The Best Books of 2017

Books a Million: What I Read, Part XVI

It’s been quite some since my last book post, and that’s because admittedly I’ve done very little reading this fall (thanks, Instagram, my pre-bed guilty pleasure). That said, I did make it through seven books on our cruise late summer, as well as another pair over the holidays, so in random order, here they are:

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

I challenge you to read Where’d You Go, Bernadette and not find it funny, endearing, bittersweet and heartwarming all at the same time. That seems to be Semple’s signature style, and her latest read, which came out in October, followed suit. While the premise—a 48-year-old failed graphic artist/career woman-turned-stay-at-home mom Eleanor starts to question her life, her parenting, her marriage, her mere existence—is, at its core, a bit more simplistic than Bernadette, Semple’s strength as an author lies in the complex characters she creates and detailed storylines she assigns each. Everything I loved about her writing style in her debut novel was present in its successor, and while dramatically different in feel, the central characters of Bernadette and Today Will Be Different do bear strikingly similar characteristics (and both are based in Semple’s hometown of Seattle, where ironically I am also at the moment). tl; dr: Liked Bernadette? Give this book a read.

My rating: 4 out of 5

The Singles Game by Lauren Weisberger

I’m going to preface this by saying that Singles Game is chick lit in the finest sense of the term. Dudes, this probably isn’t for you. Ladies, I’m treating this one as a beach-y read, perfect for your long weekend in Miami or the Caribbean as the winter sets in.The premise: Good-girl tennis far falls in love with bad-boy tennis star, simultaneously breaking up with her long-time coach in favor of one that’s both well-known and edgier (read: a total jerk). Similar to how The Devil Wears Prada was clever in its insider-y look at the magazine industry, Singles Game offers a peek at the professional tennis circuit, with not nearly the clever writing as that of Prada. Still, I’m not sure if what I did like about this read was the fact that I was on the USTA juniors circuit for much of my youth and have an affinity for the sport or if Weisberger just gives great chick lit. For those who dig sports reads with a hearty dose of a love triangle thrown in the mix, this book’s for you.

My rating: 3 out of 5

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

This was a dramatically different sort of book than I was expecting—i.e. the title alone made me think it might be loosely based on Ree Drummond’s life in Oklahoma—one that I discovered thanks to many of you who recommended it in the comments. The protagonist, Eva Thorvald, loses her parents at a very young age and is raised by an aunt and uncle, and Stradal knits together various characters’ lives as they intersect over the course of a decade. A lover of ghost peppers from the time she’s small, Eva develops a passion for cooking, working in kitchens from her pre-teen years through building a burgeoning pop-up dinner concept into her 20s. This novel was every bit as humorous as it was heartfelt; as a Southerner, I could relate to many of the Midwestern attributes with which Stradal bestowed his characters, and as a part-time food writer, I loved the way culinary culture drove this book.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Three-Martini Club by Suzanne Rindell

I’m not sure how I stumbled upon this book, though it might have been an advanced galley I was sent by the publisher. Regardless, it was one of those rare moments that I went into starting a novel with zero bias, having not read other reviews to steer my opinion. Set in the late 1950s when racial tension was on the rise, Three-Martini Lunch follows a trio of aspiring authors as they navigate the world of publishing during the Mad Men era. One, a girl Eden has to fight doubly as hard as a male counterpart might as she works as the assistant for a bigwig publishing exec. Another, said publishing exec’s lazy and entitled son, is constantly trying to impress his father while not producing any actual work of merit. The third, a delivery boy named Miles with true unbridled talent, has to work the hardest of them all to overcome two blows against him: being black and being gay. Their lives intertwine in unexpected ways, and the ending is rather gut-wrenching (but worth the pain, so stick with it). Three-Martini Lunch also made me nostalgic for a time period I never actually lived through, though feel as if I have through pop culture (anyone else out there absolutely devour the first season of Good Girls Revolt?).

