Top Ten Books I’ve Read in 2017

My half-year reflections can begin with this week’s Top Ten Tuesday – the best books I’ve read in 2017 so far.

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

This was the first book I read this year, and it was an excellent choice! I reviewed it here.

Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey

This is an epic, heartbreaking story of love and loss in the war and after. I wouldn’t have usually picked this up as the cover doesn’t particularly stand out, but I am so glad I did; it was stunning. I really wish my gran could have read it, as I think she would have loved this.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is one of my top five favourite books, so I am always excited to find out there’s something new to read from Rachel Joyce. The Music Shop is another beautiful novel. ‘And of course the silence at the beginning of a piece of music is always different from the silence at the end … Because if you listen, the world changes. It’s like falling in love. Only no one gets hurt.’

After the Fire by Will Hill

When a massive fire destroys the compound that housed a cult, there are few survivors. Moonbeam is one of them. Her sessions with a therapist are interspersed with flashbacks that reveal her story piece by piece. I feel like it’s incredibly relevant in the times we live in to see how people could become brainwashed by a manipulative leader. This was a compelling narrative.

Broken Sky trilogy by L. A. Weatherly

Speaking of authoritarian leaders… the Broken Sky trilogy is set in a world many, many years in the future, where our civilisation destroyed itself in a nuclear war, and disputes between countries are settled with dogfights between pilots from each nation. When Amity, a Peacefighter, discovers corruption in the system, it unravels everything her world stands for. This trilogy was truly harrowing at times, drawing on the Second World War, but it is well worth reading.

The Hate U Give by A. C. Thomas

When Starr is the sole witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed friend, Khalil, by a police officer, she faces not only the pain of losing him, but also danger, whether she tells the truth or keeps quiet. This is an eye-opening, important book that I think everyone should read.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

I have read a lot of YA this year! This is the story of Libby, once dubbed ‘America’s Fattest Teen’, returning to school after years spent near housebound. Jack seems to be the high school teen who has it all, but he has a secret – he can’t recognise faces. When they’re brought together by a cruel prank, they strike up an unlikely friendship.

A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy by Sarah J. Maas

I don’t think there is anything Sarah J. Maas could write that I wouldn’t read. I am obsessed with the Throne of Glass series, and I raced through this trilogy in a matter of days. I am so glad I waited to read them until they were all published, as I don’t know how I would have waited to discover what happened. Rather than me try to summarise, if you have any interest in YA fantasy, read this.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambers examines issues like artificial intelligence and genetic engineering in this fantastic follow-up to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

A completely different type of book for this list: When Breath Becomes Air was written by neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi, following the discovery he had terminal lung cancer. It couldn’t be anything but poignant, but it is also philosophical, intelligent and beautiful, as he considers life’s meaning.

I would highly recommend every single one of these. What are the best books you’ve read so far this year?

Harry Potter 20

I have a confession to make.

Around twenty years ago, my sister’s friend lent her a book. My sister was about to give it back when the friend asked if I would like to read it. I opened it to the first page and read:

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

I said, ‘No, thanks.’

What. An. Idiot.

Luckily Harry Potter was more persistent than that. Our teacher started reading it to us in school, and I still wasn’t going to read any more myself, but fortunately my friend did. She became so obsessed that the next time I was at her house, she suggested reading Harry Potter, as she was almost finished the third book and needed to find out what happened. She handed me Chamber of Secrets, and somewhere around the moment when Harry stares absent-mindedly into the hedge – and the hedge stares back – I got hooked. My friend, and probably Dobby, can share credit for getting me into the series.

 

I tracked down books one and four, then finally book three, reading them in entirely the wrong order. It didn’t matter; I loved them all and read them again. (And again.) Funnily enough, the first chapter of Philosopher’s Stone is now one of my absolute favourites, from that deceptively mundane first line to the final paragraph, which makes me emotional every time.

