We don’t just love to sell books (and magazines, and games) but we also love to read them! So, without further ado, here are our favorite reads from the past year, in Reverse Inbox Order. Enjoy!
Erik – Sywert – Marten – Klaartje – Tiemen – Simone – Renate – Maarten – Iris – Tom – Shirley – Jitse – Jilles – Lynn – Karin – Pleun – JeroenW – Lília – Jouke – Ceriel – PeterL – Martijn – Sophie
The Second World War – Antony Beevor
The author manages to organize an immense amount of information into a coherent whole. Through a combination of bird’s-eye view and vignettes, this book brilliantly conveys different elements of the war. The theatres on opposite sides of the globe were interconnected, alliances were shaky, the men in charge were stubborn, resources were scarce, and of course, combat was brutal: I had heard of all this, but now I understand it.
Earthly Powers – Anthony Burgess
This is a virtuosic work which seeks to capture almost all of the twentieth century, both artistically and politically. The narrator is a gay octogenarian who reflects on his tumultuous life as an artist. If you enjoy smut, opera and irony; if you know your classics; if you appreciate linguistic flourishes – this is the book for you.
The Golden House – Salman Rushdie
The story of a mysterious, wealthy family of immigrants who come to live in the US and experience the rise of Trump, whom Rushdie clearly hates. His attack on the president is creative and cathartic, but this novel is more than a pamphlet. I feel that, above all, it deals with the theme of transformation, in all its different shapes and guises. Also, the style is a whirlwind of fantastical scenes and (pop-)cultural references.
Golden Hill – Francis Spufford
The story of a mysterious, wealthy traveller who comes to New York in 1746 with a hidden agenda. Also written in a flamboyant style. (Perhaps you are starting to see a pattern? I like history, politics and virtuosity.) In any case, I find this novel energetic and joyful and thrilling. It also captures the atmosphere of the 18th-century colonial town in a visceral way.
This Is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay
A comedian tells amusing anecdotes about the years he spent as a junior doctor. That sounds light – and it is, to an extent, because many of the stories are laugh-out-loud funny – but the book does a good job of conveying just how exhausting and harrowing the medical profession can be. Also, there are lots of bodily fluids and things stuck in bums. Good times.
Great North Road – Peter F Hamilton
Murder mystery by a great sci-fi writer. Twists and turns and keeps you guessing for all of its 900+ pages.
Thrawn – Timothy Zahn
At long last a new book about my favorite Star Wars character.
Fun read for everybody who is fan of the old Timothy Zahn books.
No Is Not Enough – Naomi Klein
Explaining the “success” of Trump. And more importantly how to deal with him.
Klein calls her book a tool-kit for shock-resistance. And it’s definitely that.
The Vorrh – Brian Catling
When Alan Moore calls a book “most original and stunning work of fantasy” you don’t doubt it. Read it.
On Tyranny – Timothy Snyder
An essay teaching us how fascism and authoritarianism worked in the past and how to combat it now. Perfect companion to the Klein book.
A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 (Centenary edition) – Orlando Figes
I’m a fan of Figes’s writing and I highly recommend his Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia … and this book but, wow, is this book big and heavy! And just look at the lay-out, every page crammed with as much text as will fit the page…!
A People’s Tragedy is an incredibly fascinating book. In it, Figes gives a nuanced but clear picture of Russian society at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, moving toward the revolution of 1917. He describes in detail how the Russian authorities actively alienated every group in Russian society, including their safest ally, the liberal bourgeoisie, by trying to turn back the clock to the 17th century, hanging on to autocracy instead of modernizing government and bureaucracy. And by their utterly and completely incompetent handling of the famine crisis of the 1890’s and the Japanese war of 1904-5. Blocking the road for liberalism and social democracy, the road became open for a particularly authoritarian branch of revolutionary thought and practice, under a sauce of the obligatory and omnipresent ‘scientific’ Marxism. Anyway highly recommended! But wow, …960 pages!
The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II – Svetlana Alexievich
An incredibly unfortunate title for a book that talks about the thus far seemingly completely unacknowledged contribution of women in the Russian struggle against Nazi Germany. Hundreds of thousands of girls and women fought at the front or were doing extremely dangerous and demanding work in the medical and rescue battalions.
Alexievich’s style is to tell the story of the war solely through the stories and experiences of the women who fought in it, and it is honest and necessary, perhaps. But it doesn’t always hold up well. And it doesn’t always do justice to the veterans in my opinion. Some context is indispensable when talking about these kinds of events. And to read story after story after story sometimes misses the mark. Nonetheless it has opened my eyes to the fact that so many women fought at the Russian front, liberating Europe from the Germans.
Pre-Industrial Societies: Anatomy of the Pre-Modern World – Patricia Crone
A must-read for everyone with the slightest interest in history. A little dated with its polemics against Marxist historiography perhaps, but incredibly insightful especially (and ironically) in regards to the build up of modern, industrial society. …And its 214 pages make a nice change to the usual 400+ page history books .
