Monday, January 1, 2018

The Best Books I Read in 2017...

Well, this has been quite a year, hasn't it? It's been a year of utter craziness and turmoil, but I helped mitigate the sheer wackiness and what-else-could-go-wronginess by reading. A lot. Like more than ever before.

I read 172 books in 2017—the most I've ever read (or at least since college, when I managed a bookstore and was able to read most of the day). This high total was the fringe benefit of a year of significant travel, a few days of vacation here and there, insomnia related to a case of severe bronchitis and the flu simultaneously, and most of all, some pretty amazing books.

As I've done for the last eight years, I went back through all of the books I've read and come up with a list of my favorites. Culling 172 books down to a finite number was really, really difficult, so what I've done is come up with a list of 25, along with an additional 13 which just fell short of the very best but they're too good to miss.

I've linked to my original review of each so you can read more about each one. I'd love to hear your thoughts, and know which books you'd count among your favorites, even if you didn't read as much as I did! I'll list my top five (in random order) and then the remainder of the books will be in random order as well—ranking would be far too complicated!!

The Best of the Best

Beartown by Fredrick Backman: Backman's book is focused on a small town which many think is dying out, a town literally obsessed with hockey. I was thinking I would get a Swedish Friday Night Lights but instead found so much more than a hockey novel. Backman pulled off a colossal feat, a literary mic drop. See my original review.

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne: A book about love of all kinds. This is a story of friendship, love, sexuality, bravery, pain, loss, violence, politics, religion, prejudice, and trying to find peace within ourselves, against a backdrop of some of the more tumultuous times in our world. It's a searing look at how all too often we hide our true selves from those we care about, out of fear, self-loathing, and self-preservation. See my original review.

Sadness is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher: This is an absolutely beautiful and poignant book, in part a coming-of-age novel, in part a story of self-discovery, as well as a story about how our idealism and naivete change as we grow older. This is a story about longing and belonging, about how sometimes there is a gap between what is expected and what is right. I absolutely loved this book and found it very surprising at times. See my original review.

The Force by Don Winslow: Nothing short of a masterpiece, this hopefully will be the book to finally make Winslow a household name. While the story of corruption in the ranks of the NYPD may be a familiar one, in Winslow's hands, it is raw and gripping, one of those books you can't stop reading, and it feels incredibly current. It's magnificently told—it's a big novel with a big vision and a fairly large cast of characters. See my original review.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid: At once both sharply current and dreamily magical, this book is social commentary, fantasy, and an emotion-laded look at how we crave connection even in the most chaotic, the bleakest of times. At a time in our world where some wish to label all immigrants in a negative way, this is a stark reminder of why so many flee their countries, and how their humanity is often lost in the process. See my original review.

More of the Best

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: This book is tremendously moving and just so current given what has been happening in our society. This is a book about racism, but it's also a book about family, friendship, loyalty, community, and how often it truly does take a village to save someone. This is a book that addresses the plight that many young black men face, but it doesn't place the blame on anyone but them, either. See my original review.

UNSUB by Meg Gardiner: This thriller had my heart pounding and my pulse racing, and holy crap, was it worth the ride. But this is more than simply a thriller. Gardiner imbues her story with heart and emotion at the same time as she's ratcheting your pulse up with suspense and some terrific action. See my original review, and also check out the equally amazing second book in this series, Into the Black Nowhere, which also deserves a place on this list.

Enigma Variations by André Aciman: This book is staggeringly beautiful. Powerfully emotional, haunting, frank in its sexuality and its romanticism, this is a book about love, infatuation, longing, and lust. It's a book which explores the divide between wanting the familiar and wanting what you do not (or in some cases, cannot) have. I felt this book in my heart and in my head, and I haven't forgotten it since I read it in January 2017. See my original review.

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny: Zany, contemplative, occasionally moving, and tremendously insightful, this is a book about love, family, raising children, temptation, and origami. It literally had me laughing out loud. A fascinating, touching, humorous meditation about what love, marriage, and parenthood mean, and how those who don't remain in our lives still have the tendency to affect us. See my original review.

At the Edge of the Universe by Shaun David Hutchinson: This is a beautiful book that hits you right in your heart. Hutchinson combines sci-fi and emotion to create a tremendously compelling, moving story about friendship, love, loyalty, trust, family, secrets, and selfishness. Hutchinson's storytelling and his use of language and dialogue kicks this book up another notch. See my original review.

Robicheaux by James Lee Burke: James Lee Burke is one of the finest fiction and mystery writers of our time, and one of my all-time favorite authors. His 21st book featuring his most popular character, Louisiana police detective Dave Robicheaux, this isn't a quick-moving caper packed with action and thrills. While there is some terrific suspense and a little bit of gruesome violence, this is a book that makes you think and makes you feel rather than raises your pulse. See my original review.

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward: Profound, poetic, and at times painful to read, Sing, Unburied, Sing is searing, truly a soaring literary achievement that I won't stop thinking about anytime soon. It's because of Ward's storytelling that a book dealing with such complicated, heavy themes as racial identity, grief, violence, addiction, the responsibilities of parenthood, and the dark places our minds can go still generated suspense and flowed so beautifully. See my original review.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley: At times this book had me sobbing so hard I wet my t-shirt. It's emotional, angsty, moving, and occasionally frustrating, but it is just so good. Not everyone out there is into YA, but this is a pretty terrific YA book. I love that the characters aren't refugees from a John Hughes film or a John Green book. See my original review.

