Top 10 books I read in 2017: mini-reviews
Aiight. Here it is. I've blogged exactly five times this year and I could leave it at that, but this isn't mothereffing 2016, year of the dumpster fire. This is 2017, the year of Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman and the Internet finally recognizing the downright majesty of Congresswoman Maxine Waters.
SO. I'm here to throw down and review 10 of the 30-something books I read this year. Hold onto your girdles, fam, I have a giant mug of coffee and I'm running on like five hours of sleep so AWAY. WE. GOOOO.
After I left my job at the nonprofit in January, I had a few months of freelancing and recovering from burnout. This book was one of my many binge-reads during that time, and it snapped me back to my historical-fiction-obsessed high school years. Snapped me right back.
This book has got everything: political intrigue, slow-burning romance between people who are most definitely related, your lusty and busty BFF...
In Brazen, Mary Howard—who lives during the reign of the Henry VIII—is married off to the king's illegitimate son Other Henry (nicknamed Fitz for the sake of our sanity), and is basically launched into the Tudors' inner circle. Mary befriends the other ladies of the court, Madge (lusty) and Margaret (busty... as in busting everybody's BALLS lol Megdgaf), and they have just a freakin' delightful dynamic as they each struggle for power in a totally British way that involves little-to-no hair-pulling and a healthy dose of cousin-flirting. And also, because it's Tudor England, it's possible for anyone to be killed at any given moment because His Royal Horniness snacks on the happiness of the peerage. Political schemes, courtly scandals, gorgeously-handled character development, and BASTARD CHILDREN abound. You guys... you know how I feel about bastard children.
10/10 would recommend to people who love a.) stories with deliciously British pacing, b.) characters named Henry, or c.) the bastards.
How do I even begin to talk about this book?
After reading her book Help, Thanks, Wow last year, I admittedly became sort of an Anne Lamott fangirl. Again. Obviously, I read Bird by Bird after I graduated high school and obviously, it was one of the books that made me want to be a writer (pretty sure that book could turn a monkey into a writer, but I digress). But then I read Traveling Mercies, and then I read Help, Thanks, Wow, and basically, her words have caused my whole heart position to shift multiple times. In a help-me-I'm-having-an-emotion kind of way.
Hallelujah Anyway is written as a series of anecdotes and brief thoughts on the concept of mercy. Yeah. Sounds totally innocent, like a bathroom read (don't pretend you don't read in the bathroom), until it sucker punches you in the spleen. Guys, I was in a not-good place for the first half of 2017, and when I read Hallelujah Anyway, I was admittedly looking for answers and fix-its and a way out of the suckfest. And then Anne waltzes up in here with, "Mercy is radical kindness," and I realize that there are tears on the pages and I'm like, oh damn, those are my tears, and oh damn, I've been really shitty to myself lately. How do you have mercy for others if you have no mercy for yourself?
I know that doesn't really explain the premise of the book, but suffice it to say that I loved it so much that somehow, I got six of my friends to meet up over the course of a few months and discuss it chapter by chapter. Yep, I'm still that friend.
10/10 would recommend to people who are currently thinking, "Aw that's nice but I don't need to read a book about mercy." Yes, you do.
That last one was long and personal and so now we're back to historical fiction because I CONTAIN MULTITUDES.
I accidentally stumbled upon Wolf by Wolf in a Santa Rosa book store when I was visiting my grandma at the beginning of the new year. It was one of the first books I read in 2017, and it set a high bar, because holy forking shirtballs.
Think you like The Man in the High Castle? No you don't, because you haven't read this yet. Let me tell you what you need. This book is like The Man in the High Castle with MOTORCYCLES and SUPERPOWERS. It's like if The Hunger Games was set in a world where Germany and Japan won WWII and Katniss was a shapeshifter because SURE, Jennifer Lawrence was also in X-Men, that's fine THIS IS ALL FINE.
Also, I lied, this isn't straight historical fiction. It's alternate history. Don't come for me, hisfic nerds. In Wolf by Wolf, Axis powers are in charge of the world, and every year to commemorate their victory, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor gets an audience with Hitler at the Victor’s Ball, and our main character Yael wants that audience. As a former death camp prisoner, Yael survived painful experimentation and now has the power to "skinshift," i.e. change her appearance to that of anyone she chooses (à la X-Men's Mystique, see, IT TOTALLY WORKS). So she decides to impersonate a female racer in order to win her place at the Victor's Ball and complete her ultimate mission—assassinate the Führer.
As you may have already guessed, I. Can't. With. This. Book.
It was the best thing I'd read in years. I'm not kidding. Please read this book. And then read the sequel (it's a duology).
11/10 would recommend to fans of comic books, badass girl assassins, and FEELINGS.
