As Christmas approaches (who am I kidding, in publishing Christmas pretty much begins in July!) I’ve been thinking about all the books I’ve read over the year, and what my favourites are – the ones I’d recommend to everybody, the ones I’ll be wrapping up and putting under the tree. With my job as a commissioning editor, I have to read an awful lot, so it is understandably harder to find the time to really read for pleasure. I love the books I edit and publish, but I’m no longer objective about them, so this is an objective list of the books I’ve truly loved this year – and that you all should try too!
1. The Heartfix by Stella Grey. So this is a book based on the author’s columns which used to run in The Guardian magazine. It tells the story of a 50-something divorcee, who, heartbroken in the wake of her separation from her husband, goes back out into the dating scene and meets a series of men online. It’s non-fiction, but told in an almost fictional form, and I absolutely LOVED it. I’m in my twenties, but I don’t think it matters what age you are to read this – it made me laugh out loud several times on a crowded train, but it’s also incredibly human – sincere, sad, scary and stark. The dating stories Stella tells reveal the intricacies of the human spirit, and she’s very honest about loneliness, hope, anxiety and fear. I loved the rawness of this book, and the way the author is totally open about her own flaws (in one chapter, she annotates her own dating profile with all the things she should’ve said differently), and she doesn’t sugarcoat any of her experiences with men, either. It’s an eye-opening read about the world we live in, and when you’ve finished reading, check out the author’s twitter feed for some news… (but DO NOT peek ahead to see how the book ends, it’ll spoil it). I found this as gripping as a thriller.
2. Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. I’ve banged on about this to lots of people but this was one of those novels that I just didn’t want to end. It’s whimsical, unusual, clever and witty – about what happens when a relationship with a married man becomes complicated, and the effect this has on a close female friendship. I thought the way the author depicted love was fascinating, and a little subversive – the novel didn’t worry about ticking boxes or ‘doing the right thing’ – it was a unique, captivating read about the complexities of relationships, human values and what connection really means.
3. The Flatshare by Beth O-Leary. Okay so this isn’t actually out yet, but it was bought by Quercus not long ago and it’s BRILLIANT. I read this on submission and loved it from start to finish. It’s about a girl who moves into a new flat but with one condition – she has to share a bed with the existing tenant. He works night shifts in a hospital, she works a day job in a publishing house. They live together, but never see each other,instead leaving little post-it notes for one another which gradually spill more and more of their secrets. This is what the industry would call women’s fiction at its finest – it’s fresh and funny, and I defy you not to fall in love with the protagonist. Look out for this next year – I promise you’ll enjoy it.
4. I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell. Maggie O’Farrell is probably my favourite writer on the planet. Her way with words is unrivalled, and this non-fiction memoir tells the fascinating stories of her seventeen brushes with death – true experiences from throughout her life. From a terrifying encounter on a mountain side to an incredibly moving chapter about her daughter’s illness, this is such a spine-tingling read, and the final pages had me sobbing in my bed. The author’s command of language is so absolute that you cannot help but get caught up in the imagery, so much so that it almost feels like the brushes with death are your own. I’ve read every single one of Maggie’s books (and even met her once! Starstruck doesn’t even cover it) and this is up there with her debut, After You’d Gone, as one of my favourites of all time. You can dip in and out, or read it in a linear fashion – the choice is yours, as long as you READ IT!
5. Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent. I have also been raving about this to everyone I know but this has got to be one of the best psychological thrillers I’ve ever read, and believe me, I have read a LOT! I read this in Australia earlier this year and to be honest, it distracted me from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the koalas,the Opera House – all I wanted to do was sit down and read. It’s very clever, with an ending that still makes me shiver if I think about it six months later. Throughout the novel the author creates a creepy sense of dread and the protagonist, Laurence, is faced with one of the best conundrums I’ve ever come across – he suspects his father of killing a woman, and believes both his parents are covering it up. Laurence’s mother, Lydia, is an amazing character, and I think if I tell you the first line, it’ll probably be enough to hook you: ‘My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.’ I defy you not to read on after an opener like that!
So those are my top five reads of 2017. I’ve read lots of other brilliant books as well, but when I really narrowed it down, these five came out on top, so if you’re looking for your next read or a good gift for the book-lover in your life, I would highly recommend all of the above. Let me know what your top reads of the year are as I’m looking for recommendations!
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