Thursday, 12 January 2017

My Books of 2016

2016 was a great year for the books I read; I was rarely disappointed with the quality particularly of electronic publishing which is definitely getting stronger. My actual reading time was severely squeezes though so I didn't get through as many books as I would have liked.

As usual it was hard to whittle the ones I read down to a final shortlist but here it is. All of these got 5 star reviews by me on Goodreads but they are very different books, hopefully this list will inspire someone to pick one (or more!) of these up and give them a go. As usual my reviews are spoiler free so feel free to look at those for more details on any of the books.

A Certain Threat by Roger Burnage

The age of sea battles with mighty sailing ships is always a stirring one and it's a great era to set a novel in. This is the first of a series of stories about James Merriman, an officer in the Royal Navy who is given command of a ship to investigate smuggling off the coast of North Wales and the disappearance of a coast guard cutter.

The action takes place on land as well as at sea as Merriman's family live nearby and are able to provide assistance with his enquiries. But being ashore does not equate to safety for either Merriman or his crew. As they get closer to solving the mystery of the missing cutter and apprehend the smugglers, the stakes are raised ever higher.

Burnage does a fabulous job with this work with the history and details meticulously researched lending every word a certain weight and authenticity that is hard to establish. This book has it all, from a central mystery that needs to be solved, historical descriptions and terrific action scenes.

See my review here

Asbury Park by Rob Scott

Sailor Doyle is a police detective recovering from his previous case which took its toll on him both physically and mentally. Despite being a national hero he is disgraced within the force and with his wife. In an attempt to rebuild his health and his life he moves with his family to the New Jersey shore.

But something or someone doesn't want him to rest easy. A dead body spoils an early morning breakfast. He has to thwart a gunman at a local school. And he is haunted by strange marks and the song Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd.

Is something going on? Is there a rational explanation for the events Doyle witnesses or must he rely on the supernatural for answers? Or has his mind finally tipped over the edge into madness?

This is a tricky book to categorise, and that is one of the reasons I absolutely loved it. It is not a true detective story, although there is a lot of detection in it. Neither is it a simple ghost story. It is neither one nor the other and is one of those books that if you read it expecting it to be pigeonholed then you will miss the point of it. It is neither one thing nor the other, which is a great thing because this story could not have been told any other way. A joy to read, if a dark joy. And Wish You Were Here still sends shivers down my spine when I hear it.

See my review here

Bells On Her Toes by Diana J Febry

Asbury Park might not fit into the detective fiction mould but this book certainly does, and fits very nicely indeed. Set within the insular and suspicious world of horse racing, Detectives Peter Hatherall and Fiona Williams  must investigate a murder faced with often open hostility from those in the sport.

There are suspects and red herrings galore, and the deeper Hatherall and Williams dig the more connections they find and the more dead ends and closed doors they encounter trying to pursue them.

They story is as twisted and complex as the premise of the book is pleasingly simple. This is a classic 'whodunnit' complete with suspicious characters and shady dealings creating plenty of distractions. The characters are also good, with the detectives themselves being very human, with their own failings and frustrations evident as they fail to find the culprit and time ticks by.

See my review here

Felix Noonan, Sheffield Poet by Chris Connolly

Felix Noonan, a poet from Sheffield who was to 20th Century poetry what William McGonagle was to the 19th. Felix Noonan, Britian's official Second World War Poet. Felix Noonan, who rubbed shoulders with many of the most important figures of the time but seems to have been subtly removed from any official histories. If he didn't exist you'd have to invent him.

Starting from the exploits of his famous boxing grandmother, through his hard kocks upbringing in industrial Sheffield to international fame if not actually fortune, the biography tells the tale of one of Sheffield's forgotten sons. A slight volume, its 95 pages still manage to capture the essence of the man and his poetry.

This book is subtly satirical and very amusing, managing to avoid any temptation to push any of the jokes and references too far, remaining by and large just about on the side of plausibility whilst still being wildy absurd. Every page is perfectly pitched, guaranteeing a chuckle at his childhood diseases or his irrational spats with Hollywood stars. If you want a book guaranteed to put a smile on your face this is the one for you.

See my review here

Guns Of The Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky is most associated with his Shadows of the Apt epic series but this is a  stand alone novel which showcases his talents as a writer.

Denland and Lascanne, former allied countries, are now at war following the overthrow of Denland's monarchy. Lascanne is desperate for troops. Having already conscripted all the able bodied men, now whole swathes of women are being drafted. Emily Marshwic is from a noble family and volunteers for service. First hand she experiences the terror, waste of war and the randomness of those who are killed and those who live. She soon discovers that not all enemies are in front of her and not all friends are behind her.

