So, I read a lot of books. My 2017 goal was 50 books and I (luck willing, December 31st still) will hit 66 by 2018. I say this mostly so that when I say my top ten books read in 2017, I don’t mean out of 12.
These books were much loved, fondly remembered now, and I hope you enjoy them too in the future if I manage to convince you to give them a go!
Now, without further ado, onto the countdown of books that you came for…
10) Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels
In 1940 a boy bursts from the mud of a war-torn Polish city, where he has buried himself to hide from the soldiers who murdered his family. His name is Jakob Beer. He is only seven years old. And although by all rights he should have shared the fate of the other Jews in his village, he has not only survived but been rescued by a Greek geologist, who does not recognize the boy as human until he begins to cry. With this electrifying image, Anne Michaels ushers us into her rapturously acclaimed novel of loss, memory, history, and redemption.
This book is a hard book to describe, but a beautiful one to read. It is one of the more ‘literary’ ones on my list, if it can be called that either, but that doesn’t stop it from being a page turner. It’s a thought provoking read that is not as grim as it sounds.
I recommend it mostly for it’s writing. The writing is astonishing.
This is my favourite quote: “Like other ghosts, she whispers; not for me to join her, but so that, when I’m close enough, she can push me back into the world.”
I don’t know, I just love it, maybe because so often haunting and ghosts are described differently, with a cruelty that’s not necessarily true. Anyway.
9) Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll
HER PERFECT LIFE IS A PERFECT LIE.
As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancé, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve.
But Ani has a secret.
There’s something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and destroy everything.
With a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to “have it all” and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that’s bigger than it first appears.
The question remains: will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for—or, will it at long last, set Ani free?
I love me a good thriller, and this was a great one! I was hungry to find out what happened, and it wasn’t what I expected which made it even better as I’ve read enough books that I can normally guess what’s coming. Woes of a literature degree.
The protagonist was interesting and I rooted for all of the way through. I don’t want to say more because, spoilers. The writing style also had a lot of fantastic nuggets that really made me think, and which picked the story out from the masses of dark past and secret stories.
8) The Grown Up, by Gillian Flynn
A canny young woman is struggling to survive by perpetrating various levels of mostly harmless fraud. On a rainy April morning, she is reading auras at Spiritual Palms when Susan Burke walks in. A keen observer of human behavior, our unnamed narrator immediately diagnoses beautiful, rich Susan as an unhappy woman eager to give her lovely life a drama injection. However, when the “psychic” visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan’s terror and grief, she realizes she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts anymore. Miles, Susan’s teenage stepson, doesn’t help matters with his disturbing manner and grisly imagination. The three are soon locked in a chilling battle to discover where the evil truly lurks and what, if anything, can be done to escape it.
I love Gillian Flynn, so it is a testament to how many fantastic books I have read this year that this is only 7 on the list. But it still also in my top ten out of over 50 books, so, you know, endorsement.
Flynn’s villains are, as always, fresh and on point for being frightening. They are never who you expect. This is a quick, chilling read and I absolutely loved it. Honestly, my only complaint was that it was a short story when I would have happily read a 400 page novel of what happened next!
7) Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of The Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.
But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.
I don’t read much YA fiction these days, or that many romances when they’re not part of a larger fantasy plot. I loved this one. I couldn’t put it down.
The dialogue is witty and warm, and the characters feel true and interesting. You know, you read so many romance books where you feel like the characters get together because it’s a romance book without actually having that much chemistry? Not the case here. I was rooting for them from the start.
Also, I am horrendously biased, but give me all the LGBT love. You may find a fair amount in this 2017 list.
6) The Lover’s Dictionary, by David Levithan
How does one talk about love? Do we even have the right words to describe something that can be both utterly mundane and completely transcendent, pulling us out of our everyday lives and making us feel a part of something greater than ourselves?
Taking a unique approach to this problem, the nameless narrator of David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary has constructed the story of his relationship as a dictionary. Through these short entries, he provides an intimate window into the great events and quotidian trifles of being within a couple, giving us an indelible and deeply moving portrait of love in our time.
I have never read a book like this one. It was a delightful read in terms of its inventive structure, as indicated above, which also means that its language is well chosen. Despite the shortness of the snippets it really captures the relationship at the heart of the novel.
Romance fans – give this a read for something new.
