Isn’t it fun to look back on the books you’ve read in the past year? I always enjoy doing this, though I also prefer to wait until January to share my lists of favorites. Somehow the books I read around Christmas and New Year’s have a habit of shaking up those lists – and that certainly was the case again!
Out of the 56 fiction books I read in 2017, I’ve narrowed my favorites down to a top 10 of brand new books and a top 10 of previously published books. Plus, like with my Favorite Reads of 2016 post, I’ve added something fun for readers at the end of this post. 😉 So let’s dive in!
My 10 Favorite New Reads of 2017
1. The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth, Book #3 / Fantasy)
I don’t know how N.K. Jemisin does it book after book. The first book in her Broken Earth Trilogy, The Fifth Season, introduced a continent in social and geological upheaval and a female lead character who’s hardened, complex, and a stunning example of emotional strength. The second installment, The Obelisk Gate, expanded the reader’s knowledge of the Stillness and made me ache even more for Essun and the other characters. So what about the finale, The Stone Sky? It was just as raw and heartbreaking as I expected it to be, and then some. A brilliant conclusion to an overall brilliant trilogy.
2. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (The Winternight Trilogy, Book #1 / Fantasy)
Inspired by fairy tales and Russian folklore, Katharine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale was an early contender for this list when I read it in February. It’s a whimsical tale of a young girl who sees and communicate with household and nature spirits, and whose freedom and happiness are threatened when her stepmother and the new local priest attempt to change their village’s long-held beliefs. This is one of those rare fantasy novels where the reality (in this case, everyday life in a northern Russian village) is just as important as the magical elements. And with Arden’s lyrical prose and well-rounded characters, it’s hard not to be enchanted by this book as a whole.
3. The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo (Illustrated YA Fantasy Short Story Collection)
Like The Bear and the Nightingale, Leigh Bardugo’s The Language of Thorns is also inspired by fairy tales, but not in the way you’d expect. These myths and bits of folklore that tie in with Bardugo’s GrishaVerse novels (the Six of Crows Duology and the Grisha Trilogy) are more like hard lessons and warnings of the world’s darkness than a Disney interpretation of a Brothers Grimm story. You certainly don’t need to have read any of the GrishaVerse novels to appreciate this deliciously haunting collection, either. Instead, allow the allegorical quality of each tale, subtle yet fresh twists on familiar creatures and tropes, and elegantly vivid prose to draw you in and linger like ghosts in your heart. The lavish, intricately detailed illustrations help to turn this book into a truly breathtaking experience.
4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (YA Contemporary)
One of the most talked about YA novels of 2017, Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give deserves every bit of the praise it’s received. This debut novel follows a 16-year-old black girl who witnesses one of her childhood friends – a young black man who’s unarmed at the time – being shot and killed by a white police officer. This book is already stellar in terms of craft (especially the authenticity of the protagonist’s narrative voice), but what makes it truly unforgettable is its cultural relevance. The teenage perspective it offers on the Black Lives Matters movement and racial tensions in America is raw and eye-opening; and the ending stresses the unfairness and injustice of the outcome for the heroine and her loved ones, but also leaves room for hope that things will change someday.
5. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (Mythology)
As Neil Gaiman explains in its foreword, Norse Mythology is not a retelling of myths about Odin, Thor, Loki, and the other Norse gods and goddesses. Rather, he keeps to the originals as closely as possible; they just happen to be written in his signature prose, with a noted simplicity that reminds you of listening to stories told around a campfire. This made reading the myths about the Treasures of the Gods, the Mead of Poetry, Freya’s “unusual wedding,” and the bloodbath known as Ragnarok a truly enjoyable experience. So whether you’re already familiar with these myths or have yet to introduce yourself to them, this collection by one of the imaginative and prolific fantasy writers of our time is sure to inform and delight you.
6. Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab (Monsters of Verity, Book #2 / YA Urban Fantasy)
The sequel to This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab’s Our Dark Duet does more than finish spinning this dark, explosive urban tale of the thin line between monster and humanity. It has more of everything that made its predecessor so good: suspense, unique monsters, heart-stopping action, and reasons to care about (and be frightened for) the main characters. But it’s also more psychological, more twisted, and so intense that you’ll swear it’ll give you nightmares, yet you keep on reading anyways. So, yes, you’ve been warned – but don’t let that stop you from reading this series!
7. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab (Shades of Magic, Book #3 / Fantasy)
V.E. Schwab (the adult fantasy pseudonym for YA author Victoria Schwab) might as well have been my author of the year in 2017. On top of reading Our Dark Duet, I also read three of her adult novels, including this cinematic finale to her Shades of Magic Trilogy. At 600+ pages, A Conjuring of Light does feel a bit long in parts. But it’s so action-packed, vividly written, and laugh-out-loud funny, and the growth of its core characters (even the antagonist Holland) is more satisfying than words can express. I actually came close to tears at the end. That’s how much the last few chapters moved me.
8. Becoming Bonnie by Jenni L. Walsh (Bonnie, Book #1 / Historical Fiction)
Ever wonder what Bonnelyn Parker’s life might have been like before she met Clyde Barrows? (Yes, I mean the infamous duo of Bonnie & Clyde!) Jenni L. Walsh offers this envisioning in her spirited debut novel Becoming Bonnie. Using the historical events of the late 1920s (the end of the Prohibition Era and the early days of the Great Depression) to influence the setting and backstory, she shows the tragedies, triumphs, and tough choices that emboldened a wholesome good girl into a potential criminal. The regional slang and era-appropriate dialogue also flavor the narrative and make Bonnie’s “voice” feel truly authentic. I could almost hear her Southern twang in my ear as I was reading!
9. Winter of the Gods by Jordanna Max Brodsky (Olympus Bound, Book #2/ Urban Mythological Fantasy)
Whenever I read a second book in a series, I’m always wary of the dreaded sophomore slump. So I was thrilled this wasn’t the case with Jordanna Max Brodsky’s latest Olympus Bound book, especially since its predecessor The Immortals was one of my favorite reads of 2016. Winter of the Gods once again blends modern-day interpretations of Greek gods and goddesses with the thrill of a murder mystery – and this time, the deities themselves are the targets. And thanks to Brodsky’s unique balance of action, suspense, romance, and academic intelligence (ever heard of archaeoastronomy before?), the tension of the heightened stakes is so palpable, you’ll want to stay up late to finish this.
10. Skullsworn by Brian Staveley (Grimdark Fantasy)
2017 was the year I finally read critically acclaimed fantasy author Brian Staveley, and I’m glad I did! In addition to The Emperor’s Blades, the first book in his Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne Trilogy (which narrowly missed my next top 10 list below), I thoroughly enjoyed his latest book Skullsworn. This standalone set in the same world as the Unhewn Throne follows Pyrre, an acolyte of the God of Death, as she undergoes a trial to become a full-fledged priestess of her deity. What does this trial entail? Killing the seven people enumerated in a song – including someone she loves. It’s a brutal twist on the archetypal love story, but it’s also inventive, surprisingly endearing, and unforgettable thanks to its complex characters and its unique setting (an ancient city on a marshy delta).
My 10 Favorite Previously Published Reads of 2017
1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Post-Apocalyptic / Literary Fiction)
This was the book I brought with me to the Iceland Writers Retreat last April, and what an eerily appropriate choice it was. Station Eleven begins when an esteemed actor dies on stage in Toronto on the same night that a flu epidemic breaks out in the city. The story then moves back and forth through time, showing the twists of fate that connect all of the POV characters as well as a frighteningly believable depiction of a post-apocalyptic Earth. So as much as it’s a story about survival, it’s also a story about love, legacy, and nostalgia. I still remember reading the second half of Station Eleven on the flight home from Iceland, and thinking about what life would be like without electricity, telecommunications, or air travel as (coincidentally) the plane descended for its landing. The combined realization and physical sensation is not something I’ll forget anytime soon.
2. When The Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore (YA Magical Realism)
One of the most exquisitely written and compassionate books I’ve ever read. I expected the former, after reading Anne-Marie McLemore’s debut novel The Weight of Feathers. And while I certainly had a sense of the latter based on the blurb for When the Moon Was Ours, it didn’t truly hit me until I began reading the book. This is as much a story about family, secrets, and being freed by the truth as it is about love, gender, and identity. And thanks to the fantastical elements (roses growing out of Miel’s wrist, painted self-luminous moons that hang from tree branches, stained glass coffins, and rumors of young witches), it’s more breathtaking and surreal than I can adequately describe.
3. The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (YA Magical Realism)
Nova Ren Suma writes in the same genre as Anna-Marie McLemore, but her approach sends shivers through my body. The Walls Around Us is more like “paranormal realism,” unearthing the darkness and dangers of the world through specters, brushes with death, and nightmarish imagery. Its POVs switch between an ambitious but deeply insecure ballerina and a teenage convict in a juvenile detention center. And through their chapters, readers learn about a third girl who becomes the link to their fates and the key to the novel’s harrowing mysteries. Be prepared for an unsettling, mind-bending read when you pick this up – and for an evocatively written, expertly crafted story about secrets, guilt, and justice that will stay with you long after you finish it.
