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?

 

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Top 5 Tuesday: Top 5 new to me authors in 2017

I have been eyeing this meme by the wonderful Bionic Book Worm for a while now and this week’s topic was too great to ignore. If you’d like to join or see what others have posted head on over to her blog.

I am, as I have said before, a very moody reader and do not often tend to read many books by the same author in a short amount of time. That said, there were a few authors I discovered this year that just blew me away.

Jeff VanderMeer

33919I first read his newest release, Borne, and was blown away by his imagination. I adore the way his particular brand of weirdness, his commentary on climate change and pollution, and the way he structures his sentences. I am currently still reading his most famous trilogy, The Southern Reach, and while the second book was beyond slow, I cannot ignore his brilliance. (Also I am very excited and scared to see the movie when it comes out next year)

N. K. Jemisin

N.K. JemisonI adore her. I read two of her trilogies this year and have now only one duology left. I am trying very hard to convince myself to take it slow and not devour this immediately because afterwards I will have to wait. She is without a doubt one of the best fantasy authors there are (and you do not have to take my word for it: the first two books in The Broken Earth have won Hugo Awards) and I just find everything she writes so important. I wish she had won the Goodreads Choice Awards.

Lidia Yuknavitch

435891Again, what a brilliance. Her memoir The Chronology of Water is by far my favourite book of the year. I still cannot put into words how brilliant I think she is. I have two of her books already at home and cannot wait to dive in. If you have not read her, you really really should.

 

 

Katherine Arden

13922215I technically read The Bear and The Nightingale last year but as it has only come out at the beginning of this year, I have to include her. I adore that book and I thought her second novel was still great enough to be really excited to see where she will go next. I love the way her language flows.

 

Robert Jackson Bennett

2916869He, together with N. K. Jemisin, reignited my love for fantasy. I was growing a bit weary of the genre that often felt derivative. His The Divine Cities Trilogy was among my favourite things of the year. I am very excited to read all the other books he has written.

 

 

I am only including authors I have read more than one book of. I have also loved and adored reading books by Mira T. Lee, Chloe Benjamin, Megan Stielstra, Elizabeth Strout, Carmen Maria Machado, Amber Sparks, Mike McCormack, Ben Loory, Samantha Irby, and more. (Is this cheating? It feels like cheating.)

What are some of your favourite newly discovered authors?

Review: Authority (Southern Reach #2) – Jeff VanderMeer

25984284Verdict: I don’t even know

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Date read: December 3rd, 2017

Published by 4th Estate, 2015

Find it on Goodreads.

The Southern Reach is a government agency so secret it has almost been forgotten.

Following the disastrous twelfth expedition chronicled in ‘Annihilation’, the second book of the Southern Reach trilogy introduces John Rodriguez, the new head of the government agency responsible for the safeguarding of Area X. His first day is spent grappling with the fall-out from the last expedition. Area X itself remains a mystery. But, as instructed by a higher authority known only as The Voice, the self-styled Control must battle to ‘put his house in order’.

From a series of interrogations, a cache of hidden notes and hours of profoundly troubling video footage, the mysteries of Area X begin to reveal themselves―and what they expose pushes Control to confront disturbing truths about both himself and the agency he’s promised to serve.

Undermined and under pressure to make sense of everything, Rodriguez retreats into his past in a labyrinthine search for answers. Yet the more he uncovers, the more he risks, for the secrets of the Southern Reach are more sinister than anyone could have known.

My thoughts on this are, you guessed it, complicated. This follow-up to Annhililation (which I LOVED.) is a very different beast. Set shortly after the events of the first book, it is completely different in feeling and in genre. It does not take place in Area X but rather in the Southern Reach itself where a new director has been placed who will have to try and figure out what is really going on.

There is one thing I am absolutely sure of: Jeff VanderMeer is a genius. He has a way of writing that I find exciting and fresh and original and super brilliant. I adore the way he writes weird books where the weirdness is always grounded in what we know of the world he creates. The world he created here is unsettling and just on the edge of ours; close enough to upset, far away enough to intrigue.

But there were lenghty parts of this book that I was bored to near tears. It felt much longer than it is and reading it often felt like a chore. I have a sneaking suspicion though: maybe that was the point; maybe I was supposed to be bored; maybe this was supposed to drag. Of course, I can never know for sure if that is the case – but then I don’t think an author’s intent is all that important when compared to what the reader gets out of it. This boredom feels intentional – it fits into the themes of bureaucracy and lack of autonomy. It is in direct contrast to what we know of Area X: which is untamed and unblemished by humanity – this feeling is mirrored in the sprawling, unfocussed, fascinating narrative voice of the first book. But this book is set outside of Area X, in the organization that is trying to contain whatever is happening; and doing this in an increasingly rigid way.

So yes, I do not even know what I make of this book. Again, Jeff VanderMeer keeps me at arm’s length from the characters – who do not  know who they are themselves (or if they are themselves even), but impresses me with his vivid language.

First sentence: “In Control’s dream it is early morning, the sky deep blue with just a twinge of light.”

