The best books I read in 2016

I’m going to do a slightly different end-of-year books roundup this year, because I’ve (mostly) been keeping track each month, so just listing all the books I’ve read would be… pretty repetitive.  Anyway, you can find all of them on goodreads, and mini reviews of most of them under “books“.  So, instead, here are the best books I read this year…

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The Lonely City, Olivia Laing
If you haven’t read this yet, go. I’ll wait here till you have, and then we can cry about David Wojnarowicz together.  I sobbed my way to Edinburgh on an easyjet flight to this, and it was totally worth it.  This was, by far, the best and most important book I read this year. So, so good.

The Dead Ladies Project, Jessa Crispin
More non-fiction, I read this for the #WLClub, and loved it.  I loved seeing glimpses into other people’s lives, through the lens of Crispin’s own travels, and how those other people affected her.

Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff
This was Obama’s book of the year last year,and he’s got good taste in books. People are always their own people, with their own inner lives and secrets, regardless of how well you know and/or love them, and this novel shows that beautifully.

Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami
If a boy breaks up with you and then immediately gives you book presents, and the present is Murakami, keep them around because they have good taste in books and you can inherit boxes and boxes of good books from them when they move to America.

All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
More crying. Totally worth it. I read this in Crete, where I ate my body weight in fava and spent four days in the sun reading a huge stack of books.  This was stunningly written, and I’ve recommended it to everyone.

Honourable mentions:
Hold Your Own, Kate Tempest; We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo; The Girl With All The Gifts, MR Carey; Deer Michigan, Jack C. Buck; What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, Helen Oyeyemi, How to be Human, Paula Cocozza (this isn’t out until 2017, so I debated including it here, but it’s good, so look out for it!)

 

 

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Reading… Deer Michigan

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twitter: @jack_c_buck

Jack C. Buck’s micro fiction is some of my favourite, and since publishing his story, write talk-talk if you have no one to talk-talk with, in the third issue of Severine, I’ve seen his writing appear all over the place.  A couple of months ago, I spotted on Twitter that Truth Serum Press would be publishing a collection of his fiction at the end of this year.  Jack asked if I’d like to review Deer Michigan, so I got it early (yay!), but you can get a copy from next week.

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A collection of 60 pieces, Deer Michigan is  Jack’s writing weaves so many stories into such a short space that each piece feels much longer than it is – and I mean that in the way that micro fiction can sometimes feel a bit wanting, like there’s not quite enough story, and that’s why that has to be the medium.  Here, the writing is wound tightly around the core of each story, giving a snapshot of a place, a person, but with just enough time to really look at them.

Once of my favourite things about flash and micro fiction is that it doesn’t have the space to introduce a ton of characters, or to spend five pages describing the scene, so instead, you’re just dropped in to the centre of whatever’s happening, and you have to figure it out for yourself.  It’s much more like being a fly on the wall.  Deer Michigan throws you into the centre of relationships, between lovers, families, friends, places, and lets you figure out the dynamics.  The stories are mostly quiet, their narrators sincere, and many of the pieces read like poetry, but they are rich, and full of life and love.

I’ll be tweeting when Deer Michigan is available to buy, but keep an eye out!

The Royal Hotel

Last weekend, I headed off to Southend to take Mumbly out for some shopping, and Sunday lunch* at the Royal Hotel.  We had a mooch along the shops and the seafront before making our way to the top of the High Street.

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Having been closed for over a year whilst it was completely refurbed, the Royal has been completely reincarnated, with the Ballroom serving as the main dining room, and new cocktail lounge downstairs. The restaurant is open for lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea, and has a special menu on a Sunday, with vegetarian and fish options that change each week. We went upstairs for lunch, where – at 3pm – the Ballroom was pretty full. It’s a really beautiful room, with great big windows and chandeliers.

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For starters, I went for the tomato, spinach and hazelnut arancini, which was delicious, and mum had devilled whitebait which, I am told, tasted “really fresh.” The little fishes were HUGE, despite the fact I’d somehow convinced myself that whitebait and scampi were the same thing (they are definitely not). I am pleading vegetarian ignorance.

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Mum opted for roast lamb for her main, which came with all the trimmings (and romanesco! And cauliflower cheese!) which I happily helped her eat. We eyed up everyone else’s dinner, and are pretty certain that the extras change, depending on what meat you have for your roast. I had a creamed leek and roasted Jerusalem artichoke puff pastry tart with chestnut and dolce latte, and ohmygod. Honestly, it might be the best vegetarian meal I’ve ever had in a restaurant. So, so good. I couldn’t even tell you which bit of it I liked best, it was so good.

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Somehow, there’s always room for dessert. A raspberry and tarragon creme brulee, and a chocolate brownie with mint chocolate ice cream finished us off, and we definitely had to sit for a good twenty minutes post-dinner before we could contemplate rolling ourselves down the stairs.

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We headed into the bar, where we had an amazing view of the seafront at sunset, and finished off our visit with a passion mock-jito and a Mrs Kensington, which was gin, elderflower, and apple juice. Yum.

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Definitely pay The Royal a visit if you’re in Southend; the food is incredible, the staff are fantastic, and we had a really really great few hours. If you eat in the Ballroom, try to get a table at the windows on the right hand side, because the view is stunning. The Sunday menu costs just £22 for three courses, which is a steal.

I’m already planning at least two trips back – there’s a bar menu as well as the restaurant menu, and there are more cocktails calling my name…