We asked our regular book reviewers to send us their top three reads of 2017. The books do not have to have been published in 2017, although most of them were. As always, their choices are as eclectic as the business of publishing.
- Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor (Hodder & Stoughton). Who could resist a book with chapters titled ‘Purgatory Soup’, ‘Miracles For Breakfast’, ‘Spirit Of Librarian’, and ‘Pattern Of Light, Scribble Of Darkness’?
- Pages For Her by Sylvia Brownrigg (Picador). If you love beautiful writing and interesting characters, read this book. Pages For Her is the story of Flannery, a writer, and Anne, a respected academic. Twenty years after their brief, passionate affair, they meet at a writing conference.
- The Break by Marian Keyes (Michael Joseph). Meet Amy who is on a six-month (unwanted) break from her husband, Hugh. Marian Keyes is always funny, and the book is packed with quirky characters and outrageous situations. I loved it. And tied for third place is The Late Show by Michael Connelly (Orion). Reading The Late Show is like watching a fluid, well-written, well-paced film. The story gripped me from the first page and I can’t wait to read another Detective Renee Ballard thriller.
I also have two special non-fiction mentions. In a traumatic year for South Africa, there were many brilliant non-fiction books written. These were my favourites. Read them. You won’t regret it: Khwezi by Redi Tlhabi (Jonathan Ball) and Always Another Country by Sisonke Msimang (Jonathan Ball Publishers)
- Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland (Zaffre) is about a young woman with a secret past, working in a bookshop. For Loveday, books offer an escape, but also a connection to the world. It’s a love story, and a story about healing. It reminded me of The Language of Flowers. It is beautiful and moving and I highly recommend it.
- Autumn by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton) is about two people, 101 year old Daniel and Elisabeth, the young daughter of his neighbour and how the bond between them developed. He introduced her to a lyrical world of words, storytelling and art. Smith plays with language in this brilliant, inventive novel. I loved this engrossing read.
- Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan (William Heinemann) is about a bookseller named Lydia who tries to solve the mystery of her friend’s suicide by clues he left in books. It’s a page-turner debut novel with interesting characters and a surprising twist. Entertaining. Good for the holidays.
- The Less You Know the Sounder You Sleep by Juliet Butler (Fourth Estate). Imagine being born as conjoined twins. You share a body, but your personalities are totally different. This was the most fascinating, heartbreaking, thought-provoking, but also hopeful read.
- The Choice by Edith Eger (Rider). This remarkable woman tells the story of how she survived the holocaust, and how she rebuilt her life afterwards with such honesty and openness. An honest, real story that touches the heart.
- Born A Crime by Trevor Noah (Macmillan). This was a wonderful book by our local comedy legend who’s reached international stardom as host of The Daily Show in New York. The memoir about his early life growing up as a mixed race child in Apartheid South Africa is a great read and an even better audio book, which Trevor narrates himself.
- The Power by Naomi Alderman (Viking). What would happen if women were the stronger sex? This book was not fun or easy to read, but I included it because it was so surprising. I was fascinated by her version of this world and a little terrified as well.
- Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land (Penguin). If you mother is a serial killer, what are your chances of a normal life or as Milly puts it: “The brain of a psychopath is different from most, I’ve weighed up my chances. Eighty per cent genetics, twenty per cent environment. Me. One hundred per cent fucked.” This was a good read, but disturbing read.
- A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles (Hutchinson). A life time spent in a hotel, even though he didn’t set foot outside for a few decades he still led the most amazing life.
- Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks (Cornerstone) If you Hanker (see what I did there?) for old-fashioned storytelling and love the nostalgia of typewriters, then this collection from A-list Hollywood star turned author will delight you. Great stocking filler and gentle Sunday read.
- If I Stay Right Here by Chwayita Ngamlana (Blackbird Books). Bold, brave and often beautiful, this radical lesbian love story marks the debut of a hot new South African literary voice. One of the few books I couldn’t put down, or forget after I’d finished it.
- The Fall Of The House Of Wilde by Emer O’Sullivan (Bloomsbury) A whole book just on Oscar Wilde, need I say more? A meticulously researched, compelling, and vividly described account of the famous wit, playwright and novelist. Wilde stuff !
- The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce (Transworld Publishers) was a sensory experience and engaging journey. I loved seeing how the quirky characters – Frank, the owner who can pick a song to save your soul, crazy Kit and tattoo clad Maud, try to save this vestige of former grandeur (a shop that only sold vinyl) from fading into oblivion in a world of online and digital accuracy.
- The Nix by Nathan Hill (Picador) is a fable within a story. The story is of Samuel Andresen-Anderson, a college professor, blocked writer, and online gamer player, and his mother – who appears ordinary, but is anything but. I was spellbound through this adventure, as it ploughed topics like the 1968 protest marches, feminism, bullying, and fake news in a unique style that was both witty and wise.
- Dancing The Death Drill by Fred Khumalo (Umuzi). This is an epic adventure, exposing the horrors of war and humanity, yet revealing a vulnerable underbelly of love, justice, kindness, and compassion.
Special mention: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (Picador). One published in 2016, that I read this year: Lib Wright, a nurse, visits a small Irish village to observe The Wonder – an eleven year old girl who is alive by either immaculate deception or miraculous intervention. Emma Donoghue created a tense, suspicious atmosphere that kept me guessing until the very end.
