I can't be the only person rubbing their eyes and thinking "Oh God, how is it the end of February already?!"...but here I am. I've never really managed to do my best books post of the year in a timely fashion - but I'm determined to never let it get to August like I did several years ago. In my defence, I had spent all of that year writing my own book!
This time, instead of doing a measly Top 10 which is always difficult to whittle down, I'm just going to pick my favourites and tell you why, in the hope that you'll be moved to check them out too.
So here goes, of the 83 books I read in 2017, these were the ones that stood out. And as always, because I read and savour them like novels, cookbooks are included.
My favourite book of the year - After by Nikki Gemmell
I am still reeling from this gaping wound of a book. Written in the aftermath of her mother's suicide, Nikki's words made me think long and hard about the relationship between a mother and daughter, how it can be so brutal and beautiful. After was absorbing, heartbreaking, thoughtful, tender, anguished and, as always, beautifully written.
Absolutely stunning, and the first cookbook to make me feel hungry again after having the worst flu of my life over Christmas (sob!). I made the temple tomato rasam as a gentle reintroduction to solid food and it was exquisite. The smell of the garlic, ginger, chilli, cumin and curry leaves frying together was so restorative I almost wept. Every recipe of Meera Sodha's I've made - whether from this book or from her Guardian column - has been sensational so I'd highly recommend you check her out if you like to cook.
I'd heard great things about this book and wasn't disappointed. Even though I'm not normally a crime fiction person, I've been reading more and more of them lately! The Dry was riveting and well-written, brilliantly paced and intricately plotted. I didn't see the twist coming, which is always a good sign. I found the portrait of the claustrophobic, drought-ridden country town very authentic too.
Yes, *that* Molly Ringwald - who is as compelling a storyteller with the written word as she is on screen and stage. I wasn't sure what to expect, but this "novel in stories" had me intrigued from the first page. Over the course of the book, through these stories where the lives of various characters (convincingly) intersect, Ringwald creates a world where these flawed but ultimately good people find their lives punctured by betrayal, in its various forms. It's realistic and compelling reading, and her writing has a lovely lyrical quality in places. The characters are brought to life beautifully, I particularly enjoyed Betty the neighbour, and how the philandering Phillip was welcomed back into his estranged family. It's a book that makes you think, not just about life and family and relationships, but how might you feel, as the title suggests, when it happens to you.
My Life in France by Julia Child (a re-read)
I re-read this last summer in preparation for my first trip to Paris in over seven years. This is one of my favourite books and this read of it reminded me why. It is just pure joy, from start to finish. Julia finds herself in a foreign country, not speaking the language, knowing very few people and wanting to discover her purpose in life. "At age thirty-seven, I was still discovering who I was," she writes. I feel very similarly! Her delight in discovering the pleasures of food and cooking, and her incredible work ethic and refusal to give up on a project she believed in wholeheartedly, is a balm for the soul for anyone feeling a little cynical or dejected. Never give up!
A luscious historical novel that has a bit of everything - love, war, betrayal, heartbreak, tragedy, redemption and hope - resulting in a sumptuous, evocative read with characters that will linger in your mind long after you've finished reading. And, at time of writing, it's only £1.99 on Kindle!
I heard about this book on the Tea and Tattle podcast special Persephone Books episode, where Miranda and Sophie discussed their favourites. I read it in one weekend. It was absolutely breathtaking. It was desperately sad at times, even depressing, as it follows a father's journey to try and find his missing five-year-old- son after the Second World War, but all in all, it is a stunning novel about loss and hope. I'd even go so far as to say it's a masterpiece.
I think Nigel Slater could write a book about paint drying and it would still be a bestseller. This book is magnificently evocative and poetic in true Nigel style as he shares with us a celebration of his favourite time of year - Christmas, and winter in general. A cold Christmas is something I've wholeheartedly embraced living in the UK and for the very first time ever, I looked forward to winter after reading this book. All of his ideas - like enjoying a white port and tonic, in the same way you'd enjoy gin - are delicious and inspiring. A must-read for the colder months.
Sometimes I think the best novels are those that are set over the course of just one day. Let's face it, a lot can happen. Between A Wolf And A Dog explores the goings on of one rainy day (and a little bit into the next) in Sydney, in the lives of several characters in one family, by blood and by marriage. Blain explores the pain and heartbreak of separation and betrayal, how life as we know it can be over in an instant, and captures the minutiae of life, from the sound of the rain falling to the colour of an enamel ring on a character's hand, with a poet's touch. The plight of one character's fate is all the more poignant knowing that Blain herself passed away not long after the novel was published. It's a wonderful book and hammers home all the more that the Australian literary community lost someone very special indeed with her passing.
A completely gripping and engrossing novel with two parallel narratives. In the style of Sliding Doors, you see two storylines playing out if the protagonist, Joanna, had made a different decision. That decision is whether to leave the scene of a crime, or to dial 999 and hand herself in. I was completely engrossed in this novel as the story played out and Joanna grappled with the aftermath of this incident in both scenarios. The anxiety, guilt and fear that she feels - in both storylines - is palpable and will have you turning the pages! It's the sort of story that certainly makes you wonder how you would react if you were ever in the same situation. At the time of writing, it's only 99p on Kindle which is an absolute bargain!
Having written a book about self-discovery after a marriage breakdown myself, I knew I'd enjoy this (and undoubtedly think "oh, she put that so much better than I did!"). I found it relatable on so many levels, not just the marriage breakdown side of things because ultimately this is a book about learning to save yourself, rather than a marriage, or anyone else. It's courageous and candid, and I'd highly recommend it if you've found yourself at a crossroads in life and need to see that it is possible to find your way through to the other side.
A fabulous read - what a warm, witty writer Lauren Graham is. I especially liked the sections of the book that reflected on her own writing practice. It revolutionised my own writing practice last year and reacquainted me with the idea of good old fashioned discipline! Funny and inspiring.
Normally I gulp books down in a day or two, sometimes hours, but occasionally one comes along that demands careful savouring. This was one of them. One of my favourite poets, Mary Oliver turns her exquisite touch to essays in this collection which covers everything from the creative life, meditations on the work of her own favourite writers like Poe and Whitman, or observing nature, such as a spider making a web in the stairwell of a rented house at 5am each day. I love her boundless curiosity, and how she lives so thoughtfully and intelligently.
One of the best books on grieving, trauma and healing that I've ever come across. Within just a few pages I was trying not to cry as Sheryl shared the terrible story of her husband's sudden death and the painful aftermath of it. It's a very readable and relatable book with lots of personal insight, research and practical advice - even, believe it or not, humour (she uses sarcasm to great effect in places!) - which anyone navigating a loss I'm sure will find helpful and of comfort. It's a real tribute to human resilience.
So, not a bad reading year....and my favourites only had one bloke (and a fabulous bloke at that) among them! In 2018 I'd like to read more British women writers and more women in translation.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What were your favourite reads of last year? Do you have any goals for your reading this year? Do let me know!
The links to the books in this post are Amazon Affiliate links.