Favourite Books of 2017

2017 was a brilliant year for me in reading terms, with only a few books that I didn’t give four or five stars. Still, there were a few that still shone out from the rest, so these are my Top 10 favourite books I read in 2017. First of all though, honourable mentions go to The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson, A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas, and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. All three fantasy books were definitely some of my favourites read this year, two of which were final instalments of trilogies I adored.

Moving on to the top 10, this ordering of the list is subject to change many times due to my inability to be decisive when it comes to things I love and choosing between them, as really there’s no comparing a few of them. Can anyone truly say that their adoration of an epic fantasy book is in any way comparable to a piece of emotive literary fiction that had their heart clenched within its grip from start to finish? I get very different versions of enjoyment and entertainment from different genres, so as much as I want to list my top three fantasy, top three fiction, top three non-fiction and so on, I’m just going to stick them in an order that works for me at this moment in time.

Who knew a top 10 needed such a preamble. ONTO THE LIST.

10. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I loved reading this book, but I’ve grown to love it even more since finishing it and discussing it with others. There was a lot of ‘hype’ and anticipation going into it, which is probably why I was so conflicted about my feelings of it, as although I thought it a brilliant piece of fiction it didn’t change my whole world. Yet, I admit, since discussing its nuances and clever points with friends, I can say that it deserves all of the praise it receives.

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9. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

Perhaps one of my favourite fantasy authors, the Darker Shades of Magic trilogy was the first book of Schwab’s that I picked up. I finished the first two in as many days, and before the third was released I read several of her other books and equally adored them, so to finish the trilogy that started my love for this author was bittersweet. I’m so happy with how it ended, and can’t wait for what this author will bring in 2018.

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8. The Northern Lights series by Philip Pullman

Maybe cheating a little, but I’m listing the whole Northern Lights series as my number 8 for 2017. I read the whole series last year, a feat I’m rather proud of, and plan to read The Book of Dust sometime this year. The first instalment was my first read of 2017, and definitely set the standard for the books that I read afterwards. A brilliant series, one that took me by complete surprise, and I’m so grateful that I finally got a chance to read it for myself.

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7. Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest

I’ve been thinking about reading more poetry since finishing university, and after a friend highly recommended Kate Tempest I was so glad that a) my friend has good taste and b) Kate Tempest exists. A beautiful collection, one that is inspiring me to read more and more poetry (recommendations are more than welcome please and thank you).

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6. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Damn, it’s hard to pick between your favourite reads – as if they’re all children who have fulfilled your every wish. The Secret History is a book that everyone and their mothers have been badgering at me to read and, finally, I can say that I fully understand why. Prose so eloquent and rich that I felt like I had to reread sentences, because I was pretty certain that just reading  them once wouldn’t be enough to fully appreciate the complexity of graceful talent that exists within every one.

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5. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Ah, Pachinko, you still make my heart ache. Whilst it wasn’t as gutting and soul-destroying as A Little Life (in a good way), it was still emotive enough to have me texting friends at all hours with updates of where I was for emotional support. A beautiful piece of fiction, and a family-saga the likes of which I’ve never enjoyed more.

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4. This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

Perhaps one of the most important pieces of non-fiction to read in 2017, and I hope that it’s one that everyone does read. Charming, hilarious, and moving, this has you crying from laughter one moment and just all out crying from despair the next. Brilliantly told, and its message is unmistakable; we need to help our NHS, and we need to do it now.

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3. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Ah, the top three. What a wonderful place to be – and in third Laini Taylor has more than earned her spot, her Strange the Dreamer winning my heart within mere pages. It was fantasy the likes of which I can’t ever remember reading before, the type that would make your heart feel full and send your spirit soaring. Strange the Dreamer felt like it was written just for me, for all those dreamers and book-lovers in the world who find solace within the written word and see stories and adventures where other people would see lines on pages. After reading this book, I bought the whole of her previously written trilogy without even reading the blurb of it, knowing that this author would not fail me – and having just finished the second in the series this afternoon, I’m pleased to say that this statement holds true.

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2. Insomniac City by Bill Hayes

I don’t think I’ve stopped talking about this book since I finished it. I also have continued to recycle the same sentences when trying to describe it, telling everyone that it is a love letter to New York and captures Hayes’ life with partner Oliver Sacks. It’s filled with stories of his work as a photographer and the people he meets, and the love story between him and Sacks pretty much had me in a constant state of vulnerability and warring emotions as I tried not to descend into sobs. Truly beautiful, and it’s a book that has sparked a need inside me to read more and more non-fiction – I honestly feel like I owe so much to this one book. An incredible writer without doubt, and there is no reason that I could think of as to why someone wouldn’t like this book.

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And, finally, my number one.

1. Circe by Madeline Miller

This book hasn’t even been published yet, but it still remains as my favourite read of 2017. The Song of Achilles holds its spot at the top of my all-time favourite reads, and Circe joins it in the ranks. It’s everything I want from a book, with classical inspiration, beautiful prose, and characters that make me want to fling myself into the narrative just so I can spend some time in their company. Miller’s use of language is skilled and seemingly effortless, and the Classicist within me is so grateful and overjoyed to have her writing such excellent fiction based off of myths. She manages to rewrite them in ways that make them seem fresh and new, without changing anything fixed – she merely adds elements that, if you didn’t know any better, Homer must have just left out. She brings new life to these old characters, and even though you know how their stories end she still manages to keep you hooked, and also cruelly gives you a glimmer of hope that tragedy will not come their way. Just superb.

