Welcome one, welcome all, to the downright obligatory Best Books of 2017 post
– my name is Emma and I’ll be your cruise director for today. As you can see, this post didn’t quite make it out into the world on New Years’ Day as I intended, because apparently I took a fortnight to reflect on my 2017 reading and really think about what the very best books I read in the last year were, rather than just picking out all the books that I’d given 5-star ratings. These books are the ones that have stayed with me, for one reason or another, and were the best books that I read in 2017. Obviously, not all of these were published in 2017, but just made it firmly onto my radar (and bedside table) in the last year.
(If you’re looking for my more stats-based wrap up of 2017 then please do pop over to my 2017: A Bookish Year In Review post!)
Just fyi, because these posts are long enough already, I won’t be posting synopses of all the books I’ve chosen, since Goodreads can do a much better job than I can about being concise, but I’ll be sure to link to their blurbs and to my review, if I’ve done one! But I will make sure to explain why each book has earned a place on this hallowed list…
Without further ado, let’s do this like the music charts, in reverse order, shall we?
Why?: I realised last year that I hadn’t read any Agatha Christie, though I had seen an adaptation or two on TV, including the BBC’s And Then There Were None. I fully intended to go see Murder on the Orient Express film and was advised to read the book first. So I did just that… and then never actually got round to seeing the film when it was in the cinema! I have a confession: when I was about halfway through this book, I was reading it for the sake of reading it, not actual enjoyment or anything so simple. It seemed downright formulaic, all the characters seemed a parody of themselves, I didn’t care for any of them, and wasn’t hugely endeared by the detective, Hercule Poirot. How then, you might ask, did this make it onto my best books of the year? Well, the reveal of the murderer happened… and it shot up to a 5-star read. I won’t say any more for fear of completely ruining this book for anyone who hasn’t read it but suffice it to say, Agatha Christie is a master of crime fiction for very good reason!
“The impossible could not have happened, therefore the impossible must be possible in spite of appearances.”
Why?: Sometime round 2016, I’d read the first three books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series and then I’d petered out somewhere round the fourth book. This really annoyed me because I knew I would adore the fourth instalment, A Feast for Crows, since I was told it was more about the Lannisters and backstabbing and politics and courtly deception etc. etc. and that stuff is more my jam than just reading about the Starks, if I’m being totally honest about it. (I know, I know, I’m probably “wrong” about that.) The point is, I finally picked this up again in 2017 and, after some false starts, I made it through the entirety of this 850-page book and I’m really glad because I ended up so gripped by it, even though not a lot actually happens – there are no Red or Purple Weddings in sight! Even so, this book was perfectly paced and manipulated, and I really could begin to see ASOIAF as a very long chess game with all the pieces moving about the board. This was also the first ASOIAF book where I didn’t spend most of my time trying to work out who was who so… success? (I also ended up reading the first volume of A Dance with Dragons later in the year so I’m almost caught up, yay!)
“I prefer my history dead. Dead history is writ in ink, the living sort in blood.”
8. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Why?: I don’t read many mystery books, let alone contemporary mysteries, it’s just so not a genre I reach for. However, I don’t think it was possible to exist as a reader as of late and not hear some kind of hype about Liane Moriarty’s books, especially this one since it was made into a very successful HBO show which aired in 2017. I have yet to see the show (but I did get the DVD for Christmas!) but I can safely say that I am so relived to have read the book first because I wouldn’t have wanted the book spoilt by the show, if that makes any sense at all? And this is the kind of book where I really need to say no more, for fear of ruining it for anyone who hasn’t read it but is intending to, but let me just say that even if you’re not sure if a story about 3 women, their children, and their lives is interesting, think again. You will be gripped, I promise.
