What to Read: The Best Books of 2017

Books a Million: What I Read, Part XVII

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It’s time for my quarterly book round-up! Heading off on Spring Break this week? Pick up one of these reads before you go:

Gizelle’s Bucket List: My Life with a Very Large Dog by Lauren Fern Watt

When Lauren Fern Watt reached out and asked if I’d give her book a read, I took one look at the premise—a Tennessean-turned-New Yorker finding herself in the wiles of New York with a 160-pound companion, her English mastiff Gizelle, in tow—and immediately liked this girl. It turned out we had even more in common than initially met the eye, too. Our Nashville area roots aside, Lauren also graduated from the grand ol’ University of Tennessee with a communications degree and also went on Semester at Sea (though as a student, not staff). Upon graduation, she moved up to New York to launch a career in media, starting first at Gap corporate and then transitioning into the travel industry in a PR role (is this sounding even more familiar?). She also was struggling to come to terms with her mom’s addiction issues (something I’m also, unfortunately, all too acquainted with on a personal level).

The one constant through all those years is that Gizelle was by her side—until Lauren learned that her best friend had terminal bone cancer. Her solution? Create an epic list of adventures—from see snow on the beach to take a canoe ride together—that the pair would embark upon during Gizelle’s last months on Earth. While sad at the end, of course (grab a tissue), Lauren’s memoir is delightful, well-written, more upbeat than you might think and worth picking up as your next read, particularly if you like dogs, lived in New York, and/or have had a parent who has struggled with alcohol or drug abuse.

One day Ella hopes I’ll write a memoir about our lives together, but for now, I’ll cheer on Lauren’s and wait for it to release on the big screen (it’s already been optioned!). For those of you interested in reading my full interview with the debut author, you can check that out here in the Knox News Sentinel.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Girl in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

I don’t know if I found this book engaging because it chronicles those in my profession—travel writers on a press trip in the middle of the sea off the coast of Norway—or because of the plot: A young journalist, Lo, on her first “big break” assignment who may or may not have an alcohol problem may (or may not) have witnessed a murder—just hours after they set sail for a week-long cruise on a small luxury liner. Whether or not she’s just plain crazy is one of the lingering questions as no one on the ship seems to have seen the missing girl ever; she appears to be someone Lo dreamed up entirely.

What follows is her trying to figure out the culprit through a haze of alcohol abuse as she attempts to not be the next victim. The writing was choppy in parts but overall, I liked the “whodunnit?” element to this novel. It’s an easy, fast read as you’ll likely want to get to the bottom of it, too, and won’t stop until you’ve found out who has blood on his or her (or their?) hands. If you liked The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl (lots of “girl” novels of late, are there not?), you’ll likely find this read entertaining, though bear in mind that the writing isn’t quite the same caliber as Gillian Flynn or Mary Kubica.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Futures by Anna Pitoniak

Written by a book editor at Random House, The Futures chronicles a young twenty-something couple who meets at and graduates from Yale, before moving to Manhattan in the wake of the 2008 crash. Through family connections, WASP-born Julia lands a job with a non-profit through which she finds herself intertwined in a bit of a scandal, while Canadian outsider Evan has to work twice as hard to find himself embedded in the hedge fund world (and accordingly, a scandal, as well). Pitoniak knits together their lives in two opposing points-of-view as they fall in love, face hardships, and fall back out again (no spoiler alerts as to how it ends, though).

This coming-of-age novel was entertaining while also being a bit of an emotional roller coaster and even a bit hard to read at times; if you liked Three-Martini Lunch (recommended in my last book post), you’re guaranteed to like The Futures, too.

My rating: 4 out of 5

The Whole Town’s Talking by Fannie Flagg

I love me the crap out of some Fannie Flagg. I’ve read nearly every book she’s ever written—except, oddly enough, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe—and I drop everything else I’m reading when she publishes a new book. The Whole Town’s Talking is no different; part of the Elmwood Springs series—which spans different characters, locations and eras, all of which somehow link back to the tiny Missouri town—this is (allegedly) Flagg’s last novel to write. (She’s also said that before.) It begins in 1800s with the town being settled by Swedish immigrants who establish a dairy farm in Middle America and goes all the way through 2020, bringing in every character Flagg has ever written into an Elmwood Springs book and weaving them into an ongoing narrative that spans 150 years—from introduction to the time each enters the ground and finds his/her oldest, long-departed friends also residing in the plots up at Still Meadows (hence the name of the novel).

It’s adorable, it’s charming, it’s hilarious, and it’s touching—but if you haven’t read a previous Elmwood Springs book, do yourself a favor and start with Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!, followed by Standing in the Rainbow and Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven. While each can be read as a standalone, this was truly Flagg’s reward to her readers who have stuck with her all these decades and would be best enjoyed with a little context to who these characters are exactly. Separate from the Elmwood series—though the heroine makes an appearance in The Whole Town’s Talking—and one of my favorite books of the past decade is The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

Right now, I’m reading my friend Julie’s book, The Young Wives Clubthen Jane Golden’s Danube Defiance after that.

