Best Books of 2017

I started doing an annual round-up of the books I loved a couple of years back, but for one reason or another I didn’t end up sharing my picks for 2017. Seeing as it’s almost the end of 2018, I thought I’d share my thoughts on some of my favorite books from the titles I read last year…it’s about time, right?

Fiction

It’s a total coincidence, but I still love the fact that all of my favorite books that I read last year were written by women. Some are old, some are new, but all of them were really, really good:

Even though Bel Canto is about a diplomatic hostage situation, author Ann Patchett manages to take what would be normally be a horrifying, violent situation and transforms it into a moving story about the things that bring us together as humans, even when we’re divided by political or social borders.

King Lear is probably my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, and I love the fact that author Jane Smiley chose to reinterpret it through the eyes of one of Lear’s daughters in her novel, A Thousand Acres, which I read last fall. (And no, it’s not the one he likes.)

Suite Française by Irene Nemirovsky might be slow for some, but keep in mind this is an unfinished work- there may still be some kinks in the story, but you can still appreciate this collection of novellas for its beautiful prose.

The main character in Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics is brainy, verbose, and maybe just a little bit obnoxious, but I ended up falling in love with her (and the book’s cast of quirky characters) anyway. (It’s another one I read last fall.)

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is like a perfect fairytale, but for adults. Even if you’re not into fantasy, I still insist you read this. I’m not even kidding when I say I couldn’t put it down. (It first appeared on my bookshelf here.)

Although English author Kate Atkinson is quite prolific, I’ve never gotten around to reading one of her books until I picked up Life After Life (another recommendation from the waiting room). I wasn’t disappointed- this tale of a perpetually reincarnating girl kind of blew my mind. (What was disappointing? Its follow-up, A God in Ruins, which I read this year. In my opinion, it didn’t even come close to the awesomeness that is this book.)

Non-Fiction

I’ll read just about anything, and I would say about one-third of what I read is non-fiction. No topic is off-limits; I like to keep an open mind. You can get me interested in just about anything, as evidenced below.

When he’s not exploring the mysteries of Germany’s Black Forest, author and forester Peter Wohlleben is writing about them. It may seem like the most boring topic in the world, but don’t be fooled: The Hidden Life of Trees is actually full of fascinating discoveries. (For example, did you know trees can communicate with each other? Yeah, my brain exploded too.)

Everyone knows that reading and writing go hand-in-hand, but Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose gave me a whole new perspective on the way that I write, as well as the way I read. It’s a must if you’re a self-confessed bookworm like me.

I wrote about the mini-controversy presented by the hygge trend a while back, but despite its ties to commercialism I still really enjoyed The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking. I’d even say that it’s useful- it’s basically a manual on how to slow things down for someone who has trouble slowing down.

What are some of the books you enjoyed last year? Did you read any of the titles I talked about here? Email me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com with your top picks, or leave your recommendations in the comments below.

Psst- wanna see which other books have previously graced my bookshelves? Click here. Want even more fun reading recommendations? I’ve got some for you here. Don’t forget to find me on Goodreads so we can snoop each other’s bookshelves and dish about our favourites.

 

My Dirty Little YA Secret

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A couple of years back I gushed a little bit about how much I enjoyed many of the books that were on my high school’s required reading list. I have to confess, though, that there’s a little more to that story than I originally let on.

See, the thing you have to understand about me is that I read pretty much everything if it a) sparks my interest or b) someone else tells me it it’s good. When I was younger, that sometimes meant diving into books that were maybe a little age inappropriate. Now that I’m a little (ahem) older, my reading choices still don’t always match my age.

Ok, so maybe young adult fiction isn’t your thing. Authors like Jaclyn Moriarty (Feeling Sorry for Celia, The Year of Secret Assignments) and Jerry Spinelli (Star Girl), though, might change your mind- both are sharp, witty, and write books with characters who seem mature beyond their years. (Can we talk about Jaclyn Moriarty for a second, though? For me, she brought the epistolary novel into the current century. Feeling Sorry for Celia, for example, is told through notes that Celia’s friend and her mother leave for each other on the refrigerator door.)

Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle and the His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) by Philip Pullman also feature characters (and subject matters) that stretch far beyond the teenage years, despite the fact that they’re more commonly marketed to adolescents. (Please watch the film version of I Capture the Castle with a super-young Henry Cavill and Rose Byrne. Also, did I mention Henry Cavill?)

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YA fiction is also the only place where fantasy, action and the contemporary world combine seamlessly- series like Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay) and the Lorien Legacy series (which starts with I Am Number Four and spans five more titles) feature way more action and suspense than a lot of fiction I’ve read that’s intended for older audiences. The fact that they’re willing to get creative with fantastical and science fiction elements doesn’t hurt, either. The Divergent series (Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant) by Veronica Roth is actually one of the more intelligent science fiction series you’ll come across, and I had to include Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series (which totals six books including the first, City of Bones) because it’s such a flipping good romance. (Shout-out to all the others who got their hearts broken when they found out Shadowhunters was cancelled on Netflix.)

What are some of the YA titles you’ve read and loved but were kind of afraid to confess to reading up until now? I’m thirty-something and I spilled; I’d love to hear your suggestions too! Comment below or drop me a line at keepingbusyb@gmail.com. We can keep your dirty YA secret just between you and I.

Psst- wanna see which books have previously graced my bookshelves? Click here. Want even more fun reading recommendations? I’ve got some for you here. Don’t forget to find me on Goodreads so we can snoop each other’s bookshelves and dish about our favourites.

Pride and Prejudice and Endless Possibilities

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As voracious a reader as I am, I don’t often re-read books because I’m always onto the next thing. This has changed mostly since I’ve gotten busier (and older); I don’t have the luxury of revisiting my favorites the way I used to when I was a kid. Hanging out with those books was like hanging out with old friends- they brought me joy and were always a constant, even during the moments when my life was changing very rapidly around me.

In that sense, picking my favorite book is kind of like picking my favorite friend. If I had to choose one, though, it would be Pride and Prejudice. It’s certainly one of my oldest friends- I first read it when I was a whopping eleven years of age. I loved it so much that it was enough to turn me into a full-fledged Austenite. I read all of her books, and then I read P&P again. I’ve read it three more times since then, making it the book I have re-read those most out of all of the ones I have read.

You may think my choice is cliché, or that Austen herself is, but I hate to break it to you- she’s pretty unavoidable. P&P (as well as all of her other work) has been re-published, re-packaged and re-purposed hundreds of times over. Her writing is cliché because she’s the one who wrote it to begin with.

Here are some recent examples: ever heard of Bridget Jones’s Diary? Author Helen Fielding didn’t even bother to disguise the allegory and kept the name Mr. Darcy for one of the main characters in her popular series. And Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest, Eligible, is openly marketed as a modern day re-telling of the classic novel.

Seth Grahame-Smith actually cut and pasted from the actual text of P&P to create his own horror story, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, featuring the Bennett sisters as a troupe of corset-wearing, weapon-slinging zombie hunters trying to balance romance and saving the world. You know, the usual girl stuff. I got kind of a kick out of watching the female characters kick some serious zombie butt, but some of the original storyline gets lost in translation- for example, Elizabeth Bennett’s social status (or lack thereof) hardly seems to be an issue because she’s such a badass- but it was still a lot of fun to read. Apparently others thought so as well- the book’s rise to fame brought a slew of other copycat titles along with it, including another adaptation of Austen’s work, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.

If your weapons of choice are more of whip and handcuff variety, you might enjoy Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, author Linda Berdoll’s erotic envisioning of what happens after the original Pride and Prejudice ends. He’s not Christian Grey, exactly, but this version of Mr. Darcy seems a lot less uptight than Austen’s version and Elizabeth Bennett is a lot more…shall we say submissive? Drama, babies, battles, heaving bosoms- this version has it all, and is perfect for die-hard romance fans.

More recently, I picked up a copy of Longbourn by Jo Baker, a re-telling of Pride and Prejudice through the eyes of the servants who scurry the halls of the Bennett family house.

 

KBwB-BFlower-50Psst- wanna see which books have previously graced my bookshelves? Click here. Want even more fun reading recommendations? I’ve got some for you here. Don’t forget to find me on Goodreads so we can snoop each other’s bookshelves and dish about our favourites.