Heimwee naar de horizon: Omzwervingen door Zuid-Amerika – Ineke Holtwijk
I borrowed this book when I didn’t have anything to read; the person lending it to me wouldn’t let me read anything else. It really did not have me going for it after I read the introduction (never read the introduction first!) but the book was highly entertaining and informative on South American history and culture, something I know nothing about. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a light but informative introduction to the history and culture of South America (and the 90’s).
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World – Peter Frankopan
This book is neither a book on the history of Silk Roads nor is it a new history of the World. It is however, a successful attempt to put European history in a broader context. Very well done, although not always consistent still a pleasure to read. Again, recommended!
The Collector of Worlds – Ilija Trojanov
Magicians of the Gods – Graham Hancock
The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
Into the Water – Paula Hawkins
Imperium – Robert Harris
The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe – Kij Johnson
This year I’ve been reading a lot of great novellas and The Dream-Quest of Vellit Boe has been the one that made the biggest impact on me. A homage to the Cthulhu universe that also at the same time subtly but powerfully subverts Lovecraft’s tropes. It is a rare author that can make a voyage filled with eldritch horrors still enchantingly compelling.
Walkaway – Cory Doctorow (regular paperback edition expected in January 2018)
The revolution will be 3D-printed. In broad strokes Doctorow tells a near-future story about the end of capitalism and the start of a post-scarcity decentralized era, with of course the usual (read: anti-revolutionary) growing pains.. With a lot of detail for the technological and sociological aspects of said revolution Doctorow tells a story that is also just a lot of plain fun to read. For everyone who truly dares to think/dream about a world in which people are people again and no longer just consumers.
Provenance – Ann Leckie
A new book by Ann Leckie is always worth reading. Set again in the same universe of the Ancillary series this is a coming-of-age story while growing up in the family of a political dynasty with complex interplanetary politics unfolding on the background. While Provenance has a decidedly different theme, vibe and rather hard to pinpoint but very funny kind of humor, it is undeniably a Leckie story and fans of the Ancillary series will not be disappointed.
They Both Die at the End – Adam Silvera
Even though the title already reveals the ending, you will still want to race to the last page to discover what will happen. This is a story of two boys who have both less than 24 hours to live and decide to spend their last day together. A story that Silvera tells in very gentle and warm way, mixed with the occasional humor, that really makes you care about the characters. Be warned though, you heart will inevitably be broken after you read the last page.
The City of Brass – S.A. Chakraborty
A lovely story to escape to from your everyday worries, but one that is deceptively deep and occasionally also very cruel. Chakraborty creates a magnificent world that draws heavily on Arabian and Islamic mythology about the Djinn with a rather wonderful main character. Although don’t be too smitten by Nahri, as that would make you an easy mark.
Notable Mentions: The Boy on the Bridge – M.R. Carey, Eliza and Her Monsters – Francessca Zappia, The Stars are Legion – Kameron Hurley, The Court of Broken Knives – Anna Smith Spark, All Systems Red – Martha Wells, Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan, Mrs. Fletcher – Tom Perrota
There are also E-BOOKS available for The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, Walkaway, Provenance, They Both Die at the End, The City of Brass, The Boy on the Bridge, Eliza and Her Monsters, The Stars are Legion, The Court of Broken Knives, All Systems Red, Crazy Rich Asians, and Mrs. Fletcher.
Strange Weather in Tokyo – Hiromi Kawakami AND The Nakano Thrift Shop – Hiromi Kawakami
Both wonderfully written prose by this Japanese author. The style of interactions between all characters is in a very subdued (Japanese) style, not much is said, but much is implied, and there is a lot of melancholy in both books. An absolute pleasure to read.
My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout AND The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Strout paints amazingly detailed pictures of human interaction, in a lovely prose. Atwood writes about human interaction as well, be it in a different social environment, and she makes you wonder about rules in society.
Both are great authors for me to ‘discover’, and I am eager to read more by them.
The Whistler – John Grisham AND The Late Show – Michael Connelly (regular paperback edition expected in January 2018)
Both are familiar authors for me, I have read just about everything, but these new titles are both with a female lead character, which is a new feature! This new perspective works very well, so hopefully they will write more books with different main characters!
At Weddings and Wakes – Alice McDermott AND The Ninth Hour – Alice McDermott
McDermott knows how to describe life, and situations, she is an excellent sketcher of scenes. Along the lines of Lorrie Moore or Anita Brookner, each book is a feast for the mental eye.
Not Dead Yet – Peter James AND The Suspect – John Lescroart
Both of these authors are somewhat new discoveries for me this year, and I have already read several of their crime novels in the past month. Great books for all crime fiction fans!
There are also E-BOOKS available for Strange Weather in Tokyo, The Nakano Thrift Shop, My Name is Lucy Barton, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Whistler, The Late Show, At Weddings and Wakes, The Ninth Hour, Not Dead Yet, and The Suspect.
‘s Middags zwem ik in de Noordzee – Wim Brands
Seemingly simple but beautiful poems by the late Wim Brands, who used to frequent and love our store. Reading these poems made me see him in a different light, I suppose, made me know him better.
Koerikoeloem – Tjitske Jansen
Another Dutch poetry collection (not available in English, I’m afraid).
