The year in revue: Favourite books of 2017

I do love talking about things I love. I have been writing this post for weeks and I am so excited!

2017 was a pretty brilliant reading year for me; sure I read some not so great books but overall I am really pleased. This is the first year I reviewed every single book I read, this has made me both more critical and more excited. Writing down all the things I adored in a book makes me give higher ratings, I have found – I am very fine with this. As such it comes as no surprise that I have given 5 stars to more books than in 2016. I am looking forward to even more brilliant books in 2018!

Without much further ado, here are my favourite books of the year. While places 13 to 6 could and did change depending on my mood, my top 5 are certain.

Honorable mention: Grief Cottage – Gail Godwin

33509072I loved this. I found the first 90% absolutely stunning. Because the ending didn’t quite work for me, I gave it 4 stars. But is has stuck with me. My review can be found here.

 

 

Little Nothing – Marisa Silver

29429934I adored this whimsical fairy-talesque beautiful little novel. It sucked me right in and never let me go. There was just something so brilliant here that it left me breathless. I still don’t know why this wasn’t talked about more. My review can be found here.

 

Anything is Possible – Elizabeth Strout

32874103I was sure I would like this book but it took me by surprise with how much I loved this. So much that I went and bought My Name is Lucy Barton and immediately read it – which is something I hardly ever do. You can find my review here.

 

Stay With Me – Ayobami Adebayo

31349579I have talked recently about this book. Because even though I gave it four stars immediately after reading it, it has stuck with me. The longer I think about it, the better I think it is. My review can be found here. I might have changed the rating before this goes online.

 

 

The Unfinished World – Amber Sparks

25622828Hands down my favourite short story collection of the year. I just love Amber Sparks’ imagination and her vivid world building. I love her stories about siblings and about loss and about weirdness and sadness. I found it moving and wonderful and just everything I look for in a short story collection. My review can be found here.

Annihilation (The Southern Reach #1) – Jeff VanderMeer

25970139I devoured this. I just could not get enough of this wonderfully atmospheric and creepy little book. I adore the way Jeff VanderMeer constructs his sentences and builds his world. I love how the weirdness is always rooted in what we know of his world. I am equally scared and excited to see the movie adaptation next year. My review can be found here.

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth #3) – N. K. Jemisin

31817749This was hands down my most anticipated book published in the second half of the year. And boy, did it ever deliver. N. K. Jemisin is the most exciting voice in fantasy at the moment (the Hugo jury seems to agree with me) and THIS is how you end a trilogy. My review can be found here.

 

City of Stairs (The Divine Cities #1) – Robert Jackson Bennett

25452717I adored this. Last year, I started to become less enamored with fantasy as genre – but apparently I have just been reading the wrong books because this year I found so much to love again. Robert Jackson Bennett’s series of lost divinities and mythology and flawed characters and grey morality just floored me. You can find my longer, gushing review here.

 

05) The Wrong Way To Save Your Life – Megan Stielstra

32600746This book snuck up on me; I was enjoying it and then suddenly I was loving it. It made me think, it made me smile and it made me cry. I could not sleep one night because I could not stop thinking about this. I just want everybody to read this. My review can be found here.

 

04) Hunger: A memoir of (my) body – Roxane Gay

32940570Roxane Gay is my hero. That is all.

(Longer version here.)

03) The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) – N. K. Jemisin

19161852My introduction to N. K. Jemisin’s world remains my favourite of hers. She creates a brutal world where the earth is volatile and out to kill its inhabitants and the society that evolved from this makes sadly so much sense. I adore the political core of her work and how she never sacrifices the story she wants to tell to it. Her characters are brilliant, her language mesmerizing, her talent undeniable. This is why I love fantasy. My review is here.

02) Kassandra – Christa Wolf

4412083This feels a bit like cheating – I have read this book quite possibly more often than any other book since I was an adult. This retelling of the story of Troy is one of my all-time favourite books. Stylistically brilliant, brutally devastating, wonderfully imagined. My full thoughts are here.

 

01) The Chronology of Water – Lidia Yuknavitch

9214995Everything about this book is pure perfection. This will forever define what I think a memoir can do; Lidia Yuknavitch’s honesty about her trauma and her mistakes and her life is a wonder. I still do not have the words to describe how absolutely beyond brilliant this book is. But you can see my attempt here.

There are three memoirs, two short story collections, six books that can broadly be categorized as SFF, and eleven books written by women on this list. I think I am okay with this.

What about you? What were your favourite books of the year? Have you read any of the books on my list? What are your thoughts?