I believe wholeheartedly in the power of books, and Harry Potter is the proof. It’s a phenomenon. This has so much to do with the readers, the mega fans, who wrote hundreds of theories to keep us thinking between books; who have Harry Potter tattoos, like the friend who got me into the books; who get the references when you quote your favourite lines; who populated midnight launches, then cinemas, the studio tour, Florida, the theatre, and now – gulp! – 20th anniversary parties.

However, it was the stories and characters we all fell in love with – the trio who feel like friends, the wonderful Weasleys, the incredibly wise Dumbledore, not to mention the Marauders, McGonagall, Hagrid, Luna, Dobby, Peeves and the Half-Blood Prince…

For these memorable characters, for the suspense and laughter, and hours of enjoyment spent reading – for the magic, thank you, J. K. Rowling. I am grateful to have been one of the Harry Potter generation. (For twenty years, and always.)

Hogwarts castle, HP studio tour

Review: The Futures by Anna Pitoniak

The Futures cover

The Futures by Anna Pitoniak (Michael Joseph, 2017)

On the surface, everything about this appealed to me: the beautiful cover, the blurb, the themes. I still love of all of these, and the setting was brilliant, but unfortunately I didn’t find the novel quite as compelling as I’d hoped.

Part of the blurb reminded me of 500 Days of Summer, one of my favourite films:

This is Evan and Julia’s story.

This is a love story.

But no one says it ends happily.

This is a good start as far as I’m concerned. Most of my favourite novels have broken my heart!

Evan and Julia meet at Yale and fall in love. The couple move to New York City after graduating, where Evan has lined up a top job at a hedge fund. However, the financial crisis is beginning, Julia isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life, and as Evan dedicates more and more time to his career, we see the strain it puts on their relationship.

The temporal setting really appealed to me, since I also graduated during the recession. It was the first novel I’d read that dealt with the crisis from the perspective of a new graduate. The author did a great job of capturing the feeling of being completely lost after finishing university – at least for those of us who get to the end of however many years of study without knowing what we’d like to do.

There was a blend of the familiar and the fascinating, because although I could relate to this part of the novel, the world of hedge funds and bankers in New York City is a million miles away from what I know. I found this interesting, despite the detrimental affect on the characters. The series of events – and even the everyday niggles – that upset their relationship are carefully orchestrated by the author, so that we understand how the characters are led to the choices they make.

The main problem was that I didn’t connect with the characters as much as I needed to in order to really feel sorry for them when their relationship started to fall apart. There needed to be more build-up of their relationship during university, more evidence that it had once been good, in order to feel the loss when things went wrong.

Another aspect of the structure that added to the feeling of disconnect was that for the first half of the book, it didn’t feel like there was a main narrative holding the story together. It read like a series of vignettes, rather than interspersing flashbacks and anecdotes to illuminate aspects of the present storyline. I would also have been tempted to delete the prologue entirely: although parts of it are beautifully written, it made me question why they ever move in in the first place.

I am sure that there are fans of character-driven fiction that will enjoy The Futures, but, for me, the pacing meant that it didn’t quite have the emotional impact I had expected.

Thank you to NetGalley and Michael Joseph for the proof in exchange for a review.

Review: The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

I had seen the gorgeous cover for The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon everywhere, but I finally picked it up when Liz from Am I Thirty recommended it on my YA books post. And what a brilliant recommendation it was! (Minor spoilers in the form of some excellent quotes.)

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The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Corgi Children’s (2016)

Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Natasha has lived in the USA since she was eight years old, but when her dad is caught driving under the influence, the police find out her family are undocumented immigrants. Despite having few memories of Jamaica, the country of her birth, she is to be deported. On her last day in the country, she meets Daniel.

Daniel is on his way to an interview for Yale, where his parents want him to go and study medicine. With some time to pass before the meeting, he decides to go where the day takes him. He could never have predicted what happens next.

There’s a Japanese phrase that I like: koi no yokan. It doesn’t mean love at first sight. It’s closer to love at second sight. It’s the feeling when you meet someone that you’re going to fall in love with them. Maybe you don’t love them right away, but it’s inevitable that you will.

