Your Top Five Fiction reads of 2017
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Posting these threads a bit early, but you know: holidays. I won't actually list mine until later in the month, probably after Christmas. Putting a little star here so it won't get lost in the shuffle.
Everyone has jumped on the worst of bandwagon so I'll get things going here. A first pass got me what I am comfortable with for my favorite books. A second pass confirmed it. Here you go!
The Animators by Kayla Rae Whittaker
A clever and assured first novel that doesn’t take the easy way out or go for the cliche when portraying female friendship. Even though it is raw and unapologetic in its depiction of substance ab/use, sex, and family strife, there is heart, warmth, forgiveness, understanding and sacrifice.
I liked that the women were single-minded in their pursuit of art, something many a novel has been written about men, but not so much about women. And neither of them whined about not being married, having kids or being “unfulfilled” as a woman. Nice.
The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church
I didn’t review this because it was too hard to put into words why I liked it so much. Now I can say that, as with The Animators, this didn’t take the cliched route of portraying a woman in a relationship that is less than ideal. There are unusual choices and the heroine doesn’t beat herself up about them or the things that she has to do with no choice.
Unless by Carol Shields
I don’t think Shields is known as a “feminist author”, but this book quietly champions women and women writers. It feels autobiographical in the sense of how pigeonholed most women writers have been and still continue to be. Then there is the theme of motherhood and the absolute perfection demanded of women in this role. As if children have no minds, hearts or wills of their own, but are entirely shaped by their mothers. Plus Shields could write the walls down.
Writing Madness by Patrick McGrath
I love Patrick McGrath and so this collection of all his short fiction, essays, book critiques and introductions was bound to make me happy no matter what. But since it is McGrath it’s subversive, dark, surprising and written so well that you have to take it slow and savor each word.
Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
Another one I liked so much that I couldn’t review it. The plot is intricate, told in multiple time frames and from multiple narrators, so some thought it hard to follow, but I loved it because it wove tight and things worked out in ways you couldn’t predict. The characters are interesting and odd, but have heart and family loyalty in the face of disaster. Great stuff.
I had the best reading year I've had in a long time, so there's more than 5:
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
An Obvious Fact: A Longmire Mystery by Craig Johnson
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Emergence by David R. Palmer
The Herald of Autumn, JM Guillen
A novella. Maybe reminiscent of Charles de Lint ? Fey hunter and harbinger of the colder season awakes earlier and blearier than he would have expected to, finds a threat is afoot and wily old Coyote wants him to deal with it.
Deep in the Arnaks, Charles Serabian
Very evocative writing, very well fleshed-out antagonists whose motivations are hard not to empathize with. Pity the editing in the later ~25% of the novel took a bit of a plunge.
The Dragon Beshrewed, M. M. Stauffer
A young witch cast out from her birth village deep in the swamps finds her way to the wider world in the shadow of a deadly and rather deranged dragon, picks a few unlikely friends and allies along the way, tries to get a grasp of what her abilities are and what she could or should do with them.
Puppet Parade, Zainab Alayan
A reclusive puppet-maker's beloved creations come alive and decide to run away. While looking for them he runs into a strange young woman who apparently has nowhere to go and sticks with him for a train ride that looks like it will bring them much farther from home and into places much stranger than they might have expected.
After the Winter, Mark R. Healy
Only androids, some crafted to a remarkable degree of intelligence and personality, seem to remain active in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The protagonist, though, remembers he was human once and adopted a synthetic body to outlast the winter. As the first signs of renewed life appear he makes his way for the place where he stashed his hopes for the future.
I going to go ahead and list mine, I can always edit if something stupendous comes along, but since I don't plan to read A Gentleman in Moscow until January, I doubt it will.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro - I loved the understatement of this one. All the things unsaid, and yet conveyed. To get into the mind of a gentleman's gentleman is a rare treat.
True Grit by Charles Portis - Refreshing! Love the fire-cracker girl here, again, there are things going on which are not stated, but are certainly there. Great 1800s western feel.
Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck - Ah, now this one had me saying, "Yes!" all the way through, the way it describes a woman's inner thoughts and struggles with her self. Also, cool Chinese culture stuff.
Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold - There is a reason I love Bujold. She can tell a gripping, fast-paced story and still put so much heart into it. Not to mention humor.
I have The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley listed as five-star in my catalog, but I don't remember it that way. Certainly a fun read, so possibly four, but I can't think why I gave it five? Guess I should go read my review again.
The rest of my five star rated books this year were rereads and they made for a happy reading year for me. If I read any more fiction this month, I think it will be rereads as the beginning of the month had some stellar failures.
>4 Jarandel: A lot of these sound great! My wishlist just grew...
The Dagger and Coin series by Daniel Abraham - great characters and worldbuilding.
