Closing the final page on the very best books leaves you with a single urge: to share it. We’re talking about the kind of books that make you want to follow strangers down the road, tugging at their elbow and saying “seriously, you’ve got to read this”.
Here then, is our equivalent of doing that. Here are fifteen books published in 2017 that our writers felt compelled to share. If there’s one that you feel similarly enthused about, recommend away in the comments section…
Sealed – Naomi Booth
Set in Australia in the near future, Sealed is about the spread of a skin-changing virus, called Cutis, that is the stuff of nightmares. But there’s no big picture of its spread on display; instead we follow heavily pregnant Alice and her boyfriend Pete as they decide to move away from the city while the disease is still only talked about in rumours, and officials deny everything. She struggles to cope in an unfamiliar setting, and her fears that Cutis will claim her and her unborn child make this a very powerful book. An intimate and disturbing read.
By Aliya Whiteley (whose excellent novella The Beauty is available to buy here)
The Gallows Pole – Benjamin Myers
Based on the true story of the Crag Vale Coiners, Benjamin Myers’ latest novel is set in 18th century Yorkshire where “King” David Hartley reigned over his gang of men who produced fake coinage to support their incomes. Myers takes Hartley’s story and crafts a fascinating look at the difference between reality and myth-making, a grittier take on a Robin Hood-like figure. In the third person parts of the narrative, Hartley is a towering, terrifying figure, but Myers counters this with Hartley’s own thoughts, often punctuating the image with something more intimate and vulnerable.
It is also a showcase for the Yorkshire landscape. Myers’ stunningly wrought descriptions demonstrate both its beauty and its threat. The Gallows Pole is a cracking read and one which shines a light on an intriguing slice of grim history.
By Becky Lea
Bonfire – Krysten Ritter
If Jessica Jones wrote a crime novel, you’d expect it to be a lot like Bonfire. And if it feels unfair to collapse Krysten Ritter with her character, well, look, this is a thriller about a tough-on-the-outside, wounded-on-the-inside crime fighter (or lawyer, at least) who’s forced to confront a spectre from her past to save her hometown and find out what happened to her childhood best friend.
So yeah, it’s possible Bonfire would invite comparisons to Jessica Jones even if it had been written by someone else. Luckily, though, it’s great: tense, creepy, and smart and, at one point, so gruesome it’ll probably make you slam the book shut in horror. It’s also heartfelt and touching. If it had been written by someone else, we’d probably be hailing them as a really exciting new voice in genre fiction.
By Sarah Dobbs
Acadie – Dave Hutchinson
Acadie is a space novella that tells the tale of a centuries old grudge match pursued fanatically beyond genetic and space boundaries, seen through the weary eyes of the de-facto president of the Colony, Duke. As the Colony comes under threat of discovery he is forced to step up in the interests of the various settlers, including the originals – The Writers, a group of renegade scientists from earth. They in turn created The Kids – superhumans of immense abilities who like to modify their appearances to suit themselves and resemble the greatest cosplay show off earth.
There’s a smart twist in space fabric in this funny short book and it pushed my rudimentary grasp of physics to their outer limits. Engage hyperdrive, drop right into hyperspace. Enjoy the chase.
By Jane Roberts-Morpeth
Who Let The Gods Out? – Maz Evans
One of 2017’s greatest films (adapted from one of 2011’s greatest books) is A Monster Calls, the story of a young boy who encounters the supernatural while struggling to cope with a seriously ill mum. Who Let The Gods Out? takes a much more comedic approach to a similar premise. It’s the story of Eliot, his unpredictable mother, their snobby neighbour, a bullying History teacher, a crash-landed star and a whole host of Greek gods. It’s witty, satirical, a tiny bit frightening and a terrific read. Best of all, it’s the start of a new series, with book two Simply The Quest, already published.
By Louisa Mellor
Hings – Chris McQueer
McQueer’s short stories are set around Scotland, mainly the east end of Glasgow, places that don’t crop up in books that often. They’re weird and darkly hilarious. Opener Sammy’s Bag of Whelks sets the tone; strangeness invading real life, one wee idea that snowballs into chaos. The final story, The Budgie, is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. The cover quote says ‘Limmy meets Irvine Welsh’, and that’s pretty damn perfect as a description. That or ‘Vic and Bob hire Borges as script editor’.