Funny and sad, a combination I particularly admire and love in a writer. Tjitske Jansen knows how to draw your attention with her beautiful collection based on her own personal history. Poems about being human, the strangeness of family, love, death, insecurity.
Karate Chop – Dorthe Nors
Absurd and sharp collection of short stories written in a direct and simple style, often with a dry sense of humor, by Danish writer Dorthe Nors, who deserves to be read more widely, in my opinion. Some of her sentences are insane: so good I’ve read them multiple times.
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute – Grace Paley
Short story collection by the amazing Grace Paley. Somewhat tragic but true ringing stories about being a parent, a sister, a mother, a daughter, a son, and failing at it, but trying nonetheless.
The Book of Formation – Ross Simonini
A rather strange novel about a journalist who becomes enthralled by, and slightly obsessed with, the son of a popular charismatic self-help guru, head of the so-called Personality Movement. Changing personalities, for real, that’s what it’s all about. A captivating read, and I’m wondering how it ends, as I haven’t finished it yet. 😉
Kijk waar je loopt! Over stadspaleontologie – Jelle Reumer
The first book I read this year, and on this list not necessarily because it is so well written – although it is funny at times – but because it made me realize there are fossils everywhere in our cities, you just have to look for them, or even just keep your eyes open. So now I see them all around, these hundreds of million-years old ammonites, corals and brachiopods, in curbs, in the stone floors of otherwise ugly shopping malls, in the stone table top at my favorite coffee bar…
Halleluja – Annelies Verbeke
Never read anything by this author before, but she made it to this Top 5 because these are just Very! Good! Stories! Compelling and immersive, unsettling and disturbing, but in a ‘well, that’s just how life can be, and when written by such a good author it really feels like the truth, however uncomfortable’-kind of way. Or something…
Verrassing – Etgar Keret (English title: Suddenly, A Knock on the Door)
A bit lighter that the previous title, but, hey!, all work and no play, right? A nice collection of slightly absurdist and/or surreal stories, quite funny at times, but, like all good absurdists, also showing the deeper and more troubling parts of us humans, life in general, and the times we live in.
A Sea of Glass. Searching for the Blaschkas’ Fragile Legacy in an Ocean at Risk – Drew Harvell and Sea Creatures in Glass: The Blaschka Marine Animals at Harvard – E.R. Brill/F.Huber/David O.Brown (this one is mostly nice photos)(currently only available through our supplier of second-hand books)
I read a lot of (popular science) books about animals, botany and biology this year, but I’ll choose these 2 (counting as 1) mostly because otherwise there aren’t any English titles on this list…
Two books about those magnificent glass models of invertebrate sea-creatures made by the Blashka’s, and about the environmental disasters now happening in our oceans, slowly destroying the habitats and chances of survival of such beautiful and enigmatic animals like sea-slugs, corals and octopuses. A nice mix of (popular) science, environmental research and art history. (Really: check out these Blaschka-models!)
Karkas – Femke Schavemaker
Feels kinda like cheating, putting this book on such a list, because I know the author personally. But even without that this book deserved a place in this Rop 5. This is a tour-de-force, a very personal (autobiographical) novel, describing… no, not describing, showing, making the reader feel and perhaps partly understand, what it is to live with a bi-polar disorder. The writing often feels unedited – but it is actually quite the opposite, very precise and carefully thought-out – giving you an immersive experience of both the manic active periods, and the rather disturbing depressive ones, and making clear that both are essential parts of who she – the main character (and author) – is, and has become.
The Book of Dust 1: La Belle Sauvage – Philip Pullman
When I first heard about this book, I was very excited about returning to Lyra’s world, but I was also a little nervous. It’s been two decades since His Dark Materials came out and I was afraid that Pullman might not be able to hit the same tone he did in the original trilogy. I shouldn’t have worried, though: Pullman is a master worldbuilder and this book, about a young boy named Malcolm who lives across the river from a priory where the nuns are looking after a baby named Lyra, is a very promising start to this new trilogy. I can’t wait for the next one!
How Not To Disappear – Clare Furniss
This is one of those rare and wonderful books that I finished in one day. Because of the amount of books I read per year, most people assume I spend all my spare time reading. Not true! I read on my commute and my lunch break, but it’s pretty rare for me to come home and want to continue a book. This one was an exception, though!
I’m not sure what it is exactly that made this book speak to me so much, but Furniss’ writing is excellent (I literally can’t flaw a single thing), the characters are diverse and interesting and real, the different storylines are both heartbreaking and full of life and humour, and the ending is beautifully poignant but also optimistic.
The Language of Thorns – Leigh Bardugo
This book is a collection of fairytale-like short stories, set in the universe created by Bardugo in her Grisha series and expanded in the Six of Crows duology. I’ve not read the former, but the latter is one of my absolute favourite series of all time, so I was very excited to dive back into the “Grishaverse”. All of these stories start with familiar themes from pre-existing fairytales and fables: princes and princesses, old ladies in the forest, talking animals, mermaids and toys that come to life. But don’t get too comfortable, because as soon as you think you know where the story is going, there’s a plot twist. The obvious bad guy turns out to be good, the damsel in distress is actually not as helpless as she seems, and the people who deserve it most don’t always get their happy ending.
