2013 has been horrible. Stupendously horrible in fact, so much so that I don’t actually want to dwell on that. So instead, I thought I would write a little something about the things I have loved this year. And as always, that means music and books.

Let’s start with music (it’s easier to pick favourites here, for starters). I’m hardly qualified to be a music critic – the only thing I know how to play is the fool – so this list is of course entirely subjective. I’m sure everyone could come up with their own list of the five best albums for 2013, but these are mine, the five albums that have spent the most time in the car disco this year:
1. The National – Trouble Will Find Me (released 17 May 2013, 4AD). Oh how I love and adore this band, and this CD is hands down my favourite bit of music released this year. I reviewed it here, and its dark and twisty beauty still hasn’t faded for me.
2. Arctic Monkeys – AM (released 6 September 2013, Domino). Eleven years down the line, these boys have certainly proved themselves to be more than just a flash in the pan, and musically they’ve grown in leaps and bounds. Happily though, they haven’t lost any of their sardonic wit and their lyrics are as clever as ever. Do I Wanna Know? is one of the sexiest songs I’ve heard in a while, and indeed, the whole album is absolute indie car disco perfection .
3. Kings of Leon – Mechanical Bull (released 20 September 2013, RCA). These boys can do virtually no wrong in my eyes, and although it took me a little while to warm up to this album (which I reviewed here), once I had listened a couple of times, I soon discovered I couldn’t stop listening.
4. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City (released 14 May 2013, XL). More indie car disco awesomeness with this album – Vampire Weekend is one of those quirky bands you probably either love or hate, and I happen to love them. Diane Young was the first single released off this album, and it was played to death on local radio, yet for me there are other songs that stand out more. I’m pretty much a fan of every track on the CD, but Step is undoubtedly one of my favourite songs of 2013.
5. Biffy Clyro – Opposites (released 28 January 2013, 14th Floor). Okay, I will admit that the first thing to sell me on this band was the yummy Scottish accent. But even without that appealing factor, their music is a catchy brand of punk rock that you just can’t stop listening to, and this, their sixth album, is brilliant. I’m counting the sleeps until I get to see them in March 2014.

I’ve read a lot of books this year, maybe not as many as I would have liked to (work has an annoying habit of getting in the way), but still, a lot of books have been consumed. And they have all been great, to varying degrees. Choosing a top five is pretty tricky, and I also feel I have to cheat a bit – I’ve included only books that I read this year, but admittedly some of them were published last year. Nevertheless, these were the loveliest books I read in 2013:
1. The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Stedman (published in 2012, Doubleday). This has to be one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in years, not just in 2013. I simply adored the historical aspects of this novel (more detail here) and the writing is sublime. If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favour and change that asap!
2. The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker (published in 2012, Simon & Schuster). The title of this book made me a little nervous when it was initially loaned to me to read – I feared it may be religious or New Agey in some way. In fact, it is such a gorgeous coming of age story, tied up in a much more realistic tale of how the world meets its end than the usual dramatic versions, that I read it in an afternoon and then promptly bought my own copy. Unputdownable.
3. Letters from Skye – Jessica Brockmole (published in 2013, Random House). I was fortunate to receive this as a Christmas gift just before I took a short holiday, and I raced through it as I lay by the pool. Another historical novel, it takes the format of letters written during the First and Second World Wars to weave its lovely narrative. The writer uses this technique to give the various characters their own voices to great effect, and I was lost in their world and sad to leave it when I turned the last page.
4. Skagboys – Irvine Welsh (published in 2012, Random House). Clearly I have a bit of a Scottish fetish. I adore Irvine Welsh, even if his books take a little longer to read because he writes in a Scottish accent, which requires a period of adjustment. Before you’re done though, you find yourself thinking in that accent, and making use of some, shall we say, colourful language too. This is the prequel to Trainspotting, and we find out a lot more about the early years of Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, Begbie and the rest of the gang, gaining some insight into their heroin addictions and other misdeeds. If you liked Trainspotting, you absolutely have to read this.
5. Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy – Helen Fielding (published in 2013, Random House). Another favourite that forms part of a set, I couldn’t not read this, as a huge fan of the first two Bridget Jones novels. I was a little nervous that perhaps a third book was overkill, but the plot has progressed well (albeit somewhat sadly) from where The Edge of Reason left off, and Bridget is just as funny and engaging as ever. Maybe not for everyone, but a definite for fans of the first two books.

What have you loved this year?