My Books of 2016
What a year 2016 has been even as I sit at my desk during the Christmas holidays this year of years is still taking its toll on us. I have to admit that I will not be sorry to the year come to an end. On the literary front this year has been nothing short of exceptional. We have seen so many incredible books released over the course of the last 12 months and along with so new writing talent has emerged with memorable debut novels. I have been incredibly fortunate to have been passed copies of a lot of these books to review.
So at this time year we tend to look back and review our year now coming to an end and it is the same with our literary year. I have decided to go with 15 books this year as choosing 10 would be just impossible. I have to admit that I struggled to from 30 to 20 then my best 15 books of the year. So without further ado here is my 15 favourite books of 2016. They are in no particular order as to choose a number one book of the year would be nothing short of madness as I would be changing my mind hourly.
So my first choice is a debut novel by Ian McGuire called The North Water released in February to acclaim by many who have since read it. Published by Scribner UK. When I reviewed this before publication I raved about Ian McGuire’s stunning book. I said it would win literary prizes and it was eventually Longlisted for the Man Book Prize 2016. Set aboard a Whaling ship in 1859 and bound for the Arctic Circle Patrick Sumner has left the army with reputation now in shreds, he is now the ships surgeon and this is to become an ill-fated voyage. During the voyage a young cabin boy is found murdered and now the voyage is doomed. A fast paced gripping novel that at times is incredibly dark and haunting. A novel of sheer brilliance and now set for TV in the not too distant future. One book I waved the flag for and still do. I f you have not read it. It is a must read.
My next choice is In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings and published by Orenda Books in March. If I said to-date this novel so far has received 137 five star ratings on Amazon. I could happily just leave it there as that alone says enough. Bella embark on a journey of discovery after a tragic family event destroys her. Now on the Cornish coast Bella starts to uncover truths that threaten her existence. A story so incredibly told, it is chilling and emotive.
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh and published by Jonathan Cape was published in March and another novel Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016. Eileen Dunlop is a young disturbed young woman. Trapped in an existence she cares little for. Living as a carer for her alcoholic father and a day job in a local prison. Her life is lived daily in fantasies and self-loathing. Then the beautiful Rebecca Saint comes to work at the prison things start to take on a more, dark and sinister note. Set on the coast of New England and a backdrop of a snowy winter. At times funny but this is a twisting and sinister story with a plot that sends Eileen in a spiral of decline. A shocking and terrifying read. But brilliantly written from a new name in the literary scene.
Next is another debut novel Bone by Bone by Sanjida Kay and published by Corvus. A debut psychological thriller. Laura’s nine-year-old daughter Autumn is being bullied at School and with little help from the school itself things soon start to take on a sinister note when one day Laura finds her daughter surrounded by other children and being taunted. Laura loses herself-control for one moment with devastating consequences. Now life will not be the same again. A nightmare with no ending. A superbly written thriller from another new name.
From the award winning author Elizabeth Strout came a novel in February that I so loved. My Name is Lucy Barton published by Viking. A story of a mother/daughter relationship. Lucy Barton is recovering in hospital from surgery. Out of the blue her mother appears. Nothing strange in that you may think. But Lucy has not spoken to her mother for some years, their relationship strained to the point of neither one or the other seemed capable of making the first move in repairing the relationship. Lucy decides it is time to confront the past and her own failings. This is sheer brilliance. Told through the voice of Lucy herself. An exquisite novel that will prove the test of time. All Lucy wanted to be was a writer. A book that cries out to be read. A classic.
Midwinter by Fiona Melrose came too late in the year to appear in many book choices of the year. Published by Corsair in November I knew very quickly this was something rather special and not just the cover. Just the very opening of the book suggested this was going to be very very good. I was not to be disapointed. Set against the backdrops of Suffolk and Zambia. A book of grief and guilt and how we each deal with it. Father and Son Landryn and Vale Midwiter struggling to survive as farmers in Suffolk but not only struggling in this aspect but also with each other. The past hangs over them like the darkest winter day with little sign of it lifting. They have both never come to terms of the death of wife/mother Ceclilia. It has never been spoken of. But the time has come. Add to the story a fox who has made its home on the farm. An incredible story that is just heartbreaking and yet elegant in Melrose’s prose. Another fabulous debut and a writer to look out for in the future.
