I am posting this A LOT LATER than I had planned to, and those New Years fireworks are a little outdated 4 days later, but better late than never, right???
Is it strange that I only picked 8? It just felt right to me- these are the ones that left that very best book *glow.* But this was a fantastic year of reading for me, I read so many books I’d hoped to get to, and loved so many more I hadn’t expected. I know I’m speaking as a book lover, but is there anything better than finishing a truly, truly great book?? (No.)
Anyway, my favorites of 2017!
8. The Absolutist by John Boyne
I did not expect this book to haunt me, nor did I expect it to play out at all the way it did, and I’m so glad it shocked me the way it did, because I finished it over a month ago and I still reel from it whenever I think about it. I wish I could go into specifics, because this book awakens the book analyst in me, but I can only really say how intensely I loved the complexity of it. It’s about a young man named Tristan who goes to return letters to the sister of Will Bancroft, his friend and lover, that she’d written to him during the war. During this journey, the story of what actually happened between Tristan and Will is revealed, and it KNOCKED MY SOCKS OFF, for lack of a better description. The way Boyne unravels truth and cowardice and the war between them was truly fantastic. I loved this book.
7. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
This book is one of my favorite pieces of historical fiction I read this year. Set in early 19th century Iceland and based on a true story, Agnes Magnusdottir is sent to live with a family on an isolated farm to await execution for a murder. Burial Rites was so rich in atmosphere, I felt as freezing and damp and windswept as Hannah Kent described the setting while I was reading this book. More than that, the way the characters snuck under my skin, and the way Kent reveals the story – told in 3rd and first person, which she pulls of flawlessly – still haunts me. The ending will forever stay with me.
6. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
I loved this book from the very first page. The setting and atmosphere this story is set are among my very favorite I’ve read this year, and I enjoyed every moment I was in it. Set in medieval Russia, it was magical and warm amidst the freezing cold, and I loved the balance of fantasy and historical fiction. This book is long and sprawling, but it tells the story of Vasya, a girl with a special set of talents and a heart made of something slightly different than those around her, and a priest who comes to her village to instill fear of what they’ve always know. I absolutely adored the characters, Vasya especially, and I love the way the plot used fantasy to tell very real history. I had the most enjoyable time reading this book, and I can’t wait to read its sequel this year.
5. Winter by Marissa Meyer
You know that “last book in a series” feeling? Everything has built up to something fantastic, you’re devoted to the characters, you’re desperate to see what happens and yet you don’t want it to end? This book was all of those things TO THE EXTREME. Not only that, but it’s my favorite book in the Lunar Chronicles for how everything comes together and the characters introduced. I feel like it’s a slightly unpopular opinion, but Winter and Jacin had my favorite romance of all the characters. I was living for their pain. The spin on the Snow White story was brilliant (when I was little, Snow White was The Movie I watched over and over and over). I had so much fun reading this series and this book. And it’s also sweet to me because I’d spent an entire day reading it curled up on my bed with my cat, who died a few months later. I read a lot of books with him by my side, but this one particularly sticks out in my memory, perhaps just because it was so nice.
4. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
I expected this book to be good, but I did not expect to come out so entirely swept away by it. It’s about a Chinese-American family living in 1970s Ohio who lose their favorite daughter, to the bottom of a lake. Ng goes into the after effects of Lydia’s death, and the events leading up to it, and it’s so beautifully, delicately, and smoothly done. The narrative reveals the secrets of the family members in relation to Lydia and relation to each other, and these characters broke my heart and stole my heart. Celeste Ng weaves the story together nonlinearly, and she does it with such grace and fluidity, I was marveling at the prose. I finished this book in nearly one sitting on an airplane, and then I was stuck in the air for several more hours with nothing to think about this book, which was okay because I just needed to breathe and bask in it (and cry a little).
3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.” This is the first line of this book, about a small group of students who study Ancient Greece at a quaint college in Vermont who murder one of their own number. This book is long and rather dense, but I was immediately sucked in by the mystique and the prose and especially the atmosphere- a rich and lavish, gloomy and vivid, cold and remote New England, which is truly everything I desire from a setting. Every single one of the characters was awful, and yet I was so intrigued and invested in them. The Secret History is such a dark tale that really captures the twisted desires of the heart.
2. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
This book became an unexpected favorite this year, and an unexpected all time favorite book EVER. I hadn’t even known who John Boyne was before I read this book (The Absolutist came after this), and now he’s one of my very favorite authors. The Heart’s Invisible Furies tells the life story of Cyril Avery, a gay man growing up in Ireland’s oppressive Catholic environment in the 20th century. This book is painful and sad, but it’s also hilarious- it’s the funniest book I’ve read this year, and the way Boyne used humor to tell this story was so poignant and, at times, made it even more heartbreaking. I only read this book a few months, but this book has stood out to me and stayed with me in such a different way compared to other books I’ve read this year, and I know it will remain one of my all time favorites.
1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Expressing my experience with this book in coherent words is truly a challenge, because this book was THE most painful book I’ve ever read in my life, but it is absolutely, positively now one of my favorite books ever. The summary on the back of the book will tell you it’s about a group of friends and their lives after college, but it is truly an examination of just how much trauma one human life can sustain. This book is brutal, and it doesn’t work for everyone, and it’s something I recommend with caution because of the extreme nature of it. But the HEART of it, the characters….reached right into my chest and twisted around my internal organs to an extent no other book ever has. This book is incredibly written, terribly devastating, and I absolutely loved it. I knew before I even finished it that it would be my favorite book I read this year, and another one of my all time favorites.
Also, shout out to Rachel for recommending so many of these books! Who knows what this list would have been otherwise???
What are some of your favorite books you read this year?