Monday, 8 January 2018

Picks of 2017

 by Maryom

 Well, I've managed to be really late with my top picks from 2017, but here they are at last, in no particular order. Trying to choose which books to include, I noticed that, for me, this year's picks seem remarkably up-beat, though Larry Tremblay's The Orange Grove is as far from that as you could want ...

Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett
Reclusive former singer/songwriter Cass Wheeler looks back on her life through her 'greatest hits', the songs from a lifetime that represent key moments from her fractured childhood, rebellious teen years, meteoric rise to fame and the troubles that quickly followed. Loved it!

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Starting in 1940s Ireland and running to the present day, this is the story - cradle to grave - of Cyril Avery. As an adopted child and later a homosexual man, Cyril is constantly made to feel an outsider, unwanted and unloved, but it's also a story of the changing attitudes in Ireland, and Cyril ultimately is welcomed in this new, inclusive world. It's full of everything from joy to despair, and I can't believe anyone could read it and not be moved. 

 The Giddy Career of Mr Gadd (deceased) by Marie Gameson

 Following a moment of revelation on a mountain top in Taiwan, Winifred Rigby believes she's attained a state of enlightenment, discarding all thoughts of  'self' along with her memories. Now forced by her family to return to London, she tries her best to live a life of Buddhist detachment and mindfulness, concentrating on the present, and forgetting the past, but is puzzled and frustrated by the almost obsessive care shown by her mother and sister, and, despite her intentions, the past seems unwilling to let go of Winnie. Circling round the difficulties of caring for someone who has undergone a radical change of personality, it's a perceptive, thought-provoking read.

The Good People by Hannah Kent

 Recently widowed Nora is left struggling to cope with her disabled grandson. When all else fails, she approaches the local healer Nance, a woman knowledgeable in the use of herbs and the ways of the fairies, the 'Good People'. But Nance's 'cures' lead the women on a dangerous path ... are they truly hoping to cure the boy, or maliciously harming him?

The  Orange Grove by Larry Tremblay

A short powerful story about the loss of innocence and how children, and their parents, are manipulated in times of war.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

This is without doubt one of the creepiest stories I've read - full of tension and steadily increasing horror, it's one to give you goosebumps up the arms, and shivers down the spine. A neglected country house, overgrown with ivy, shrouded in mist, tales of skeletons discovered in the grounds and strange wooden 'companions' who seem to have developed a life of their own ... What more could you ask for in a gothic horror tale?

A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume

Frankie has reached crisis point. She feels isolated, lost, and without purpose. One day, everything just proves too overwhelming so she does what she always does - phones her mum who understands without questioning and is ready to come to the rescue. Hunkering down in her grandmother's old bungalow, Frankie attempts to put her world back together piece by piece, step by step. An intimate account of someone gripped by depression but desperately trying to walk out of its depths.

Kit heads out to Italy to find the father she's never knew, and finds a different story to the one told by her mother. The story is one of a young woman searching for identity and a place to belong, of the complexities of personal relationships, the steadfastness of love, and the sometimes disastrous results of trying to do the right thing, but what made it stand out for me was the atmospheric setting - a cliff-side garden filled with an abundance of flowers, herbs and shrubs, a terrace strung with twinkling lights, the sea as backdrop - and the food - from breakfast pastries, through biscuits of almonds and chocolate fresh from the oven, platters of antipasti with sunset-coloured aperitifs as the sun goes down, to dinners of pasta in all its shapes and tastes, with breads strewn with salt, rosemary and even strawberries, every morsel is a joy and I wanted to try it all!

I've read fewer crime and psychological thrillers this year, but of those I have read, Joseph Knox's debt Sirens stands out - a sort of Chandleresque private eye story - 
and Elly Griffiths was back with both Ruth Galloway(The Chalk Pit), and Stephens and Mephisto (The Vanishing Box) novels; The Chalk Pit was my favourite of the two, but only because I've followed more of Ruth's personal story over the longer series.

On the other hand, I think I've read more fantasy than usual - highlights being my continued trek through Robin Hobbs' Farseer series, having completed the Liveships Trilogy and returned to Fitz and The Fool with Fool's Errand, If you've already read these books, try newcomer Anna Smith Spark's The Court of Broken Knives - as a first novel, and first in a series, it's grabbed me in the the way only Robin Hobb's work has.

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