Red Rising Trilogy - by Pierce Brown - amazing view of dystopian world controlled by power and wealth
Six Wakes - Mur Lafferty - cloning. philosophical and practical implications of said. And it's a locked room (well space ship) murder mystery.
Waking the Moon - Elizabeth Hand -imaginative and surprising.
Children of Time - Adrian Tchaikovsky - very very different version of humanity's possible future.
This is always a hard list for me to compile, and it may not be final as I expect to finish a few more books before year's end. But for now:
The professor and the housekeeper This beautifully understated Japanese novel was my only 5 star fiction read this year.
The tidal zone was both gripping and thoughtful as it followed the lives of a family whose daughter is suddenly struck by a mysterious life-threatening condition.
On the edge of gone. I'm not reading as much YA as I used to, but this one is a standout in any category. The autistic heroine and her fight to get herself and her family to safety in a planetary catastrophe is unputdownable.
Four roads cross. Really the whole of the Craft sequence by Max Gladstone should be on the list, but I think this was my favourite of the volumes I read in 2017, by a whisker.
It's a tie between The feast by Margaret Kennedy, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and After Atlas by Emma Newman, but I think I'm going to choose the Kennedy to put an older title on the list. This was a wonderful character study of a group of people forced into close proximity to each other in the unfamiliar environment of a hotel.
I might update this in another couple weeks - I still have a few challenge categories to fill and I'm not sure what I'm doing with those yet. Some of my high-rated reads are ones that everyone has already heard of: The Name of the Wind, The Night Circus, A Man Called Ove, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Lions of Al-Rassan.
Others were a pleasant surprise:
The Leaky Establishment by David Langford
I would recommend this to fans of Terry Pratchett, or anyone who appreciates subtle British humour.
The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
A grand epic set in India, beautifully written.
Fire Bringer by David Clement-Davies
Set in the woods of Scotland, the young hero is a red stag who must save his herd from a despotic herd leader and the dangers of man and fire.
The Changeover by Margaret Mahy
Read this as a teen, and had been trying to find it again for many years. I was absolutely delighted to find that still holds up well after all this time - it is very well written and a great story.
Tough call; there were a lot of very good ones.
Like One of the Family: housekeeper Mildred speaks to her friend about employers, life, and all sorts of things.
Jane Steele: Jane Eyre as a mass murderer.
Turn of Mind: a former surgeon's dementia is depicted with touching empathy.
Glass Houses: the latest Gamache novel keeps up the high standard.
All the Lou Norton books: Rachel Howzell Hall's series about LA detective Elouise "Lou" Norton was my most exciting discovery of the year.
>1 MrsLee: I'm also waiting til after Christmas to post. I'm doing my version of 12 days of Christmas on twitter counting down my 12 favorite books of the year and ending on Christmas Eve.
I rated six books at 5 stars this year...
The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe
- The Shadow of the Torturer
- The Claw of the Conciliator
- The Sword of the Lictor
- The Citadel of the Autarch
- Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr
- James Tiptree Jr: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips (non-fiction)
The New Sun tetralogy was a re-read from when they were first being published in the 1980's. I continued with the rest of the Solar Cycle and read all 12 volumes this year. The other two series, (Book of the Long Sun and Book of the Short Sun), were also excellent - but not quite 5-stars for me. These are all dense, challenging and rewarding books that reveal more with each re-read.
The Tiptree collection was a great surprise. I originally borrowed the paperback from my library. After about 5 or 6 stories I returned the book and ordered a physical copy to keep. I knew early on that I would want it around for future re-reads. Tiptree's short fiction is powerful, evocative, dark, and moving in strange and unexpected ways.
Reading Her Smoke Rose Up Forever prompted me to learn more about James Tiptree. The biography by Julie Phillips reveals the tortured soul that, completely behind the scenes, wrote those masterfully subversive tales. Alice Sheldon was an interesting individual that fooled everyone in the Science-Fiction community. No one, not even her publisher, knew that James Tiptree, Jr. was in fact a fabricated identity fronting for a woman writer. Robert Silverberg famously wrote, "It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing. I don’t think the novels of Jane Austen could have been written by a man nor the stories of Ernest Hemingway by a woman, and in the same way I believe the author of the James Tiptree stories is male." Oops...
The Phillips biography is well-researched and compellingly written. I found it difficult to put down and am glad I bought the physical copy since it features several photos that really help bring the people populating the pages back to life.
I doubt I’ll finish more than one or two more books this year since I’m currently reading a 1000+ page tome, so I think I can safely post about my favorites from this year.
I can’t usually point to a single book and proclaim it my favorite read of the year, but this year I can: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. It had a great story that kept me anxious to learn more, and great characters. The main character stuck with me long after finishing the book. I also really liked its sequel, Children of God, but not quite at the same level.