I am a sucker for short stories as well as fairytale adaptations, so obviously The Language of Thorns is right up my street. I love the themes in this book, the surprises in the stories and the spellbinding illustrations by Sara Kipin, which evolve with the stories and end in a two-page spread. I personally recommend exploring Bardugo’s world through her series first, but it’s not strictly necessary: this book can be read as a standalone as well.
When the Moon Was Ours – Anna-Marie McLemore (paperback edition due in February 2018)
I hadn’t heard about this book until I received it in a “Magical Realism”-themed Bookly Bird subscription box. I liked the premise, but it still took me a very long time to get around to actually picking up the book. I’m happy I waited, though, because reading this book in October turned out to be a perfect fit with the atmospheric, autumnal vibe of the story.
This book is about Miel, a girl with roses growing from her wrist, who spilled out of a water tower when she was a child, and Sam, who makes moons and hangs them all over town and who has a secret he’s trying to keep from the other kids in school. This book is about family history and choosing your own family, cultural identity and gender identity, but it’s also about honey and pumpkins and red hair.
The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
I’d been aware of this book for a very long time before I finally decided to pick it up myself; I’d been putting it off because I was afraid that it had been hyped up too much and I’d be disappointed. I was wrong.
The Name of the Wind is the first part in a series which chronicles the life of the main character Kvothe, as told by Kvothe himself. This first part is the first of three nights of storytelling and it’s absolutely amazing. The world that Rothfuss created for this series is complicated and rich and because Rothfuss doesn’t do info dumps, it took me a while to get into it. But once I did, I was completely hooked and, like the rest of the fanbase, I’m currently impatiently waiting for part 3.
Honorable mentions: these titles didn’t make my final list for a variety of reasons, but I still enjoyed them very much and would highly recommend them: Kings of the Wyld – Nicholas Eames, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls – Elena Favilli, A Year of Marvellous Ways – Sarah Winman, Tangleweed and Brine – Deirde Sullivan.
There are also E-BOOKS available for Book of Dust 1: La Belle Sauvage, How Not To Disappear, The Language of Thorns, When the Moon Was Ours, The Name of the Wind, Kings of the Wyld, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, and A Year of Marvellous Ways.
Why the Dutch are Different – Ben Coates
This is a very interesting book for anyone who wants to get to know the Netherlands better, be they an expat living here or a relative abroad of a Dutch citizen. The author, a Briton who has been living here for several years now, sets out on a quest to discover what this country makes unique. For me, as a Dutchman, reading this book was like a refresher course on Dutch history. It was also fascinating to see the country through a foreigner’s eyes.
Xenophobe’s Guide to the Estonians – Opik Lembit
I like the Xenophobe’s guides as they provide short introductions to (the people living in the) countries I am going to visit. Also recommended as a way to get to know a country that you’ve already visited better.
What to Drink with What You Eat – Andrew Dornenburg
I was looking for a guide on pairing food with wine and other drinks, including non-alcoholic ones. This one got rave reviews and was recommended to me by my colleague and food and drinks expert María. This book will give me many years of ideas and inspiration.
Pocket Beer Book – Stephen Beaumont and Tim Webb
This handy guidebook provides a good overview of the world’s most interesting beers. Every time I visit a country I keep an eye out for the beers recommended in this book.
Weihnachten 1945 – Ein Buch der Erinnerungen (read in German) – various authors
Various authors and other well-known Germans were asked to write about their memories of celebrating Christmas for the first time after the Second World War. Some had been soldiers, others children or victims of the Nazi regime. The country lay in ruins and many families were still hoping their missing loved ones would return one day. Certain stories are particularly moving, like the one about the returned soldier who couldn’t find his way around in what was left of his home town. I don’t think this compilation has been translated into English.
The Husband’s Secret – Liane Moriarty
I also read Truly Madly Guilty this year from Moriarty and that made be curious about this one. And actually, I think this one is even better!
What do you do when you find out that your husband has a dark secret?
Sometimes I Lie – Alice Feeney
A very good read. Interesting scenes and a description that immediately grabs you: “My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me: I’m in a coma, My husband doesn’t love me any more, Sometimes I lie…”
Camino Island – John Grisham
Unfortunately I think this is NOT a good book. A very thin story – nice though, because it is about a bookstore and its owner – and by the time you think ‘now the story begins’, it is finished.
Olivia Joules and the Overacting Imagination – Helen Fielding
I was curious about some older titles of Helen Fielding. This one was a good read during my summer holidays. It is a strange story about a journalist who thinks she saw Bin Laden and tries to get near to him…
The story is a little rough around the edges, but still a good read. Especially when you are reading beside the swimming pool.
Her Every Fear – Peter Swanson
Very good read, as well. Swanson is a really good stylist. He describes the scenes so well, that you already can see the story evolve into movie scenes. He is certainly influenced by Hitchcock. Although The Kind Worth Killing is even better – plot wise…, I think.
Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor and Loki – Kevin Crossley-Holland and Jeffrey Alan Love
Vegan: The Cookbook – Jean-Christian Jury
Monograph – Chris Ware
The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present – Ronald Hutton
Batman: The Dark Knight: Master Race – Frank Miller and Brian Azzarrello
Lay Your Sleeping Head – Michael Nava
An amazing book from a writer who I have missed dearly since he stopped writing Henry Rios novels. Nava has done an amazing job in re-imagining his first novel The Little Death. There is nothing more powerful that reading something that gives words and meaning to things inside of you that you never found the words for yourself to explain, or that express a deeper layer inside you. As a writer he uses words like a poet. That together with a great, entertaining story makes this one of the greatest books I have read in a long time.
Wolf Lake – John Verdon
One of the best thrillers I have read this year with a great mystery: four people who live in different parts of the country and who seem to have little in common report having had the same dream — a terrifying nightmare involving a bloody dagger with a carved wolf’s head on the handle. All four are subsequently found with their wrists cut — apparent suicides — and the weapon used in each case was a wolf’s head dagger. This is a very well-plotted book with well-developed characters, a great setting that all comes together perfectly to explain the unexplainable.
Come, Tell Me How You Live – Agatha Christie
This is just a lovely book, a charming, fascinating, and wonderfully witty nonfiction account of her days on an archaeological dig in Syria with her husband, renowned archeologist Max Mallowan. This shows that Agatha Christie was not just a great plotter, but a really good storyteller, who is like your favourite aunt with some of the most hilarious anecdotes.
The Untethered Soul – Michael Singer
I think this is the third time this book is part of my top 5 list, but after having read it again for the sixth time, the depth and the new layers that reveal themselves with every read are just amazing. This is like a bible to keep on your night stand to remind yourself every day about what it all is really about in life.
Being You, Changing The World – Dain Heer
This is a weird book about energy, about not changing but really being you. It is full of amazing tools to get you out of judgement and into awareness. Some of them really stick because they work immediately (“interesting viewpoint”). Fresh and out-of-the-box reading for everybody who is interested in letting go and opening up to new possibilities.
Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood
Nine stories by a master, told with senior humor and cunning.
The Silk Roads: A New History of the World – Peter Frankopan
Reading this one reframed my understanding of human history.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Arundhati Roy
What a huge undertaking, an all-inclusive novel. No wonder it took ten years. Re-readable.
Balfour’s Shadow: A Century of British Support for Zionism and Israel – David Cronin
How 100 years of British policy created the now seemingly unsolvable Middle East conflict.
The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras – J. Michael Orenduff
Mystery/philosophy/archeology – shades of Tony Hillerman but more challenging.
The Little Book of Mindfulness: 10 Minutes a Day to Less Stress, More Peace – Patricia Collard
The sweetest little book I got this year from my dear colleagues to help me through a period of needing lots of hugs, love and understanding, and getting back my mojo. There literally is a book for everyone and every occasion. ;o)
Fashionpedia: the Visual Dictionary of Fashion Design – Fashionary
Made myself and my daughter (who started fashion school this year) very happy with this book of books for anyone in the fashion industry! I can look up what the hell she is talking about and she uses and impresses all her teachers using the technical terms described and explained.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers
Okay… I am a bit late as everyone already put this one on their list last year but it is never too late for a good old fashioned SF novel with many endearing characters and some fabulous aliens!
My Absolute Darling – Gabriel Talent
The DEBUT of 2017. I can’t describe it better myself than these review paragraphs written by Constance Grady on Vox:
“My Absolute Darling is not an easy book to read, nor is it always a pleasant book. It’s bleak and sad, and even the dog dies.
“A debut novel by Gabriel Tallent, My Absolute Darling centers on 14-year-old Turtle Alveston, a tough-as-nails outdoorsy kid who is forever obsessively cleaning her gun in her house in North California. In a nice subtle touch, only the narrator and Turtle herself call her Turtle. Her teachers call her Julia, and her father calls her kibble. Her mother is dead, and as the book begins, she has no friends.
Turtle’s entire world is her father, Martin, whom she worships and adores and also, in a deep and buried part of herself, hates and fears. Martin is a paranoid environmentalist with an apocalyptic streak, raising Turtle in a decrepit and rotting mansion in the middle of the Northern California backcountry so that she’ll learn how to live off the land, because none of the skills she could pick up in town will be worthwhile once the world ends.
“What’s most impressive about My Absolute Darling is how carefully it handles its bleakness. Many abuse narratives are ostensibly about how terrible abuse is, but at the same time they invite their readers to wallow, to luxuriate in the idea of a young girl’s broken and violated body. My Absolute Darling is aware of what’s happening to Turtle’s body, but it remains firmly interior, focusing its attention on her warped and damaged psyche. The result is that it feels less exploitative than it does honest.
And as Turtle gradually comes to terms with her secret hatred for Martin, and begins to take steps to separate herself from him forever, the outcome feels earned — and cathartic and spine-tingling as hell.”
