. People claimed she was his mistress, but the author explores the theory that Anna was his daughter. In which case who was Anna’s mother? Alyssa Palombo creates the high-spirited fictional character of Adriana d-Amato. What begins as private music lessons soon turns into a passionate love affair. This novel is wonderfully, every page full of music, love, despair and passion. I loved it!

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

Luckiest Girl Alive is a debut novel that has been compared to Gone Girl, and it has a similar dark quality in tone and storyline. Ani FaNelli appears to be a woman who has it all, but everything about her life is a façade. Ani is one of the most unpleasant characters I have encountered in fiction – and also one of the most compelling. A documentary producer approaches Ani to tell her side of a traumatic event that occurred when she was teenager – and it is the slow revealing of this shocking event that causes the book to be such a page-turning read. The book goes back and forth in time with Ani preparing for her upcoming nuptials, and her 14-year-old self, desperate to fit into her posh new school, lost, and making one bad decision after another. The author has done an outstanding job, it gripped from the opening page, and I thought the ending was pitch perfect.

Villa America by Liza Klaussmann

Villa America follows the lives of hospitable couple Sara and Gerald Murphy, who opened up their home on the French Riviera to artists and writers. Their parties were legendary, and among their famous guests was Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Sara and Gerald Murphy were the inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic book Tender is the Night, and they were the couple that everyone wanted to know. Villa America is firmly their novel, from their secret courtship, to raising a family – and to the tragedy that nearly destroyed them. This is a riveting read that perfectly captures this period of history, along with the many unique artists and writers they met. It is billed as a story of ‘great art, great loss, and great love’ and I think the novel hits all these notes with surety.


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