Aside from that, here a few of my other memorable reads from this year:
I've read some pretty great books this year. Here are my 5 star reads:
The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson. A fantastic novella set in the world of Elantris.
The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson. The third book of the Mistborn trilogy. This series put Sanderson on my "favorite authors" list.
For We Are Many by Dennis E. Taylor. Second book in the Bobiverse. I found the whole series to be great fun and a different sort of scifi about a human intelligence uploaded into a probe sent on a mission to discover more habitable planets. The books are full of humor, pop culture references and even touching in places.
Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron. The first in the Heartstrikers series, a self published gem! A urban fantasy set in a post-apocalypse USA where magic has returned, dragons are real and spirits are making war with everyone.
Red Sister by Mark Lawrence. First in The Book of the Ancestor series. It's about a ninja nun school set on a pretty interesting world that may be dying. Looking forward to book two later this year.
Only one 5 star read for me this year:
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I have been meaning to read my copy for years, but when I received another translation for my birthday, I knew its time had come. I read it in the Pevear/Volkhonsky and found it wonderful. Satirical and deliciously subversive, and the Devil's contribution to chaos in 1930s Moscow is a lot better thought through than many more modern takes on the subject; all his victims bring their fate upon themselves.
There were twelve 4.5 stars (one of which was non-fiction).
Five were a reread of the first 5 books in Roger Zelazny's Amber sequence. The four best of the rest were:
Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar. Science fiction about the first Czech space mission, which is really a study on how to cope with the Communist legacy.
Here Comes Trouble by Simon Wroe. A coming of age story about a rather whiny teen "rebel", who discovers that his parents are involved in rather more serious rebellion, as the editors of a newspaper that publishes stories hostile to an authoritarian regime.
Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick. Marketed as a YA novel, it is actually a compelling story about a young lad with absolutely nothing going for him. It is full of deft touches that reward close reading.
Blackwing by Ed McDonald. A dark, but original, fantasy novel. It is the first of a series, but works reasonably well alone. (Special mention for the most beautiful cover art of the year too.)
Honourable mentions: One Night Markovitch by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen and In the Sea There Are Crocodiles by Fabio Geda (the latter being a semi-fictionalised biography).
One of my goals this year was to break out of my comfort zone and read more nonfiction, but I did still read some great novels and comics. My favorite five were:
The Changeling by Victor LaValle
The Devourers by Indra Das
A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris
My top 5 were:
The Dry by Jane Harper
Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
Oath of Honor by Matthew Betley
Beyond the Empire by K.B. Wagers and
The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter
Rounding out my top 10 were Terminal Alliance by Jim C. Hines, Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames, The Force by Don Winslow, All Systems Red by Martha Wells and An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock
"Top five" is ambiguous to me because I distinguish between how good I think something is and how much I like it. The best of something may not always be likable, and I may love something that isn't really excellent. My ratings system is based on my estimate of goodness (worth, value, excellence) rather than my enjoyment of it. But here I'll try to blend the two.
I didn't score any fives this year, which would mean altogether superlative, but I had some good fiction reading anyway. I gave these three 4½ stars, an extremely high rating for me:
• Citizen Tom Paine, by Howard Fast (1945)
I'm ranking this one at the top of my winners for 2017. It's billed as a novel, but I wonder if today it might be classified as creative nonfiction. My impression is that it closely follows historical accounts both in the 18th-century revolutionary settings and in the biography of Thomas Paine, and that the author used fictional imagination and techniques to render his character and impart drama and immediacy without disturbing the known record. Wherever the actual line is between fact and invention, I found this an exciting, inspiring, and poignant depiction of time and place and of the one man, if there was any one man, who lit the fuse of American independence.• Look Homeward, Angel, by Thomas Wolfe (1929)
Six-word review: We are made of lost things.• The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov (1966/2016)
Full of excellence, yes, indeed, but not much in the way of reading pleasure. Getting through this felt like hard work. And it's not as if I lacked all context: in addition to prior general knowledge, I'd read a book on Russian history and culture just before it. I'm not afraid of symbolism, allegory, philosophy, or ambiguity, and I usually favor fiction over nonfiction; but still, I think I preferred the straightforward language of the history book.These were my 4s:
• Lorna Doone, by R.D. Blackmore (1869)
Classic adventure and romance in seventeenth-century England, with plenty of drama, atmosphere, character, and rich description, and not without meaningful reflection. They don't make 'em like this any more.• Underground Airlines, by Ben H. Winters (2016)
The unusual premise and the elusive narrator drew me in right away. The most distinctive element of this book may have been the narrator's complex identity and history, but looking back, I think the most outstanding feature was its unsparing treatment of racism as a social phenomenon, however liberal-minded the person may be or try to be. This work led me to Winters' very interesting The Last Policeman trilogy.• Oreo, by Fran Ross (1974)
Six-word review: Broad humor, cunning wit, multicolored language.• Standard Deviation, by Katherine Heiny (2017)
I enjoyed this one when I was reading it, and I rated it at four stars immediately after finishing it, and now I can't remember one single thing about it, not even what the title refers to. So, sadly, I guess that is my final judgment on the book.• Midwinter Break, by Bernard MacLaverty (2017)
“Nobody could peer into a relationship—even for a day or two—and come away with the truth.” (page 202)I want to award very special mention to Rex Stout and the Nero Wolfe mystery series. I've been rereading the whole series chronologically, and this year I went through eleven of them, from number 7 (Over My Dead Body, 1940) through number 17 (In the Best Families, 1950). They are a wonderful example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts: not one of them may rate more than 3½ stars singly, in my ranking system, but it's a five-star series for sure: comfort reading at its best, in the easy company of the engaging Archie Goodwin and the world-class team on West 35th Street. Sometimes a good escape read is worth double its weight in literature.
>24 Meredy: Thank you for that write up! It gives me hope, as several of the classics you read are on my TBR pile. I read Citizen Tom Paine when I was in my 20s, by encouragement of my grandmother (a history specialist at the library). It sparked a life-long interest in history and the people of it. I've read one other book by Howard Fast Freedom Road, although he is on my list of authors who are worth reading. It too was excellent. Jumping over to Wikipedia to find out the name of the second novel I read, I became absorbed in reading about his life, and now have several more books on my reading radar.
I concur about the Rex Stout books, which I'm sure you know. They are my go-to books when I've had a bad run of reading.
I've posted a collection of my favorite fiction and nonfiction reads of 2017 on my reading thread. Its a little long to post here because of (possibly) excessive editorial comments:
>17 Darth-Heather: Sarantium was good, I like reading about the artist's work. The Fionavar books were the best in terms of excitement. Devilish, in fact.
This has been a slightly disappointing year of reading for me in that I only read 90 books and that's a good 10 less than normal. I need to spend less time distracted by Twitter.
I also had no 5 star books and only two 4.5 star. There were a lot of 4s so it wasn't a complete failure but all my best books were rereads of old favourites (usually via audiobook).
Anyway, the 4.5* were A Closed and Common Orbit and Ash and Quill.
Special mention should go to these 4* who maybe should get upgraded!
Boy on the Bridge,
The series that begins with Darker Shade of Magic grew on me and I did thoroughly enjoy that trilogy.
The same with the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder etc also grew on me but not enough to go up to 4.5*
Most unexpectedly good read was a RL reading group book A Pleasure and a Calling which was creepy in unexpected ways.
Favourite rereads in audiobook were:
Curse of Chalion, and I am currently working my way through audio rereading the Realm of the Elderlings series that begins with Assassin's Apprentice, so I can read the new trilogy by Ms Hobb.
Like so many others, A Gentleman in Moscow -- so much going on in the book that if I read it 10 times, I still wouldn't pick up all the themes and nuances. Night Circus for the same reasons (and the sheer originality of story and images).
Girls at the Kingfisher Club, an unusual reworking of Twelve Dancing Princesses (The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces), set during Prohibition.
So Big by Edna Ferber. A friend praised this highly, and I'm overdue at rediscovering classics. Old-fashioned, with an admirable heroine -- left me wanting to explore more American women authors of that era.
Stuck on the fifth -- maybe The Golem and the Jinni or Girl Who Drank the Moon or Last Days of Night, but no clear favorite. If I could add one from last year, it would be Station Eleven, since that and the other four aren't just best reads of this year, but top the list of several years' worth of choices.
I had four 4.5 star fiction reads this year from two series:
Alloy of Law and Shadows of Self which are a continuation of the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson that I'd enjoyed so much a few years ago.
And The Fifth Season and The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin from a trilogy that I started this year (I only gave the middle book a 4).
If I had to pick one more from among the fours, perhaps City of Bones but there were a lot of good ones.
I had exactly five, 5* books this year:
uprooted which most of the GD enjoyed too.
Destiny's Conflict part 11 of 12 tying up many of the themes that have been developed over the last 10 books (many more years!) The final shape is beginning to emerge, and I can't wait for the conclusion, but it will be a while!
Avians a great ER title, flying girls in a steampunk SF setting. Worked just really well.
War of the Oaks which I've been looking for years, and finally found as an ebook. The first Urban Fantasy as we think of it, and really quite clever, if very much still set in the 70s
blood of the kindred which is the least serious, but features vampire elves in a romance setting and I enjoyed far more than I should.
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.