Best books of 2017

Sneaking in with only hours left of this year, I’ve complied my ‘best of 2017 list’.  It was a great year for books (and audiobooks); whispers and snippets of many of them are still rattling around in my head.

I’ve actually surprised myself with this list, and in particular with the ranking of the books. On any given day the list could’ve looked different (how did Sarah Waters not end up in the top spot? Where is Pachinko? Anything Is Possible?).

However, given 2017 is ebbing away as I type, without further prevarication I give you my favourite four audiobooks and my best ten books of 2017.

The Soulweaver: The movie

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while will know that I have a very talented friend called Heidi Catherine, who is especially clever because she has written a book (which is more than enough in its own right). In addition to writing it however, Heidi has also succeeded in getting it published!

Heidi’s book is The Soulweaver, a fantasy/romance, which beautifully explores how life and love continue after death. It’s a fantastically original and deeply engaging storyline; through a series of interwoven narratives it probes the different ways love can manifest – as an ardent lover, as a soulmate, as a parent and child – and how this love can survive throughout time.

The Soulweaver begins with a cracker of an opening paragraph:

Hannah’s life began the day she died. It had happened before – both the dying and the beginning. She didn’t know it though. All she knew was now.

 

And from there we learn that Hannah, like millions of others, is an ‘old soul’ who has been returned to earth numerous times to live life again. Over the course of the novel, Heidi’s easy-flowing prose, thoughtful structure and creative imagery expertly leads us through Hannah’s journey, which this time takes an unexpected turn.

The book is split into five parts, chronicling the story of its five central characters: Hannah, Lin, Mathew, Reinier and Shen. This particular approach reminded me of the ‘Rashomon Effect’ in films where the story unfolds from each character’s perspective, sometimes (deliberately) in contradiction to other characters’ viewpoints.  Naturally I started thinking what if – as a consequence of knocking J.K Rowling and Paula Hawkins from the bestseller list – The Soulweaver was turned into a film?  What would it look like and most importantly, who would play the romantic leads?

Thar she blows!: It’s got to be Rush Oh!

I’m dying to give Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett the glowing and fulsome review that it deserves. Rush Oh! is a gem of a book; ranking up there as one of my favourite books of 2017. So, I should be writing a review that lists its virtues, at length. However, for various tedious reasons (new job/ moving house/ Christmas) my time is compromised, and this mini review will have to do. The most important thing is this: if the sound of this book tickles your fancy, beg, borrow or buy it as a priority.

Aussie hero fights crime and the heat: And Fire Came Down

The Australian landscape is legendary. As a nation, we’re in love with our inhospitable continent, but we are also afraid of it. The heat, the bushfires, the extreme distances and the menagerie of peculiar animals create an environment that largely works against the interests of its inhabitants. This difficult, if not malign environment is the perfect backdrop for a crime novel. Jane Harper, with The Dry and now Force of Nature, has set a new benchmark in manipulating the landscape to serve the purposes of the plot; Emma Viskic with And Fire Came Down is following close behind.

The opening chapter of And Fire Came Down starts off with our hero, Caleb Zelic, being drawn into a dark alley in Melbourne.  A woman unknown to Caleb has sought him out specifically for his help. As he tries to make sense of what she’s telling him, they’re both attacked by another man and in the ensuing melee, the woman falls from the pedestrian kerb into the path of an oncoming van. Haunted by her death, Caleb is determined to find out why this young woman needed his help. His journey takes him back to his hometown of Resurrection Bay where he is tasered, kidnapped, lied to, threatened by bikkies and nearly dies of heat exhaustion. It’s a heck of a journey.

Hard to review, beautiful to read: Ali Smith’s Autumn

I’ve been wanting to read Ali Smith’s Autumn for months, simply because everything she writes is gold.  But I forgot about it for a bit, and in July it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Must read Autumn, I said to myself, then forgot again. In September it was shortlisted for the Prize. Really must read Autumn, I repeated to myself and actually remembered to request it from the library. It came into my possession, poetically, just as the Man Booker Prize was announced earlier this month. Autumn didn’t win, but it doesn’t matter – this is a beautiful book. I love it to pieces. I want everyone to know how great it is, but I’ve realised that it’s a really hard book to review. So bear with me*.