It has been a really good reading year for me. My year in numbers would involve 30 000 pages spread across 77 books. What makes this year special is the quality of the material I read – it really went up. This is the reason this list will be a bit longer, I just didn’t have the heart to limit the list to a certain number to make this listicle more appealing, and then skipping some of the titles that I would love to recommend to the readers of this blog.
Titles are spread across 3 categories: novels, book series, and biographies/memoirs. So let’s take a look!
1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
I heard so many good things about this author and this book. So I decided to download a sample on my Kindle and see if it would be a good fit. And whoa! Was it ever! The writing was so beautiful, it was so easy to get lost in it… So my next decision was to be patient and pre-order the brand new hardcover version (felt like this one would be a great addition to my home library) from Book Depository. This took a while for it to arrive on my doorstep, but it was oh-so-worth the wait! It is hard to pick one book that I would call the best of the best in my 2018, but this one comes close.
The story follows people of Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland. There, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads to the colors of the houses to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. Enter Mia Warren — an enigmatic artist and single mother — who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons, a local royalty family. Will this carefully ordered community know how to survive what happens next?
Ng’s writing style is so unique and masterful, the characters and their stories came alive easily. The true power of this book is that it tackles some very hard questions, and not really answering them it just made me uncomfortably squirm in my own thoughts, decisions, life views… Shaker Highs is a progressive, liberal community, who still seems to fall in all the traps (and tropes) of close-mindedness and fear. Those little fires burn from start to finish and it was a glorious story to witness.
2. Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
A race for survival among the stars… Humanity’s last survivors escaped earth’s ruins to find a new home. But when they find it, can their desperation overcome its dangers? WHO WILL INHERIT THIS NEW EARTH? (Goodreads description of this book is quite dramatic!)
Well, this book was dramatically quite good! More than good – it was excellent. Children of Time won the 2016 Arthur C. Clarke Award, and it was well deserved!
I’ve long time fan of science fiction genre. One might say my love for books started with Clarke, Asimov, and Herbert at a very young age. With age, my reading tastes evolved into other genres, but Sci-Fi always had a very special place in my heart. Still, it has been a while since I thoroughly enjoyed a newer Sci-Fi book, Andy Weir’s The Martian being one of the last few.
This book was pure delight! It is hard to explain what basically happens in this book… Through many future situations, we are introduced to a society of evolved spiders, on a distant New Earth. Of course, there are also future humans, and these two species are on a path of collision.
Tchaikovsky understands good writing, and he understands the science behind his work. The level of familiarity and knowledge he has as a professional of zoology is so remarkable and for the first time, I felt I understand these creepy, alien creatures we refer to as spiders. The ending was perfect, inspirational and emotional. I truly wish there were more books like this one.
3. It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover
Colleen Hoover’s It End With Us was voted best love novel by the Goodreads members in 2016. While I would definitely give it a vote, the love novel category is a stretch…
This is a novel about what love should not be, and how it sometimes looks. It is about circles of violence and how incredibly hard it is to break them.
This book is not complex, it is pretty straightforward in many ways, and the writing is even a bit simplistic. If this was a happy-end love novel, I would probably like to read it on a beach during a nice summer vacation when I just need to let my mind relax. It would not end up on my best-of list. Yet, it is here and rightfully so.
This book was seductive and shattering at the same time. It deals with a single aspect of domestic violence we still don’t know how to talk about – why do women stay in violent relationships (and not just women!)? Why don’t they just leave? I believe this book managed to answer this question or at least give it a good shot.
4. World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War by Max Brooks
Now, let me tell you, this one was a surprise. I knew the book, I saw the movie, but I never really felt the desire to read it, since I was never a zombie fan. But, since I found this book on a massive sale and went for it. Why not?
From the first chapter, I was drawn into this epic telling of a completely fictional scenario that was so deeply rooted in a reality that I literally sometimes had to remind myself that this is fiction and that it DID NOT happen. Brooks managed to bring such scale and detail and creativity and warmth to a story that I thought I heard a thousand times before. Also, the format of the book was fascinating, the story basically being told with documents, diary entries etc. The format definitely helped deepen the emotional impact of certain chapters, like the one with the search dogs (I wept and wept during that one).
