Sunday, December 31, 2017

TOP 10 FAVOURITE BOOKS OF 2017


As 2017 draws to a close, or perhaps, has drawn to a close, depending on when you are reading this post, I figured it is high time to shape my list of yearly favourites. Because compiling a list of 17 books seemed a bit too tedious, here is a list of my top 10 favourite/loved/recommend to everyone books of 2017.

For the most part, I tried to stick with both books that I had read in 2017 and that were published this year. I think there is only one that was published in 2016, but I loved it and read it this year, so I needed to include it!

Largely unintentionally, this list features quite a variety of genres and includes diverse authors and stories. One of my reading goals this year was to read more diverse books and I think, at least from looking at my favourites, for the most part, I was able to achieve that.

Alright, enough with the pre-amble, let's get to the books! I have listed these books in order of publication date because while I can narrow down the 200+ books I've read this year into 10 favourites, I don't know if I can pick the 'most favourite.'

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall (published August 2016)

This was the one that is on this list even though it came out last year. I read it over the summer and it is still so relevant. Looking at the family of a man who allegedly sexually assaulted a girl, Whittall shows both sides of this very compelling story.

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The story follows the Woodbury family, parents George, a private school teacher previously best known for his heroism after stopping a school shooting years before, and Joan, a hard working head trauma nurse who is extremely level-headed and fiercely loyal, and their two children, Andrew, a thirty-something attorney who lives in NYC with his partner, Jared, and Sadie, their seventeen-year-old Harvard-bound daughter who was a welcome surprise. 

On the outside, they all look picture perfect - coming from old money, living in a house that was paid off generations ago and working hard to get where they are in life. But when George is arrested for sexual assault, their life falls apart. No one knows what to believe, each character wrestling with their own life issues while coming to terms with what George says he didn't do.

This was one of those books where you don't want to see the horrible things that happen but you can't stop reading. It was completely engrossing and twisted. The book focuses on extremely current topics and the consequences (and often lack thereof) for certain people and certain crimes. Whittall looks at the murky mix between right and wrong. This book also takes a look at the family of alleged offenders and accused individuals, how their lives shift dramatically and how they can or cannot come back from it.

Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham (published February 2017) 

This book was one of those stories I knew I was going to love right from the very first page. Latham focuses on the less glamorous and extremely fascinating 1920s in the southern United States with the 'race riot' and includes a diverse cast of characters.

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The story is told in two halves. The first is from William, a bi-racial boy living in 1921 Tulsa during the 'race riot.' His father is white, and his mother is Native American - this creates a whole other tension for Will throughout the story and also adds another layer of history to the story. This timeline shows extreme racism, discrimination, and hate against African-Americans. His story depicts the community of Greenwood, culminating with the burning of the town, and the Dreamland theatre.

The other perspective is of seventeen year old Rowan, a bi-racial girl living in modern-day Tulsa. Her mother is African-American and her father is white, giving insight into racism in today's world. Rowan's family decides to renovate the servant's quarters in their home and they find a body hidden underneath the floorboards. No one knows who it is, but the coins in the man's wallet suggest that he was alive sometime around 1921 - right around the time of the conflict.

This is the historical fiction you need to push yourself to read. I know a lot of people read the words "historical fiction" and immediately turn away, but this book is so much more. Yes, it addresses problems of the past, but more than anything, it shows the prevalence of these issues still today. I'll leave you one of my favourite quotes from this book:
"It was probably quieter a hundred years ago, but that doesn't necessarily mean better. I understand now that history only moves forward in a straight line when we learn from it. Otherwise, it loops past the same mistakes over and over again."

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (published February 2017)

I think it comes as no surprise to anyone to see this book on a list of favourites for this year. Not only is this book extremely important and relevant, it was beyond eye-opening. I think 2017 has been a year of really seeing what the world is made of and what things have to change - and Thomas perfectly encapsulated that in this book.

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The story follows 16-year-old Starr who has just witnessed a police officer murder of one of her friends after they were leaving a party. This book is inspired by the Black Lives Matter Movement, but it is so much more than that. There is love, hate, family, friendship, racism, police brutality, the list goes on.