 

Thoughts: On Revising Ratings

I am currently tinkering with my Best of the Year List and this got me thinking. There are at least two books that I gave 4 stars (Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo and Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin) to but that I am still thinking about, while there are two 5 star books that have not really stuck with me. I am going to talk about why am considering changing my 4 star ratings to five stars and then I will try to talk about my thoughts on changing ratings a bit more in-depth.

Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

31349579The longer I stew over this book and the more reviews I read, the more I adore this book. I have already bought it to look pretty on my shelves and I am very tempted to read it again, which is always a sign of how much I love a book.

Ayobami Adebayo has created wonderfully flawed characters that have stuck with me. I find myself wondering what might have happened to them after the events of the book.

I am so very much looking forward to whatever she will write next.

Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin

33509072This is a different case. I adored this book, and it is one of my favourite reads of the year. However, I remember exactly why I gave it four instead of five stars: the ending did not work for me.

But, the first 90 % of this book were just utter perfection and I remember being completely swept up in this story of grief and family and somehow moving on.

 

 

I often find that my initial thoughts on a book change over time, either because I cannot stop thinking about it and it keeps on growing on me or because after a while I cannot quite recollect why I enjoyed it so much in the first place. Sometimes I go back and change my rating, sometimes I don’t. In this case, I will probably go back before the end of the year to change my rating of Stay With Me to five stars because that book just shines so much in my memory.

Star ratings are highly subjective anyways; they depend on my mood and on the books I read immediately before or after; I have genre preferences; sometimes I talk myself into changing a rating while writing my review.

There are downsides to changing a rating: what if my memory just sucks and I was right the first time I rated the book? Also, shouldn’t past me’s thoughts be allowed to just stand without being changed? Another thing I keep thinking about, what about the people who agreed with my first rating? What if my new rating does not reflect their thoughts anymore? But then again, I do mostly write my reviews for myself…

My thoughts are complicated, as is often the case. What are your thoughts? Do you ever go back and change a rating? Do you even go back and change reviews? Let me know if I am the only one who often feels conflicted.

Review: Grief Cottage – Gail Godwin

33509072My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Date Read: 16 July 2017

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing, August 2017

Verdict: Wonderfully executed meditation of grief and loss and growing up.

Find it on Goodreads.

The haunting tale of a desolate cottage, and the hair-thin junction between this life and the next, from bestselling National Book Award finalist Gail Godwin.

After his mother’s death, eleven-year-old Marcus is sent to live on a small South Carolina island with his great aunt, a reclusive painter with a haunted past. Aunt Charlotte, otherwise a woman of few words, points out a ruined cottage, telling Marcus she had visited it regularly after she’d moved there thirty years ago because it matched the ruin of her own life. Eventually she was inspired to take up painting so she could capture its utter desolation.

The islanders call it “Grief Cottage,” because a boy and his parents disappeared from it during a hurricane fifty years before. Their bodies were never found and the cottage has stood empty ever since. During his lonely hours while Aunt Charlotte is in her studio painting and keeping her demons at bay, Marcus visits the cottage daily, building up his courage by coming ever closer, even after the ghost of the boy who died seems to reveal himself. Full of curiosity and open to the unfamiliar and uncanny given the recent upending of his life, he courts the ghost boy, never certain whether the ghost is friendly or follows some sinister agenda.

Grief Cottage is the best sort of ghost story, but it is far more than that–an investigation of grief, remorse, and the memories that haunt us. The power and beauty of this artful novel wash over the reader like the waves on a South Carolina beach.

This is a wonderful meditation of grief and loss but also on family and human connection. I absolutely adored this very slow-moving, character focussed novel – but I thought the ending fizzled out and focussed different aspects than I would have liked.

This book follows Marcus, who after just having lost his mother moves to live with his great-aunt Charlotte. She is a bit of a hermit, earning her money painting pictures of the island she lives on and avoiding human interaction as much as possible and has to drastically alter her life to accommodate having an 11-year-old boy live with her. Marcus becomes obsessed with an old house and its history – especially with the history of the boy who lost his life there whose body was never found and whose ghost he starts to see and converse with.

Marcus and Charlotte circle each other, both unsure what to make of the other and of the way their lives have changed; both are not particulary articulated, they are closed off and try to solve their problems on their own. They do not know how to help each other, but they try anyways. I love the human connection that is at the core of this novel and I adore the personification of it by the way of Lachicotte – a wonderful character with so much empathy and love

The story unfolds very very slowly and carefully, moving in circles much in the same way Marcus’ thoughts move in circles around the unbelievable fact of his mother’s death. Gail Godwin creates a mesmerizing picture of a place and of a feeling where the roughness of nature mirrors Marcus’ loss in an absolutely spell-binding way.

First (two) sentence(s): “Once there was a boy who lost his mother. He was eleven years, five months, four days – and would never know how many hours and minutes.”

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I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!