“Children did this. They sensed when there was something controversial or sensitive and they pushed and pushed like tiny prosecutors.“
Why?: I definitely heard about this book through Twitter, probably the publisher sharing something about a book tour or an interview with the author or something. Then it got into my head, then I bought it, then I practically inhaled it, whilst giggling like an idiot and interrupting whatever my friend/housemate was doing to read out an especially funny section of the book to her. Considering I don’t really do non-fiction, it’s amazing how many memoirs I’ve enjoyed this year, particularly this one because although he’s not a celebrity, or indeed someone I even had heard of before this book, Adam is an excellent storyteller, which is probably how he ended up turning his hand to comedy writing. Adam Kay is very, very honest about what it is really like to be a junior doctor working for the UK NHS, and he doesn’t glamorise any of it one bit – there might be funny stories and amusing anecdotes but these can be sobered up quickly by a sombre observation he made on his time on the wards – the highs emphasises the lows and vice versa.
“Today in the mess over lunch we’re trading stories about nonsense “symptoms” that people have presented with. Between us in the last few weeks we’ve seen patients with itchy teeth, sudden improvement in hearing and arm pain during urination.”
6. Saga Vol. 7 by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Why?: I re-read all the currently released Saga volumes, knowing that volume 8 was due out in January 2018 and that seemed soon enough for me to not feel deprived of this amazing series whilst I waited for it. So you could say that Saga Volume 7 stands here for all the volumes of Saga that there have been, and likely will be in the future. I can’t explain what it is about this graphic novel series that is so readable and gripping and yet somehow strangely profound at the same time, especially considering its mostly a visual, not written, medium. The storyline is wacky and wonderful, the characters (even the baaad ones) are strangely endearing, and the authors are not afraid to kill their darlings if needs be. All of this makes for very edge-of-the-seat sort of reading and, considering I’d never really thought a space opera would be my kind of thing, I loved every panel of it.
“You know that old cliché about millions of deaths being a statistic while the loss of just one life is a tragedy? If that’s true, what is it when you lose something that never even had the chance to be born? I’ve had lots of relationships in my time, platonic and otherwise, but the ones I think about most are those that never quite made it to term. […] I guess I’m just haunted by all that potential energy.”
Why?: I’m not a huge poetry person, and I don’t think I “get” most poetry nowadays. Give me a sonnet, I can tell you if it conforms to expectations of conceits and poetic metre, but the more free, abstract version of poetry favoured nowadays? No idea what makes good poetry good and bad poetry bad. All I do know is that I’ve been a fan of Elisabeth’s writing for what must be years now and this debut poetry collection was just stunning. I made sure to recommend it to other people and will constantly sing its/her praises whenever I am granted the opportunity to do so. You don’t need to “get” poetry to understand this, and you don’t need a background in literature to appreciate that her turns of phrase and the way she constructs words onto the page are just so evocative and beautiful.
“God should have made girls lethal
when he made monsters of men.”
4. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
Why?: Half of why I adored this book so much was the excellent audiobook narrator Christian Coulson (yes, the actor who played young Tom Riddle in the Harry Potter and Chamber of Secrets film)… and the other half was because of how hilarious and endearing this book is. Although the action is centred around the Grand Tour of two young gentlemen in the 18th-century (?), oh and one of their younger sisters, this book had so much more going for it – a sight-seeing whistle-stop tour of Europe; a heart-achingly endearing M/M romance; a roguish narrator; swashbuckling adventure complete with highwaymen and pirates; mingling with french aristocracy. Basically it ended up being a lovely mish-mash of things that I love reading about in this time period, and you can really tell that Mackenzi Lee had an absolute ball writing this. Plus this book actually touches on some pretty deep subjects under the guise of this romp around Europe – racism, class, homophobia, domestic abuse and violence, gender equality, societal prescribed roles of women, the period’s attitude towards neurology… it all sounds like it would be too much for one book to do without it bogging down the pace of the overall story but, truly, it was a masterclass in how to write good YA.
