Best & Worst of the 46 Books I read in 2017

During 2017 I expanded my reading horizons to include many books I wouldn’t normally choose. The selection contained mostly novels, a few memoirs, other various non-fiction works, an art book and a screenplay. In an attempt to make this post useful to readers, I’ve created sections to group the books based on my overall enjoyment of the texts. Most, but not all of the books I read during 2017 were released in 2017. The overall selection was heavily influenced by copies I received freely from publishers through Goodreads giveaways. A full list of titles appears at the end of the post.

My six favorite books:

Taduno’s Song – An African musician must find his lost voice in order to rescue his lover from a corrupt government.

The Clairvoyants– A Cornell student who sees spirits of the deceased unravels the mystery surrounding a missing persons case.

Songs of the Baka* – A writer and photographer share their travels to several uncommon destinations.

Spaceman of Bohemia* – A man on a solo mission in space is abandoned by his wife and encounters a strange creature aboard his ship.

Shelter in Place – A bipolar man falls in love with a woman who comes and goes after his mother is imprisoned for killing a man with a hammer.

The Fortunate Ones* – A painting stolen from a Jewish home by the Nazis during World War II resurfaces in Los Angeles decades later and brings together an unlikely pair of women.

After those six, my next nine top picks:

Under the Harrow – A suspense thriller involving the murder of a woman in England.

The One Eyed Man – After becoming a widower, a man lets his true self shine through resulting in his own reality TV show.

Brussels Noir* – Short stories, some bizarre, that take place in Brussels.

Soldier Boy* – Based on a true story, this YA book relays the stories of two boy soldiers in the Ugandan civil war.

Men without Women – Short stories from Japan focused on men without women.

Oola* – Thought-provoking story of boy meets girl and their hermetic existence.

Twig* – A woman coming of age in 1950’s America deals with life’s struggles.

A Fortune Foretold* – A woman coming of age in 1950’s Sweden deals with life’s struggles.

Sourdough – A tech industry workaholic is transformed into a breadmaker after being gifted a unique sourdough starter.

Four books that should have been better:

The King is Always Above the People* – Short stories involving Latinx characters.

O Glorious City : A Love Letter to San Francisco – A collection art commissioned for the anniversary of San Francisco’s City Hall.

A Loving, Faithful Animal* – A girl in Australia comes of age in a broken home.

As Red as Blood* – Scandinavian teens find a bloody bag of money.

Four books I feel would be better to pass on:

We’ll Sleep When We’re Old* – An Italian media mogul plots and schemes to hype an upcoming film failure.

Malafemmena – Short stories focusing on female protagonists in untraditional situations.

Schadenfreude, A Love Story* – A memoir by a German major about her time abroad and PhD struggles.

A Life of Adventure and Delight* – Short stories of everyday life involving characters of Indian descent.

All titles appear below in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Title links above and below are to book reviews I’ve written. Carey, Currie, Maksik, Murakami and Sloan are the only authors I’ve read before this year. I’m happy to answer any questions about these books or provide suggestions for further reading if there’s a certain title you’ve particularly enjoyed.

So Much I Want to Tell You* – Anna Akana
The King is Always Above the People* – Daniel Alarcón
The Leaf Reader* – Emily Arsenault
Taduno’s Song – Odafe Atogun
Mexico Stories* – Josh Barkan
Under the Harrow – Flynn Berry
The Clairvoyants*- Karen Brown
Wrong about Japan – Peter Carey
The Hanging Girl*- Eileen Cook
We’ll Sleep When We’re Old* – Pino Corrias
Book of Moon* – George Crowder
The One Eyed Man – Ron Currie Jr.
The Slave* – Anand Dilvar
Brussels Noir* – Michael Dufranne
Malafemmena – Louisa Ermelino
The Sunlight Pilgrims* – Jenni Fagan
O Glorious City : A Love Letter to San Francisco – Jeremy Fish
Soldier Boy* – Keely Hutton
Songs of the Baka* – Dennis James
Spaceman of Bohemia* – Jaroslav Kalfar
White Fur* – Jardine Libaire
Bluebird, Bluebird* – Attica Locke
The Infinite* – Nicholas Mainieri
Shelter in Place – Alexander Maksik

