Sunday 8 January 2017

2016 did have some pretty good books

Yes, I know we are a whole week into 2017 already. And yes I also know that most of you bloggers published your best books for 2016 in early to mid-December. 

But I have a question for you - how do you do that? Do you just stop reading for the rest of the year? (I couldn't, it's my best reading time). Or do you know before you read the books what you're going to rate them, and that they won't make it into your list? For shame. Or (heaven forbid) do you only read junk after the 15th December? Those romance novels you'll never review?

I cannot. I have a primal need to assess every single book I've read during the year, up to and including the 31st December, in order to compile this list. I would feel that I'd cheated my babies if they didn't each get an equal opportunity to compete for my worthy attention.

I've thought of running my 'Book reading year' from 1st December to 30 November, but then my Goodreads targets wouldn't tie up, and that would make me very frustrated. I hear that sigh of sympathy - save it for the rest of my family, who put up with all the other ways my anality and OCD emerges (no, it's never pretty, I can assure you).

Let's get to the point - my favourite reads of 2016. 

But first, a few statistics from Goodreads... because I like those too.

Yes, I read 91 books. My target was 80. I know I'm close to 100, and  sometimes think I should just set a target of 100 for this year, but the pressure may kill me. I love reading so much, I'd hate to feel I was doing it just for the numbers. So the goal will persist. Rather that than kill the love.

These stats were even more interesting...

I cannot believe that half a million people have read "The Shadow of the Wind". Not that it isn't good, it really is, but it's not that often talked about. Interesting. Have you read it?

And the highest rated is one of my favourites - Paula Marais' Love and Wine. I inhaled that book in April and raved about it for a long time.

Funnily, neither of those made it to this page. Here is the famed shortlist, in no particular order. I'll give you the briefest of brief summaries below, and if you click the covers, you'll find my full review. 

The very first book I read on the first day of  2016 set a high standard - Freedom's Child by Jax Miller. Freedom Oliver also set a new high water mark for female protagonists, and Jax Miller (who wrote most of this book - a debut - whilst riding around the UK on the back of a motorcycle trip, if I remember correctly) raised the bar for female authorship. I did read mainly women authors (over 70% of my books read were written by women) - not that I intended that. Back to the book though - Freedom is in hiding - she has made some very mean people angry, and she isn't exactly on the right side of the law, either. But a family member is in trouble, and she must emerge from the shadows, which she does, fighting, cussing and warding off most other humans. I loved her. There was a part of my introverted dark self that totally got her gunmetal grey - the colour of her @#$%ing soul (an unrepeatable quote from P2). Lovely dialogue, strong characters and a page turning plot. 

Another debut was With our Blessing by Jo Spain. This is set in Ireland and the plot revolves around the Magdalene Laundries - places where 'fallen women' are sent. By their families. Someone dies, and the detectives must uncover the stories. I loved the fast pace, the great detective work and the creepy undertones. A must-read.

And then there was Peter Swanson's The Kind Worth Killing. This one wins the award for 'the plot twist I didn't see coming', if that's not the most overused description been seen advertising  books this year? Seriously though, I had it all figured out, then bam. Not saying, because no spoilers here. This one lends itself to discussions that open with "Ever thought of killing your spouse?" Because who hasn't?

Sharon Bolton is fast becoming a favourite of mine. Daisy in Chains was another compulsive read. I stayed up, through the night to finish this, and I know of some others who felt the same. Hamish Wolfe is a handsome prison inmate who swears he is innocent (don't they all?). And recluse lawyer Maggie Rose couldn't give a damn - she's not like all the groupies who are passionately in love with him. Or is she? A game of cat and mouse that leaves you gasping. Loved it.

Different Class by Joanne Harris was set in St Oswald’s Grammar school, where our unlikely sardonic hero, Latin master Roy Straitley, is close to retirement and the school finds itself in difficulties. The voices of the characters were completely distinct, eerily clever and sarcastic, and evoked memorable scenes and events that will stay with me for a long time. A top notch psychological thriller.

If you loved The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (her debut), chances are you won't like The Muse as much. I wasn't sure why there was so much hype about the former, and I loved the latter - much more up my alley. This one wins my "Cover of the Year" category. It's simply beautiful. And the story is too. Odelle Bastien finds it difficult to find work in London in 1967, as she is an immigrant from Trinidad. Parallel to this story, Olive Schloss is an art dealer's daughter in 1936. A truly lovely book. 

My sister and I have had long Jodi discussions. We loved her first novels, then when she was churning out so many, they got a bit tired and formulaic. And we didn't read them all. But since The Storyteller, with the exception of the elephants (Leaving Time), Jodi is back. Small Great Things is wonderful. And what makes it special is the effort that has been taken with her research. I loved the voices and in typical fashion, there is a showdown of note. This book made me re-examine my privilege and think about race and justice all over again. I loved it.

The surprise of the year goes to Conclave by Robert Harris. A pope must be elected, so all the cardinals gather in The Vatican, to seek God and elect one of themselves. Great idea for a story. Set in 2018, it's slightly futuristic, but not that much. "So where's the surprise?" I hear you asking. Well it is that Robert Harris could make this storyline so jolly riveting. It turned out to be fast-paced, exciting (!) and had all sorts of unexpected twists and turns. Not to mention politics and conniving priests.  Great stuff.

And the final one on my list is winner of a few categories - best memoir, best audiobook (he narrates it himself) and best SA book of the year. (with The Underachieving Ovary by JT Lawrence close second) It's Trevor Noah's Born a Crime. Trevor tells how having a white father and a black mother in apartheid South Africa meant he was born a crime. It is his deprecating humor, love for his mother and appreciation of different cultures and languages that make this shine. Plus he knows how to tell a story well. Not surprising, considering his day job. I laughed until I cried, and took the long route home, so that I could listen to just one more chapter. A great way to end a year like this one - with restored hope in humanity and optimism that no matter where we're from, we can connect with one another and make life that much better together. A must-read or listen.

Well, those are my Books of the Year. What did you enjoy? And watch out for my reviews coming up, as well as some recommendations and books to watch out for in 2017.

Happy reading.

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