The Dry by Jane Harper: This book had everything—great writing, a terrifically evocative setting, interesting character development, and lots of twists and turns. It's a tremendously suspenseful, exceptionally well-written crime novel that kept me guessing and really blew me away. It's amazing to think that this is Harper's debut novel, because it felt like a book written by a virtuoso. See my original review.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti: Sometimes you can't help whom you love, and you find yourself loving someone in spite of their faults (if not even because of them). Do we turn our backs on those we love just because they may be imperfect, despite all they may have given us? These ideas and questions are at the core of Hannah Tinti's exquisite new novel. This is a book I won't soon forget. See my original review.

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee: Just when you think that no one is writing anything original, along comes a book that is so different in many ways that you wonder how the author came up with the idea in the first place, and how they were able to sell it to a publisher. This is one of those books, a rollicking adventure and an emotional book about finding what makes you happy (or whom), and accepting who you are and where your life should lead. See my original review.

Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine: The last book I read in 2017, this is a great book. I mean, stay-up-until-2:00-a.m.-to-finish-it great. I read the whole thing in just a few hours, and my heart was pounding pretty fast for a while afterward! Rachel Caine reels you in on the first page and doesn't let you go until you've read the last word. If you're a thriller fan, you'll want to grab this one! See my original review.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen: The issue of immigration is definitely an emotional one. These beautifully written stories look at issues that affect nearly every family, no matter the culture—grief, regret, coping with crisis, longing, loneliness, secrets, and the ties of family. At the same time, some of the stories deal with the often-difficult tug of war immigrants feel between their birth country and their new home. See my original review.

Autoboyography by Christina Lauren: All the feels. I couldn't love this book any more if I tried. I am so happy that YA books like this exist and are readily available for this generation. While the story's trajectory is, in a lot of ways, unsurprising, I was so happy that the plot didn't blunder into some of the stereotypical pitfalls I expected given the subject matter. See my original review.

Himself by Jess Kidd: This is such a charming, magical book, and as quirky as it is, it's quite emotionally moving as well, as it explores the ideas of loss and grief, of a girl trying to rise above circumstances she has been handed although everyone wants to fight her at every turn, and the rejuvenating power of friendship. If you're looking for a book with a little bit of charm and whimsy along with its terrific story, pick this up. In a literary world of copycats, this feels pretty original. See my original review.

The Winter in Anna by Reed Karaim: This book was utterly exquisite and moving, yet told with such gorgeous simplicity. I found the characters so fascinating, so complex, and even though one key plot point is revealed in the first few pages of the book, my love for these characters kept me reading every single word. Karaim infuses his book with such emotion and so many life lessons, and his prose is absolutely gorgeous. See my original review.

Bad Girls with Perfect Faces by Lynn Weingarten: Wild, a little campy, and totally addictive, I devoured this book in a matter of a few hours. I found this book utterly irresistible and compulsively readable, and the characters fascinated me. Even when what happened was a campy and/or unrealistic, I was completely hooked. The book is a little melodramatic, but it's a book about high school seniors, so weren't relationships cause for melodrama back then? See my original review.

The Leavers by Lisa Ko: This book about two different people's struggle between doing what is right, what people want and expect them to do, and what they want to do, is tremendously moving and powerful. As the title suggests, it's both a story of those who leave and the effect on those who are left. Ko's storytelling is truly breathtaking, as she has created two characters who capture your heart and will stay in your memory. See my original review.

The Deep Dark Descending by Allen Eskens: Not only is this a true thriller, but it is an exceptionally told story. Eskens is as comfortable writing action scenes and police procedural scenes as he is describing the frozen environment around Max as he comes to a decision about the path his revenge will take. This is a book that you feel in your gut and your brain, because you appreciate the action and the storytelling simultaneously. See my original review.

One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus: If this was a television series, I would binge-watch it wholeheartedly. It's been a while since I've gotten so into a book I've devoured the majority of it in one sitting when I haven't been on a plane. Let's put it this way: only for a novel as skillfully written as One of Us Is Lying would make me willing to relive memories of some of the angst, emotions, drama, and insecurities of high school. See my original review.

More Not to Miss
The Signal Flame by Andrew Krivak

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal

Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan

Give a Girl a Knife by Amy Thielen

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

Warcross by Marie Lu

This Savage Song and Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab

Cold Harbor by Matthew FitzSimmons

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld


  1. What a wonderful reading year! Adding several of these to my list, now.

  2. I was not familiar with you until today, but FYI I put several of these entries on my to-read list based off of your recommendation. Keep up the good work!

  3. I read quite a few of the books posted here and I have added a few to read. I just read your review on Anne Tyler's Clock Dance and felt propelled to take a peek at your site. Keep the reviews and recommendations coming. Thank you.

  4. I appreciate this list- thank you! I have added a bunch of them to my 'to read' list!

  5. I just ran across this blog and loved your list of favorite books of 2017. I have put several on my TBR list and look forward to a very productive reading year in 2020. Thanks Larry.