When I started writing this post I wanted to list every book I’ve read this year that I would recommend but it soon became obvious that the post would be far too long and no one would read it all. So I’ve whittled it down and here are the books that really were the standouts. Funnily enough, they’re mostly non-fiction.
‘Farmageddon’ by Philip Lymbery
Farm animals have been disappearing from our fields as the production of food has become a global industry. We no longer know for certain what is entering the food chain and what we are eating, as the UK horsemeat scandal demonstrated. We are reaching a tipping point as the farming revolution threatens our countryside, health and the quality of our food wherever we live in the world.
Farmageddon is a fascinating and terrifying investigative journey behind the closed doors of a runaway industry across the world, from the UK, Europe and the USA, to China, Argentina, Peru and Mexico. It is both a wake-up call to change our current food production and eating practices and an attempt to find a way to a better farming future.
This isn’t preachy at all, just factual and fantastically well-written. Everyone needs to read this book.
‘Chasing the Scream’ by Johann Hari
Drugs are not what we think they are. Addiction is not what we think it is. And the war on drugs is not what we see on our TV screens. In Chasing the Scream, Johann Hari shares his discoveries through the riveting true stories he uncovered on a 30,000-mile journey – from the founder of the war on drugs who stalked and killed Billie Holiday, to a transgender crack dealer in Brooklyn, to the only country that has ever decriminalised all drugs, with remarkable results. You will never look at addiction – or our society – in the same way again.
This is such an eye-opener. It is genuinely life-changing.
Two by the fabulous Jenny Lawson:
‘Let’s Pretend This Never Happened’
Have you ever embarrassed yourself so badly you thought you’d never get over it? Have you ever wished your family could be just like everyone else’s? Have you ever been followed to school by your father’s herd of turkeys, mistaken a marriage proposal for an attempted murder or got your arm stuck inside a cow? OK, maybe that’s just Jenny Lawson . . . The bestselling memoir from one of America’s most outlandishly hilarious writers.
and ‘Furiously Happy’
In Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson regaled readers with uproarious stories of her bizarre childhood. In her new book, Furiously Happy, she explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best. As Jenny says: ‘You can’t experience pain without also experiencing the baffling and ridiculous moments of being fiercely, unapologetically, intensely and (above all) furiously happy.’ It’s a philosophy that has – quite literally – saved her life.
I discovered Jenny Lawson through a review I read on another blog (see, reviews really work). She is a truly fabulous writer, a warm, funny and genuine person and her insight and humour have helped me with some of the issues that have and do affect my own family. Just wonderful.
‘Nights at the Circus’ by Angela Carter
Is Sophie Fevvers, toast of Europe’s capitals, part swan…or all fake?
Courted by the Prince of Wales and painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, she is an aerialiste extraordinaire and star of Colonel Kearney’s circus. She is also part woman, part swan. Jack Walser, an American journalist, is on a quest to discover the truth behind her identity. Dazzled by his love for her, and desperate for the scoop of a lifetime, Walser has no choice but to join the circus on its magical tour through turn-of-the-nineteenth-century London, St Petersburg and Siberia.
I don’t know why I’ve waited so long to read this. The writing is assured, clever without being pretentious, lyrical in places. It’s a book I’ll remember for a long time – unforgettable, colourful, and chaotic. A masterpiece.
‘The Devil You Know’ by Terry Tyler
Every serial killer is someone’s friend, spouse, lover or child….
Young women are being murdered in the Lincolnshire town of Lyndford, where five people fear someone close to them might be the monster the police are searching for.
One of them is right.
Juliet sees an expert’s profile of the average serial killer and realises that her abusive husband, Paul, ticks all the boxes.
Maisie thinks her mum’s new boyfriend seems too good to be true. Is she the only person who can see through Gary’s friendly, sensitive façade?
Tamsin is besotted with her office crush, Jake. Then love turns to suspicion…
Steve is used to his childhood friend, Dan, being a loud mouthed Lothario with little respect for the truth. But is a new influence in his life leading him down a more sinister path?