The Beauty of the Fall* – Rich MarcelloBright, Precious Days* – Jay McInerney
Leopard at the Door* – Jennifer McVeigh
Men without Women – Haruki Murakami
Wolf Haven* – Annie Marie Musselman & Brenda Peterson
The Gun – Fuminori Nakamura
Oola* – Brittany Newell
Twig* – Madelon Phillips
A Fortune Foretold* – Agneta Pleijel
Rebels like Us* – Liz Reinhardt
A Loving, Faithful Animal* – Josephine Rowe
Fantastic Beasts Original Screen Play* – J.K. Rowling
Schadenfreude, A Love Story* – Rebecca Schuman
Lola* – Melissa Scrivner Love
A Life of Happiness and Delight* – Akhil Sharma
As Red as Blood* – Salla Simukka
Sourdough – Robin Sloan
Our Own Private Universe* – Robin Talley
A French Wedding* – Hannah Tunnicliffe
The Fortunate Ones* – Ellen Umansky
Fraulein M.* – Caroline Woods

*These titles were given to me through Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review | Soldier Boy by Keely Hutton

soldier boy coverBased on a true story, Soldier Boy recounts Ricky’s initiation into Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Ricky is just a child when his village is stormed and he and his brother are forced to watch as his parents and sisters are burned to death in their family hut. Taken captive, the two boys become model soldiers for the LRA as they are shaped into valuable resources with prominent positions fighting government troops and raiding other villages. Simultaneously told is the story of boy soldier Samuel, recovering from traumatic leg injury many years later in the Friends of Orphans compound.

Hutton has crafted a very successful novel in Soldier Boy. This YA book deals with a very heavy topic and breaks it down into digestible chunks for younger readers. The terror and violence suffered by the Ugandans comes across clearly in this tastefully written account. The text carries along at a good clip with clean writing and visualizable descriptions. This book would be a solid supplement to a history class dealing with Uganda or an English class looking to broaden world views and understanding. Check out this highly recommended read from a library near you.

I received an advance reader’s edition of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

Book Review | A Loving, Faithful Animal by Josephine Rowe

loving faithful animalSet in Australia, A Loving, Faithful Animal shares the stories of a members in a disjointed family dealing with issues. Sisters Ruby and Lani spend a good deal of time outside the home. Their father, a sometimes abusive, Vietnam Veteran lives there, but often leaves for indeterminate lengths of time. Sometimes bruised, when not tracking down her husband in seedy bars and motels, their mother prefers an escape that involves living in her memories. Lani’s promiscuous habits and other poor decision making mean young Ru is often fending for herself.

The writing in this book is impressive, but clarity is sometimes lacking. Rowe’s use of the informal “you” in addressing Ruby made the story easy to jump into. However, coupled with chapters devoted to alternating family members, it created an additional layer to process. Each character’s section emphasized different aspects of the family’s shared story and all the sections came together well to make a whole. Readers who want the whole story spelled out will find problems with this format because there are several gaps left in the narrative. This book would appeal to fans of artful or raw fiction, especially those interested in reading about dysfunctional families. It is set to be released in mid-September, soon you should be able to place a hold on it a library near you.

I received an advance reading copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

*If you’ve enjoyed reading A Loving, Faithful Animal, you may be interested in Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh (2017).

Book Review | Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh

leopard at the door.jpgTaking place in 1950’s Kenya, Leopard at the Door focuses on a young lady’s return to the farm where she grew up. After the death of her mother, Rachel was sent to boarding school in England, far away from her father and home. In the six years she has been away, there have been some changes in Kenya. In addition to having to deal with her father’s new live-in paramour, the formation and actions of a political activist group, Mau Mau, threaten the family’s safety. Rachel finds herself in difficult situations as she attempts to rebuild her Kenyan life.

Excellent for fans of historical African fiction or women’s fiction, this novel moves at a relaxed pace, while still keeping the reader’s attention. Characters are developed enough for the reader to have strong feelings about them. The writing is clear and easy to follow, with chapters of varying lengths. McVeigh’s solidly researched text provides insight into Kenya as a British Colony at the time. Check it out from a library near you!

I received this uncorrected proof as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

*If you’ve enjoyed reading Leopard at the Door, you may be interested in October by Zoë Wicomb (2014).

Best & Worst of the 23 books I read during 2016

My reading selection for 2016 contained 11 novels, three memoirs, four other various non-fiction works, three picture books, a novella and a play. In an attempt to make this post useful to readers, I’ve created sections to group the books based on my overall enjoyment of the texts. Most, but not all of the books I read during 2016 were released in 2016. The overall selection was heavily influenced by copies I received freely from publishers through Goodreads giveaways. A full list of titles appears at the end of the post.

My four favorite books:

Native Fashion Now* – Accompanies the art exhibition Native Fashion Now and honors contemporary Native American fashion throughout the past sixty-five years.