My rating: 4 out of 5

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

After whizzing through The Nightingale—hands down, my favorite book of the last year—I got back on a Kristin Hannah kick for awhile, doing something I rarely do: re-reading an old favorite. Unfortunately, rarely do you love a book as much as you did the first time around, and that was the case with Firefly Lane. Perhaps it also had touched a nerve the first time as I read it while my mom was (SPOILER ALERT) watching her own Kate die of cancer.

My reason for reading it this time was because Kristin published a sequel that I very much wanted to read, but I felt as if I needed a refresher first. In short, Kate Mularkey and Tully Hart meet during those formative pre-teen years, and despite very different upbringings—Kate the product of a pair of strict parents; Tully, the daughter of a single parent who spends more of her life high than not—the two form a fast friendship that will go on to span three decades. Tully goes onto be a successful news anchor while Kate falls into the life she always knew she’d have: that of a wife and mother.

During their adult years, one major act of betrayal drives a wedge between the two, and they don’t reunite until Kate finds out she has terminal cancer. Firefly may not have lived up to my memory of it, but re-reading it made me cry nonetheless.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

Fly Away by Kristin Hannah

Another SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t read the aforementioned Firefly Lane, this sequel picks up years after Kate died with Tully trying to navigate life without the Mularkeys, only family she has ever known. She becomes a product of her own dysfunctional upbringing, falling into booze and prescription drugs and almost causing her own death before her estranged mother eventually rescues her from her own demise. Simultaneously, Kate’s husband Johnny is an emotional wreck, shuns Tully and must deal with the fact that his once golden child Marah, now a teenager, has chosen a life on the streets as a way to process the grief she feels over her mom’s death. Every character in this novel seems to be falling apart at the seams, and Fly Away was even sadder than its predecessor; I envision Julia Roberts playing the character of Tully if ever a two-part movie were to be made from these books.

My rating: 3 out of 5

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica

I’ve been on a bit of a Mary Kubica tear of late, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. She’s one of my favorite authors at the present thanks to the fluid writing of her trio of psycho thrillers, each of which delivers a whammy at the end, a twist you never see coming. Pretty Baby is no different. The book starts out with Heidi, who lost a baby years before, bringing a young homeless mother, Willow, and her neglected newborn home to live with her family in their Chicago townhouse. Told from three different perspectives, the book is full of surprises that you don’t see coming, in typical Kubica fashion. While The Good Girl is still my favorite of Kubica’s books, I have thoroughly enjoyed all of them.

My rating: 4 out of 5

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

This book opens with Quinn finding a stranger in her bed and her roommate gone. Where’s Esther? becomes the recurring theme throughout the novel as she leaves no stone unturned in locating her roommate through every channel she can think of. Meanwhile, the story flip-flops between Quinn’s search in Chicago and the existence of 18-year-old Alex, who lives an hour north up on the lake, cares for his drunk of a father and meets a mysterious girl named Pearl, who is squatting in the old, abandoned house across the street. Neither narrator is completely likable—why was Quinn such a bad friend to Esther? why is Alex wasting his life away?—which makes it hard to discern who is telling the truth, what exactly is going on here and if the two characters have any common thread. And also, where’s Esther?

My rating: 4 out of 5

The Girls by Emma Cline

Show of hands if you’re equally as obsessed with reading about cult culture as I am? A fan of shows like Big Love and The Path, I knew I’d be into The Girls, as well, when I read that it was one of the most anticipated debuts of last summer. Loosely based on Charles Manson’s cult, The Girls follows one central character, 14-year-old Evie, a particularly despondent teen in Northern California who becomes obsessed with Suzanne, the pack leader of a gang of girls she spots one afternoon in the park. As the days progress, she catches Suzanne’s attention and eventually is invited back to the compound with them, where she quickly becomes smitten with Russell, who is worshiped as a godlike character among all residents of “the ranch.” Without spoiling anything, Evie falls into drugs and sex and even comes close to becoming an accomplice for some very violent crimes.