Natasha and Daniel are, on paper, polar opposites: he is a dreamer and a poet, while she believes in science and facts. He is incredibly earnest, while she is reserved. He doesn’t realise their time is short; she knows these are her last few hours in the city.

Over the course of one day they get to know each other, debating science and faith, following your dreams versus practicality, fate, coincidence, and love. We get to know them too, as the narrative switches viewpoints throughout.

I wonder if she realizes how passionate she is about not being passionate.

Natasha doesn’t say what she suspects. That meant to be doesn’t have to mean forever.

There are also chapters dotted throughout that spotlight minor characters, although, in the grand scheme of things, they aren’t quite so minor after all. These were the sections that really got to me, despite them involving characters we hardly know. That was my favourite part of this book. We can never see the ways in which all of our actions, however tiny, affect the lives of others, and this novel explores how we are all connected.

If you’re a bit cynical (like Natasha, in fact) you might not make it through this book, because it is unashamedly joyful, even in the face of a heartbreaking goodbye. Then again, perhaps it will win you over.

Personally, I adored this novel. I laughed and cried reading this, and that’s a characteristic shared by all of my favourite books. The Sun Is Also a Star is now one of them.

Ten Books for People Who Don’t Read

I already put together a gift guide for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, but then I realised this was my perfect topic.

I am always giving books as gifts, even if the recipients don’t always count themselves as readers. (A sort of book lover’s proselytising.) Many books are beautiful objects, which makes them a gorgeous gift to open, then if people revisit the content at a later date, all the better!

For people who love travel

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You Only Live Once from Lonely Planet

This is a bucket list of both big and small things to try, split into hours, days, weeks, months or years, depending on how long the experiences might take. I bought it for my friend because I wanted it, and this is how I try to get over my book cravings. I still want it though.

You could also try Ultimate Travelist, which is about the best sights in the world.

For people who need to practise a skill

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The No Time to Cook Book by Laura Herring, DK

I was a recipient of The No Time to Cook Book, as cooking has never been a priority of mine. (Actually, I have started to, but there will be a post on this later.) The meals certainly do not all take twenty minutes or less to make, but there are some good meal ideas (particularly lunches) and it talks how to create a good basic store cupboard so you can cook more often.

When it comes to cooking, you have thousands of books to choose from. Lean in 15 by Joe Wicks has been one of the major publishing successes of 2016 – in a year where new Harry Potter books were released, and we are still talking about The Girl on the Train

For other skills, you could also try books for language learning or a For Dummies book.

For those who like colouring (or practising mindfulness) 

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Secret Garden by Johanna Basford, Laurence King

I think the adult colouring trend is dying down now, but for those friends who always enjoyed art, who need a creative outlet, or who just blooming like colouring, why not gift them an intricate colouring book? (Confession: I think some of these books would stress me out rather than relax me, but I have obtained a copy of Johanna Basford’s Secret Garden and might have to test the theory.)

See also: other books by Johanna Basford or Millie Marotta.

For those who don’t like fiction

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An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield, Pan Macmillan

You might know Chris Hadfield without realising – he’s the one who went viral after broadcasting a performance of Space Oddity from the International Space Station. In this book, he talks about his path to becoming an astronaut, his training, his missions to space, and how preparation to leave earth can actually teach you very good lessons about how to live when you’re on it.

I am only just starting to appreciate non-fiction, so can’t offer lots of personal recommendations, but I am looking forward to reading more!

For those who like photography (or animals, or art)

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50 Years of Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Natural History Museum

The National History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year is one of the most famous photography competitions in the world, and has produced several beautiful books. This collection marks the 50th anniversary and shows how nature photography has developed (ha) over the years.

