best of 2017: books
I had such a good reading year. I met my goal of 400 books and I fell back in love with the fantasy genre. I read so many books with main characters of color, (especially female East Asian leads), books with positive neurodiversity and mental health representation, and books not afraid to conquer current topics that matter. These are all terrific things that I hope continue into 2018.
I don’t give out a lot of five star ratings and I do admit I’m a tough critic. Most books I read hover around the 3-star mark, which still signifies a book that I enjoyed. Five stars are rare and I gave out several this year, some of which are below.
In no particular order here are my absolute favorite books I read this past year, not all were released in 2017…
Dark Matter, Blake Crouch
“Are you happy with your life?” Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”
In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.
Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.” ~ Goodreads synopsis because it’s so hard to describe and this works the best 🙂
This book utterly blew my mind. I stayed up until 3am to finish and then just laid in my bed afterward thinking about life and the universe and other metaphysical things I’ve only really thought about in my college philosophy class. DARK MATTER is a smart thriller that makes you question life as you know it and I was on the edge of my seat (…or bed) until the end. Believe the hype, people. It’s real.
Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance, Ruth Emmie Lang
After his parents die in a freak storm, Weylyn Grey is brought up by a pack of wolves in Michigan (just go with it…) There in the woods, he befriends Mary, the daughter of the local butcher. Those around Weylyn notice his unique presence and his seemingly magical gifts. Throughout his life, Weylyn comes to grips with his “powers” and the need to stop running from his past.
This is one of my first forays into magical realism and “Beasts” hit all the targets. Yes, you definitely need to suspend your disbelief, but Weylyn (and his friends’) emotions are so real and human, it doesn’t feel like fantasy. I’m so happy that this book got chosen for a BOTM pick because it’s amazing. Don’t let the premise deter you, “Beasts” is so well written and Lang weaves a truly touching story.
Starfish, Akemi Dawn Bowman
Kiko has always felt between two worlds—she’s half Japanese and has never learned much about her father’s heritage and culture. She experiences discrimination from classmates who don’t want to date her because she’s biracial. Her intense social anxiety also makes it difficult for her to make friends and be a “typical” high school senior. Her home life includes two brothers, a narcissistic mother, and a remarried father who seems more devoted to his new family.
This book took my cold, little heart and squashed it into a pulp. I was a puddle of saltwater by the end with so many highlighted quotes on my iPad. I’m so happy that I have a published, hard copy now, and the cover is beautiful. And there’s a friends-to-lovers romance involved. All of my favorite things. I love this book with all my heart. I wish 10-year-old Kate would have had this book.
Autoboyography, Christina Lauren
While living in California, Tanner came out as bisexual and was completely supported by his family. When the family relocates back to his mother’s hometown of Provo, he is forced back into the closet due to the disapproving Mormons who populate the city (and state). That’s when he meets Sebastian, a mentor for his writing class and LDS dead set on following his church and going on his mission the following year.
This is one of those books where I finished the ARC the day before its release and I ran to Barnes and Noble the next day for a hard copy because it’s THAT good. AUTOBOYOGRAPHY repeatedly broke my heart, made me laugh, healed my soul, and then broke my heart again. You’re going to cry. You’re going to get mad. You’re going to feel extremely sad about the prejudice still in today’s society. But ultimately, you’re going to feel uplifted by the eventual self-acceptance.
Godsgrave, Jay Kristoff
GODSGRAVE continues the story of assassin, Mia Corvere. Mia’s father was executed for betraying the Republic and she goes on a mission to avenge him. Part of her plan includes infiltrating the training school, The Red Church, for the assassin squad, the Blades. This book introduces a gladiator-esque competition and the continuation of Mia’s plan to kill Scaeva and Duomo. The ending is so completely awesome, I actually squealed in my excitement.
Thunderhead, Neal Shusterman
Scythe, the first book in the Arc of a Scythe series, was one of my biggest surprises of the past year and I was so excited to read the sequel. And it was does NOT disappoint. If you’re not familiar with this world, we’re in the future where death has been conquered. Everyone has the potential of living forever, but of course, Earth can only handle so much. Enter scythes. “Chosen ones” who have the duty of gleaning people to keep the population levels at bay.