4. American Gods by Neil Gaiman (Dark Fantasy)
If 2017 hadn’t been the “Year of V.E. Schwab” for me, it would have been the “Year of Neil Gaiman” instead. Between Norse Mythology, this book, and the first season of its TV series adaptation, his work was ubiquitous in my life for months on end, and I didn’t mind one bit. Especially when it came to American Gods. Part horror-tinged mythopoeia, part social commentary, it re-imagines America with the deities of European, African, and other cultural lore coming to the country with our ancestors, then finding themselves in conflict with new gods representing America’s “values,” including power, commercialization, and narcissism. It’s weird, terrifying, and disturbing at times. But it’s also ambitious, thought-provoking, and undeniably beautiful.
5. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton (YA Magical Realism)
Aching and whimsical, Leslye Walton’s The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is a multi-generational story of three women and their unique experiences with love, loss, and family. It’s brimming with all the things I love about the magical realism genre: graceful prose, a focus on people and relationships, and spellbinding and symbolic fantastical elements that blur the line between the magical and the mundane. Oddly enough, when I read this book over the spring, it reminded me of how much I love magical realism yet how seldom I’d actually read the genre. So if I hadn’t read The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, I probably wouldn’t have read several other novels that made it to this list, either.
6. A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab (Shades of Magic, Book #2 / Fantasy)
Hey, look who it is again! 🙂 A Gathering of Shadows is the middle installment of V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic Trilogy, and boy it does NOT suffer from sophomore slump syndrome. It’s relentlessly witty, suspenseful, and exhilarating, with a magic competition of Olympic proportions, high-seas piracy, and adventures in the lands outside of Red London’s Maresh Empire. Plus, talk about the cliffhanger endings to end all cliffhanger endings. Good thing I plunged straight into A Conjuring of Light when I finished this – I doubt I would have been able to wait too long!
7. Vicious by V.E. Schwab (Villians, Book #1 / Superhero Fantasy)
Is this overkill? I swear I didn’t list all four Schwab books I read last year on purpose. They’re all that good, including Vicious, her twist on the superhero genre. And by “twist,” oh do I mean TWIST. This is a revenge tale at its heart, with deeply flawed main characters that truly see themselves as the hero of their story and the other as the villain. Equally complex side characters, witty dialogue, and a macabre “superpower system” (where people develop extraordinary abilities after a near-death experience) make this a truly inventive and entertaining read.
8. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (Science Fiction)
What if your dreams had the ability to alter reality? That’s the premise of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, a science fiction classic about a man whose dreams change the very nature of the world he lives in and whose psychiatrist manipulates those dreams to his advantage. Though some parts of the “science fiction” are now dated (the book was first published in 1971, and takes place in 2002), it’s still easy to re-imagine UKLG’s futuristic setting and focus on its themes of power and humanity’s self-destructiveness – themes are still relevant today. Plus, it ripples the brilliant wit and lyrical prose that I’ve come to expect from UKLG’s work.
9. Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb (Farseer Trilogy, Book #1 / Epic Fantasy)
Assassin’s Apprentice was one of those books that required more time and attention than usual from me before I fell in love with it. This fantasy classic by Robin Hobb follows young FitzChivalry Farseer, a prince’s bastard son who’s taken in by the royal family and then trained in espionage and poisonwork. It’s a more character-driven story than most fantasies, but that’s where its greatest strengths lie. So once I reached the end, I felt as though I’d not only followed Fitz on his boyhood adventures, but I’d also become friends him with and other characters. And since I already have Books #2 and #3, it looks like a Fareer Trilogy binge-finish may be in my near future!
10. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson (Fire and Thorns, Book #1 / YA Fantasy)
While I was disappointed by most of the YA fantasy I read in 2017, The Girl of Fire and Thorns was one of the exceptions. Here, the heroine isn’t a famous beauty or an aspiring knight or assassin. Instead, she’s a studious princess who struggles with her body image and is braver than she realizes. Between that, the subversion of the “chosen one” trope, and a richly realized world with Spanish and Mediterranean influences, this adventure was a much needed breath of fresh air. Here’s hoping I’ll have enough time to read its sequels Crown of Embers and The Bitter Kingdom during 2018!
Time for the (International) Double Giveaway!
Because book giveaways are always fun, right? 😉 So let’s repeat last year’s double giveaway with this year’s lists! Two (2) lucky winners will receive a book of their choice via The Book Depository: one winner for the Favorite New Reads of 2017, and one for the Favorite Previously Published Reads of 2017. (Click here to see if TBD ships to your country.)
This giveaway is international and ends at midnight Eastern on Tuesday, January 30th. You can enter the giveaway by clicking on the Rafflecopter link below, then follow the instructions to earn points for comments, social media, etc. Also, let me know in your comment which book you’d like to win from either or both lists. (You might want to list second and third choices, in case your first choice isn’t available.) The winners will have 48 hours to respond to my email and claim their prize.
What were some of your favorite reads of 2017, for both brand new books and previously published books? What are you most looking forward to reading this year?