I read 121 books in 2017 (and published one of my own!) The best of the lot are summarized below. You can read my Goodreads reviews for each here. To be clear, not all of these books came out in 2017. That’s just when I read them.
If there’s a theme in my selections this year, I guess you could say it’s that I read more books written by female authors of color.
This year I finished the Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin, an epic fantasy series that includes The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky (the first two books in the series have already won Hugo awards.) All three books offer truly original story structure, characters, and world building and according to Arstechnica explore “what you might call the common ancestor of both science and magic: the urge to exert our will over nature.”
Best Middle Grade
Middle grade books (books written for middle school audiences) aren’t included in my reviews or grand total above, but I did read a number of them, both as homework for a class I was taking and to stay up to date on what my daughter and her peers are reading. The best of the bunch was Raymie Nightingale by two-time Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo. Beautiful story. Beautiful writing.
Best Young Adult (YA)
While John Green’s 2017 release, Turtles All the Way Down was a great book (and I’m a big supporter of books that help teens navigate mental health issues), The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was hands-down the best YA book I read this year. As this post from Salon so eloquently puts it, “Every so often the right book comes along at the right time and quite deservedly catches fire. The Hate U Give is that book.”
Best YA Series
The best YA series I read was The Dominion Trilogy by Joe Hart, which consists of The Last Girl, The Final Trade, and The First City. I’m not sure why this series hasn’t received more attention. First, all three books are on Kindle Unlimited, so for many they’re FREE. Secondly, they’re solidly written with an interesting premise and a hero who could hold her own against Katniss Everdeen. Third, the author was born and raised in Minnesota, so he deserves some local love!
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann is a story that’s guaranteed to stay with you for a long time. It’s an incredible tale–one that is sadly true–about the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma. It’s a slice of history most people are likely unfamiliar with. Hopefully this book will help change that. It’s not only a story that deserves to be told, it’s also well written and includes informative photographs.
My favorite Sci-Fi book this year was All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai. It’s a got a killer premise. Remember how cool we’d imagined the Jetson’s-like future would be back in the 60s & 70s? Well what if that actually happened, but some dumb guy went back in a time machine and messed up everything so now we’re stuck with the sucky reality we have today?
Picking two wildly different books for this one. The first is The Last Black Unicorn by
I started a bunch of un-finishable romances this year, leading me to believe my tastes in this genre run contrary to my fellow womankind, (who seem to prefer books about hulky Alpha males who turn into mystical beats.) My non beasty, romance pick was the word-of-mouth best-seller, On the Island by . Yep. It’s a romance on a deserted island, but it’s a complicated and interesting one. Read it this winter when you want to pretend you’re somewhere warm.
Best Literary Fiction
My pick here is a book you’ll see on many 2017 best of lists, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Winner of the Man Booker Prize.) This book about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his son Willie has an epic cast of characters and very unusual structure, so it might be a challenging read for some. Personally, I found it to be truly original and deeply moving. Plus I was lucky enough to hear Saunders speak in Minneapolis this year and found him delightful and super smart.
I read A LOT of thrillers, so my litmus test for making this list is I gave it a good review when I read it AND I can still remember the book’s plot 6 months later. This year I’ve got a number of favorites. The first is Afterlife by a bit of a supernatural thriller, since the hero is hunting a killer in…you guessed it…the afterlife (and what an original version of the afterlife it is!) On the creepier side, my second favorite is Stillhouse Lake by a dark, relentless read which has a sequel that was just published in December. Lastly, I also enjoyed The Other Girl by (yes, yet another thriller with “girl” in the title!) a fast read that has some interesting things to say about class, gender, and growing up in a small town.
My favorite here was Reincarnation Blues by . It’s another book with a killer premise: a man has been reincarnated 9,995 times, and each time he manages to screw something up. He has just five more chances to get it right and find a way to be with the woman he loves. But what does “right” look like? What constitutes a good life?
Best Stephen King
This is a standing category each year (as it’s challenging to keep pace with the prolific author). The easy choice this year is Sleeping Beauties by King and his son Owen. As with most of King’s recent books, this one isn’t all that scary (in fact, it’s technically classified as a thriller). In it, the women of the world all fall asleep and are transported to another place/dimension(?). Like the books I mention at the end of this post, this one gets you thinking a lot about gender roles and the power divide, even more so because it’s written by two men who don’t exactly paint a favorable portrait of their sex.
Best Accidental Discoveries
Everything about the book, Anna Dressed in Blood by , from the title to the cover, says “scary book.” However, that’s not exactly what you’ll find inside. Instead of gothic horror, Anna was a rather delightful YA read with a decidedly Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe, in all the best possible ways. Similarly, I didn’t know what I was expecting or why I picked out the book Sourdough by , but it sure reminded me a whole lot of that fun 80s movie, Real Genius — again in the best possible ways. Sourdough totally made me want to be a foodie (and I don’t even care about food that much!)
Best Books You’ll Be Hearing More About
There were two books I read this year simply because they had good buzz and I wanted to check them out before they became films/TV shows like Little Big Lies. The first was Little Fires Everywhere by novel about race, class, and privilege that reminded me a lot of Lies in that all of the characters are trying to do the right thing, but end up creating a huge mess instead. The second was Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by (ALSO optioned by Reese Witherspoon) a quirky but dark book with a very unique lead character that I’m sure actresses in Hollywood will be clamoring to play.
Best Book for Kick-Ass Mommies
I read two books this year with a similar premise: What would it be like for a mom to parent when something seriously bad is happening? In the first book (the better of the two, IMO), All The Little Children by Fierce Kingdom by it’s an active shooter at the zoo. In both books moms juggle the serious business of staying alive with whiney kids who don’t care about imminent threats and just WANT THEIR SIPPY CUP NOW!
Best Books For The #MeToo Era
I read two excellent books that got me thinking about gender roles, sexual discrimination/harassment and violence. The first was The Philosopher’s Flight by (which I read in galley form. The book will be published this February). Flight is a very unique book, almost like a mash-up of Harry Potter and the movie GI Jane. In Flight’s world, women have unique powers (some can fly, some can heal, many can kill) AND are still marginalized in society (many want those cool powers to be regulated like guns, others want women with powers wiped out entirely.) The second book is making many “best of” lists, The Power by which imagines a world where teenage girls (and ultimately all women) have immense physical power. Both books ask us how things would be different if traditional gender roles were reversed, each coming to very different conclusions.