My Top 5 Books of 2017

After my mammoth — but not always enjoyable during the home strait — effort to read 200 books last year, I decided not to strive for any particular total this year. Inevitably, though, as I neared the 150 mark, I did my best to reach this figure, although ‘only’ managed 148. Here are my five favourites, as well as five more that almost made my shortlist (some of these also featured in my summer reading list).


1. The Unseen World by Liz Moore. Meticulously plotted and researched, moving and thought-provoking, Moore’s novel follows 12-year-old Ada Sibelius as her father David — a brilliant but eccentric pioneer in the field of artificial intelligence and a director of a computer science lab in Cambridge, MA — begins to develop signs of dementia. The race is then on for Ada to discover the secrets locked inside his mind, but it’s more of a marathon than a sprint, as the novel edges through the 1980s to the present day, with a few hops back to the 1920s and 1930s. As someone whose day job involves the communication of science — including recent developments in computer science and AI — I found the themes covered here most interesting, but at its heart, The Unseen World is a complex, richly portrayed family drama with a fascinating mystery at its core.

2. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Quinn’s novel weaves together the stories of two women connected through the real-life Alice Network — a network of about 100 female spies posted by the British Army and MI6 in northern France during World War One — in a compelling work of historical fiction. In 1915, Eve Gardiner is recruited into the network and posted in a small town in northern France. Eve is trained up by Lili — based on the real-life Louise de Bettignies, the so-called ‘queen of spies’ whose code name, Alice, gave the network its name. Her assignment is to gather as much information from the occupying Germans as possible and feed it back to her handlers, a perilous job in a town where collaborators and spies abound. Thirty years later, Charlie St. Clair, an unmarried, pregnant American student, comes to Europe with her mother, but takes off to search for her beloved cousin Rose, who went missing in France during World War Two — a search which soon connects her with Eve. Both Eve and Charlie make flawed but courageous heroines and once I got into The Alice Network, I was gripped by both stories.

3. The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo. Set mainly in the first decade of the 20th century in New York City, Santopolo’s novel is a beautifully written, intense and often devastating love story. Columbia students Lucy and Gabe meet on 9/11 and, after a couple of false starts, fall in love. But Lucy soon struggles to compete with Gabe’s all-encompassing desire to become a photographer, forcing her to make some very tough decisions. With convincing dialogue, and believable, if sometimes frustrating, central characters, The Light We Lost is a fantastic debut novel.
4. Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito. I read a lot of legal thrillers and Persson Giolito’s story about a teenage girl awaiting trial for her involvement in a mass shooting at her exclusive prep school was smart, gripping and satisfyingly twisty. If you enjoy novels with unreliable narrators, this fast-paced novel will keep you guessing as to whether our intelligent, knowing narrator Maja is indeed as innocent as she claims or whether we should believe a word she says.

5. Sourdough by Robin Sloan. A young woman from the Midwest — Lois, a gifted programmer — takes a job at a San Francisco-based robotics company but before long, finds herself becoming an obsessive sourdough baker in her spare time. So far, so standard. But if you’ve read Sloan’s previous novel, you won’t be surprised to find that the sourdough, and the novel itself, have been proved with a hefty dose of quirkiness and magical realism. Sourdough is a delightful, clever and unpredictable novel, which is particularly enjoyable for those who have lived in or visited San Francisco.

And now, here are five more books, which didn’t quite make my top five this year but which I enjoyed a great deal:

  • Startup* by Doree Shafrir. A darkly comic, smart and keenly observed cautionary tale set in New York’s fast-paced, social-media-saturated tech startup world.
  • The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter. An intelligent, well-plotted thriller about a small-town lawyer who is caught up in a violent crime that drags up memories of the violent crime that tore apart her own family almost 30 years earlier.
  • This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay. Often funny, sometimes sad and always keenly observed and thought-provoking, writer and comedian Kay’s memoir of his former career as a junior doctor is an absolute must-read.
  • The Lying Game by Ruth Ware. Ware has a real knack for producing tense, twisty psychological thrillers and her latest, in which four women who were once inseparable during their boarding-school years reunite to prevent past secrets from becoming present-day nightmares, is no exception.
  • Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. One of the few non-fiction books I’ve read this year, Stephens-Davidowitz’s work is an eye-opening dive into big data — and particularly the behavioural insights that can be gleaned from online search engines — making it essential reading for anyone who uses Google.

My full 2017 reading list is as follows (re-reads are in italics):