This book felt very “icky,” for lack of a better word, at times, and it seemed to really lag on in places; I felt like I flew through the first quarter and then dragged my way through the rest. But it was equal parts entertaining and disturbing, especially for someone not alive during the press coverage of the Manson murders, and at the end of the day, I’d read it again.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

Crowned and Dangerous by Rhys Bowen

If you’ve never read a Royal Spyness book, start at the very beginning and read your way through them. Their quick reads, historical fiction that chronicles the Queen’s cousin, 34th in line to the throne, Georgiana Rannoch as she navigates like in 1930s London. That said, this 10th installment was my least favorite of all, beginning with Georgie and Darcy on their way to Scotland to elope, then hopping on over the pond to Ireland as their plans get waylaid when his father is accused of murder.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5

Next up: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom and The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware.

What have you read lately that you just loved?

COMMENTS
  • January 4, 2017

    Yayy, the much anticipated book post! Please don’t leave it this long again – I need inspiration 😉 I purchased Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale – so I’ll read that soon. Mary Kubica’s books sound good and I’ll leave The Girls on my to-read list.

    My favourite books last year were inspired by your suggestion: Caroline Kepnes’ You & Hidden Bodies. I’m reading Wolf Hall at the moment, and I have to say that 10% into the book I’m not liking it very much…
    Dominique recently posted..Plans for 2017My Profile

    • January 6, 2017

      Ha! One of my goals for this year is to blog more frequently but shorter posts, so I’ll try to do more book posts (assuming I actually have time to read this year) =)

      I’m so glad you loved Kepnes as much as I do! I just started The Woman in Cabin 10 and am nearly done. It’s about a travel writer on a cruise press trip who slowly starts to go crazy. I like it so far! Probably because it hits a little close to home 😉

  • January 4, 2017

    I’ve added these to my overdrive wish list! Thanks!

  • January 4, 2017
    Lemon

    I don’t know if I’ve told you about it but you must read “The Kind Worth Killing.” It’s a mystery thriller type that’s not totally predictable like all the other ones. Also, slightly more predictable but still good and gripping is “Behind Closed Doors.” :* (Call me when you’re home and we can discuss March!)

    • January 6, 2017

      Added to the list! And someone gave me a Liane Moriarty book the other day, so it’s perhaps time to finally open that can of worms, too!

  • January 4, 2017

    Yayy, the much anticipated book post! 🙂 I recently purchased The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I can’t wait to start reading it. Kubica’s books sound good, and I’ll also keep The Girls on my reading list for the time being!

    My favourite books of last year were actually your suggestion: Caroline Kepnes’ You & Hidden Bodies. I’m reading Wolf Hall at the moment, even though I’m only at 10% of the book I can’t say I’m liking it… All the more reason to finish it quickly and to start something good 🙂
    Dominique recently posted..Plans for 2017My Profile

    • January 20, 2017

      Ooooh I’m so glad you loved Kepnes’ books, as well! Those were two of my favorites from last year.

  • January 4, 2017

    I just finished reading Grape, Olive, Pig by Matt Goulding of Roads and Kingdoms and I loved it. It’s definitely not a novel (HA!) but I thought it was a really good read. Maybe you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

    P.s. Happy New Year, Kristin!
    Pauline recently posted..European Christmas Trip in 25 PhotosMy Profile

    • January 6, 2017

      Oooh, thanks, Pauline! I’ll check these out. HNY to you too, friend!

  • January 4, 2017
    Sian

    I’ve commented about this before here, but man do I agree with you on the Rhys Bowen. I used to buy the books in hardcover, but now I’m reading them in mass market and reluctantly at that. I really just don’t care about any of these silly people anymore.

