Overall, this year of reading was a mixed bag. I read 84 books. Some of them were great. Some of them were good. Some of them were truly terrible. In the end, it was actually pretty easy to select these top seven reads from 2017. Here are my picks—click on the title for a link to buy the book!
Following an independent storyline in an alternate universe from the movie, this is an excellent origin story featuring a teenaged Diana. The Amazonian princess risks exile by rescuing a mortal—only to discover that the mortal is a warbringer, a descendant of Helen Troy with the supernatural power to destroy the world. This is a marvelous tale of adventure, female friendship, girl power, mythology, and just the teeniest bit of romance. I listened to the audiobook, and it’s fantastic.
This book felt like warm comfort food or getting comfy under a blanket with a mug of hot tea. I still remember my second grade teacher, Mrs. Knutson, recommending the LITTLE HOUSE books to me on the stairwell of Washington Elementary School, because reading these novels was one of my most formative reading experiences. I shared a room with my younger sister while growing up, and my mom read the entire series aloud to us. As a family of four girls, we went to the Laura Ingalls Wilder play; we stayed in a sod house; we visited the Minnesota landmarks. I am a huge fan girl. So when I heard that a new and authorized LITTLE HOUSE book was coming out in 2017, I was ecstatic—and I was not disappointed! As it is written from Ma’s (aka Caroline’s) perspective, this book offers a more realistic picture of life on the frontier than the children’s books. It is heartwarming but also deeply human. How would it feel to have a husband you love dearly who is always wanting to move on to the next place when you might be just as happy to stay? What can you find for your little girls to do that won’t drive you crazy while you try and get something done? There are some truly touching scenes between Caroline and Charles as well as some beautiful snapshots of motherhood.
What a delight! Originally published in 1970, this slim volume of real letters exchanged between Helen Hanff, a freelance writer living in New York, and a London used book dealer are an homage to the world of books and letters. Funny, irreverent, and showing humanity at its most generous, this book is more wonderful than words can express. At only 95 pages, I read this book in a single sitting and it was undoubtedly my most pleasant reading experience of the year.
And . . . another tiny book about books. I can’t help myself. In this novella, Queen Elizabeth II discovers a voracious appetite for the written word in the later years of her life. On a stroll with one of her hounds, which escapes its tether, she learns that a traveling library visits Buckingham Palace every week. It’s only polite, she feels, to borrow a book once she comes face-to-face with the librarian and a young kitchen boy perusing the shelves. Soon enough, the queen can’t stop reading for pleasure—something she’s never done before. She’s always read books, of course. But reading for enjoyment is a new concept. This begins a passionate affair with literature that leads to a surprising revelation at the end. I won’t tell!
An intense but ultimately rewarding read. “When a white servant girl violates the order of plantation society, she unleashes a tragedy that exposes the worst and best in the people she has come to call her family” (from Goodreads). Excellently written, this a tale that will grab you and not let go. Set in the American South and exposing the harsh cruelties of slavery, this novel is not for the faint of heart but is so worth the effort. I think part of the reason I found it to be such a difficult (in the best sense) read is that I listened to it on audio. There was no escaping or skimming over the reality of injustice, and perhaps that’s a good thing. I was very satisfied with the ending, although there is a sequel that I haven’t read yet called Glory Over Everything.
This is a beautifully written, tangled-twisty mess of a feminism, deception, and shame. WOW. The Lie Tree is starkly true at particular moments, and there are many wonderful quotes within. I was riveted by the way this YA novel portrayed the way a lie takes on a life of its own and the power that even the smallest fib can wield over our lives and the lives of those around us. Read more about the book and what I thought here.
You and everyone you know should read this book, especially if they happen to love books. This is a beautiful journey of two people growing closer, of a mother and her son, of a lifelong love of literature, of what a well-lived life looks like, and of what a good death truly means. It is emotional and incredibly inspiring. I savored every carefully crafted word.