  • The Parrots — Alexandra Shulman
  • Big Brother — Lionel Shriver
  • America’s First Daughter — Laura Kamoie and Stephanie Dray
  • The Couple Next Door — Shari Lapena
  • Selection Day — Aravind Adiga
  • Bloodline — Conn Iggulden
  • Arctic Chill — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Geek Love — Katherine Dunn
  • 4 3 2 1* — Paul Auster
  • Midnight’s Children — Salman Rushdie
  • Hypothermia — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Any Human Heart — William Boyd
  • Almost Missed You* — Jessica Strawser
  • When She Was Bad — Tammy Cohen
  • Seven Days — Deon Meyer
  • The Memory Keeper’s Daughter — Kim Edwards
  • Cell 8 — Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström
  • The Carrier — Sophie Hannah
  • See Jane Run — Hannah Jayne
  • The Three — Sarah Lotz
  • High Crimes — Joseph Finder
  • A Separation — Katie Kitamura
  • See Jane Run — Joy Fielding
  • The Kite Runner — Khaled Hosseini
  • Lasting Damage — Sophie Hannah
  • Little Deaths — Emma Flint
  • Always a Bridesmaid (for Hire) — Jen Glantz
  • Outrage — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Little Face — Sophie Hannah
  • The Other Half Lives — Sophie Hannah
  • The Truth-Teller’s Lie — Sophie Hannah
  • Everything You Want Me To Be — Mindy Mejia
  •  The Point of Rescue — Sophie Hannah
  • A Room Swept White — Sophie Hannah
  • Kind of Cruel — Sophie Hannah
  • The Telling Error — Sophie Hannah
  • The Narrow Bed — Sophie Hannah
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan— Lisa See
  • The Idiot — Elif Batuman
  • The Lake of Dreams — Kim Edwards
  • Did You See Melody?* — Sophie Hannah
  • The Death of Lucy Kyte — Nicola Upson
  • Black Skies — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Kiss Mommy Goodbye — Joy Fielding
  • The Mind’s Eye — Håkan Nesser
  • Half of a Yellow Sun — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Longshot — Katie Kitamura
  • See How They Lie — Sue Wallman
  • Now You See Her — Joy Fielding
  • Flowers for Algernon — Daniel Keyes
  • Japanese for Travellers — Katie Kitamura
  • Missing Pieces — Joy Fielding
  • Startup — Doree Shafrir
  • East of Eden — John Steinbeck
  • Five Star Billionaire — Tash Aw
  • New Boy* — Tracy Chevalier
  • Into the Water — Paula Hawkins
  • Everybody Lies — Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
  • Quicksand — Malin Persson Giolito
  • My Husband’s Wife— Jane Corry
  • Strange Shores — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Woman No. 17 — Edan Lepucki
  • Fingersmith — Sarah Waters
  • The Burning Girl* — Claire Messud
  • Good Intentions — Joy Fielding
  • The Rules Do Not Apply — Ariel Levy
  • The Keeper of Lost Things — Ruth Hogan
  • Borkmann’s Point — Håkan Nesser
  • The First Time — Joy Fielding
  • Don’t Cry Now — Joy Fielding
  • The Weight of Lies — Emily Carpenter
  • Testimony — Scott Turow
  • Camino Island — John Grisham
  • The Edge of Lost — Kristina McMorris
  • Tell Me No Secrets — Joy Fielding
  • Life Penalty — Joy Fielding
  • The End We Start from — Megan Hunter
  • The Light We Lost — Jill Santopolo
  • She’s Not There — Joy Fielding
  • The Dry — Jane Harper
  • Sunday Morning Coming Down* — Nicci French
  • He Said/She Said — Erin Kelly
  • The Lying Game — Ruth Ware
  • The Power — Naomi Alderman
  • The After Party — Anton DiSclafani
  • Place of Execution — Val McDermid
  • Scienceblind —Andrew Shtulman
  • Blood Sisters — Jane Corry
  • Little Boy Lost — J.D. Trafford
  • The Girlfriend — Michelle Frances
  • The Informationist — Taylor Stevens
  • My Brilliant Friend — Elena Ferrante
  • Sometimes I Lie — Alice Feeney
  • Don’t Close Your Eyes — Holly Seddon
  • Charley’s Webb — Joy Fielding
  • The Unseen World — Liz Moore
  • The Good Daughter — Karin Slaughter
  • The Good Widow— Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
  • If I Die Before I Wake* — Emily Koch
  • Beautiful Animals* — Lawrence Osborne
  • The Locals — Jonathan Dee
  • Lies — T.M. Logan
  • Gather the Daughters — Jennie Melamed
  • The Missing Ones — Patricia Gibney
  • The Deep End — Joy Fielding
  • The Alice Network — Kate Quinn
  • Every Last Lie — Mary Kubica
  • Close to Home* — Cara Hunter
  • The Child in Time — Ian McEwan
  • The Diplomat’s Daughter— Karin Tanabe
  • Lost — Joy Fielding
  • Sourdough — Robin Sloan
  • The Blackbird Season — Kate Moretti
  • Never Let Me Go — Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Her Every Fear — Peter Swanson
  • Heartstopper — Joy Fielding
  • Bluebird, Bluebird — Attica Locke
  • The Last Tudor — Philippa Gregory
  • Prague — Arthur Phillips
  • City of Friends — Joanna Trollope
  • Mad River Road — Joy Fielding
  • The Vegetarian — Han Kang
  • The Sparsholt Affair — Alan Hollinghurst
  • Amsterdam — Ian McEwan
  • Snow Falling on Cedars— David Guterson
  • The Girl Before — JP Delaney
  • The Dying Game — Åsa Avdic
  • The Good Guy — Susan Beale
  • Bonfire — Krysten Ritter
  • Reykjavik Nights — Arnaldur Indriðason
  • Saints for All Occasions — J. Courtney Sullivan
  • In Between Days — Andrew Porter
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle — Shirley Jackson
  • Two Kinds of Truth — Michael Connelly
  • Still Life — Joy Fielding
  • The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983–1992 — Tina Brown
  • The Vanishing Season— Joanna Schaffhausen
  • The Ice House — Laura Lee Smith
  • Ferocity — Nicola Lagioia
  • The Secrets She Keeps — Michael Robotham
  • The Marriage Pact — Michelle Richmond
  • The Foster Child — Jenny Blackhurst
  • This Is Going To Hurt — Adam Kay
  • Good Me Bad Me — Ali Land
  • Are You Sleeping — Kathleen Barber
  • Since You Fell — Dennis Lehane
  • Persons Unknown — Susie Steiner
  • The Kitchen God’s Wife — Amy Tan

* Disclaimer: I received pre-release review copies of books marked with an asterisk from NetGalley. Receiving a review copy of a book influences neither my decision to review it nor my opinions of it in any reviews I do write.