The Chronology of Water – Lidia Yuknavitch
A WOW book! Boy she can write! It’s different, its weird, it is breathtaking but not a memoir for everyone! Thank you for tipping me Barbara Coolen (from Spui25). Discussed it with my book group and we all loved it but again: this is NOT a book for every book club. Intrigued?
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
Yes, I know… the Dutch edition is in the picture (to the right of my name)…. I gave this one to my mother earlier this year and then decided I wanted to read it as well. Still don’t get the underground railway in the book – totally unbelievable – but this instant classic alternate history novel is a very good and insightful read. There were many things I did not know about Slavery in the 1800s in the USA and many of us probably still don’t know!
The Dry – Jane Harper
It’s a slow book but very beautifully written. Characters that truly come to life and an amazing insight into small-town life in the Australian Outback. I came to love the main character, Aaron Falk, and I am sure you will too. Her new book Force of Nature will come out in February and is also with Aaron Falk and is almost as stunning as The Dry (I read an ARC).
The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves – Stephen Grosz
What an amazing little book. All the cases are written about with so much respect for the patient and love for his work. So many things are now much clearer. I laughed and even cried and in one case clearly recognized myself.
Before the Fall – Noah Hawley
I am on the fence about this book. Loved certain chapters and found others slow, even boring. Some subjects, like the role media plays in our society, were very thought-provoking. Some very philosophical ponderings about life by the main character, which I liked. Good writing. I read it about 8 months back and it’s still in my mind, and that’s a good thing!
The Long Walk – Stephen King
I had seen this book around and it never appealed to me and then one day I thought ‘why not’. Two days later I was blown away, exhausted and sad. What an amazing read this is. You just have to read it and endure the pain and sadness. One of the better King books out there.
The Secrets She Keeps – Michael Robotham
Wow!! The beginning is a bit slow but then it is a super page-turner. I read all of Michael Robotham’s books and this one is on the top of the list. How he can describe mental illness in such vivid detail is fascinating.
Satania – Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoet
Don’t let the cartoonish characters fool you into thinking this is a kid’s book; Satania is a dark, scary and bloody journey into an underground cave system, where our heroine Charlie hopes to find her brother, who went missing while looking for an entrance into Hell. It looks gorgeous and has a great cast of atypical characters.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell – Susanna Clarke
This one had been patiently lying on my shelf for a few years now, until I took it with me on holiday on a whim. I couldn’t have picked a better book! It’s a story that takes a long time to get going, but it’s filled with such pleasant conversations and enjoyable lengthy footnotes that I didn’t mind. The basic concept is that in the early nineteenth century, two magicians – the stuffy Mr. Norrell and the more lively Jonathan Strange – want to return magic to Britain, where it once flowed freely under the reign of the Raven King. It turns out that they’re tampering with forces far beyond their control.
Earthly Powers – Anthony Burgess
A friend recommended this to me, just based on the first sentence: “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.” Don’t feel ashamed if you have to look up what a catamite is; I had to as well. The rest of the book isn’t nearly as scabrous as this sentence suggests, it’s more or less a history of the twentieth century told through the eyes of an author of popular plays and fiction who happens to meet all kinds of famous historical figures and is related by marriage to a priest who ultimately becomes pope.
Head Lopper – Andrew MacLean
A stylish, violent and funny fantasy story, with an art style comparable to Hellboy and just a hint of Adventure Time. The best character by far is the talkative and crass decapitated head of a witch, which the main character carries around in a burlap sack.
Borne – Jeff Vandermeer
I was a big fan of Vandermeer’s Annihilation – the movie adaptation will hit theaters in February 2018 – so I was very curious about his latest work, Borne. It’s a not-quite post-apocalyptic tale of a city that’s fallen to pieces, filled with mutants and under constant threat of a giant floating bear called Mord. A woman named Rachel finds a sea anemone-like creature in the fur of this bear, and when she takes it back to her home, it starts growing into something else entirely. Weird and spooky.
Sewing Your Perfect Capsule Wardrobe – Arianna Cadwallader and Cathy McKinnon
Since I’ve started sewing the concept of a Capsule Wardrobe keeps popping up around. Mostly related to Minimalism, but also to sewing your own wardrobe. The book is quite interesting and gives wonderful ideas on how to combine pieces. The only pity is that the sizes are a bit on the small side.
Love Sewing magazine
A monthly British magazine, it’s full of inspiration and good tips on how to sew your clothes and other items. And it always includes a pattern or two to help you build up your own wardrobe.
The Linesman series (Linesman, Alliance and Confluence) – S.K. Dunstall
A nice trilogy from a sisterly duo, I was completely taken by how they describe this futuristic universe. The hero is not a macho guy, and the characters are all quite interesting and charming in their own way. The concept of having starships that travel via ‘Lines’, and that there are people who can communicate with them is quite enticing. I got hooked right from the start and couldn’t stop till I finished the trilogy. And am waiting for more of the duo and about this universe.
Breath of Earth – Beth Cato
The pace of Cato’s storytelling is good and the idea of an alternate history where Japan and the US work together against China is quite interesting. I loved the story premise and how Cato develops it and her characters. The only thing it lacks is a definite ending. So when you finish this one, you will want to start with the following title Call of Fire right away!