” ‘We’re not courting trouble,’ I say. ‘Flirting with it, at most.’ “
3. How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Why?: Matt Haig has quickly become one of my favourite authors somehow. Personally, I think he has a wonderful way with words, and with picking out the smallest of details in the everyday life and then twisting it into a fantastical plot point that really illustrates, as they say in Hamilton, “how lucky we are to be alive right now”. I was anticipating this book pretty highly so getting an eARC of it via NetGalley was like a dream come true. Basically the main character Tom has a condition which means that he ages suuuuper slowly, like he’s lived throughout centuries of history, and met some pretty interesting characters along the way (William Shakespeare and F Scott Fitzgerald included). But obviously the drawback of ageing super slowly is that everyone else around you, your nearest and dearest, will die before you do, and you will go through losing them, and then having to rebuild another life with the weight of this inevitable mortality on your shoulders. I like these kind of stories (the interrogation of this concept is what fascinates me about the likes of Doctor Who) so I was always going to go into this book with fondness but I truly loved the experience of reading it.
“That’s the thing with time, isn’t it? It’s not all the same. Some days – some years – some decades – are empty. There is nothing to them. It’s just flat water. And then you come across a year, or even a day, or an afternoon. And it is everything. It is the whole thing.”
2. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
Why?: Considering the final book in one of my favourite YA fantasy trilogies was released this year, it’s hardly a surprise that it has won a place on my best books of the year list now, is it? A Conjuring of Light perfectly illustrates what we all suspected about V.E. Schwab – she’s not afraid to not only kill your darlings, but also to emotionally torture them, if needs be, and she’ll enjoy it too. This book proved to be a proverbial roller-coaster of emotions and the highs (so many of them) were equally balanced by so many lows, and I never really felt calm or secure about any of my favourites (my BABIES!) for the entirety of this 600-page book. Pre-established characters and relationships developed even more than I expected, or even thought possible, during the course of this final book, and I found myself actually sympathising with individuals that I never in a million years thought I would be able to empathise with. A masterclass in making me change my opinion and that is how you write a trilogy ending book, everyone take note!
“Caring was a thing with claws. It sank them in, and didn’t let go. Caring hurt more than a knife to the leg, more than a few broken ribs, more than anything that bled or broke and healed again. Caring didn’t break you clean. It was a bone that didn’t set, a cut that wouldn’t close.”
Why?: Do you remember how I said I don’t really read non-fiction/memoirs? It turns out 2017 might well have been the year of Emma realising she actually enjoys a well-written and purposeful memoir, if it actually has something to say beyond just the individual’s life story. This is one of those, and that is why it made it to the top spot of my favourite books of the year. Before I read this I knew next to nothing about Amanda Palmer, except for some vague knowledge of her being connected with Neil Gaiman. I’d never heard a Dresden Dolls song, though I knew they existed, and I hadn’t seen Amanda Palmer’s famous TED Talk. I listened to this on audio and I think i would definitely recommend that – the book’s sections are split up my musical interludes, and it was nice to hear some of her music, and really helped to build a more complete picture of what she is like. This book is open and honest about so many things – life, love, relationships, art, heartbreak, death – and Amanda Palmer feels incredibly genuine throughout the entire thing. She made me realise how much we go through life fearing the “art of asking”, being afraid to look vulnerable or like we need help (whether we’re asking a stranger, a friend, or a family member), and how if we were all just a bit more open and honest with each other, we can collaborate and live so much better lives, with a little help. It sounds a little cheesy, perhaps, but, truly, The Art of Asking never felt anything but earnest and honest. And it hit me right in the feels and made me cry too so apparently that’s how I measure the success of a book?
“From what I’ve seen, it isn’t so much the act of asking that paralyzes us–it’s what lies beneath: the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of rejection, the fear of looking needy or weak. The fear of being seen as a burdensome member of the community instead of a productive one. It points, fundamentally, to our separation from one another.”
That’s all, folks – that was my Best Books of 2017!
How was your reading year? Do you have a Best Books list yourself?
Link it or comment below, I’d love to hear what your favourite books of 2017 were!