If you haven’t read THE LUNAR CHRONICLES by Marissa Meyer, check out my previous Series Starter blog post to see why it’s worth reading!
written by Marissa Meyer and illustrated by Doug Holgate
Today I’m recommending the graphic novel, Wires and Nerve, Volume 1, which follows up this series and the short story collection Stars Above. Wires and Nerve wasn’t as good as getting another novel for me—but only because I’m not a huge graphic novel person. It was great seeing all my favorite characters again, especially because we got so much more of Iko!
The artwork was fantastic, and I thought the color scheme was perfect for the story. The cool shades of blue are so fitting for the Lunar world. Of course, the characters weren’t quite as I imagined but were wonderfully drawn. I hadn’t realized at first that this was just the first volume of an ongoing series, but I’ll gladly continue reading them. This is a must-read for all Marissa Meyer fans.
Hardcover, 240 pages | Published January 31, 2017
Hello, readers! I’m trying something new today. I didn’t finish any books this past week! So instead of a review, I’m sharing a list of some anticipated future reads. I hope you find something that sounds intriguing.
Recently Added to My To-Be-Read List:
The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.03
Published: February 28, 2017 by Viking
Source: Publishers Weekly listing
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Bookman’s Tale comes a new novel about an obsessive bibliophile’s quest through time to discover a missing manuscript, the unknown history of an English Cathedral, and the secret of the Holy Grail. SOLD!
The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn by Lori Benton
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.29
Published: April 29, 2014 by WaterBrook
Source: Fan of the author
Western North Carolina, 1787 ~ To escape a threatening stepfather and an unwanted marriage, Tamsen Littlejohn enlists the aid of Jesse Bird, a frontiersman she barely knows, to spirit her away from Morganton, North Carolina, west beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Trouble pursues, as the two men intent on seeing her recovered prove relentless in their hunt. . . . Gaining the freedom she longs for will mean running yet again, to the most unlikely refuge imaginable—the Cherokees, a people balanced on the knife edge of war.
Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.08
Published: October 21, 2008 by Atheneum
Source: Heard wonderful things about this book and the author
As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight . . . for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel. When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.05
Published: May 3, 2016 by Atria Books
From the bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, a heartwarming and hilarious story of a reluctant outsider who transforms a tiny village and a woman who finds love and second chances in the unlikeliest of places.
Gracious: A Practical Primer on Charm, Tact, and Unsinkable Strength by Kelly Williams Brown
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.00
To-Be-Published: April 18, 2017 by Rodale Books
Source: Saw it on Goodreads
From New York Times bestselling author of Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps Kelly Williams Brown comes a funny, charming guide to modern civility in these—yes, we’ll say it—rather uncivil times.
Throughout the book, she provides tips on how to deal with the people and circumstances that challenge even the most socially graceful among us, advice on how to practice graciousness in everyday life, and thoughtful discussions on being kind to those around you without ever losing your sense of self.
Glory Over Everything: Beyond the Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.24
Published: April 5, 2016 by Simon and Schuster
Source: Listening to The Kitchen House now and loving it! I heard about that book through a trusted bookish friend.
From the author of the New York Times bestseller and beloved book club favorite The Kitchen House, a novel of family and long-buried secrets along the treacherous Underground Railroad.
Jamie Pyke, son of both a slave and master of Tall Oakes, has a deadly secret that compels him to take a treacherous journey through the Underground Railroad.
