Top Ten Books of 2017

It’s not quite the 31st but I’m going to start this post today because 1. I’m not sure I’ll read another book in the next 2 days and 2. Even if I do what are the chances that it would make it in to the top 10?
As noted on last year’s top 10 post, I haven’t been keeping up here. Last post was in February! And I do feel bad about that, especially because I categorize my books here way better than I do on Goodreads (and it’s easier for me to vaguely recall a book and look it up here.) Perhaps a resolution for 2018 is to do a better job about posting here first? One reading change I made this fall that I’m having a hard enough time keeping up with is that I started a second Goodreads account just for school for students to follow.
So how did I do with my goals? First, I set a goal of 85 books, and as of today have completed 122. As usual this includes all adult and children’s titles, graphic novels, and audiobooks, but not picture books. I’m pleased with smashing that goal-this might be my highest number in years! But also, I kind of don’t care about the number-it’s more important to me that I found and enjoyed lots of stories. As in the past two years another reading goal was to reread old favorites. This year that included Sushi for Beginners by Marian Keyes, Wild Designs by Katie Fforde, Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts, Adopted Jane by Helen Daringer, and Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery. Fforde and Keyes were authors I used to adore and read everything by. I have to admit I didn’t love rereading Sushi for Beginners. On the other hand Where the Heart Is was wonderful. Apparently I didn’t remember very many details and was surprised by some of the very dark and sad parts, and thoroughly enjoyed the overall warm and emotional story. Adopted Jane was a beloved childhood book that I read aloud with Tabby and it retained its charm. And of course, Anne is perfect.

In audiobook listening Clark and I finished the Gregor the Overlander series, which I have to say was good but nothing I’d ever reread. Man, was it dark. A long drive and back to New Hampshire for vacation afforded many hours for the whole family.  A childhood favorite-Half Magic by Edgar Eager-was an absolute delight on audio. And we all liked a weird Swedish gem called Adventures with Waffles.  The absolute best was The War I Finally Won, which you will see on my list.

When I look at my 5 star ratings for the year, it seems like most of them were children’s books. I read some really great ones, especially some anticipated graphic novels–Real Friends, Swing It Sunny, I Love You Michael Collins, Dragon with a Chocolate Heart, Confessions of an Imaginary Friend (a French delight! )and many others. I also read my very first actual Nancy Drew book!

**If you (me) read through all that, thanks. And now for the main event….**
The Top 10 Books of 2017 (in no particular order):

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: I was so excited by the arrival of this sequel. I listened to this on audio with both kids, as they were also invested in the story and we thought the reader, Jayne Entwhistle, was phenomenal. Both Bradley and Entwhistle did not disappointment. Again, top notch historical fiction, details sprinkled throughout to make us realize how the start of Ada’s life left her at such a disadvantage (knowledge-wise particularly). Lesser storylines pulled forward in this sequel to shine and be expanded on. Emotional, thoughtful, compelling–I can’t say enough good things about this. I feel like I’ll never forget these characters and what they lived through.
Zenn Diagram by Wendy Brant: A clever premise, a clever title, and a great story all around. A girl who has a touch-psychic ability, falls for a boy who gives her a vision of something “dark”. Why this is and how it works out made a thoughtful and interesting story.

Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan: I think we all knew this would end up on my list way back when I read it in the early spring. This reminded me very much of Maine, which was another favorite of hers. A good long satisfying story, with a bit of regretful history (That I hope angers and perplexes modern readers), and some super fascinating nuns (always of high appeal to me.) This book hit all the marks for me.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn: Two time travel books make it on the list this year, both brought something new and interesting to time travel stories for me. Beginning with the premise that Jane Austen is even more of an icon than she is today and that scholarly time travelers are going to infiltrate her world so that they can recover a lost manuscript, there is plenty of fascinating Jane Austen stuff, as well as the usual time travel delights.

Time and Time Again by Ben Elton: This time travel book Blew. My. Mind.  After I read it I relished telling the entire story to a few people (who were never going to read it) and found even that super satisfying. This is a book I have thought of off and on all year since reading it (and I honestly thought I read it last year.) Basic premise is “if you could stop one event that ended up being the downfall of the 20th century what would it be?” and then going back to try to stop WWI. But. But. It’s wrapped up in a fascinating set-up. And then stuff gets crazy. I’ll say no more. But do let me know if you read it and love it!

The Flower Arrangement by Ella Griffin: I read a lot of cozy, fluffy, charming books this year, but this is one that stood out as cozy and charming, yes, but also really good, a good story, and well written. A flower shop on a street with regular and not-so-regular customers. The proprietress going through a rough time, but still able to select the just right flowers for her customers–and then we see the effects those flowers have. And it all ends up tying together beautifully.

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence: I enjoyed this book so much I gave it as a Christmas gift (and might purchase it for myself.) Perfect for librarians, but even if you’re not, if you’re a reader you’ll enjoy these letters to books. Gentle humor and sharp commentaries are spot on. A quick read. And bonus–you’ll end up with a list of books you want to read!