Paradime* – Doppelgänger story about two men trading lives.

Stepmother– A down-to-earth memoir describing the ups and downs of stepmothering.

The Hating Game* – A romantic comedy about two coworkers who make games of mentally torturing each other before entering a relationship.

After those four, my next five favorite books:

Imagine Me Gone* – Uses multiple narrators to trace the story of a family of five dealing with depression in its members.

The Mountains of Parnassus* – A philosophical dystopian novel about a future society without traditional government or religion by a Nobel Prize winner. To be published 2017.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things – A psychological thriller following a schizophrenic who suffers a breakdown.

The Best Possible Answer* – A YA novel about a high schooler dealing with family issues, first love and panic attacks while trying to prepare for college.

The Journey* – An illustrated book for children dealing with the adult theme of emigration caused by war.

Four books that should have been better:

Ajax Penumbra 1969 – The prequel to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, this short book details the search for an ancient lost text.

How to Ruin Everything – A collection of essays by rapper and poet Watsky about various life experiences.

Tram 83 – Deals with two very different men trying to make it in a country resembling the DR Congo.

Sunless – A novel showing a family’s decline as they deal with a large prescription drug company.

Four books that I wouldn’t recommend to an enemy:

Mr. Bunny’s Adventure* – A picture book with poor grammar about a bunny meeting a giant.

The Mermaid Girl* – A lady who used to be a mermaid in a tank at the circus leaves her transient life to pursue a family of her own.

Only in Naples* – A memoir by a rich girl about her time spent in Italy for an internship.

The Devil’s Dancer* – A play about the production of a play which mocks everything from pop culture to capitalism.

All titles appear below in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Title links above and below are to book reviews I’ve written. Sloan is the only author I’ve read before this year. I’m happy to answer any questions about these books or provide suggestions for further reading if there’s a certain title you’ve particularly enjoyed.

The Story of a Brief Marriage* – Anuk Arudpragasm
A Cure for Suicide – Jesse Ball
Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook – Mary Bergin
The Devil’s Dancer* – Victor Bertocchi
Sunless – Gerard Donovan
100 Nature Hot Spots in Ontario* – Chris Earley and Tracy C. Read
Paradime* – Alan Glynn
Imagine Me Gone* – Adam Haslett
Happy Hooker – Xaviera Hollander
The Best Possible Answer* – E. Katherine Kottaras

Native Fashion Now* – Karen Kramer
Stepmother* – Marianne Lile
The Mountains of Parnassus* – Czeslaw Milosz
The Storm* – Akiko Miyakoshi
Tram 83 – Fiston Mwanza Mujila
I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Iain Reid
Mr. Bunny’s Adventure* – Alisha Ricks
The Journey* – Francesca Sanna
Ajax Penumbra 1969 – Robin Sloan
The Mermaid Girl* – Erika Swyler
The Hating Game* – Sally Thorne
How to Ruin Everything – George Watsky
Only in Naples* – Katherine Wilson

*These titles were given to me in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review | The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasm

story-of-a-brief-marriage-by-anuk-arudpragasmThe Sri Lankan Civil War occurred from 1983-2009 and claimed more than 100,000 victims. Arudpragasm’s first novel, The Story of a Brief Marriage, takes place during the war and provides an acute and brief view into one young man’s evacuation and displaced life in a camp. While the protagonist’s marriage does take place during the story, I didn’t feel it was the book’s focus as the title suggests.

For a first novel, this book is definitely a success. The language used is very descriptive, but still easy enough to read without too much concentration. The story is clear and flows well enough, but it was not engrossing. Because of the book’s specific subject matter and focus, it serves well as a window into a situation most people will never experience. This book isn’t the fun read to cheer you up type, but it is deep and thought provoking without being overbearing. Check it out from a library near you.

I received an advance reading copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

Book Review | The Journey by Francesca Sanna

The Journey is an illustrated story of emigration resulting from war based on the author’s interviews with families. The tale begins with a family of four, but after the father is lost to the war, it follows the mother and two children as they flee their country. They travel for a long time, through various landscapes using several methods of transit.

This book is beautifully illustrated and tells an intriguing tale. The long voyage of the family allows for the author’s illustrative talents to really shine. The text is easy to understand and mostly simplified with an appropriate amount on each page. The target audience is primary school aged children 3-7 years, but the subject matter may require further digestion. It would be a great starting point for a conversation with kids about migration of people or effects of war. Check it out from a library near you!

I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author for participating in the giveaway.