Monstress, vol. 1 and vol. 2 – Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Quite intricate, disturbing and beautifully written and illustrated, it took me some time to get into the story. But once there, it was even more difficult to let it go and accept the wait for the next instalment. There are 2 volumes done already, but the question remains: what happens next? I’m waiting anxiously…
Blackwing – Ed McDonald, UK (2017 debut)
dark, highly imaginative magic and worldbuilding
Kings of the Wyld – Nicholas Eames, Canada (2017 debut)
laugh-out-loud + all-the-feels
Sins of Empire – Brian McClellan, USA (2017)
swords & sorcery, multiple POV’s
The Quantum Thief – Hannu Rajaniemi, Finland/UK (2010 debut)
topics: memory, privacy, control
hit-the-ground-running without info dump
Blindsight – Peter Watts, Canada (2006) (Firefall = cheaper omnibus edition)
topics: sentience, consciousness, intelligence
read it for free on the author’s website! –> www.rifters.com/real/Blindsight.htm
The Wrong Stars – Tim Pratt, USA (2017)
popcorn space adventure SF
sort-of-first contact, diverse spaceship crew
Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith (= J.K. Rowling), UK (2015)
mystery, tinge of romance
A selection of 5 novels, in an objective, alphabetical order; or, just a handful of the books I have read over the past year:
Purity – Jonathan Franzen
A magisterial, plot-driven exploration of the hidden, the secret, and what it means if all is known and out in the open: what does it do to the sense of self, be it public or private? Thrilling, laugh-out-loud funny (especially the telephonic argument that kicks off the [le1o9n8a0rd] section of the book), and an homage to 19th-century storytelling (think Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Conrad). But, for all its bookish past-plus-one-century buttresses, Purity is very much a product of its time; politically and socially, Franzen’s latest is incredibly relevant to our ever-turbulant 2017. This is Franzen firing on all (and, most likely, most sustainable) cylinders!
The Recognitions – William Gaddis
The Recognitions was published in 1955. It is a rare book, a hidden treasure. That a work of this stature and brilliance should remain so obscure is a mystery to me. “Who’s Gaddis?” is a question that, if asked at all, seems to answer itself, in its asking. But William Gaddis’s influence on contemporary (American) avant-garde fiction is considerable and widely felt. Franzen’s The Corrections, from its title to certain thematic underpinnings, references the Gaddis novel. And then there are the parties in Bradbury’s The History Man. Commit to it, stick with it, and the novel will deliver in unimaginable ways. Like its providential closing lines, the book itself, too, “is noted, with high regard, though seldom played”. Take note, sound it, recognize it for what it is: a work of genius.
The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann
This is one to get lost in! Hans Castorp arrives at the Berghof sanatorium very much grounded in the physical, a body. Over time, he develops a more mental sensibility, over which the humanist Settembrini (dualism) and the radical Naphta (monism) come to fight. Mann’s meditations on time are truly spectacular! Thematically endlessly fascinating – go and live with/in it for a while!
The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
Winner of both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction – if you are looking for a reason to pick up the book, you are spoilt for choice. But, really, it is just a very good book, accolades or not. Whitehead re-imagines the eponymous railroad as a (literally) subterraneous network of escape routes. It is a darkly poignant and oppressive novel, but so beautifully imagined that, despite its cruelty, it still manages to be life-affirming, liberating. It is a testament to the enduring nature of the human spirit!
Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates
I read this gem over the course of two dark, autumnal days. The prose is tactile and pitch-perfect – so nuanced it blew me away. The suburban and the marital are on (full-frontal) display here, picked apart by Yates’s discerning eye. Yates deploys a mordant sense of humour to dissect the life of the Wheelers, a couple struggling to find meaning and fulfilment in a marriage and a life they find it increasingly hard to identify with. An incredibly compelling and human love story!
#5: The Ridge – John Rector
A not-so-standard thriller with some sci-fi woven into it.
I love his other books, and if you have a thing for Stepford wives then this is your pick.
#4: I’m Travelling Alone – Samuel Bjork
The first in a series by a Norwegian writer.
It’s not for the faint at heart, a lot of bad things happen and it has a -killer- twist.
#3: Ed’s Dead – Russell D. McLean
A book “For booksellers everywhere, especially those who haven’t killed anyone” … now that got my attention! Friendly-mannered Glasgow-based bookseller Jen ends up killing gangsters, and with good reason. It’s as noir as it gets, loved it.
#2: Idyll Threats – Stephanie Gayle
It is always a nice surprise when you find a nicely written police procedural with a gay main character, especially because I find them so hard to find. It’s the first in a series, and no. 2 is already eagerly waiting on my TBR list.
#1: The Dry – Jane Harper
A beautiful written debut by an Australian author about a small community, in Australia, and the horrors people can do to each other.
Shades of Magic trilogy (A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, A Conjuring of Light) – V.E. Schwab
After having read her contemporary fantasy novel Vicious (highly recommended as well), I was feeling ready for this trilogy, and boy was I not disappointed!
There are three Londons on different planes (White, Red and Grey London) and only Antari (folks with a rare breed of magic) can travel between them.