For those who like sports

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Watching the Wheels by Damon Hill, Pan Macmillan

There are so many autobiographies out there that you will likely find something by one of their favourite sports stars, or even a famous commentator, that they might find interesting. With Formula 1, for example, there are hundreds of titles to choose from: autobiographies from Murray Walker or Mark Webber, or books about Senna or James Hunt. Just from following his brilliant Twitter account, I can’t wait to read Damon Hill’s Watching the Wheels.

Google: any sport/sports star + book!

For anybody, really

Ladybird Books for Grown Ups from Penguin

In the same format as the old Ladybird books, this is few enough pages for even the most reluctant readers. Using the old illustrations and images alongside text re-written for adults, these brilliant humour books completely took off last Christmas. All publishers are jumping on the bandwagon of course, so you can also find titles like Five on Brexit Island, bringing Enid Blyton’s Famous Five into adulthood.

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Letters of Note by Shaun Usher, Canongate

I’m not trying to trick people into reading, but the ‘commitment’ required to read a book will often put people off, when they’ll accidentally read thousands of words on Buzzfeed. Letters of Note contains over a hundred letters from people like Elvis, Charles Dickens, the Queen, Einstein, Mick Jagger and many more, which will inspire and entertain.

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Humans of New York Stories by Brandon Stanton, Pan Macmillan

We all know the Facebook page, and I think it was just the most brilliant idea. It is the only time when reading the comments on an Internet article that I don’t despair about the human race. Even people who don’t like reading probably like HONY. The stories are short, often bittersweet, illuminating and often beautiful.

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Scrapbook by Paperchase

Now for different types of books altogether: why not buy a scrapbook for your craft-loving friends, a photo album for budding photographers or even just a list book for your friend’s desk or handbag?

Ten Books for the YA Reader in Your Life

For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, I’m picking out ten of my favourite young adult titles or series that I would gift to fellow YA readers. (Of course, if they’re anything like me, they will have read most of these already.)

You can argue over how to categorise this, as some would count Harry Potter and To Kill a Mockingbird, in which case I’d definitely recommend those. For me, though, these were the titles that came to mind:

Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas

This series is one of my favourite bookish finds this year. Scrap that, it’s one of my favourite series ever. I had seen it talked about loads on Twitter, but I judged it by its covers as too young for me. I’m so glad I finally picked it up, because it is compelling, funny and the protagonist, Celaena, is easily one of my new favourite fictional characters. The storyline has progressed in ways I never saw coming, and in some ways I don’t like, but I still cannot wait for the sixth and final title next year.

Am I Normal Yet? and sequels by Holly Bourne

The Spinster Club trilogy was another of my favourites this year. These are brilliant young adult books – dealing with big issues like mental health, love and feminism in a completely accessible way. The trilogy is about a group of three friends, and each book focuses on a different one and a specific ‘big’ issue that they are facing. The voices are all slightly different, but all completely credible. These three remind me of my own friends.

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

This is a must-read. I read it at least ten years ago now and it’s remained one of my favourite novels, even though it completely broke my heart. Callum, a pale-skinned nought, is friends with Sephy, a dark-skinned Cross. Life is going to start taking them in different directions, because Crosses are superior to noughts, and society says they should not be friends – or more.

Delirium trilogy by Lauren Oliver

In this dystopia, love is considered a disease, and it is cured with a brain surgery aged 18. Lena is looking forward to the cure, hoping that it will erase the memories of her mother – until she falls in love a few weeks before her 18th birthday.

Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth

In this dystopian society, everyone is separated into one of five factions as they leave school. Tris discovers she is well suited to three, which makes her Divergent – and dangerous. There are people in power who want to make sure that everybody conforms. I really enjoyed the first two, and while I wasn’t as big a fan of the third, I liked where the story went.

Queen of the Tearling trilogy by Erika Johansen

I am so excited for the final book’s release! This will be next week’s reading material. This fantasy/dystopia is about a young queen-in-training who has to take up her responsibilities in a broken kingdom. There are some brilliant characters and a somewhat mysterious plot. I’m still not sure where it’s going yet.

