Book Reviews

Best Books of 2017 Part 1: January – June

It happens every year, doesn’t it? Blink, and you suddenly find that spring has passed you by, the pollen has started its incessant increase in the air, and the summer is upon us. For me this year, I’ve celebrated my first wedding anniversary, project managed an exhibition for work, and ran a marathon in the first few months of 2017, all accompanied by some truly cracking books. Here’s a run-down of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson

 I came across Ragnar Jonasson and the Dark Iceland series quite by chance, when I saw a retweet about some e-book 99p downloads for Kindle. I’d been really wanting to get some foreign literature under my belt, so I downloaded books 1-3 on a whim and started reading Snowblind when I was wrapped in a blanket and feeling delicate on New Year’s Day (we’ve all been there). I finished it within a day. The writing is sublime, evoking the claustrophobia and expense of Iceland’s isolated north with exacting precision. Jonasson started translating Agatha Christie books into Icelandic aged 17, continuing for over a decade, and credits this translation work with giving him the confidence to write a novel of his own:

“The books are never set in arbitrary locations: whether beginning in a snowbound country house, on a boat on the Nile, on a remote island or in a small village, the setting is always significant to the narrative and the tone – it feels almost like a character in itself. I have no doubt this has influenced my own writing.”

Additionally, it was through the review of this book that I got in touch with Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books and Anne Cater of Book Connectors, kicking off my blog tour initiation and welcoming me to a community of book bloggers and writers. Thanks, ladies!

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Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Much to the continued horror of selected friends, Small Great Things was the first Jodi Picoult book I’ve read. What a choice to start off with! Small Great Things follows the story of African American maternity nurse Ruth Jefferson, who is accused by a white supremacist couple of killing their new-born son. Told alternately by Ruth; Turk, the father; and Kennedy, Ruth’s lawyer; Small Great Things is unapologetically raw, confrontational and incredibly tense. I have never read another book that made me feel so absolutely uncomfortable. Worth a read – but make sure you have something lighter to read once you’ve finished. I had planned to read The Colour Purple once I’d finished this book; but by the end, I had to reassess that choice!

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The President’s Gardens by Muhsin Al-Ramli

The President’s Gardens follows the lives of three friends from childhood, through conflict and war, up to the Iraq War from 2003. Ibrahim ‘The Fated’, Abdullah ‘Kafka’ and Tariq ‘The Befuddled’ meet as toddlers and become the best of friends, always together; until they are separated by the Iraq-Iran war of 1980. When they are finally all brought together once again, the impact of the years of conflict have changed them forever.

This is a very powerful read, full of gruesome details of war, told with first-hand experience on the part of the author.

the presidents gardens book cover

These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper

Set in Paris, These Dividing Walls is a book about the city away from the glittering lights of the Champs Elysées. The debut novel from Fran Cooper, the story follows the inter-woven stories of the residents of Number 37, on a street in the suburbs of Paris.

Between them, the residents of Number 37 represent a cross-section of the sentiments, struggles and everyday trials of husbands and wives, parents and children. The underlying theme which runs throughout the book, affecting all of the characters; is that of xenophobia in an age of increased immigration, and the way this affects lives. The narrative is especially poignant given the awful attacks Paris has been subjected to in recent years – the book does itself deal with a terrorist attack, but it is done in a tasteful and considerate manner. An outstanding debut.

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Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski

After seeing a massive buzz around this book on social media in the first half of this year, I was delighted to pick up a signed copy of Six Stories following an event with the author, hosted by Forum Books, back in June.

Telling the story of a young boy who disappeared on Scarclaw Fell during a trip away, and whose body was discovered a year later; Six Stories is structured as a series of podcasts, in a style inspired by the true crime podcast Serial. Each of the podcasts features a different character who was some link to the night Tom Jeffries disappeared. As a result of the podcast format, the book is predominantly dialogue and conversation – and the atmosphere and tension this creates is sublime. A very clever, chilling book from an excellent local author – I can’t wait to see what’s next from Wesolowski.

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So there you go, my top 5 books for the first half of this year. I’ll be sharing the books I’m most looking forward to reading between now and the end of the year very soon – watch this space!

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