First, a quick note to say that my short story The House Robot is now up at Turtleduck Press!
And now, on to the main affair…my favourite reads of 2017. (I know, it’s already February 2018. Shhhh.)
Standard disclaimer: I’m often discovering older books for the first time, so when I do these yearly posts, I don’t limit myself to books published in that year. That means this is an eclectic mix of older titles. But hey, there’s no reason they shouldn’t still be celebrated!
Octavia Butler, Kindred. A nuanced exploration of the Black experience of slavery — subtle where it needed to be, but pulling no punches — through a time travel story. Beautiful, heartbreaking, and utterly brutal.
Georgette Heyer, Cousin Kate. I know many romance readers love Heyer, but she’s new to me, probably because I’m not much of a romance reader (I prefer grand adventures with a side of romance, not the other way around). I am told that this one is atypical Heyer, being a Gothic, but I seriously enjoyed it — it hit all the same reader buttons for me as my top book of the year (more about that below).
Angel Martinez, Safety Protocols for Human Holidays. Another romance! *gasp* This one is a novella, short and sweet, but it makes the list because it’s absolutely adorable and hilarious, and was just exactly the sort of comfort read I needed. It’s science fiction, set on a multicultural spaceship. The aliens’ attempts to figure out the inner workings of human culture and psychology were so perfect, and they balanced beautifully with the romance arc.
Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races. Okay, Stiefvater is not exactly an unknown fantasy writer, but again, she’s new to me. Really loved the writing style. She clearly knows horses, and she did a beautiful job of capturing both the normal horse-and-rider relationship and the fantasy angle of the dangerous but alluring water horses. Plus the sea. I was a sucker for Marguerite Henry’s books growing up (like Misty of Chincoteague) so this was a shoo-in.
My favourite book of the year was To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. Ironic, because it was a gift and I wouldn’t have picked it out for myself. I had previously read Passage by the same author, and enjoyed it but found it overly slow for my taste. But since I had this book already, I decided to give Willis another shot.
And boy, was I glad I did! To Say Nothing of the Dog is a riff on Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (which I haven’t read). It’s brilliant comedy writing (screwball, maybe? Madcap? Something like that). It’s also a time travel story in which, unusually, the time travel mechanism itself plays a central role and creates the main mystery of the book. Did I mention part of it takes place in WWII, which is definitely not treated like comedy, and yet everything hangs together? And it’s all very British-Edwardian-upper-class – even though Willis herself is American, she nails it. And, of course, the titular dog is adorable.
Two books that I found really intriguing but didn’t like quite as much as I wanted to: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice and Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway. The first was a bit too dense for me to follow, and the second a bit too thin on plot for my taste (to be fair, it was a novella — not my favourite length — and I knew that going in).
I am planning to continue on with both series, if that tells you anything.
Every year I like to look back and identify the common themes in my reading — what did I love about these books that I identified as my favourites?
- This year they actually fall into two categories — excellent but heartbreaking (Kindred and The Scorpio Races) and warm, fuzzy, and/or funny (all the rest).
- Strong character relationships were at the centre of each — sometimes a dangerous dance, other times crackling dialogue.
- Strong sense of place — I love stories where the location is so vivid it becomes a character.
- Intimate stakes — some years I love big epic stories, but most of these are about the fate of one person, or one tiny community, or a family or found-family…but no less tense for all that.
- Diversity — from the Black central characters of Butler and Martinez, to the asexual protagonist in Every Heart a Doorway, to the gender-in-storytelling experiment of Ancillary Justice, my reading is getting more diverse. This is not an accident, as I’m seeking out more diversity in the books I pick up, but I’m pleased to see that many of those are also turning out to be my favourites.
- All of the authors are women — this is certainly not true every year, but in 2017 my reading was more heavily weighted towards women than usual.
And there you have it! Have you read any of these? What were your favourite books last year?