Piggy backing on my wildly popular annual book review my sister
forced politely asked me to please publish her 2017 book list and since I’m a selfless giver with little going on after 9:00pm I said “of course!”. Also, I felt like I owed her something for all nagging about The Goldfinch.
Below are all of her books from the past year, she broke them into categories instead of going chronologically (it’ a crazy world my friends!). Here you go:
The Top Three
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
The popular description for this book is a “mystery within a mystery” which doesn’t quite do this book justice. This was a delicious bundle of cleverness that thoroughly entertained me with inventive puzzles. Horowitz also writes for the British TV Midsomer murders and you will find some of that flavor here. Overall, this was my favorite book of 2017.
Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta
An engaging coming-of-middle-age novel that cleverly incorporated numerous contemporary issues. I would highly recommend this charming book (assuming you don’t mind the exploration of sexuality). This was a close second on my favorite books of 2017.
A Single Spy by William Christie
I read a lot of genre fiction – I am picky about my genre books because I have been reading long enough that I get bored if they are too formulaic, will reject them if they are too far-fetched, etc. This is one of the best spy novels I have read in a long time. Set primarily In Russia and Germany just before and during WWII, the protagonist has one of the most well-developed senses of self-preservation I have ever encountered. This was number three for 2017.
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Salvage the Bones was a literary gem that I would highly recommend. It is set in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina and told from the viewpoint of an African American teenage girl whose family lives in poverty. One of the first books I read in 2017 – put this in your TBR pile.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
A graphic novel that recounts the events of the Iranian Revolution and the Iran/Iraq war from the perspective of a teenage Iranian girl. It is a quick but utterly captivating read. I read this because I had to read a graphic novel for Book Bingo but I am really glad I was introduced to this book. I am looking forward to reading the sequel.
Among the Russians by Colin Thubron
I suffer from wanderlust. When I am not traveling, I like to read travel books. Sometimes, as with this book, I read travel books while traveling. If you are old enough to remember the Cold War, pick up this book about the author’s solo car trip through Soviet-era Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
Book Lust to Go by Nancy Pearl
I like reading about books – reviews, blogs, lists, challenges, you name it — almost as much as I like reading the books themselves. This is a book that attempts to survey books about, and set in, various locales – I found it in the travel section but it isn’t really a travel book. Overall, I liked this book and have identified a number of books to add to my TBR pile. However, any list is usually incomplete, and this is no exception. I could go on at length about the books she missed. My main issues with this book though were 1) inconsistency (why include Michael Connelly in the LA section but not James Lee Burke in the NOLA section or why include Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series in Rome but leave The Thornbirds out of Australia ?!?); 2) personal bias, Pearl is clearly a mystery lover and never missed a chance to flog her favorite mystery series, in doing this though, she left out a lot of actual travel books; 3) questionable organization – for example, she has three separate sections on boat travel – and separate sections on walking and hiking. Things like this made me shake my head.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
This book was a recommendation from both my sister and a friend about four years ago. I subsequently borrowed the book from my sister and it languished in my TBR pile because it is really long. It might have languished indefinitely but my sister placed an embargo on all future book lending until I read this book. I am glad I finally read it – it was very good – but still a bit fatiguing. My main quibble was with the end. The author takes you on this all-consuming journey with the characters and then it feels like she, herself, got tired of writing and dashed of an ending that was on par with the crappy way I would wrap up college and law school essays. I stuck with this for 775 pages – I deserved a better ending.
Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
I usually read at least a couple of YA novels every year. This one was fun – two girls, disguised as boys, traveling west. Don’t give up on YA once you become an adult. There are a lot of good entries in this category.
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Reilly
WWII historical fictions novels have become a prolific genre in the past couple of years. I think there are better entries in this category (All the Light You Cannot See, Code Name Verity (an exceptionally good YA novel) but I liked this one because it was based on a true story. If you like this genre or want to try it out, read it, if not give it a pass.
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
Another female spies of WWII novel. This one alternates between after and during the war. It was ok, not great – it felt derivative of other works and not particularly authentic. The end annoyed me. Read it only if you love the genre.
Camino Island by John Grisham
I am not a huge Grisham fan. I can tolerate his legal novels but I don’t love them. I generally try not to read novels with lawyers, they annoy me (see Lincoln Lawyer exception below). This being a non-legal novel, and one that involved a mystery about books, I decided to give it a chance. Overall, not a bad beach or commuting on the train read but not one I would rave about. As usual, I didn’t like Grisham’s characters much but he does write an entertaining mystery.
In This Grave Hour (A Maisie Dobbs novel) Jacquelyn Winspear
I have enjoyed this series since the first book and never wavered. Masie is an excellent protagonist. If you haven’t read this series, it is set in and around London beginning pre-WWI and this latest installment brings us up to the outbreak of WWII. Winspear has done a nice job of developing and growing Maisie over the years. You can read these books independently, but I would recommend starting at the beginning.
Knife Creek by Paul Doiron
This is a series that follows Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch. Doiron is the former Editor of Down East magazine. He is an excellent writer but the first book in this series was clearly a first-effort for him as a novelist. Doiron’s novel writing has become more polished and this latest installment was very good. Read these novels if you like books about Maine and/or game wardens. Start at the beginning but don’t give up after the first book – they get better.
Deep Freeze by John Sanford.
Sanford is prolific – he writes the Prey series with Davenport, which I don’t read, and has also spun off another series with Virgil Flowers. Virgil is one of my literary boyfriends. Sanford could write anything about Virgil and I would read it. (Yes, I know that Virgil shows up in a minor way in the Prey books but that is just too much commitment :). This latest was as entertaining as always.
