Friday, March 2, 2018

Best Books of 2017

I know, I know. It's already the beginning of March. But I'm never going to be one of those people who publishes their "Best Of the Year" lists when there are still three weeks to go in a year. I get a lot of good reading in between Christmas and New Year's, so I'm not going to risk leaving off a great book just because I read it at the end.

As for the gap between the beginning of the year and now? happens, my friends. So let's settle in and talk about the best books we read last year!

Books Read in 2017: 134
Books Reviewed: 78
First Book of the Year: This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick
Last Book of the Year: Before The Fall by Noah Hawley
Pages Read: 38, 922
Fiction/nonfiction: 101/33
Number of audiobooks: 7
Female authors/male authors: 104/30
Favorite Non-review Posts: Reading and UnderstandingGetting Into An Audiobook, Phryne Fisher on the Page and on the Screen, Thoughts on All Grown Up and Single Protagonists, Graduating to Chapter Books

Favorite Fiction Books

I had read a lot of rave reviews of Amor Towles and his novels Rules of Civility and A Gentlemen in Moscow. I picked up his earlier novel on a whim, and found myself immediately pulled into Katey's world. If you've been around for a while, you know I love F. Scott Fitzgerald's books and this took me right back to the glamour and pain of the Jazz Age. This is not a thriller, but it's hard to put down and Towles makes it all seem effortless.

 There are books that do well because they are published at a fortuitous time and Mohsin Hamid's story of two young refugees looking for safety may be that. But I think Exit West would have succeeded even if the issue of refugee resettlement wasn't so current; Hamid writes beautifully and thoughtfully and I found his characters on my mind long after I had finished reading the book.

My husband likes to tease me about the sheer volume of books I read that are set around WWII. But The Alice Network really stuck with me, in part because it showed just how little time passed between the two World Wars. People had scarcely put their lives back together from the first when the second sent their countries and lives into chaos again. I loved the way that Kate Quinn juxtaposes a naïve, rich girl with a hardened, bitter spy while giving the both of them such depth and humanity. (honorable mention to We Were the Lucky Ones

Oh boy. I'm happy I finished this book in the safety of my own home, where no one saw me weep through the last few chapters. The Names They Gave Us is about a teen girl who is having a crisis of faith and ends up working at a summer camp. I loved the way that Emery Lord wrote teens so well and portrayed the heartbreak and hope of figuring out what you believe and who you can count on in times of crisis.

The Mothers was on so many lists of great books of 2017, and it was entirely deserved. Nadia is trying to find peace after her mother's death, and the idea of motherhood looms large in this story through Nadia's own choices and through the Greek chorus of church mothers and grandmothers who have their own chapters to ruminate on the things they know that the younger generations do not. I'm excited to see what comes next from this debut author.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing is the kind of book where you have to settle in for the ride--things are revealed to you bit by bit and when everything comes together, it is stunning. Told in multiple narratives, this is the story of a young girl grappling with her father's death while she learns about his past during China's Cultural Revolution.

I'm going to take this opportunity to share my love for both The Bear and the Nightingale and its sequel The Girl in the Tower (hey, I read them both in 2017!). The Winternight books follow Vasya, a young girl living in the countryside. She soon learns that there are both benevolent and malevolent spirits as far away as Moscow and as close as her kitchen hearth, and she has the ability to fight against or alongside them. These books are perfect for winter--if you haven't picked them up yet, do it before spring arrives!

Favorite Nonfiction Books

This book is about the realities of living among the people you want to serve. D.L. Mayfield was ready to be a missionary, until she realized the inherent flaws of a traditional missions assignment. Instead, she started working with refugees who had resettled in her city and Assimilate or Go Home details the things she learns about others and herself as she becomes a part of this community. This book has the potential to completely change the way you think about other people and yourself.

Kory Stamper is hilarious, people. If you are a person who loves words and have always wondered what it would be like to work at a dictionary, this book is for you.  Reading Word by Word will remind you of the joys and troubles of the English language and make you laugh so uproariously that people sitting next to you might be slightly concerned. 

This is a book that is very difficult to describe. At its core, it is Hope Jahren's memoir about being a female scientist and the difficulties she has faced. But more than that, it's about being a person who is observing their own life, who knows how amazing it is that trees can grow so tall and why they do and marvels at the development of a friendship and the unexpected joys of motherhood. I highly recommend listening to this one as an audiobook. My husband thought Jahren's reading was a bit soporific, but I found her voice soothing (at least when I wasn't crying into the dishes I was washing). 

Now it's your turn!  Did you read any of these books? What were your favorite books in 2017?


  1. Some of your favorites have been my favorites, too -- Exit West and The Mothers. And though I’ve not read Korey Stamper’s book yet, she came to my store for an event, so I’ve had parts of it read aloud to me. she’s very funny in person, too!

    1. That doesn't surprise me in the least. That must have been a really fun event!

  2. I've only read Rules of Civility, which I really liked. But I want to read The Alice Network, Word by Word and Exit West this year. :)

  3. I loved Word By Word. I read it last summer, and I was just thinking about it the other day. Perfect book for word geeks. I've got The Names They Gave Us on my TBR. It sounds so good, and oh my goodness, that cover!

    1. I know! It's one of the books I want to buy because I love the story and because it will look so pretty on my bookshelves. :)

  4. I couldn't agree more re: End-of-year lists before the end of the year!! I think you are right on time - I just did my 2017 summary about a month ago :) Glad to see I;m not alone in my perennial lateness! Like you said, life happens.

    I also loved Lab Girl and Exit West. REALLY impressed by how many books you read in a single year!

    Hope 2018 is also off to a good start!


    Book By Book