We asked our regular book reviewers to send us their top three reads of 2016. The books do not have to have been published in 2016, although most of them were. As always, the selections are as eclectic as the business of publishing.
There were favourites. Three books were mentioned by more than one of our reviewers. They are: Born A Crime, Different Class, and Holding My Breath.
- Different Class by Joanne Harris (Doubleday). If you’ve read Gentlemen And Players and blueeyedboy, you will be familiar with the setting in this book – St Oswald’s Grammar School for Boys in the fictional Yorkshire village of Malbry. Harris has written in many genres, but her strength lies in psychological suspense, of which there is plenty in this book. The twists in the plot and the skilled narrative will keep you off balance and hooked until the end.
- Born A Crime by Trevor Noah (Macmillan). Trevor Noah is a consummate teller of tales whose thoughtful comedy routines are carefully plotted and set up before he delivers the punch line. He seldom resorts to slapstick, hysteria, or profanity. He is seldom distracted. This is perfect for translating material from his life and his routines into this memoir. The result is a brave and funny book. Read it. Buy it for somebody you love. You won’t regret it.
- The Thabo Mbeki I Know by Sifiso Mxolisi Ndlovu, Miranda Strydom (Macmillan). What I love most about this book is that it is a history within a history. Everybody should read it to see what this world was like through the eyes of 48 remarkable people who each have their own stories to tell about President Thabo Mbeki and their role in South Africa’s struggle. It is like travelling through time to places I’ve only heard about. Places that now have texture and substance and intimacy.
- Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me by Andy Martin (Bantam Press). You don’t have to be a fan of the Jack Reacher books to enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at the writing of Lee Child’s blockbuster novel, Make Me – but it does help if you’re a fan of writing. A great outside view on the process from an engaging non-fiction voice. Writers will love it.
- The St. Tropez Lonely Hearts Club by Joan Collins (Little Brown Constable). A glossy, and sometimes silly, summer read from one of our camp icons, actress turned author, Aunty Joan. It’s not going to change your life – but it will deliver escapism while you spend some time working on your suntan or taking a break from the kids or family over the festive season. Fluffy holiday fare.
- I Am No One by Patrick Flanery (Atlantic Books). The loss of our identity and theparanoia about living in the world of a digital Big Brother converge to give an intelligent, if sometimes, slow read about a man coming apart at the seams. A thought provoking read for those looking for substance in their literary fare.
- The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick (Harvill Secker) has everything I’m always looking for in a book: magic, science and love stories. Róisín and François meet in Antarctica, at a research centre. The comets that have passed through the skies for the last hundreds of years connect them and they influence the destiny and fate of this unlikely pair. Beautiful and enchanting.
- Nutshell by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape) An original and short novel, where nothing is predictable. A very convincing unborn child tells the Hamlet story of his mother Trudy and her lover Claude plotting the murder of John, the father of the foetus. Brilliant and funny. Thought provoking. Full of word play.
- The Shouting In The Dark by Elleke Boehmer (Jacana) This book is haunting, honest, and beguiling. It’s an intimate portrait of nine-year-old Ella growing up in South Africa during the seventies with her Dutch parents. Ella watches, absorbs the rage, stands up to her father and finally writes about it. Highly recommended.
- Daisy In Chains by Sharon Bolton (Bantam) was gripping and intense. A gorgeous serial killer is in jail, and, it appears, many women are in love with him. But not Maggie Rose, a reclusive author and lawyer. She is impervious to his charms. Or is she? The sinister setting – from prison to meetings of “supporters of Hamish” in strange secretive places; the lurking strangers in the darkness, the unexpected twists and turns around every corner and down each dark alley kept me reading through the night.
- Different Class by Joanne Harris (Doubleday) was set in St Oswald’s Grammar school, where our unlikely sardonic hero, Latin master Roy Straitley, is close to retirement and the school finds itself in difficulties. The voices of the characters were completely distinct, eerily clever and sarcastic, and evoked memorable scenes and events that will stay with me for a long time. A top notch psychological thriller.
- Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (Hodder & Stoughton). Ruth is shaped by her past – her determined mother, her rebellious sister, so she becomes a labour and delivery nurse. After 30 years, she is prevented from doing her job because she is black. This leads to a court case where Kennedy represents her in her first significant trial. The dialogue is spot on – even the minor characters are startlingly accurate. The tension and the stakes climb towards an ultimate showdown of good against evil, right against wrong in trademark Picoult style.
- Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (Henry Holt and Company). Six young criminal prodigies set off on a deadly heist that could either allow them to retire comfortably by the age of twenty, or destroy the fragile balance of their world. Bardugo’s series is a magnificent blend of fantasy, adventure and thrilling action, neatly sealed in an intricate plot that left my mind reeling.
