My 6 Best Reads of 2017

2017 was INSANE for reading for me. I have never read so many words in all my life. Not only books you can quantify, but countless fanfictions. But alas, I confess too much.

Rereads

I also did a lot of rereading in 2017, and that included two favorite Brontë classics, Jane Eyre and Villette. Also, before rereading a 2016 favorite The Madwoman Upstairs, which involves a lot of Brontë family history, I wanted to tackle a biography about my favorite author first. I chose Claire Harman’s A Fiery Heart for its look at Charlotte’s relationship and correspondence with Monsieur Constatin Heger, her teacher in Brussells. For anyone who has ever wanted to read a biography on Charlotte Brontë, I highly recommend this one (you know you’ve always wanted to know about her indomitable father who outlived all his children and the fiendish sot Branwell Brontë).

Best Reread of 2017

Aside from the entire Raven Cycle series, which I listened to on audio book less than a month after reading them (and yearn to return to again!!!), I would say Jane Eyre was the best reread, because I already want to re-revisit it and all of its delectable intricacies–remember the horse chestnut tree split by lightning? Jane’s nightmare about a child being torn from her arms the night before her wedding? Or how about when Mr. Rochester dresses in drag as an old gypsy woman to try to get Jane to reveal her feelings for him? Yeah, didn’t think so. Add it to your reread list and thank me later.

Top 6 Reads of 2017

6. Jane Steele

jane-steele

 

Admittedly, I was iffy going into this book, being that it is about a serial killer Jane Eyre-esque character; I’m just not that type of girl into the whole Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies-type rewrites. But this was different than what I imagined. Jane Steele is an extremely witty, engaging narrator full of agency.  Her orphan story is a heart-breaking and harrowing one that leads her down a path of shaky self-redemption with one flawed and charming Charles Thornfield along the way. The history in this book is rich and laps at you in heavy, lulling waves. I couldn’t put it down.

 

5. Eligible

A phenomenal modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice by the illustrious Curtis Sittenfeld. I have now read a good chunk of her bibliography (also Sisterland and Prep) and this book fits Sittenfeld’s MO to a T. Her deft handling of romance, her trademark humor, and lovable, flawed, witty narrator are expertly utilized in this modernized Austen story. You leave the society of 19th century England behind and bring the Bennett family and their beaus into a world of texting, fad diets, Crossfit, and reality television. A surprising retelling and clever read.

4. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

tggtvav

Can we just take a second and give that cover some much-deserved love? I usually hate seeing the characters on the front of novels, but this guy IS the Monty in my head, like the cover design artist incepted this dude into my medulla oblangata. The characterization, pacing, and story of this novel were all exquisite. I could hear Monty’s voice talking to me as I read the story. It was a really nice combination of light, fun modern day read but it was also very much a historical romance with thrilling highs and heavy lows. The balance between these two ends of the spectrum was most impressive. Lee has a follow-up novel coming out, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Pirating, and the fact that I definitely want it should say quite a bit about my faith in her as an author.

3. Autoboyography

autoboyography

 

This novel seriously broke my heart. Like, I have never been so viscerally affected by a novel, which is weird to realize. I have favorites that have moved me, but I was destroyed, shattered by this book when I was reading, after I finished, and for days after. It was like getting over a breakup to heal from it; and not because it’s all bad/sad (after all, no one dies), although the tension between religion and homosexuality was heavy, and these authors gracefully navigated the powerful realities, revelations, and emotions that came with this unique situation between the main character and his love interest.

 

 

2. Uprooted

fantasy novel

 

I read Uprooted very early on in the year, so it feels a bit like a distant dream. But a very, very good dream I wouldn’t mind having again. Soon. I loved the setting, the magic, the magic of place, the mythic atmosphere, the painful suspense, the horror, the magic tutelage, and the characters. These characters are so real that the book feels heavier in your hands. You think, while reading, that perhaps at any moment Agniezska will tumble out from between the pages in her stained and tattered home-spun dress or that the Dragon will open up a portal right into your living room. It feels like a classic and definitely earns its place with the monoliths in fantasy.

 

1. The entire Raven Cycle series

I have a separate, more all-encompassing review for here, because there is entirely too much to say about this series. Every plot point, every character, every nuanced detail surprised me in their uniqueness. If I have not convinced you over the course of three blog posts now to check this series out, then I’m just going to have to hunt you down and force you to read it until you fall in love. I fell in love at Chapter 4, about 38 pages into the paperback. That may as well be love at first sight.

