Best Books of the Year

Ya’ll I didn’t make it to 100 books this year.

I wanted to! I really wanted to and I got soooo close, but reading is something I can’t force. I’m either reading or I’m not and if I don’t want to read there’s nothing to be done for it but for me to wait it out. As we speak, I’m picking my way through James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small” which was on-sale at Amazon and that I read in my younger years so I might make 93 if I really go at it, but I probably won’t so you (and I) will have to be satisfied with 92 books.

My read list is sort of like a time capsule. It’s me, in a nutshell. I watch my interests ebb and flow. I watch the clusters of books that I read when a subject has interested me. I like looking back to see what books are memorable and which I hardly remember at all.

This year, 20 books received my top ranking of five starts which means I really loved the book and will recommend it to everyone who will listen to me talk about it. In going over the list, I’ve found that I’ve whittled it down to five books that I loved and found memorable as I reflect back.

 

Honorable Mention

The Last Survivors series by Susan Pfeffer, but with the caveat that I wouldn’t read the fourth (and currently last) book in the series.    It’s a disappointing finale and really doesn’t add anything to the story.    I re-read this series this year (and added “The Shade of the Moon”) and while the first three books really stand up, the last book just feels like Pfeffer was ready to be done with the whole damn thing.

5. “Finding Audrey” by Sophie Kinsella

I’m not sure what I expected when I picked up this book.  The fun thing about my reading this year is that my list was comprised up of “best of” lists and while I gave a quick glace at the synopsis to see if I’d be interested, I went into most of these books totally blind.  That meant that I got a lot of “duds” this year.  More than usual.  But, I wouldn’t have picked a Kinsella title on my own (because I over-read Chick Lit in 2003 and don’t really want to read it anymore).  But, this wasn’t Chick Lit.  Not really.  It was the deeply relateable tale of Audrey, trying to navigate through life as a depressed, anxious, agoraphobic teen.   It was a nice cross section, not only of an person like Audrey, but the toll that person takes on those around her.

Sure, there was a love interest, but he was secondary to Audrey struggling to find herself and learn to live life as an anxious, depressed person.

4. “American War” by Omar El Akkad

This one freaked me out a little bit because it felt almost prophetic.  As climate change wrecks havoc on the United States the country finally fractures enough for Civil War.   It is the story of Sarat Chestnut, six when the war breaks out, she must make her way through the sort of violence and scarcity we’ve only seen on television or read about happening in other places.    An America where there are work camps.   An America where one side bombs the other.  An America where Americans strap bombs on their bodies and blow up other Americans.  It was rich and sweeping and disturbing and haunting and well worth the read.

3. “Far Far Away” by Tom McNeal

I love fairy tales.  I went through a phase several years ago when I read as many fairy tale retellings I could get my hands on.   I spent a lot of time in the YA section where they appear to be the most popular and slogged through Wicked despite hating it because #retelling.  This lovely book isn’t really a retelling, but a lovely new fairy tale all on it’s own.  A boy named Jeremy Johnson Johnson lives in a tiny, idyllic town and he has a special friend; the ghost of Jakob Grimm.  Jakob knows how special Jeremy is and he has this feeling he has to save Jeremy from something.  Jakob isn’t sure what, but he feels like it’s a life of tedious poverty and sets out to make sure Jeremy gets a scholarship and gets the heck out of town, but in true fairy tale form, that’s not the problem.

The book’s opening line is ““What follows is a strange and careful tale of a boy, a girl and a ghost.”  I was hooked and I highly recommend this book, not only for adult readers, but for precocious young readers as well.

 

2. Originals by Adam Grant

I think half of this book is in my Evernote account where I copy highlighted Kindle book passages.  This book changed how I talk to my kids.  It confirmed ideas I held about myself and my loved ones and even went beyond that to confirm that people who use something other than Internet Explorer just make better employees.  Isn’t that crazy?

I’m not a big non-fiction reader, but two non-fiction books made it into my top 20 of the year, but I have to say that this book is still sitting with me every time I talk to my children.

1. “The Heart’s Invisible Furies” by  John Boyne

If you can imagine what it would be like to be gay in a very Irish Catholic Dublin in the first half of the 20th century, you have a pretty good idea of what this book is about.  It’s the story of Cyril Avery.  He’s adopted by a wealthy couple who never really see him as their own child.  They constantly introduce him as “not a real” Avery, which kind  gives you a little bit of a gut punch.  Cyril’s adoptive father is a swindler and his adoptive mother is a fairly famous romance author.  When Cyril is seven he falls in love with this neighbor, Julian.  Cyril does everything within his power to try and just be the straight, upstanding young man he’s expected to be, but that’s just impossible.

It’s a gorgeous time capsule of the 20th century and of Cyril.  I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

 

So, there you have it.  My top five of the year.    As the best of lists of 2017 are now being published, my hold list is about to fill up quickly.

Happy reading!