Another year has gone by in the world of books and so as we get closer to saying goodbye to 2017 it is time to reveal my own books for the year. As always these are books I have read either been sent kindly by publishers or bought by myself. They are in no order so there is no number one, just my selection of fifteen of the books that have made my bookish year.
The selection was not easy as there was so many that could have easily made the final fifteen. Those just outside honestly were just as good. There was through the year many great highlights involving books a number of writers I had the chance to interview and also meet in person.
So here in a little detail in the fifteen Books of the Year for 2017.
Rachel Rhys – A Dangerous Crossing (Doubleday – March 2017)
September 1939 and Europe is heading into World War Two and Lily Shepherd boards a cruise liner for a new life away from the war in Australia. For Lily she now enters a new world of endless cocktail parties and elegant new people to meet. But things do not go as smoothly as she hopes. When you are aboard ship there is nowhere to go as secrets begin to come to fore. Six weeks later the ship docks in Australia, the world has entered a dark phase as war has started and a young lady disembarks from the ship in handcuffs. What could have possible gone wrong?
Rachel Rhys is the pen name for bestselling author Tammy Cohen. I have to say I loved A Dangerous Crossing. It just reminded me of the old murder mysteries of years gone by. It has everything. Politics, glamour the sexual tension at time crackled and not forgetting of course murder on the high sea. This is a sumptuous read. Thrilling and compelling.
The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig (Little,Brown – June 2017)
Quentin and Lottie cannot afford a divorce, their hopes and dreams as well as their jobs have gone thanks to the recession and now they find they cannot afford to live in London any longer and have to downsize. So they and their three children now head to a remote part of Devon. Lottie is not happy at the thought of sharing a home with the husband she wants to divorce yet Quentin who has had a string of affairs cannot fathom why she is so unhappy. There are secrets connected to the house and this may have something to do with why the rent is so low. This is a modern day black comedy based on lives as we know it today a real state of the nation. Amanda Craig is a great storyteller.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Bloomsbury – March 2017)
Winner of the Man Booker Prize for 2017, this is a book that really has divided reader’s opinions. I really enjoyed reading and yet others I have spoken to could not really accept the way the story is told. President Lincoln’s son Willie is gravely ill and at the same time the American Civil War is raging all around. In just a matter of a few days Willie has died and Lincoln is devastated and cannot come to terms with his loss. Lincoln returns to the cemetery a number of times to cradle his dead son. This is a story told over one single night and I can only describe this as one of the most extraordinary novels I have read.
Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech (Orenda Books – September 2017)
What can I possibly say that I have not said before about Louise Beech, one of my favourite writers. Louise can put together a storyline that just simply takes my breath away. Maria in the Moon was one of the first books to make the list. When I wrote my review I said that I had great hopes that this would be Louise’s breakout novel that would finally get her the recognition she deserves. I stand by this as I write this piece just a few days away from the end of the year. Karen the founder of Orenda Books has found a real gem in Louise Beech.
This story follows Catherine Hope. She suffers from Insomnia and she has a memory yet struggles to remember anything. Dark and poignant this is a story of many things including memory, it is what happens to us when we can no longer hide. A story that is at times painful yet moving. One book not to be missed.
Larchfield by Polly Clark (riverrrun – March 2017)
How could I not include this gorgeous debut by Polly Clark. Simply wonderful. Larchfied follows two timelines. Current time when Dora moves to Helensburgh on the West Coast of Scotland. Dora is recently married and is expecting her first child. She is excited at the prospects that are ahead. But soon reality arrives and Dora is struggling to adapt. What she needs to something to help her escape the reality she is in. What transpires is that the poet Wystan H. Auden once lived at Helensburgh. At 24 Auden seemed to have made his name as his first collection of poetry was published and yet following a broken engagement he cannot cope and takes a teaching post at Larchfield boys school. A beautiful and haunting novel. Beautiful and deft a novel of great storytelling.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (Harper Collins – May 2017)
Eleanor Oliphant has life planned out. Every Friday after work she buys the same pizza and two bottles of vodka and then shuts the door of her home for the weekend and gets drunk. She sees no-one except her colleagues at work. She wears the same clothes to work and eats the same lunch every day. Nothing seems to be missing from her life and yet everything is missing. Sometimes we all build a wall around us to protect ourselves but what happens when you build a wall that no-one or nothing can get through. Isolation happens. Then one day a simple act of pure human kindness happens to shatter Eleanor’s precise life. A novel of loneliness and kindness. One of the truly great books of 2017 and shortlisted for the 2017 Costa First Novel Award. I raved about this when I was sent a copy and I am just so pleased that it has got the recognition it really deserves and one of the biggest sellers of the year.
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (Corsair – October 2017)
I was very lucky to have met Jennifer Egan when I was at BBC Radio Four in November as she was talking about her Pulitzer Prize Winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad. Manhattan Beach is about Anna Kerrigan and when she was young she remembers visiting with her father a man who was to be important for the family. Now years later the country has entered WWII and Anna is working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard and is doing a job only previously held by a man. She is the first female diver. She is the breadwinner for the family since her father disappeared, she believes her father has been murdered and she wants to know how and why. Haunting and so beautifully written and constructed.
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (JM Originals – August 2017)
Shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize and was my tip to win it. Fiona Mozley’s outstanding debut novel Elmet is brutal and incredible. The bond between father and child. A family living on a knife edge of society and what happens when it tips over the edge. The family live in the woods after mother and father split. Dad did not want his children mixing with others. He built their home with his bare hands. Sometimes he would disappear and then he would return with eyes raging. But soon he would be at peace again but then peace would soon be shattered. When people are pushed to their limits sometimes they can be capable of anything. Gripping and a real slow burner of a book.
Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski – (Orenda Books – March 2017)
A thriller based around a series of podcasts. Brilliant idea and how this book really grabbed me. I could not put this down. Such a simple idea really works and resonated with me and I know it has for others. Matt Wesoloski in writing Six Stories has nailed it. Set over two time frames 1997 and 2017. In 1997 the body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found, they say it he died in an accident but some are not believing this story. Now in 2017 journalist Scott King who produces a series of podcasts about cases now decides this is a case worth investigating. Now some are nervous about his intentions. Just how did Scott Jeffries meet his death on Scarclaw Fell in 1997. Over the course of Six interviews on his podcasts Scott attempts to get to the bottom of this mystery. A chilling and gripping story. Orenda Books has another sensation to its ever growing band of writers.
A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall (Bloomsbury – June 2017)
My association with Kew Gardens goes back along way and the memories I carry will last a lifetime happy and also sad. Never did I think anyone would write a novel set to the backdrop of Kew Gardens. Along comes the debut novel A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall. Just one of THE best novels of 2017.
Jonah has been left alone and shattered by the death of his Audrey and wanders the grounds of Kew Gardens trying to make sense and also trying to put life into some sort of resemblance and make sense of it all. There is Chloe who finds peace is making Origami, there is Milly the child who loves to laugh and explore the gardens of Kew. This is a timeless piece of writing that made cry for the story for the memories and one that I will hold close for years to come. If you have not read A Thousand Paper Birds yet, I urge you to go buy a copy. It will stay with you long after you have finished reading.
American War by Oamar El Akkad (Picador – September 2017)
In September I was given the chance to interview Omar El Akkad about his novel American War during the Cheltenham Literature Festival just hours after arriving in the UK and we talked about his career as a journalist covering the war in Afghanistan and then how American War came about.
The Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074 this is when Sarat Chestnut is only Six-years-old. But this Civil War is not about race but fossil-fuels. America has ravaged by natural disasters and sea levels have rose to such an extent that parts of America are now under water. Drones fill the sky and the fight for survival is fraught with dangers every day. Sarat’s voice is one that is haunting as she is drawn into the resistance as she faces starvation and poverty and now is an instrument of war. This is a devastating post-apocalyptic novel that is both poignant and disturbing.
As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Alex Preston & Neil Gower (Corsair – July 2017)
The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce (Doubleday – July 2017)
I have to admit to being a huge fan of Rachel Joyce. Rachel can tell a story like no-other. I have been lucky to have met Rachel on a number of occasions and each time I go away with a head full of stories and here with The Music Shop a book I just fell for. Beautifully written and lyrical in more than just one sense. We go back to 1988 and Frank is running his music shop. All vinyl not a CD in sight. Here he sells his music and that could be any genre and Frank knows his music. Then one day something happens to change he life. Ilse Brauchmann is that woman. She wants Frank to teach her all about music. Frank has a past that now threatens to open up, his past follows him. Not to be seen but always there. This is just the most beautiful of novels and told by the master storyteller Rachel Joyce. Just wonderful in every sense.
I AM I AM I AM – Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press – August 2017)
The second no-fiction book to make my fifteen books of the year. The highly acclaimed Maggie O’Farrell has a massive bestseller and for many the book of the year with I AM I AM I AM – Seventeen Brushes with Death. This is not a novel but her own near death experiences. This is her own life in her own words. One of the most extraordinary literary experiences. From Childhood with an illness she was not expected to survive to a terrifying encounter on a footpath. When I picked up my copy I knew this was a book that once started I was not going to put down. This will pull at your own heart. Truly breathtaking and brilliant.
Tin Man by Sarah Winman (Tinder Press – July 2017)
And so to my final choice and how could I not put Tin Man in my fifteen books of the year. Sarah Winman has written a book of outstanding beauty. It may be short at around 195 pages but what it packs into those pages in just so profound. It is tender and beautiful in every sense. A painting of fifteen sunflowers and then two boys who are inseparable. The boys grow to be men and a woman walks into their lives. Annie would be change everything. This is a tender novel that deals with love and loss and friendship. A truly outstanding novel that will break your heart and them put it back together.
My Literary Year
Just a few of the events I have attended this past year have been a major part of why I just love books and talking with writers.
In February I was invited along with many other book bloggers to the Headline Publishing Group Blogger Night 2017.
This was a peek at some of the great and up-coming novels being released. It was great to catch up with some of the authors and also some of the bloggers.
In August I was invited to Blenheim Palace for the Wainwright Book Prize 2017 which was part of Countryfile Live. I had the great pleasure of meeting all the writers who had been shortlisted for this important book prize that covers writing on natural history and the outside world. The winner for 2017 was John Lewis-Stempel with his book Where Poppies Blow which is about the Soldier of the first World War and his relationship with the plants and animals and birds around him even as battles were raging.
In October I attended the Salisbury Literary Festival and in front of a packed theatre to listen to a talk by Joanna Cannon as she spoke about her debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and also a little glimpse of her second novel Three Things about Elsie which is released on 11th January 2018 also about how she became a writer. Finally after all this time I got to talk with Joanna after the event.
So there we have it. That is 2017 all wrapped up in one post. I hope you have enjoyed reading not just about my books of the year but also about my bookish year. I have met some of the most incredible people this year from authors to publishers and other book bloggers but this also goes for those I have met on social media. I would not be doing this without your support. I have some exciting plans for 2018 and along with this some incredible books already in for the coming months of the new year. Part of the real pleasure is the book banter we share on Twitter. Long may that continue.
Thank you for all your incredible support and Happy New Year.