• Kara Cushway

My Top Reads of 2017

Updated: Jul 26, 2019

2017 was the first year that I tracked the books I read. People always ask me how many books I think I’ve read in my life, and the short answer is A LOT. Since I never kept track before 2017, though, I never had even a semi-accurate estimate to give anyone. And, loving that kind of chart-y analytical documentation stuff, I finally made the switch and began tracking my reading habits that year. (Keep an eye out for an upcoming post on how I track my reading.)

Fun fact: I think I'm reading more books now that I track them. There’s something so fun about keeping track. Every time you add one to your list it's like leveling up on a game or something.

However, even though I read A LOT does not mean that all those books I’m reading are “the best”. Sure, there are plenty of good books. But it takes a really great book to make it onto my “best books” list, and that’s what we’re talking about today.

Disclaimer: The awarding of the title "great book" to any piece of literature is, hopefully obviously, relative to whomever is doing the reading and reviewing of those books. You might read one of these books and say, "It's like a 6," or you might get twelve pages in and stop reading entirely because it's just not for you. That is totally okay! That's the beauty of books: there's something for everyone, but not everyone wants the same something.

Another disclaimer: Most of these books weren't new as of 2017. They're just books I read in 2017. I have a hard time picking up a brand-new book until it's proven itself Out There and I've read up on it a little bit. (What? You don't read up on the books you're about to read?)

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

This was, believe it or not, my first encounter with Alice Hoffman, and it blew me away. The only time I’ve ever been more pleased with a book’s prose was … never, now that I think of it. Unless you count MORE Alice Hoffman books (which I don’t, mostly because those are for another post). It’s like she knows precisely how to weave these mundane, everyday words together to create magic, to create feelings. It’s so rare to feel things as strongly as the characters do in stories, but Alice Hoffman makes you FEEL THE THINGS. I just love it.

This story follows a young woman, Coraline, whose father operates a Coney Island freak show in Industrial Revolution-era New York City (this introduction alone would’ve been enough to get me reading). As the fabric of the city begins to unravel, beginning with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, we also follow the struggles that dog the freak show as interest declines, and we meet a dashing photographer who weaves his way into Coraline’s heart.

If you are in for a little history, a little romance, and a little magic, this is the book for you. I especially recommend this one in the summer on vacation or in the fall with a pair of warm socks and maybe a blazing fireplace. Read this book in large gulps rather than tiny sips.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

This one was all over social media over the past few years, and for good reason. (And now they’re making it into a movie!) I’ve never met another book with such a funny, harebrained main character. I thoroughly enjoyed the bizarre events and totally real characters in this book.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is about an odd, reclusive sort of woman who lives with her techie husband and teenage daughter in a crumbling old house in Washington. It tells her story as she plans for a family trip to Antarctica (her daughter’s idea) and encounters all kinds of surprising events along the way.

I laughed out loud and felt honest-to-god heartbreak when I read this book, and I think you will too (if that’s something you look for in a good read). I would highly recommend this book for someone looking for a bit of a pick-me-up after a bad week, or someone who’s still battling seasonal affective disorder at the end of a long, dreary winter. Truly, you will feel happiness when you read this book.

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

If you want something on the darker side of fantasy, here’s a great option. I don’t even remember why I loved this one so much, but I guess I was just so impressed with the way the author took classics from traditional fairy tales – the woodsman (or huntsman, whatever you call him), the wolf, the trusty steed, Sleeping Beauty’s castle – and absolutely wrenched them. I was horrified. I was enthralled. I wanted to write a book report on this book. Laugh if you will. But it was just saturated with … meaning? Significance? Something like that. And not just a one- or two-dimensional significance. I loved this book because you could get something new out of it every time you read it. Every person who reads this book will take away something different. And I know you could say that about a lot of books, but this one just had a feeling like when you’re a kid and you’re supposed to answer the question “what’s the lesson in this story?” – but with this story, that lesson was so surprisingly grown up for me that it even changed my opinion about its genre. I went from thinking about it as YA fantasy to actual big kid grown-up fantasy. That’s some kind of change.

The story follows David, a boy who accidentally steps through a portal in his garden into a wood – and a different world. Lured there by the wicked Crooked Man, David must now make his way across the country, to an audience with a king who possesses the legendary Book of Lost Things, if he is ever to have a hope of getting back home. Along the way, he makes friends and loses them, battles all manners of monsters, and without hardly realizing it, becomes a man – not in age, but in wisdom. And for that, I loved this book.

I would classify this book as an epic – not as long as The Iliad, for sure, but epic in scope. So when you’ve got a rainy day on your hands (you want moody weather to read this one), or are traveling in a particularly uncomfortable manner, whip out The Book of Lost Things to keep you company. Personally, I enjoyed it in spurts as a brief respite from family, around the holidays.

BONUS! Blackthorn and Grim series by Juliet Marillier

I. JUST. LOVE. Juliet Marillier. She will come up over and over again in my posts, so be prepared. My very, very fave book in the whole world is by her. (Go read her Sevenwaters series, especially the first two books. You’ll die, they’re so good. If you think they’re not good then don't tell me; I have made my decision that I love them, and will not be swayed.) But her Blackthorn and Grim series is another EXCEPTIONAL series. I just – I don’t have words. But this is a blog post, after all, so I will come up with some.

Blackthorn is a healer whose dark past has landed her in prison due to an unjust accusation. But when she and a jail mate, Grim, break out, they travel far away and settle on the outskirts of a northern kingdom of Dalriada, where they set up a new life. Blackthorn wants nothing more than to seek revenge on the man who ruined her life and wrongfully imprisoned her, but she is bound to set her anger and bitterness aside, and to help anyone who asks for it for the next seven years. The three books in this series follow Blackthorn and Grim as they encounter false princesses, bizarre beasts, and magical tasks that are riveting to read about. I hope you’ll be as invested in these stories as I was.

Make sure you get all three of these books from the library at once, if you can, because you’re going to want to read the next ones as soon as you finish the first. I can read a Juliet Marillier book in any season, at any time of the day or night, but for you? Settle in with a bowl of popcorn and a comfy blanket when you’ve got a couple hours at a time to read. And feel free to read slowly – these books go by so fast if you let them. I had to stop myself from finishing them all in one day (didn’t work).

And there, my friends, are my top books from 2017. What were the criteria for a book to make it onto my list of best books? Honestly, it varied for all of them. But what they had in common was that each one displayed excellent writing (IMO) and was deeply moving and meaningful for me in some way. If you enjoyed this list, be sure to check out some of my other posts on book recommendations! You can head on over to this post for several beach reads, or check out my Top Reads of 2018 here.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Do you have any books you read in 2017 - or recently - that have stood out to you?


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