It’s that time of year when Small Pond starts talking about books again. Pretty much an annual tradition since 2008.
Before we get to the best of list, let’s look at some stats.
The reading goal for 2017 was 140 books (this year I’m shooting for 150). I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to make it thanks to Riley. I hardly read anything in July, August or September. In fact, I only read two books in August! Two books!!! Readers who know me know what a travesty that is. I picked up the reading game in the fall and read 23 books in November. I don’t think I did anything but read.
Not all of the books were weighty epics. The script for Antigone was pretty short, and there were some Reading Olympics books on my list this year, too. Reading Olympics is an elementary school reading list. Hey, don’t judge. Some of the titles are pretty good.
My absolute favorite book of 2017 was The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. It won the Newbery Medal in 2013. No, it’s not written for adults. But readers of all ages will love this book. I cried a lot when I finished it.
It’s the story of a real-life gorilla who lived in a shopping mall before moving to Zoo Atlanta. What makes this book so wonderful is that Ivan is the narrator. His child-like voice conveys so many emotions that you can’t help but get caught up in the story.
Coming in at a close second was The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill. It received the Newbery Medal in 2017. I read this as a digital library loan and, within 5 minutes of finishing it, had ordered a hardcover to keep on my shelf. That’s how much I loved it.
It reads like a fairy tale, covering the hero’s journey of a young girl destined to become magic thanks to being fed moonlight as an infant. It addresses fear and prejudice and the abuse of power. At the same time, it creates a broad definition of “family” as the supporting characters find their own ways to help the heroine.
Some other favorite new-to-me books covered a spread of fantasy, science fiction, biography, racial discord and history. Sometimes in the same book.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers was written as a Kickstarter project. It’s a science-fiction novel with heavy touches of humor. Did you watch and enjoy Firefly? You’ll like this book.
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (the author’s name is a pseudonym for a two-person writing team) is the first in The Expanse series. I read all but one of the current books out in 2017 and the entire series wins a spot on the favorite list. The first book sets up an ongoing plot thread and introduces the main characters. Subsequent books add on new characters and take the plot in some unexpected directions. The characters are rich. The science fiction aspects are mixed with politics. It’s a great series to read.
Eowyn Ivey became one of my authors to keep an eye on after I loved The Snow Child. To the Bright Edge of the World is her second novel. It’s set in Alaska in the late 1800s. The setting is a major character in its own right. There are parts where the characters and the readers aren’t sure what’s real and what’s imagined.
The next books are closely related in my head. Blood in the Water: The Attica Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (Heather Ann Thompson) and The Blood of Emmett Till (Timothy B. Tyson) are riveting and upsetting. The look inside Attica was disturbing for me – I’m horrified at how the prisoners were treated, before, during and after the uprising. Likewise, the story of Emmett Till was horrifying and saddening. Both of these stories stuck with me. The writing in the books is strong. And I’m afraid that the stories they tell are not limited to the time periods they take place in.
Continuing the racial theme but from a fictional side are Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jessamyn Ward and Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. Sing, Unburied, Sing is not as good as Ward’s Salvage the Bones (which has been on a best-of list here), but is still a darn good read. Mudbound created images that stuck with me long after the last page. It’s one of those books where being able to see where it’s going doesn’t ruin the book but only intensifies the dread and sorrow that permeate the novel.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden is another book that reads like a long-form fairy tale. Set in Russia, it has hints of Beauty and the Beast or Rose Red but stands solidly on its own. It’s the first in a trilogy although the story felt pretty self-contained to me.
Last but not least is Penny Marshall’s biography, My Mother Was Nuts. Most people know her as Laverne or as the director of Big and League of Their Own. She’s a really good writer. She has a great sense of humor about her life. And, yes, the book is full of tidbits about interesting and famous people. Marshall seems to be friends with all the major Hollywood players.
I re-read a handful of books this year that all kept their 5-star ratings for me. I love when a book ages with me, when a story can still captivate me no matter how many times I read it. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, The Secret Country, Bones of the Moon, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone all keep their spots in my top books.