Top 10 Books Of The Year – 2017- Part 1 (10-6)

In 2017 I managed to read 67 books which is thirteen down on my record breaking score last year but exactly the same number as I read in 2015.  Everything I’ve read has been reviewed on this site and this year I’ve awarded 10 books the maximum five stars, 31 four stars and 26 three stars, which seems to be to be a good spread.  I’ve not read anything which disappointed me enough to get a two star or one star read. I’ve read a lot more books as they are published or  soon after and looking at my Top 10 it is the first year ever where all the books have either been published in 2016 (with the paperback appearing this year), 2017 and in one not-yet-published case 2018.  I think that shows how good writing is at the moment.  I’ve not narrowed the list down to only those which appeared this year.  If I read it this year, then it’s eligible.  (The earliest dated book I read this year was 1931 and Margery Allingham’s “Police At The Funeral” but she hasn’t made the list).

What I haven’t done this year at all is re-read any books (I used to re-read about 10 books a year).  With publishers sending me books and with Netgalley pressures the re-reads have been pushed out, which is a shame as I love re-reading favourites and this is something I’ll need to rebalance in 2018.  Choosing the books for my Top 10 has actually been easier this year because of those 10 five star reads, so all I needed to do was allocate positions for my annual review of my year in books .  Anything that doesn’t make the top 10 gets culled from the bookshelves or off the Kindle, which means this year I’m losing a lot of very good books (but you can’t keep them all, I know I’ve tried in the past!)

Although I’ve read books before by two authors on my Top 10 list for all of them it is their first appearance on the list, so as far as I am concerned, these are likely to be the authors’ best books.  Those also a couple of debut novelists there.  The books are all fiction for the second year running and last year I had a fifty-fifty gender split this year the women have the edge with a 60/40 domination.  All of the titles have been  reviewed on this site- click on the titles to link to the full review.

10. Exposure- Helen Dunmore ( Windmill 2016) (Read and reviewed in January)

exposureThis was the second of Helen Dunmore’s novels I have read but her first appearance on my Best Of The Year list.  Set in 1960 in an England paranoid about the Cold War and high profile spy cases this is a thrillingly written thriller which focuses on this paranoia affecting a family when a secret file goes missing.  Helen Dunmore sadly passed away in June this year, aged 64, not long after the publication of her last book “Birdcage Walk” which I am yet to read.  She has left a legacy of 15 novels which demand to be discovered.

Current Amazon sales rating: #4592 in Books

9. The Golden Age – Joan London ( Europa 2016)  (Read in March, reviewed here in May)

goldenageAustralian author Joan London won awards in her homeland with her third novel and here was longlisted for the Wellcome Prize which focuses on books having an emphasis on health.  This was set in a polio hospital in the early 1950’s.  I described it as  “a beautifully observed, quiet novel which belies its grim subject matter and becomes a life-affirming testament to hope and love.”

Current Amazon sales rating: 202,593 in Books.

8. Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult (Hodder & Stoughton 2016) (Read and reviewed in January)

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The first of this American author’s 23 novels I have read.  Her fans have told me it’s not quite like her other books but there seems to be a general consensus that this is her best.  Picoult is a superb storyteller and I thought this “feels relevant, up to the minute and especially with the America their electorate has recently chosen for them, totally convincing.  There are so many layers to the conversations that readers could have about this book.  I cannot imagine a more ideal reading group book has been published in the last few years.”

Current Amazon sales rating: 136 in Books (probably the biggest commercial hit on my list- this was a big seller when it arrived in hardback and then again in paperback).

7. All The Wicked Girls – Chris Whitaker (Zaffre 2017) (Read in June, reviewed in July)

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Chris Whitaker is great and you should all be buying his books.  He just missed out on my Top 10 last year with his debut “Tall Oaks” and when his latest American set crime novel arrived I was convinced he would be topping best-seller lists.  He impressed me here with “how authentic the author’s creation of small town America feels, in terms  of speech, the environment, their cultural references and lives.  The prejudices and obsessions of  a small community is so effectively conveyed and I found the whole thing totally involving.”  Chris is a great friend to us bloggers.  I have interviewed him twice and he is the only author this year to make a comment on my review.  I have been told by other bloggers how enthusiastic he is about us all when appearing at book talks.  Oh, and his comment to me, just in case you haven’t seen it : “I love you, Phil. (I worry I don’t tell you that enough)”.  It wasn’t his flattery I succumbed to but the quality of his novel!The best crime novel I read this year.

Current Amazon sales rating: 61,735 in Books (it’s great commercial fiction which should be in Amazon’s best sellers).

6. Home Fire – Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury Circus 2017)  (Read and reviewed in September)

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Honestly, it is unlikely that I would have read Kamila Shamsie’s modern retelling of the Antigone myth had it not been longlisted for the Man Booker prize.  I was amazed it did not make the shortlist as I ask everyone who returns a library book copy whether they have enjoyed it and it universally gets the thumbs up.  The author, in this, her seventh novel has recast the ancient Greek characters as a Muslim family from Wembley. I said of this “Shamsie is educating, entertaining and gripping her readers in a manner which explores the potential of the plot in eye-opening, thought-provoking ways.  This feels like a very important novel for our times and yet has an age-old story as its framework.” A bag of M&Ms has a lot to answer for in this book.

Current Amazon sales rating: 2,197 in books

Next post – My Top 5 reads from 2017

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100 Essential Reads – Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult (Hodder & Stoughton 2016)

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I’d always thought Jodi Picoult was not an author for me.  I’ve seen her books in shops and have shelved many a volume back onto the library shelves but I was never tempted by what I suspected to be her subject matter nor by the look of her books, which in this country are rather wispy covers geared very much to a female market  and with, I assumed a lot of misery contained within.

