2017 was an odd reading year for me, and I think I experienced a case of Obliger rebellion. In 2016 I read 92 books, and at the start of the year I set a goal to read 95. How hard could it be to read 3 more books? Hard, I guess, as I finished the year at 71 books read. Somewhere in between spring and summer I got obstinate. I wanted to read what I wanted to read when I wanted to read it. Every year I giddily plan out the books I’ll read for Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Reading Challenge, but by June I was scowling at my own list as if it was a list of chores or a tax return to file.
I believe podcasts also had an effect on the amount of books I read. I’m a big fan of audio books, but I discovered so many podcasts that I enjoy on a weekly basis that I haven’t listened to an audio book since the spring. I don’t see that changing in the near future, either.
That’s not to say 2017 wasn’t a good reading year. By not slogging through a list, I was able to read more of what I truly wanted to read. And 71 books is nothing to be sad about! In fact, I think I enjoyed my reading life more in 2017 than any other year in recent history. And so as I look forward to 2018, I’m approaching things a little differently. I still plan to set a goal on Goodreads, but I’m dialing it back to 50. And for the first time in years I’m not going to participate in a reading challenge. Instead, I’m going to focus on a few mini-challenges. One example? I’m going to finish the Harry Potter series this year.
Before moving on to 2018, here are my very favorite books of 2017. I’m thrilled to be a part of the Amazon Influencer Program, which means I now have my very own page on Amazon to share my favorite things – including books. I update it often, so if you’re looking for a new read I would love it if you’d pop over there and purchase something through my affiliate link. Just so you know, I do earn a small commission on items purchased through my Amazon link (https://www.amazon.com/shop/angiesix). And now on to the books!
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Patchett’s story of two families torn apart and stitched together following a kiss at a drunken christening party sucked me in after only a few pages. It’s been a long time since I read a novel in which I had such strong feelings (both good and bad) for every character. Bert Cousins shows up uninvited to Franny Keating’s christening party with a bottle of gin. A few hours (and many Screwdrivers) later, he’s kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly, setting into motion two divorces. The six Keating and Cousin children band together as a wild pack, united in their hatred of Bert and Beverly and fervent in their loyalty to Fix Keating and Teresa Cousins, the spouses left behind. Over 5 decades, we see the way the sins of the parents and a childhood accident cloaked in secrets affect the children as they grow and scatter. Patches writes characters so vivid, witty and flawed that I had a crystal clear image of each of them in my head. I absolutely adored this book.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Cadence’s summers are always the same, and as a member of the wealthy Sinclair family, they are fabulous. Summer means escaping to one of the houses on her grandparents’ private island off of Cape Cod with her cousins, Johnny and Mirren, and their closest friend, Gat. All is well until the fifteenth summer, the first summer on the island after their grandmother has passed away. Her grandfather is unmoored and using his power as the family patriarch to push everyone’s buttons, while her aunts’ simmering jealousies and greed begin to bubble over. There is a mysterious accident that summer that leaves Cadence struggling with amnesia and debilitating headaches, so much so that she misses all of summer sixteen on the island. Frustrated with the recovery progress and angry with her cousins and Gat, who have all but ignored her since the accident, Cadence returns to the island during her seventeenth summer to sort it all out. And that’s all I’m going to say, because the end of the book blew my mind. Lockart has a new novel (Genuine Fraud) out now and I can’t wait to read it.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
When I read this in March I thought it was a strong candidate for my favorite book of the year. It still is. Frankel’s novel is a timely exploration of the issue of transgender children. Rosie and Penn are a loving, irreverent team in both marriage and parenting. They allow their five quirky and free-spirited boys to be who they want to be. This is all well and good when one of them wants to wear an eyeball sticker on his forehead to school everyday. But what about when their youngest, Claude, decides he wants to wear dresses and change his name to Poppy? This is the story of how an ordinary family handles an extraordinary secret. It could easily have turned into a preachy novel that insisted a reader feel a certain way. Instead Frankel crafted a novel that makes the reader think deeply about how gender relates to the essence of who we really are, and the power a secret has over everyone who knows it.
Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) by David Sedaris
Bedtime is safe again. For several nights in a row, my poor husband would be almost asleep when I would bust out laughing while reading an entry from one of David Sedaris’ diary entries. Let’s just say he was not amused. I’ve been a David Sedaris fan for nearly 20 years and had been looking forward to this book for months. If you’ve read and enjoyed previous Sedaris books, or if you’ve had the chance to hear Sedaris read from his diaries before, you’ll enjoy Theft by Finding. You’ll recognize elements of other stories in the diary entries, but it doesn’t feel repetitive to me. Instead I found it interesting to learn the beginnings and back stories of Sedaris stories I’ve previously loved. The reader will also get insight into some of the harder, not funny parts of Sedaris’ life. If you’ve never read Sedaris before, don’t start here. (I’d recommend Me Talk Pretty One Day.) However if you are fan, Theft by Finding is a must-read.