Thoughts: On 3-Star-Books

I am currently reading six books; five of those I don’t think I will give more than three stars. This fact got me thinking about 3-star-books and why I struggle with them.

I am currently reading:

 

None of these books are bad books. In fact they all have some parts that are absolutely brilliant and parts that are anything but:

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock has vivid language and a brilliant way of describing the world but is beyond slow-moving with a plot I am not sure can even be called that. Authority has Jeff VanderMeer’s brilliant command of language and the intriguing setting that I adored in the first book but features a main character that is a bit of a charisma vacuum. Autumn has poignant descriptions and captures many of my complicated feelings about the UK but its disjointed natures makes it difficult for me to care about its protagonists. By Light We Know Our Names has some absolutely heartbreaking stories with the fantastical elements being brilliantly integrated but the stories feel repetitive and depressing for depressings sake. Under the Pendulum Sun has a genius premise and just nails the atmosphere it is going for but its ambling plot and a very very unfortunate twist (that grossed me out so bad) keep me from fully enjyoing it.

These middling kind of books are usually the ones that take me the longest to read them. Sometimes, when I absolutely dislike a book, I more or less race to finish it just to be done with it, or I just abandon it completely. But those books that do not really elicit any strong reactions have the tendency to wreck my reading flow. Especially if I have started too many books already, as I have this time, and have forbidden myself from starting any new books until I have finished the ones I am already reading. Which leads to me not reading. Which annoys me to no end.

What about you? Do you sometimes struggle with the okay-ish books or do you struggle with the ones you dislike more?

Wrap Up: October 2017

I had such a great reading month! I read 8 books and enjoyed them all. I also rated three of those books five stars, which hardly ever happens.

Books read in October:

  1. City of Miracles (The Divine Cities #3) – Robert Jackson Bennet: 5 out of 5 stars
  2. The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard #3) – Rick Riordan: 3 out of 5 stars
  3. The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead: 4 out of 5 stars
  4. may we shed these human bodies – Amber Sparks: 4 out of 5 stars
  5. The Chronology of Water – Lidia Yuknavitch: 5 out of 5 stars
  6. Everything Here Is Beautiful – Mira T. Lee: 4 out of 5 stars
  7. Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) – Jeff VanderMeer: 5 out of 5 stars
  8. The Mistfit’s Manifesto – Lidia Yuknavitch: 3 out of 5 stars

Favourite of the Month:

The Chronology of Water, hands down. This is my favourite of the year so far and I cannot imagine a book taking that title away from this brilliant, mesmerizing memoir that challenged how I thought about the genre. I cannot recommend it enough. I have two of Lidia Yuknavitch’ novels left to read and I will have to pace myself. She has also written two short story collections that I have so far been unable to find; but I will keep on looking.

Currently reading:

Again, too many books to list. At the moment I am taking a break from requesting NetGalley books in the hopes of finally getting to all the books I have already on my shelf (both virtual and real) and haven’t read yet. I also had a look at ratings I gave NetGalley books and while I found some brilliant books, I also read a lot of books that I wouldn’t have finished otherwise (and wouldn’t have missed) and there are some books that I have kind of DNFed but not officially (I am thinking of just doing one “shame on me” post and talking about the unfinished NetGalley books there…). I have given myself the permission to read the arcs that interest me the most in any given moment (even if they won’t be published for months) because that just works better with how my reading moods are. And then when I have finished all those arcs I will only request from a few select publishers and only books I absolutely 100% want to read NOW.

What I want to read next:

I am planning on getting to the books in my 5 star prediction post sooner rather than later because I kind of cannot wait to see how accurate my predictions were. I also want to get to the next book in Jeff VanderMeers Southern Reach trilogy because I have not quite given up hope to find some answers.

 

Review: Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) – Jeff VanderMeer

25970139My rating: 5 our of 5 stars

Date read: October 23rd, 2017

Published by HarperCollins, Fourth Estate, 2014

Verdict: Utterly spellbinding, deeply unsettling, hauntingly beautiful.

Find it on Goodreads.

Welcome to Area X. An Edenic wilderness, an environmental disaster zone, a mystery for thirty years.

For thirty years, Area X, monitored by the secret agency known as the Southern Reach, has remained mysterious and remote behind its intangible border– an environmental disaster zone, though to all appearances an abundant wilderness. Eleven expeditions have been sent in to investigate; even for those that have made it out alive, there have been terrible consequences.

‘Annihilation’ is the story of the twelfth expedition and is told by its nameless biologist. Introverted but highly intelligent, the biologist brings her own secrets with her. She is accompanied by a psychologist, an anthropologist and a surveyor, their stated mission: to chart the land, take samples and expand the Southern Reach’s understanding of Area X.

But they soon find out that they are being manipulated by forces both strange and all too familiar. An unmapped tunnel is not as it first appears. An inexplicable moaning calls in the distance at dusk. And while each member of the expedition has surrendered to the authority of the Southern Reach, the power of Area X is far more difficult to resist.

Oh I liked this so.