Sometimes it is hard to put yourself in other people's shoes, especially when their world and life seems so different from your own. But Thomas does a fantastic job of laying it all out. She presents both sides of every story: the police officer's interpretation of the situation vs. Starr's first-hand account; Starr's uncle and aunt who are considered rich vs. Starr's family, more on the poor side; Starr's uncle Carlos, a black cop who is enraged that a fellow officer pulled a gun on two unarmed teens vs. Officer Cruise, a white cop who some say was just doing his job.

This is one of those books that everyone is and should be talking about.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor (published March 2017)

At first, I was a little hesitant to pick this book up. I tried to read one of Taylor's other novels and just was not a fan. I am so glad, however, that I ended up reading this book because it turned out to be the beginning of what promises to be a great series!

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The story follows two main perspectives, Lazlo Strange and Sarai. Lazlo is a library in a magical town who is fascinated by the seemingly lost city of Weep. Sarai is half-human, half-god who lives in Weep and was never supposed to survive the attack that killed most of the gods 15 years ago. 

While I initially had some trouble getting into it at the beginning, I'm glad I stuck with it. Once I got into it, I was hooked. Like the romance, the whole story has a bit of a slow-burn that builds up to a dramatic ending. This book was what I wanted Daughter of Smoke & Bone to be.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (published May 2017) 

This is the perfect cute diverse summer contemporary. It was one of my most anticipated reads of the year, and I am happy to say it definitely lived up to my expectations and the hype!

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The story follows two teenaged Indian-Americans, Dimple and Rishi. Dimple lives and breathes computer coding, it's her dream. So when her parents allow her to go to Insomnia Con, the 6-week summer program where you compete to design an app, Dimple cannot wait! Rishi is more of a hopeless romantic. He's always looked up to his own parents' fairy tale romance. When his parents suggest he attend the Con to meet Dimple and see if a marriage match is viable, Rishi agrees. Following an awkward first meeting, Dimple and Rishi are partnered up for the project and have to spend the rest of the program working together.

Oddly, I think what I loved most about this book was the conflict. If you've read any number of romance novels, you know there is always the conflict that breaks the couple up before they live happily ever after. Anyway, I could feel it coming in this book, but I was nervous to see how Menon would handle it. I won't spoil anything, but I will say that the conflict she chose was brilliant. It struck a chord with Dimple's inner character, the person she always said she wanted or didn't want to be.

Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios (published June 2017)

This book, like the title suggests, is about a 'bad romance.' Demetrios takes on the topic of toxic relationships in this novel quite well, and from the author's note, she writes from a personal point of view. This is an extremely emotion book, but one I am very happy to have read.

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The story follows seventeen-year-old Grace through her junior and senior years of high school. She'd been crushing on Gavin for a while and when his girlfriend, Summer, broke up with him, she couldn't believe her luck, especially when he told her that her note was the only thing that got him going after his suicide attempt after the breakup. 

After living for years with an emotionally and physically abusive stepfather and a mother who is too exhausted to stand up to it, Grace thinks that Gavin is her salvation. But Gavin quickly becomes possessive and demanding, brushing it off like he just loves her too much to lose her and threatening to take his life again if she leaves.

This book was hard to read at some points because it was so raw and emotional, but I found Demetrios's writing almost cathartic and very poignant.

Aftercare Instructions by Bonnie Pipkin (published June 2017)

Initially, I was really hesitant going into this book. It deals largely with teen pregnancy and abortion - and I wasn't sure if any author would be able to portray such an intense topic well. While this is an extremely polarizing issue for many people, Pipkin looks at the after-effects, not the decisions leading up to the procedure.

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The book follows seventeen-year-old Genesis, or Gen as many call her, and opens with her walking into the waiting room of Planned Parenthood after terminating an unwanted pregnancy, looking for her boyfriend, Peter who brought her... and left her there. This story is not only about the choice Gen makes but how she moves forward without Peter who has apparently fallen off the face of the planet. Gen's home life isn't great either: after her father died of a drug overdose, her mother hasn't been able to hold it together. Gen struggles to care for her mother and herself.

