2017: A Year in Books

Welcome to my sixth annual book review. This year was a little bit different because the first quarter was mostly books geared specifically for a trip to Eastern Europe and I read some things that I normally would not have chosen. This was also the year that I allowed myself not to feel forced to finish books that I did not enjoy, this list includes a few that I read enough of to form an opinion but I did not read to the end.

Without further ado:

Wonder, by R.J. Placio

I read this book because I needed to discuss it during a diversity book discussion. I did not love it, I know it was super popular but I found it trite and formulaic.

Euphoria, by Lily King

I loved this book, it made me want to be an anthropologist and run away to lead a completely different life than the one I have.

A Cup of Coffee with my Interrogator, by Ludvik Vaculik, Vaclav Havel and George Theiner

This was a book I ordered special to learn about the Velvet Revolution in Prague. This wasn’t a topic I was familiar with at all but  learned quite a deal about through this slim manifesto.

The Book of Clouds, by Chloe Aridjis

I chose this book because I wanted to know what Berlin was like after the fall of communism. This book provided a good feel and context of what it was like to make a life in the newly built city where you have to acknowledge the past but not get stuck in it. I liked it very much.

Dreseden: February 13, 1945, by Frederick Taylor

In preparation for visiting Dresden I wanted to learn more about its history and more specifically about the bombing that happened at the end of WWII.  This book did not disappoint, it was an excellently researched and comprehensive breakdown of not only what happened in February of 1945 but of the events leading up to it and the aftermath proceeding it. A great option for anyone wanting to learn more about WWII.

A Cultural History of Prague, by Richard D. E. Burton

More of a textbook and reference resource, I did not read this book cover to cover but I did take it to the Czech Republic with me and used it several times to learn about specific things.

In the Garden of Beats, by Erik Larson

This was an EXCELLENT read about the American ambassador to Germany at the beginning of WWII, its a remarkable story that everyone should read.

Necessary Errors, by Caleb Crain

An obscure and quiet novel about young Americans teaching English in Prague directly after the fall of the Iron Curtain. I really enjoyed this book, it provided a glimpse into an unusual time in history.

Time’s Magpie, by Myla Golderg

A must read for anyone visiting Prague. Myla lived in Prague for several years and lists many out of the way  treasures the city has to offer. I had this book in my hand during my entire stay in the city.

Iron Curtain, by Anne Applebaum

I ordered this book on my way home from Germany because I realized I needed to understand more about what happened when WWII was over. This books offers a thorough and comprehensive education on the subject. Every high school student should have to read this book.

The Metamorphosis and Other Stories, by Franz Kafka

Another book I ordered on my way home from Eurpoe, I felt like it was a something I was obligated to read having been in Kafka’s old stomping ground. And I must admit I really like the metamorphosis, it surprised me but it was the only story in this book that I read, none of the others could hold my interest.

Prague Winter, by Madeline Albright

Who knew Madelie Albringht spent the early part of her childhood in Prague? When I discovered that this book existed I got really excited but is was less a memoir of her impression of the city than it was a history of the region. I liked it but I didn’t finish it after already researching a lot of this topic in other books.

The Zookeepers Wife, by Diane Ackerman

The last of my WWII books, this was a well written story of an unsung hero. I really liked this book.

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

Switching topics I read this because my Mother left it at my house. I do not usually enjoy murder mysteries but this was so fast paced and quick that I finished it before I could dislike it.

Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance

I read this on the recommendation of a friend and while I did not dislike (I thought it was a compelling story) I did not like the way that Vance tried to use his own very unique story to try and tippify an entire culture of people.

Make ‘Em Laugh, by Debbie Reynolds

I picked this up at a library sale and felt like it was just the thing to add some levity to my book list, it was a fun read even if many of her references went over my head. In the end it was bittersweet though because right after I finished this book both she and Carrie died.

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

This was a great book and it’s no wonder that it won the Pulitzer, introspective and enjoyable.

Talking as Fast as I Can, by Lauren Graham

A great read for any Gilmore Girl fans, this book is Lauren’s memoirs of shooting the show and the experiences she had while doing so. I bought this at the airport, it was a fun travel read.

Assassin’s Fate, by Robin Hobb

I am a HUGE and long-time fan of Robin Hobb and anxiously waited over a year for this third book and conclusion to the latestest Farseer trilogy. I loved it (as I have with all of her Fitz books) and even though she killed off one of my all time favorite charterers she did leave a door open to revisit him again. I am now anxiously awaiting whatever she decides to do next.

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson

This was another library sale find which I enjoyed, of course I read it before I discovered that it might not all have been true. That aside it helped me to understand the current political/cultural climate in Pakistan better and for that reason I am glad that I picked it up.