Okayokayokay. *deep breath*
Finding You is a book that I first read in its entirety online, on a writing site formerly known as Figment.com (it's since been shut down *sobs*). Lydia Albano is a writer I met online seven years ago, and, a few years later, met in person in New York City right around the time she signed a contract with Swoon Reads (an imprint of Macmillan Publishing). We were ecstatic. We ate a lot of pizza. We sat in a random New York Starbucks and talked for hours. And today, I get to hold this book that I've loved for years in hardcover form in my hands. I am not crying you are crying.
Finding You is the story of a girl named Isla who is kidnapped at a train station as she's sending off her best friend Tam to the army. She's sold into a human trafficking ring, and is imprisoned with other kidnapped girls. Her one consolation is to think of the boy she loves, and as she does, Isla begins to realize that the only way out of her situation is to plot her escape and find Tam again.
I could go one of two ways here. I could completely and utterly freak out, subjecting you all to the intense fires of my fangirling, which has been precisely honed over the past seven years of giving it straight to Lydia herself. OR, I could look you in the digital eye and tell you genuinely that I have never read anything like this book before.
*looks you in eye*
I have never read anything like this book before.
Especially not in YA. I am not being dramatic when I say that I think what Lydia is doing here is starting a revolution, not just in the plot of her book but also in the genre itself; the way she handles such a serious issue with compassion and through the lens of a teenage girl who is still coming into herself, is beautiful and redemptive and not often attempted, period. I've said it before, but I truly think that the world needs more stories like this one.
11/10 would recommend to people looking for stories about girls who rise up.
Truth be told, this was the year of Celeste Ng for me. I finally read Everything I Never Told You, and while it's not on this list, if I had an 11th book, it would be. I just finished Little Fires Everywhere a few weeks ago and I just...
I'll put it this way. I closed the book and was feeling a lot of things but couldn't even name all of the emotions and so I went to Goodreads and was like, I guess I'll give it 5 stars because Idk what's happening inside of me rn and I think that's good?????
Little Fires Everywhere was named Best Fiction Book of the Year in the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards, and it deserves the title. The hype is real. But at the same time, weirdly, you don't see it coming? Like, you know this book is going to punch you in the gut repeatedly, but then it happens subtly and slowly so that you don't know it's happening until the end when you put it down and are all, ow, my stomach really hurts and also I'm sobbing.
It's a book about a small neighborhood in Ohio where keeping the status quo is the Most Important Thing. Then two strangers—a single mom and her daughter—move into town, and all of a sudden, the status quo goes out the window and chaos erupts. The novel opens with a very important family's house burning down. The rest of the book happens in flashback from that opening moment, and it's like, I don't know how Celeste makes you sympathize with every character, no matter how much you think you fundamentally disagree with them, but she does and it's perfect. I don't even know how to describe this book, except that it captures mother-daughter relationships perfectly and painfully.
11/10 would recommend for fans of the movie Lady Bird and people who have lived in small towns - this one's for you.
This book was an accident. I now work at a girls' school for grades 4-12, and we recently had a book fair, so naturally, I was all, "Oh, how sweet, a school book fair. I'll just walk through on my way to my office, and because my TBR pile is huge, I won't have any motivation to buy another book, la-la." Three minutes later, out I walk with The Crown's Game. Three days later I finished it. I have no self-control.
The Crown's Game was one I'd been told to read before, but didn't, because I was getting tired of the whole teens-compete-to-the-death-to-win-a-thing trope that YA had going. And LOOK AT ME NOW, there's two of those books on this list. *self-aware five*
The Crown's Game is about two enchanters in Imperial Russia, Vika and Nikolai, who must compete in a magical duel for the honor to serve as Imperial Enchanter and advisor to the tsar. Only one enchanter may exist at a time in Russia, but while Vika wields control over the natural elements and Nikolai has the ability to conjure objects out of thin air, they begin to realize that their magic complements each other like two halves of a whole. But in the Crown's Game, there is only one survivor; if one enchanter doesn't succeed in killing the other, the magic will literally do it for them.
I loved everything about this book. The prose is to die for and characters are layered and fascinating, and even if you're not 100% a sucker for forbidden love stories like I am, you'll at least enjoy the beautiful descriptions of magic and Russia. And there's a masquerade scene. How can you not want to read this book now?
11/10 would recommend for fans of V.E. Schwab's A Darker Shade of Magic, any story with a masquerade in it, and girls who light shit on fire.
Yeah, you know about Everything, Everything, but DO YOU KNOW ABOUT The Sun is Also a Star???
Guys. If ever there was a book that somehow captured the essence of American politics in 2017 while also being light and funny and romantic... it's this one. Wait, don't go.
Natasha and Daniel are two people who come from very different worlds. Natasha is an undocumented immigrant from Jamaica who believes in science and facts and definitely doesn't believe in destiny or love—especially not when it involves a boy she met twelve hours before she and her family are getting deported. Daniel is a second generation Korean-American who has always been a dutiful son, except now, because something about meeting Natasha is making him want more from his life.
