My annual tradition of listing my favourites of the books I read this year.
Observant readers will have noticed there haven’t been as many book reviews recently. With the wedding and honeymoon in the Autumn I was reading less and I had decided to go back and reread The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. I’ve been loving reading them all over again, and am almost done so new reviews should start again early in the New Year.
Anyway, this is about books I read for the first time in 2017, and we’re gonna kick off with the fiction books.
5. The Princess and the Queen by George R. R. Martin
Part of the reason I went back to the ASOIAF series was that I read and loved this novella by Martin. While it lacks the depth of his other works, it still manages to create a realistic, layered world and the story of treachery and war is gripping. Review here.
4. Conclave by Robert Harris
Harris seizes on the interesting idea of what happens behind closed doors as the Vatican chooses a new pope to weave a web of scandal and schemeing. It includes one too many scandals, stretching credulity at places, but it’s a quick, gripping read. Full review.
3. The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz
Lagercrantz takes over the story of Lisbeth Salander and crafts a gritty, involving thriller. Review.
2. 87th Precinct by Ed McBain
I continue to work my way through McBain’s series and I read three this year. The standout was See Them Die, where he creates a tense sunny day as gang members plot murder and the police engage in a stand off. Other entries Lady, Lady, I Did It! And The Empty Hours are solid thrillers too.
1. Adrian’s Undead Diary by Chris Philbrook
I continued to read this series and as it progresses, it goes from strength to strength. The diary story telling device works very well, and Adrian’s narration is involving. Philbrook also uses other side stories to develop a wider world picture of the zombie apocalypse and provides background to why it’s happening which takes the story in a new, interesting direction. Eager to read more. Check out my reviews of parts two, three and four.
Alright, onto nonfiction books.
5. Strange Places, Questionable People by John Simpson
BBC journalist Simpson recounts his eventful career. It documents some of the major events of the late twentieth century and makes a fascinating read. In places he can be rather pompous, but for the most part he is an entertaining and likeable narrator. Review.
4. Books vs Cigarettes/Decline of the English Murder by George Orwell.
Two collections of essays by George Orwell, am becoming a fan of his clever, insightful writing and will keep my eye out for more of his nonfiction stuff. The review of Books… is here while you can find my thoughts on English Murder here.
3. Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson
Jon Ronson collects writings on various topics which serves up an entertaining read. He brings his usual warmth and keen observation to a mix of criminals, conspiracy theorists and oddballs. My review
2. Frank Sinatra Has a Cold and Other Essays by Gay Talese
Picked up after an offhand mention in another book this turned out to be a gem. Talese writes with a vivid style and keen eye for nuance and subtle tells in his subjects. The Sinatra piece is great but the essay about broken former boxing champ Floyd Patterson is just as impressive and painfully moving. Review.
1. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
An autobiography of a rock legend which proves to be just as well written as his music. The insight, warmth and openness that make the Boss’ songs so involving is on show here and it is cracking read pleasingly light on ego. Here I am gushing about it.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Whenever a Pope does the process for choosing his successor is the same; Cardinals from all over the world travel to the Vatican where they are locked in until a new Pope is chosen. This is the conclave. There have been two during my lifetime, and I’m fascinated by the whole thing.
The idea is that through prayer and meditation the Holy Spirit guides the Cardinals to the new leader. But a cynical view is that the lock in is essentially where the politics of the papacy plays out. Either way, the whole system is shrouded in mystery.
Clearly the idea intrigues Robert Harris too and he has written a smart, involving thriller which follows the Cardinals within the walls.
When the current, unnamed Pope passes away, the ball is in motion and as Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Lomeli is in charge of the show. There are several contenders and as the voting begins factions are forming.
Lomeli, aging and experiencing a crisis of faith, watches as the political machinations start up. Secrets and scandals bubble to the surface, and ambition muddies the water. Lomeli becomes increasingly suspicious of some of the frontrunners and investigates rumours and whispers. He wants to maintain the church’s reputation and avoid scandal, but it becomes apparent that there are lots of skeletons in the closets.
Does Lomeli have the strength of will to see it through? And as he does expose the corruption is he unwillingly moving himself up the pecking order? Leaving others questioning his motives.
This is a cracking read, with the twists and turns playing out in a well paced and involving manner. Lomeli is a decent hero, riddled with doubts and fear, but ultimately commited to doing the right thing. As the process wears on he becomes more proactive in ensuring the best man gets the big job.
Harris layers in the intrigue and uses the claustrophobic setting to his advantage, the isolated cardinals are sealed off from the outside world, meaning that Lomeli’s investigations are hindered and some information is revealed too late in a surprise ending which is impossible to see coming.
A fantastic read which hooked me in early and entertained me throughout.
Verdict: A very well written and involving thriller, Harris has a great knack for letting the story unfold at a decent pace and slowly allowing his characters to reveal themselves. There’s not much action but the political schemes are gripping. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.