My top twelve books of 2017

Once again, with the help of the annual summary provided by Goodreads.com, I have looked back at the books I read last year and selected twelve of the best. It was a difficult choice because I had listed 44 books and these were only the ones I really liked, because out of respect for fellow authors I no longer post ratings of less than 3 stars or review books written by friends. Not having done much writing of my own lately I spent more time on reading books by other people, spanning a wider selection of genres besides my usual focus on mystery/crime/psychological thrillers, and including some that were heavy in more ways than one.  In alphabetical order:

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne: a powerful novel about the mental conflicts of a devout but somewhat naive Irish priest who is unwillingly forced to acknowledge the issue of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

A Very English Scandal by John Preston: a “non-fiction novel” about the politician Jeremy Thorpe, who was accused of the attempted murder of his homosexual lover. Writing with brilliant dead-pan wit, the author manages to turn this sad and sordid story into a gripping black comedy.

Churchill: A Life by Martin Gilbert: the wartime prime minister Winston Churchill has been voted “the greatest Briton who ever lived”. This huge book is his authorised biography, and though I cannot claim to have read every word it is certainly a monumental achievement.

Daisy in Chains by Share Bolton: an intriguing if far-fetched psychological thriller about the relationship between an imprisoned surgeon, convicted of murdering some overweight women in and around the Cheddar caves, and an enigmatic female lawyer.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: Eleanor is an obsessional and isolated woman with a troubled past. Through a chance encounter on the streets of Glasgow, she gradually begins to relate to the world around her and make some friends. This perceptive and original novel is both funny and sad.

Floating by Joe Minihane: a memoir about the physical and mental benefits of wild swimming, as experienced in lidos, rivers and seas around the UK.

He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly: during a Cornish music festival at the time of a solar eclipse, a young couple witnesses what might or not have been a rape. The repercussions of this event will haunt them both for years. A complex psychological thriller with a shocking twist at the end.

Holding by Graham Norton: although I am not a fan of Graham Norton’s TV show I enjoyed reading this, his first novel. A gentle mystery story set in an Irish village, it is cleverly plotted and the characters are sympathetically observed.

If This is a Woman by Sarah Helm: a detailed and meticulously researched history of the appalling events at Ravensbruck, Hitler’s concentration camp for women. A harrowing but salutary read.

The Five Side-Effects of Kindness by David Hamilton: “Scientific evidence has proven that kindness changes the brain, impacts the heart and immune system, is an antidote to depression and even slows the ageing process”. In contrast to the dark character of some of my other choices, this is a positive inspirational book describing the ways in which everyday acts of kindness can benefit both others and ourselves.

The Ice by Laline Paull: an “eco-thriller” set in the near future. An ice-cave in the Arctic collapses, due to global warming, revealing the body of a man. The intricate plot revolves around the conflict between commercial and environmental interests.

The Student Body by Simon Wyatt: I wanted to include a New Zealand book, and this first novel by a former police detective describes the investigation of the murder of a young woman near a West Auckland beach. Plenty of local colour and procedural detail.

I hope you enjoy some of these recommendations.

2017

I sometimes regret not having consistently kept a diary during my life. But, better late than never, perhaps a blog is the next best thing. I started blogging a few years ago now and for a while I had several sites devoted to different categories such as writing, health, Bach flowers and cats. This became rather cumbersome so, even if it meant having fewer followers, I decided to combine them here. Most of my blog posts, while inspired by some recent experience of my own, aim to provide a brief overview of a topic that could be relevant to others. This present post summarising my past year’s activities is a more purely personal one, written as a record for myself and possibly of interest to a few relatives and friends.

The outstanding feature of 2017 was exploring the Irish side of my family. With the help of FinderMonkey, AncestryDNA, Rootschat and some extraordinary coincidences I discovered two half-siblings I did not know about, and had successful meetings with them both. To respect the privacy of those involved I won’t give any further details here, but it has been a remarkable experience.

Meanwhile life back in Auckland has continued on an even keel and I am happy to report that Brian has maintained a good recovery from his major cardiac surgery of 2015. He remains active physically and mentally, usually beating me at online Scrabble. My own less serious health problems are under control and I have kept up my fitness regime of Zumba Gold classes and daily cold water swims. Rather than move into one of the retirement villages that are proliferating around Auckland, we have decided to stay in our old Victorian villa with its large garden, ideal for our three cats, and pool. Following the sale of my mother’s house we have undertaken some repairs and improvements, so the inside is now ​warmer and more comfortable​, and renovation of the exterior woodwork will take place next year​.

I continue my involvement with SPCA, helping to raise funds for a Satellite Centre to care for abused and unwanted animals on the North Shore, though with regret I have given up doing regular sessions at the Animal Village because increased traffic congestion has made the commute so long. I am currently exploring other volunteer opportunities with the Heart FoundationInternational Bomber Command Centre and DogShare Collective. I ​am ​still in the alto section of St Patrick’s Cathedral Choir​,​ and attempting to sing soprano in a “Pop-Up Chorus” with NZOpera. I also see a few Bach Flower clients and recently had some success treating an anxious dog. ​

Inspiration for w​riting ​has been somewhat lacking since I published my short memoir at the beginning of the year, though I have made a tentative start on a new novel. Sales of my existing ​books trickle along slowly. Much as I dislike the marketing aspect I know I need to make more effort to stand out from the hordes of other indie authors, and have updated my profile pages on Smashwords.com, Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
I am planning to visit England again in 2018. Brian no longer enjoys long haul travel so won’t be coming with me, but we have booked to go to Australia together for a medical conference and a trip on the Indian Pacific train.
A Happy Christmas to all my readers.

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