By Andrew Blair
Assassin’s Fate – Robin Hobb
Robin Hobb’s long-running series about FitzCivalry Farseer came to an end this year. An end, not the end, as Hobb has not ruled out writing more books set in the Realm of the Elderlings and following some of the same characters, but Assassin’s Fate is the end of the story begun all the way back in Assassin’s Apprentice in 1995. It’s been a long and emotional journey, and while the conclusion to such a long saga will never entirely please everybody, Hobb did a pretty good job of making most fans mostly happy. It was the ending she had always envisaged, it was the ending that was right for her characters, and the story was as exciting, compelling and heart-breaking as all the rest of her books in this series.
We wouldn’t recommend starting with this book, but if you’ve read any of Hobb’s previous works set in the Realm of the Elderlings, you’ll find something to enjoy in this story. For long-time fans, it’s a must-read.
By Juliette Harrisson
La Belle Sauvage: The Book Of Dust Volume one – Philip Pullman
Although they say good things come to those who wait, I still picked up my pre-ordered copy of this book with some trepidation. Fortunately the old saying rings true in this compelling re-visit to the world of daemons first explored in the His Dark Materials trilogy. Familiar characters from that series weave in and out but never outstay their welcome and some minor characters get their stories fleshed out. They are all connected through the eyes of eleven-year-old Malcolm, whose cosy world gets turned upside down by the arrival of a baby called Lyra. The narrative is darker this time but Pullman again deftly blends reality with fantasy and biblical imagery. It isn’t as good as the original trilogy – how could it be – but it is still a gripping piece of work that leaves us hoping that we won’t have to wait so long for the next volume.
By Louise Walker
Deep Down Dead – Steph Broadribb
Steph Broadribb says she was going for a “Thelma and Louise meets Die Hard” vibe with her debut action thriller. It’s a goal she achieved and then some. Deep Down Dead is a frantic scramble of a novel that introduces Lori Anderson, a single mum juggling raising her ill daughter with the demands of being a Floridian bounty hunter.
Cash strapped, Lori agrees to take a high risk, high reward job involving her former mentor. What follows is a full throttle chase story that reads like the best 80s action movies with a brilliant lead character at its heart. Driven by the desire to only do what she thinks is best for her daughter, Lori Anderson is an empathetic hero, more than ready to kick the ass of anyone who gets in her way.
Broadribb has produced a stunning book that not only fizzes with OTT action but wraps a wonderful maternal strand around the bullets, cars and craziness. A very welcome new voice to the crime genre.
By James Stansfield
H(a)ppy – Nicola Barker
One for fans of Black Mirror, Nicola Barker’s dystopia H(a)ppy satirises modern obsessions of all stripes, from social media to mindfulness and even ‘clean’ living while questioning the dubiousness of a life that is always-connected and surveilled. Its typographical playfulness, using different colours and font sizes to underscore plot and theme make it defiantly a print object, so not one for the Kindle.
Her twelfth novel, Barker has been nominated for, and won, almost every literary prize going, and it’s easy to see why. Clever, thought-provoking and endlessly intriguing.
By Louisa Mellor
This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay
Adam Kay originally trained as a junior doctor, specialised in gynaecology and then became a comedian. This short autobiography summarises his dairies during his NHS career and why he ultimately gave up the profession, including a heartfelt letter addressed to the Secretary of State for Health.
I confess that there were times reading this book when my pelvic floor had involuntary panic attacks. It’s that kind of book – funny, frank and uterine-curling. We learn about the unfortunate effects of ‘degloving’ incidents, the revenge of the Prince Albert and the myriad people who say ‘I just fell on it.…’. It is not recommended for the squeamish amongst us. Or anyone even vaguely pregnant. It did make me realise the enormous burden and expectation placed on our NHS staff and the ever tightening constraints that are driving the brilliant young people who opt to go into what is surely the hardest of public service to burn out, step out and find more rewarding routes for their talents. Which is everyone’s loss. And it will hurt.
By Jane Roberts Morpeth
The Grip Of Film – Richard Ayoade
It’s fair to say when you think of Richard Ayoade you don’t necessarily think of action movies, but in his second book, writing as both himself and Gordy LaSure (that name alone should be reason enough for you to pick up this book) he takes a look at the action film genre in only the way he can.
