Best Fiction From 2017

My favourite new reads in 2017
I only ended up reading four new novels this year, so these are (by default) my best fiction from 2017.  I would highly recommend the first two to almost anyone , while the second two are possibly more niche reads that will be loved by many readers of science fiction.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
(Book Depository)
Even though I am not a massive Jane Austen fan, I am a huge Connie Willis fan, and this time travel novel was similar in some ways to Connie Willis’s Oxford novels.  It was contemporary in tone, really brought the Austen family to life, and provided wonderful insight into the social history of Regency England.  It also contains a gorgeous easter egg for any fans of A. S. Byatt’s Possession.

Extinctions by Josephine Wilson
(Apple iBooks)
One of the few times in living memory that I have read an entire novel in less than 24 hours.  Fred Lothian’s cramped retirement village unit and his inability to address significant failure of character in his own life sucked me in, and I didn’t come up for air until I was finished.  Deeply satisfying.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
(Public Library)
While there were lots of things that were far from perfect about this time travel novel (that is actually not in fact a time travel novel, but a novel about the history of science, magic and the systemic failures of bureaucracy), there was an absolutely sublime Viking raid on Walmart that made the hard slog totally worth it.  Mostly, this novel made me miss the wonderful Kage Baker and her Company novels, with their secret society of time traveling cyborgs.

Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald
(Kinokuniya)
As a long time fan of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars books, I think I can safely say that Ian MacDonald’s Luna books are a worthy inheritor of the kind of epic political science fiction that Kim Stanley Robinson is celebrated for.  An ensemble cast with complex back stories and a fully realised frontier setting sucked me into the first book, Luna: New Moon, but it was the civil war in Luna: Wolf Moon that made this one of those books you just couldn’t put down.  Game of Thrones on the moon, indeed.

Still on My To Read List for 2017

Still lots of books I didn’t get to, and I am ashamed to say some of them I have wanted to read since at least 2015!

Zero K by Don DeLillo
It’s sitting on my phone waiting to be read.  I should probably get myself a paperback.  An unread ebook is one way to immortality, I guess.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
Victorian England, Naturalism.  I don’t know much about this book yet, but it popped up on lots of favourite lists at the end of 2016, and those two keywords are enough to pique my interest.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
This seems like a logical next read after The Last Painting of Sara de Vos for anyone who wants more of the Dutch Golden Age.  I am hoping for Dorothy Dunnett meets A. S. Byatt.

The Girls by Emma Cline
Much anticipated in 2016, but didn’t really cross my radar or catch my interest at the time.  Now that I have read and loved Commonwealth, a dangerously edged tale of adolescence at the violent end of the 1960s sounds perfect.

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
To tie me over until The Mirror and the Light comes out, an epic French Revolution tale from a Booker Prize winner sounds wonderful.  Nobody makes historical figures quite so human or vulnerable as Hilary Mantel.

And the ones from last year that I didn’t make it to, but that are still high on my list…

The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall
A fictional account of the reintroduction of wild wolves in the UK? Wolves, English Gentry and Country Estates, Female Scientist Protagonist, Returning home to family ghosts? What’s still not to love? I don’t know why I haven’t got to this yet, but did make sure I set it for Book Clubs in 2017 (just to make sure I finally read it)

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
One of the most popular science fiction novels in China, and increasingly hyped now that it has been published and widely read in English.  I still hope that the Cultural Revolution background story for this novel will be the driver for some really serious political science fiction.

Best Reads of 2016: Not Actually 2016 Books

Three World War II novels, two modern classics, and one newish post civilisation novel (I can never get enough utopia/dystopia/post-apocalypse) rounded out my list of favourite not so new books read in 2016.

Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
(Kinokuniya)

California by Edan Lepucki
(Readings)

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
(Public Library)

High-Rise by J. G. Ballard
(Public Library)

Ripley Under Ground by Patricia Highsmith
(Public Library)

Best Fiction from 2016

2016 was extremely busy.  There was a brand new library that opened in May, and it definitely felt like work took over most of my life for the better part of the year.  I also went back to university and spent a lot of time reading for study rather than pleasure. And I (finally) got my drivers licence and started driving to and from work most days, which put an even larger dent in my leisure reading.

Goodbye reading on the bus! (but I have tried to ensure I have more time for reading at home and love a good cafe date with a book when I have a day off work).  There was a lot of comfort reading this year, and I discovered some wonderful new novels – especially Ann Patchett.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
(Publisher Advance Copy)
A pitch-perfect reboot of Pride and Prejudice, in which the plural ways we can find love and happiness in the 21st century are celebrated.  I wrote a review of Eligible in March.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
(Public Library)
An intensely compassionate portrait of the many ways casual neglect and difficult circumstances impact a generation of children in one blended family.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
(Public Library)
An engrossing novel that bridges the historical and contemporary genres, connecting a female artist in the Dutch Golden Age with a female art forger in New York and Sydney 400 years later.