While being engrossed in it, I bugged my husband with ideas and solutions and problematics this (fictional) society faced. I even read certain paragraphs to him (blessed his soul and his patience!). Since it is basically a scenario for a major pandemic, the book felt almost like a non-fiction book, minus the zombie twist.
Yup, I hoped this famous Brooks train a bit late in the game, but I’m sure glad I did.
5. Dragon’s Treasure by Maya Starling
Making this book a part of a best-of-an-ENTIRE-year list is a joy! Why – you might ask?
Well, this is a self-publishing indie book. Meaning, this book has no official publisher and the author had to deal with every aspect of publishing the book – writing the material, of course, but also finding proof-readers, editors, graphic designers, and doing a fair share of the workload by herself.
Look, I read a lot of indie work… While there are certainly some gems of indie publishing out there, they are not so easy to find. Writing the material is not enough, and authors often lack the patience (or the funds) to really focus on every aspect of writing a book and then putting it in front of a reader. Books need to be iterated to the point of exhaustion, and not just by the author but a whole team of people who can bring a fresh set of eyes and skills to the table.
This author did well. Really well! Not only was the story sweet, exciting, full of fun twists within the genre, but also Dragon’s Treasure was so well edited, the writing was so smooth and exciting! The cover was beautifully designed, proving that even stock photos can work if you know how to use them. It all added up to very wonderful reading experience!
The book follows a love story between a heroine and a dragon, with a prince in shiny armor as a villain. I loved the idea of making the dragon the hero, and prince the villain. It really worked well within the book. Dragon’s Treasure is a part of an unfinished book series called “Dragons Awaken” and you may be happy to hear that the sequel, Dragon’s Prize, is also available.
6. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Here’s the thing… My husband gives best book recommendations. Whatever he says I should read – I mostly adore. He does not read a lot, but he does have an exquisite book taste.
This was his recommendation. Slaughterhouse-Five might be a classic, but it is not that well known in my little part of the world. And after reading Cat’s Cradle a while back (again my husband’s recommendation), I was intrigued! Knowing that Slaughterhouse-5 deals with a heavily personalized subject of the horrific Dresden bombing, I wondered how this witty author of such a colorful book like Cat’s Cradle will approach it.
Well, I was mindblown and deeply humbled by this book. Anything I would say to describe or review this book would not be enough. Reading it was a unique reading experience, unlike anything else I’ve read in my life. It deals with some heavy subjects like PTSP and the futility of war and describes them in the most imaginative way possible.
Under the masterful influence of an artist such as Kurt Vonnegut, the reader will never be the same.
7. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
A Monsters Call is a very unique book. Masterfully written, deeply imaginative, painfully honest. Ness transformed every trope he put his hands on into something completely different, completely mesmerizing me in the process.
The story follows a boy whose mom is in the final stage of leukemia. Told from the perspective of the boy, the story follows his daily routine, where he is the mature boy who never complains about not having a typically careless childhood. Also, the boy has a strange friend – a monster tree from his backyard. The monster does not scare the boy. The boy has deeper fears of some worse monsters.
The thing is, when I tell you the plot like I just did, I bet you can figure out what the symbolism is here. But you are also probably wrong. The book does not care about cheap symbolism or predictive allegory. In many ways, it twists the tropes, the morals, the ideas we are expecting to hear. Childhood is over, and all the cheap morals are gone with it. The emotional end of the story was predictable, of course, but the true essence of the story is brutal, yet beautiful honesty about the world and how it works. It tells us that blind positivity is the easy way out, but not always the true way through our hardest moments.
8. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
This year was special to me for multiple reasons, and one of them was a book club project I started with a Croatian bookstore Hoću Knjigu. Our first meeting was supposed to happen just couple of days shy of Christmas, so this seemed like a really good pick for our first title. Also, the movie based on this book just hit the theatres.
