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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Beautiful Blue World by Suzanne LaFleur

New year, new start. Rather than trying to fill in all the missed posts I’m going to try anew to sync up with my Goodreads tally and as I’m able I’ll go back and fill in. So here’s book #2 of 2017:

blueI picked this up because I really l really liked Love, Aubrey and thought I’d try the author’s newest book (plus, pretty cover.) I didn’t read what it was about and so this whole thing was such an interesting surprise to me.(not like Love Aubrey.) A very fast (one day) read and pulled me in right from the start. I found myself making comparisons to first one book and then another. Was it like Number the Stars? Was it something dystopian? Was it like Bletchley Circle ? (Yes, this is what I came back to most. Thinking about the women of Bletchley Park in WWII who were crackerjack at seeing patterns and breaking codes.) Was this fantasy since it had a map at the beginning of made up countries? (no.) Was this WWII historical fiction? (No, but felt most like it.) A very intriguing story about war, friendship, family, and gifted children. It felt like the beginning was menacing-children were being rounded up to fight a war but not told what they were going to do. But when they do go, it is not at all what was expected.  It was clear to me about 3 pages from the end that this was either going to have a terrible unresolved ending, or it was set up for a sequel. And sure enough, after the last page it says the story continues in the next book, with a title already. This book was pretty short and honestly I’d rather parts 1 and 2 were just published as one volume because I’m still caught up in the story and can’t believe it just ended!

Top Ten Books of 2016

Top Ten Books of 2016

It’s a sad truth that I haven’t been putting my reviews here since August. BUT. I’ve still been meticulously keeping track of all I read, and writing brief reviews on Goodreads. Here it is December 31 and I wouldn’t dream of not doing my top ten books of the year post.
First, how was my reading this year? This year I set my goal to be 70 books, which I thought to be reasonable, and possibly even low (ever since the year I didn’t meet my goal, I go for “attainable.”) I easily exceeded and finished with a very nice 91 titles. You can see a lovely image of all the covers here.  My reading changed a bit this year because I returned to work as a school librarian in a school for 4th and 5th graders. Thus, I’ve upped my middle grade reading. As usual I did not count picture books, although I read plenty, though I did include the audiobooks we listen to as a family. Things got a little fizzley at the end of the year, with nothing wowing me or captivating me. Fortunately I was handed a prepub of Miss You by Kate Eberlen right after Christmas and it saved the day. Good to end the year with an emphatic 5 stars!
As in the past two years I was determined to reread at least one or two old favorites, and this year I reread Patty Jane’s House of Curl by Lorna Landvik, Anne of Green Gables and  Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery (beautiful new editions I got for Christmas), Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married by Marian Keyes, and  The Shell Seekers by Rosamund Pilcher.  They are all five star books and were all a joy to reread and rediscover. Every time I read a little detail I’d forgotten I’d have a lovely gasp of recognition.  I’m not going to include any of them on my top 10 list (so I can squeeze more in, of course), but if I did I would put The Shell Seekers and Harriet the Spy on it. The Shell Seekers is on my permanent Top 10 list and not surprisingly this not only held up, but was like a vacation from life as I was totally immersed in it. It will forever be one of my favorite books. It’s engrossing, historical, emotional, and really made me realize how often I refer to it consciously or unconsciously when reading other British historicals. Here was my full review of it.  Harriet the Spy was a treasured childhood book that I have not reread as an adult. Rereading it now I realized that it was an even better book than I’d realized at the time. It’s also more mature than I realized, really tapping in to difficult friendship problems and emotions. The characterization of Janie and her parents was hilarious and I remembered just how much, as a child, I’d love these stark unflattering portrayals of adults and children. Here is my full review of it.

 

Top Ten Books of 2016: (in no particular order)

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende: What a beautiful story. I adored this. It had the lovely writing I expect from Allende, was nicely put together, had some interesting historical parts (internment camps of WWII), and she made characters I deeply cared about. All woven together into a bit of mystery. How did the past part turn into the current part? What happened in their lives? How is this all fitting together? Though my books aren’t ranked, I would put this in the top 3.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling (and others): I was initially reticent about reading this-screenplay, not really Rowling, do we need it? But boy am I glad I read it. It was a very welcome return to HP’s world and extremely satisfying. I loved it.
Miss You by Kate Eberlen: Can’t say enough about this, the last book I read of the year. Dreamy, romantic, nice and long, really everything I want in a book.
The Sculptor by Scott McCloud: The only graphic novel to make the list. This book was fantastic. The ending took my breath away-literally made me gasp, and then cry. It was perfect.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld: A favorite writer. This was part of that whole Jane Austen rewrite thing (I also read Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler,which I enjoyed.) and it was immensely satisfying. Funny, clever, the whole package.
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume: O Judy! I loved this! Such an interesting specific historical time (and New Jersey local!) that I really knew nothing about. I loved the many points of view, and of course Judy’s writing. I was very caught up in this story.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman: The only YA to make the list this year. A perfect example of dystopia and I can’t stop thinking about so many aspects of it. A great story and the structure and writing were great.
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple: A worthy follow up to the success of Where’d You Go Bernadette? I really enjoy her humor and style of writing. This book made me laugh and cringe.
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: The only children’s title to unreservedly make my Top 10 list. Absolutely wonderful historical fiction, touching, beautiful story with some really harsh truths about humanity in it. A great addition to this genre (WWII, London children evacuees.)
One True Loves by Taylor Reid Jenkins: I only gave this 4 stars, but I’m putting it on the list because, to be frank, the story has stuck with me more than some of my 5 star books. I love “what if?” concept and I thought she charmingly managed to explore a person’s two possible paths very nicely and neatly.