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny: Oh wow did I love this. It was funny, it was awkward, it was touching. I really found so many parts laugh out loud funny, but I was also really touched by the frank difficulties the parents of an autistic child faced and how they dealt with it (some of which was very funny.) The “talk to everyone” younger wife cracked me up. I really cared for the imperfect characters and Heiny is a great writer.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: No surprises here-I’m sure this is on many a top 10 list this year. I adored this. It had the laugh out loud funny parts that reminded me of The Rosie Project, but then it went deep. Honeyman sucks you in with ‘oh funny quirky” and then has your heart breaking for Eleanor. This was just a great solid read.

The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan: some seriously fine WWII historical fiction. I can’t believe this was Ryan’s first novel! And while it seemed it would be a “rah rah the women step up while the men are away type of war story”, it went far beyond that. Told in letters, journals, and ephemera the village characters tell a story of blackmail and spies, set among WWII.  This was riveting and like all good WWII fiction, there were a few scenes/incidents that stuck with me for their casual tragedy.

Runners Up: OK, I know this extends the list, but here are some other titles that I wouldn’t bump any of the top 10 for, but I really enjoyed and would recommend.

I Found You by Lisa Jewell: I really like Lisa Jewell and I preferred this to the Girls in the Garden, which I’d read earlier in the year. This had a little more of a cozy factor added to it.
Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan: There was no way this wouldn’t show up somehow! I thought this was a really satisfying end to a trilogy, very well done, and had plenty of those juicy details about the crazy rich Asians, that I so loved in his first book.
The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn: This book made me laugh a lot, which I liked.
Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld: I usually prefer realistic fiction graphic novels, but this bizarre tale had me hooked (and left hanging–where’s the sequel??). Very creative and creepy.
Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley: beautiful story, well written, emphasis on books. One of several bookshop set stories I read this year
Arabella of Mars by David Levine: This just had all the makings of a great story-Mars, regency, woman stowaway on ship, but the ship sails to space, not on the water. All around terrific and I hope I can remember to look for a sequel.
March: Book Three by John Lewis: This trilogy is absolutely incredible. Painful to read, heartbreaking, and very important.
Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill: Newbery winner. I avoided reading (cover and title didn’t draw me in) and I’m so glad I read it because it turned out to be an incredible fantasy magical fairy tale adventure with amazing themes and threads. Barnhill is quite a storyteller.
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by Shannon Hale: Oh, Squirrel Girl. You’re a hoot. After loving the comic books I was so excited to see a novel written by the great Shannon Hale. This cracked me up, so funny and delightful.
Venturess by Betsy Cornwall: This was absolutely terrific and best of all, a true great sequel furthering the story from book one, taking it and making something new. I loved the steampunky magic details as well as the unique-in-fiction take on love.

Happy Reading for 2018!
Sarah

 

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The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon & Dean Hale

squirrelI’ve really enjoyed the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comics, so I was SUPER PSYCHED when I saw that Shannon and Dean Hale were writing a sanctioned novel about Squirrel Girl. I love all of Shannon Hale’s works, including Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack (graphic novel fractured fairy tale retelling), and I knew that she would be the perfect author to write a full novel of Squirrel Girl.
This did. not. disappoint.  SG was witty and charming and so funny and eager. I loved how much backstory this novel gave me and how it really flushed out the character for me. A great origin story, if you will. And explaining her tail and everything I’d wondered about.
I had truly forgotten that as she’s part of Marvel there is some funny interplay with the Avengers. SG’s texts with them and fandom (Thor! Black Widow!) are hilarious.
So here in this novel we have SG, new in town, meeting her new bff, Ana Sofia, and  doing some sleuthing to find out what was up with all the bad stuff happening in town, and coming into her own as a superhero.
This was just all around terrific good fun and I sure hope they are working on more.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

mosquitoA solid YA novel with a road trip, mental illness, interesting characters picked up along the way, a possibly unreliable narrator, family drama and a lot of emotion. I liked this very much.
Mim is, well not running away, but off to find her mother who we don’t know too much about why she’s not there. Her journey begins on a Greyhound bus and just gets wilder and wilder.
I’m not convinced I loved the ending. Mim convinced me so much that I needed to hate her stepmother that I had a hard time coming around to her. On the other hand, I loved the resolution of the Walt, Beck, and Mim storyline. And as for Walt and Beck? Marvelous companions and characters with their own dramatic backstories.
I know I’ll be thinking about various parts of this for a few days.
In addition to the story content, I thought this was really well written. Great sentences, great structure.

Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

touchThis book had so much going on in that was directly appealing to me. A young woman has been a recluse for 9 years, she is literally allergic to other human beings and touching someone can cause anaphylactic shock, there’s a library job with lots of references to books, a child with some mental health issues, and a divorced dad just trying to do his best. And a growing and unlikely love between him and the allergic woman. What’s not to love?