New of the World by Paulette Jiles
This slim little book (and National Book Award finalist!) feels like it’s from another time, and transported me into 1870s Texas instantly. Aging and widowed Captain Kidd is known throughout the South and the West as the man who reads the news. He travels from town to town, bringing along newspapers from around the country and the world. He curates the best, most interesting, and (in Texas) least controversial news of the world, and then reads it aloud to the townspeople for 10 cents admission. With a reputation for being trustworthy and dependable, Kidd is enlisted to deliver 10-year-old Johanna to relatives near San Antonio. Captured by Indians at 6, witness to the slaughter of her parents and sister, Johanna was taken in and raised by the Kiowa tribe. In those 4 years, she’s forgotten nearly everything about her whiteness and struggles against shedding her Native American ways. It’s a long journey to San Antonio for Johanna and the “Kep-dun,” as she calls him. Along the way they come to understand and trust each other in ways neither of them knew they desperately needed. I finished the book poolside after just 3 days, and bawled like a baby! Jiles does amazing things with words and characters in just 240 beautiful pages.
At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider
I was apprehensive about reading Tsh’s book that chronicles her family’s 9-month adventure around the world. Tsh is one of the first bloggers I followed, and I’ve always enjoyed her reflections. But as a wanna-be world traveler with different life circumstances and a limited budget, I worried that the book would make me feel envious and frustrated. Spoiler alert: I loved it so much that I bought my own copy. Instead of feeling jealous, I felt transported to wonderful places while simultaneously feeling thankful for my home and my people. I felt inspired to travel more and comforted by Tsh’s honest reflections on the ups and downs of traveling with kids. I don’t know how she manages to make the reader feel both an intense wanderlust and complete contentment for where you are in this moment. She captured the essence of how I feel about travel in one simple passage:
I know, in my soul, that a love for travel is a gift and not a hindrance. It feels like a burden when the bucket list is bigger than the bank account, but a thirst for more of the world is not something to apologize for. Denying its presence feels like denying something good in me, something God put there.
Beartown by Fredrik Bachman
There isn’t a lot going for the small community of Beartown. It’s a place people leave, not seek out. But Beartown does have hockey, and their junior hockey team is preparing to compete in the national semifinals. A win would mean a new rink, new talent, and new life for the downtrodden community. The junior hockey team is the talk of the town, and the boys on the team have each other’s backs. But when an incident occurs at a party between the team’s star and the daughter of the rink’s general manager, loyalties and reputations are tested. It’s a departure from Backman’s typical charming, feel-good novels, but it’s a well-done and timely reflection on sports, athletes and rape culture. It’s just been announced that Backman plans to continue the story of Beartown in a series, with the second book due out in June. I’m so glad to hear this, as there are characters from this novel that I’m not quite ready to let go.
Remember what I said the other day? About the prairie fire? About sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground and start over? Just remember that. Sometimes you need to start over from the scratch.
Mia Warren, artist, vagabond and single mother, didn’t realize the impact these words would have on young Izzy Richardson. Mia and her teenage daughter, Pearl, arrive in picture-perfect Shaker Heights, renting a home from the Richardsons, with a promise that this time, they’ll settle for good. Mia will make her art, Pearl will finally live life as a normal teenager, and the orderly world of the Cleveland suburb will heal old wounds. As Pearl gets absorbed into the Richardson clan and their teenage children, she gets a glimpse into a life that is so different from the one she’s had, one that she didn’t realize she wanted. A heated custody battle between white friends of the Richardsons and a Chinese coworker of Mia’s divides not only the town, but Mia and the Richardsons. Questions bubble to the service about what makes a good mother, how race and privilege intersect, and who deserves second chances. The result is a tense, fast-paced dramatic novel that I couldn’t put down. During the last 50 pages of the book I literally felt my heart pounding as I flipped each page, wondering when it would all go up in flames. I enjoyed Ng’s debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, but many readers I know were put off by it. Let me just say, if that was you, I implore you to give this novel a chance. It’s one of the best I’ve read in years.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant is a character you won’t soon forget. Her life is a carefully structured routine: work, a weekly phone chat with Mummy, and weekends with frozen pizza and vodka. From the time she leaves work on Friday until she returns on Monday, she might not ever speak to another soul. And with her terrible social skills, she’s not getting much more conversation Monday through Friday. That all changes when she and a co-worker save Sammy, an elderly gentlemen that has an accident in front of them. Slowly, and often quite awkwardly, Eleanor begins to open up her isolated world and tender heart. She might make you cringe, but you’ll be cheering for Eleanor to the very end.
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
While most children in World War II London were devastated to leave their families to escape the bombing, 10-year-old Ada knows that this may be her one and only chance to live. Crippled since birth, she’s been hidden away by her abusive and ashamed mother. Ada and her little brother, Jamie, are sent to the English seaside to live with Susan Smith. She’s not keen to have the little refugees, but as war makes life difficult in England they’ll find comfort and salvation in each other. A 2016 Newbery Honor Book, this is a delightful middle grade read that both kids and adults will love. I’m looking forward to the day when I’m number one on the hold list for Bradley’s sequel, The War I Finally Won.
Honorable Mention: How the Light Gets In (Please, if you haven’t started the Inspector Gamache series yet make that a 2018 goal!), Turtles All the Way Down, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Born a Crime, The Dry, The Mothers.
What was your favorite book of 2017? And have your reading goals changed as you head into 2018?