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Again, the lines between dystopia and fantasy blur in a world set hundreds of years after the human race has all but destroyed itself. Of those who survived, some have developed supernatural abilities and silver blood (Silvers), which leads them into a position of power over ordinary mortals (Reds). However, the power is about to shift once more. This is the first in a trilogy; the second, Glass Sword, is also available.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

I was really pleased when Zoella picked this title for her book club because more people should read it! Amanda is the new girl in school, with a secret – at her last school, she was called Andrew. I found it a good insight into some of the issues transgender teens can face, and a great coming-of-age story.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I felt the pressure to include something by John Green in this list! There are some beautiful quotations in this book about two teenagers living with cancer.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I read this a while ago but found it very moving at the time. A teenager with everything going for her – a great family, friends, boyfriend, a future at a top music school – is involved in a car accident. Stuck in limbo, she revisits some of her memories, knowing that if she ‘stays’ her life will be very different.

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Have you read any of these? Most importantly, do you have more recommendations for me?

Ten Books I Read Because of Twitter

Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

My top place for book recommendations is Twitter; I have discovered some of my favourite books through the tweets of other book bloggers, readers, authors, agents and publishers. Working in publishing, I have a slightly better idea of upcoming or current titles than I used to, but when deciding what I would actually like to read it is the number of mentions on Twitter that tends to influence what I choose.

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  1. The Humans by Matt Haig

I adore this book. I list it in almost every Top Ten Tuesday I write. It is hilarious and full of heart, and I raced to buy it when I read the quotations Canongate was tweeting!

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  1. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

You could almost ditto what I just wrote, except it was a blog post by Joanna Cannon that mentioned the book that led me to read it.

  1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I was living abroad when Twitter went crazy for this book – so much so that I asked my mum to bring a copy with her when she visited me, so I could see what all the fuss was about. There are some beautiful quotes in this novel.

  1. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

I saw the Twitter hype for almost every book in this series, but never thought much of it because the covers made it look too young. (I generally hate illustrations or photos of people facing outwards on front covers.) Nevertheless, it stayed in my mind, and when I was stuck for something to read, I thought a little YA fantasy never goes amiss. And it’s one of the best series I’ve ever read!

Robin Hobb books

  1. The Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

My auntie had been recommending these books for the longest time, but it was during a Twitter chat when I realised that Robin Hobb was a female author, not a male protagonist! Of course, the main character of this book and the subsequent trilogy is a boy, but nevertheless this realisation increased my interest and I finally picked up one of these fantastic books. I should have listened to my auntie years ago!

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

  1. The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

I followed Patrick Ness on Twitter long before I’d ever read one of his books, but when I saw he was doing an event for this at Waterstones Piccadilly I went along – can’t resist a signed book! – and read this not long after. Which led to me reading More Than This, and wanting to read his other books too.

  1. Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

Holly Bourne is so popular on Twitter that I’d seen talk about The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting a couple of years ago, but only picked up one of her titles this year. (Well, three now!) Am I Normal Yet? was mentioned in a few Twitter chats because of it dealing with mental health issues, specifically OCD, and I thought this would be the one to try. I’ve now read the whole Spinster Club trilogy because these girls are witty and wonderful and remind me of my friends.

  1. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

I think it was a LoveReading tweet where I first heard about this title, and knew immediately I wanted to read it. ‘Old man protagonist? I will probably like this.’ And I did!

  1. Goodhouse by Peyton Marshall

I won this in a Twitter competition and was very pleased – I love dystopian novels. Goodhouse is set in a near future where people are genetically profiled in an attempt to prevent crime before it occurs. The protagonist is one of many young men sent to prison-like schools without having done anything wrong. Definitely worth a read!

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  1. A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon

I also won this book on Twitter, and couldn’t wait to read it because of the suggestion that, following a heartbreak, the character was going to pick one hundred of her possessions to keep and get rid of everything else. This concept sort of falls away, but it was a lovely book. (I reviewed it here.)