Having successfully escaped from the Winter Conclave, Rowan has become a vigilante under the name Scythe Lucifer, where he only gleans scythes who are abusing their title. Think a scythe version of Dexter, here. Citra has now become Scythe Anastasia, and chosen a unique way of performing her gleanings: giving the chosen victims a month’s notice to get their affairs in order. We also get a glimpse into the inner thoughts of the Thunderhead, an omniscient, omnipresent watchdog.
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Bryn Greenwood
Wavy is only eight when a motorcycle accident brings “thug” and ex-convict Kellen into her life. She’s the daughter of a meth dealer, and is raising her younger brother, Donal, by herself. Kellen, 13 years her senior, becomes the only form of stability and comfort in her life. The book spans 15 years and the evolving relationship between Kellen and Wavy.
I’m not going to lie. This book made me extremely uncomfortable. And it generally takes something major to upset me like this. This book is twisted. It’s disturbing. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. It took me a little longer to read because I had to keep putting it down and collecting my thoughts. It is truly SO good, but it’s a thinker. It’ll stick with you long after you close. Wavy and Kellen are not your conventional romantic leads. Kellen is not a rich, handsome hunk with defined abs and a secret sex fetish. Wavy isn’t your naive ingenue who blindly dives into relationships. They’re both heavily broken individuals who find solace in each other.
Forbidden, Tabitha Suzuma
Growing up in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic mother, Lochan and Maya Whiteley have been forced to grow up quickly and be stand-in parents for their three younger siblings. Lochan and Maya’s relationship develops to something more than just brother-and-sisterly and they continue to fight their feelings because they know it’s “wrong.”
This book broke my heart. I read it in one night and was reduced to a weeping pile of salt water. When I try to explain this book to people I can see the judgment in their eyes. Ok, I get it. For a topic that is so taboo, Lochan and Maya’s evolving relationship is so respectfully well done. If you can leave your judgments at the door for this one, I highly recommend FORBIDDEN.
**Content warning: Self-harm
Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo
My reintroduction into fantasy lit was led by this book. After reading so many rave reviews and seeing how beautiful the book design is, I picked this up and immediately fell in love. I also was introduced to one of my many book boyfriends, the one-the only- Mr. Kaz Brekker ( who I even forgive for having the dreaded undercut hair-do).
SIX OF CROWS follows six misfits through the island nation of Ravka as they attempt to pull off the ultimate heist. Joining ringleader Kaz are Nina, Jesper, Wylan, Matthias, and Inej. Racial diversity. LGBTQIA+ rep. The Crows are awesome.
I have become a lifelong fan of Bardugo and I want more of the Grishaverse in general, but particularly from the Crows because I need Kaz to TELL INEJ HOW HE FEELS GODDAMNIT. The second book in the duology, CROOKED KINGDOM, is also amazing and these books led me down the fantasy rabbit hole and I’m very happy they did.
The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza, Shaun David Hutchinson
Elena Mendoza is the first human scientifically confirmed to have been born by parthenogenesis; in other words, she is the product of a virgin birth. After she miraculously saves her longtime crush from a fatal bullet wound, Elena discovers she has the power to heal and she must use her power, or else the world will end. But as Elena reluctantly begins healing those afflicted, people begin around the world begin getting raptured in a bright light.
I loved this book so much. It was funny, poignant, and had so much representation.
Also, a certain someone in a big White House gets raptured and it’s highly satisfying
Clockwork Princess, Cassandra Clare
Clare is another author whose catalog I burned through in 2017. It all stemmed from my love for the show “Shadowhunters” and I wanted to understand more what was going on. CLOCKWORK PRINCESS is the final novel in the prequel series to The Mortal Instruments: The Infernal Devices.
The prequel series follows Tessa Gray in 18th century London and her adventures at the London Institute. Tessa has been discovering her downworlder ability of being able to morph into other people—making her a target. CLOCKWORK PRINCESS details the battle between the Shadowhunters and metal soldiers known as the “infernal devices.” Oh, and Tessa’s ongoing love triangle with besties Will and Jem.
