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The best books I read in the first half of 2017 include both new releases, backlist books, and several classics.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not always on top of new releases, so most of the books I’ve read this year are not brand new. A couple listed here are re-reads (Anne of Green Gables and Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone—though I remembered little of either) and at least one that I’ve been meaning to read for years (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn).
I have a pile of books to read this year that I expect will take the place of some of these, but here are the best books I’ve read so far (in no particular order):
I’m linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for Top Ten Tuesday.
In Commonwealth, Ann Patchett brilliantly weaves together flawed families who fail one another over the decades but keep trying and trusting in spite of the failures. Where you would expect villains, she instead presents complicated characters struggling with their own hopes, inadequacies, and feelings about the past and how to move forward. Where you would expect broken, bitter relationships, she shows the enduring power of loyalty, love, and forgiveness. This is not an action-packed novel, but one where the subtle emotional tensions will resonate. Highly recommended, along with all of her other books.More info →
While the hype on the back of this book is kind of irritating (it’s not the most magical story ever and it’s definitely not a laugh riot), Little Bee is a beautiful, painful, horrifying novel—one worth reading. The story of the connection between Little Bee, a young Nigerian woman, and Sarah, an English wife and mother, unfolds slowly, alternating between their perspectives. Little Bee’s parts shine with lovely language and humorous insights, while Sarah’s fall a little flat, but I feel like this is part of the contrast of their experiences and how they respond. An important read that brings the horrors, fears, and hopes of asylum seekers to the doorstep.More info →
The first in The Neapolitan Novels series, My Brilliant Friend tells the story of the friendship of two girls growing up in a poor, rough neighborhood in 1950s Naples, Italy. Lila especially is compelling in her impulsive magnetism, and I related to the bookish reserve of Elena (the narrator), always trying to keep up with her friend even as she, in many ways, surpasses her. As they follow different paths and forge their own identities, the girls weather the push and pull of adolescence experienced amidst the changing political and cultural landscape that surrounds them. These novels are highly acclaimed for their literary merit, panned for their awful covers, and intriguing for the mystery surrounding the identity of Ferrante (a pen name). I will be reading the rest of the series, and I hope to catch the HBO television series adaptation of the novels that is underway.More info →
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the much-loved classic about a young girl, Francie Nolan, growing up in poverty in turn-of-century Brooklyn. Francie is a bookish, resourceful child, caught between her dreamer of a father and her work-worn, practical mother. Francie is self-aware and a keen observer of people and the life around her, a heroine who manages to continue to seek beauty even as it seems determined to elude her. I finally read this in 2017 and it made my list of best books of the year.
Love this book? Read more books like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.More info →
Rules of Civility is a look at 1930s New York high society through the eyes of Katey Kontent, an independent 20-something who, with her friend Evelyn, finds her way into those hallowed circles by way of a chance meeting with Tinker Grey at a jazz bar. Circumstances keep Katey on the invite list over the course of a year, as she works as a secretary by day and navigates the world of the wealthy by night. I enjoyed this look at New York in the 30s, but sometimes felt dissatisfied with the sketchy motivations of many of the characters, including Katey herself.More info →
This 2002 National Book Award-winning novel brings us into the lives of Paul, Fenno, and Fern over the course of three different summers. Their lives are woven together in different ways, but the story isn’t necessarily about their relationships with one another, but about each of their struggles to come to terms with the deaths of loved ones. A slow-mover, for me, but a nonetheless fascinating look at families, love, and how death and the things learned in the aftermath can define the lives of those left behind.More info →
Justice Unending is not the type of book I’m usually drawn to, but I’ve lately found myself more open to fantasy and science fiction-type books than I have been in the past. This is the first book I’ve read in the YA "steampunk" genre, and I enjoyed the how the realistic older technology melded with the fantasy world. The world in which the story is set is highly original (a walled-off country ruled by immortals that must inhabit the bodies of humans, who die when their bodies are chosen) and the story is tense and fast-moving. When Faye’s sister is chosen by one of the “Unendings,” Faye tries to say goodbye one last time and finds herself the host of an Unending who is leading a rebellion against the ruling immortals. The world is richly drawn, with an original take on compliance with ruling classes and power systems. The book is ripe for a sequel, with many aspects of the world left to explore. Full disclosure: The author is a long-time colleague and I’m ridiculously proud of her for writing and publishing this book. However, I did buy the book and am not in any way affiliated with the marketing of it. I hope you’ll check it out!More info →
What is there to say about Harry Potter that hasn't been said? I read the first two books on my own years ago, but when my daughter was born six years ago, I decided to wait and read them with her. We got the illustrated version of the book (the first two, actually), and I’m hoping all of the books will eventually have illustrated versions so we can have a full collection. The books are beautiful, and she enjoyed the illustrations and asked a lot of questions about them. We’re waiting to read the second book—I think age five was just a little young for Harry Potter—but when I remembered to read slowly and take the time to discuss the story, she was eager to read it and seemed to follow most of the story.More info →
In the 1920s, “the Fishing Fleet” was the name ascribed to young affluent women who left England for India in search of husbands, often after the social “season” had ended and they were left without marriage prospects. Viva, who has her own reasons for heading to India, is tasked with accompanying two young women and a troubled teen boy on the ship to Bombay. Against the backdrop of a politically unstable India, the women learn the importance of friends-as-family as they are thrust into a confusing world of wealth and poverty, isolation and scrutiny, and love and betrayal. This was a slow-mover for me, but was ultimately an intriguing and satisfying read with interesting historical context and complex relationships.More info →
Anne is well-known, well-loved, and never at a loss for words. When Anne, an orphan, is mistakenly sent to Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, an elderly brother and sister who wanted a boy to help with the farm, she shakes up their lives and the lives of others in Avonlea with her sense of adventure and optimistic spirit. I re-read Anne in 2017 and have been enjoying the Netflix series Anne with an E for a little darker, more grown-up perspective on Anne.More info →