We meet Kell (an Antari), Delilah Bard (cut-purse with issues), Alucard Emery (flamboyant, powerful pirate-mage) and Rhy Maresh (the crown prince of Red London).
The 4 protagonists have to deal with a strain of magic gone wild, threatening to consume all.
Although the world-building and magic are excellent, it’s these 4 characters that really steal the show. They form the backbone of the story and make you care.
It’s been a while since I read an “old fashioned” fantasy trilogy (although her style is actually very refreshing), but this one has me yearning for more like it.
Well done Ms. Schwab!! Loved it.
The Carter Blake series (starts with The Killing Season) – Mason Cross
Carter Blake is an ex-supersoldierblackophushhushdeniabilityspecialforces-guy who now works off the grid as a private consultant who specializes in Finding People.
Very tasy junk food, with plenty of action.
For fans of Jack Reacher and Evan Smoak (Orphan X, Greg Hurwitz).
March Violets (Bernie Gunther #1) – Phillip Kerr
Noir detective in 1930’s Berlin. Very well-written and -researched. You get a real feel for those times. I had to brush up a bit on my Nazi history, but it was well worth it!
A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman
Meet Ove, 59 years old, patronising, stubborn, old-fashioned, loves rules, doesn’t understand other ways of thinking besides his own.
I immediately disliked him – which was intended, I guess – and after the initial introduction, the path to redemption (or sympathy maybe?), which you can spot from the moon, sets in by way of a series of unforeseen events and flashbacks into his life.
Even though it’s predictable, this is impossible to dislike; a real feel-good movie of a book. Funny, emotional, hopeful and uplifting.
Even if only for a short while, it gives you something to believe in (human nature) which can be quite hard at times in this modern age.
IQ – Joe Ide
Isaiah Quintabe is a young Sherlock-like investigator in South Central L.A., taking cases the LAPD doesn’t take. Loved the character(s), the setting and the pace. A brand new series and can’t wait for more….
The Crazy Rich Asians trilogy (Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend, Rich People Problems) – Kevin Kwan
I had the best time reading this trilogy! Kwan portrays the crazy rich Asian set with a sharp eye and a great deal of humor. At the same time there is a lot of warmth to be found, because even rich people are only human, after all… Not everything is perfect (his villains fall flat) but there’s just so much heart in these books, not to mention perfect escapist treats and lots of descriptions of good food, that I will recommend them any chance I get. I can’t wait for the movie coming out next year!
High Fidelity – Nick Hornby
If you don’t remember mixtapes, half of the book’s enjoyment will sadly be wasted on you (sometimes it pays to be old, what can I say!).
Luckily, the other half of the book is a love story told from the point of view of Rob, a boy in man’s clothes who is about to do some growing up. The tale is told with a big dose of self-deprecating humor and some clear insights into life and love. Not to mention a lot of semi-obscure musical references.
I *am* old enough to remember mixtapes so this combination of love and nostalgia made for a wonderful read. It was great to discover love like this from ‘his’ point of view!
La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1) – Philip Pullman
What a treat to visit the world of Lyra again! Pullman has such a way of evoking a place, and his characters jump off the page. Malcolm, the main character, is a curious, sweet boy who gets into increasingly desperate and horrible situations; the book steadily ups its pace until it’s almost frantic at the end. Not everything is explained but then again this is only volume 1. His Dark Materials also has to be seen as one large story, and things that didn’t make sense in the first book became clear as you made your way through book two and three. I’ll just have to wait patiently, I suppose…
The Power – Naomi Alderman
I fell hook, line, and sinker for this book’s premise: women gain the power to transmit (deadly) electrical shocks through the palms of their hands – and just like that, men are no longer the physically dominant gender.
Alderman follows the repercussions of this seismic shock in the social sphere through the eyes of four main characters, from the initial surprise to learning to control the power to the inevitable abuse of it. There are no rose-tinted glasses here, something I liked enormously.
Its structure owes a great debt to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s used effectively.
The other titles I had to read this year for the OurSharedShelf Feminist Book Club were also interesting and led to great discussions. The Power grabbed me the most, however.
The Atlas of Beauty – Mihaela Noroc
Think HONY but then with portraits and stories of women across the world. The portraits are beautiful and varied, the stories often surprising in the best way, but for me personally the biggest accomplishment of this collection lies in the fact that, once I finished it, I felt that a portrait of me would fit right in. Not because I look like a supermodel, but because every person has a unique beauty of their own and Noroc is so adept at catching it that I’m sure she could find mine!
Honorable mentions/re-reads that still beat the new stuff: Leviathan Wakes + Caliban’s War – James S. A. Corey, I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death – Maggie O’Farrell, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters – Ursula K. Le Guin, The Silmarillion – J. R. R. Tolkien, Onheilig – Roos van Rijswijk, Provenance – Ann Leckie, any poetry collection that includes “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”.
There are also E-BOOKS available for Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend, High Fidelity, The Book of Dust 1: La Belle Sauvage, The Power, The Atlas of Beauty, Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, I Am, I Am, I Am, The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, The Silmarillion, and Provenance.