I liked how there was a rational explanation for her very rare allergy and I liked Jubilee as a person-she was funny and smart and not unaware of her issues. There were bits of humor and also real grief and pathos. Not even so much from the little boy, Aja, who lost both his parents, but from reading what the absence of human touch has done to her and meant to her. And then, when there is a growing attraction and they can’t act on it-so much tension!

I really enjoyed this a lot and also the structure-having the New York Times articles interspersed. This would get 4 1/2 stars from me. The one thing that didn’t ring true for me was in the epilogue. So spoiler alert!! Stop reading now if you haven’t read this, because I’m about to give away the whole ending…

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I just don’t believe that they way the last chapter ended, with them ready to take a chance and make it work,with their love and friendship so believable, that they would have just not seen each other or talked to each other once he moved back to NH. 7 years?! That just seemed to not match at all. Especially since she remained in contact with Aja (whom I would have liked a little more epilogue info about, and also what about Ellie? How did she turn out? Was the relationship with her dad repaired?) I was glad to see that she had built a family of close friends around her and her life was good, but I just didn’t believe Eric wouldn’t have been a part of it.
Also, according to the final article the gene stuff didn’t work, but it took at least 5 years to find out. And then they did try the herbal medicine stuff which the dr said had about an 80% success rate with her other allergy patients, and then that worked and cured her. Wasn’t that the same technique that, when Jubilee first met with her, she said wouldn’t be worth trying and they should do the gene stuff instead? Isn’t Jubilee infuriated that she just spent over 5 years trying something that didn’t work (and apparently cost 100s of thousands of dollars) when the 18 month treatment completely cured her? But no mention of that.
And one last dig, from a librarian. Please tell me where this library is that people just get jobs because someone asked for them to be hired. Recluses who are well read but have no library experience. And then get referred to as “librarian” all throughout the rest of the book. Because she wasn’t.

The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

I really like Lisa Jewell-I think she’s a smart writer weaving interesting stories that draw you in and simultaneously repel you a little bit as they delve into negative character traits, possibly unseemly choices or secrets,  and an atmosphere of general unease and suspense. Kind of like Tom Perrotta! Or Liane Moriarty, but with a bit less humor.
I liked the structure of this story-showing us an event, then the bulk of the book is going back and leading up to that event, and then some more after the event. That structure really builds suspense for me and creates so many questions: how did everyone get to that point? what’s the timeline? Is it almost time for the event? How is the story going to get there from here?
So this story is set in London with a variety of characters who all live around a private park. I don’t know if that is common in London, but I had a hard time imagining this. Well, that’s not true. I did create a picture in my head, but i have no idea if it’s accurate. So that right there was a novel setting and I loved how it was such an important part of the atmosphere and the influence it had on the characters. It was like this bubble in the city where characters’ best and worst traits were amplified.
I was most intrigued the character Adele. Was she a good mother? Doing the best she could? Too hands off? Judgmental? I liked seeing her from Clare’s point of view.

One of the most interesting things about this whole story was that there were both adult characters and their points of view, and the children of the story and their points of view. A fully adult story with the plot mostly being about the wild children in the park and their actions.

This was a pretty solid story. Would recommend.

 

Snow White by Matt Phelan

A perfect lunchtime length read. I’ve really enjoyed Phelan’s work in the past and this latest graphic novel is no exception. A retelling of Snow White set in NYC in the 1920s. Snow White not only as not a magical fairy tale, but as historical fiction! In graphic novel format! I really liked this a lot. It felt like watching a film, perhaps a silent black and white film (much like reading Hugo Cabret, though in this case I want Baz Luhrmann to come make this a film). The illustrations are soft black and white, with occasional spots of pink/red (Snow’s bright cheeks, the heart). The evil stepmother is marvelously portrayed. The fashion of the time and her Ziegfield girl rich socialite suited this role perfectly. She was wonderfully rich, evil, and deranged. Snow was perfectly beautiful. I loved the historical and real details, such as Hooverville, the Macy’s windows, and the hairstyles.

An absolutely terrific new take on a classic fairy tale.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

choirAdd this to the list of my favorite WWII, set in England, historical fiction novels. This was marvelous. I felt like it started off with me thinking it was going to be a sweet story about women coming together in their village during the war, combined with gossipy town stories. And while it was that, I felt it really grew into something more.

The story is told through journal entries, occasional notices, and letters. The characters include a widow whose son is off fighting, the manor house family with snotty rich older daughter who toys with men, the younger sister who wants to be more grown up, the lovely new choirmistress and some other standard fare village characters. But throw in the completely unethical blackmailing midwife and suddenly everything got more complicated-bribes, spies, secret identities, etc. I really enjoyed how this story had plenty of that “plucky women get stuff done during the war” that I like so much, but what I especially liked was that none of the women saw that ability in themselves and it was a pleasure to see them come to recognize their strengths.
While it seemed, at first, that this would be mostly light, there was plenty of realistic sorrow. I also thought all the parts about the women singing were woven in very beautifully.

I loved this and could so easily visualize everything. Absolutely charming, winning, historical fiction.