This novel, her 23rd looks very different.  The UK edition shows a strident black and white striped cover but I was still fairly resistant.  I saw the blurb which referred to it as a “To Kill A Mockingbird” for the 21st Century, this made me even more resistant.  I couldn’t see how my all time favourite could be compared to someone’s 23rd novel, surely by now that author would have developed a set formula for the fans and towards the best sellers list.  I was, admittedly, prejudiced towards this novel and given the theme this now seems rather pertinent.

I was still resisting as I read, initially lots of detail about childbirth and with a white supremacist as one of the narrators I felt initially like I might find this a little heavy-going.  But, oh my!  Picoult is a superb modern American storyteller on a par with Stephen King, who I would put forward as perhaps the greatest living American storyteller, even though there are a number of his books that I don’t like.  On the evidence of this book alone King may need to share his plinth with Picoult.

The tale is told by three narrators; Ruth, an experienced African-American nurse; Turk, a white supremacist who objects to Ruth being involved in his new-born baby’s care and Kennedy, a white female relatively inexperienced public defender who takes on the ensuing court case.  And plot-wise that is all you are going to get from me because I really want you to read this book.

At its heart is racism in all its aspects in modern-day America.  In many ways Picoult is putting her head above the parapet as a privileged white woman writing a book which broadly focuses on what it is to be African-American in the USA today.  It feels relevant, up to the minute and especially with the America their electorate has recently chosen for them, totally convincing.  There are so many layers to the conversations that readers could have about this book.  I cannot imagine a more ideal reading group book has been published in the last few years.

Picoult’s handling of the plot and her manipulation of us as readers of whatever skin colour and gender is sublime.  Characterisation is so strong and as the court case develops I found  I was holding my breath as I read.  The narrators show their flaws and cause us to make judgements which are then challenged.  Picoult’s 21st Century America seems more chilling than the America of Harper Lee but I could see the comparison clearly, which I did not think I would.  It does lack the roundness of the classic but there’s certainly the depth and could very well be a book still being read fifty years on.  I think that a lot of the appeal for us aficionados of “Mockingbird” is that we tended to read it at a formative time of our lives and it stays with us.   Maybe this is what should be happening to this novel, finding itself onto the school curriculum.

If there is a fault I thought that there was an attempt to give too neat a final ending but discovered on reading the author’s note that the particular event I am questioning is based on a true situation.  Truth is often said to be stranger than fiction so I’ve no problems with Jodi incorporating this into her novel.

I found it to be a gripping tale, a real thought-provoking eye opener and I’m sorry if I’ve been prejudiced in prejudging her books by their covers up until now.  I was right about one thing, she does like to pile misery onto her characters but here it is done powerfully and convincingly.  This is being called Jodi Picoult’s most important work and it has certainly changed things for me.

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“Small Great Things” has been shortlisted for the Bookhugger Book Of The Year over at Nudge books.  Take a look to see the other nominations and if this is your favourite read of the year vote for Jodi Picoult.  You have until 10th February to register your vote.

Small Great Things was published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton in November 2016.

Newbooks 90 – Available now

I’m pleased to say that this has been the busiest month ever on reviewsrevues.com with lots of new visitors and followers from all over the world.  A considerable number have been attracted by my review of the ITV series “The Level“, which in under three weeks has become by far my most read review of all time and many have, happily, stayed around and looked at other things whilst they are on the site.

So, with new people around I thought I’d take the opportunity to mention newbooks magazine and the associated nudge website, both of which I am involved with.  I am the lead contributor for literary fiction in the magazine and the community voice for the Bookhugger section of the website.  The magazine is published four times a year and the latest edition has just arrived.

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The featured author in the black and white photo on the cover is Jodi Picoult and there is an interview with her inside on the publication of her latest book “Small Great Things.”  There is also an exclusive from me, an interview with Jess Kidd whose “Himself” I enjoyed and reviewed recently.  There’s also a piece on “Black Narcissus” which compares the book to the film, which you also would not have read anywhere else before.  If you are looking for book ideas for Christmas, Jade (Book Geek) Paul (Book Life) and myself (Book Hugger) are ready to help.  To meet press deadlines I was researching books for Xmas whilst the sun was blazing down (remember that day?) so I have been anticipating the publication of the books I selected as good present choices for some time.  If anyone wants to get hold for me any of the books I’ve highlighted for Xmas they would be most welcome!!

Also it was good to see contributions from a couple of other wordpress bloggers, both of whom I have been following for some time.  Bookish Beck has highlighted, as I also have, a Christmas book by Jeanette Winterson, which may very well become a seasonal perennial. There is also an interview with Simon Savidge of Savidgereads who has been blogging for a number of years and who is always worth a visit.

If I haven’t tempted you enough there is also the opportunity to get hold of four free recommended reads by just paying the postage.  There is the aforementioned “Himself”, together with “The Return Of Norah Wells” by Virginia McGregor, “Dragon Games” by Jan-Philipp Sendker and “The Curious Charms Of Arthur Pepper” by Phaedra Patrick.  There are articles on all of those books.  With Man Booker Prize announcement imminent there are a collection of my reviews from the short/long lists (“His Bloody Project” for the prize please).

If you haven’t checked out newbooks for a while.  This is a magazine that is getting better and better.  This edition and back issues can be purchased by visiting the shop on the Nudge website either as a single copy or more sensibly by taking out a subscription.  Happy reading!