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And that, reader, is my list of my top 10 reads of 2017. Let me know your favourites and what you’ve read, or if you agree with any of my favourites. Go forth, read widely and diversely, and report back. I personally hope to gain even more from what I read in 2018, from reading more non-fiction to reading more from POC authors. It’s very apparent that I have hardly any POC authors near the top of my list, which definitely means that I’m not reading enough by them. If anything, reading opens up the world in a way that nothing else can, and it’s very clear that if I only read white authors, that’s the only view from which I’ll be able to understand the world around me – and I’m a girl who likes her varied vantage points.

So, once again, let’s smash 2018.

 

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September Reading Wrap Up

This year is just flying by, so much so that I can barely keep up, but nevertheless there is always time for reading. September was very good in terms of the quality of books that I read, because out of the three that I did read I’m certain that two of them are going to make my list for top ten books of this year.

The first book that I read was Circe by Madeline Miller, and I’m still reeling from how good that book was. The Song of Achilles is one of my all-time favourite books, so much so that I included it within my dissertation, which of course meant that I couldn’t wait to read Circe. Thanks to my job and brilliant colleagues, I managed to get a proof of Circe which doesn’t get released until 2018. Miller has definitely earned her spot as one of my all-time favourite authors, and I can’t help but pray that she continues to write her beautiful stories. Circe is a tale of love, family, friendship, and the lack of all three. It demonstrates the power of words and will, the importance of independence and self-worth, and the threads that tie the present day to the classics. Miller has managed once more to take a well known tale and reword it, forging a new legend without denying the old.

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And clearly that wasn’t enough Classics for me, as I followed that up by reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt. If you haven’t already seen it, I wrote a full review for it a couple days ago (which you can find here). Overall, it was yet another fantastically written book by a brilliant author, one that I hope to read more of soon.

Which brings me to the final book that I read – or rather, finished reading – this month which was The Feminine Mystique by Better Friedan. This was a non-fiction pick for the Feminist Book Club that I am a part of, and whilst I think it is important and very good for what it is, I did struggle with keeping up my enthusiasm for reading it, especially with the sections that are extremely dated. Certain comments made on gender and homosexuality meant that I was put off by a book that played a huge part in female empowerment, especially in the workplace and outside the home, which definitely affected my reading of it.

And that concludes my very short update on my reading for last month. I’ve got some exciting things lined up for October, and I’m already well into an extremely good book, so I can’t wait to see where it takes me. In terms of challenges, Betty Friedan ticked off the ‘feminist book cover to cover’, and Circe ticked off ‘a blue cover’. I decided to use The Secret History once again for ‘a friend’s favourite book’ as this was a book that literally everyone had recommended to me and said that they’d love.

  1. ***4 ‘Classics’
  2. *A Man Booker nominee
  3. **A Baileys nominee
  4. **A Feminist Book cover to cover
  5. ***‘A Blue Cover’
  6. *A Graphic Novel
  7. A Horror Book
  8. ***Finish a series you’ve started
  9. ***A friend’s favourite book
  10. **Poetry book
  11. *Book over 500 pages
  12. *Book under 150 pages
  13. Book with a character with your name
  14. *An autobiography
  15. **A play
  16. ***A book from your TBR
  17. *******Book published in 2017

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

It really goes to show that sometimes when your friends recommend you something, it ends up being one of the best things you’ve read in a long while – and also helps to increase your trust in your friends’ tastes. The Secret History by Donna Tartt is one of those books for me, as almost everyone at work – and a few outside of work – have told me for ages that I would adore it. Every time I mentioned that I hadn’t read it, I would receive a gasp from my audience which would be immediately followed by something along the lines of ‘But you have to read it, you’re going to love it’. They were right.

*This is a spoiler free review*

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Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

This book is narrated by Richard, a young man from California who moves to a university/college to study Classics (and this is where I do a mini dance for the glory of study Classics, but a word of warning: if you study Classics you will not do what these students do. Or at least I bloody well hope not). On arrival at his new college, he discovers that there is an elite group of students who study with one particular teacher, who is known for refusing to take on anyone else. When Richard manages to be accepted into the fold, he discovers that there are many secrets within this group, ones that he is desperate to discover.

What is immediately enticing about this book is that it does not start with Richard moving to this new school. No, instead this book starts with the murder of one of these students, a young man nicknamed Bunny, at the hands of his classmates. Now before you start declaring me as your spoiler enemy, relax – this is said on the blurb and on the opening page. You go into this book knowing that somehow, and for some reason, Richard and these other elite students decide to murder Bunny. You only get a few pages in this opening before it jumps back to when Richard joins the college, and he narrates from some distant time that you’re not exactly aware of. I worried that I would grow bored of a book knowing this climax, but I was entirely wrong. There are so many other events that take place, and experiencing a book knowing that one of the main characters will be murdered is unlike any other. You’re constantly trying to connect the dots to various secrets and see how they all add up, and you’re questioning every tiny detail. I was desperate to keep reading only so I could find out what was going on, and once you know the secrets it feels like you as a reader are included in this elitist group.

I enjoyed the Classics references for obvious reasons, and all I can say is that after reading several books recently that made me feel slightly stupid for not getting the references (looking at you Chris Kraus), I was overjoyed to understand the finer details of this book. You grow to love these strange characters, and equally fall out of love with them. Tartt’s writing is beautiful and elegant, her sentences almost like poetry at times with the lyrical, whimsical nature. Storytelling at its finest, and it has to be when you know about Bunny’s murder from the get-go.

Overall, this book was an easy five stars for me. I’d recommend it to everyone, especially classics lovers, as it blends literary fiction with murder mystery with thriller. Just brilliant.