- You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day (Touchstone). Witty, bubbly, and shamelessly quirky, Felicia Day’s memoir recounts her roundabout journey to stardom through a refusal to sacrifice her individuality.I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun reading a memoir; Day’s bubbly style and hilarious self-awareness made for an inspiring, unapologetic read.
- The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (Tor). Cogman’s debut novel is a book every bibliophile needs to read. As a Librarian, Irene is tasked with hunting down precious books from different realities, yet her latest mission in a chaos-infested London holds greater challenges than she has ever faced before – not to mention a very dangerous book that has fallen into enemy hands.
- The Reader On The 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didier Laurent Translated by Ros Swartz (Mantle). What a delightful, funny and strange little tale this is! I gave it a 5 score because it intrigued me so much. It made me laugh – although it’s a bit dark. And it made me wonder all over again about the secret lives of the people you pass every day without really thinking. It’s a tale about the power of words, writing and stories to change even the most dire of circumstances, the magic of imagination and those small moments of rebellion that define us. Weird and Wonderful!
- Try Not To Breathe by Holly Seddon (Corvus). The real world had to take a back seat while I followed this engrossing story about a girl in a “locked-in” coma, and the woman who discovers she can communicate. This fast-paced story is well-written, taut and bitingly sharp. It’s also a reflection on addiction, the journey it takes to fight it, and the hope that exists, even in awful circumstances. A really, really good read.
- Angry Owl by Kerryn Ponter (Struik Children). This is a great little story for little children, written and illustrated by South African artist, Kerryn Ponter. I love the character Ponter has created, and I hope Angry Owl turns out to have a few more adventures in store for young readers.
- Love You Dead by Peter James (Macmillan). Jody vows she will be rich and famous and she becomes a Black Widow. Detective Roy Grace had to unravel this case. The unusual concept behind the story is fascinating.
- Genuine Lies by Nora Roberts (Piatkus). Nora Roberts is a master storyteller. She tells the story of a famous film star who has decided to reveal the true story of her life. This opens a can of worms for her associates which could endanger some people. This is an absolute page turner, gripping to the end.
- Holding My Breath by Ace Maloi (Blackbird Books). Ace Maloi comes from a disadvantaged background. He lived with his now deceased mother in dire poverty. He vowed he would break that pattern. He succeeded in school and won a bursary to attend University. His memoir shows sheer grit, courage and determination under appalling circumstances.
- Stone Rider by David Hofmeyr (Penguin), for simplicity of language, characters that lived on long after I closed the book and the option of a sequel!
- Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, for the introduction of words and a vocabulary that, despite requiring a dictionary on hand, did not interrupt imaginative story-telling
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, for laugh-out-loud humour and the creation of (literally) out-of-this-world characters. The Paranoid Android deserves special mention.
- The Moment She Left by Susan Lewis (Century). This was simply the beginning of an obsession, I’ve read four of her books after this one. The novel is a gripping story that won’t disappoint. I dare you to try it.
- Baby Doll by Hollie Overton (Century). Baby Doll is a heart-breaking story of the miraculous return of Lilly, kidnapped at the age of sixteen. After she manages to escape Lilly tries to piece together whatever is left of her life and deal with the aftermath of her abduction.
- Magic by Danielle Steel (Delacorte Press). Magic is a beautifully written story of three couples and the charming lives they live. They are brought together by the magic of an invite only dinner in Paris.
Holding My Breath by Ace Moloi (BlackBird Books). Ace Moloi has written a truly heartfelt and inspiring memoir to his mother that has left me thinking that regardless of all the adversity you go through, you can always rise above it and choose to change the direction of your life.
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena (Bantam Press). How well do you really know the people close to you? I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. Shari Lapena writes beautifully. Absolutely brilliant!
Blue by Danielle Steel (Penguin). Blue is a hopeful story of healing, finding peace and love again. Beautifully written from my all-time favourite author.
- Agents Of The State by Mike Nicol (Umuzi). Nicol’s latest thriller is filled with interesting characters including the President and his son who are involved with some dirty dealings in Africa. An exciting story with conspiracies, power struggles and agency secrets.
- Sigh The Beloved Country by Bongani Madondo (Picador Africa). This beautiful book of narrative essays illustrates South Africa’s social complexities. Madonda forces South Africans to question their ideas about racism and pokes fun at some of the social behaviour he has observed. Sometimes funny and other times uncomfortable but always honest.