Most Unexpected Read of 2017

All For the Game Series by Nora Sakavic

I found this series completely by accident. When looking up copies of The Raven King (by Maggie Stiefvater) to buy, I saw another novel entitled The Raven King by Sakavic. It was the second in her All For the Game trilogy. As I was reading the summary, I was thinking what the heck is “Exy”? And so I went down a hole for about two weeks last summer, sucked into this sport Sakavic made up and her crew of misfits that play it. The odd thing is, I am not exactly what one would call….sporty. Or even all that interested in sports, aside from an analytical standpoint. So I was blown away that her detailed descriptions of these fast-paced violent games engaged me so thoroughly. Also, there’s like a hitman/crime ring sub-plot, and who doesn’t need that in their lives?

Have you read any of these? What were some of your favorite reads from last year? 

The Writing Kind

“The sensual novelist and his admirer, are beings of depraved appetites and sickly imaginations, who having learnt the art of self-tormenting, are diligently and zealously employed in creating an imaginary world, which they can never inhabit, only to make the real world, with which they must necessarily be conversant, gloomy and insupportable.”

Patrick Brontë’s children had the run of his books and must have read these words often, but no group of young people ever took less heed of such a warning.

–From Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart, Claire Harman

Sometimes I wake up before the sun does to satisfy this craving. I shuffle on aching bones that ache for no reason other than holding up my person to the coffee machine. I say machine because it is not the simple device the coffee maker is. Insert cup under spit, deposit cup of grounds on top of needle, pull lever to enact piercing and scalding processes. Acquire sweet treat if one has been hunted in the wilderness and brought back home on recent scavenging trip. No, these are not the cravings this beast has woken at this ungodly hour to satiate.

I shuffle back to office and sit down. Squirm in chair. Aching bones and all. Open blinds because sometimes our kind like to feel connected to the great outdoors. Shut blinds. Dawn is too bright.

The images of a recent dream dance a quadrille in my mind’s eye: a formal dining room resplendent with light from a three-sided bay window; the room occupied by a crudely made dining room table circa 1970 at which nobody sits; outside the window were rose bushes, not all the picture of health, some new blooms, some leaves snail-bitten, but the coral pink of their petals struck the eye amid the shaded garden vista.

Return to the now. Sometimes it’s not even my own inner voice demanding it, but that of them, those clamorous beings in my head. Mind torn between sickly leaves and murmuring voices caressing my brain, I turn back to the work at hand. I do not know where to begin. So I just open a door. Sometimes the words that satisfy the craving sputter out as though from the irked coffee machine. Sometimes they pour out as easy and rich as cream.

Sometimes the craving is fixed at night over coffee again, of course, and often a mischievous cigarette. The sounds of Saturday night surround us like the rings around Saturn–the high school band’s metronome, the laughter of unseen people, a distant siren. As massive and exclusive as our inner worlds are, we cannot seem to shake the rest off the world. But the company, the indulgence of nicotine and caffeine, again, are not the primary cravings sought at this assembly.

It is the build up of weeks in planning, the preparation, the carefully laid stonework and mortar of verb, noun, and article. The layering of tone, character, and story. It is of like minds meeting like, kinfolk in this art sitting down with me on the other end of the screen before the sun rises, or in a patio chair across from me at the local coffee shop until midnight. It is solitude, as well. It is living two lives: the external, full of aching sorrow, vivid joy, and twisting nostalgia; and the mind’s life, full of aching sorrow, vivid joy, and twisting nostalgia.

For the writing kind, this craving is necessary.

6 Awesome Books I Read in 2016

I read approximately 30 books last year, and there were some gems among them, including a new favorite. I narrowed it down to six favorites for this post. I can only tell you what I loved about these books, sans spoilers,  and maybe convince one or two of you to pick up something that you wouldn’t usually turn to.

Sharp Objects (Mystery/Thriller)

18045891

This book, this book right here. Wow. You want to be punched in the face and then falsely comforted by a book? Look, I didn’t think I did either, until I read this. All you have to do is go ‘look inside’ on amazon, and read the first couple pages. Flynn reads like a Sylvia Plath poem in a crime noir. Every sentence builds on the previous all the way to the sick-to-your-stomach merry-go-round ride at the end. Read Gone Girl or Dark Places? Great, now read this, and be happy you saved the best for last.

Camille Preaker, fresh out of the psychiatric hospital and looking for approval from her editor, is sent back to her hometown to look into a potential serial strangler of little girls. Problem is, returning to Wind Gap means facing her past, specifically her mother, with whom she has a strained relationship, her ethereal half-sister Amma, and the ghost of her dead sister, Marian.

Sisterland (Contemporary/Women’s Fiction)

16099180.jpg

A compulsive contemporary read with a semi-fantastical element, this book was shocking in its vivid realism. Kate is the good girl of the sisters, the one that cares about what other people think, the one that ‘does things right’. Violet is the non-conformist, brutally honest, true to herself sister that embraces the psychic ability that they discovered at an early age and her premonition of an impending earth quake that gets her a spot on the national news.

