Best Books of 2017

It’s that time of year again. When I realize I’ve read one, maybe two, of the year’s “Best Books,” as decided by those lofty taste makers. It doesn’t help my cause that I’m notoriously bad at reading new books (although last year wasn’t too bad). Remember those lists I made last year of the new books I couldn’t wait to read? Well, I think I read one of them. Oops.

I do own the Goodreads book of the year, The Hate U Give, and I’m hoping to read that by the end of the year. Other winners include:

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee which I’ve heard great things about. My former mother daughter book club (which is just the mothers now, and sometimes me), is reading it for their next book, so I might tag along. (NYT)

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood which Jeff and Rebecca mention at least once a month on the Book Riot podcast. So now I’m really intrigued. (NYT)

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When Dimple Met Rishi  by Sandhya Menon, which I was really excited about and I tried reading, but just couldn’t do it. I tried at least three times. (NPR)

For your own reading pleasure, I’m going to provide some links below to Best Books of 2017 lists.

New York Times Ten Best Books of 2017

School Library Journal Best Books of 2017

Goodreads Best Books of 2017

Publishers Weekly Best Books 2017

 

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Mr. Churchill’s Secretary

I’m being lazy today. I blame it on the lack of coffee. So, I’m going to copy and paste the Goodreads blurb of Mr. Churchill’s Secretarythe first in the Maggie Hope Mystery series by Susan Elia MacNeal, and my short Goodreads review.

Goodreads:

For fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Laurie R. King, and Anne Perry, Mr. Churchill’s Secretary captures the drama of an era of unprecedented challenge—and the greatness that rose to meet it.

London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history.

Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself.

In this daring debut, Susan Elia MacNeal blends meticulous research on the era, psychological insight into Winston Churchill, and the creation of a riveting main character,  Maggie Hope, into a spectacularly crafted novel.

My Review:

If I had half stars I’d give it 2.5

This series has been on my radar since publication in 2012(ish) but after reading this one I won’t be reading the rest. Which is unfortunate, because this is right up my alley, and it even says right at the top “for fans of Jacqueline Winspear,” and I definitely fall into that category. But MacNeal’s writing is awful, there are too many characters, it jumps from one narrative to the next with no break in the page so it’s hard to tell what’s going on, and the story goes well beyond where it should have ended. With that said, once I got into the mystery I had to know what happened (which is why it’s 2.5 stars).

Max the Cat

I’m a bit behind on posting, but I had to share. I first heard about the cat who wanted to enter the library, and the cute sign posted on the door on Thursday. But it wasn’t until I read the Washington Post article that I realized all of this is happening right in my backyard!

While I totally get why he’s not allowed in the library, and why some people are annoyed at the Twitter universe’s “outrage” and demands that Max be let inside, I think it’s cute. It certainly is a lot more fun to read about this than some of the other things I see on Twitter!

Graphics

Graphic novels are not my forte. However, I read a few this fall, including Wonder Woman, which I already blogged about.

In addition to Wonder Woman I read the first Amulet book, The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi in September. When I worked at the school library in Louisiana back in 2011 and 2012, all the kids read Amulet. I could not keep those in stock or in good condition. However, I personally never had an interest in reading the series.

I have to say, I still don’t really have an interest, but it was a slow evening in September and a kid returned a copy, so I decided I should finally give it a go. The artwork is lovely, but for me, the story is too weird. The world they are in is full of talking robot things and moving houses and eerie landscapes. I guess I see the kid appeal, but it’s not for me.

Last week I read Spinning by Tillie Walden as my book about sports for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. Spinning got a lot of buzz, and I have no interest in reading about football or baseball, so it seemed like the perfect solution. Spinning is ostensibly about Walden’s figure skating youth with practices before and after school, but it’s also about depression, sexuality, and being a high schooler. I found the subject interesting, but there were so many random asides and spreads it was hard for me to keep track of the plot. Mostly, I impressed that Walden wrote this at such a young age!

 

#Foundinabook

Look up the hashtag #foundinabook sometime, and you’ll find some interesting things! These are much more inspiring than what others have found.

One reader thought Amina’s Voice was so good, she (I’m assuming she) had to let everyone know just how good it is.