I was nervous before reading it. I’m not really into kids books, I’m not really into sappy books and most of all – what if the book is overrated and is a bad pick for our very first opening book club meeting? Just imagine the stakes, imagine the debacle! It turns out – the book was perfect. It was sweet and funny, and wise, so well, well written and just a great fit for a relaxed book club discussion.
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?
Palacio has written an uplifting, moving and engaging book that covers universal subjects like acceptance, tolerance, friendship, and bravery. Also, it is written from different perspectives, which deepens the reading experience significantly. I really cannot recommend this book enough!
1. The Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
My year started with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I guess such start really did raise the bar for the entire year! Who knows, if I didn’t start with this masterpiece – I might not be happy with my best-of list like I am writing this article!
Considering I might be the last person in the world who still had to read this book in 2017, I don’t think I have much to add to the discussion about this literary sensation called “The Millenium Trilogy”. It blew me away. The artfulness in writing, the ideas, the complexity, the characters (Lisbeth is one of the most exciting and complex female heroines ever written, and Mikael Blomkvist is the sexiest male character, IMHO). Everything worked! And it only got better and bigger and more engaging as the series progressed.
2. The Passage Trilogy by Justin Cronin
One word comes to mind when describing this trilogy – EPIC. Almost 2000 pages of wonder!
Bigger than life story about a mysterious vampire virus pandemic that spread across the world and killed most of North America’s population. The rest turns into vicious and bloodthirsty vampires, while a minority of human population survives. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.
“With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.” (source: Goodreads)
The scope of this story is immense! It follows generations of heroes fighting the good fight against all odds and against an enemy that seems bigger than the world itself. Wonderfully written, deeply immersive – this is not the series you will soon forget.
Memoires and Biographies
1. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
A slight note – I did not yet finish this book. I am trying hard to finish it before the clock ticks midnight on the 31st, but that shouldn’t be an obstacle to put this book on the list since I already know this will be one of the most IMPORTANT books I will read in my entire life.
From the bestselling author of Bad Feminist comes a searingly honest memoir of food, weight, self-image, and learning how to feed your hunger while taking care of yourself. As the author often emphasizes – this is not a success story. Yet, it is such an honest and heartbreaking tale of a woman who had the bravery to speak about her deepest psychological, emotional and physical challenges.
And most importantly, Hunger is so well written. Beautifully written. Magically written. Every word has its place. Not a single letter is excess, and the whole book is quotable. This is a book I will keep reading through different stages of my life. It is that good and that important.
2. Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
I did not expect to love this book so much. A significant part of this memoir’s charm was the fact I listened to this book through Audible, and I’m actually inclined to recommend the audiobook version over the readable one.
The narrator is Trevor Noah himself and gosh can he read! Yes, I know, he wrote the stuff, but still, having him read his Southafrican growing up story in his South African accent was a delight and deeply immersive experience.
The story itself was incredible. Trevor was born as a crime. Black mother and a white dad – that was quite literary a crime in South Africa at that time. The book was full of humor at times and full of tragedy at others, and you do not have to be a fan of Noah’s to appreciate his life story.
4. As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As A Girl by John Colapinto
Again, my husband recommended me this book and he did not fail me. A heartbreaking tale of a boy who was raised as a girl, due to a freak accident during circumcision.
In 1967, after a twin baby boy suffered a botched circumcision, his family agreed to a radical treatment that would alter his gender. The case would become one of the most famous in modern medicine — and a total failure. As Nature Made Him tells the extraordinary story of David Reimer, who, when finally informed of his medical history, made the decision to live as a male. A macabre tale of medical arrogance, it is first and foremost a human drama of one man’s — and one family’s — amazing survival in the face of terrible odds. (Source: Goodreads)
It is hard for me to talk about this book. While the book does end on an optimistic note, it was shattering for me to learn that David Reimer took his own life in 2004, three years after the book was originally published. The life this man had to endure, the confusion, the sadness, the disappointment… And yet, I will forever recommend this book, if nothing else to help us understand the biology behind a currently very polarising subject.
Thank you for reading this list! Which books would you say were the best you have read in 2017? Let us know in the comments!