The writing style was phenomenal and I flew through every chapter at lightning speed. Each chapter alternates with a play script, theatre is an important part of this book, and is set in the past, giving an impromptu acted flashback. I really loved this technique not only because I've recently discovered I really enjoy reading plays, but also because it was an easy way to differentiate timelines. Anything in the script format was a flashback. It helped ensure everything flowed and it was an interesting addition to the story.

I was immediately swept up into the story and I couldn't stop until it was done. Even now that I've finished it, I can't stop thinking about it.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (published September 2017)

If you forced me to pick my most favourite favourite, I think I would be hard-pressed not to choose this book. It was one of those ones that snuck up on me, I was on the fence about reading it and decided to give it a shot. And I don't think a day has gone by since I finished this book that I haven't thought about it.

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The story is really about an entire town, but it focuses on three main families. The two matriarchs include Elena Richardson, a Shaker Heights native working as a journalist who is raising four teenagers, Lexie, Moody, Trip, and Izzy, with her lawyer husband. She is renting out a house to Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl. The third family includes a couple fighting to adopt a baby whose mother, in a moment of desperation, gave her up. As a custody battle ensues, the community is shaken to its core and the true boundaries of the utopian perfection are stretched.

One of the aspects of this book that immediately drew me in was the writing style and the narration. Ng weaves the story in a quality of writing that far surpasses many other books I've ever read. The way she is able to tell the story, both in the current time and through flashes back to the past, flows seamlessly. The narration of the book switches from third person narrative with all the characters so flawlessly that you don't even realize a narrator has changed until you hear their distinct voice. Ng switches narrator without ever disengaging from the story.

While this book is a bit of a slower build, you don't mind because you can't help but savour the story. I found myself wondering where things were going but thinking it didn't really matter because whatever I was reading at that moment was so well done, the rest of the plot didn't matter.

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds (published October 2017) 

I've recently discovered a new-found enjoyment of stories told in verse and poetic narrations. I had heard great things about Reynolds before this book, but hadn't had the chance to pick up any of his books. After reading this book, I am sorry I didn't read his books sooner!

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The story, written in verse, takes place over the span of one minute. The main character, Will, is on his way to get revenge for his brother, Shawn's death. The book takes place in an elevator, Will is riding it to down from the seventh floor to go find Shawn's killer. But once he gets to the sixth floor, Shawn's friend Buck gets on. He begins to ask Will questions about what he means to do with Shawn's gun. That's not the weird part though, the weird part is that Buck is dead. And so is Dani, Will's childhood friend who gets on the elevator on the fifth floor. With each floor, a new person gets on - someone connected to Will and someone who is dead. As they descend, Will begins to question himself and the three Rules: No crying, no snitching and always get revenge.

Reynolds also touches on some heavier issues including drug dealing, gun violence, and gangs - and while these issues are relevant to the plot, they never overtake Will and his story. They are just pieces of the world he lives in and part of what got people he knows killed. 

This is one of those books that will be a quick read but will stay with you. I finished it in under an hour, I think at one point I stopped reading to catch my breath and I was already almost done. Reynolds keeps you turning the pages and enthralled with the story from beginning to end.

Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills (published December 2017)

Finally, my most recent favourite. Mills has a knack for writing amazingly well-fleshed out characters and this book was no different. And I found myself physically laughing at some of the things these characters said as I was reading. I don't think I've ever wanted to hang out with a group of characters as much as I did these ones.

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This book follows Claudia, a girl who overhears a conversation she wasn't supposed to. Really, this is a very small part of this book, but it makes a big impact. Soon she finds herself on the wrong side of Iris, a 'mean girl' but also a social outsider. After they fail the paper they were forced to write together, the girls find themselves making it up by participating in the school's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. But things aren't all bad. Claudia works as a member of the crew, which means she gets to spend time with Gideon, the goofy and hilarious guy with killer dimples.

It was pretty clear from early on that while this book was going to have a romance, it was going to be a classic slow burn. Which, to be honest, I don't always love, but Mills got it so right. There were other things going on in the story so it wasn't boring and the romance was just kind of in the background, waiting for its moment.

I really can't say enough good things about this book! GO READ IT!

And with that, we have come to the end of my top 10 favourite reads of 2017. I hope you have found some new books to add to that never-ending TBR, or if nothing else, I hope you enjoyed re-living (in my opinion), some of the best books of the year!