One of my aims for this year was to read more and I definitely did, averaging around two books a month. I also promised myself that I would be stricter about largely only giving books as gifts this year and, so, I thought it only fitting to compile a list of books worth gifting.
1. "The Vegetarian" by Han Kang.
Hands down, this is the best book I read this year. It was the Man Booker International Prize 2016 winner and for good reason. I read this on a bright day sitting out in the hot summer sun and I had real chills down my spine. It is tense, terrifying and beautiful all at the same time. It's also incredibly compelling and I felt a delirious need to finish it immediately, even though I was often so anxious about what would happen next that I was afraid to turn the page. I have now given it as a gift to three different people and can't recommend it highly enough. Fair warning, it's quite disturbing but, if you're into that and Gothic vibes, you'll like it. Plus, Deborah Smith's translation of Kang's work retains incredible elegance and poise, while fitting in concepts about the culture and social structure of South Korea neatly for the reader to understand.
2. "Reasons to Stay Alive" by Matt Haig.
While Kang's work made my heart race, Haig's made it break and heal over and over. This work is a honest, charming and touching account of the author's struggle with mental illness and his road to recovery. I bought it with a loved one in mind and was floored by how much it got to me. It is a wonderful balance of witty, funny, informative and heart-felt. Broken into thematic chapters that jump from personal recollections of moments in the author's life to facts about mental illness and wider discussions of society as a whole, you come away from the book feeling warm, fuzzy, a little bit rocked and as if your life has been affirmed. I cried in public several times as I read this and, as with Kang, pretty much finished it in a sitting, though its structure makes it a perfect book to pick up when you have a moment to spare. While I'm sure that many people who suffer from some of the same illnesses as Haig will find value in the book, it is also a thoroughly enjoyable read for everyone and an important one for those of us with such people in our lives that we wish to understand better.
3. "A Court of Mist and Fury" by Sarah J Maas.
Sarah J Maas is one of the most talented writers working in the field of Young Adult fantasy. Her worlds are vast and complete, her prose is fast-paced and compelling and her female protagonists are real, flawed and charming. I loved the first book in this series, "A Court Off Thorns and Roses", which was a retelling of "Beauty and the Beast" but this knocked my socks off. The fantasy and adventure and magic was still all there but there was a discussion of relationships and love that was very much reality, and not fantasy, that added something extra to the story. I don't want to say much more as it would likely ruin the first and second books but if you are buying for a fantasy lover that is looking for something a little different, I recommend this series and Maas in general. Plus, if you get into her as an author, she is a serious trooper, working on two series at the same time and churning out at least one high-quality book per year, if not more.
4. "Glass Sword" by Victoria Aveyard.
This is the second novel by an author a year older than me - this fact makes me feel incredibly lazy. However, I did love it, my own self-loathing aside. Another great Young Adult fantasy series, it is seriously action-packed, easy to read and very enjoyable. I don't have quite the same grá for it as I do for Maas but it is one of the better novels in this genre that I read this year and I finish each of her works impatient for the next one, thinking, "How can I possibly wait to know what happens next?!"
5. "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro.
On the very first day of 2016, I picked this book up from a pile I had bought out of pity at a rather depressing local jumble sale. Sitting in my bed, the curtain pushed back to flood my room with perfect icy white light and several cups of tea on hand, I spent that entire first day reading and devoured this novel. I had seen the movie adaptation years beforehand and knew where my heartstrings were going to be tugged. And yet. And yet and I cried fat ugly tears and closed the book that afternoon feeling hollowed out. This is one of those books that scoops out your insides and leaves you raw and emotional and I adored it. It is simply well-written, beautiful and moving and asks enough of the questions you normally try to avoid, to break through your barriers and leave you open to the experience of the story. It's simply a great work of art.
When I decided to write this post and that I wanted to include it in my guides and giveaways, I wondered what the prize for the day would be. The books I mentioned? A voucher for a book store? Something about either of those options felt off, lacking in some way. And so, I was thinking about good reads, good giveaways, and culture and Magpie Magazine suddenly came to mind.
Magpie is the magazine Ireland's been needing - and I'm not saying that merely because I'm their new Fashion Editor (!). It is smart, funny, beautiful and, most importantly, does not condescend. It talks about the fun and frivolous things - the things I love - but in a slightly more challenging way than other publications might have the opportunity to. It covers culture, food, the arts, current events and a wide range of other topics that affect and matter to Irish women (the primary demographic) and others (we're all for being inclusive). And, much as I love luxe ad campaigns, Magpie's meat is not just endless pages of product placement, but a significant read and stunning photo shoots.
I decided to do a special giveaway. Subscriptions don't strictly exist yet but I'm going to specially and personally send out every issue for the next year (starting in January - my first issue on board!) to one lucky winner!
Read on to learn how to enter and be sure to check out the previous days of Five Golden Gifts! That's it for this year's giveaways. Good luck x
1. This giveaway is open to residents of Ireland, over 18.
2. The prize is a year's subscription to Magpie Magazine.
3. All you need to do is comment below here or on Facebook with who you'd give it to - or if you want it for yourself! However, you must be following me on at least one platform (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google Friend Connect, Bloglovin', Tumblr), let me know which one in the comment if it's not obvious!
4. Competition closes a week from now on the 12th of December 2016 at midnight Irish time.
5. Winners will be chosen at random.