Although it’s totally over the top, you can really feel the love and respect Ayoade has for these films and the film-making process. It is hugely funny and full of heart and joy and it will make you fall that bit more in love with Ayoade.
However this book is all Gordy, full of advice, opinions and general awesomeness, your life will never be the same again after meeting him, and that is nothing but a good thing, and his numerous references to Jason Statham cheered this reader up no end.
Also, the cover is a thing of such beauty it needs to be framed and put up somewhere very important.
By Carley Tauchert-Hutchins
Jade City – Fonda Lee
Have you ever wanted to see a Hong Kong gangster tale where the gangsters are imbued with powers? If so (and why wouldn’t you?), Jade City is absolutely the book for you. Set on the fictional island of Kekon, tensions are rising between the Mountain and No Peak clans. Their businesses rely on the mining of jade, a mineral that grants extraordinary abilities to the Green Bone warriors capable of wielding it. When a new drug arrives that grants intolerant people the resistance needed to use jade, the Kaul family of the No Peak clan find themselves plunged into a desperate battle for survival.
Right from the beginning of the novel, Fonda Lee builds the tension beautifully, hitting palpable levels as the narrative progresses. She fills her landscape with fascinating characters, particularly the hotheaded Hilo and his sister Shae, who is forced into action by a conflict she wanted no part of. Jade City is thrilling, imaginative, and damn near perfect.
By Becky Lea
Sweetpea – CJ Skuse
Rhiannon appears to be a mild-mannered office junior: patronised by colleagues, cheated on by her boyfriend and subjected to endless wedding and baby talk from her group of friends, aka PICSO (People I Can’t Shake off). But she does have one outlet for her frustrations – murder. Focusing on undesirables justifies her unusual hobby; after all, her friends claim they would kill to protect their children, and nobody is sorry to see the demise of local paedophiles or rapists.
With a tantalising backstory hinting at the origins of her penchant for violence, Sweetpea mixes the mundane with the darkly disturbing; a sibling argument over the empty family home may seem ordinary, but in Rhiannon’s case she’s reluctant to sell because it makes a great place to imprison and torture her long-lost school bully.
Aptly described as “Bridget Jones meets American Psycho,” Rhiannon is a memorably filthy, funny anti-heroine: “I didn’t cut off the penis this time. It’s not a trophy thing with me. That would be stupid, like the burglars who always leave the taps on in Home Alone. Besides, where would I put them all? We’ve only got a two-bed flat. It was hard enough deciding where to put the dehumidifier.”
Her kill list is also scarily relatable – hasn’t everyone contemplated murder when faced with an unavoidable hen weekend?
By Rebecca Clough
The Power – Naomi Alderman
As a piece of speculative fiction, The Power* poses the question ‘What would happen if women were physically stronger than men?’
Naomi Alderman’s book is multivalent, genre-spanning and a straight up page turner. There’s drug running, riots, globe-trotting reporters, all of which is thrilling, but Alderman combines that with endless nuance. She takes every aspect of perceived gender roles, puts them under a microscope and makes us really look at them. The Power doesn’t conform to any of our expectations of how these characters are going to be portrayed or how we expect this kind of narrative to end; it’s full of surprises.
Naomi Alderman would’ve had no idea that 2017 was going to turn out like it has, but in light of recent revelations I think it’s fitting that The Power proffers up no greater explanation to the question “why do people abuse power?” than simply “because they can”.
By Rachel Meaden
*Technically a 2016 publication but was released in paperback this year.
Er, and also… Movie Geek!
Er, our coffee pot doesn’t refill itself, y’know. We wrote a book this year. Lots of you were nice about it and bought it. As a consequence, we’ve moved our choice of coffee from the Poundland into Halesowen to the Asda across the way. If you buy a few more copies of this competitively priced movie nerd book, then we might even have some own-brand biscuits too. If you buy lots, we may consider Den of Geek own-brand biscuits. And who knows? That may be what the world needs right now.
In truth, the book isn’t up to the standards of, say, Philip Pullman. But you’ll hopefully forgive us this once for sneaking a plug in…!
By Simon Brew