I read this in a day. One. Day. At approximately 1/3rd of the way in, I wrote on Goodreads: "CAN THIS BOOK WIN ALL THE F*CKING PRIZES PLS 😭."
Yeah, that's right. I knew already.
It's so sweet without going totally overboard. It's also so on point with some very real issues American teens are facing today. I'm of the opinion that YA books seem to understand that balance better than a lot of other genres, but Nicola Yoon DOMINATES that balance. She is queen and let us all bow down.
12/10 would recommend for people who are swooners at heart but are pretending to be cynical on Twitter.
If you're looking for a winter-y book for the long, dark nights, featuring demons and magic and old lady storytellers, look no further.
The Bear and the Nightingale takes place in the Russian wilderness where the winters are long af and families are basically barricaded inside their houses for months on end because, snow. Vasilisa is a daughter in one of those families, but she's got a wild streak and one day gets lost in the woods, where she encounters a frost demon and quickly realizes that she can see creatures that most people can't. When her father remarries and brings home his devout new wife, Vasya senses something evil lurking over her village. Her new stepmother refuses to appease the spirits that protect the community, and when a dark power rises up in their village to destroy everything, Vasya is their only hope for survival.
This book is straight-up an old-school, dark-as-hell fairytale with lyrical prose and feminist leanings and I am HERE FOR IT. It's one of those books that's like, God, I wish I had written this. But also, I could never have written this. Katherine Arden is too precious for this world. Keep this woman safe at all costs. Her brain is a trove.
Side note: I'm starting to realize that there's a bit of a Russian theme to this list, but hey, there was also a bit of a Russian theme to this year in America.
12/10 would recommend for fans of snowy fairytales, girls who casually talk to demons, and... Russians, I guess.
Yes. All of the good things you've heard about this book are true. I was crying by page 100 and didn't stop until long after the end.
Here's the story: back in 2015, literary agent Brooks Sherman and his colleagues at The Bent Agency were hosting a Twitter Q&A called #askTBA. A writer named A.C. Thomas tweeted at them to ask if they'd be interested in a book that deals with "sensitive current issues" like the Black Lives Matter movement. I remember seeing her tweet pop up on my timeline, and thinking, Omg, I want this in my hands right now. And apparently, Brooks Sherman thought so too, because he's now Angie Thomas' literary agent and the book she pitched on Twitter has been at the top of best-seller lists since it came out in February. The YA world is small and wonderful. LET'S ALL BE PART OF IT.
Unless you've been living under a rock, I doubt you don't know the plot of The Hate U Give, but just in case, it's about a 16-year-old girl named Starr who witnesses a police officer shoot and kill her friend Khalil (who was unarmed). Suddenly, his death is a national headline and speculation runs wild. Khalil is called a thug and a drug dealer, and the police try to intimidate Starr and her family; only Starr knows what really happened, and she faces the choice to speak up or stay silent.
A lot of reviews have positioned this book as being culturally Important with a capital I, which I think it totally, 100% is. And also, it's a story about a black girl and her voice. It's a coming-of-age story just as much as it's a loud and long cry for the crimes of America. It's a love story just as much as it's a shout of solidarity with a people who have been actively oppressed. It's an anthem. It should be required reading.
13/10 would recommend for all human people.
You'll notice that this book is tied with The Hate U Give because they are both so good that I literally could not pick a #1. And I've been waiting for Laini Taylor to publish a new book since I finished the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy in 2014.
So. FULL TRANSPARENCY.
I wasn't sure I liked this book for the first 100 pages.
I was committed to the ride, but also, like... I had no idea what was going on.
Also, all the characters had funny names.
Then, slowly, everything changed. I can't pinpoint a place where it changed. All I know is that suddenly, I cared. Suddenly, I wanted to understand this world that Laini Taylor was building in her deliciously and richly detailed way. I read later that this book was her love letter to the fantasy genre, and thought, yes, this makes sense.
This book is really difficult to describe without massive spoilers (and that's why the lead was buried so deeply) but I'm gonna try. *deep breath* At the beginning, we meet a young man named Lazlo Strange, an orphan and a junior librarian with his head in the clouds. The librarians are the keepers of all knowledge/history in this world, including that of the mythical lost city of Weep, which, for some reason, has been involuntarily scrubbed from everyone's minds for decades. Lazlo's obsessed with learning all he can about this place that he's not even sure is real, and then, one day, people from the lost city (who aren't supposed to exist!) show up on his front doorstep, asking for his help with a mysterious problem they can't tell him about.
God, okay, I know that all sounds very vague, but TRUST ME, if you're even remotely interested, this book is worth it. It's like a bunch of different fairytales and mythology all sort of blended together on high speed: the lost city of Atlantis, with a touch of Greek mythology and some definite Romeo and Juliet vibes. You have to read it to know what I'm talking about. So. Y'know. Make like Nike.
13/10 would recommend for nerds who actually read all the way to the end of this post. You also committed and I'm into it.