5) Kissing The Witch: Old Tales in New Skins, by Emma Donaghue
Thirteen interconnected tales are unspun from the deeply familiar, and woven anew into a collection of fairy tales that wind back through time. Acclaimed Irish author Emma Donoghue reveals heroines young and old in unexpected alliances–sometimes treacherous, sometimes erotic, but always courageous.
Told with luminous voices that shimmer with sensuality and truth, these age-old characters shed their antiquated cloaks to travel a seductive new landscape, radiantly transformed.
Cinderella forsakes the handsome prince and runs off with the fairy godmother; Beauty discovers the Beast behind the mask is not so very different from the face she sees in the mirror; Snow White is awakened from slumber by the bittersweet fruit of an unnamed desire.
So, anyone who knows me knows I have a thing about fairytales. I have read a lot of fairytale inspired stories these year, from Angela Carter to Kirsty Logan who you can find further down this list.
This one was wonderful. The writing style was clever, with each story leading into the story of the woman who came before her. It is is written in an oral style, like a story whispered to you before the fireplace, without losing a beauty in the language Donaghue chooses.
Fairy tale retellings can often be predictable. This one wasn’t. It’s a quick read for a breath of fresh air.
4) The Invisible Circus, by Jennifer Egan
In Jennifer Egan’s highly acclaimed first novel, set in 1978, the political drama and familial tensions of the 1960s form a backdrop for the world of Phoebe O’Connor, age eighteen. Phoebe is obsessed with the memory and death of her sister Faith, a beautiful idealistic hippie who died in Italy in 1970. In order to find out the truth about Faith’s life and death, Phoebe retraces her steps from San Francisco across Europe, a quest which yields both complex and disturbing revelations about family, love, and Faith’s lost generation.
This is at heart a coming of age story, with a more universal appeal. I was never part of the hippy age, it is long before my young time, but Phoebe’s emotions still seemed often to capture my own with the fear of having missed out on something crucial.
I have read a lot of Egan’s work, but this has been my favourite by far. It is a perfect read for anyone hesitating on the next steps of their life, and a perfect book for the New Year.
3) If We Were Villains, by M.L Rio
Enter the players. There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us. Until that year, we saw no further than the books in front of our faces.
On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.
Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.
This was a really enjoyable thriller with a smart edge – I was hooked. If you have read and enjoyed The Secret History, by Donna Tart, you’re going to love this one. It has something of the same feeling, while remaining unique to its own story. All of the characters are interesting, and I loved seeing the cross-over between how we view ourselves and how this can translate in the roles we play both on stage and off.
2) A Portable Shelter, by Kirsty Logan
In their tiny, sea-beaten cottage on the north coast of Scotland, Liska and Ruth await the birth of their first child.
Each passes the time by telling the baby stories, trying to pass on the lessons they’ve learned: tales of circuses and stargazing, selkie fishermen and domestic werewolves, child-eating witches and broken-toothed dragons.
But they must keep their storytelling a secret from one another, as they’ve agreed to only ever tell the plain truth. So to cloak their tales, Ruth tells her stories when Liska is at work, to a background of shrieking seabirds; Liska tells hers when Ruth is asleep, with the lighthouse sweeping its steady beam through the window.
This was the first Kirsty Logan book I read, after listening to her talk at a WriteNow event in Newcastle. I promptly had to read everything else by her.
It’s a collection of dark fairytales-magical realism, which I have since found to be a recurring thread through Logan’s work. This is fantastic for me, because that’s exactly the type of story that I adore. However, at no point does it feel like a dull fairytale retelling where you can guess what happens. Her writing is beautiful and though she borrows a certain “fairy tale” feeling or magical character, the stories are uniquely her own. And, though I speak of darkness, like all good fairytales A Portable Shelter is at heart hopeful and loving as two women wait for their child to be born.
(I also recommend her other works)
1) The Shades of Magic Series, by V.E Schwab.
Includes: A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, and A Conjuring of Light
A Darker Shade of Magic:
Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.
Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.
Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.
I absolutely adored this series. It’s a fantasy for adults, with great characters and compelling villains that were genuinely riveting on the page. It utterly hit the spot for everything I wanted. I was invested in everyone, and there was a bit of something for every reader from romance to adventure, and to top it off the world building was wonderfully immersive without being bogged in detail.
Who is my favourite character? For once, I honestly can’t pick. I normally have a clear winner.
This is a recommendation for any fantasy fan out there.
So yeah, that’s it folks. My personal take from 2017. I’m looking forward to 2018!
If you find you like my kind of book, you can also follow me on goodreads.