Will Not Attend, by Adam Resnick

Trying to lighten things up after Three Cups of tea I picked this up on a friend’s recommendation and I thought it was good, not great but a nice departure from the Middle East.

Someday, Someday Maybe, by Lauren Graham

I didn’t even know that Lauren Graham had written a novel until I read her memoir earlier in the year. Once I found out, I ordered it immediately and I really liked it. I thought it was well written and a fun coming of age novel of a New York actress, it had just enough of her story mixed with fiction to make it fun.

Under The Tuscan Sun, by Francis Mayes

I thought this book was just okay, it made me want to visit Italy but I don’t understand all of the hype it generated.

Housekeeping, by  Marilynne Robinson

I ordered this book because I liked Gilead so much that I wanted to try something else from her. But I did not love this book, I didn’t really even like it that much.

Are you there Vodka? It’s me Chelsea, by Cheslea Handler

Being almost completly unfamiliar with Chelsea Handler I picked up this book on a fluke from a library sale and became and instant fan, I even wrote her a letter, you can read it here

Night Road, by Kristin Hannah

I ordered this book because I loved The Nightingale so much. This was another excellent book by her but oh so very sad. I didn’t even know what it was about before I started it on a cross country plane ride, I literally cried for 5 hours straight.

Annihilation, by Jeff Vandermeer

This was the first in a trilogy that I read back to back. This book was by far the best of the three but the entire series really filled a dystopian void that I had in my reading list.

Authority, by Jeff Vandermeer

Book two, I hear they are going to make a movie of these books – they are so weird that I have no idea how that could possibly happen.

Acceptance, by Jeff Vandermeer

The end of the trilogy, this was by far my least favorite of the three books. Maybe the movie ending will be different?

Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me, by Chelsea Handler

I picked this up with her other book at the sale library sale, I enjoyed it but it was not the book I was expecting it to be.

Made In America, by Bill Bryson

In typical Bryson fashion this book was dense and informative, I didn’t get through the entire thing but what I did read was fascinating.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris

I really like this book, it was different than anything else he has written and I’m super glad that no turtles were harmed.

The Irresistible Henry House, by Lisa Grunwald

This book sat in my TBR piles for YEARS, I tried picking it up two or three times and couldn’t get in to it. I finally forced myself to give it one last chance and I am gad that I did. The book surprised me and went in a direction I wast expecting, in the end I really liked it and it makes me wonder what other good books I got rid of because I wasn’t in the right mood when I tried to read them.

Choices, By Mary Lee Settle

The only reason I read this book is because I finished Henry House on the train coming in to work and I was desperate to find something quickly. This book was hidden in a book exchange that we were hosting and I almost passed it by. I was SO glad that I grabbed it though, it was officially the best book of 2017, I loved it.

Packing for Mars, by Mary Roach

I love Mary Roach and this book was great, a well researched look into the physical and psychological demands of what it takes to be an astronaut. In full disclosure I didn’t finish this book but I still feel very well informed.

The Known World, by Edward Jones

Another top book of the year, this was an excellent book and a history I hadn’t read about before. It’s a novel of black slave owners which I only sort of knew happened.

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng

Another super popular book I didn’t like very much. This book started out really good but there was a huge plot hole in the middle that I simply could not overlook, in the end I didn’t believe the characters or their actions.

The View From the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaimen

I am a big Neil Gaimen fan and was excited when I discovered this book although I would say I only really enjoyed about half of it, there were too many obscure references to people and books that I was unfamiliar with to really get in to it.

A Man Called Ove, by Frederick Backman

Picked this up in the airport as I was finishing the Gaimen book, I both liked and disliked it, I thought the writing style was fun and different but I also thought that 75% of the book was spent developing a very specific character who dissolved in the end, I did not care for the ending.

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, by Evan Roskos

I loved  this book, I thought it was a rare gem, as entertaining as teenage depression could be, I think it would be a great book for kids struggling with self identity.

A Million Open Doors, by John Barnes

Uuugh… I really just wanted one good sci-fi book this year, this was not it. I really tried to like this book – I felt there was a great foundation for a good story but it was so male oriented and misogynistic that I felt offended as a woman and had to give up about half way in.

Mendicino (and other stories),by Ann Packer

I don’t always enjoy essays but I this was an exception, I thought it was very good. I thought all of the stories included where well developed and intriguing.

Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari

I picked this up at the airport and it was not what I was expecting, I thought it would be funny essays of his but instead it was a pretty well researched look at how people find, date, marry, divorce and find love in today’s culture. It was interesting but not that relevant to me right now.

Back When We Were Grownups, by Ann Tyler

A sweet little novel, I enjoyed this book and was happy that this was what I ended the year reading.





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