Crosstalk by Connie Willis
(Publisher Advance Copy)
A highly original and entertaining look at connection fatigue in our modern world.  A romance novel disguised as science fiction or a science fiction novel disguised as chick lit?  I wrote a review of Crosstalk in October.

Good on Paper by Rachel Cantor
(Public Library)
A quirky literary mystery, with many messy layers of personal complexity and a gorgeously casual narrative vernacular.  I loved the New York setting and all the nerdy Dante detail.

Honorable Mention:
Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay
(Book Depository)
Not quite in my top five favourites as far as new releases go, and far from my favourite Kay, but any new novel by Guy Gavriel Kay is cause for for celebration.

New Fiction I am excited about in 2016

Good on Paper by Rachel Cantor
Release Date: January 2016
I can’t remember where I first heard about Rachel Cantor, but I know that her forthcoming second novel has been praised by Emily St John Mandel and sounds funny, bookish, and complicated in just the way I like.  I am hoping for Possession meets A Visit from the Goon Squad, but will have to wait to read it to see!

Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay
Release Date: May 2016
Kay is by far my favourite fantasy writer. A master of both unexpected settings and fully realised minor characters, he always manages to deliver a well-rounded novel that evokes a time and place with great depth, and his stories keep me reading, pull at my heartstrings and leave me blubbing on the bus… every time. His latest offering is set in a fantasy analogue of Renaissance Venice and there will be merchants, spies and much intrigue. As a huge fan of Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic (Byzantine intrigue and political manoeuvring aplenty!) and Dorothy Dunnett’s Niccol series, I am excited to see what Kay will do with this new setting. The fact that Kay is also a Dunnett fan just makes me even more excited.

Zero K by Don DeLillo
Release Date: May 2016
DeLillo is one of those superb authors who always has his finger on the pulse.  I once read an interview with Don DeLillo where he talked about his writing concerning living in dangerous times, and what is more dangerous than the topic of death?  Except when you are writing about death in the 21st century, right?

Crosstalk by Connie Willis
Release Date: September 2016
Connie Willis is one of Science Fiction’s best humorists, but also one of the genre’s best romance authors. Bellwether, To Say Nothing of the Dog and Passage all have fantastic romance sub plots, so the prospect of a new romantic comedy novel from Willis all about telepathy has me very excited.

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
Release Date: Unknown, could be 2017!
Finally, we get to Jane, who has been dear in the Cromwell novels (Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies) so far. I am guessing the third novel will cover Jane Seymour’s short reign, the birth of a long awaited male heir, the search for Henry’s fourth wife, and what we all knew was coming from the start: Cromwell’s inevitable and rapid demise at the hands of his friend, an increasingly erratic king Henry VIII.  I know this one is going to be hard to read, but I just. can’t. wait.

Still on my To Read List for 2016

There were lots of books I didn’t get through in 2015, even though they were on my to read list.  On the top of the pile for the new year are:

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
One of the most popular science fiction novels in China, I hope that the Cultural Revolution background story for this novel will be the driver for some really serious political science fiction.  If it’s The Dispossessed meets Red Mars, like I am hoping… I will be very happy indeed.  The second novel in this series sounds even better.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
For the simple reason that I have never read anything by Kate Atkinson, but believe she is quirky and interesting.  Reincarnation, here, takes the place of my usual go-to (time travel) as a tool for exploring history, so hopefully Atkinson is an author that I can recommend to people who like Connie Willis (and vice versa).

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
Ever since I heard Geordie Williamson do a speedy but passionate ‘back of the cigarette packet’ push for Faber at an event back in 2014, I have had this novel on my mind. The premise alone reminds me of one of my favourite reads, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, and can’t wait to see if my instinct is right there, or if it is in fact possible to write an entirely different kind of novel about an evangelical mission to another planet.

A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson
My mother suggested this book to me after she finished reading Station Eleven on my recommendation.  Most of my post apocalyptic imaginings since my rising teen obsession with post-civilisation societies have been antipodean, and it’s nice that other people have been imagining likewise and these are now readily available for me to devour.

The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall
A fictional account of the reintroduction of wild wolves in the UK? Wolves, English Gentry and Country Estates, Female Scientist Protagonist, Returning home to family ghosts? What’s not to love?

Best Reads of 2015: Not Actually 2015 Books

I did have a great year reading lots of not so new books, with Station Eleven being my absolute favourite read in 2015.  I also discovered Barbara Trapido, found a potential new favourite urban fantasy author in Jo Walton, and finally read a classic I had been meaning to read for years.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
(Public Library)

Among Others by Jo Walton
(Interlibrary Loan)

Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido
(Purchased from Kinokuniya)

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
(Public Library)

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
(Public Library)