Another debut novel by Joanna Cannon The Trouble with Goats and Sheep was released in January and published by The Borough Press. I have to admit that I have taken this book to my heart. Set in the long hot summer and the drought of 1976 and tells the story of two girls Grace and Tilly both ten-year old and the friendship that at times is tested. Mrs Creasy has gone missing and convinced that God if found will have the answer. So they both now set about trying to locate God. So this is what they must do. A wonderful tale of a bygone era that now seems to be gone forever. A book that will make you laugh and for those of us who remember that summer brought back so many memories I thought I had left buried in memory. The characters are just so incredibly placed and the story is so well written that you fall for it very quickly. This is a coming of age story to be cherished. Are you a Goat or a Sheep? The paperback has just been released and as I write this I an delighted to see that The Trouble with Goats and Sheep has been selected at one of the books for WH Smith
s Richard & Judy`s Book Club.
From the award winning author of Wasteland came Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift in February and published by Scribner UK. Set in 1924 With World War I still fresh in the minds this is a story of a society that has still failed to grasp the enormous loss of life in the war. Life will not be the same as it was before. It is Mothering Sunday and the son of a somewhat wealthy family climbs out the bed he has shared with the maid Jane Fairchild. She wanders the house naked and Paul is off to see his fiancée who is rich. Meanwhile back at the big house Jane is 22 and alone her employers are out for the day as was customary for Mother’s Day. Paul sets off to see his future wife Emma Hobday but is that really were he is going? We move forward sixty years and Jane is now a well-known writer and is looking back at that moment and a shocking event. This is a masterpiece of writing.
In July came The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena published by Bantam Press (Transworld Publishers). So you are invited to your neighbour’s house for a dinner party but they do not want you to bring your baby to the party. Anne and Marco decide that the baby will be fine and they will make regular trips to check on their baby daughter. Their regular babysitter has let them down. All should be ok. So you think. You knew it was going to happen. The baby is taken from her cot at the end of the dinner party. How could this have happened. They have been checking every half an hour and there was a baby monitor. Anne blames Marco for everything. A stunningly tight twisting psychological thriller that has got Gone Girl written through it. The tension palpable throughout and the ending is shocking. Gripping tense thriller at its very best, compelling and realistic.
One of the most acclaimed releases of the year was the The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead released through Fleet in October. This book even received the highest of praised from Barack Obama. The Underground Railroad tells the story of Cora a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Cora has suffered and worse will be coming. She knows her only way to survive is to escape the hell that she is enduring. A new slave arrives on the plantation and Ceasar tells her of the Underground Railroad a way to finally escape. They both know if caught they will face a brutal death. The journey takes Cora to new places in a time of pre-civil war America. A powerful novel that that will leave the reader as in no doubt of the terror and horror faced by slaves. This is quite frankly one hell of a stunning novel it shook me and it will shake you. A classic.
How much do I love Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. Released in April by Sceptre A profoundly moving story set against the backdrop of the start of World War II sees the author use stories from his Grandfather to help set the story of a group of people who directly affected by war. Heart-breaking tale of love and friendship. Three lives become entwined in a beautiful story that will shape lives. The story moves from the Blitz to Malta and a story that will move you. Breath-taking in its telling Chris Cleave has told a story using memories from family members to weave a story that will last a lifetime.
Waves is the debut novel by Jared A. Carnie This book touched me with its sheer beauty and setting. Published by Urbane Publications in September is story of Alex living in Essex stuck in a rut with his job and his long time relationship has collapsed and now Alex is looking inwards not really sure of what road he should taking in life. Then along comes his friend James who persuades Alex to go with him to The Outer Hebrides. The remoteness of The Isle of Lewis gives peace and quiet away from the drudgery and a world away from Alex’s life in Essex. The beauty of this story in in the writing and it’s at times brutal setting. Carnie’s descriptions of the landscapes just pour from every page. This is wonderfully evocative breakout novel that will make you want to go and find your own remoteness and contemplate your very own life. A writer that I am looking forward to hearing more from in the future.