I wasn’t expecting to love this series as much as I did and I cried into my teddy bear. Things from “Shadowhunters,” like Brother Zachariah make more sense now. But no spoilers, I promise. I also remain firmly on Team Jem and I claim him as my parabatai (sorry Will), but that’s another post.
Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough
Louise meets David at a bar and later comes to learn he’s her new boss. Her married boss. She ends up befriending Adele, his wife and learns the secrets behind their seemingly perfect relationship.
This was my February selection from Book of the Month and it’s one of my favorite picks from them this year. The bookmark that came with it said, “You think you know the ending, but you don’t. I promise.” And I now promise you, it’s a doozy. I figured out the first twist and was so proud of myself and then the immediate swerve knocked me on my ass. I stayed up until 3 on a work night to finish this baby and I have no regrets.
It Ends With Us, Colleen Hoover
After witnessing the abusive relationship between parents, Lily resolves to never end up like her mother. She’s so happy when she meets neurosurgeon Ryle: Lily gets her fairytale relationship and marriage and it’s all too good to be true. That’s when things go south. Also in her orbit is the return of ex-boyfriend, Atlas, who is all too aware of her mother’s history.
Don’t you love when a book reaches down and strangles your soul? Because that’s exactly what this book did to me. Another read-in-a-day, bawled-my-eyes-out novel. I read a lot of CoHo in 2017. And, yes, every single one of them made me cry, but IT ENDS WITH US is still my fave.
**Content warning: Relationship abuse
A Conjuring of Light, V.E. Schwab
In the thrilling conclusion to V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy, all your favorites are back in the epic battle for stability between the four parallel worlds, as Black London’s shadow king, Osaron, invades the other kingdoms. The book takes off immediately after the second book’s jaw-dropping cliffhanger and the action just does not stop for over 600 pages. Schwab’s writing is on point, her characters are vividly and consistently developed, and in terms of satisfying endings, Schwab more than delivers in her usual flawless fashion.
This was one my picks for Book Riot’s Best Books of 2017, and I am honored to have been the one to blurb it for the round-up.
This Darkness Mine, Mindy McGinnis
I really can’t say much about the plot of this book without giving away major twists, but it includes parasitic twins, a phenomenon that has exceptionally interested me after watching The Unborn a while ago.
Sasha is your stereotypical good girl: first chair clarinet, excellent student, perfect boyfriend, etc. Then things start happening that she can’t explain: a classmate, Isaac, claims to know her intimately, she has thoughts that definitely aren’t hers… and whatever you think the ending is, you’re wrong. I devoured “This Darkness Mine” in a few hours. This book is so wonderfully weird, creepy, and completely effed up, I loved it.
**Content warning: It’s graphic. Just…GRAPHIC.
The Serpent King, Jeff Zentner
Our main character, Dill, is the only son of a traditional Pentecostal minister who forces him to handle large poisonous snakes as part of their faith. Their family has been ostracized from the community for their extreme beliefs and even more so after his father is revealed to be in possession of child pornography. Dill finds solace in his friendship with Lydia and Travis, both equally as lost and cast aside as him. This book chronicles their senior year.
This book has one of my favorite book quotes from this year, “If you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things.” — and this sums up this book perfectly. I loved this so much.
A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara
When your friends tell you that this is the most depressing book you’ll ever read, believe them. They’re being completely honest. A LITTLE LIFE chronicles the lives of four friends, Willem, JB, Malcolm, and Jude, from college to old age. At the center is Jude, whose horrific past you uncover throughout the 800+ pages of misery and tears. There’s a point when I actually was doubting the believability of the book. Is it really possible that every single terrible thing you can think of happened to Jude before his 60th birthday? Regardless, Yanagihara takes exceedingly difficult subject matter and makes it readable and heart-wrenching. The 816 pages fly by.
Oh, and don’t be fooled by the section, “The Happy Years.” Spoiler: They’re NOT happy. (the cover is actually a picture of me reading that section)
**Content warnings: Relationship abuse, childhood abuse, suicidal thoughts, graphic self-harm, and rape.
Honorable Mentions: History Is All You Left Me, The Hating Game, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Renegades, Little Fires Everywhere