What with the new year, new commitments, and, as it happens, my birthday (which was lovely), this month has been kind of a whirlwind. I haven’t read as much as usual. Still, I’ve always got something going. Here are my thoughts on the YA fantasy I read this month:
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
I was completely enthralled by this story! In this fantasy world, a set of triplets is born to the royal family every generation. These three sisters become three queens, who are separated at a young age and brought up to one day fight each other to the death. One is a poisoner, one is a an “elemental,” and one is a “naturalist.” (AKA, they are all magical.) I really enjoyed the way this book progressed. I thought it was well written and liked how the narrative changed POV with each chapter, alternating between the three sisters. The character development was excellent, and I couldn’t decide which queen I was rooting for until the very end. It has some twists and turns that will take you by surprise. This book is the beginning of a series, so the end is just the starting point of the, for lack of a better word, festivities. They each have one year to kill the other two. The last one standing reigns supreme. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
This is a beautifully-written, tangled-twisty mess of feminism, deception, and shame. WOW. The Lie Tree is starkly true in so many moments. There are some wonderfully insightful quotes within. I was riveted by how this book portrayed the way lies take on a life of their own and the power that even the smallest fib can wield over our lives and the lives of those around us. The main character Faith, who is fascinated by the science her father practices, is constantly surrounded by temptations in a world that denies her own intelligence and right to have a voice. To listen at the door. To read her father’s books. To say what she thinks. So when she learns of the lie tree, Faith takes that voice and uses it with unforeseen and dangerous consequences. Her intentions weren’t necessarily bad to begin with. She tells herself that she is only doing it to learn the truth about her father–but is that really all there is to it? She becomes entranced by the lie tree. It makes her feel powerful.
The 1860s is the perfect setting for this book–religion and science were seemingly at odds and at the forefront of the public’s mind in the aftermath of Darwin’s On the Origins of Species. There’s a lot to unpack here in terms of the book’s obvious religious parallels, but I’ll keep it brief. At times I could feel my stomach roiling at what was happening in the story, and I even recognized examples of false logic that I have thought to myself within my inner dialog. It was surprisingly revelatory. The parallel between Hardinge’s lie tree and the Scriptural Tree of Knowledge is obvious but not preachy, blatant without being doctrinal. I highly recommend this excellent book.
“Death and life [are] in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” Proverbs 18:21
That’s all for now. Ta ta!
I am a COMPLETE sucker for all things Titanic. I’ve had a fascination/borderline obsession with Titanic ever since I read the Dear America book Voyage on the Great Titanic: The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady in the fourth grade. It’s the classic tale of a middle-class girl, hired on as a maid by a first class passenger . . . obviously, this viewpoint provides ample opportunity for gushing description of dresses, dining rooms, etc., which is ideal. I have been SO EXCITED to read Katherine Howe’s new novel The House of Velvet and Glass. Her debut novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, was one of my favorite books of 2009, and I’ve been anticipating her next novel every since.
Since this April was the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, there have been a predictable amount of Titanic-related new releases this spring. This one definitely stands out from the pack, since most of it doesn’t even take place on the ship. It’s set primarily after the sinking, from the perspective of the protagonist, Sybill–although it does include some flashbacks from her mother’s point of view, who, sadly, went down with the ship.
There are three storylines in The House of Velvet and Glass, though Sybill’s is the most prominent. She is the unmarried eldest child in a wealthy family, who has the responsibility of caring for her father now that her mother is dead. She is lonely, self-deprecating, and ultimately lovable. I found myself pitying her, but not in a bad way. We also get a glimpse into the life of her mother because Howe spins her narrative around the fascination that Americans had with the paranormal in the first couple of decades in the 20th century. Sybill’s mother, Helen, was very involved in the paranormal fervor of the age, and part of an exclusive group headed by the (fictionally) infamous medium Mrs. Dee. Sybill is drawn to the group in her search for solace after the tragedy of losing her mother and sister, and ends up getting more than she bargained for–in more ways than one.
Howe’s writing is beautiful. Once again, she proves herself a master at weaving history with the supernatural in a unique and distinctly literary way. The plot had some twists that I didn’t expect, and I really enjoyed the romance. My only qualm is that I wanted more of Sybill’s story. I would have liked to see Howe focus solely on that storyline for a fuller narrative, rather than the occasional shifts to other perspectives.
Nevertheless, I loved every minute of it!
On a side note, there were an astonishing 29 pages of extra material at the back of this ebook, including a do-it-yourself “armchair medium’s guide to scrying” with step-by-step instructions. I’m all for extras, but someone at Hyperion got a little carried away. . . . In the end I was glad I read through it (with the exception to the armchair guide), because Katherine Howe revealed in an interview that a sequel to The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is in the works! I am SO excited. In the meantime, she’s working on another historical novel with a supernatural twist—and I’ll be looking forward to it.