January 2017: My top five books of 2016

I can’t believe it’s been ten months since Dan Forrester and Lucy Davies hit the shelves – where has the time gone?!

I hope you all had a fabulous Christmas and that your stockings came full of books – in my view there is no more perfect gift than a well-chosen book. But then I would say that being a book addict as well as an author!
So, here is my new thriller, this time partly set in Russia. Why Russia? Because of an article I read in the newspaper just before the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Apparently the Kremlin went to the Russian people and asked them to vote for who they thought was the greatest Russian. First came medieval Prince Alexander Nevskey, second was reformist Minister Pyotr Stolypin.

Third, despite sending millions of Soviets to their deaths in labour camps and gulags, was Joseph Stalin. 50 million people voted.

This got me thinking about the psychology of this nation. Russians are deep thinkers. They love to laugh, talk and share stories. They love to gossip about mutual friends when they’re not around. They can be blunt to the point of rudeness.

But above all, Russians are passionate and fiercely loyal to their country. It was this immense and inspiring devotion that helped drive the book to its finale.

View to Taynitskaya Tower of Kremlin – the psychology of this nation helped drive Tell Me a Lie towards its finale (Image: Алексей Белобородов)
View to Taynitskaya Tower of Kremlin – the psychology of this nation helped drive Tell Me a Lie towards its finale (Image: Алексей Белобородов)

I love setting part of my books overseas, and I suppose it’s not surprising I chose a thriller set in China as my Book of the Year 2016.

Night Heron is one of the best spy novels I’ve read. What lifts the book above the ordinary is the fact that Adam Brookes was a former BBC correspondent in China, so every sentence is written with absolute authority and drips with atmosphere. You can see my Goodreads review here.

Runner up is The Woodcutter. This was my first Reginald Hill novel, and what a pleasure. A big, fat mystery filled with rich characters and acute psychological insights, it kept me riveted right up to the end.

Third comes All the Light We Cannot See, which blew me away with its magical, poetic prose. It was beautiful, haunting, harrowing and compulsive, and little wonder it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2015.

Fourth is Conclave. Robert Harris is one of my favourite authors, and I always pounce on his newest with glee. As usual, I wasn’t disappointed because it’s beautifully written, atmospheric, hugely knowledgeable and as tense as anything.

Fifth is The Body on the Doorstep, the first Romney Marsh mystery by AJ MacKenzie. I don’t normally read historical fiction but I enjoyed this romp so much it toppled quite a few heavyweights in the running. I also loved learning about everyday life in 1796 and the fact some of the book is based on real events made it really interesting.

Choosing my top five books has made me look at what I value in my reading. First, I like a cracking story and a pretty much watertight plot. Secondly, it has to hold my attention 100%. Because I read so much, and have done since I was a child, I can speed read. I know when I have something special when I slow right down to read every word.

But the true test is if the book stands the test of time. If I can recollect the story and characters vividly, even months later, then it’s right up there.

That’s it from me, for now! Thanks for reading this (rather lengthy, sorry!) newsletter. May I wish you a very Happy New Year and hopes that 2017 brings nothing but good things to you and your loved ones.

Happy reading!

cj_jan_blog2
Choosing my top five books has made me look at what I value in my reading – and these books all made my list in 2016.