This is a long book but it's just brilliant. The setting is a sort of pseudo-Napoleonic era with magic thrown in. The descriptions are really evocative, especially of the confusing mayhem of the battles or the relentless filth and grime of the swampy front lines. War is hell, and the depiction here shows that is not only in terms of death and injury but also on the damage caused to societies as a result.

See my review here

Kings Or Pawns by JJ Sherwood

The first of a series, this book takes the usual fantasy staples and gives them a good shaking up. Elves are the main focus here but rather than being wise and caring they have become corrupt. The main Elven city rules by way of a council which has removed all real power from the king and instead only seek to line their own pockets, making all decisions to the benefit of their own (often illegal) business interests.

When the king dies, his son is determined to take the council on, but at every turn their devious and manipulative behaviour leaves him just as impotent as his father. Meanwhile a civil war has broken out and the elves' top general, Jikun, is frustrated not only with his enemies tactics but with the council's unwillingness to help him.

I was expecting a fairly straightforward fantasy story from this but the reality is of something much greater; the political intrigue is as gripping as the battle scenes and the new king Hairem is in a fight every bit as real as Jikun's. The characters are so well described as well, Jikun in particular having some serious flaws made up for by being a brilliant general.

See my review here

Liberator by Nick Bailey and Darren Bullock

Liberator aims to do one thing and it does it extremely well: Be a huge amount of fun to read. It's loud, it's violent and it's darkly funny.

Set in a future of big corporations spanning multiple worlds, one company kidnaps the daughter of the owner of another for leverage. However she was once a member of the Liberators, a mercenary force who have essentially disbanded and are no longer a threat to anybody. With nobody else available, the remnants of the Liberators must get themselves back into action.

With a diverse cast of characters this is a real ensemble piece and as the first of a series it's easy to see how the actual members of the squad can change between books to provide just the right mix of mayhem and banter for each adventure.

The story is told well, in a fast and furious style with flashbacks to explain who the various members of the team are and how they interact with each other. This is a summer blockbuster of a novel.

See my review here

Old Friends and New Enemies by Owen Mullen

When an old friend of Glasgow private detective Charlie Cameron is found dead and he decides to investigate he is soon drawn into the dark and murky world of organised crime. And when an old flame also appears he is in real danger of losing perspective - and that means he is in real danger of losing his life.

This is a punchy crime thriller that turns over Glasgow to show its underbelly, and it's not a pretty sight. Cameron is an engaging lead and the characters he meets are at turns amusing, businesslike or just plan dangerous. As a reader he can be very frustrating as he gets sidetracked by the personal nature of the case but this just makes the moment when cold realisation hits him of how much trouble he is in so much more realistic.

Gritty and with a touch of noir this will keep you guessing if the old friends or the new enemies are the biggest threat.

See my review here

Stop The World by Sherry Mayes

One of the powerful features of books is their ability to put you into someone else's mind, into their life. Sometimes these are heroes, or villains. This book puts you in the place of someone who has lost all hope.

Jody has it all, popular at school, a beauty queen, a perfect family. Then one car accident removes all certainties from her life and plunges her into a pit of misery.

This doesn't sound like a bundle of joy to read but it is exactly that. Yes there are dark passages when Jody realises she can no longer be the person she was but the point of this book is the slow climb upwards that takes place and the personal insights she makes, which anyone can relate to even without being such extreme circumstances. When she is at her most self pitying you want to slap her. When she is reaching out you want to hug her.

The writing is excellent and Jody makes for an insightful and amusing self-documenting narrator. The cast of characters in her orbit are very real. This is a book I will remember for a very very long time.

See my review here

Unknown Reality by Kurt Chambers

There are plenty of books that pose the question: is what we think of as the 'real world' really real or is it a Matrix-like construct that we inhabit? For any other author the idea itself would be enough for a whole story but Chambers uses this simple and trusted plot device as a jumping off point for a tale that very much goes beyond it.

Once again he uses a girl as his main character, following his aim to get teenage girls reading quality fantasy and science fiction, in the shape of 11 year old Chloe. The reader follows her through shocking revelations at the start of the book and then her subsequent adventures as she tries to make sense of what is real and what is not, all when she just wants to go home.

As usual Chambers takes something that is a fairly standard story template and weaves it into something modern and interesting.

See my review here

1 comment:

  1. What a great post, Phil :) Not just because I'm in it lol but because this is such a great line up of books!