- A Time Of Torment by John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton). Charlie Parker fans will not be disappointed by this book, the follow up to A Wolf in Winter.
- Cold Case Confession: Unravelling the Betty Ketani Murder by Alex Eliseev (Macmillan). This is such a well-written and well researched book centring around a South African murder case that remains unsolved for 15 years.
- Flesh and Blood by Riette Rust with Eileen de Jager and Roelien Schutte (LAPA). Better know as the blood sisters, this is Riette and Eileen’s second book that details their unusual and macabre profession.
- Always Anastacia: A transgender life in South Africa by Anastacia Tomson (Jonathan Ball Publishers). A personal account of Anastacia and the daily trials she encounters as a transgender person living in SA.
- The Fireman by Joe Hill (Gollancz). I loved that this story was not just another post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi novel. There are those elements, but this novel is also an amazing, uplifting story of the human spirit.
- Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz (Michael Joseph). This is a fast-paced action adventure with an edge. Just when you think you have it all figured out, you don’t , and the sucker punch at the end leaves you breathless. Orphan X is the best kind of edge-of-your seat read for lazy summer days, and definitely signals the birth of a new action hero.
- Born A Crime by Trevor Noah (Macmillan). I read this book more out of curiosity, and was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it. Trevor’s unapologetic tales of growing up in South Africa make the writing stand out for me. The sheer willpower and determination of his mother will stay with you long after you finish the book.
- Season Of Salt And Honey by Hannah Tunnicliffe (Macmillan) This beautifully and tenderly written novel is about love, family, loss, betrayal and finding peace. Hannah Tunnicliffe describes the slice of life in such a vivid and gentle manner. Have your tissues handy though, this is not a fairy tale.
- Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt (Atlantic Books) This is a true story about a family with identical twin sons who realise that one son feels like he should have been born a girl. The journey of the family through the pain of people not accepting the transgender child is atrocious, but because of their determination, Wyatt becomes Nicole and is a much happier person.
- 101 Kruger Tales compiled by Jeff Gordon (Leadwood Publishing) I loved this book. As an animal and nature aficionado, I really enjoy game drives and stories about the bush, which is what this comprehensive book covers in 101 stories about the three sections of Kruger Park by members of the public over the years.
- My Cape Malay Kitchen by Cariema Issacs (Struik Lifestyle). As a girl brought up in a family that loved eating curry, I couldn’t wait to try the recipes from My Cape Malay Kitchen. The easy-to-read instructions and lovely stories and photographs of Cariema’s family created a personal experience and it felt as if Cariema was in my kitchen ensuring I got it right!
- Own Your Space by Nadia Bilchik and Lori Milner (Pan Macmillan). A practical and inspirational tool book for every woman working towards owning her space. Whether you are starting your own business, working your way up in your company or taking the journey to improve and boost your career, Own Your Space is exactly what you need. A step-by-step guide with techniques that work.
- The Storyteller’s Secret by Carmine Gallo (Macmillan). The key to storytelling is every entrepreneur’s or business owner’s magical ingredient to inspiring, influencing and empowering people. This book reveals the irresistible art of story and how we can use it every day to our advantage. Learn how to create stories that will help you build your empire, empower others or deliver memorable presentations and write the stories that change the world.
- Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett (Penguin). This is an office survival manual for a sexist workplace, and it is everything you need, whether you are a man or a woman.
- Orphans Of The Carnival by Carol Birch (Canongate). The whole world is embroiled in a raging war on inequality, and the story of Julia reminded me of the true nature of humanity, which is both beautiful and terrible.
- Let’s Talk Frankly by Onkgopotse JJ Tabane (Pan Macmillan). Though bittersweet, this is a thoroughly educational, entertaining, and nourishing read. Tabane’s letters neatly capture various comings, goings and utterances of our nation’s leaders. He writes with a charitable balance of scathing criticism for Julius Malema and Mamphela Ramphele, and appreciative credit for Thuli Madonsela and Mmusi Maimane among others.
- Insanely Gifted by Jamie Catto (Canongate). Insanely Gifted is the perfect read for those feeling stuck in situations or frozen by the fear of the unknown. Also, it’s completely entertaining.
- Letters of Stone From Nazi Germany to South Africa by Steven Robins (Penguin). An extraordinary read, I found the parallels that Robins draws with South Africa’s Apartheid past and the eugenics of Nazi Germany fascinating.
- Elephant Dawn by Sharon Pincott (Jacana). This book showcases the desperate plight of wild animals in Zimbabwe as the country spirals into chaos. It is a genuinely personal account of the hardships and triumphs of a courageous and often hilarious lady. I was riveted.
In the past
These were our choices from previous years: