2017’s Top Ten(ish) Books

I did not read as many books in 2017 as I would have liked. In fact, I was a whole 20 books of meeting my Goodreads challenge! In spite of that, 2017 was a really good reading year and I discovered some new favourite authors and some new favourite books. I can never pick ONE favourite book but it takes something special for a book to worm its way onto my favourites list and this year at least TWO of the books I read made the cut…possibly even three. I’m undecided.

Anyway, I thought I would recap my year in books by sharing my top ten reads from 2017…but then I couldn’t quite whittle it down so it’s my top eleven. Who’s even counting?!

I have never really listened to audiobooks. I like to hold the actual book and savour the words in my own time. I’ve also previously struggled to find narrations that don’t annoy me. This year, however, saw the addition of a puppy to our family and with her arrival went a good chunk of my peaceful reading time. So I decided to give audiobooks another try to stave off the story withdrawal, since I can listen to them whilst I walk the pup. And now I’m hooked. It still all depends on the narration, as there have been a couple of books that I haven’t got more than a few minutes into before giving up through sheer annoyance at the narrator’s voice, but here are four audiobooks which not only had excellent narration but were also outstanding stories in and of themselves.

How To Stop Time – Matt Haig

Matt Haig is one of those authors who I have been meaning to read for forever. I’ve followed him on Twitter for a while and have a huge amount of respect and gratitude for his openness about mental illness and the way in which he offers support and encouragement to those who are struggling with their own mental health. I’ve read a few of his books this year and he has quickly become a favourite author.

How To Stop Time is a beautiful, eloquent portrait of what it means to be human: to want, to feel, to fear, to contemplate, to search, to love. Haig weaves and paints prose that reads like poetry until you are so enraptured by the image before that you hardly notice that he also wields words like a sword, until the moment when it pierces right to the heart of something you didn’t even know you were holding inside you. With compelling characters and an intriguing, twisting storyline, this is a tale to get lost in. The story, much like Haig himself, is endlessly quotable and is a veritable treasure trove of wisdom. This was the one downside of listening on audiobook: there were so many points when I wanted to stop and write down or just re-hear a quote (not really achievable when out walking an energetic puppy). With the help of Goodreads I managed to track down some favourites:

“Whenever I see someone reading a book, especially if it is someone I don’t expect, I feel civilisation has become a little safer.”

“Everything is going to be all right. Or, if not, everything is going to be, so let’s not worry.”

“A problem with living in the twenty-first century….. we are made to feel poor on thirty thousand pounds a year. To feel poorly travelled if we have only been to ten other countries. To feel old if we have a wrinkle. To feel ugly if we aren’t photo shopped and filtered.”

“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

“We have the knowledge to realise we are just a mess of quanta and particles, like everything else is, and yet we keep trying to separate ourselves from the universe we live in, to give ourselves a meaning above that of a tree or a rock or a cat or a turtle.”

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is one of the most discomforting and yet endearing characters I have every come across. From very early on in the book I was intrigued by Eleanor’s unique way of seeing and operating in the world and desperate to understand more about her and her history. Raymond is a wonderfully loveable character and the development of his unlikely friendship with Eleanor is heartwarming – I loved every second of seeing it grow. Eleanor Oliphant is darkly comic in its exploration of the impacts of childhood trauma and the story raised both laughs and tears. I have to give special mention to Cathleen McCarron for her excellent narration of this tale – she really brought the characters to life and I so enjoyed listening to her unspool this story.

Although I have never experienced anything like what Eleanor has been through, I still found a lot to relate to in her character. Honeyman’s writing is amusing and highly relevant to so much human experience, here are just a few of my favourite quotes:

“A philosophical question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? And if a woman who’s wholly alone occasionally talks to a pot plant, is she certifiable? I think that it is perfectly normal to talk to oneself occasionally. It’s not as though I’m expecting a reply. I’m fully aware that Polly is a houseplant.”

“I simply didn’t know how to make things better. I could not solve the puzzle of me.”

“In principle and reality, libraries are life-enhancing palaces of wonder.”

“There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I’d lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock. The threads tighten slightly from Monday to Friday.”

“Sometimes you simply needed someone kind to sit with you while you dealt with things.”

“LOL could go and take a running jump. I wasn’t made for illiteracy; it simply didn’t come naturally.”

“If I’m ever unsure as to the correct course of action, I’ll think, “What would a ferret do?” or, “How would a salamander respond to this situation?” Invariably, I find the right answer.”

“My phone doesn’t ring often—it makes me jump when it does—and it’s usually people asking if I’ve been mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance. I whisper I know where you live to them, and hang up the phone very, very gently.”

The Keeper Of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan

The Keeper Of Lost Things is a wonderful story of loss, love, finding and letting go. I was captivated by the idea of lost things being carefully collected and catalogued, eventually to be reunited with their owners and the cast of characters had the added charm of being lost on their own ways as well. The alternating narratives across different character’s perspectives and time provides a breadcrumb trail through the story – the connection there the whole time but just out of reach and understanding, until right towards the end. Happiness and heartache in almost equal measure make the story compelling and thoroughly enjoyable.

“Her grandmother had once told her that one could blame ugliness on one’s genes and ignorance on one’s education, but there was absolutely no excuse whatsoever for being dull.”

“Common decency, good manners, kindness and hard work were treated as peculiarities”

“A hush is a dangerous thing. Silence is solid and dependable, but a hush is expectant, like a pregnant pause; it invites mischief, like a loose thread begging to be pulled.”

The Bear And The Nightingale – Katherine Arden

This is one of my absolute favourite books, not just of 2017 but ever. I listened to the audiobook and was so utterly enraptured by the story that I am dying to get hold of a hardcopy so I can reread it and savour every word again. The first in the Winternight trilogy and voted best Sci-Fi and Fantasy book of 2017, The Bear And The Nightingale is one of those rare reads that is so immersive and enchanting that you forget you are reading (or in my case, listening) at all. I could feel the icy breath of the Russian winter with every turn of phrase and the magic seemed so real I felt Morozko himself dogged my footsteps. Here is a world caught in balance between the realities of harsh, arctic winters and the old, fantastical magic woven into centuries old folklore. It made me want to learn Russian and read every folk and fairytale I could get my hands on, and I did not want to leave the realm of the winter-king.

Arden’s prose is so lyrical it weaves a spell all of its own and her characters are so well developed that they step into being with barely the lift of an imaginary finger. The story was exquisitely narrated by Kathleen Gati and her voice only added to the wonder of the story. When I started listening I hadn’t realised it was the first of a trilogy so my excitement was palpable when I noticed The Girl In The Tower will be gracing bookshelves any day now. If I were to recommend any book from 2017, it would be this one.

“Wild birds die in cages.”

“Nay, it is the coming storm. The first sign is fear. The second is always fire. Your people are afraid, and now the fires burn.”

“It is a cruel task, to frighten people in God’s name.”

“But I think you should be careful, Batyushka, that God does not speak in the voice of your own wishing.”

Dear Ijeawele: A Femenist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I discovered Adichie through TED talks when I stumbled across her talk ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ and read her book of the same title off the back of it. I am yet to read any of her novels but immediately picked up Dear Ijeawele when I saw it and enjoyed it even more that We Should All Be Feminists. Both books should be required reading for everyone but Dear Ijeawele especially spoke to something deep in the heart of me. Direct, perceptive, and wryly amusing, Adichie’s letter to her friend gets to the root of what it is to be a woman in the 21st century.

A quick and compelling read, it’s one to shove into the hands of anyone and everyone. Politely of course.

“Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not “if only.” Not “as long as.” I matter equally. Full stop.”

“If she likes makeup, let her wear it. If she likes fashion, let her dress up. But if she doesn’t like either, let her be. Don’t think that raising her feminist means forcing her to reject femininity. Feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive.”

“Because you are a girl” is never a reason for anything. Ever.”

“We teach girls to be likeable, to be nice, to be false. And we do not teach boys the same. This is dangerous. Many sexual predators have capitalized on this. Many girls remain silent when abused because they want to be nice. Many girls spend too much time trying to be “nice” to people who do them harm. Many girls think of the “feelings” of those who are hurting them. This is the catastrophic consequence of likeability. We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable.”

Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

Not ordinarily one to reach for contemporary reads, I was pleasantly surprised by Me Before You. In fact, I loved it. I absolutely adored Louisa Clark and quickly wanted to make friends with her and sit down for a cuppa and a heart to heart. The story itself is also engrossing, being both heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure. I think what I loved most about this book though was that it didn’t succumb to the temptation to make everything all right in the end. There was something viscerally real about the stories understanding that love does not automatically make everything ok and that sometimes a happy ending doesn’t seem all that happy or look at all how you pictured it. I haven’t yet read the sequel to this book but and very much looking forward to it.

“You only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.”

“I will never, ever regret the things I’ve done. Because most days, all you have are places in your memory that you can go to.”

“I hadn’t realized that music could unlock things in you, could transport you to somewhere even the composer hadn’t predicted. It left an imprint in the air around you, as if you carried its remnants with you when you went.”

“You can only actually help someone who wants to be helped.”

The Princess Saves Herself In This One – Amanda Lovelace

I love a good poetry collection and this one really hit the spot. Gritty, unashamedly honest and beautiful, there is something profoundly relatable in Lovelace’s poetry, in spite of the differences in my personal experiences. I don’t really have an awful lot more to say about this one because I find poetry to be a very personal thing. It does deal with some very difficult and potentially triggering issues but I found The Princess Saves Herself In This One to be validating and inspiring.

“ah, life—

the thing

that happens

to us

while we’re off

somewhere else

blowing on

dandelions

& wishing

ourselves into

the pages of

our favorite

fairy tales.”

“repeat after me:

you owe

no one

your forgiveness.

– except maybe yourself.”

“once upon a time, the princess rose from the ashes her dragon lovers made of her & crowned herself the mother-fucking queen of herself.   – how’s that for a happily ever after?”

“fiction:

the ocean

i dive

headfirst

into

when i

can

no longer

breathe

in

reality.

– a mermaid escapist II.”

Blankets – Craig Thompson

Much like audiobooks, I’ve never really got into graphic novels but I’ve had a couple by Craig Thompson on my bookshelves for ages that my husband read and loved. So, over Christmas, I thought I’d give them a go and found I really enjoyed them. Blankets in particular was an excellent read with Thompson’s graphics really bringing the story and the characters’ struggles to life. The tale is both moving and thought provoking on a subject I have always found interesting and challenging: the tensions between the sense of belonging and the expectations present within a religion or religious community. The characters in Thompson’s story are imperfect and therefore very real. Whilst I’m not sure they will ever have the same richness as stories written in prose, I’ll definitely be trying more graphic novels as there they offer something unique.

“How satisfying it is to leave a mark on a blank surface. To make a map of my movement – no matter how temporary.”

“Sometimes, upon waking, the residual dream can be more appealing that reality, and one is reluctant to give it up. For a while, you feel like a ghost — Not fully materialized, and unable to manipulate your surroundings. Or else, it is the dream that haunts you. You wait with the promise of the next dream.”

“On my first visit to the public library, I was like a kid at a candy store where all the candy was free.”

“At night, lying on your back and staring at the falling snow, it’s easy to imagine oneself soaring through the stars.”

Reasons To Stay Alive – Matt Haig

Another wonderful book from Matt Haig; very different from the first mentioned in this post but just as profound. Haig’s unflinching account of his experiences of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts is raw, moving, and strangely uplifting. He gets right to the heart of what it is to be trapped in your own mind and the horrifying experience of not being able to be fully present in your own life, even when it’s a wonderful one. Reasons To Stay Alive gives you just that; as well as truly nailing the torment of mental illness, Haig’s account also provides a funny, even joyful reminder of what it is to truly love, and why we should strive to stay alive even when it seems the dark is closing in. It is a tale of survival as much as of struggle and reading it felt like being offered a hand to hold and hearing, in the voice of a friend, that we are never truly alone.

Recommended reading for all.

“THE WORLD IS increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind. To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.”

“Wherever you are, at any moment, try and find something beautiful. A face, a line out of a poem, the clouds out of a window, some graffiti, a wind farm. Beauty cleans the mind.”

“And most of all, books. They were, in and of themselves, reasons to stay alive. Every book written is the product of a human mind in a particular state. Add all the books together and you get the end sum of humanity. Every time I read a great book I felt I was reading a kind of map, a treasure map, and the treasure I was being directed to was in actual fact myself.”

“Maybe love is just about finding the person you can be your weird self with.”

“To other people, it sometimes seems like nothing at all. You are walking around with your head on fire and no one can see the flames.”

“You can be a depressive and be happy, just as you can be a sober alcoholic.”

The Power – Naomi Alderman

The Power is one of those books that I started shoving into everyone’s hands the moment I finished reading it. Before I finished reading it in fact. It is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and disturbing books I have ever read and it made me think about our world in a different way. It woke me up to some uncomfortable truths – some of which I had been aware of but somehow seemed to have accepted as just being the reality of things, and some to do with my own thinking which I was saddened to realise existed in my own thought patterns. Graphic, visceral, and haunting, it provides a frightening portrait of society, past, present, and…future? One can only hope not. With themes similar to those in The Handmaids Tale, The Power strikes at the heart of some of the most vivid fears, hopes, and tortures of being female, in any society, in any age. Whilst part of me wanted some of the storylines to be more rounded and developed, the messages of the book were sharp as a blade and I found it interesting to discuss the story with friends, both male and female, and everyone seemed to have taken something different from it. Above all else, it really seemed to highlight the dangers of power: in anybody’s hands.

“This is the trouble with history. You can’t see what’s not there. You can look at an empty space and see that something’s missing, but there’s no way to know what it was.”

“One of them says, ‘Why did they do it?’

And the other answers, ‘Because they could.’

That is the only answer there ever is.”

“Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn’t. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not, Tap on it and it’s hollow. Look under the shells: it’s not there.”

“the highest among us aren’t always the wisest…”

“We’re only pretending everything is normal because we don’t know what else to do.”

Strange The Dreamer – Laini Taylor

Strange The Dreamer was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017 and it did not disappoint. Taylor’s writing is rich, magical, and utterly mesmerising and her latest, long awaited, book is wonderful and beautifully strange: a dream in every sense. Uplifting and heartbreaking and utterly fantastic – stepping into this story is to have tour imagination ripped open in the best possible way, to find stars and flowers and terribly beautiful monsters waiting above. I didn’t think that Taylor would be able to beat the magic she wove with her Daughter Of Smoke And Bone trilogy but with Strange The Dreamer she did just that and I did not want to leave Dreamer’s Weep.

“”You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

“Beautiful and full of monsters?”

“All the best stories are.””

“It was impossible, of course. But when did that ever stop any dreamer from dreaming.”

“I turned my nightmares into fireflies and caught them in a jar.”

“And that’s how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can.”

“You think good people can’t hate?” she asked. “You think good people don’t kill?”[…]”Good people do all the things bad people do, Lazlo. It’s just that when they do them, they call it justice.”

“Without his books, his room felt like a body with its hearts cut out.”

“There was a man who loved the moon, but whenever he tried to embrace her, she broke into a thousand pieces and left him drenched, with empty arms.”

“The library knows its own mind… When it steals a boy, we let it keep him.”

So there you have it, my top reads of 2017. I highly recommend that you pop off and read every one of them immediately. Just the thing to brighten up the wet, cold start we’re having to 2018.

Happy reading!

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