My next choice is in way similar The Outrun by Amy Liptrot is the Wainwright Prize winner for 2016 and was shortlisted for the Welcome Prize. Released in January by Canongate Books. Amy Liptrot grew up on Orkney and fled the remote island life for a new life in London. The life she was living on the farm and her father’s illness were more than she could bare she craved another life. Once in London Amy’s new life collapsed in the worse way possible. Alcohol became more than just a way of life it was in fact her life morning, noon and night. Amy’s life was spiralling out of control. A decade after leaving Orkney she returns. Now Thirty years old and in dire need of getting herself clean. It is in fact the nature on Orkney that saves Amy’s life. Spending days swimming and studying the islands wildlife turned her life around. A book that is life affirming and the majestic beauty of how Amy describes the beauty of the natural history of Orkney shines through every page. Beautiful, start and brave. The Outrun needs to be read.
The second book from Louise Beech following How to be Brave was released in September by Orenda Books. The Mountain in My Shoe is a powerful psychological thriller. A move away from Louie’s first book tells the story of Bernadette and Connor. For Bernadette she has finally had enough of her dominating controlling husband and it is time to get away to a new life. Meanwhile young Connor a heartbreaking story in its own. He loves the boxer Muhammad Ali but Connors life is not easy, a life within the care system that at times fails him. Connor’s story is told in his lifebook, but this is now missing. Both Bernadette and Connor have befriended each other. Louis’s writing is breathtaking and you feel for both Connor and Bernadette and want the best for both. Beautifully written and how Louise brings characters to life in this story and one that should not be missed. Another writer I am looking forward to hearing more from.
And so to my final book choice of the year and it is a masterpiece of writing. The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola released through Tinder Press in July and is set in London in 1837. Sarah Gale has been arrested for her part in the brutal murder of Hannah Brown. Sarah is accused of being an accomplice to James Greenacre. It is said they killed Hannah and then dismembered her body. Hannah was to marry James. If found guilty there is only one punishment. Hanging. Sarah appeals for mercy and Edmund Fleetwood takes up her case. This is yet another stunning debut novel that has set the bar very high. A nerve wracking read that sets the tone for a did she really do it or no she is completely innocent all the way through book. It is no surprise to hear that the
works in law when you read The Unseeing it really is brilliantly researched. You get the feel for Victorian London from the appalling gaol conditions to life on the outside you can almost fog closing in on you. The good news if you have not yet read The Unseeing is that the Paperback is out on 26 January.
So there we have it my fifteen books of 2016. This was always going to be a difficult book selection and if your book is not here, it is not because it was not good enough, it is just the standard is so high this year. I read 119 books this year with many more still to be read. I will endeavour to get through as many as I possibly can.
I have to admit that 2016 has been a year that I will be pleased to see the back of. This year has been incredibly challenging for many of us taking into account both BREXIT and Trump and also those that we have lost this year. My hope is that 2017 is a happy and peaceful year for each of you. Books will be playing a more prominent role in our lives as we move on during the coming years. I for one will do my very best to make sure I showcase the very best books and writers. At this time, I am working on a number of projects one is a podcast were I will be talking about books and talking to writers and publishers. More news on this to follow.
I believe we are entering a golden age in writing with more and more people reading which can only be a good thing surely? In the run up to Christmas I visited a lot of bookshops and it was pleasing to see people buying books for gifts to go under the tree. Long may this continue. There are some incredible books coming in 2017 and as I write this the books are arriving all the time and they look superb.
I just want to take this opportunity to thank you for all your amazing contributions whether it has been on my blog or through following me on Twitter, you will never know just how appreciative I am. I do though have to thank all those wonderful publishers who have trusted me with copies of books. I am deeply humbled. Karen at Orenda Books you are amazing. Your energy and passion are a shining example. Alison Barrow you simply are a legend. (doffs cap.) To Matthew at Urbane Publications. My message is Simply just keep publishing the outstanding books and thank you to all the book PR people who play such an important role. Take a bow each of you. Now little word to all the hard working bloggers out there. You know who you are. You are all amazing. We do this for love because we are passionate about books and writers. At times though we do question why we do this I guess though it is more out of exhaustion than any other reason. My message to each of you. Never give up.
Happy New Year everyone.