Dorothy’s beloved son, Orlando, is keeping a secret from her—a chilling discovery forces her to confront her worst fears.
THE DEVIL YOU KNOW is a character-driven psychological drama that will keep you guessing until the very end.
Terry Tyler is an independent author who always comes in handy when you’re having an argument with someone who thinks self-publishing is a last resort. Read any of Terry’s books and you’ll realise that independent authors can be just as entertaining and accomplished as any of the authors published by the Big Five (or however many it is). An intriguing storyline, fabulous characterisation, technically excellent, what more could you ask for?
‘Dear Thief’ by Samantha Harvey
In the middle of a winter’s night, a woman wraps herself in a blanket, picks up a pen and starts writing to an estranged friend. In answer to a question you asked a long time ago, she writes, and so begins a letter that calls up a shared past both women have preferred to forget.
Without knowing if her friend, Butterfly, is even alive or dead, she writes night after night – a letter of friendship that turns into something more revealing and recriminating. By turns a belated outlet of rage, an act of self-defence, and an offering of forgiveness, the letter revisits a betrayal that happened a decade and a half before, and dissects what is left of a friendship caught between the forces of hatred and love.
This book was an absolute joy to read. The quiet but stunningly beautiful narrative tells the story of a woman who has been betrayed, who is now addressing that betrayal, confronting, if only in words, in a letter, the friend who let her down. A powerful book from an incredibly talented writer.
Honourable mentions – in no particular order
‘Stiff’ by Mary Roach
A book about death and what happens to you afterwards! Weirdly uplifting and life-affirming, this book is hilarious and sobering in equal measures.
‘The Woman Who Thought Too Much’ by Joanne Limburg
Joanne’s experiences and her insightful, clever prose do a lot to explode the misconceptions and myths around OCD. A must read for those with OCD or those who are supporting an OCD sufferer.
‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ by Azar Nafisi
Revolutionary Iran seen through the lens of a group of women who come together over books. Beautiful, intelligent and fascinating.
‘No More Mulberries’ by Mary Smith
The story of a Scottish midwife living in Afghanistan, the author’s skill at creating an authentic sense of time and place makes this an absolute joy to read. And Miriam is one of the warmest, most likeable characters I’ve read this year.
‘Flesh’ by Dylan J. Morgan
I haven’t read a good horror story in ages, and this took me back to Stephen King and all those books I’d loved. Satisfyingly scary.
‘The Brazilian Husband’ by Rebecca Powell
Judith and her step-daughter Rosa travel to Brazil with Judith’s husbands ashes. What they find out about his past makes them question their own relationship. Intelligent, thoughtful, engaging. A really competent debut.
‘Fallow’ by Daniel Shand
Another scary one. Dark, disturbing but difficult to put down, Fallow tells the story of Paul and Mikey, two brothers who are on the run from someone or something. Clever and compelling, there are shades of Iain Banks’ Wasp Factory here, but Shand restrains himself somewhat, avoiding some of the more gratuitous detail of Banks’ novel. A gripping read.
‘Never Coming Back’ by Deidre Palmer
The topic of guilt and grief and how different people deal with loss and tragedy is at the heart of this extremely thoughtful and well-written novel. The characters are beautifully drawn and three-dimensional. Layla, in particular, is compelling; her mixed emotions, her grief, her guilt, vividly and realistically portrayed. I thoroughly enjoyed this lovely book
I also read/re-read quite a few classics this year as I’m trying to complete the David Bowie Reading Challenge. ‘Nights at the Circus’ was part of this. Other books that I read for the challenge that I recommend are:
‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ by Muriel Spark
‘Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy’ by Rumer Godden
‘Billy Liar’ by Keith Waterhouse
‘1984’ by George Orwell (and in the light of the events of 2016, this is a really scary read!)
‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters (a re-read)
‘Madame Bovary’ by Gustave Flaubert (another re-read)
Well, still an incredibly long post. Hope you got to the end!
Happy reading in 2017! And a very happy New Year.