    • January 6, 2017

      Oh man, Sian, do you think the series has just run its course? I mean, it *has* been 10 books after all! I can’t think of anything else I’ve ever read with that many installments. I’m just ready for her to marry them off, then maybe introduce a new element, like a baby, and see how Georgie continues her detective work with that added complication! Also, I did not care at all for the setting in Ireland. I like the books that are set in London the best.

      Also, have you read any other series of hers? My mom loves the Molly books, but I just can’t bring myself to read them.

  • January 4, 2017

    Loved the content thank you!

  • January 4, 2017
    Natalie T.

    I have been into essay collections a lot lately. You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein is my go-to recommendation for all of my girlfriends. She’s an EP on Inside Amy Schumer and comparatively, it’s a better book than The Girl with the Lower Tattoo (3 out of 5 stars for Schumer). It’s really funny, heartfelt and feminist. B.J. Novak’s One More Thing waxes and wanes but there are some witty and philosophical moments in there that are worth it. When Breath Becomes Air was one of my favourites this year and grapples with mortality. All the Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is beautiful, lyrical writing and has a unique plot if you’re into historical fiction. I picked up Commonwealth last year and it wasn’t keeping my full attention in the beginning but I’ve re-requested it from the library. Currently reading a few career books and Spinster.

    • January 6, 2017

      Oooh, I did love “I Was Told There’d Be Cake” by Sloane Crosley years ago, so I’m definitely open to humorous essays. Along the same lines, I had dinner with Geraldine/The Everywhereist this week and cannot wait for her book coming out this spring!

      Bummer about Commonwealth. I’ve yet to start it (also had to re-request from the library), but I did read The Girl in Cabin 10 on my flight home from Seattle, and it’s pretty quick and interesting—about a travel writer on a press trip to the Norwegian fjords 😉

  • January 4, 2017

    I read 4 books on my last vacation – including Bernadette, loved it!

    I need to keep better lists like this – I have such a crap memory, I can read a book and forget the ending a month later!
    Leigh | Campfires & Concierges recently posted..Christmas TravelMy Profile

    • January 6, 2017

      Honestly, I started writing these “book report” posts maybe eight, nine years ago as means to keep tabs on what I’ve read. I’ve found if I don’t then I can almost re-read an entire book that I’ve read in the past and not realize it until the very end, ha! Who’s the one with the crap memory now? 😉

  • January 4, 2017

    I’m loading up my to-read list, and putting lots of books on hold at the library, so loved these suggestions. I’ve read a few, have a few of the others already lined up, but got a few new suggestions. Perfect!
    Mary Jo Manzanares recently posted..Travel Bucket List Update 2017My Profile

    • January 7, 2017

      Awesome, MJ! Let me know which books you liked and if you have any good recs for me, too =)

  • January 5, 2017

    Love seeing what you’ve read/are reading. I loved Bernadette, also! And I’m not much help on what to read because right now I am reading Nightingale.

    • January 7, 2017

      Ahhhh, report back and let me know what you think! I hope you love it as much as I did =)

  • January 6, 2017
    Kaitlyn Johnson

    Yay! I was hoping you would post another book review soon. I read Nightingale after your last round of reviews and agree that it was probably the best book I read all year. Can’t wait to get started on one of these.

    • January 7, 2017

      I’m so glad you liked it! It was definitely her best book of all. Have you ever read Sarah’s Key? That’s one from several years ago that reminded me a lot of the Nightingale.

  • January 6, 2017

    It’s one of my goals this year to read more. I need to pick a few books a month and make the time to read them. These are some great book here.
    Tanya recently posted..Your Business is Slow? Here is How to Take Action and Change Your PerspectiveMy Profile

    • January 7, 2017

      Happy to help, Tanya! Let me know if you have any good ones I should add to my list. If you haven’t read The Nightingale yet, make that the first thing you read in 2017!

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

GET MY POSTS DELIVERED DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX
+ Sign up and receive your free copy of my eBook