This novel should not be written off as only chick-lit or a book about psychics. Sittenfeld combines masterful storytelling with subtle acknowledgement of all those what-if forks throughout our lives. Bringing to mind Niffeneger’s deft handling of that slice of magic through ordinary life in her Time Traveler’s Wife, Sisterland observes friendship, and romantic and familial relationships with a sharp emotional clarity.

Night Film (Mystery/Thriller)

10112885Horror is a third genre in which this novel fits (from my 2016 reads, see also A Head Full of Ghosts and My Best Friend’s Exorcism). Though this novel did call to mind House of Leaves in its experimental story-telling method, it is also unique.

Night Film had a hard-boiled tone to it in some parts, a thrilling ghost story in others, and the recounting of great and dark man’s horrific legacy overall. While about a prolific horror film director, who went to all lengths to capture true, unaffected horror, the story is told by Scott McGrath, the reporter who once tried to out director Stanislas Cordova’s sinister methods and lost everything in the battle. Now that Cordova’s daughter Ashley has turned up dead (and was pretty ghostly before she died), McGrath declares war. Will he find the truth he is looking for? You’ll have to read to see.

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (YA)19547856

I read a lot of YA last year. My reread of Carry On aside, this was the most flawless, engrossing, teen-angst-ridden book I could have devoured in two days. And I did. (I can also highly recommend First & Then and P.S. I Like You for light-hearted, touching reads, but for heavier/darker YA, NestLooking for Alaska, and Wintergirls were also great.)

Simon’s day is already going south quick when he realizes that awkward class clown Martin (think Ackley from The Catcher in the Rye) is blackmailing him, threatening to reveal his homosexuality far before he’s ready. A timely disturbance to the butterflies he feels when emailing his also gay, anonymous pen-pal, who quite possibly attends Simon’s school. This book took me back to high school, to drama club, to starbursts in your chest of like-like and love, and to trying so hard it hurts to define yourself while defying the definitions placed on you from without.

Longbourn (Historical)

18399238After diving into Downton Abbey, I thirsted to read about how the other half lives in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, as represented by Baker. I was not disappointed. Some Austen and/or historical purists disdain this book for historical inaccuracies or perceived misinterpretations of Austen’s text. In my opinion, it is a good story beautifully written. It dug into my heart and lives there still. How can I convey how much and why I love this book? Okay, you have a certain food that you love, right? The ultimate comfort food. Maybe you throw it together on rainy days, maybe you just need it after having a really bad day…or a really good one. And you know how you feel, afterward, in the pit of your stomach? Not just full, but satiated? This is a book you will want to eat. And it will satiate you, I promise.

*FAVORITE BOOK OF 2016*

The Madwoman Upstairs

25814154

And my absolute favorite book of 2016, which has been bumped up to my top four favorite novels ever (sitting prettily aside Jane EyreHouse of Leaves, and The Catcher in the Rye), was The Madwoman Upstairs. 

So, if you’ve ever done any type of feminist research on the Brontës’ works, you probably ran into a little tome called The Madwoman in the Attic (Gilbert & Gubar), not to be confused with the novel, The Madwoman Upstairs. Lowell’s title is a play on the excellent collection of feminist analyses, but I promise the book is less homework-y and more fun. 🙂

If you take immense pleasure in archaic romances (as defined here), you will enjoy this book. Not to be shallow, but debating great literature and semi-colon use with my hellishly good-looking Literature tutor in the pubs of England and yes, the halls of Oxford University, sounds like a little slice of heaven. Even better though, someone else struggles with inarticulateness in the face of the intimidating don. Samantha Whipple, the last Brontë descendant, was home-schooled by her late eccentric father. She is a bit of an odd ball and fairly alone in the world. She comes to Oxford to study literature, gets sequestered in what must surely be an inhabitable tower of the school, and begins to find startling pieces of her past on her doorstep. The mystery of whether her father left her the Brontë legacy, or any legacy at all, absorbs the reader into Sam’s growing obsession. Sam is far from perfect, but this is what makes her a heroine you will adore (or maybe you’ll hate her, but I adored her). Her sense of humor had me laughing out loud, ex:

“The trajectory of the academic year was now spanning out in front of me, and it looked like one blackened stream of intellectual dictatorship. The more time Orville and I spent together, the more I would become one of those pale-faced vampire children in films who emerge only to say something unsettilingly prophetic in a half whisper” —The Madwoman Upstairs

God, I could pull so many passages from this book, but I don’t want to spoil it for you (because you’re about to go buy it, right?). However, it wasn’t just about the narrator voice, or the romance, or the Brontë ghosts Sam spends over three hundred pages chasing (and avoiding in some parts). This book made me think, made me reconsider my own analyses on the literature addressed therein. Part scavenger-hunt, part romance, part spiraling descent into academia (with a touch of madness, of course), this novel leaves you struggling to discern truth from fiction.

Read any of these books? What did you think?

Other recommendations?