IQ and Righteous by Joe Ide
Joe Ide was a delightful discovery this year. He is a fresh voice in mystery writing and has created a great new character in Isiah Quintabe aka IQ. If you are looking for a breath of fresh air in your mystery reading, rush out and get these two books. I am eagerly awaiting the next installment.
Murderous Mistral by Cay Rademacher
Written originally in German and set in the south of France, this book had a distinctly Eurpoean flavor. The plotting was weak, but I enjoyed the characters and the foreign feel of this book. I will definitely read his next book when it comes out.
The Late Show Michael Connelly
This was my first Michael Connelly – I know I am late to this party – he has been recommended to me numerous times, but I just didn’t want to take the time to get into the Harry Bosch or Lincoln Lawyer series. When I saw that he was coming out with a new series I decided to start here. Renee Ballard is a strong female character and I will enjoy following her career.
The Brass Verdict and The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly (Lincoln Lawyer series)
By happenstance, these two books were handed to me near the end of the year. I had received some sad news and was in need of a diversion so I cracked open The Brass Verdict. It was just what I needed to get my mind off things. I read it in a day. Then I read The Fifth Witness the next day. Despite my aversion to lawyer books, I like these novels, the characters are well drawn and the procedure is well-done. If anything, Connelly sometimes gets a bit too specific and bogged down in legal procedure. My only quibble is with time. I know how much work it takes to prep a case. The timelines in these books aren’t believable but it is a small quibble with an otherwise diverting series.
Irresistable by Mary Balogh
Once upon a time, I had an insatiable appetite for romance novels. I could read them like I eat doughnuts. In the past couple of years, my interest has waned. It may just be a phase, I am not sure. I read this for Book Bingo – one of the squares was “A Book you Read in a Day.” I spent a weekend day reading this. It was diverting but ultimately forgettable.
A Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas
Lisa Kleypas is one of the best. Her Wallflowers series is classic. I even like her contemporary stuff and I normally only read historic romances. This was a nice start to a new historic series but like I said, I am not hot for romance right now. If you like romance, I would recommend it.
The Mistletoe Inn by Richard Paul Evans
UGH. I read this for Book Bingo because I needed a book with a holiday setting. It was treacly and gave me a mental toothache. It reminded me why I don’t like contemporary romances or holiday books.
According to my librarian, audio books count! My son and I make a lot of long-distance car trips. Audiobooks are a great way to pass the time and we enjoy listening to books together.
Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
A wonderful middle-grade novel with a strong female protagonist and an art mystery. This got two thumbs up form both me and Sean.
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
I probably should have put this at the top with my favorite books of 2017. A tremendous novel about child-evacuees during WWII. This novel is less about the war and more about personal salvation. It is multilayered and appealing to both young and old.
Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
This book actually came up in The War That Saved my Life and I remembered being absolutely charmed by it when I read it as a kid. Listening to this as an adult, I was struck by 1) the 19th century propensity to shoot every animal they saw (or tame it – man must conquer nature!). 2) The impossibility of elephants coexisting with duck billed platypus, penguins, lions and numerous other animals from all five continents in a place that appeared to be near the equator in the Indian Ocean. 3) The wife was referred to by her first name one or two times and for the rest of the book was either “The Wife” or “The Mother.” I should have left his one in childhood.
All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
I LOVE the James Herriott books. They are my book version of comfort food. I have read and listened to them multiple times. They are delightfully narrated. I enjoyed sharing this first installment with Sean. If you have never read them, don’t be put off by the titles. They are delightful stories about a vet in Yorkshire England and full of dry British humor.
Books I only read Part of
You may quibble with my sharing thoughts on books that I didn’t finish. However, life is too short to read bad books. I will give any book 100 pages. If I don’t like it, I will give up on it. A couple of these were long and I just wasn’t engaged enough to finish them. If anyone has read them and can convince me to finish, I am open to doing so.
Glass Houses by Louise Penny
Oh, Louise, I hate to say this, but it is time for us to break up. I was a loyal reader for many years. I stuck with you even when I got angry about what you did to Jean Guy in The Beautiful Mystery. I was upset but I persevered – the next installment was excellent. Then you write a drippy book in which nothing happened but one of the main characters was killed at the end. The next was also a pale reflection of your earlier strong novels in this series. I started this book but you spent so much time beating us over the head with the dark and evil imagery that I just couldn’t take it. Maybe it is time for you to leave Three Pines and start something new.
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
I listened to this as an audiobook. If the trip had been longer, I probably would have finished it. I really liked the first half of the book. It was a riveting story about a man in North Korea. However, the trip ended at the beginning of the second part of the book. I was very upset by the plot turn and the second part was a time flip where the narrator changed, and the story worked backwards. I don’t really like time flips. There wasn’t enough here to make me finish this book without being trapped in a car with it. If anyone has a persuasive argument in this book’s favor, I am open to revisiting it.
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
Another audiobook that lasted only as long as the car trip. I enjoy Follett. I really liked Pillars of the Earth. This books just fatigued me. There were too many points of view and it was just too damn long. I listened to this for nine hours, checked the hard copy when I got home and realized that I was only about 250 pages into the book. I just didn’t have the energy to continue. If someone can champion this book, let me know.
Ruthless River by Holly FitzGerald
This was a travel book and rather interesting. In the 1970s, a newly-married couple decides to travel around the world. They get stuck in a backwater village in South America and it will be months until the next plane will be coming. They want to make it to Rio for Carnivale so they decide to raft down the river. It goes badly. I flipped to the end because I had to know how this book ended. It is a good story but it had to go back to the library and I didn’t have it in me to speed read through the suffering and starvation in the middle of it. Even so, I would still recommend it.