What are you reading next?

  • March 14, 2017

    I just finished The Nest (loved it!) and Everything You Want Me to Be, also really good.

    Now, I’m reading First They Killed My Father, which I’d been meaning to read since I visited Cambodia last year. Heartbreaking. If there is a happy ending, I’m not there yet.

    • March 22, 2017

      Seems like “The Nest” comes highly recommended! I’d never heard of it and now I’ve seen no fewer than half a dozen people mention it online lately. Looks like that will have to be one of my next! =)

      And ugh, I also have been meaning to read First They Killed My Father for years, and can’t bring myself to do it. Let me know what you think when you come to the end…

  • March 14, 2017

    Great tips!I’m reading one of your previous recommendations right now: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

    • March 22, 2017

      I hope you love it as much as I did!! That’s one I’d definitely read again.

      • March 23, 2017

        I finished it within a weekend; that’s how much I loved it! I even saw less of Galway because of it.

  • March 14, 2017

    I picked up The Girl in Cabin 10 last year after reading You. It was recommended reading suggested by Amazon at the end of that book. But I haven’t read it yet so I better get on it. I so want and don’t want to read the Giselle book. I blubber like a baby at animal books and movies and I think it’s too close to Jessica’s passing, but I will hold onto the title.

    • March 22, 2017

      Ugh, I know what you mean, Andi. I always think about if I were to lose Ella and how I’d never be able to get over it and then I’m a blubbering mess, too. But this was genuinely sweet and I follow the author on Facebook and she has a new pup, Bette, and it is a happy ending of sorts =)

  • March 14, 2017

    I have been reading up a storm as well (I chronicle on Instagram: #17Booksfor2017 – you should join the hashtag!).

    I’m currently reading “Small Great Things” by Jodi Piccoult and I can’t put it down. I am having a major love/hate with it.

    I’m headed to the beach Thursday (yay!) and taking more books: “The Nest” (my March book club book) and “The Little Paris Bookstore” (which I picked up on a whim in the Frankfurt airport in December).

    • March 22, 2017

      I’ve actually never read a Jodi Picoult book crazy as that is! I’ll add this one to my list. Let me know how you like “The Nest.” I’ve seen mixed reviews from friends (some love it, some hate it).

  • March 15, 2017

    Just finished The Nest, which I didn’t love, Tell the Wolves I’m Home- which I thought was great, and American Housewife, which was entertaining and took only a few hours to get through. Next up? Who knows? Choosing a new book is my favorite part!

    • March 22, 2017

      I’ve heard such mixed reactions about The Nest and hadn’t heard of it until I wrote this post! I’ll put all three of these on my list, though =)

  • March 16, 2017

    Books and Novel reading are my passion. Thanks for suggesting these amazing books. I will add this list in my 2017 reading book list.

  • March 20, 2017

    I just started a trilogy by Margaret Atwood and I’m loving it so far! (Oryx and Crake is the first book.)


    • March 22, 2017

      Adding to the list! I need another trilogy; it’s been too long.

  • March 22, 2017

    I’ll certainly try some of your book recommendations. I like the sound of “The Woman in Cabin 10” & “The Three Martini Lunch” is already on my Kindle!

    However, I usually prefer darker psychothriller books, books based on history, or where the location is set in the UK or has British characters and are quirky. Or simply, just mad! At the moment, I’m reading “Victoria” not about me, but the other one. Queenie! “Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts” about WWI,”The Runaway Family” about a German-Jewish family in WWII and the horrors they went through.”Kevin & I in India”- I liked it so much that I bought all the books from the author Frank Kusy! “While my eyes were shut” – a nightmare story of a child who is kidnapped in front of her mother. “The Ice Twins” another psycho-thriller. “The Teacher” a shocking psycho thriller that will keep you awake at night (I really enjoyed that. Ahem!). And a book called “It’s on the meter: One taxi, three mates, and 43,000 miles of misadventures around the world.” Absolutely hilarious!

    I tend to read a couple of books at the same time…

    • March 22, 2017

      Have you read the Her Royal Spyness series? Not exactly psychothrillers but based in 1930s London, and chronicles the mysteries that the 34th in line to the throne, Lady Georgina (cousin to the queen), cracks. So cute and funny and a lot of history woven in. I love the British author behind the series, Rhys Bowen—she’s got such a quirky writing style!

      Also, have you watched the Netflix series The Crown yet? I’m midway through it, and SO good! I love a good monarchy-related show or series, too =)

      • April 15, 2017

        I haven’t heard of Her Royal Spyness, but I’ll certainly look for it! And yes, I was one of the first, (I think) to watch “The Crown.” It’s marvellous! I’m a huge fan of Queen Elizabeth II, and I’m going to be unconsolable when she passes away in a million years. Hopefully! 😀

        There’s another one on Sky called “Victoria.” Both of them are wonderful productions. I’m eagerly waiting for the next series. In fact, I’m going to watch “The Crown” again!

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