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This lovely bookmark was found in a book a while ago and I love looking at it at the desk, so I decided I had to share. IMG_5935

Big Little Lies

After hearing so much about the TV show, Big Little Lies, I decided I had to read the book. I actually listened to the book, which was kind of nice, because the narrator has an Australian accent. However, towards the end I could hear every lip smack and swallow and that drove me nuts.

I was expected to enjoy the book, but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so dark. I think Liane Moriarty did a great job with the emotional aspects of the book, especially the ones we usually don’t even want to admit to ourselves.

I then tried to watch the series, and for me, it fell super flat. I think Reese Witherspoon as Madeline was really harsh. She’s too skinny and too perfect. In my mind I pictured someone a bit more flamboyant — Jane  describes her as a “shiny girl” (I think), so I never got the impression that Madeline’s outfits and accessories were particularly trendy or classy like they are in the show. I imagined a blond, older version of Lorelai Gilmore. And I don’t buy Adam Scott and Reese Witherspoon as a couple, although I can’t quite pinpoint why.

However, I loved Nicole Kidman as Celeste. Since I knew she played the part, I think I had Kidman in my mind while reading.

I have to admit, I didn’t finish watching the show. I started, and then my dad stayed with us for two weeks and helped us with our basement remodel, and it didn’t seem like something he’d be interested in watching. Then I forgot about it, and then it went way overdue, and I had to return the DVDs to the library. Oh well… maybe I’ll try again in a few months when the wait list is shorter. I clearly wasn’t compelled to binge it like everyone said I would. Although the music and scenery were amazing!

Forbidden

A few weeks ago I was catching up on podcasts while driving to my parents and Jeff and Rebecca from Book Riot talked for a long time about romance authors and the lack of diversity in romance. This piqued my interest, and decided to read one of Beverly Jenkins’ novels. I’m trying to read more diversely in terms of author and protagonist (but mostly #ownvoices), and also genre. I’m doing a lot better with #ownvoices than I am with genre, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to combine both.

I also decided to use a Jenkins novel for the prompt “a best seller in a genre you don’t normally read.” And let me tell you, it was difficult figuring out which books exactly are best sellers. Everything says, “Beverly Jenkins, USA Today bestselling author,” but I could never find out which books were bestsellers. So, I went with one of the most recent publications: Forbidden.

Forbidden follows Eddy and Rhine (who apparently was briefly introduced in another novel way back in the 80s) in a booming mining town in Nevada post-Civil War. Eddy is determined to make her way to San Francisco and start a restaurant but finds herself alone and close to death in the desert. Rhine is a scion of respectability and money in town, but he harbors a deep secret. Rhine was born a slave, the result of abuse between the slave owner and his mother, and is now passing for White. Rhine rescues Eddy and instantly feels drawn to her, but in order to be with her he must sacrifice all he has worked towards.

While I wasn’t a huge fan of Jenkins’ writing style, I like how seamlessly she weaves history in with the plot. The last few pages are full of notes and bibliography, so she clearly did her research. I’m also ashamed to realize just how little I know of postbellum history, aside from the highlights featured in textbooks.

Through Smart Bitches Trashy Books I found an interview with Jenkins from Jezebel and I thought this bit was most illuminating:

You’ve talked a little bit about what draws you to the nineteenth century—why does the postwar period to the end of the century interest you so much as a writer?

There was so much going on and it’s not a typical time that we know about, regardless of what race we are, and I think the more we know about each other the better off we’d all be. And it also has its parallels with the twentieth and the twenty-first century. Because right after the Civil War you had those great gains with Reconstruction—this huge amount of Black men in Congress and representatives through the states, you had the lieutenant governor in Louisiana, you had Black folks in positions of power and businesses and colleges going up. And then when Reconstruction died in 1876, everything started to unravel. You had the rise of the Klan and you had the Redemption period. And lynchings and blood and death and destruction. And folks said we’ve got to leave the South. They moved into places like Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado, California. Which is where I set my very first book, Night Song, in one of those Black townships in Kansas.

In the ‘70s you had African Americans retaking their places in Congress and in the Senate and in local elections. So there’s a parallel in us rising and then the ‘90s and stuff started to sort of peter out again. It’s an up and down cycle. Great things happening in both centuries, both bittersweet.

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience reading Forbidden and am definitely going to check out another of Jenkins’ books.