Honorable Mentions: The list was originally 13, so I’m forcing 3 onto the honorable mention list.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty: Moriarty remains one of my favorite authors. I know I will like anything she writes. Good long stories with many points of view, human foibles fully on display, and realistic outcomes. I did have to look up which one this was, though, as I can’t keep her books straight. And rereading my review I see that yes, I didn’t like this as much as her other books, but on its own it was compelling and well written. I gave it 5 stars, but given the previous sentences I’m putting it in the honorable mention section.
The Nest by Cynthia D’Apix Sweeney: I know I gave this 5 stars, but I’m bumping it to the HM list because…I really couldn’t tell you much about it unless I reread my review in great detail. At the time I enjoyed it very much and liked the writing but very little of the story has stuck with me.
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson : I truly liked this very very much and am not sure why it only got 4 1/2 stars from me. Unlike The Nest I remember quite a bit about this WWI story, and in fact some scenes remain vivid in my mind. Simonson really captured this moment in time quite well. Though like all WWI stories you know it’s going to be sad..

Other Bests and Honorable Mentions:

I may not have kept track of all the audiobooks this year, but we did listen when we drove places on summer vacation. Also, with the start of my job my son drove to work with me and we listened to books on our very short commute together. My two favorite were both books I’d already read in print, but enjoyed something new from the marvelous audio production. The first was City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, read by Wendy Dillon. The atmospheric sounds added so much, especially at the end of the novel. The other was The Graveyard Book, read by the author, Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is a wonder at reading his books. He’s basically both author and amazing actor. I loved hearing this.

As I mentioned before I’ve been upping my middle grade reading since I’m now a 4th/5th grade librarian. These were the standout children’s titles I read this year:

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan: Wonderful! I loved the structure, which is that the story of this last year of a school (before it is destroyed) is told from many points of view in poetry. So beautifully put together and showcasing many forms of poetry. Really super.
The Seventh Wish By Kate Messner: Drawn to this by the hubbub surrounding its release. I thought it was wonderful and I do so love this genre-realistic with a little bit of magic. Same style as her other book, All the Answers, but this time taking on what it’s like to have a drug addict in the family. Really solid good story.
Baker’s Magic by Diane Zahler: Top notch magical adventure. I loved it and the students I’ve passed it on to have loved it as well. I’m struggling to find a readalike for this. A great story structure-every single chapter came to an end and made you excited to turn the page and find out what happens next.
Pax by Sara Pennypacker: What an ingenious blend of animal story-human story, and not magical, fully realistic. Some dark explorations of contemporary war, lots of stress for animals lovers, and an emotional story. A real gem.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson: Newbery honor graphic novel, I (and my daughter, and all my students) loved this. No easy answers in friendship and yes, as you grow up, you sometimes grow apart from your friends, and it’s not easy. The roller derby angle is simply a really interesting added bonus to a great story about growing up (not too much!) and finding your own interests and friends.

Honorable mention YA book would be The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. As a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, I loved the premise of this. Consider all those shows and books like Buffy that focus on the few kids who are always fighting off supernatural danger. What about everyone else?? Very clever and fun.

thisisjustOne more honorable mention for a (not new) nonfiction book that I “discovered” on the shelves of my library: This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness by Joyce Sidman. I do love the poem This Is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams, and that’s the set up for this terrific story. A class reads that poem and then each writes an apology poem. The second half is the poems that the apology recipients write back. And what’s so impressive is that the stories together (not unlike The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary) form a bigger story. It’s really incredible to read on your own, or as a class.

squidAnother nonfiction that I loved was Giant Squid by Candace Fleming. (It’s getting award buzz, so I’m looking forward to seeing what it gets.) I loved the poetic opening, Eric Rohmann’s gorgeous dark illustrations, and how Fleming writes about a creature that we know very little about! As usual, I loved the extra information in the afterward. If I remember nothing else it will be the astonishing fact that sperm whales have been found with thousands of giant squid beaks (they don’t digest, but remain whole) in their stomachs. Which means there are thousands and thousands of squids swimming around in our oceans and yet we only ever saw a living one for the first time a few years ago!!!!

A very full varied year of reading! I’m so glad I took the time to reread so many old favorite this year and will continue to do so next year. Who knows what 2017 will bring? Well, of course we know some things. My next most anticipated books will be Kevin Kwan’s newest and I just hear that J. Courtney Sullivan has a new book in the works. Hooray!

Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

(Reread in June 2016, posting my Goodreads review right now just so I can link back for the year end review!)

This was a favorite book as a child and decided to reread it this weekend. Reading it now as an adult–wow. Louise Fitzhugh was a genius. I have so much to say about this book, which I’ll leave for my longer review on the blog. For here I’ll say: it a treat to walk down memory lane. As with a lot of my childhood rereads I was surprised to find that my memory had distorted the proportion of things in the book (for example, Ole Golly leaves pretty early on in the book. In my memory that was at the end. I thought the spy routes were covered frequently, but they actually were also a pretty small part of the overall length of the book.)
Harriet is a terrific character and the emotions are heartfelt and true. One of the things that really stood out to me (that I believe I also really liked as a child) was the , hmm, I really have a hard time finding the right word. Harshness? Nastiness? Not softness? of the vocabulary and writing. Janie calls someone a cretin. Adults are called out as ridiculous. There’s often a quick sentence that is quite cutting. As a kid it amused me and I liked it. As an adult it amuses me, I like it, and I admire it in the writing and see it as a rarity in children’s books.

The After-Room by Maile Meloy

afterroomI wasn’t expecting a follow up to The Apothecary and The Apprentices, so it was a real delight to see that there was this. Although I didn’t remember too much about Janie and Benjamin’s adventures in the last book, I remembered the important stuff-the avian elixir that allows them to become birds and that they are trying to stop the use of nuclear warfare. In this conclusion Janie and Benjamin meet someone new who also has unusual powers and wind up in Rome. Benjamin, who is grieving for his father, discovers that due to the powder they had drunk before he died are able to connect in an “after-room”-a sort of waiting area for the dead. Of course this has issues of its own, and added to that they are trying to assist Jin Lo, who is in China searching for a nuclear warhead.  I thought the focus on the afterlife and those who have died and our communications with them was a wonderful part of this story.  And, as I felt with the other two books, I really liked this whole concept and time period, which I think is a bit unusual in kids’ stories. A great conclusion to a unique story.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

anneFor Christmas I received a beautiful set of a new edition of Anne of Green Gables (the first four books.) They are paperback with a beautiful cover that shows paper cutting of key elements of each of the stories. It had been quite a while since I had read an Anne book (despite my devotion to her) and now that I had these lovely new books I decided to make good on my re-reading goals. And, oh! How wonderful to return to a beloved story. To one I knew so well. To thrill at certain sentences, and be delightfully reminded of episodes I’d forgotten. It was gloriously comforting and familiar and wonderful. It was so vivid in my head and I realized that I must have watched the movie many more times recently than read the books (I know I watched it last winter while quilting.) So as I read I pictured the movie in my mind and I was pleasantly surprised to realize how much of the dialogue is lifted straight from the book. Matthew’s death was quite a bit different in the book and I found I didn’t cry nearly as much as I do when I watch the movie of it.  I’m excited to move on to Anne of Avonlea, which one chapter in I’m realizing I’d forgotten so much of and it’s all coming back to me.

p.s. obviously these books are very old and the style of writing is already somewhat flower, and then of course Anne is super prone to romantic flowery statements. It always seemed unbelievable that people would really talk like that but recently I’ve been reading my great-grandmother’s correspondence and guess what? They really did talk like that!

A Spiderweb for Two by Elizabeth Enright

melendyIt’s no secret that I am a fan of Elizabeth Enright.  And that of all her books the ones with the most special place in my heart, my most beloved childhood books, were those about the Melendy family. I have written about them here, here,  here, and here. This summer I began reading aloud all of the books to the kids (who are presently 8 and 10, 7 and 9 when we started.)  This was, as you might guess, a very special experience for me. I loved rereading my favorite books and was super relieved that the kids seemed to enjoying them as well. Because let’s be honest-it would have stunk if they grumbled or said they were lame.  But I’m happy to say the cheerful family, Enright’s beautiful writing, and engaging stories stand the test of time.

And then we read the last book, Spiderweb for Two. And this is the one book that I had never actually read, so it was new to all of us. I have say-I was pretty excited. And a little nervous. What if it wasn’t as good as the others? The big difference in this book is that Mona, Rush, and Mark are not there. Mona is living in the city and Rush and Mark are at boarding school (there’s an unwritten book there that I’d like to read.) And that is also the premise of the book–with those three away Randy and Oliver are left at home and feeling mopey. But then a mysterious letter arrives with a convoluted clue. It’s the first of many and this secret treasure hunt lasts all year long. Each chapter is unraveling the mystery of the latest clue, and usually has an adventure or story to go with it. And of course, there is a marvelous surprise at the end.  Though I can’t say I loved this one as much as the others (partly because of the lack of the older kids, but probably in large part due to lack of familiarity), it was still wonderful. We couldn’t wait to find out the secret, who was behind the clues, and how the year would turn out.

I solicited a quote from Tabby as I was writing this as she says: “Spiderweb was really interesting. It was really anticipational, or however you say it. and the end was really nice.  Overall I give it five stars up.”  “I loved all of them.”