I had this book on my TBR for what feels like forever and I am so glad I finally read it. Jeff VanderMeer has a brilliant imagination and the world he creates feels utterly original, startlingly so, but still grounded in something like believability.

There is not all that much to the plot: four women embarque on an expedition into Area X; they are the 12th expedition of this kind and all the ones that came before ended somewhat mysteriously. The reader never really learns what Area X is and how it came to be and what exactly happened to the people who went before. It becomes clear that the participants have not been told the truth but also maybe haven’t told the truth either. The biologist, who tells the story, is an unreliable narrator that I still found myself rooting for. This book is vague and does not give any answers but rather than that being annoying for me it only added to its allure. I have been thinking about this book ever since I finished it and the more I do so the more brilliant I find it.

Jeff VanderMeer’s greatest talent lies in creating an atmosphere so all-encompassing that I felt like I was part of the story. The book is highly unsettling and set my pulse running; I could not stop reading and yet dreaded finding out what was going to happen next. This creepy, unsettling, brilliant atmosphere was my favourite part of the book (and I have NO idea how they are going to try and recreate this for the upcoming movie).

First sentence: “The Tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to swamp and then the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats.”

Look what came in the post #2

I got a whole bunch of books this week. I am a fickle reader – and even though I own too many books I haven’t read I felt it was prudent to buy more.

The Book of Joan – Lidia Yuknavitch

30653706In the near future, world wars have transformed the earth into a battleground. Fleeing the unending violence and the planet’s now-radioactive surface, humans have regrouped to a mysterious platform known as CIEL, hovering over their erstwhile home. The changed world has turned evolution on its head: the surviving humans have become sexless, hairless pale-white creatures floating in isolation, inscribing stories upon their skin.

Out of the ranks of the endless wars rises Jean de Men, a charismatic and bloodthirsty cult leader who turns CIEL into a quasi-corporate police state. A group of rebels unite to dismantle his iron rule—galvanized by the heroic song of Joan, a child-warrior who possesses a mysterious force that lives within her and communes with the earth. When de Men and his armies turn Joan into a martyr, the consequences are astonishing. And no one—not the rebels, Jean de Men, or even Joan herself—can foresee the way her story and unique gift will forge the destiny of an entire world for generations.

I read The Small of Backs of Children earlier this year and adored it. I found it original and startling and very very beautiful (you can find my gushing review here). The Book of Joan got very mixed reviews but I am still very intrigued by it.

The Chronology of Water – Lidia Yuknavitch

9214995This is not your mother’s memoir. In The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch expertly moves the reader through issues of gender, sexuality, violence, and the family from the point of view of a lifelong swimmer turned artist. In writing that explores the nature of memoir itself, her story traces the effect of extreme grief on a young woman’s developing sexuality that some define as untraditional because of her attraction to both men and women. Her emergence as a writer evolves at the same time and takes the narrator on a journey of addiction, self-destruction, and ultimately survival that finally comes in the shape of love and motherhood.

I am beyong excited about this book and have already started reading it. So far I adore this – Lidia Yuknavitch’s writing is on point, breathtakingly beautiful and raw.

PS: My version had the boobs hidden behind additional paper pasted above them – which I find odd and hilarious and also super stupid. Thankfully it was easily removed.

The Southern Reach Trilogy & Borne – Jeff VanderMeer

Earlier this year I reviewed Borne and while it wasn’t without its flaws it stuck with me. Jeff VanderMeer writes unlike anybody else and his brand of weirdness that is grounded in what we know of the worlds he creates really appeals to me. And now with The Southern Reach trilogy being made into movies starring Nathalie Portman (who I adore), I couldn’t resist any longer. I have been eying the books for years after all.

Children of Time – Adrian Tchaikovsky

25499718

A race for survival among the stars… Humanity’s last survivors escaped earth’s ruins to find a new home. But when they find it, can their desperation overcome its dangers?

WHO WILL INHERIT THIS NEW EARTH?

The last remnants of the human race left a dying Earth, desperate to find a new home among the stars. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they discover the greatest treasure of the past age – a world terraformed and prepared for human life.

But all is not right in this new Eden. In the long years since the planet was abandoned, the work of its architects has borne disastrous fruit. The planet is not waiting for them, pristine and unoccupied. New masters have turned it from a refuge into mankind’s worst nightmare.

Now two civilizations are on a collision course, both testing the boundaries of what they will do to survive. As the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, who are the true heirs of this new Earth?

I have been wanting to read more science fiction and this one comes highly recommended (plus his new book Dogs of War sounds really cool as well). Science Fiction is always a bit hit and miss for me – I love it when it deals with the sociological aspects of space but when it becomes too technical I tend to get bored. Still, it is a genre I have read not enough of, so I am looking forward to this.

Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

34273236In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

I adord Celeste Ng’s first novel Everything I Never Told You and have been eagerly awaiting her second one ever since I finished that. I pre-ordered the book as soon as it became available and cannot wait to read it. I will have to be in the proper mood however because I am sure it will destroy me.