- The Pearl Sister by Lucinda Riley (Macmillan). The story of the fourth sister, Cece, takes us on a journey to the Australian Outback. Lucinda Riley continues to create beautifully atmospheric settings, historical depth and this is another wonderful episode in a truly addictive saga, which just seems to get better and better. A great read.
- Softness Of The Lime by Maxine Case (Umuzi). Drawing on the history of her ancestors, Maxine Case has produced an incredibly moving account of life in the Cape from 1782. It is a story of love and loss, and ultimately about how we carry our past inside our souls. The background is very well researched, the prose beautifully crafted, and the story one that needs to be told. It stayed with me for ages after I put it down.
- A Little Life by Hanna Yanagihara (Doubleday). “Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it.” First published in 2015, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. I read it this year. It is raw and honest and extremely graphic, but so beautifully written that I was lost to my life for all of its 700 pages. It’s a story of deep friendship, love, the devastating effects of childhood trauma, and living with chronic pain and disability. It is the saddest book I’ve ever read. I will never forget it.
- The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel (Hodder & Stoughton). A haunting story of Lane and her cousin, Allegra, bound together by a terrible family secret that stretches back generations. When Allegra goes missing, Lane has no choice but to return to Roanoke, and face the past.
- Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index by Julie Israel (Headline). 16 year old Juniper battles to deal with the sudden death of the golden-haired older sister she idolised. When Camilla died, she took a secret to her grave that Juni feels compelled to uncover. How Juniper works through her grief, loss and honouring her sister is at the heart of this charming, unforgettable story.
- Kill The Father by Sandrone Dazieri (Simon & Schuster Ltd). One of the best suspense thrillers written, this book packs a sucker punch twist. When a young boy is kidnapped and his mother beheaded, the police chief resorts to unusual means to get Deputy Colomba Caselli to take the case.
- Hiding In Plain Sight by Susan Lewis (Century). When fourteen-year-old Penny Lawrence disappeared, she left behind a heartbroken family. Penny reappears 27 Years later bringing. Why did she leave and where has she been all this time?
- Assassin by Chris Bradford (Penguin). It’s James Bond meet Hardy boys. Set in Russia, two teenage bodyguards for hire find themselves in enemy territory. Up against the deadliest of criminals, Connor and Jason must protect their subject while fighting for survival.
- Humans, Bow Down by James Patterson (Century). It’s a new world, one where robots have taken over and humans have become slaves to the same machines they created. An unlikely friendship between a robot and a human could be the end of a war or simply the beginning of a greater one.
- The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (Random House) is Roy’s second novel in 20 years. The stories of a fascinating cast of characters play out in war-torn India, the most interesting of which is the hijra – India’s transgender community in India. Aside from profoundly beautiful literary writing, the novel depicts a setting, history and people I would otherwise probably never have encountered.
- The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Little, Brown & Company) demonstrates that Rowling’s story-telling ability manifests beyond fantasy and the Harry Potter series. It’s a big plot in a small town. This tragicomedy reveals prejudices and stereotypes to which we all inadvertently subscribe.
- Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt (Scribner) recounts the author’s childhood growing up Catholic, Irish and destitute. It is a poignant, funny, beautifully written book that reads almost lyrically. The Irish turn of phrase is a delight to read.
- The President’s Keepers by Jaques Pauw (Tafelberg). This is a book to remember. It is a comprehensive account. Of how the State is captured by Jacob Zuma and his Cabal. It exposes dishonest dealings with the Guptas and others. Billions have been lost over the years. I now understand how the pieces fit together.
- Black Market by James Patterson (Penguin). An explosion has damaged Wall Street. This is devastating to America and other countries. A federal agent is deployed to investigate. The truth is difficult to fathom, dangerous, and filled with intrigue. The story is gripping throughout.
- Testimony by Scott Turow (Mantle). An entire refugee camp vanishes overnight. An American prosecutor is sent to the Hague to investigate. Here begins a legal thriller. The plot is layered, complicated, enthralling and brilliantly written.
- Believe Me: A Memoir Of Love, Death And Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard (Michael Joseph). This book really caught me in the throat. This is because of Izzard’s powerful reminder that any amount or type of success is a long game.
- The Snowman by Jo Nesbo (Vintage). This is suspense at its best. The tragic yet heroic figure of Inspector Harry Hole creates the perfect character through which to experience the hunt for a serial killer in snowy Norway. I usually prefer books translated to English from another language because it gives the language a different flavour. Nesbo writes in Norwegian and this translation preserves a fresh and crisp style of writing that makes it something you want to both savour and devour.
- I Write What I Like: 40th Anniversary Edition by Steve Biko (Picador Africa). It’s seldom that I read an autobiography written in such a personal and unpolished style. There is no way that this one was outsourced to an expert biographer. Izzard digs up his demons and the kinds of experiences we all cover with shame and hide deep in the recesses of our minds. The road he has walked is one definitely worth exploring.
- The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (Doubleday). In The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne returns to some of his favourite themes – Ireland and the Catholic church, and a young man struggling to come to terms with his own sexuality in a culture and age of intolerance. A beautiful and memorable story.
- Fever by Deon Meyer (Hodder and Stoughton). This is something wonderfully different from one of South Africa’s favourite authors. Fever is set in a post-apolalyptic world, but still within the countryside that Meyer describes so well. A gripping must-read!
- The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter (HarperCollins). This is a brilliant new standalone psychological thriller by Karin Slaughter. The drama explodes from the first page and it is almost impossible to put this book down. A perfect book for the holidays.
In the past
These were our choices from previous years:
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